Steven Fraccaro

From Skeleton Keys


Essence as Existence

Effectively, it never works, the attempt to order one’s life exactly. The Greeks sensed this, Fate and all it entails. Thus we have the fall of Oedipus, and the fall of Elvis. One might argue that Elvis has left the building, but I would disagree. He has never left, he is with us always, whether we want him here or not, a reminder of our collective absurdity and our lack of immortality.

Fate thwarts us all, the plans of politicians, yes, but also the plans of small children, students, grandmothers, the plans of us all. One could have been this, or one might have been that. And yet, one is only what stands in the field of one’s life. Existence, it is more than that, it is a nexus of problems, stresses, defeats, small things that enrage one, tug at one’s sleeve, drive one mad. The precise arrow rarely hits the target, and even when it does, one has a splinter in one’s hand, or worse, something to negate this temporary triumph.

Clearly, there is no simple manual for how to defeat the everyday insults of existence. Nor can one simply ignore such depredations. Resilience, perhaps that’s the key, the true skeleton key to existence. But where does one find such a thing? Where would it come from?


The Sense of the Senseless

Memory is an autonomous function, I think. Then the question arises, what is thinking? No, the neuroscientists haven’t figured that out yet. The philosophers, in a university? Not likely.

Reading Kant, reading Hegel, does this make one more intelligent, or less so? What about studying Renaissance alchemy or astrology? If one is to have an archeology of knowledge, why not an archeology of ignorance, an archeology of folly? Do we remember the Renaissance? What I mean is, does the author of this history claim to have been there? Does brain imaging actually tell us anything—cerebral blood flow, electrical impulses, but can the images tell us the difference between a brilliant new idea and a very wrong one? Do the images enable us to read the book the subject is reading? Which is to say, the book of the mind.

Time speeds up. We are diminishing, almost disappearing. It makes little or no sense, how we disappear. Unless it is all an hallucination, a seldom seen Twilight Zone episode. If so, where are the credits? When is the next episode?

There are things to remember and things to forget, and sometimes they are the same.


The Statues (Still)

Greek statues, that’s what they are. Not Roman copies. Pure white, as Winckelmann thought. What were they for? Are they art—if not, why not?

If an aging German professor developed a theory in his solitary room several centuries ago, are we supposed to take it seriously? Even if he was wrong? It depends on how the room was heated. As Descartes has demonstrated, the quality of the heating apparatus makes a difference for the functioning of the mind and the clarity of the thought. Not really white, the statues, funerary marble. What color are they? Sandstone? No, they’re marble. Once brightly painted, it seems. Not off-white, but multicolored, particolored, a riot of chromaticism. Where is the purity then, where is the beauty? The line, perhaps, the line.

The Sphinx knew it all at Thebes. Oedipus wasn’t punished for killing his father, a deed not unknown in Greek mythology—he was punished for defeating the Sphinx, a supernatural, female creature. The patricide was secondary.

Perhaps these painted statues were hideous, like painted nineteenth century whores. Perhaps we are all badly painted imitations of ourselves.

The statues pose—indolently, ferociously, lasciviously. The Sphinx—does she smile or does she sneer? The silence astonishes. Shattered—they are all shattered.

Steven Fraccaro lives and writes in New York. He is the author of two novels, Dark Angels and Gainsborough’s Revenge. His most recent work is Skeleton Keys, a collection of flash pieces that inhabit the space between poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction.
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