“The Bridge After Midnight”

Atam leaned against the wall of the alley behind the Cairo and lit a cigarette. He was grateful proper smoking had made a comeback. Vaping was a crime against nature. It was too easy, too sleek and clean, the apotheosis of nicotine consumption. He had known when the technology arrived, but it had taken others a decade or more to realize. To enjoy a cigarette with neither the immediate nor the long-term consequences… it flew in the face of God, who had made his own comeback of sorts. Vaping was gauche, but cigarettes were a respectable vice.

A damp, chilly breeze wafted past and got under his clothes, pulling Atam right out of his head. He’s never far when I light up, he thought. Down at the other end of the alley, the cold air coalesced into a tall, thin shadow that slowly approached him. As it moved closer, features began to take shape. First it was a bulky trench coat and a low, flat-brimmed fedora. Then a thin, gaunt face poked out from between the two. It was a man, or something like a man, but his form was composed out of nothing. Air, light, substance, all seemed to not be wherever he was. Once he was next to Atam in the alley, he looked up at him, and something that might have been a smile spread across his face. “Those aren’t your usuals. Royal Turks?” he asked.

“Turkish Royals. It’s okay to say it right,” Atam mumbled while looking at his feet.

“Well I take it you want to move forward with this, or you wouldn’t have flashed my bat signal this early in the evening,” the spectre nudged Atam, and where their arms touched a painful, icy cold spread up Atam’s right side. “What do you say we take a walk and figure out what we know?” the spectre motioned out of the alley. Atam didn’t nod or even indicate that he heard, but followed him out of the hallway of dilapidated brick.

As they walked through the port district towards a towering suspension bridge, the ghost tried to contain his excitement, but to no avail. “This is my wheelhouse, you know. Back before I was this, I was H. Jerod Vegaro, -“

“G-man,” Atam completed his sentence. “I know you’re going to have this cracked in no time, Hanley. But I need this to go slowly. Can you do that for me?” he asked.

“I suppose,” Hanley grumbled. “But let’s at least get the bones of this case on the table – “

“It’s not a case! I don’t even know why I’m doing this! She left me, Hanley. If she wanted me finding her, she wouldn’t have fucking disappeared,” Atam shouted, and then slumped on the curb and began to sob.

“Hey. You ain’t your woman. If you were, you’d be gone too. If I learned anything before I crossed over, it’s that you can always find another woman. A good one, too,” Hanley knelt beside him, eyeing the cigarette that Atam was trying to steady his hand in order to light. “I know this isn’t the best time, but do you mind if I..?”

Atam slumped even lower, his back making a C-shape as he lit the cigarette with his face pointed to the ground. “Go for it,” he mumbled between sobs.

Hanley rubbed his hands eagerly and slid inside Atam’s skin. He loved occupying a body. It was so warm. It didn’t matter whether it was the dead of winter; he could always feel the warmth blooming from Atam’s heart. That was how he knew the heart was more than a pump. It was warming up a damn ghost. He raised Atam’s hand and put the cigarette to his lips, taking a hearty drag. Smoking was the opposite of being dead. No damp or cold. Adam’s lungs and throat felt like wool socks drying in front of a wood stove. It was delicious.

Hanley retreated from Atam’s body, relishing the last few moments as Atam recovered from the brief but taxing possession. Atam writhed for a few seconds and gasped repeatedly as though the wind had been knocked out of him. He looked up at Hanley, once again ethereal, and his eyes were sunken and resentful. But as he regained his breath, they returned to sadness with a little of Atam’s usual apathy.

“Now,” said Hanley, turning to face the water so as to avoid Atam’s displeasure, “Tell me what you know – what you’re sure of in this whole ordeal.”

Big Time in the Jungle – Kurtz and Tyler Durden as masculine misfits

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness isn’t just a critique of imperialism – it’s a commentary on masculinity and its place in society.

With the exception of Hamlet, I have read Heart of Darkness more than any other book. I like to think I know it fairly well. Unlike Hamlet, which peaked in my affections around the second or third read and now, at 6 careful read-throughs, is an object of great loathing, Heart of Darkness always seems to have something more for the reader. The first time I read Heart of Darkness was in high school, and i hated it. The weird narrative structure, the incessant philosophical tangents, Kurtz existing in general – it wasn’t for me. But by the second read, I had come around to understanding why it is great, and on the third read, it became my favorite book, only unseated last year by The Master and Margarita. I thought I would write my first blog post about something I love to make things easier.

“In the world I see you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center ” – Tyler Durden

Some important context: This was my first time reading HoD since reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, something that brought Conrad’s book into a totally new critical light for me. Palahniuk’s sexy, quotable Mr. Hyde is Tyler Durden, the narrator’s evil split personality and sometime alter ego, who wages a war against the materialism of 1990’s America by inducting other disenfranchised men into an underground fight club that becomes increasingly cult-like as it fights back against the world telling its members that they are the sum of their possessions.

Tyler Durden dreams of a world where the alpha male is not the most educated, or the richest, or a fortunate son, but the mightiest hunter, the classical conqueror, the silverback. He is unsuccessful in the modern world and so desires a return to form – to an era where seizing power is not only accepted and viable, but respected. He wishes to fight for his supremacy, as he is sure can beat the shit out of those Wall Street boys with their silky shirts and boat shoes and steal the supermodels from their sides. Tyler believes himself to be the prime example of manhood as defined by the world he lives in, and is incensed that the “real man” is not what makes for a successful person in today’s society. In short, he’s tired of playing someone else’s game.

“All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz” – Marlow

Fight Club does not allow Tyler to successfully create a splinter society, so we never see the classical conqueror in action. Kurtz, however, inhabits a microcosm where his brutality is a boon. Working as an agent in Africa collecting ivory for import to Europe, Kurtz is unlike others in his field. He is highly praised and extremely successful, obtaining more ivory for his company than any other agent. However, he is secretive, always in the field and seldom returning from “the heart of darkness” to reap the fruits of his labor. As the narrator, Marlow, learns more in his quest to locate Kurtz and bring him home, he comes to understand that the other Europeans in Africa hold Kurtz at arm’s length, and that something is not right about the man. They are happy to leave him to his own devices as long as the ivory keeps flowing in, but it has stopped, and they want him brought in.

When Marlow discovers Kurtz in a remote African village far down the river, it is Tyler Durden’s fantasy played out, to the horror of the narrator’s Victorian sensibilities: Kurtz has conquered and subjugated the entire village, who worship him as a god. He has the heads of disobedient natives mounted on sharpened sticks around his dwelling, and they bring him tithes of ivory to remain in his good graces. Kurtz views his conquest and his ivory as the rewards of his own blood and sweat, staunchly refusing to return to “civilization” with Marlow. He refuses to continue to be a cog in another man’s machine, only receiving a small portion of the profits from his labor. Kurtz’s rejection of the company that gives him cause to stay out in the “heart of darkness” is the last in a long list of rejections of the trappings of civilized life, and he dies refusing to return.

Heart of Darkness provides the perfect setting for Tyler Durden’s fantasy to play out through the lens of a “civilized” individual because of the enormous developmental gap of the Victorian era; Marlow, experiencing Africa for the first time, with its vast swaths of untouched land, regards it as a primitive, savage place, the titular “heart of darkness”, where the light of civilization has yet to touch. His Eurocentric, ultimately racist conclusions about the place provide the perfect dichotomy with which to explore the role of classical masculinity. Kurtz is afforded considerable social capital because of his effectiveness in the capitalist machine, the very machine that Tyler Durden rejects. The Victorian era was one of the first where capitalism afforded real social mobility, and it became both a trend and a concern, with novels like Great Expectations dealing with the varying reactions to individuals of “new money”, and English aristocracy sheepishly marrying their daughters to wealthy American industrialists of low birth. Though more concerned than any previous era with the accumulation of wealth, Victorian Europe was still obsessed with its own notion of civilization: the term “gentleman” could now apply to a commoner, and social norms dictated that both men and women strive to be exemplars of civility. Classic masculinity gave way to values such as piety, education, and discretion. Kurtz only succeeds by acting as a classical conqueror because his behavior is deemed profitable by his company. Seeing himself as subordinate to no man, Kurtz embraces Durden’s philosophy by shaking off the chains of his employer to enjoy the full product of his labor (his ivory hoard) because he is seduced by the primal intoxication that his newfound position as the alpha male provides, a position that Tyler only partially carves out for himself as the leader of the Fight Club.