It is a truth not universally acknowledged that every story needs a civilized preface, otherwise the entirety of the plot and the careful delineation of the characters mean nothing. Without a preface, the gentle, or perhaps discerning reader, has no intimation of the authors innermost foibles and neuroses, which are invariably of the utmost importance to the literary critics of the world.
Preface to Song of Roland
This book, as it stands in present form, first occurred to me in the depths of an Iowa corn maze shaped like the United States of America. I remember the summer breeze like the ripe flesh of first love, the golden light that gave succor to the simple farm-folkand somewhere, somewhere, the Shriners keeping benevolent watch from their rickety wooden lookout tower, ready to enter us in a raffle if we could faithfully collect the names of the governors from all fifty states. And the gentle goats at the petting zoo.
During this journey, as we were making the tricky navigation down the ersatz corn Big Muddy and preparing to turn up the Ohio River toward the free states, like Huck and Jim in Twain's immortal Tom Sawyer, it occurred to me that a corn maze represented the perfect analog (or synecdoche or denouement, to use the arcane lit-theory terms) for the failure of Enlightenment philosophy. The aim was to subjugate Nature to a strict Cartesian pattern of lines and angles (not dissimilar to a computer chip, one would imagine, if it could be seen from an airplane or zeppelin), yet the corn it groweth as the wind it bloweth. Down amid the stalks, whose leaves rustled in the mystic zephyr as they lifted their phallic cargoes of maize unto the heavens, I felt the fecund life of the soil and knew that in time Nature would burst from these artificial confines. No raffle could halt the deluge.
That evening I rushed home to my cozy, book-lined, highly intellectual study, and in keeping with Whitman's dictum of "emotion tranquilly recollected," I immediately began to draw up a schema for the book, which would meld the essence of my corn epiphany with other longstanding psychological wounds, including:
Memories from my unhappy childhood, in which I was a dreamer, always raptly meditating upon a delicate tracery of clouds over the horizon or the minuscule perfection of a tiny wildflower, while the other children on my soccer team repeatedly kicked me in the crotch;
Fear of being mocked for my rural origins, which were so impoverished that on occasion we were forced to make jam from the spiny fruits of prickly pear cacti (Opuntia engelmannii);
Oedipal tension with my father, and with any figure even remotely paternal in nature, including Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy's;
The inevitability of death, as manifested in the weekly funeral procession from the goldfish bowl to the toilet, bearing aloft the sad vermillion carcass of "Goldy" or "Fishy" or "Goldfishy," granted so short a span of days to breathe the clean tapwater of this beloved city, and now consigned to no better fate than the malevolent gurgle of porcelain pipes;
From here, dear reader, I would like to say that the book wrote itself, but the truth is that it was backbreaking labor throughout, though you may find this impossible to believe when you first encounter the mellifluous waves of my prose. Like any great showman, a writer will take monumental pains to make his work look easy, but a typewriter and a Southern heritage alone are not enough to make a Faulkner. You must also have a bottle of bourbon. And then you must pray to the Muse. O pray to her. And may she vouchsafe her immortal light.