Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, March 11, 2013

Noah Eli Gordon, _The Source_

THIS HAD BEEN on my shelf for over a year before I took it up, and serendipitously enough at the very same time I had started reading Lawrence Wright's Going Clear, his new history of Scientology. Wright's chapter on L. Ron Hubbard life before founding Scientology is titled, coincidentally, "The Source," and Gordon's volume seems like one of the home-made, self-published scriptures that could have found its way into Hubbard's hands in the late 1940s, passed on by some hollow-eyed cultist in a bus station, perhaps, its card-stock cover textured to suggest leather, its title stamped in gold.

The Source looks so much like the handbook of some fly-by-night storefront aspiring religion that I almost felt embarrassed to be reading it in the public space of my favorite coffeehouse. Well done, Mickel Design.

Scientology, I gather from Wright, is a potent cocktail of familiar fringe belief-memes, not unlike the lethal home brew of whatever-is-at-hand that River Phoenix's character concocts in The Master; Gordon's volume is equally factitious, and wears its factitiousness on its sleeve.  His concluding "Note on Process" explains, "From January of 2008 to September of 2009, I read only page 26 of nearly ten thousand books at the Denver Public Library, culling from them bits of language, which I then fused together, altering some nouns to read 'the Source' so they became reflective of the parameters of the project." (Why 26?  He explains that, too.) This process yielded, for instance--

The difference in our perception is a furnished room quite a distance away, where the Source denotes a peculiar mode of performance, as though sending us out with money to buy a more presentable suit of clothes.

Sentences like that are what distinguish The Source from similar projects (e.g., Kenneth Goldsmith's) that are more interesting to think about than to read. Gordon balances the precise and imagistic with the vast and vaporous, setting the controls for the heart of the sun and then pulling you up short with a knife-edged epigram. Just when you are thinking the book is merely a jokey parody-by-protocol, you stumble on a sentence that sounds like the second coming of Lao Tzu.

In every desire to know there is a drop of the Source.

Gordon does not, as David Shields did in Reality Hunger, provide a list of sources, which I suppose means the legal department at Knopf is more exacting than that at Futurepoem...come to think of it, Futurepoem probably doesn't even have a legal department. I find myself curious, though, about the culling and fusing Gordon describes in his note. Unfortunately, Google searches of various phrases in The Source led me only to the publications where excerpts from it were first published. So, yes, seeking the sources of The Source but leads me back to The Source...the Source that can be sourced is not the Source, to echo the Tao Te Ching.

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