Coleridge Cook is the contributor for this week’s Take Five, a regular series where we ask authors and editors to share five facts about their latest books. Cook is the author of The Meowmorphosis, available now.
Meet Gregor Samsa, a humble young man who works as a fabric salesman to support his parents and sister. His life goes strangely awry when he wakes up late for work and finds that, inexplicably, he is now a man-sized baby kitten. His family freaks out: Yes, their son is OMG so cute, but what good is cute when there are bills piling up? And how can he expect them to serve him meals every day? If Gregor is to survive this bizarre, bewhiskered ordeal, he’ll have to achieve what he never could before—escape from his parents’ house. Complete with haunting illustrations and a provocative biographical exposé of Kafka’s own secret feline life, The Meowmorphosis will take you on a journey deep into the tortured soul of the domestic tabby.
1. At some point it must be accepted that text has no inherent meaning. If it pleases the reader to take The Meowmorphosis as proof of that truth, it would not displease this author. Coarse culture has names for the crimes committed in this book: mashups, monsters, abominations. But the shape of things is both simpler and more complex than that. The mashups are a pop expression of certain academic discipline: deconstruction. It has its own peculiar purity. Jacques Derrida, a creature who once fell asleep and woke up a post-structuralist, said that deconstruction was an act never done to a text, but only an act of unearthing, of discovering what was always already within the pages, paragraphs, and sentences of the text. And he should know, he invented the thing. So—if you cultivate a certain zen calm and detachment from the slings and arrows of authorial cults of personality, you may discover that Pride and Prejudice always already contained a story about men and women sapped of their life, shuffling through Hereford in search of some other person to make them feel alive again, made mindless by oppressive society. You may find that Anna Karenina was always already about the Industrial Revolution’s penchant for turning humans into machines. You may find that The Metamorphosis was always already about the animals inside men, and how unique Gregor Samsa was not.
2. Or you may say: “I don’t read those sorts of books. My grandmother bought me this for Christmas and I don’t think very well of it at all. I went to a very good university, thank you very much. ” Well, sirs, so did I.
3. Everything going on with this book is about authority. No author goes in for this sort of treatment without being an enormous font of steaming, foamy cultural authority, and it is our duty as techno-literary postmodern punk-knights to sit down with authority, pour it a cup of coffee, and then jump its old, crumbling bones. We tie them up and interpolate their text and take apart their stories and figure out what other stories were always already living down there at the bottoms of the books, waiting to come out, waiting to be free, to be ridiculous or sublime or neither or both, to fail or succeed at birthing a chimera: a work which is not the original nor anything new, but it both, but is neither, but chases its tail forever in the dark of no one paying much attention.
4. Interpolation, mashing, deconstruction: all of these things are a kind of playing in the bony, dinosaur-strewn school-yard of literature, seeing what toys can still be used and which we will only understand when we are older. It is a trickster-god sitting among the Olympian thrones, smoking something dubious and interrupting their dialogues to insert something irreverent, something impertinent, and occasionally something grand. On literature’s noisy Olympus, Austen wears Zeus’s old crown of thunder, Tolstoy works the forge, Bronte holsters her arrows, Kafka runs the Underworld with a resentful fist. And Wikipedia takes the tolls on the rainbow road from the heights to earth, making sure everyone has heard the tales.
5. And even this little god is not immune.