Catechism

Article excerpt

Like Ronald Sukenick and Alain Arias-Misson, Gilbert Sorrentino is known for his experiments with literary form. A poet and novelist, Sorrentino was also editor of Neon (a Beat-related journal) in the late 1950s. When he published "Catechism" in the Autumn 1973 issue of Chicago Review, he had recently published Splendide-Hotel with New Directions. "Catechism" would later become part of one of his best-known works, Mulligan Stew (1979), a pastiche of literary modes, stories, and characters.

Is it true what they say about Dixie?

In time and of the essence, river of tender adolescent tears, as whispered by the ghost, long wind-grieved and not yet laid, it may become true. When old Dixie shakes, when those good ol' boys stop walking down those hot red clay roads, or when lovers make no rendezvous 'neath the magnolias. Certainly, it is false to speak of honeysuckle, tobacco, grits, slaves, Confederates of stone far gazing, deserted rocking chairs on shady verandas in the heavy heat of August afternoons, and whatever other items from Dear Old Southland that come to mind. The argument seems to be that nothing whatever known to Yankee man is true of Dixie. From other voices we may hear the harshest truths, from baking cotton fields, from other rooms, down on the levee, in the Mississippi muck, O drawling ghosts! Crackers in the sleepy town square, rawboned and still. Them mercury vapor streetlights leading to the highway!

Who is Sylvia?

Sylvia Sackett Besunder, white, female, 34, of 3025 West 2nd Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. Elementary-school teacher, beloved by all. Her construction-paper suns and pussycat silhouettes shine out and purr upon the streets of raw Canarsie down below.

Is that the Chattanooga Choo-Choo?

No. From its general construction and style, as well as its size, silhouette, and the insufferable noise it makes, it may be the Wabash Cannonball, the Redball Express, the Hondo Hurricane, the Laredo Limited, the Delaware Lackawanna and Western Delight, the Erie Smoke, the Santa Fe Savage, the Missouri-Pacific Blazer, the Texas-Pacific Tornado, the Union Pacific Paramount, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Zippo, the Toonerville Trolley, the Zenith Hummingbird, the Western Pacific Wendigo, the Pennsylvania Phantom, the Long Island Stroller, or the Tuscaloosa Breeze.

What do you do in the infantry?

You die, you die, you die.

Can Jack-an-Ape be merry, when his clog is at his heel?

Marry, an' as the wise old king who plugged a dozen holes of an evening was wont to say, his encarnadined phiz covered o'er with the juice o' the sacred grape, a varlet'll come to his galliards an' his corantos late, if he come at all, for the wine goes round in his whirling eye that the faithful sun doth scorch to a desert consistency as like as to powder as m'lady's damask skin beneath her plackets when the reeling moon doth sport with her desperate suitors, the stars. An' why not then a thing so shaped in man's decided visage as the poor dumb fettered baboon? 'Tis not a clog that'll let a gay old dog, or, an't please you, the grinning fool, Jack Ape.

Nov schmoz ka pop?

Inter belfuscu idionie tae brezhnov da poz, pu ka poppa taemoz ka don aeroplane, peru tae kaloz; taen melozhnoz, p donzu donoz perlopki.

Is fancy sick, or turned a sot, to catch at shadows which are not?

Nay, 'tis the line that makes one puke on one's fedora or peruke.

If God be with us, who can be against us?

Strategic Air Command, New York Yankees, First Marine Division, Fuckin' A, Army of Northern Virginia, the Administration, Japanese Marines, Schutzstaffel, 82nd Airborne Division, Viet Cong, Zeros, Pittsburgh Pirates, Army of the Potomac, Adolf Hitler Division, Apaches, the times, Internal Revenue Service, Camp Pickett, diseased whores, Crazy Horse, Nelson Rockefeller, book reviewers, Stukas, 2nd Army, Peoples' Republic of China, KP pushers, the customs, bookmakers, Geheime Staatspolizei, CIA, platoon sergeants, the odds, Ford Hood, San Francisco Giants, narcotics dealers, the past, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the rich, the future, landlords, and the advertising business. …

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