Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dispatch from Hiptopia

Greetings from Hiptopia, otherwise known as Vancouver, with a dramatic natural setting, walkable urbanism notable enough to have inspired a neologism, some best case scenario postmodern architecture, and a music scene both vigorous and hospitable enough to approximate transcendence (or at least the show I saw did). There's a reason this city is a creative class, not to mention a drug-addicted underclass, Mecca.

My guidebook glibly suggests that people don't attend church here, but if non-white people qualify as people, then my experience stopping in at three separate packed Catholic services suggests otherwise. Still, the guidebook has a point. Hipsters, many with babies now in tow, come to cosmopolitan Vancouver to, more often than not, leave the Christianity of their provincial hometowns behind. It must, therefore, be disconcerting for them to pick up a copy of the ubiquitous Georgia Straight and read the article on Nick Cave's new novel, The Death of Bunny Runmo. The book depicts a sex-addict growing conscious of his own damnation, lost in what Cave calls an "epic flight away from love." The article provides some unexpected insights into Cave's somewhat Marcionite and Arian, but nevertheless illuminating, exegesis:
"[The] element of the absurd is crucial to Bunny Munro's balancing act, given that the story has roots not only in the darkest chapters of Cave's life but also in weighty literary sources that have long inspired him. One of these is the Gospel of St. Mark, the oldest and briefest of the Bible's four accounts of the life of Jesus. As Cave noted in a foreword he wrote for a 1998 edition of the gospel, he first encountered the text following years of obsession with the Old Testament and its 'maniacal, punitive God'. The central figure in Mark, he explained in the essay, 'had a ringing intensity about him that I could not resist... The essential humanness of Mark's Christ provides us with a blueprint for our own lives so that we have something we can aspire to rather than revere, that can lift us free of the mundanity of our existences rather than affirming the notion that we are lowly and unworthy.' And as Cave says in conversation, he's been gripped ever since by Mark's story-by what he calls 'the energy of it'.

'If you compare it to the other gospels, there's an urgency about it that I really like,' he says. 'And I like that in other novels. I like that in crime literature and in certain poets. It's a kind of rapid-fire delivery. You know, the gospel of Mark reads like James Ellroy, to me. Everything's happening super-fast...'

[The Gospel of Mark] is in the foundations of Bunny Munro, Cave says. Mark's gospel 'rockets through the story in order to get to its absolute preoccupation, which is with the death of the protagonist,' he points out. 'And it's episodic in a similar way to my novel. From the title of my book and the first line of my book, you are preparing for the death of the central character. So structurally it's actually quite similar...'"
As I barely made it through The Proposition, I'm not sure this book is for me. Still, Cave at his best functions as a sort of apostle to hipsters - perhaps now even as an answer to those who complain that there are no contemporary Flannery O'Connors.