KAUFMAN MOCKS HUMANITY WITH ‘ANTKIND’

For fans of filmmaker Charlie Kaufman who’ve been intrigued over the years by the bizarro worlds of “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and a dozen other inventive cinematic experiences, his expansive debut novel Antkind is 2-1/2 pounds of red meat.

That said, devouring the 705-page tome (which seems twice the size since the convoluted nature of the story requires constant rereading) can leave readers feeling alternately stuffed or unfulfilled. It takes a substantial commitment to follow the innumerable tangential plotlines, discern the real from the surreal, track dozens of seemingly random characters, catch all of Kaufman’s hilarious self-referential digs … and, as with his films, make sense of What just happened?

Plenty of book reviews (including The New York Times) attempt to describe and dissect Antkind and could be helpful if you’re considering whether to commit the requisite time and mental energy to this massive undertaking.

In the meantime, these excerpts — shared by the book’s narrator, B. Rosenberger Rosenberg (unless otherwise noted) — might sate, or better, whet your appetite. Perhaps not surprisingly, these curious and puzzling selections complement regular themes of Humble Sky blog essays — aging, memory and humility.

ON AGING:

  • “I should add here that I have always been violently repulsed by the elderly. I know this is not a societally acceptable reaction and therefore I have kept it to myself.”
  • “It is essential to see this old man not just as a reminder of my own mortality, but as a person, someone who might have had or might still be having a fascinating life with fascinating thoughts.”
  • “He wears those new beige orthopedic Nikes everybody is going on about. Air Garry Marshalls. Several elderly people have been killed by several other elderly people down here in Florida for those shoes.”
  • “I had a novel published. It was a scathing indictment of the practice of warehousing the elderly in twenty-fifth-century American space station nursing homes. I called it Orbiting Grandpas. Not only did it not get good reviews, it didn’t even get bad reviews. Not even in Gerontology Tomorrow: The Premier Journal of Speculative Aging.
  • “I am shrinking. There is little doubt. I’ve taken to marking my height on the doorjamb. It is reverse of what is done with children’s heights and will end, I fear, in nonbeing.”
  • “In truth, there comes a time in any person’s life when there is not much to look forward to and the only direction to look is back.”
  • ”Ants have been present and virtually unchanged on Earth for almost two hundred billion years and as such are considered one of the most successful species on the planet. … The question is, what can we learn about longevity from an ant?”

 ON MEMORABLE THOUGHTS:

  • “Yes. Rememorying the future is more or less the same thing as past rememorying; it gets foggy the more far you go away from the time you’re at. In either direction.”
  • Ingo Cutbirth: “For sometimes a fool can be the wisest of men. ‘If one does not understand a person, one tends to regard him as a fool.’ Carl Jung said that. There’s a great deal of truth in that sentiment. And of course Jung was such a great influence on my work, indeed on the whole twentieth century, what with his introduction of the notion of the collective unconscience.”
    Rosenberg: “Unconscious, I correct.”
  • Cutbirth: “…I have forgotten many of the details, many of the names. They blur together into a mass, into a notion, into a moth-eaten coat of memory. When I die, what remains of them dies with me.”
  • “Your memory should or shouldn’t come back at some point or not.”
  • “My fire, my reason, is gone, but the massive imprint it left on my soul is still extant, just as a deep meteor crater remains at the site of its earlier collision, the meteor vaporized upon impact.”
  • “I am worried. I am almost certain none of this ever happened. And yet I remember it.”

ON HUMILITY AND SELF-AWARENESS:

  • “The Netflix executives, two men and a woman, who look like every two men and a woman executives in Hollywood, come to the animation studio. My assistant, whose name I don’t know but who looks like every assistant, young and female and of the vaguely mixed ethnicity of a soft drink commercial performer, as is the current fashion. …”
  • “Although I will not be seeking fame and fortune until such time as I know for certain that I do not in any way want it. Only then will I seek it.”
  • “I have a certain appeal to the ladies. Perhaps they see the intelligence in my eyes or the compassion in my mouth. I pride myself on my humility; so I feel a certain embarrassment even speculating about such things.”
  • “Kaufman is a monster, plain and simple, but a monster unaware of his staggering ineptitude (Dunning and Kruger could write a book on him!).”
  • Rosenberg: “First of all, I began, I am not Jewish.”
    Young white male: “You look Jewish,” he spat.
    Rosenberg: “And you look like an inbred white trash pedophile, but that does not make it thus.”
  • “I am proud to say that my rejection of these women was handled so gracefully that there were no hard feelings, and, in fact, in all cases, I convinced them that they were the ones rejecting me.”
  • “I am, after all. A good person, a kind person, a person who, in the face of this constant meaninglessness, tries to live by the law of reciprocity, the so-called golden rule …”
  • “Truth is my master in all things, if I can be said to have a master, which I cannot.”

If you find these tasty morsels appealing, sit down with Charlie Kaufman’s Antkind for the most memorable, humbling and fullest (or foolish) course yet of his work.

 

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