Floating Notes by Babak Lakghomi
Tyrant Books, 2018
120 pages / Tyrant
Selected Anonymous Marginalia, Volumes I-III ed. Liam Agrani
Life-Form Books, July 2018
198 pages / Life-Form
A normal summer storm once backed a foot of brown sewage up into my family’s basement. The walls had to be torn out, everything thrown away. My stored security object, Little Pillow, was ruined by the neighborhood’s poo. So were books, photos, many memories and their containers. For the insurance company my mother undertook a thorough operation in the garage: my brother and I would pull festering items from plastic garbage bags and she would write their names and monetary values in a notebook. In this way an unsentimental inventory of our family life was made, for purposes of reimbursement.[i] A book, unwritten, hovers just outside this inventory, which was a collaborative creation of rain, insurance company bureaucracy, and the people who tried to exist alongside these impersonal forces.
Reading Floating Notes brought to mind the ways our lives dissolve into other lives as experience, constantly changing and out of our control, flows through us and we through it. The narrator of Floating Notes is a man named Bob, but Bob is not his real name. He calls himself Bob because his real name, which is never revealed, is untenable in the place, which is never named, where he now finds himself living: “Coffee shops are among the places that I call myself Bob. I sometimes forget I am Bob and my coffee grows cold.” His name is not from the place where he lives now, and neither is he. He is from a different place, where there was a wife and a child and a river, and a past that often floats through Bob. To bob is to float on the flow’s surface, and that is what Bob tries to do.
“My father had a small boat back home, we fished from the river there.…I threw all of my books in the river before I left the country.” Fish was pulled out of the river that fed him; his books (were they books he had written? Books he had read? Both?) were thrown into the river that had fed him, and then he left the place with the river and arrived in a place, near the ocean, where his life further dissolves.
Bob is searching for words, and the meanings that rise from them, in this new place. Briefly he works an office job where “I always had my notebook open beneath the work folders.” It seems that as soon as Bob has something meaningful to him, it is lost. “Some of the notebooks were thrown into the river. Some of them were lost in a flood….Some nights I dream I am on my father’s boat and I’m fishing my old notebooks from the bottom of the river.”
People and things go missing inexplicably from Bob’s life, as if carried away by water. His wife and son vanish. His camera containing the only image he has of his wife—also vanishes. A malevolent someone or someones, who may or may not be connected with a dark car that Bob believes is surveilling him, may or may not be responsible for the disappearances.
Floating Notes is organized in chapters, most of them brief and notelike wherein an object or event from Bob’s past floats into the present, but having lost its context. Here is one entire chapter:
Some nights I wake up and hear a horse neighing.
Things happen to Bob and a plot emerges, yet there is the sense, for the reader, that the order of the chapters is aleatory. Early on in the book there is the dream-image of Bob fishing his notebooks from the river, which leads one to wonder, Are these pages pages that have drifted together? Is the sequence of events here, the plot, a chance creation of water?
Bob, in his life, is adrift—something happened in his past to separate him from his wife and child, something perhaps also perpetrated by the people who are perhaps following him now. But all of this is unclear. I think of the murky water that flowed in the river I grew up near, and of the water that rose up into my basement, claiming our possessions. Neither a person’s life nor a character’s identity has impermeable borders; things and people drift in and out of our lives, of our minds, as Lakghomi shows us; our constant work is to make sense/story of them—to keep bobbing.
[i] My mother, the relentless archivist of the flood, worked as a reference librarian in a college. She observed books that had been turned into museums while in their borrowers’ possession. After a library patron reported a foul odor emanating from the stacks, she found a slice of pizza enfolded in a chemistry book. In the margins of many other books she found hairs, notes, phone numbers, threats—traces we leave behind as we move through information.
Selected Anonymous Marginalia, Volumes I–III, brings together many such traces. The book collects “transcriptions” of writings found in the margins of famous works. For example, the book notes that
was written on page 143 of the “Paradise Lost” section of Selected Works of Milton edited by Maynard Mack and published in 1950 by Prentice Hall.
Penciled in the margin on page 8 of a Dover 1994 edition of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus:
Misspellings, which also characterize the residue humans leave behind, are also transcribed:
look @ pacing for
(from page 7 of a copy of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas).
In one of the book’s sections, transcriptions of underlined words create visual poetry:
Our heart is our undoing
I saw the greedy lodging for
(from page 10 of a used copy of The Balcony by Jean Genet).
On the back cover of Selected Anonymous Marginalia there is marginalia about the book itself:
Selected Anonymous Marginalia: Volumes I–III represents nearly twenty years of research into found language by the poet/editor Liam Agrani.
I like the idea of the poet/editor—one discloses (to borrow Jack Spicer’s description of the poet) and the other clarifies. At times, the poet/editor must be deeply at odds with themself, since what is disclosed might not be clear at all. What is disclosed—a person; for example, Bob—might necessarily be quite murky.
Any published or otherwise promoted work of “found art” might be called out since, in the act of transcribing found language (or objects) into a book bearing a copyright symbol (which Selected Anonymous Marginalia has)—or into a painting or some other form attributed to an author or editor—the language/object loses a part of its identity: its context. The language, the object, is colonized by the context of the appropriation. Here, to find is to claim. We might as well call the language in Selected Anonymous Marginalia “claimed language.”
But reappropriation doesn’t have to have a telos. And this seems to be one of the secret, unwritten messages tucked inside Selected Anonymous Marginalia: although language’s context is always changing, and sometimes its context bears a copyright symbol, language itself remains material—and communal. The marginalia found in other texts and reappropriated as primary text by Liam Agrani can further be reappropriated by us, the readers. And so on, on and on—until water or time-led dissolution finally makes the material illegible. Yet even illegibility is an opening, or a ground, which can be claimed and reclaimed, or just inhabited for a time. There are at least two doodles that can be found in marginal spaces of Selected Anonymous Marginalia, making the book the subject of its own research.
Evelyn Hampton is the author of Famous Children and Famished Adults, winner of the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest and forthcoming from FC2 in Spring 2019. Discomfort, her first story collection, was published in 2015 by Ellipsis Press. More about her work lives at www.lispservice.com.