Human Remainders

Bibliophile Paul Collins Pumps Up the Volumes

The obsession with the death of literature leads to what could arguably be regarded as the climax of this largely plotless tale, the moment when Collins accidentally drops his own manuscript in the toilet and accidentally pisses on it. One recalls with horror Samuel Beckett's remark about giving birth astride a grave, or Oscar Wilde's on destroying what you love. Or perhaps the composer Cornelius Cardew's observation that "everyone's failing; our entire experience is this side of perfection."

Yet Collins is uncharacteristically pragmatic when confronted by the spectacle of his yellowing manuscript. He fishes it out and patiently holds the pages up to the hand dryer, managing to save all of them except the first. Not bad, and illustrative of an important lesson: Quoting only takes you so far. Eventually you have to learn to say it—or do it—for yourself.

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