Eliza hung up, then double checked her phone to make sure the line was dead. Then she said, “Grant’s father had been a compulsive gambler. Grant suffered from the same vice, but turned his weakness into an asset as the Vice President of a large insurance company. As he put it, he got to shoot craps with other’s people’s money. He didn’t lose so long as he made sure that the insurance company stood in the same position as the House in a Casino. The odds had to be tilted in favor of the House (or the insurer) by a percentage high enough to lure in willing players, but low enough to generate a respectable margin in the long run. The company earned the bulk of its profits off the float between payment of premium and payout of losses.
“Maybe his old Prognostication courses came in handy, after all.”
Clark Gehrig was the next caller. In his youth, Gehrig had looked like a titan, six foot eight with a long black beard and stony features. Without the beard, his face looked craggy. He was stooped now, and bald. Recent photos gave him the appearance of a ruined tower about to collapse. He was calling from India. “I don’t know if I’m coming. Part of me wants to see the old crowd, but another part is afraid that all it will do is reawaken old regrets. I’m already conflicted, and I haven’t even left yet.”
Eliza told me: “During college, Clark had fallen under the spell of Z. Gerthold GitzGodt’s writing. In the middle of a routine exercise as part of a course on Past Life Recall, the professor came to the startling conclusion that Clark was the reincarnation of Z. Gerthold GitzGodt. Clark ran for class president, like GitzGodt, and got himself expelled, like GitzGodt. Clark seemed to be following in GitzGodt’s footsteps, from his disastrous first marriage (the bride being an aristocratic schizophrenic who bore a remarkable resemblance to Giselle GitzGodt, even down to her name, Gazzell) to his begging in India, to his mastery of Hindustani, to his descent into drug abuse.”
“Eliza, like I told you; I don’t know shit about this GitzGodt guy. When I force myself to think about it, I remember I had been required to read The Trivial Guueflieugenmeister in high school, but I just got the Cliff Notes and that’s all I remember, the fact I did it, not what I was supposed to learn. Which is what I think most people did.
Undeterred, Eliza kept on explaining: “GitzGodt’s first major work, Cast out of Eden, studied the Saint Astarte campus itself, reading it like a cryptogram, uncovering hidden symbols in the in niches and statuary, finding bizarre mathematical proportions in the architecture. Though he never graduated, he permeated the University, infused himself into its mythology. He was an icon, a totem, of Saint Astarte. Like an Arthur, or a Joe DiMaggio, his mythological personage had greater significance than his actuality.
“Clark Gehrig ended up writing editorials and horoscopes for a small newspaper in New Delhi.
“One of Clark Gehrig’s early editorials had been picked up by the New York Times. It was an extended refutation of GitzGodt’s Cast Out of Eden. Clark pointed out that large sections of the book had been plagiarized, that many of the so-called sources for GitzGodt’s information had been invented. Some of the sites identified were not on the Saint Astarte campus at all, but rather were at Yale. Over the years, Clark wrote many more articles and essays about GitzGodt. His views became progressively kinder, recognizing GitzGodt as an original thinker despite his faults, a pioneer who brought about a revolution in the mystic branches of the cognitive sciences. But Clark’s subsequent writing about GitzGodt never circulated outside New Delhi.”
While Eliza was on the phone, pleading with Clark to fly in from India for the reunion, the two of them got into an argument about GitzGodt. “Just like old times,” she said.
“Clark claimed that GitzGodt’s most important contribution to modern thought was neither the hallowed Guueflieugenmeister, nor the immensely popular Cast Out of Eden, not even the critically respected Reflections Upon Bilge Water, but rather a long-forgotten piece titled The Prose and Cons of Reality. But I told he was wrong, dead wrong.”
As we were rushing out the door, Eliza grabbed a recently published edition of Prose and Cons and took it with her.
Eliza and I started the long drive from Hollywood to St. Augustine. In the face of the storm, and the possibility of a reunion that no one would attend, we took to the road. Ominous news reports played over the car’s radio. Eliza commented, “This business of reassembling the old crowd. We should have known better. We are tampering with real Entropic Transcendence, playing with forces of nature beyond our comprehension. It is a lesson this particular crowd should have known, at least the ones who attended classes. Probably not the majority. This is the same group that learned how to slide by on test questions using intuition, or native brilliance. Or Entropic Transcendence.”
The wind blew through the open car windows and whipped her hair into a blazing frenzy. Red in the sunlight, edged with gray, like a smoldering inferno.
“There are going to be people there that I have loved. And those I wronged. And those who have the power to open all my old wounds. What binds us?” She proceeded to answer the question as if I had asked it. “We’ve spent a lot of time wondering about that question. We debated it over the years. Some say it was the peculiar vibrations of the Paris house. It was strange house, with a garden of exotic plants in the back, and a menagerie of rare animals roaming the grounds. A one-legged kangaroo. A baby ocelot. An albino baby elephant. Olivia Paris said that sometimes she could feel the house undulating. Others would say it wasn’t the old house. It was the time of life, and others would say it was the times, period. I never could figure out what binds us. Entropic Transcendence, I think. It is dangerous to play with Entropic Transcendence. But it can be wonderful, too.”
She got suddenly quiet and started to flip through pages of The Prose and Cons of Reality while I drove. I hadn’t bothered to interrupt her. I think she thought I wasn’t listening, or was bored of hearing about her old Saint Astarte crowd. She seemed suddenly consumed by the book, as if she were cramming for an impending final.
“You know, Ray, I read Prose and Cons of Reality, all 2,700 pages of it, once before, when I was a sophomore at Saint Astarte. A professor granted me special access to the University’s signed edition, one of only 5,000 copies of a private first printing. And that was only because I was fucking him.
“GitzGodt promised the work would reconstruct perception for the committed reader. It directed itself not only to the lost and the disillusioned, but also to anyone willing to abandon every cherished belief in order to apprehend the truth.
“The book had been written during the last stage of GitzGodt’s life, during his descent into abuse of hallucinogens and barbiturates, when he was eking out an existence by trading on his former reputation, and by hyping his massive work in progress with its grandiose claims. Often, he would trade glimpses of isolated pages of the unpublished (and some would say unpublishable) tome for cash, drugs, or sex.
“The first time I read this book, you know, while I was sifting through its tortured syntax and its private lexicon, I kept thinking, this is bullshit, silly rambling, improvised bullshit.” She read me a passage that she said was typical:
“The distribution of selfsame reasoning with organs evolved from a phase of prior animalist progression similar to that of a donkey, which I term the Ophanapalastic stage of evolution, in which consciousness is so acute that one can see the divine creative energy smiling with one of those rare smiles of eternal reassurance, and then focused upon you with a compelling bias toward the exact nature of your being, assuring you that all you wish to achieve is possible. And then, just at that moment, the smile vanishes from the face of the universe, and at that precise moment, just when with all your heart you believe you are doing the just and moralistic endeavor of a lifetime, you find creation in its adolescent arrogance, a being of mere trillions of years, whose pretensions and formalities and disguises just miss being burlesque.”
“Shit, Eliza, you read 2,700 pages of stuff like that?”
“I did. Really, and the whole time thinking, I’m being conned by a con artist, but I kept on reading, all the way through. It passed like a landscape on a train ride, obscured by mist. When I was done, fuck if I could remember anything at all about it.
“My last conversation with Clark made me want to reread the book, to give it a second chance. Clark is the real expert on GitzGodt, not me. I needed to see if I had missed something profound through my inattention or lack of commitment.”
After two and a half hours of reading it in the car, partly to herself (and sometimes aloud until I told her to stop because it was putting me to sleep at the wheel) she found that the book still read like so much bullshit, like someone openly playing a joke on the reader, daring her to continue. She muttered, “The book contains nothing, elaborate descriptions of nothing. The linguistic contortions force you crawl slowly through the nothingness, and to contemplate nothing in the most intense way.
“But, fuck all, you know what else, and I never saw this coming. Even with all the Prognostication in the world, I never would have guessed… This book, this fucking stupid book, with its absurd, quirky cynicism, its veneer of jocularity floating like a rainbow of oil on a pool of piss, this book sums up my whole life.
“On the basis of Clark’s recommendation and a curious nostalgia, I had reached for the book, hoping for the fulfillment of GitzGodt’s promises, hoping to be remade. Only to find that it had already happened, decades ago.
“I had to put it down when I hit the parable of the needful artist who had great promise.” Then she started reading that section of the book aloud to me.
“It is short.”
“It can’t possibly be short enough.”
She read it aloud, anyway. “A student came to me one day, begging me to tell her the best way to improve her art. She said she had a terrible need, for everywhere she looked she saw a world in crisis, and felt compelled to save the world from itself through her art. And this I said to her, ‘I am reluctant to tell you this, but at the same time, I feel I must. Of all the students I have ever taught, you possess the greatest promise. You, out of all the others, have the greatest potential to achieve Entropic Transcendence. But in order to do so, you must always heed your inner guide, that spirit that informs in ways that defy words and conscious understanding. Your inner guide would prove to be a greater teacher than I could ever be.’
“For many years thereafter, my student devoted herself exclusively to her art, forsaking all lovers, working menial jobs to get by on the barest of sustenance, lest the mental effort required of more lucrative employment distract her from her higher callings. She produced much in the way of art, but critics scorned it, and it failed to sell.
“She came back to me, and complained, for she had followed her inner guide, and naught has come of it. And so, I cautioned that she must not have been paying close enough attention, saying, ‘of all my students, you still have the greatest potential. Surely there is a message for you in the passion of your critics, and the sweeping breadth of your work’s avoidance. Surely you did not suppose that the world would gladly accept advice aimed at correcting its mistakes. Listen to the lessons of your failures. Not only will the course of your life be determined by paying close attention, but also the rest of eternity, for surely artistic immortality still lies within your grasp. Still, you must correctly interpret that which lies beyond words and conscious understanding.’
“And then she began to pay attention to her physical self, and she transformed from a drab waif to startling beauty, once she stopped depriving herself of earthly pleasures. Many lovers wooed her, and many lovers she took, until one promised to always promote and encourage her art, and to financially support her without interfering with her attainment of Entropic Transcendence.
“Her inner guide encouraged this approach, and she pursued her art in greater comfort, though still her critics lashed out against all she produced, and still there was no audience.
“Again, she complained to me. Her life was comfortable, but passionless, and her art seemed empty, not only to her, but to everyone around her, through it was always produced through unflagging attention to her inner guide.
“I told her, ‘Ask your inner guide to steer you in the direction of true love, for that is the surest route to Entropic Transcendence, that it would lead to an epiphany through which you can realize your ultimate potential. The world is psychically constructed something like a jigsaw puzzle, with each piece being part of the design, though containing the design. By focusing on the perimeters of your being, you can find where you are meant to fit. But you must begin on the inside before you can find what lies beyond.’
“And so, she found true love, but it proved to be just as ephemeral as its lesser variants, and far more painful. Her supportive partner ceased providing support when she became pregnant. Her inner guide failed her through motherhood as much as it had failed her in art. There followed a lifelong struggle of unceasing bitterness between mother and child, for the child opposed the woman’s art with the same ferocity as all of her critics and her friends.
‘And in the end, the woman came broken and dying to me. ‘Ever have I followed my inner guide,’ said she, ‘and ever it has led me to naught. I should have never listened to a word you said.’
“And I replied, ‘now you have reached the apex of Entropic Transcendence’”.
Eliza said, “50 years into the grave, the old charlatan makes me feel like he’s reading my mind and rolling around in his coffin, laughing at me.”