Monday, August 2, 2010

Portrait of a Romantic

Yes, Steven Millhauser looks happy now. You might say he's happily married with kids and has a cushy job at Skidmore and a Pulitzer Prize that, I'm told, he keeps in the closet. But it wasn't always this way. It started rather innocently. A smile at a stranger on the subway, the purchase of a new straw hat for no particular reason, the sudden growth of a mustache, or a new angle to the sunlight. But Steven Millhauser was still, after all, a postmodernist, and he knew it was best to keep his secret under wraps. He kept silent and dour. Only at night, when he was alone in his room, did dreams and desires start to bubble up from an unknown source. Soon, Millhauser began to neglect his postmodern duties, believing himself to be one of those unstoppable American dreamers of fin de siècle New York, longing to be free of the dust that clung to his Austrian tobacco salesman father and the muumuu of his anachronistic suburban mother, not to mention the mysterious inventor who lived in the basement, with his horrifying illusions and sensory deprivation machines. He alone would build the grandest theme park this old city had ever known, half underground and full of fleeting shadows and brusque hands that could never be placed, half exposed to the harsh beams of a sun that revealed all the wonder and horror of the scientific age. Some would go missing and others would appear. Some would never enter and others would never leave. Still others would become impossibly delicate miniature automata to be viewed only through ornate telescopes by the élite of the ancient, crumbling empire. Soon Steven's waking life began to be filled with these visions, too. He became a dilettante, obsessed with the perfect construction of a dream, as if, through concentration, he might be able to bring it to perfect life. And as his dreams grew, so did his happiness, along with his penchant for porkpie hats. He didn't even notice when he got a lucrative movie deal; the outer world became less and less real to him, until it faded away entirely and he entered his dream, his obsession, his hope and his torture. Some said you could still see his ghost wandering around the Skidmore campus and claiming to teach something called "creative writing," but these sightings were never confirmed.

And then, as quickly and innocently as it had begun, the bubble burst. MIllhauser's idle, glassy stare began to be forgotten altogether, dismissed as ludicrous and fantastic. Like the precocious young boy who died on the boardwalk outside the labyrinthine museum, each passing day made Millhauser's former existence seem less real, as if it had never happened at all. But the happiness remained, a vestige of one of history's twists and dead ends that never quite worked itself out, and proof of the obsessive shadow existence once led by this now happy and respectable member of the Skidmore community. And yet, when the light is just right, you can still see the spokes of the ferris wheel, gleaming in the light of science, magic, and obsession. Some say it is waiting, others say it is dying, and some say that it is simply a fact, as true and false as any other...

I do this because I love you, Steven. So does Pitchfork's reviewer of Patrick Wolf's Wind In the Wires. I love that album, too, but this review has to be seen to be believed. What other Pitchfork review segues from "Bunyanesque protagonists" to "gypsy-disco" and "ukelele madrigal?" Probably several. And that album deserves at least a 9. At least.

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