Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The Eternal Remainder
by Charles Conley
I happened to read the piece, half-smart hackwork typical of that sort of journal. Postcolonial this, semiotics that, deconstruction everywhere you looked. By the time Foucault tipped his cap the second time, I had milk in my mustache and a Cheerio up my nose. So I’d heard of the guy when I landed the case, is what I’m saying, and when I got to his apartment I knew what I was looking at.
How I got into Missing Persons is a whole different story, but I’ve been doing it long enough to know when a man’s missing and when he’s not. This man was dead. How many clues do I need? I see the manila envelope with the poet’s return address, I see the little note—“I think you might have misunderstood this?”—on a photocopy of Roland Barthes’s “Death of the Author.” I’m an experienced professional with the gut to prove it and I know what I know—the poet was a killer and Roland Barthes the murder weapon.
As far as I can guess—which is far enough—the critic was probably cursed with just enough reflective curiosity to prove deadly. The guy somehow made it through grad school without learning the most important lesson—don’t read the stuff. But he did, and if ‘the author’ was dead, he must have figured, then ‘the critic’ never existed.
So maybe she didn’t mean to kill him or maybe she thinks a bad review from a disappeared man leaves as much of an impression as a French kiss from a photograph. It’s all the same to me, and I’m under my own pressure. A dull gray missing person is a hell of a lot better than a bright red homicide, a murder we could never bring to trial and a murder weapon buried twenty years before the victim. I let it slide, said a benediction, filed the papers, and left the critic to his eternal remainder. Maybe it was the first poststructuralist death I saw, maybe it wasn’t. Sometimes it’s best not to keep track.