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Bleeding Yourself to Write

October 23rd, 2006 · No Comments

I just polished off Chuck Klosterman’sKilling Yourself to Live, which somehow manages to be as good as you’d expect it to be if it were actually about its nominal topic. See, in theory, it’s about the deaths of rock stars, and Klosterman’s trip to the sites thereof, which would (if done right) make for an interesting piece of musical history and culture crit. Maybe a dozen pages of the book are about this, and a third of that is a (pretty good) musing on how Kurt Cobain’s death retconned Nirvana’s cultural significance—presumably this is because it’s the only one of the cases Klosterman considers that occurred in his adult memory. The book is actually about Klosterman’s obsessive ruminations during this road trip about three romantic relationships—two of which have been over for a while—and various other personal anecdotes he’s reminded of during his travels. What’s impressive here is that almost none of this is intrinsically interesting. His stories from childhood and college are actually probably, in themselves, less interesting than the many of the ones we all pick up and bore our friends with over the course of our lives. His love/sex life isn’t really any more fraught or weird than that of anyone else I know. And yet despite having essentially dropped his inherently fascinating subject matter for the details of his not-as-inherently-fascinating life, it works. Hell, it’s probably a better book than the rock-and-death one would’ve been.

I think in part he makes this work precisely because his life experience, at least as he presents it, is not unusually interesting—since it makes his reflections, delivered with his usual gift for prose, relevant to the reader. And in part, it’s because his emotional history seems unusually present to him, or because he manages to create the impression that it is. Maybe I’m just unusually detached here, but I usually find that after a while—not all that long—experiences in different contexts, physical or social, tend to become sort of alien. I’ll remember being deleriously happy or despondent or having a brutal, angry argument or a profound-seeming moment, but the reasons for all of it will have become incomprehensible. I’ll know, abstractly, that they happened to me, but they might as well be movies I once saw with a protagonist who looked a hell of a lot like me. You get the sense that even when Klosterman recognizes his own past reactions don’t make sense, exactly, he can plop himself right back there and summon precisely the same feeling again. Of course, this is probably why he does first-person narrative writing and I do policy wonkery…

Tags: Language and Literature