Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fleck and the Bank

The Chinese character for 'crisis', he reads,
binds together danger and extreme
caution, averse to risk and opportunity.

("The Bank" III)

Even before the Internet (remember that?), vaguely attributed quotations from "exotic" languages (for our purposes, "non-Western") made the rounds as tidbits of wisdom that could be used as guides to good living or success. Here, Rob A. Mackenzie bitingly mocks the spurious idea (see Victor Mair's dismantling of it here) that the Chinese character for "crisis" is a combination of "danger" and "opportunity."

The "he" in question is the main character of Fleck and the Bank, a banker friend of "Rob" (to whom a letter in the book is addressed) who disappeared in August 2011. These lines rebuild a cliché of contemporary "management wisdom" so as to turn it on its head: "danger + opportunity" becomes an aversion to both. 

Such dismantling appears most strikingly in a prose poem called "Now and in the Hour of Our Death," which is ostensibly the note that Fleck left behind when he disappeared. Near the end of it, there is this wonderful sentence:

There's too much in life: you can't describe it, yet he who dares to speak of it, bears witness, and calls to witness him to whom he speaks.

In the notes at the back of the book, this poem is described as "a collage of cut 'n' pasted sources from the first and/or last lines of books stacked along a single shelf in Fleck's kitchen." Before the Internet, research on this would have involved a trip to the library (and one with as wide-ranging a collection as Fleck), but now I was able to quickly discover the source here—or rather, sources: "There's too much in life: you can't describe it" is the last line of Les Murray's verse novel Fredy Neptune, and the rest comes from Martin Buber's I and Thou. The "it" in Buber refers, however, to "God's existence," not the "too much in life" that can't be described in Murray. Mackenzie's revision of the orientalist cliché about "crisis" turns it upside down; here, he disorients both Murray and Buber, finding a new opportunity in their juxtaposition.

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