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motives as an artist. “Love me, admire me, bow down before me, pay me for being what I am beautiful.” The problem is that these are motives we would just as soon leave unquestioned, since they also call into question our motives for reading the book., 8. In this way, it seems to me, Rechy has activated, in a really radical way, the entire literary experience and questioned its ethical, moral, and aesthetic foundations. For many years there has been a dictum in criticism that we should avoid what Wimsatt calls the “intentional fallacy” of intuiting the artist’s motives. What Rechy’s book demonstrates, and everyone knew all along, is that by ignoring the artist’s motives for making a book, we also can ignore our own motives for reading it. We can purify our motives by deifying the book, but in doing so we perform what Marx realized was the classic gesture of bourgeois capitalism, we make a “fetish” out of a commodity and give it a value totally disassociated from the labor that produced. it. Speaking as a Jew and not as an economist, Marx might have put it another way. He would call us idolatrous and he would be right. If Johnny Rio presents his body to be worshipped by men who say they want love but really only want sex, the raw sensation of a safe relationship with a cute and undemanding “number” \(his second presents his book with an identical gesture and we pay for it and take it home for a “safe” experience in the “wonderful world of books,” then there is no way to call Rechy’s gesture vain without calling ours hypocritical. \(I say there is no way, but as might have been expected, the Partisan Review 9. This interplay of fictional gesture and literary experience would not be nearly so effective, though, if Rechy, having presented himself to be admired, gave us what we desired, as Johnny Rio, in the necessity of his vanity, must do. Rechy, on the other hand, uses the primary mimetic device of the novel to destroy the mimesis, and the primary formal device to destroy the form. Again I believe that Rechy has done something subtle and new. Traditionally the novelist has accepted two contrary intentions when he began making a book. He intends to make a work of art which has order and therefore fulfills our expectations, and he intends to imitate or represent everyday life which doesn’t have order and therefore doesn’t fulfill our expectations. His primary device to give his book order was the plot which ordered events in a causal chain leading to a conclusion; his primary device in imitating everyday life was the novel’s scale which by its sheer size implied a kind of substantiality. As Poe pointed out when he required the short story be read in one sitting, when we read something over a period of time we have forgotten most of the book before we have acquired it in its entirety. But this is a tremendous mimetic device: before the book is finished, most of it is a part of our subconscious memory, a part of our actual past, so the author can literally make the reader “remember” events in the book as he would events in his life. What Rechy does is give us a plot which is suddenly transformed into an anti-plot, and give us fictional events of such similarity and with such rapidity that the ordering, mythologizing function of our memory is frustrated. And so the book abstracts. The plot, the people, and the events of the book become like the pages and the chapters, numbers. 10. When Johnny Rio returns to Los Angeles he hits the streets again to “test” himself. He is successful but he realizes that unless he sets a goal he will be lost. So he sets a number of homosexuals he will passively seduce: 30 \(American for the end of youth; journalism for the end of trying to remember each conquest. He moves from the streets, to Muscle Beach, to McArthur Park and finally to Griffith Park, gathering his numbers, in constant fear of mortality \(God is the heairenly sniper, when your number comes up: little “number.” In the evening he returns to his motel to sleep and exercise to keep his body young, doing rigorous sets of repetitions – numbers of sets of numbers of gestures. He becomes obsessed with a colored woman who is preaching the end of the world the last day. He thinks that by returning and by proving himself and achieving his goal, he somehow will discover the reason for his being there. By passing the goal, by reaching a conclusion he can look back and see the plot, the pattern. But he reaches 30, and prepares to go home, and doesn’t for no reason at all. At the end of the book, the world hasn’t ended, Johnny Rio has no reason, but he is back in the park, he is, as he realizes, a “number” himself; he has identity in only a mathematical sense, and he is still counting at 36. The “plot” then turns on the mathematical distinction between life and art. Art presents an ordinal sequence: first and then second and then third . . . and then last, and life presents a cardinal series: one and two and three and four . . . into infinity or a random stopping point. Rechy then creates a sequence of events which are ordered toward a conclusion, 30, and then nullifies not the events but the ordering factor. In this way he uses the plot to give his book form as perceived, but refuses to let the plot give the book meaning. The effect of Johnny’s constant counting and recounting of his seductions works the same way. For half the book they serve to give the book order. Johnny associates a number with a persoh and a place, and you remember as well. But as the numbers begin to come more quickly upon one another’ Johnny has difficulty keeping them straight, and the reader begins to lose track too. Finally Johnny stops counting people because they are hard to keep track of, and duplication would ruin the score. He starts counting contacts: the number of times he is touched, and at this point the entire structure of the book abstracts. It doesn’t matter when or where or who touched him. What matters is the touch, the volume of touches. By this counting method even the idea of serial time is destroyed, there is no need for “first” or “last,” or even for “before” or “after.” There is no time, only an abstract number of times. 11 The ideas which Rechy is using are not new; they are the crux of existential theory and have been toyed with and discussed in a hundred novels. What is new is that the ideas are not in Rechy’s novel they are of it, embodied in the experience of the reader with the book. Numbers doesn’t describe the crisis of realism and individualism in fiction, it demonstrates it. Johnny Rio becomes so unique, so individual, so real, and so particular that there is no longer any bond of type or kind between his experience and ours. He becomes so totally himself that he is opaque, not a person but an object, and not really an object but a name for one thing: a number. The book ends, then, with a perfect inversion of the Christian, European apocalypse. Rather than a moment of revelation in which all becomes one, author, character, God, nature, and reader, it ends at a point of realization at which author, character, God, nature, and reader are irrevocably other, cut apart unrelated, unordered, and unpossessable a very unnerving and impressive trick to pull off without being dull. 12. By way of conclusion let me apologize to John Rechy for probably over-criticizing his book. I have tried to obey Wilde’s critical dicta and translate my experience of the book as accurately and elegantly as possible. If I have found things in this book which the author didn’t put there, the score is even. The book found things in me and in my attitude toward books that I didn’t put there either. And I couldn’t have done more violence to the book than the paper-back edition which as a picture of a chic nude Frenchman on the front which makes the book look like I Am Which it isn’t. 0 Numbers was published by Grove Press in 1967. Mr. Rechy’s first novel was City of Night.Ed. May 9, 1969 21