Christopher K Coffman
I. Eating Leo Tolstoy
You will want to take breaks between courses. You can overdo it. Then you'll have nightmares about snow and trains and tuberculosis. Exercise to keep the pounds off. Listen to some music. Roll over in bed. Eat Elizabeth Bishop some days, instead. Drink lots of water, and go easy on the wine. Or drink more of it. Don't forget which fork goes with which course. Tolstoy can taste like a strawberry or a hunk of stale bread or lemon sorbet or a poorly-seasoned turnip.
Looking at Tolstoy is not like looking at Dostoevsky. They'll both look back at you, like Richard Wright does. Joyce won't do that, or at least not in the same way. The Jameses—Henry and Baldwin and so forth—all have their own methods of getting to you. But Tolstoy will do it like a lion.
From a distance, Tolstoy looks just like that: an old Count, big and loud like a cathedral bell. Up close, he tells war stories. He whispers marriage tales. He talks about friendship, and he shouts about estates. You can fall in love with his Natasha, just like you did with Odette but not Albertine. Like Hugo, he mans the spotlight for Napoleon. But none of those things are Tolstoy. Don't confuse the leg with the trunk or the tusk with the tail.
Under a microscope, Tolstoy doesn't fit very well. He'll press up against the lens, shove the thing right up against your eyeball. He comes on like an amoeba so large it's glutted itself on the rest of the slide's menagerie. He'll keep growing, spread out across the laboratory table, gobble up beakers and test tubes. Ruin the scales. Strong acids don't phase him. Sooner or later he'll overcome his captors. Looking at Tolstoy is like facing a late-night horror-feature creature: you don't stand a chance.
As you eat, look at those photographs. A beard even more substantial than the novels. A thousand-yard gaze. Things you've never seen are in his posture. Hunched or straight, he's taller than you will ever be.
II. Filming David Lynch
He shows up looking exactly the way you think he should look. But no two people see the same David Lynch. There are always two women hanging around in the background, but they're the same woman, and neither of them are real. Neither is your David Lynch: the real David Lynch is entangled in red curtains, somewhere.
When you film David Lynch, the audio will never be right. His voice is too midwestern, too direct: too naïve, with a little twang. Anything that sounds so natural must be artificial. He'll wrangle you into listening, and you won't be able to stop. Even when he wants to discuss meditation. You'll find yourself slipping away. You aren't real anymore. You are David Lynch.
You can try to film yourself in a mirror. It won't be you. It'll be David Lynch. The audio will never be right. There's someone else in the mirror with you, but they aren't in the room with you. You were in the mirror before you looked in the mirror, before you even entered the room, before you even got home from work. Before your house was built, you were in the mirror in the hallway, looking for David Lynch.
You can't film David Lynch in Hollywood. The camera will keep breaking. He will film you in Hollywood, looking for David Lynch with a broken camera and a faulty microphone. David Lynch hopes you might find him looking for David Lynch. He found himself a long time ago, before you were born, before he was born, maybe before any of us were born. But he's still looking, anyway. If you find him, be sure to film him. A broken camera is probably the best way. A camera full of blood, feathers, and flames, so very broken that it works. No other camera can film David Lynch.
When I processed the film, he wasn't there. A man who looks like David Lynch is in every frame, but he isn't there. He is at home. Not his home. Yours.
III. Racing Antonin Artaud
If you run a race against Artaud, you'll need to know that you can't run the same course that he will run. Even if you stay next to him the whole time, his path will be different. Your route will involve hot sand, a dry throat, and several hills. His will involve gunfire and icy ravines navigated in total darkness. He will light your way, but still leave you behind.
There's no way to train for a match against Artaud. After a year of doing laps in the pool, you'll find he wants to race in a sailboat. Your rigorous devotion to cycling won't matter when he shows up in a sportscar. Even so, he could outrace your car on his bicycle.
He can run like an antelope and a cheetah at the same time. He can run so fast that boats sink and stars die. He can run so fast that our seltzer will go flat.
Some say that rockets were invented to race Artaud. But they can't catch up, and he won't wait for them. Racing Artaud is like reading Artaud while in a very fast plane. The plane will always lag behind, and you'll find yourself in empty air.
Running a race with Artaud is a bowl of fruit. He is the pineapple. You are not.
Christopher K. Coffman is Master Lecturer in Humanities at Boston University. The author of "Rewriting Early America: The Prenational Past in Postmodern Literature" (Lehigh UP, 2019), he has also co-edited three volumes, including most recently "After Postmodernism: The New American Fiction" (Routledge, 2021). His recent and forthcoming fiction and poetry can be found in print and online, via Gobshite Quarterly, The Adirondack Review and Pareidolia Literary, among other venues.