Saturday, July 9, 2016


At first there were only the markings—small bird-tracks of proofreader’s punctuation etched like barely discernible anthers of delicate floral calligraphy. Soon after, they began materializing on the liminal edges of frequently used spaces; along the sides of bulkheads in interstate rest-stop bathrooms, imprinted like esoteric hash-marks at the margins of concrete expansion joints on suspension bridges, and splattered boldly across the cheap stonework cladding of large shopping malls like a secret braille composed of strategically strewn seagull-droppings. They even appeared mysteriously emblazoned on film acetates, scrolling downward during the opening credits of Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt action blockbusters shown in multiplex theaters, an obscure code denoting unseen and un-mentioned artistic collaborators. Everyone seemed to like them, and crowds would congregate in anticipation, hungering for decryption every time a new ‘message’ was discovered.

Initially, the excitement created by the enigmatic patterns was contagious, and it was not unusual to find assemblies of enthusiastic acolytes arguing heatedly over interpretations and meanings in city parks and office stairwells. In fact, such extrapolative musing soon became something of a parlor game, a past-time that everyone could indulge in equally. The signs, as they were arranged and construed, were wholly democratic, completely random and dispersed in such myriad profusion that they could signify anything—or so it seemed at that embryonic stage, before they began proliferating like a feedlot infestation of E. Coli O157:H7; semiotic manifestations of a refractory Samizdat, ineluctably building to peak concentrations in the damp cultural petri dishes of coffee shops, repertory theaters, university English departments and artist’s lofts.   

Later, they would evolve rapidly into a densely packed hieroglyphics, thrown together in arrangements too complex for ordinary explication; more like ethnographic maps conceptualizing the diachronic propagation of hypothetical Bot Fly larvae than anything resembling written language. No sooner would one interpret the tangled web of signs implied by the close proximity of two of these elaborate pictograms, when a third might conceivably emerge and change the entire context of the message. Yet, even at that particular point, one was still predisposed to read the symbols as discrete communications containing coherent linear meanings; a bias that assumed that under the numerous layers of cryptic imagery must reside a fully comprehensible Cartesian text of some sort. It was simply a matter of finding the right code through which to interpret the evolution of the phenomenon. It did not occur to anyone that the arcane markings would proliferate into an obscene invasion—a metastasis of labyrinthine forms which soon secreted themselves exponentially into the more privatized spaces of individual bodies, before migrating to the discrete and solipsistic cul-de-sacs of one’s own dreams.

People inevitably began engaging with the phenomenon in mysteriously personal ways. A man in South Bend sculpted a number of bizarre friezes on the plastic panels of digital drive-thru menus at fast-food restaurants, all showing detailed cartoons enumerating the transformation of Kim Kardashian into a shamanic, rattle waving, incarnation of Freda Kahlo. Weirder still was the boy in Alamogordo, who jumped off of a local tenement rooftop shouting to a crowd of onlookers, as he plunged to his death, about liquid skin technology, obstinate mechanical squadrons of low orbiting tuning forks and strange gods of the magnetosphere whose electrical signals would provide the correct bar code necessary to enter heaven.

It did not take long for such a peculiar and esoteric madness to spread out and infect almost everyone with some personalized version of a transformative fantasy. In California, hundreds of people clad in plastic body stockings made from a mosaic of floor tiles, furniture-coverings and decorative wall hangings, marched into the Pacific Ocean after telling friends and relatives that they would one day return as telepathic cetaceans to dismantle Moloch’s invisible machinery. It was subsequently discovered that all had drowned—with no interpretation of the strange pronouncements forthcoming. Several days later, a busload of Canadians was stopped at a Montana border crossing trying to enter the country with several bushels of Ebola infected Zucchini. They later said that they were merely attempting to even out the numbers to make way for the arrival of the Insect goddess, who, one must assume, planned her disembarkation on a later bus, as she could not be located amongst the passengers.

Within a fortnight, electronic media was swept by the winds of a virtual brush fire of strange reports: loincloth clad people wandering the streets of numerous cities, en mass, silently displaying anatomies tattooed with impenetrably complex designs, runes and occult markings; self-styled ghouls attacking crowds at bus-stops and shopping plazas with homemade truncheons, guns and even garrotes; stories so ubiquitous, in fact, as to be reduced to a sort of informational wallpaper. Small groups of zealots were seen hurtling themselves in front of cars, trucks and buses on interstates; while others jettisoned their expendable bodies from rooftops and steep cliff faces like throngs of mysteriously afflicted pigeons, too stoned on their own bombast to care which way they fell. Even the most fantastic chronicles—detailed eyewitness descriptions of anonymous individuals levitating over the outflow conduits of Boulder Dam, and apocryphal accounts of entire cities suddenly lifted into the sky by unseen forces—were soon widely disseminated through various instruments of mass communications.

Invariably, it became impossible to differentiate ordinary information from the abundance of esoteric and recondite signs that polluted even the most elementary queries and affirmations. A viscous grouting now penetrated the brickwork of quotidian perception to such a degree that even the most level-headed and unimaginative of people soon fell under the tidal sway of an emergent confusion. We were becoming human artifacts of what had previously been seen as an external entertainment; a puzzle of images and cryptograms that had gradually transposed themselves into the very cogitative apparatus once employed to decode their import.

These once “harmless” cartouches had evolved quite consciously into a parasitic organism. Soon we would all be in thrall to its Venus-Flytrap inducement to cheap epiphanies and seductions, garnered at the expense of our ability to stand outside its garish contrivances and conceive of some method by which to oust this new candy-coated tyranny of facile communion lurking beneath a growing stratum of platitudes and trivia.

We were all caught in its mysterious undertow, savoring our last moments through an ecstatic euphoria concomitant with the primitive realization that we were drowning. How then to explain to the uninitiated that just before passing on to the next level—the void itself—we experienced a paradoxically terrifying and orgasmic rush of images, encompassing an entire spectrum of opportunistic forms eating through a cocooned grotesquerie of unidentifiable animal corpses, all suspended in the interstitial quantum event-horizon of apotheosis; soon to unfurl like reconfigured RNA molecules into a new and stranger mode of existence. But for now, we are frozen in anticipation; baby crabs caught in the latticed nylon jaws of a tremendous mechanical fishing net: food for unknown parties of an unfathomed ontology.

JZRothstein (comprehensive draft edit) 6/17/2016