Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Misattribution of Jean Claude Van Damme

A question and an answer, that’s how it started. An exchange lit by the crisp tingle of a monetary reward. The chime of the ringing phone, the disgruntled vibration of plastic on wood. A man’s death chamber bathroom frolics and the erasure of personal foibles.

Jean Claude Van Damme stands at a mirror, razor in one hand, phone in the other.

“A book signing?” he mumbles quizzically.

A garbled affirmation echoes from the speaker.

“Did I write a book? Was it those aphorisms from a few years back – is that a book?”

Distorted faint whisperings give the answer.

A further moment elapses before Van Damme resumes his enquiry. But at the first syllable cut loose from the chains of silence, the hum of Van Damme’s telephonic interlocutor recommences. Van Damme wears an attentive face. A drop of shaving foam slides from it. The razor drops into the sink. Now a let up in the other’s rhetoric, now a chance for Van Damme for speak.

“But I didn’t write Crime and Punishment.”


On a sea of stained carpet sits the eager and the idle. A Sunday afternoon, sun blasting outside, the smell of typeface portraiture and paper tyrannies. Unfolded plastic chairs are arranged in rows as a banner is unfurled in their gaze. Indifferent shoppers pass by, ignoring one corner of activity as a man is brought out to the song of restrained applause.

Van Damme sits at a wooden bench, his visage under the careful scrutiny of the dozen or so people before him. Some stand, some remain seated. Some hold tattered paperbacks, some fold their arms, expectation their only possession.

“Welcome and thank you for coming to this event…” begins the spotty bookstore clerk.

A man walks past, singing a song about an octopus. Books fall from the hands of a toddler as he sights an escalator to play with. Two men carry a smoke-machine, one stands on gum. An announcement explodes on the intercom: code nine at till five. A girl stares unimpressed eyes at a feeble classics section.

These are distractions of which Van Damme aims to free himself. His mind is swimming in anxiety. Regret that he took the buck, and at what cost? His public image? Already it features great discoloration. Do they know what he knows? Do they know what he doesn’t know? Are they aware in the same way he is aware? Van Damme’s mind ceases for not one second. Am I the only one who sees the ridiculousness of this situation? he thinks.

“Please give a round of applause to our special guest, the author of Crime and Punishment, Mr Jean Claude Van Damme.”

One distraction morphs into another as claps puncture the sonic abyss. White appears on black as the chequered senses of Van Damme get lifted, rising up in unison with his legs. Now standing before the baying bookstore minions, heat like a fireball raining upon the fuselage of Van Damme’s body.

“Thank you for having me. It’s a great honour…”

Platitudes subside as Van Damme searches his memory for words pre-prepared. The precipice of the void of nothing feels his approach, warming its belly with each and every word not retrieved. Stumbling formality gives way to the stuttered birth pangs of a modest auto-critique.

“When I started writing this book, I never…I mean, its scope was unknown to me, at the time, that is…I’m as surprised as anyone that I wrote this book.”

The exegesis continues as sub-school study notes pinned upon Van Damme’s cranium are read aloud. Raskolnikov’s moral distress, Sonia’s tragic piety, the place of Russian mores, St Petersburg as a kind of nightmare milieu. Ranging somewhere between the embittered and the cynical, Van Damme’s faux-English teacher oration progresses bereft of the silence that originally threatened it. Words flow unhindered by memory lapse or the pains of conscience. Words course through a rapid commentary on the novel of ideas. Names get dropped, dangling haphazardly from the lips of the speaker. Tiny spectral dots of Gogol; atomistically revolving spirals of Pushkin. Feigned conviction working to convince the unconvinced. Eyes open and close – an audience awake to the ululating spoken prose of Van Damme.

His time is up. He thanks his beholders. The reek of questions fomenting fills the room. Nose atwitch, Van Damme sneezes.

The map of his destruction has another section made visible. Questions erupt like volcanoes of literary puzzlement brimming on egos the size of Wales.

An easy beginning:

“Dear Mr Van Damme,” begins one.

“Monsieur JC,” begins another.

A tougher middle section:

“How is interpretative integrity certifiable,” a sweaty forest-dweller begins.

Life in ballets dressed up as action movies has made Van Damme tough. No one dares dispute that. But perhaps one ninja knuckle brawl too many has made Van Damme too tough. His answers come in showers of invective and deadly menacing word-fists. Jolting rejoinders delve into murky intellectual depths not even Van Damme could have envisioned. Tearing into one accusation at a time, he extends his critical eye over an entire kingdom of fallacy and error, pupils like sunspots burning through each falsehood.

“Why don’t you go fuck yourself?” he answers.

This is efficacy as bled from the stone of Van Damme.

The bookstore clerk rushes in to end the session. Premature but necessary.

“I’m afraid we’re out of time…”

At this, Van Damme’s whirlwind of comeuppance starts to slow. The shifting limbs of kinetic literary prowess return to Van Damme, decelerating as they assume former shapes and colours. Now a possessed dictator of authorial malice, now a gaunt frame stepping across a soiled carpet. The present is ointment for the sting of Van Damme’s singular confluence of energies.

Smoke clears, noise fades, pages float slowly from the ceiling. The feeling of cataclysm hangs in the air. Mental impressions that are cryptic at best hold sway in the pointillist wash of audience heads. Bound to failure, their deficiencies sentence them to a lifetime of wondering, of questioning, of dead night reflection and memorial damnation. Van Damme’s seed is capturable by the human eye, but grasp it you won’t, for its fortifications are impenetrable to all but he.


Out walks Van Damme. The street traffic a monotone din. Smog floats still on his face as he reaches for his pocket. A phone is produced, the display lit up. He lifts it to his ear.

“Van Damme,” he says, moving to the edge of the pavement.

The familiar drone at the other end again echoes.

“Yeah, it went well. I’ve just finished,” says Van Damme, an answer to an apparent question.

Once again the drone is heard.

Confusion enters Van Damme’s face, ears ceaselessly receiving.

“Another one?” he asks.

The drone warbles on. Van Damme scratches his head for a moment. A second passes. Now he replies.

“But I didn’t write Ulysses.”


Blogger Aaron McMullan said...

Ha! Hell's blazes, what a tale is this! JCVD II, right here. And what better promptin for another big ol' I Didn't Done Nothin' speech than this - where, indeed, he has not done nothin'. And the idea of big ol' CGI word fists flyin about the place... well. Ninety nine Kickboxers would i crawl over to see that.

10:37 am  
Blogger Mat Brewster said...

The cat, it looks at me quizically from the cavalcade of laughter emanating from my lips upon reading this screed. Bravo!

2:09 pm  
Blogger El Bicho said...

I was confused momentarily, just as JC, because I could have sword he had named one of his fists "Punishment." Still nicely done, Sir.

6:15 pm  

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