Long Live Nothing, Built From Nothing: A Manifesto

Both of my parents did not exist. My mini-rebellion was to exist. There was no sperm, no egg. To this day, I survive by visiting Loaves & Fishes, where they throw me scraps. And yet here I am. I won’t go away. Even after you secured the temporary restraining order.

I defied all human biology, but remain strident and humorless. I am neither dead nor alive. The fact that I exist, that I occupy such a prodigious portion of the collective human mind and that the entire world revolves around me, permits me the authority to spout forth ridiculous bullshit. And by the time you reach the end of this very important essay’s third paragraph, which I will repeat for emphasis, you will believe everything that I say. If you do not, you are inferior. You are dead. You are a scrap to be thrown into my mighty maw.

The novel is dead.

I have eaten you. If I have not eaten you, you will wake up tomorrow and find my teeth burrowed into your leg. If you do not throw your scraps to me, I will spend the evening sobbing. And I will spout forth a fount that is even more ridiculous than before. When I begin biting into your limbs, I will not like the taste, but I will eat you because you are dead. You cannot exist because I do not exist. I am delusional. I love literature, but I hate you. I love you, but I hate literature. This is not a contradiction. I find nearly all the moves the traditional novel makes unbelievably predictable, tired, contrived, and essentially purposeless. I have not had a blowjob in sixteen years. Blowjobs are for dead people. And yet, being dead, I have not received one.

My lofty intentions were misunderstood by Stephen Colbert. When I attempted to partake of a certain biological practice that occurs in bedrooms and motel rooms, I could not find a willing partner. There was only a series of shrill essays. For every essay, I slapped on the subtitle “A Manifesto” so that you would detect its importance. To this day, I have my defenders. But they are all dead. Just as the people I see on the plane are dead. We get to pretend that people are alive. But I know that they are not.

The novel is dead.

Twenty years ago I applied for a job at the University of Washington creative writing program and I was escorted out of the office by security. However, by the mid-1990s, I made several additional attempts at gainful employment. I would not leave the office. I felt after a while that they should pay me money to write a book that was not a book, to promulgate literature that was not literature. Some of the faculty members at the University of Washington believed I was employed. But most of them felt sorry for me. I responded that I was dead and I asked them to pay me money. They told me to write a book. And I did so to justify my existence. Now everybody laughs at me. Even after I gave them what they wanted.

The novel is dead.

Every year, my book became less unwieldy. I became convinced that it was the greatest book that had ever been published in the history of humankind. I was not wrong. Because the novel was dead. I saw how I could take statements from others and make them my own. None of the material was mine. It was dead. Deader than a dead Eskimo. Deader even than Michael Jackson, a recording artist who is dead and whom I am not fond of. I am not fond of many things. Please be miserable with me. But in being dead, the book became alive. And my book incited controversy.

The novel is dead.

And here was the big break: I realized how perfectly the words embodied my argument. It was the best argument that humankind had to offer. I wanted the reader to understand that they should burn all of their books, because the novel was dead, and read my book over and over and over. I wanted them to buy my book again after they had burned their original copy. I took it upon myself to appear on every talk show. Because I liked talking about myself, even though the novel was dead. Even though I remained dead.

The novel is dead.

Numerous bloggers have failed to perform fellatio upon me. This is unfair. I have paid my dues. Because I don’t genuflect the twin altars of the novel (dead) and life (dead). I’ve become the poster boy for the Ridiculed Polemicist. I can’t even get Charlie Rose to book me on his show. The New Yorker doesn’t accept my contributions. Fine by me. They misunderstand my genius, which is dead. Like the novel. Like you. Like your mother.

I will hate the book you’re reading. If you smile at literature, you will find me sitting behind you, staring at you like a stalker and taking all the joy out of your reading experience. If only you had invited me to more parties. If only you had invited me for even one dinner. If only you had serviced me. The way that you had shown affection to all the happy people who were dead and who did not deserve your affection.

Forms evolve.

Forms are there to serve a hairdresser, and when your hair falls out, the hair falls out for a good reason.

The novel is dead.

Long live nothing, built from nothing.


  1. You mean this essay to be formally and thematically different from the other passages you post here?

    ‘Numerous bloggers have failed to perform fellatio upon me. This is unfair. I have paid my dues’ doesn’t have quite the nonchalance you want it to, good luck trying to find a woman willing to touch you. Blowjobs are for dead people.

    I promise you, the whole problem is that what you think of as your integrity and iconocasm (mmm, iconocasmic) isn’t really attractive. It comes across as superiority and insensivity. I have eaten you.

    Do NOT reject the suggestion with one of your high-flown, principled condemnations of the whole institution. It would be bad and foolish.

    The novel is dead.

    I still do not have a kazoo.

  2. Ed you might reduce your Swiftian digressions (as hilarious as they are ) and concentrate on the original work that i look forward to reading. Or compile a Best of UNcle Ed anthology and put out a book

    By the way its too bad that David Shields has obscured his creditable thesis with some unnecessary hyperbole

  3. I think Shields came upon the archive of Hermes, the Wesleyan radical student newspaper, and lifted an article from Spring 1981 that was on the same page as “Karl Marx on the Mocon Lunch Line” and “‘The Wall’ and Radical Consciousness.”

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