How can I, merely mortal (not even an ant), write an expository of just a few hundred words to describe a 705-page (roughly 246,707 words) novel which has utterly changed my view of the world? Of my life? Of my own writing? How can this long, rich, powerful novel, Antkind, not do so? Would not the Mahabharata have the same powerful impact? What of the depths of perception and music revealed by “In Search of the Lost Chord” by the Moody Blues? Or the true, truest meaning of John Huston’s filmic version of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”?
I am relatively certain it would take a creature of vastly more developed perceptions and greater consciousness than I to grasp the full impact of Charle Kaufman’s Antkind. Begin with its title: how are we to approach reading, and subsequently understanding, a work with a title such as this? Does “antkind” belittle humankind? Does it, after a fashion, portray the pitiableness or the potential inherent in a creature that has walked the earth for at least 150 million years, perhaps even more? Compare that to humans, who have only been around (in our current “incarnation,” so to speak) for about two hundred thousand years. Just consider how much knowledge, even wisdom, the ant must have when compared with our own! (Which of course is impossible for us to know, but into which Kaufman gives us his extraordinary glimpses nonetheless.) (If you read this on a Kindle, you could search for “Calcium.”) (Oh, and I do NOT recommend you listen to it as an Audible book. You might go bonkers.)
That said, and upon completing my reading of Antkind, which can only be considered the author’s—and the auteur’s—magnum opus, some of us humans have not done too badly in the consciousness-raising department. Yes, I mean Charlie Kaufman. And “that said” further, and deeper, and without a doubt panaramically (cf. Rik Okasek, “I just wanna be in your panorama”). Commenting as an author myself, this novel is so far above and beyond anything I could contemplate or attempt writing that I quite literarily want never to dip my pen into an inkwell again.
Antkind, in addition to being the most biting social criticism of our age (“. . . I find myself struggling for meaning. Certainly it is wonderful to be in a world where everyone is equal and nobody is special, but I come from a different time, a different land, a land of ego and ambition, of endless striving, of envy. These traits have burrowed deep into my being, and now that everyone is celebrated, everyone writes book(s) and paints paintings and sings songs and everybody else reads those books and looks at those paintings and listens to those songs, I find my primitive being wants to stand out.”) and perhaps of the ages, Kaufman’s novel is a bildungsroman of a highly conscious mind, one with which we can only sit holding his 2.2-pound book in hand and marvel at his literary acumen (or, as Nancy says in the Firesign Theater production, “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger, Third Eye”, “How does he make his voice do that?”).
It’s The Perils of Pauline (1914) on steroids, to be sure. Narrated in the first person, we witness more tribulations than any one human might, or should, or could. B. Rosenberger Rosenberg (who continually affirms he is not Jewish) is on a quest that makes Don Quixote look like a piker. It is the story of found, then lost, then found and lost and found and lost. An ouroboros:
“ . . . Shot after shot of him digging holes and burying gunmetal gray boxes of various sizes. He will create this girl he loves, whom he loves based on his first witnessing the girl he loves being the girl he loves. There is a paradox here. And, of course, knowing what he knows of the world, he is aware that causation does not exist, certainly not in the way the human brain interprets it. Everything is because it is. There is no choice. Still, the illusion persists. The illusion that he has a choice in burying those boxes. The reality is he cannot not.”
My heart ached for B. I knew he was nothing more than a damned fool in his Proustian quest, but that did not cause me to put the book down, or throw it at the wall as I once did many years ago with Thomas Pynchon’s V. B.’s exploits are far too fascinating, bizarre, kaleidoscopic, to be dismissed so easily.
I soon realized this was experimental fiction, meta-fiction, written by a master who takes us down his own rabbit hole, and through it, and out the other end. I doubt anyone could come close to writing a work comparable to it. Hurrah for Charlie Kaufman’s brain on Grape-Nuts.