Thursday, June 18, 2015

book review

The novel known as 'My Journey with Karl to the 1987 Minnesota State Fair' is more or less about the so-called universal Way that has been handed on by word of mouth from fairgoer to fairgoer ever since the fair's inception in 1859. Jay Mist, the author of the 'Journey', dared to say what the ancients did not dare to say, being so bold as to reveal in all its nakedness the celestial mechanism undergirding the annual pilgrimage. The main entrance to the fair from Snelling Avenue heads onto a road named Dan Patch Boulevard for a famous pacer horse who won every race he ran in from 1900 to 1909.

The use of words in 'My Journey with Karl to the 1987 Minnesota State Fair' is a lot like that of so-called Zen devices. The points to notice are all more or less outside the rude printed matter. Sometimes they are concealed in ordinary folk sayings or malapropisms ala the great Sancho Panza. Sometimes they are represented in rivers or interstates or rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl or Lemonade Shake-Up. There are of course the farm animals and cool crafts to consider.

Sometimes true and false are distinguished by a chuckle or smirk. Sometimes Karl implies there is only a hair's breadth of difference between them, which causes some fairgoers to shake their heads disapprovingly and write him off as a Dark and Twisted Figure from the Obscure and Most Likely Irrelevant Past. Sometimes real and artificial are differentiated by a single letter or punctuation mark!

'My Journey with Karl to the 1987 Minnesota State Fair' is permeated with so-called Taoist principles. It implies that when we regard things through this lens, nothing is best, nothing is worst. We attempt to coexist peacefully but quite often come up rather short. Each thing, seen in its own light, stands out in its own way. It can seem to be "better" than what is compared with it on its own terms. But seen in terms of the whole, no one thing stands out as "better." If you measure differences, what is greater than something else is "great." Good for it! Therefore there is nothing that is not "great." What is smaller than something else is "small." Boo-hoo. Therefore there is nothing that is not "small." So the whole cosmos is a grain of rice, and the tip of a hair is as huge as the Grand Canyon. Such is the relative view.

The fairgoers of old were not afraid when they stood alone in their views. No great exploits. No plans. If they failed, no sorrow. No self-congratulation amidst so-called success. Minds free, thoughts gone, brows clear, faces serene.

Towards the end of the 'Journey' Karl makes a rare personal confession: "Other people are excited, as though they were at a parade. I alone don't care, I alone am expressionless, like an infant before it can smile. Other people believe they have what they need; I alone possess nothing. I alone drift about, like someone without a home base. I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty. Other people are bright; I alone am dark. Other people are sharp; I alone am dull. Other people have a purpose; I alone don't know. I drift like a wave on the ocean, blow as aimless as the forest wind, except for that time in 1987 when I went to the Minnesota State Fair with my good friend Jay Mist."

It probably comes as no surprise that unusual foodstuffs are readily available at the fair. Classics such as cotton candy and hot dogs also make their appearance. Many foods reflect Minnesota's agriculture; cheese curds, milk shakes, and corn dogs are popular favorites. Many foods at the fair are deep fried or come on a stick; from the classic corn dog to alligator-on-a-stick, lobster-on-a-stick, deep fried candy bar on a stick, and even beer-on-a-stick. New to the fair in 2006 was hotdish on a stick, a variant of a classic staple of Minnesotan cuisine. In 2007 the big craze was spaghetti on a stick.