This week I started a euphorically reviewed novel, “In the Light of What We Know” by Zia Haider Rahman, and I wish I could say I understood it. Instead I was confronted with an impenetrable block of text that crawled through mathematical history, Pakistani territorial disputes, Mercator’s projection, Afghani reconstruction institutes. I would a read sentence and realize I hadn’t properly digested the one before it so I would carefully reread and realize I didn’t even know who the speaker was so I would rifle back several pages until I found a name and description, at which point I would return to the present and promptly forget where I was. Then for a while I gave up and attempted reading straight through, letting the words drift by like a swift current, to see if I could stay afloat. It was a much more pleasant mode, as I fell into the narration’s gentle rhythm and caught phrases and formulations that intrigued me. But eventually my lack of minute comprehension became too overwhelming. It was like motoring through a series of towns without a map or a destination, and I had to put the book down.
I attempted I similar exercise with Earl Sweatshirt’s “Doris,” which I had initially found impossibly dense when it came out in college. But this week as my world entered a period flux and I was literally uprooted, I realized I needed a sonic tree trunk to grasp onto. So I’ve been listening to Earl’s relentless, breathless wordplay for a week straight he never thinks in sentences just a constant stream of acidic assonances that ground me when I’m hurtling underground to and from my new home.
When I told my friend of this new obsession she accused me of being emo. Which took me aback because honestly the emotional timbre of the music hadn’t even registered. I’ve been listening to it as if skimming a novel or puffing on a cigarette without inhaling, just zoning out while his voice, gravelly detached and incessant without pauses for breath rumbles on indefinitely. And I realized that in a period of transition there couldn’t be anything more soothing than constant defeatism. It feels like treading water in the ocean, just past the point the waves break into white caps. You know that the sea is indefatigable and that monsters lurk beneath, you know that if caught unawares you could be tossed violently underneath. But the water is bracing, the sun is cleansing, you’re both in motion and perfectly still, and you realize it’s the most exhilarating and comforting place in the world to be.
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