- Dead Metaphor
Is it possible for a book to be brilliant and unreadable? Davis Schneiderman's novel Drain approaches both limits. Schneiderman's assault on language, packaged in an erratic, hyper-un-real plot and a post-cyberpunk set of messy, overlapping narratives, juices up image and syntax until the reader finds themselves torn between amazement and exhaustion. Induced (as Ipecac) deliriously into abjection by Drain's semantic, linguistic, philosophical, and corporeal excesses, I found myself counter-intuitively dulled into boredom via overload, an anesthetized inability to focus that resulted in, like its protagonist Dial-Up Networking, an eyeball welded shut, entire sections barely scanned. However, this unreadability does not strike me as a weakness; rather, the collision of these massive waves of energy with my inability to ride those waves is fundamental to Schneiderman's project. Complete with its own afterward, as if to tell our dazed selves what just violated us, Drain forces an extreme anxiety that ultimately enables a radical rethinking of the reading experience itself.
While Drain's characters are as metaphorically flat as the rhizome of provisionally legible surfaces Schneiderman evokes, a quick exposition of Drain offers us a shifting, sand-swept vista from which to parse the novel's primary concerns. It is 2039. Lake Michigan has become a desert, drained of water, scarred by underground fires that scourge up through the earth. In this desolate and rapidly failing anti-ecosystem, three groups fight for power. First, the Quadrilateral, a (parody of a) super-corporation, seeks to instate its figurehead, Washington Jefferson Lincoln Qui (a number of Quadrilateral figures are named after presidents, including one named Bush-Bush Bush) as head of Quadrilateral territories, otherwise known as the Interface (one of many nods to William S. Burroughs). At the same time, the Quadrilateral seeks to eradicate or assimilate any cultish renegades who still adhere to the pseudoprophet Fulcrum Maneuvers, whose origin story for the Interface decries that Lake Michigan was drained by a giant World Worm named Umma-Segnus. Finally, in mortal opposition to the Quadrilateral, the Blackout Angels are punkish revolutionaries, bringers of mayhem described by their co-founder, Dial-Up Networking:
the motherfuckin' bomb, in a neo-Marxist, transnational service economy sense of the term. Barnacles, we lingered on the hull of a garbage barge called the May-flower steaming with heat lines of rotten eggs and burning milk cartons spitting dioxin gas along the oddly perpendicular streets of our small shantytown, Quadrilateral Commission Planned Community No. 4.
Schneiderman's language functions less as an instantiation of Burroughs's virus than as assault mechanism, as a material force that putrefies and pustullates. Metaphors crash against each other violently enough to pierce their containers; political critique ironizes a garbage barge named the Mayflower; the Blackout Angels revel in the toxic waste that rains down on their dystopia, a garden hose spewing chemical waste on a suburban, grass-watering day. Noting that the original book of the cultists had "diseases unleashed from its illuminated manuscripts," Dial-Up Networking makes explicit the ability of language to wreak material havoc.
Drain reads as an unstoppable force, an unrelenting insistence on the messy, sexual, destructive, scatological play of language. As pseudo-characters explode, torture, and screw their way through the Interface, they exchange bodies, replace organic body parts with artificial ones or simply leave gaping holes where organs used to be. Each sentence is monstrous ecstatic chatter that, to some extent, invades and annihilates the notion of silence. Again, it's Dial-Up Networking who describes the World Wide Worm as
emptiness itself, a body filled only with a yearning nothingness that exists in the negation of emptiness. And so I enter this state of emptiness beyond emptiness, this state of never knowing, and press my arms deep in to the meat hooks, my ribs into the needles, my pussy harder into the brown plunger pumping my uterus in a water well set miles under the riverbed.
I love this onslaught of image, of breathless, broken syntax and scale that seems to suggest revolution in the untamed overloading of...