The Unknown: The Purple Line.

And yet the vampirical Unknown thrived on its own blood as the critics shed it. The day Kakutani tore them a new one in the New York Times they would later remember as the one of the fullest they had lived, firing off impassioned defenses of the choices they had made while writing The Unknown, choices that not a single one of them had realized they were making at the time.

Truth be told, the patting-dog praise occasionally and casually tossed their way never roused them as much as the bitter faceslaps ripe with envy. In the end those were more fun, in that they elicited a response, inevitably generating new writing that absorbed the criticism itself and rebirthed it as fiction.

And always the critics had some good points. The link does bleed. The editorial process was shoddy. To a comment “I can’t see why anyone but the Unknown and their friends would want to read this,” a pensive Dirk would reply, “You know, I’ve been thinking about that . . .” To a charge of excess, a drunken Scott would reply, “Goddammit I should have listened to my mother and stuck to post-Carver minimalism.” When he heard of the review that accused the Unknown of exercising poor content control, Frank Marquardt would nod his head in rapid and ferocious agreement and mutter, “Drivel. Slander. Absolute bloody drivel.” Gillespie would sneer at Rettberg and look shamefully to the dirt every time the Unknown was accused of namedropping.

And so the Unknown welcomed the poison of even shoddy criticism into their systems, and built antibodies of text within the body of text that surrounded them. The rhetoric of failure was always already hopelessly intertwined with the forward progression of the story The Unknown was always becoming. And as the landscape spread ever wider the Unknown were hot coals dwindling on an abandoned campsite somewhere off in the distant horizon. At times little more than an imperceptible speck in the rearview mirror of a squalid VW bus. Until the wind came, another critic’s stinging rebuke stoking the fire just as it was stoked every time one or another of the Unknown would shoot some angst-ridden diatribe to his fellow authors. Sturm and Drang fueled the Unknown. Never penitent, always in catharsis.

And the Unknown always bought drinks for the graduate students who wrote their master’s thesis on The Unknown, whether they agreed with the conclusions or not. Expensive drinks, in classy bars. The Unknown were known to blow a week’s wages on surf, turf and accoutrements for any doctoral student who had the courage to make The Unknown the subject of their dissertation in any discipline.


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