Supervert reviews I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
I find it impossible to discuss Mark Dery's I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts in anything other than the first person. The book speaks so eloquently of its time that, uncannily, I can't help but feel it speaks of me. So many of my own interests and obsessions rise from its pages — death, deviance, intellect. I recognize my iTunes library in Dery's tours de force on David Bowie and Lady Gaga. I recognize my bookshelf in Dery's essay on Amok Books, whose productions were once textbooks in the éducation sentimentale of the counterculture. I recognize my own rhetorical strategies in the move Dery makes in "Toe Fou," updating George Bataille's meditation on the big toe by riffing on a picture of Madonna's bare feet. Weirdest of all, I recognize what I thought was my own obscure fondness for "invisible literature" in Dery's essay on the New York Academy of Medicine Library — a place I too have plundered in quiet hours of mad and horrible research. Was I sitting across the table from you, Mark? I feel as though you, like Baudelaire, have addressed your book to "mon semblable, mon frère."
How is it that Dery is able to produce this uncanny feeling of identification? You get the sense that, while the rest of us were living the zeitgeist, Dery was holding a stethoscope to its heart. His essays are EKGs showing that our pulse goes haywire in the presence of extremes — perversion, violence, satanism. In an introduction, Dery declares that it is "the writer's job" to "think bad thoughts": "to wander footloose through the mind's labyrinth, following the thread of any idea that reels you in, no matter how arcane or depraved, obscene or blasphemous, untouchably controversial, irreducibly complex, or preposterous on its face." All of us take in these abominations as they play across our flatscreens and iPhones, but Dery's distinction is to really think about them — reflect on them, contextualize them, pursue their logic to sometimes unpalatable consequences. "The writer's job," he means to say, "is to transform 'bad thoughts' into good ones — insights and observations — through a process of examination." Will this thankless job now compel Dery to go in search of even worse thoughts? Perhaps the worst of all lies in the realization that there are so many bad thoughts, an inexhaustible supply, yet to be confronted.