Markus Seibel (Berlin)
The Reservoir of Robert Coover's Lucky Pierre
The Reservoir of Robert Coover's Lucky Pierre
Almost thirty years after Jerome Klinkowitz pronounced the "death of the death of the novel", Robert Coover published his novel The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Directors' Cut (2002), "a wild, pornographic, funny, postmodern rant" as one reviewer called it. The aim of this article is to first identify the metafictional aspects of the book such as the retelling and mixing of certain genres, as well as the concept of entropy and its hypertextual character. Moreover, however, I will show that there are certain structural principles or motives in the book which give it a certain overall design. These principles include music and muse, film, and concepts like the Moebius-strip and the laterna magica.
1 Pre-Take: The End Of Literary Disruptions?
When Jerome Klinkowitz wrote these words in 1975 he pronounced the "death of the death of the novel". Robert Coover, along with other writers like Thomas Pynchon or John Barth was then part of a literary avant-garde whose works, because of "the used-upness of certain forms of exhaustion of certain possibilities" (qtd. in: Klinkowitz 1975: 4) Barth himself labeled the 'literature of exhaustion.'
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Now, almost thirty years later there can be found a tendency in contemporary American literature to move away from postmodern styles to a more realistic, linear way of storytelling. Don DeLillo's more recent novels have changed considerably compared to their predecessors like White Noise or Underworld. And with Jeffrey Eugenides and Jonathan Franzen two younger American writers recently proofed to be very successful with literature in the tradition of the family saga. But does this mark the end of disruptive or metafictional storytelling?
2 Robert Coover And His Reservoir Of Possibilities
Robert Coover published his first poems in 1960 when he still attended the University of Chicago. His first novel The Origin of the Brunists, published 1966, received the William Faulkner Award. It was the novel The Public Burning which established his prominence as a writer. Published in 1976, it proved to be his most ambitious work yet, due to its controversy threatening his literary career at the same time. With the story collection Pricksongs & Descants from 1969, which includes his most anthologised story "The Babysitter," Coover shows "to be a master of a variety of different kinds of stories, all decidedly his own invention" (Evenson 2003: 3). "The Babysitter" is made up of numerous episodes which all are presented as facts. Some of those stories contradict each other, collide with reality and thus blur the line between fictive and real. "Coover not only presents what 'does happen' (which by itself is in conventional literature a screaming ambiguity, considering that even the most traditional fiction is completely made up) but all the things which could happen." (Klinkowitz 1975: 17). With this approach "Coover has completed the ultimately realistic short tale." (Klinkowitz 1975: 17)
At the center of Coover's work lies the concept, that reality and fiction are equally fictive realities. "Fiction cannot hope to mirror reality or tell the truth because 'reality' and 'truth' are themselves fictional abstractions whose validity has become increasingly suspect as this century has proceeded." (McCaffery 1982: 5) By creating myths, man becomes entangled in the constant process of fiction making himself. "A myth has the ring and feel of truth, but rational thought and objective analysis are not needed to put into place and allow it to function." (Evenson 2003: 12) Our need for pattern lets us forget the fictional character of our world, our myths stagnate, "[ ] we tend to become trapped within our fictional systems, victims of our own decayed or obsessive creations." (McCaffery 1982: 9) This is what Robert Coover tries to show by creating metafiction.
Maltby calls the kind of metafiction, which mainly explores language, thereby making the story itself the subject of the story, "introverted" fiction. Fiction which embodies "that enlarged notion of the political within the sphere of language" he labels "dissident" fiction (Maltby 1991: 37).
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Coover thus belongs to the latter group, his third novel The Public Burning being a good example for taking a historical event (the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs), rewriting it and thus creating metahistory (see Viereck 1980: 43ff.)
Coover constantly retells stories, myths and fairytales. He sees himself in the role of "the author, the fiction maker, the mythologizer, to be the creative spark in this process of renewal: he's the one who tears apart the old story, speaks the unspeakable, makes the ground shake, then shuffle the bits back together into a new story. Partly anarchical, in other words, partly creative – or re-creative." (Wolff 1977: 54). This process of re-creation includes the "undressing" of metaphors:
In order to break up myths and conventions Coover works with various genres and styles. Those include fairy tales ("The Gingerbread House"), fables, biblical stories (The Origins of the Brunists), and also pornography.1 In a way we find, beside porn, all the other genres again in his latest novel The Adventures of Lucky Pierre. Coover picks those styles and genres from a vast reservoir of possibilities. Those possibilities themselves become subject to retelling and re-creating, many themes or characters of LP we can find in several of his works. So rather than developing, he seems to have had this reservoir at hand from the beginning of his career on, now using and re-using parts of it. Already back in 1973, Coover himself stated that: "[ ] whatever difference there is between my first novel and the bulk of the rest of my writing has little to do with development." (qtd. in Gado 1973: 148) The Adventures of Lucky Pierre proves to be evidence of this method. First stories of the book appeared in the early seventies, more than thirty years later they are published as a complete novel.
Since 1980 Coover teaches at the creative writing department of Brown University where he was named T.B. Stowell University Professor in 1990. At Brown University, "Robert Coover is leading a literary revolution that eschews pen and paper for keyboard and mouse" (Dorr 1999) by experimenting with hypertextual literature with his students. In 2002, after almost thirty years of work Robert Coover published The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Directors Cut (Coover 2002). This novel embodies hypertextual elements itself and will be the focus of this article.
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3 L.P. And His Reservoir Of Possible Failures
Consider a written piece. Not merely a book, rather a reservoir of ideas, concepts, parodies,2 films, stories, theories and much more. Looking closer, the contents of this book seem to be in constant movement, everything seems to be mixed, endings come before beginnings. Sometimes stories, sentences and even words do not end at all. Others seem to be repeated endlessly. "Ceaseless flow, that's the ticket." (LP: 390) Lucky Pierre, the porn star antihero of Coover's novel for the first time appeared in the seventies in "Lucky Pierre and the Cunt Auction" (see Andersen 1981: 139). Since then Coover has been adding to this reservoir. In the year of his seventieth birthday he confronted his readers with the whole story of Lucky Pierre:
Cinecity is the frozen capitol of a porn utopia or rather dystopia. A place, where those men who are man enough, carry their penis outside their pants in spite of the cold. A place where streets are full of chaos and where 'suicides' rain down around famous porn star Lucky Pierre. Pierre himself comes alive through the lenses of his nine muses, nymphs or directors, without knowing who or what he is. Cinecity is his world, and it is the only world that exists.
With Lucky Pierre the reader has to find his way through nine reels of sex and violence, films written down or rather rewritten. Lucky Pierre – a.k.a. Wee Willie, Peter Prick, Crazy Leg, Badboy, Pete the Beast, the Great Woowallah – thereby becomes a naive castaway, a submissive slave, a child star in a barnyard frolic, a love-struck suburban hubby, a hologram, a sexual outlaw, a monk, a dirty cartoon, a sex-pilgrim in virtual reality and much, much more.
The book can be read as a hypertext document, where the reader and randomness decide what will come next. It can also be seen as a magic lantern with Lucky Pierre as the "sputtering bulb" of it, as he himself imagines once (see LP: 52). Lucky Pierre never knows whether he is in, on or in front of (a) film. He appears to be falling through the reels, from frame to frame. Faithful to the script and his muses. He falls, fails and quits and each time has to realize that there is no way out.
In Cinecity reality only exists on film, inside its movie theatres. Outside snow permanently blurs the vision. But what is inside and what is outside? Reel or real?
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4 Fiction vs. Reality – Metafictional Elements in Lucky Pierre
Considering Coover's own words, the question 'real or reel?' doesn't seem to be very important anymore. The question is rather why we try to create patterns by applying binary oppositions. By dividing our world into reality and fiction we clearly suppose that reality is a fact whereas fiction is an invention. "The point seems to be that any system of order, whether derived from aesthetic principles, paranoia, madness, or superstition, is preferable to a life of emptiness and chaos." (McCaffery 1982: 5) L.P. finds himself in a nearly constant process of emptiness and chaos. In reel five he falls for the illusion of having found order in his life. He lives a seemingly happy life with his new wife Constance in a cottage far away from film business. Already the name Constance promises constancy and continuity.
L.P. will find out short after that his life with Constance of course is again a film and Conny one of his directors; "an illusion of course (such is the very substance of his vocation)." (LP: 11) Not knowing what is real and how to cope with it, L.P. and the reader have to navigate through the metafictional realm of Lucky Pierre.
Taking into account that our whole world is a construct of fictions anyway, "then metafiction would concern not only writing but all construction of reality – the way individuals and social groups put together a sense of the world." (Evenson 2003: 15) Coover's comment on writing at the beginning of this chapter emphasizes this point. How does L.P. construct reality, where do we find metafictional elements in Cinecity?
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In this scene in reel two, L.P. has to realize that there is no way out of Cinecity. After calling it quits, entering a plane and crossing "several time zones" (LP: 77) he finds himself again where he started, in the closed system of Cinecity:
In LP the reader will find a condition of the more probable and sameness.3 Every time L.P. leaves one of the frames which guarantee his existence and is out in the cold again he finds himself in the usual chaos of Cinecity, where he is "lamenting the world's glacial entropy and the snow down his neck" (LP: 4). The constant snow thereby can be seen as static on the screen or even white noise.
L.P. himself always tries to find a way out, even "knows he must turn away from abstractions and – foo! – fantasies toward the concrete, knows he must cope more directly with – ungh! – with disorientation and – ah!oh! oh, this is beautiful; this is very good! - with disorientation and entropy, yet he achieves this – hah!uf! – through a new respect for – oh! – for symbolic systems – hah! – and purely conceptualized – WOW!" (LP: 104) Clara doesn't finish this sentence but she gives another hint how to approach sameness and the more probable by explaining that cineman has a
What makes it even more difficult for L.P. is that Cinecity is a place devoid of rules (or rather roles!): "ROLES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN!" (LP: 64) L.P.'s muses control every scene, the things which happen however do not follow the rules of cause and effect:
Cleo here elaborates on history and cause and effect, thereby going back to "dreamtime" where "knowledge was pressed into the wounds like dirt" (LP: 60). Dreamtime thus must have been a time, where cause and effect still existed. Says Coover: "[ ] we have come to the end of a tradition. [ ] our ways of looking at the world and [ ] adjusting to it through fictions are changing." (Gado 1973: 142). If Coover's adjusting to the world through fictions happens by constantly retelling, mixing, linking passages with each other, how does he achieve this in Cinecity?
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4.2 Re(el)telling – Fairytales, Porn, and The Bible
Coover interrupts Cissy in midsentence, but lets her say enough to give us an idea of how genres are being altered through permutations, and constant retelling (serial experiences). One of those serial experiences happens to L.P. with an old lady he meets various times on his way through the cold. Already in reel one he kills her by pushing her onto the street "with a jab of his stiff penis." (LP: 4), in reel four she gets in his way again ("[ ] oops, too bad" (LP: 119)) and in reel seven he meets her a number of times. Each time she is killed again (see LP: 294). In reel one the mayor of Cinecity announces via television the burning of old film archives in order to ease the fuel shortage: "The hard core of our society must be protected for all our sakes; heat must be invested in heat." (LP: 18). Being aware of the fact, that one can "say exactly the same thing twice and yet get something so different out of it each time," (LP: 20), the burning of film in order to save film can be considered a way of retelling4 stories in order to keep them alive.
The opening section of reel 3 serves as a good example that events in LP are not only repeated but done so in various directions, in an omnidirectional circuit space. In this scene Lucky Pierre is a victim of Clara's going back and forth: rewinding and slow motion. From "sliding upward:/ - What-the-fuck-is-t-h-a-t-t-h-i-n-g-D-O-I-N-G-?!!" (LP: 92) he is moved backwards after flying through the air until he finally "finds the desk again - / -G-N-I-O-D-g-n-i-httahtsikcufehttahw!" and "hippety-hops back through a high-pitched gibberish of reversed greetings into the elevator [ ]" (LP: 93). Coover not only changes directions in this scene, the scene takes place once before (or after) in reel one in a somewhat more detailed fashion.
Beside the constant repetition of episodes of the book, Coover's whole new metalanguage includes the re-creation of genres or conventions. In reel seven the reader can find a retold fairytale, "a familiar castle theme." (LP: 318) L.P. is "the All-Conquering" knight who has to save the virgin (LP: 304) from a fortified castle, which he destroys by "firing against it with the weapon between his legs [ ]" (LP: 319) and thus deflowers the virgin by shattering her metaphoric castle. Encouraged by the masses –"Ream her, redeemer!" (LP: 309) – he succeeds and thus saves the city and his world.
In a somewhat blasphemous but nevertheless funny way, Kyrie Eleison and Benedictus become the film titles Eerie Liaison and Pene Dicked Us (see LP: 341) in reel eight. Pornography thereby is the main genre which is constantly being re-created in LP. This doesn't mean that Coover tries to create a better pornography; porn becomes a vehicle to present a closed world, constantly occupied with itself following very rigid conventions from beginning to the end.
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4.3 Lucky Pierre: A Multi-Directional, Multi-Linear (Hyper-)Space?
Looking at the construction of the text so far, its metafictional character, fragmentation, montage, abundance of possibilities; all this points to a hyperfictional structure of LP. In 1992, years before the Internet became an everyday medium, Robert Coover published an article called "The End of Books" in the New York Times Book Review. In this essay, Coover characterizes the conventional novel as "[ ] compulsory author-directed movement from the beginning of a sentence to its period, from the top of the page to the bottom, from the first page to the last", whereas hypertext could be described as "interactive and polyvocal, favoring a plurality of discourses over definitive utterance and freeing the reader from domination by the author" (Coover 1992). Even though considering himself not "an expert navigator of hyperspace" Coover is at the helm of Brown University's electronic writing department, experimenting with hypertextual literature, which has "[N]o fixed center, for starters – and no edges either, no ends or boundaries." (Coover 1992)5
In a way Coover had already created the ultimate hypertext in 1969 when he wrote "The Babysitter". One can imagine every possible story as a separate window which opens up by choosing it. Instead of clicking hotlinks though, the reader still has to turn pages. The problem is, that "clicking through a text" will result in a quasi-linear document. Only with a program like storyspace6 the way the reader has taken becomes visible. In a way, this means that the actual hypertextual process takes place while creating hyperfiction, not while using it.
In his essay "Pierre, the Lucky Avatar: Linking Robert Coover's The Adventures of Lucky Pierre with Hyperfiction" Renko Heuer argues that LP works the same way. He sees it as "a printout of a hypertext [ ], a quasi-hypertextual reservoir of possible stories that are put together like a collage, and looked at from a different perspective." (Heuer 2005: 28) This "archive of possibilities [in Lucky Pierre] has grown to such an enormous size, that the reader can enter it like a library and 'surf' around between the shelves that are packed with tales of thirty years." (Heuer 2005: 28)
The metafictional, hypertextual character of LP cannot be denied. The text is multilinear, omnidirectional (to use Cissy's term again) and even multimedial as far as written text can be. However, reading LP as a text where the reader and randomness decide what will come next by freely clicking around is only one way to read it. In spite of all its repetitions and loops, LP follows a certain design which guides the reader through the text. To reveal elements of this design will be the focus of the following passages.
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5 Design vs. Randomness
L.P. of course will never find out, because his memory works "not as continuity, more like a popping clapperboard that startles him from time to time" (LP: 17). Nevertheless he seems to develop or at least change, however not completely realizing that he does. "He doesn't understand how this happens, but he supposes he soon will." (LP: 310)
5.1 Twenty-Four Pages Per Second
Film as a medium has a very linear structure. It is of course possible to apply non-linear techniques of storytelling to filming, a reel however starts at its beginning and "It just runs out of the projector and that's it" (LP: 220). In his interview "Off the Page" with Rebecca Dorr, Coover elaborates:
The way Coover uses film in Lucky Pierre is above all as a means to re-create metaphors, to break up textual conventions. This becomes evident in reel three when the text/film is rewound. Before the rewind starts, Coover gives a detailed slow motion description of L.P., trying to simultaneously drop his attaché case ("right hand releases attaché case"), get rid of his clothing ("Fileclerk's astonished eyes appear above the falling underwear. [ ] Erection bobs upward, ironic smile spreading") and jump the receptionists desk ("Right knee flexes. Left toe rises, knee doubling."), before hitting the desktop monitor ("He somersaults in slow motion, buttocks lifting, knees spreading awkwardly, as though they might be wings trying to help him fly.") and landing on top of the receptionist, so "she is struck full in the face by his flying buttocks." (LP: 91–92)
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Like the rewind, this scene also takes place in reel one in a somewhat more detailed fashion, the reason for L.P.'s failure in this case being a phone which gets in his way.
One could ask now, "Is this a retake?" (LP: 8) In my opinion, the scene in reel one rather is a "pretake" of the scene in reel three. Only after reading (or watching) reel one and then reel three, the full impact of L.P.'s motion becomes obvious. In Lucky Pierre Coover widens the convention of writing by presenting film on paper. He even goes as far as to say, "I work with language because paper is cheaper than film stock. And because it's easier to work with a committee of one. But storytelling doesn't have to be done with words on a printed page, or even with spoken words [ ]. Probably, if I had absolute freedom to do what I want, I'd prefer film." (qtd. in Cope/Green 1981: 53)
So the non-linear character of LP is not derived from the use of film as medium. Film rather gives LP an outer structure, a kind of frame: The subtitle of the book is Directors' Cut and nine muses/directors roll nine reels which represent the nine chapters of Lucky Pierre. Those nine reels contain an immense reservoir of (film-)scenes. But who creates films or stories out of this reservoir?
5.2 Muse Or Plot By The Bot?
In reel seven a contraption called the Plot Bot is introduced. As Clara explains, "The robotic apparatus [ ] is called a plot bot, [and] has been programmed with all known epic plots, as well as elements from romance and other genres. One moves through this vast database by making choices, the results of which will be visible to everyone up on the video wall. They are not rational choices but purely gestural; one moves or is moved and the story changes. Or, in this case, two move, and multiple simultaneous choices are made, which more often than not conflict with each other." (LP: 310) Could this text-generating machine be the creator of all the stories that happen in LP?7
The problem that I see here is that the plot bot is filled with all known epic plots, but during the preparations to enter the plot bot the reader finds out that "Whambam" is L.P's style, "It's why he doesn't do epics." [my italics, MS] (LP: 307). Whambam onomapoeicly describes L.P.'s attitude. His lack of memory gives him no other choice but live in the moment, "faithful and true to the script, sticking his dick wherever directed [ ]." (LP: 133)
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The plot bot might be shuffling and generating stories out of the reservoir but it has been created and programmed by Kate, Clara and Cissy, three of L.P.'s muses. It is the nine muses/directors who add to the reservoir the plot bot works with. Each director has her own sexual and creative concept and they all have a Greek pseudonym, being one of the nine muses. Daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, goddesses of music, art, literature and intellectual pursuits.
Muse stands for mind or memory and this is exactly what L.P. is missing, that's why he depends on his directors. The following chart presents the names of L.P.'s directors, together with their Greek pseudonyms and their domains.8 In reel one the women dress up as nymphs and go by their Greek names, Cecilia's/Euterpe's pun about being one of L.P.'s "Pierrodies"9 (see LP: 29), however, point to the parodic nature of their 'museness'.
Each of these directors creates her own reel, the other eight women sometimes help and sometimes interfere with the current project. Some of the sexual and creative concepts of the directors mirror their counterparts from Greek mythology.
Cecilia, as The Giver of Pleasure is "An artist. She is. And she knows how to take care of a man." (LP: 19) Her musical nature becomes obvious with the first word of reel one: Cantus (Latin: Song or melody). The last word of reel one is the result of a wild multimedial experiment, including, tape, video, DAT, sound synthesizer and more, producing "diatonic messages", a "whole new sonic domain" (LP: 42) of "antiphonal discant (my italics, MS)" (LP: 43).10
Cleo fulfils her role as Proclaimer of History mostly as documentary filmmaker or reporter, "her green eyes sparkling with her need to know" (LP: 17), intent to make all of L.P.'s life into art. L.P. constantly wants to relive his first sexual encounter with her, "I started with you, Cleo. Number one." (LP: 46), trying to reconstruct her "coldwater flat" as to evoke the past. He obviously fails, "there's no remaking it, no reliving it [ ]. Yes, he's a fool, ceaselessly jerking off in the corridors of some lost episode." (LP: 48).
Clara's favorite role is that of a doctor, so she can play with L.P. "She wants the truth, hardcore truth, twenty-four times a second, even if she has to create it herself." (LP: 97) Her link to astronomy is not so very clear, still L.P. feels with her "Like [ ] falling through infinity or something!" (LP: 100).
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Cassandra's many-hymned nature becomes most obvious when L.P. "remembers sitting at an editing bench with her one afternoon, looking at a reelful of spliced-together goof-ups from the cutting room floor – tag ends of orgasms, flash frames, miscues, foggy runouts and blistered close-ups, jittery tracking shots, clumsy wipes – all of it joined together just as she's picked it up: forward, backward, emulsion in or out, grease-penciled, notched or punched." (LP: 120). As in her concept "all time is space, all events simultaneous, all clips interchangeable" (LP: 135), she resembles some of Coover's own style of work. Sex with Cassie is "creating an inexhaustible variety of rhythmic structures" (LP: 138), "an easeful path to inner peace" (LP: 137).
"One thing that Connie [The Lovely] provides is continuity." (LP: 190) L.P. seems to be committed to her, "Marriage to her has brought an end to all the dislocation of the past, the dissipation of his soul stuff – " (LP: 193). With Connie he retires from professional filming and lives in a cottage, his love nest.
Lottie's association with tragedy is not so easy to be pinpoint. Her role in Lucky Pierre is that of a rebel and reckless, beautiful Amazonian figure. At her side, L.P. becomes Crazy Leg, rebel leader of the Extars, who infest Cinecity's network with a thawnow or crazyleg virus. Sexually they are "linked up and unself-consciously fucking each other in various combinations, mostly multiple and always playful and imaginative and non-hierarchical" (LP: 264).11
"Hard" Cora is foremost the mayor of Cinecity and a sadomasochist. Her interest in sex as power becomes obvious when she makes L.P. a submissive slave who will have to fight the Extars as head of the PRICKS.12 With her L.P. "understands that he is about to explore his tolerance for pain and the pleasures, if any, to be found in it." (LP: 270)
Catherine's association with comedy is obvious since she is an animator: "Her mantra: What ain't toon, ain't real." (LP: 336)
Kate being somewhat "un-real" herself – having been assembled by L.P. when he received her as "Cunt of The Month", (LP: 106) – treats him the nicest and shows the most respect. She saves his life more than once, by re-animating him after finding him frozen (see LP: 323) or lending him her heart (see LP: 398). In spite of her own cyborg nature, Kate is the director who appears most human, she is also the only director who speaks dialect.
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The leading muse and chief director is Cally, the only director in Lucky Pierre whose name is identical with that of her muse. She is always on camera, always plays a role, "absorbing all lives into herself so as to live more completely and complexly in the world, an absorption accomplished not by thought, or even by passion, but by performance." (LP: 403). In the final reel Urania suggests that: "We should be asking questions about the enigmatic ways sex, performance, memory – [ ] – struggle against disorder, forgetfulness, entropy, impotence, despair; [ ] In short we should be asking about the meaning of it all!" (LP: 399). Cally's standing as "principal nymph" (LP: 403) becomes clear when she answers: "Euterpe wrote a short scene where we all asked each other who we thought [L.P.] was, behind all his names and self-contradictions, but I asked her to take it out. If we haven't thought enough about it already, it's too late now. All that's left, dear Urania, is love." (LP: 403).
With their different approaches to their work (and to L.P.) these nine women give the text content. The reels give LP a design, yet they don't give the story linearity. Significantly, the mother of the muses and goddess of memory, Mnemosyne, who could link and unite the chaos of the different concepts, is missing from Lucky Pierre.
If arranged "Like pearls on a necklace, they join together to create a narrative that, by the nature of its construction, is fragmented and connected rather than related" (Andersen 2000: 84), what brings the reels in their particular order from one to nine and why should reel one be read before reel two and reel two before ?
5.3 From C To C And F Again
Those words can be found on the opening page of LP in reel one. In a hypertextual approach page one wouldn't necessarily be the first page to be read. In my opinion the first three pages have to be read in the beginning, they are very different in style compared to the rest of the book, far more poetic, composed of a different language. The name of reel one ("Titles & Reel 1: Cecilia") emphasizes this point, the other eight reels only have the name of their creators. On pages 29 and 81 we find descriptions similar to the one discussed here and it seems obvious now, that in reel one "Cecilia mirrors her opening sequence by exploring the topography of the desert island13 as though stroking a living body" (LP: 29).
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From reel one on, the letter C leads L.P. and the reader along a musical scale. Each reel is created by one of L.P.'s muses, each name of the nine directors begins with a C, and Cantus is the first word of reel one. From there on each reel begins with the first letter of the last word of the previous chapter. "From C to C and F again" (LP: 1) thus can be seen as a word chain from Cantus, Discant to Documentary, End to Exits, Fadeout to Focus, Girl to Green, Action to Adventures, Badboy to Bum, Cut to Cold Cocked and Final Fuck, Film Festival again.
C to C represent the keys on a scale, with F being the ninth reel after the octave. Renko Heuer points out in his essay that music is being used as a "background flow" (Heuer 2005: 40) in hypertext, and in Francesca Chiocci's words, music
What applies to hypertext certainly applies to Lucky Pierre, as well. Music or sound being a guiding principle which accompanies L.P. from a "grinding basso profundo" (LP: 12), to "the key of Fuck Minor- / - Or just A Minor!" (LP: 40) to sensational "percussive effects" (LP: 166) throughout the entire novel. "The music, too, changes with each crossing of a threshold, here a thumping rock beat, there a minuet or jig, then jazz or ribald party songs. He hums along." (LP: 167)
C14 therefore can be seen as a leading principle of Lucky Pierre. C gives the directors their names, C brings the nine reels into succession. One shouldn't begin talking of pattern or order here, C rather gives the text a certain design. This however doesn't explain the endless loops, repetitions and mirroring L.P. goes through.
5.4 Inside/Outside: Who Or What Is L.P.?
Is it possible in a world of cause and effect, that a car goes back while moving forward? No? Would it be possible then, that at least the wheels of the car do so? Not either? Both is possible. When one car overtakes another vehicle, this vehicle moves backward in relation to the overtaking car. An optical illusion occurs when a wheel is spinning fast enough and suddenly the spokes seem to be moving in the opposite direction. In Cinecity where cause and effect do not exist, those things happen constantly. In reel one L.P. himself gives an example very similar to the above presented ones.
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Thus, binary oppositions are abolished, simultaneously moving backwards and forward, being inside and outside at the same time. In his novel Ghost Town Coover applied this technique, as well. There his lone hero rides through the desert, "the town behind him closes up upon him even as the one in front recedes, until at last it glides up under his horse's hoofs from behind and proceeds to pass him by even as he ambles forward." (Coover 1998: 6) In Lucky Pierre various scenes work similarly. In reel three, L.P. is walking through a snowstorm. "Or perhaps not walking; the snow is moving but the man, fixed and solitary as the figure in a pedestrian crossing sign, is not." (LP: 86) In reel seven, L.P. has to decide whether to go with Lottie and the Extars or fight them as head of the PRICKS. Several things happen at once, "He gazes into her gaze, while at the same time gazing into her gaze." (LP: 291) "At the same time all this is happening, Lottie is asking, not so much again as alongside her other asking: But what happens now, man? You coming with us?" (LP: 290)
Those "waves of multiple overlapping experiences" (LP: 291) can be explained with help of the Moebius Strip. A.F. Moebius was the first to discover that a sphere doesn't necessarily have to have two sides, depending on the way you look at it. The graphic artist M.C. Escher made the Moebius Strip famous with his wood cutting Moebius Strip II in 1963.15
This parade of ants always moves on the same side of the band, thereby simultaneously being inside and outside of it. There are more pictures of this kind by Escher, water that seems to flow uphill, stairs which seem to go up but all end at the same level they started from. This also applies to some of Coover's fiction, certainly to Lucky Pierre:
The idea of L.P. being led from C to C, thereby moving as if on a Moebius Strip, still doesn't explain how he gets there. The first question to be asked here is, who is Lucky Pierre? Or as Cally puts it: "Or should I say, what? Who or what is he beyond these movies we have made together? He is our creation, an embodied trajectory that we have seen through from beginning to end." (LP: 386)
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The end in L.P.'s case comes with the last reel running out of the projector. "He is a star without substance, an onscreen personality lacking an offscreen self." (Evenson 2003: 256)
The onscreen personality L.P. is projected into the various stories within the nine reels of his nine muses. Rather than being his inspiration, they are his memory. In reel two L.P. is tugged into Cleo's womb and asks himself whether "[this is] some kind of strange damp theater, he the sputtering bulb of a magic lantern, a man dragged through an endless-loop winter in somebody else's airless nightmare." (LP: 52) In a simple magic lantern a round screen turns around a light bulb which projects the pictures on the screen onto its surroundings. Bearing the Moebius Strip in mind, one can imagine L.P. as projector and actor16 at the same time. Cinecity thus can be seen as a huge ball made out of nine balls, which incorporate a great number of film scenes/loops or stories, L.P. being projected through this ball. The pictures on the screen of a laterna magica don't change, and this also applies to the loops in Cinecity. The only thing that underlies constant change is L.P., as he is projected into those stories. Those stories occur no matter if L.P. is in them or not. The serial experience with the old lady in reel one, three and seven serves as a good example.
Already in reel one he "glissandos right into the old lady's humped-over backside, bowling her heels over head into the street with a jab of his stiff penis. There is a brief plaint like the squawk of a turkey as a refuse truck runs her down." (LP: 4) This encounter is replayed when he kills her again in the third ("a little old lady gets in his way, oops, too bad" [LP: 119]) and seventh reel, in which "[s]he's standing half in him, half out [ ]," (LP: 293) so that "he has a woman in his cock." (LP: 294) Of course, she is killed again. In this particular scene L.P. is a hologram, due to a penisring Cora controls him with. Before the ring starts to work, "the whole street seems to tip." (LP: 292), causing him to slide towards the old lady ("Oh no. He's been this way before." (LP: 292) He yells to warn her, the street rights itself and he crashes into her. "There's a refuse truck, a brief plaint afterward like the squawk of a turkey." ( LP: 292)
This happens various times, as the street each time first tips to one side and then to the other, always causing him to slide into the old lady. Each time there is the refuse truck, the sound of the turkey "until, finally, with one last collision [ ] he comes to a complete stop. Though nothing else does [my italics, MS]. There's a refuse truck, what must happen happens, the world rights itself, and so forth." (LP: 293) Now unable to move, and invisible, "[L.P.] realizes, people are walking right through him." (LP: 293.) The old lady walks to the curb, "standing half in him, half out" (LP: 293.) before people from the crowd "bowl her over, trample her underfoot." (LP: 294) This time she is not pushed onto the street by L.P., the outcome however is the same. She dies again and each time someone is saying "A pity. Life's tough."17
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The endless repetitions and doubling can be seen as a result of the construction of the magic lantern. In the case of Cinecity it not only consits of one cylinder-like screen that moves around a bulb, the nine balls/reels with their various stories necessarily create a multitude of images when looked at from the outside. As ceaseless flow is the ticket and Cineman is more space-conscious ('motion is his very essence'), all those reels and loops turn autonomously. L.P., the sputtering bulb of a magic lantern is projected into them, moving through them on a Moebius Strip, from C to C and F again:
5.5 F F
If C to C primarily stands for the nine reels along the notes on a musical scale, why then does reel nine begin with an F? F18 could stand for failure or falling, two of the main traits of L.P., on the other hand it could also stand for fairytale as a convention or for fabulators, who break up such conventions. C to C and F again could also merely represent one of L.P.'s films, the "big-budget musical Cock to Cunt and Fuck again" (LP: 367).19
The title of the last reel, "Final Fuck" gives a clear allusion to finality, and it will be necessary in this context to discuss parallels between death and the sexual climax. A sexual climax can be seen as a kind of temporary death, the death of the ego, the blotting out of one's sense of individuality or separateness from others in the social world. There is a French term for orgasm, le petit mort, which translates into small or little death. Considering the various smaller and bigger deaths, L.P. goes through, ("who lives hard and loves hard and dies young. / - Dies young? / - Yeah, several times so far." [LP: 289]), the Final Fuck can be seen as the biggest death of his career.
In this particular scene, L.P. is dressed up as Great Woowallah once more, his muses playing the nymphs on the island one last time. L.P., obviously aged (" – Is it really him? He's so old!" [LP: 365]), gets a feeling of the end already on the way to his last turn, passing "A LUCKY PIERRE REVIVAL!" (LP: 363), the cinema "old Organ Grinder" has become the "Lucky Pierre Memorial Multiscreen Picture Dome" (LP: 367) and he senses, "This documentary's my last film." (LP: 368) The retake of his earlier film Shipwrecked on the Isle of the Nymphs from reel one will be called Leaving the Island, on the title page of the script however there is only a big double-F (see LP: 371).
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His muses have a notion of finality, as well. Realizing that "This is it! Our last chance to capture it all!" (LP: 398), they "will soon see to it that he is in top form again, at least one more time." (LP: 397) However, "a deep melancholia has stolen into their play, [ ] their eyes water up and they begin to snivel and then he starts to cry too." (LP: 402)
As reel nine is Calliope's reel, the actual final fuck will of course take place between L.P. and her, who he finds in her office, "lying on the casting couch in there, tearfully masturbating, sucking the thumb of her free hand around her sobs and groans." (LP: 404) This is presumably the only moment she doesn't play a role. Their last encounter is foreshadowed in a film by Cassie, where L.P. and Cally couple in a kind of "aerial ballet": "Eventually at orgasm they will fall, but will recover their wings, so to speak, in the nick of time, and after fluttery farewell kisses fly off, never (presumably) to see each other again." (LP: 380) Cally knows this too. Up to the end she remains a mystery to L.P. and thus keeps his desire burning. "By acting she understands. And loves. But for her true genius to emerge, she must always have someone or something to play against." (LP: 404) So it is her desire too, that will continue.
Lucky Pierre or C to C and F again can be seen as an arch from birth to death. The zooming in on the woman/Cinecity in reel one may be the beginning, "the candle searching the pale expanse for form" (LP: 1). The end, symbolized by some kind of death, remains open as Lucky Pierre ends in midsentence with the words and suddenly–
6 Re-Take: Final Cut
The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Director's Cut, the end of literary disruptions? Certainly not. LP is as disruptive as it can be. Once more Coover proves to be "one of the most original and unique writers of his generation." (Evenson 2003: 274). He created a text where the reader can go randomly "from frame to frame, from link to link." (Heuer 2005: 33). In Lucky Pierre the reader will find a reservoir of stories and be confronted with (a) "[ ] man losing sight of the fictional basis of his systems and eventually becoming trapped within them" (McCaffery 1982: 25) – in this particular case, the main figure L.P. is constantly caught 'with his pants down', quite literally.
To speak with Turbayne once more, we are constantly witnessing the detection and undressing of the metaphor. The restoration or re-creation comes with the design Coover gives Lucky Pierre. By applying techniques of film to storytelling, Coover himself shows that the end of books has not come yet.
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In the end it is the reader's choice how deep (s)he will enter the reservoir of LP: how active to take part in the process of fiction making and thereby become a co-author. The reader decides whether seeing L.P. on a certain way from C to C and F again or just 'click' through the novel, seeing L.P. on his way seeing
There is also another quality to the text, which is not so obvious in earlier of Coover's works. "[ ] There is a darkness to the book, a clear-eyed sense of death and aging, a notion of stripping away [ ] (Evenson 2003: 273). The Adventures of Lucky Pierre began about thirty years ago, near the beginning side of Coover's career. Had it been published in the seventies, most likely it would have had all the pornographic elements in it we find now. They might have been a scandal back then. The depth of LP came with the time Coover took to creating it.21 Thus, LP can be considered a life's work. But what comes after it? Is this the end? Rather not. Seeing how busy Robert Coover is at Brown University at the moment, how deeply interested he is in hyperfiction, there is more to come. To speak with L.P.:
Andersen, Richard L. (1981): Robert Coover. Boston: Twayne Publisher, 1981.
Andersen, Richard L. (2000): American Muse: Anthropological Excursions into Art and Aesthetics. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2000.
Chiocci, Francesca (1997): "Music in Hypertexts: Toward a Real Media Integration" available at: [http://www.scholars.nus.edu.sg/cpace/ht/music1.html, 24.09. 2005]
Coover, Robert (1998): Ghost Town. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
Coover, Robert (1971): Pricksongs and Descants. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co.
Coover, Robert (2002): The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Director's Cut. New York: Grove Press. (=LP)
Coover, Robert (1992): "The End of Books" available at: [http://www.tnellen.com/ted/endofbooks.html, 15.09.2003]
Cope, Jackson I. and Geoffrey Green (1981): Novel vs. Fiction: The Contemporary Reformation. Norman: Oklahoma UP.
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Dorr, Rebecca (1999): "Off the Page" available at: [http://www.providencephoenix.com/archive/books/99/04/01/COOVER.html, 13.07.2003]
Evenson, Brian (2003): Understanding Robert Coover. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press.
Gado, Frank (1973): "Robert Coover", in: Conversations on Writers and Writing. Edited by Frank Gado. Schenectady, N.Y.: Union College Press, 1973.
Heuer, Renko (2005): "Pierre, the Lucky Avatar: Linking Robert Coover's The Adventures of Lucky Pierre with Hyperfiction, in: PhiN.Philologie im Netz, 34, 28–47.
Klinkowitz, Jerome (1975): Literary Disruptions – The Making of a Post-Contemporary American Fiction. Chicago: Illinois UP.
Maltby, Paul (1991): Dissident Postmodernists: Barthelme, Coover, Pynchon. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.
McCaffery, Larry (1982): The Metafictional Muse. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
O'Donnel, Patrick and Robert Con Davis (1984): Intertextuality and Contemporary American Fiction. London: John Hopkins UP.
Pynchon, Thomas (1984): "Entropy", in: Slow Learner: Early Stories. London: Pan Books.
Turbayne, Colin (1970): The Myth of Metaphor. Columbia: U of South Carolina P.
Viereck, Elisabeth: Mightier Than The Sword, Perspectives On Robert Coover's The Public Burning. University of Texas at Austin, 1980.
Wolff, Geoffrey: "An American Epic", in: New Times 9 (August 1977).
1 Coover used this genre in various of his works, most clearly in the different Lucky Pierre stories which preceded the novel and of course in the novel itself which completely takes place in porn business.
2 Or rather "Pierrodies"? (see LP: 29).
3 Although generally used, I took those terms from Thomas Pynchon's short story "Entropy", where the main character Callisto elaborates on his insights into the situation of closed systems (Pynchon 1984).
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A special way of course which is subject to the special rules or "roles" of Cinecity.
5 Here we have a link to metafiction, considering the following words of Focault: "The frontiers of a book are never clear cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network. (qtd. in O'Donnell/Davis 1984: 3).
6 See http://www.tnellen.com/ted/endofbooks.html, (24.09.05).
7 There are of course many text-generating devices to be found on the internet. While some of the generators produce pretty clumsy poems others, like Poetron4G at http://www.poetron-zone.de/poetron/p5noscript/poin.html, (24.09.05) are pretty good. For further information consider Anja Rau's discussion of interactive digital literature where she even goes so far as to say that text generators could make an author obsolete (Rau 2000). A useful collection of links can be found at http://auer.netzliteratur.net/du/links.php, (24.09.05).
8 The base for this graph has been taken from: http://www.cosmopolis.com/muses/muses.html, (12.10.03).
9 Here we can actually speak of something like a double parody. To go one step further, "Pierrodies" could also mean "Pierre who dies", as this scene takes place once in reel one and once in the last reel which is labelled the Final Fuck.
10 Sex, of course, is involved in this scene as well, as it is a central part of Cissy's concept.
11 Whereas the thawnow virus can be seen as an attempt to break up current conventions (in this special case the monopolistic structure of Cinecity's cinemas), this explanation sounds like a 'reader's manual to metafiction'.
12 PRICKS=Patriots for the Restoration of Inner City Kino-Services (see LP; 284).
13 The desert island, of course, is a set in Cinecity, and the way Cecilia approaches the city is identical to the quoted passage.
14 The letter C may obviously stand for many other things in Lucky Pierre: Chaos, Cause, Cunt, Core, Coover?
15 For more detailed information also check: http://scidiv.bcc.ctc.edu/Math/Mobius.html or http://www.worldofescher.com/gallery/A29.html (15.10.03).
16 Or projactor?
17 For reference please choose one of the before mentioned passages in LP.
18 Renko Heuer sees in the F a metaphor for L.P.'s inability to break free from his muses, F thereby being the subdominant of C (Heuer 2005: 41)
19 It could also stand for C-A-B to C-A-F-E and F-A-D-E again! (see LP: 42). Here we find a clear connection between music and words, as Cecilia creates "melodies derived from anagrams of the scale." (LP: 40)
20 Beside the desire he creates, L.P. himself could continue on too. And suddenly he could be at the beginning again, every end marks a new start. Cinecity is not to be left this easily and the magic lantern will turn, "it's the universal law." (LP: 105)
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Before elaborating on depth and death too much, one shouldn't forget considering the funny sides of LPas well, after all, there is a lot of humor in all its darkness.