For starters, the dagger and the Ball are connected in interesting ways. The Ball itself, as you'll soon see (see also "Exteriority," "Vanishing Point: Middle West, Citizenship," "Interiority"), is more than just a ball. It is a way of life. A symbol of something. An obsession, but not just an obsession. It virtually requires annotation, exploration, theorization. It's hard not to make the ball into myth. It makes itself into myth by force of its own conviction.
And if you like the Ball, and I like the Ball, or if you like balls at all ("we've got the biggest balls of them all" --AC/DC, juvenile-ly), enjoy also The Available World, which uses a slice of the Ball--perhaps sliced off with something like a dagger--as the cover image (see below for more). Like many of my books, there are a lot of correspondences between this one and that one.
It is either a defect or a feature. I prefer a feature.
I don't know why I find the Ball so fascinating, why it means more and more the more I think about it. Balls are like this, the more you use them, the more you think about them, the more they roll and accrue gravitational forces. Super balls, for instance. They accrue dust and gum and fur and whatever else as they travel quickly through the air, ready to break your parents' collectibles if muscle-loosed. Too, I'm a fan of the video game Katamari Damacy and its sequels, which features some serious ball action. You probably need to check this game out if you haven't played it yet.
Some epigraphs from TAW:
Let us roll all our strength, and all / Our sweetness, up into one ball; --Andrew Marvell
The prince rolled them all up, rolled and rolled, until the katamari was big enough to be lifted up to space to replace the shiny stars that were so grievously lost. And that, dear friends, was the plot and purpose of the fabulous game called Katamari Damacy. --We Love Katamari Damacy
Every ball is a model of the world. Even down to the layer after layer inside of it:
They have to shave it to counteract gravity, which makes the Ball lengthen gradually toward the ground as each layer drips downwards just slightly. You have to maintain your ball, as if it were a yard, or a lawn, or a pet, or anything organic.
Mike & Glenda, keepers of the Ball, will give these to you for a donation to further the project. They are beautiful, aren't they? So detailed. The colors. The variousness of the layers, the surprises that the form yields..
The small fault across the layers (left), the strange red pocket resembling a cell (center), the white fjord (right).
Each shaving is a labyrinth, a John McPhee essay that keeps going past the last sentence. If you're coming here after reading bits in the book, as it should be, then these images should be illuminating. You figure: oh, the world's largest Ball of Paint, like the Twine Ball, or like the World's Largest Super Ball, or the World's Largest Hair Ball, or the World's Largest Buckyball, Dodecahedron, basketball, baseball, blah-ball, etc. These are all in the world, it's true. And if you sliced them apart, you'd get something interesting, sure, but not like this. So my hope is that you see these slivers and say to yourself, oh, I get it now.
I don't fully know what there is to get, what I mean by that.
Why does anything fascinate us? Can we extend our fascinations so that they are of interest to others?
In the Ball we all find our world, our selves, our circles of hell, our obsessions. In the second slice of the ball the center is an egg with a yolk, the symbol of the soul according to some cultures (and the film Angel Heart):
Or maybe the whole thing is a cyst, like the one taken from my arm in a doctor's office in Tuscaloosa in 2002 and dyed for contrast. The scar ridge still rises up when I overheat. Some nights I dream its pain.
Or rotate the image counterclockwise 90 degrees and what do you get?
Michigan, nearly. Or the lower half of it, the part they call the mitten, maybe even the lesser half of it if you ask me, being from the Northern portion (we call those who reside below the bridge trolls and how we laugh to each other when we say it: we open our mouths and our toothlessness, our matching caves, our recognizeable Upper Michigander stink, and the wya we tell jokes that are not funny but how we laugh at them anyhow--these things are all beautiful). It's the recognizable hand with the thumb, if you flip it across the Y axis:
You know, the high five sign Michiganders like to fly to show you where on the lower peninsula they live. It's always ticked me off, its convenience. Where I'm from nothing is convenient, not driving to the grocery store, not turning on your car, not digging out your car, not trying to find your car is parked after storm. To show you where I'm from you need the other hand and by that point the girl you're talking to at the party has concluded you're a turd or a tool or something worse obsessed with hand gestures who has impressively depressing hair. Fair enough. But what you see here is that you don't need much transformation to find yourself in the Ball. Or I don't anyhow. Or that I am you, I think. I am in you, I think, now, if I was not before. These sentences, these EKGs, are inside your brain inhabiting it for who knows how long? What I am saying is that a random chunk of crusted paint suggests the blue lakes forever surrounding what you still call your home. That even the one white layer starts to look pockmarked like the surface of the moon, and you can start to see worlds hidden in those depressions. That we might know more as we get closer. That if you look hard enough anything--you, reader, for instance--might be in there.
(It doesn't take much to imagine it as the electric work of the brain showing up on an MRI, our way of tracking--if not explaining--the activity of brain.)
What you learn about nonfiction, the more you study it and read it and try to hack your way inside it, is that the world is us. We are the world. (In a real way, we are the children, though I don't think you should just start givin' just yet.) When you gaze out of your ocean liner's porthole and sense infinity, that is infinity, that's your infinity, that's you out there in that infinity, registering it, equating it to the unknowable. That's your loneliness, not the world's. (Though very occasionally it's both.) To write about yourself, you write about the world. To write the world, you write yourself. It seems so obvious, but you forget it when you're deep into working on your hackneyed memoir and bitching about others working on their similarly hackneyed memoirs. Sure, we're self-obsessed in this country in this time period. We're all a little hackneyed from too much trying and lack of insight. But when we gaze at ourselves and start trying to excavate, there's paint trace and microscopic drywall bits, not to mention the semidigested Doritos you've eaten by the handful to your shame now balling in your stomach leaching biological light that will probably keep you up tonight.
When the coroners on television shows list the contents of the stomach to help determine the deceased's last meal, that's you there on the slab. They're always so pleased to detail what you ate. It's usually their only scene. And where you ate it. Whom you were with. How long ago. How many pills you took to silence your brain after your meal. But it's a character, and not even a character, but a prop (or an actor) portraying a dead character with fictional stomach contents, and if the operation of the brain is really the only bit that makes us us, then there's no us there really at all either: it's just electrics, configuration, labyrinth of world that we've internalized and tried to describe.
But in our attention to the world and our trying to cajole it into understanding, we write inevitably about ourselves. And that's the best kind of writing about the self. The closer you look, if you're being honest, the bigger and more labyrinthine everything gets, until we're discarding shell after shell of Ball to get to something.
And if the job of nonfiction is to start with everything and start deleting until we make connections about what remains, then the eye and brain that is doing the selection and deleting--the editing--becomes extremely important. But we can't just start there. That's where some of us--most of us even--are going wrong with our memoirizing.
The Ball is an equation, nested parenthesis after nested parenthesis, surrounding, enclosing something entirely unfathomable:
|| ) ) ) ) ) etc.
And its unknowability is what makes it all--and keeps it all--interesting. We wouldn't have to shave it off, to chip away at understanding meaning if any of this ball inside of ball inside of ball made any real sense to us.