"death squawks from an automobile spring": Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule

by on Feb.15, 2012

Jaimy Gordon is reading form The Lord of Misrule tonight at the U of Notre Dame (Eck Center, 730 pm). I just read her book and I thought I would just make a little note about it.

It’s a book about a rundown racetrack and I love the first chapter because of the way it create this ambience of broken-down anatomy where everything seems like a worn-out body – the humans, the contraptions at the stable, the cars and of course the horses themselves. The metaphorically dense prose itself seems rotting and anatomical.

For example, she compares one rundown horse to a car: “He was the throwaway kind, a heavy springer who looked like a quarter horse, with a chest like a car radiator.” But of course not a car, but the “radiator,” suggesting a gutted car, a car whose radiator has been removed from its insides. And thus: the horse’s chest is both mechanical and butchered by the metaphor.

This kind of metaphor (meataphor) is later reversed when she writes this about a car driving into the stable area:

… suddenly they were wrassling the two of them [horses] like broncs. It had come one of them death squawks from an automobile spring, which which you heard when some ignorant individual attempted to bust into the backside of Indian Mound Downs by the back gate. The four horses still on the hot-walking machine taken off, galloping foolishly in the pink cloud around the pole like they did on any excuse. It was a dirt-caked and crumpled white Pontiac Grand Prix, ten years old, longer and lower than it ought to be, resembling a flattened show box, with its front bumper hanging down on one side…

I love the conflation of broken-down horses and broken-down machines in this part. In reverse of the first example, here the car emits a “death squawks” like a dying horse, but it comes right after the “wrassling” (the very misspelling of the word suggests a grotesque language) of the horses, creating the sense that the car emits the sound of the horses. Also it comes from the car’s spring, again gutting the car open. And it comes in the “back” of the racetrack, creating a kind of overarching anatomy for the race track.

In this broke-down atmosphere, the simplest sentences become grotesque. For example: “Anyhow Grizzly got heart. He could run without feet, she said.” Here the simple metaphor “got heart” becomes grotesque; the heart comes out of the horse, giving physical immediacy and gruesomeness to the cliche. And the hypothetical “could run without feet” becomes strangely literal.

I am reminded of Matthew Barney’s horse corpses. I don’t have time right now but if I do I’ll find a clip of that.

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