Eleven Facts You HAVE To!!
after Franz Kafka’s “Elf söhne.”
There are eleven facts in the world.
The first fact is a matter of sublime clarity: it bears a halo—it is sanctified knowledge. This fact, perhaps, is not easy to find, but it is not impossible either: it is a fact of axiomatic self-elegance, and does not hide itself, even in plain sight. How could it? Even the hiding would require it to possess some syllogistic flexibility, which it could not. If the oldest fact has a weakness, which it may not, it could only be that the very self-evidence of the fact might undermine its credibility. Encountering such a fact, one might squirm: the mind begins to mutter the word “convenient” to itself until something has hardened, some barrier erected between you and the fact. Still the fact glows, carefree as you like, and begins to seem further away, even trivial. It has passed from latent detonation to commonplace without having passed through thought—even as a commonplace, however, it gives voice to a minority—perhaps a moiety—that does not include me. It is precious, and without such facts there would be no family of any kind, and yet it disappoints constantly.
The second fact is the killer. It is a weapon in my hand, and I hoard it away from your vision until you have walked headlong into the negative space it has generated. Both a bear trap and a rapier, but never a cudgel, the killer fact works as cognitive assassin. Like the first, I rarely see it—mostly, I fear it. Much of the time, when I introduce a fact at a social gathering, I will speak as though in the presence of the second fact, but I am not. Because of my own subterfuge, I have failed to cultivate sharp sense when other people introduce their own facts at social gatherings. I wonder, not infrequently, what the last few years of my life would have been like if I had resisted the lure of the fact, or if I had done so with greater honesty than I have been able to practice. I have grown estranged from my own database, my atlas. It is possible that I have, in fact, never encountered the second fact at all—at all. I myself feel scotomized when I try to perceive it.
The third fact is that against which is ranged all manner of vacillations, equivocations, and relativisms—it is not the Truth, though the two are mistaken for each other. No, the third fact is elderly and gaunt, prematurely so. The exasperations of youth have passed seamlessly into the bounded rage of middle-age, the need to hoard, assimilate, occupy; now it has contracted into something mean. It is not what others would have you believe. Some people—you know which people—it is obvious which people—want you to treat the third fact as an opening position, a place from whence to bargain. Nobody is ever fooled. Not me at least. I know that if they start chipping away at the third fact, they will not stop until there is nothing left, a shriveled nub indistinguishable from anything else at all. My third fact loathes—and listen carefully for my tone here—postmodernists. Facts are facts, and though we may wish them otherwise, in reality we never do wish them otherwise: we wish them precisely this way, affixed to the pinwheel that is constituted by the totality of social relations. This is the only fact—one of the only facts, perhaps the only fact—that does not scare me. The pleasures of skepticism need not atrophy into dead and dying tendrils—we can be prevented from admitting defeat, by way of the champion fact, the rallying fact. One does not evaluate the third fact; one pledges it.
The fourth fact is grief, resolute and unmanageable. Trepanning the universe, grief bypasses you entirely; you slink out of your own cranium and slap onto the floor of the cosmic operating theater. There is nothing to say to or about grief—but equally nothing one says is exactly wrong, merely irrelevant, carried into the slipstream and eventually absorbed into the fact itself.
The fifth fact advances by a curious, strafing strategy—it is the fact that arrives in disguise. Its motto is this: “there is no smoke without fire.” Observing the fifth fact from a distance, it appears clad in the shredded garb of rumor, but you never fail to spot the bandaged knowledge underneath: the undeniable, the irrefutable, the fact of the body (as such). The fifth fact belongs to everyone—he is not merely my son (though, to be clear, he is very much my son). Geese swarm overhead, and cast their waste below, onto the rumor, who moves through space under a persistent cloud of shit, becoming encased, and eventually penetrable by needle or knife. It may be hollow inside; it may have been a papier-mâché balloon that was popped long ago. But if they is the case, it is not knowable, since the rumor migrates to the other side of the world as soon as one fixes one’s gaze directly. Even this apparent behavioral quirk indicates the presence of an algorithm, which is to say, something learnable. If one could retain the discipline to move always at the maximally recursive angle of a spiral, perhaps? But it’s a little too early to say what it is.
The sixth fact is a happy man, at least: his smile beams wealth and comfort. The confidence of one who has lived to confute the low opinion held of him by his high school English teacher. Knowing what he has got, the sixth fact shakes your hand without breaking eye contact—despite the name on his business card, “ETERNAL JOE: SILENT MAJORITY,” in fact he is never silent, nor even quiet, for long. He is too happy for quietness—quietude was the defense of those squealing piglets whose slaughter was guaranteed upon detection. Not for the likes of him, whose silence could only have meant a defeat that he has never known and will never know. There is a surprising subtlety about him, too; it emerges, perhaps, in the baroque syntax of a wedding toast, or a clumsy but affable pass. You love him, and he loves you; you have a future together, holding hands and skimming stones. He alone could prompt me to contemplate the fate of a Phaedra. Has prompted me––why lie? Welcoming, gregarious; a consummate host. He does not disappoint.
The same cannot be said of the seventh fact, who is sadness incorporate, the bearing of bad news. “Bearing” is a perfectly precise word, too: the seventh fact is borne alone, but also borne aloft, carried towards, already destined for a new home, which it will smear with grease in the same way as it has smeared its own. There is a little cruelty in the twist of its lips, and as soon as it has been passed, the seventh fact simply vanishes, leaving a puddle of second-rate business casual which now, somehow, it is your responsibility to launder, donate, or both—indeed, this is your first task, an imposition more objectionable, in its way, than the cruelty, which after all is something the seventh fact has in common with everyone else.
The eighth fact is a statistic, thin and sharp. Fluttering like a small tropical bird, you identify it first by the puffs of wind displaced under its wings. From its beak it calls forth dry seasoning—it is not the steak, not the sauce, but the salt. “Don’t become a statistic,” they say, but ultimately wouldn’t that be the best outcome for any of us? A nugget of knowability, pixie-prancing, that never outstays its welcome—I would like very much to have been a statistic, rather than what I am, which is fact-free.
The ninth fact is heavy and pompous, bellowing and banal: its name is Truth, always with a capital T. Boring its own tenants with interminable monologues about religious history, when all they wanted was either a new electric stove, or else the gas leak fixed so they could eat again, the ninth fact forgets both its legal responsibilities and every aspect of social form, in bumbles the ninth fact, crashing every party, blundering through the door frame. The given, the contract: the stipulation soi-même, and it would be in French, because of the curiously joyless form of pretentiousness to which the ninth fact is prone. In this respect, as in too many others, the ninth fact resembles its genitor. When drunk enough—which is only a matter of time—the ninth fact self-depletes into lugubriousness, pitch descends an octave, and suddenly it now becomes wholly concerned with its own unwantedness. And unwanted it is, never more so than when lowing gravely about its sadness, a condition which precipitates a sudden fondness for the booming bombardier who trampled your door down to tell you what’s what. In neither of these moods can the ninth fact be dislodged, and, in a way, I blame myself for that.
The tenth fact, the little miniaturized simulacrum of the ninth—what the poet Ross Gay called “a small needful fact,” concerning the body of a Black man murdered by the state, named Eric Garner. The tenderest fact, the tenth emerges only during atrocity; even then, it is hard to find, and usually unfound.
The eleventh fact is Love, and it is already here, resins interior to you and to me, which merge and which repel, liquid magnetism, rotating and bipolar. Love scars the face of all who know it; it pulls out joy from the bones of the dead. To witness one electrified by the eleventh fact produces no special response—it is the norm, indeed. Occasionally one sees a face upon which the eleventh fact has never made itself known, and that is the less typical case. Supplying the world with atrocity, shredding it, nonetheless the eleventh is the fact upon which one might smile, and mean it, even.
Those are my eleven facts.
––for Julie Moon, with love.