Sven lies frozen to death in a ditch by the side of a road. His nostrils and lips are pale blue, jacket, pants, and boots encrusted with ice. His eyes have rolled back in his head.
I sit alone in a theater.
Sven wakes up in bed. He stands, revealing his bare ass, calves, shoulders, and penis. He puts on a sweater and stares at a mirror, touches his stubble.
Outside Sven’s house the air is a smoggy gray. We lurk behind various trees as Sven walks to his car with a decidedly grim facial expression. We are at a zany angle directly below him as he opens his car door and gets in. We are in the passenger seat. We are drifting in an aimless, perhaps symbolic fashion outside the cracked dashboard, looking in at Sven’s eyes. Once again we are inside the car. He seems to be having trouble starting it. He slams the steering wheel and mutters an oath that translates into English as “fuckers of shit.”
At a café Sven sips an espresso and stares vacantly at the street. We anticipate but do not actually see a single tear dribble down Sven’s cheek. Five to twenty minutes pass in silence.
A balding man with a thick beard sits down next to Sven. They talk at length about aesthetics, Foucault, Nietzsche, Faulkner, Jerry Lewis, the economy, the balding man’s wife, his students, and his mistress, who is one of his students. Sven mentions that his car is dead. The balding man mentions the recent deaths of his cat (postal truck) and youngest son (seizure, swimming pool). The balding man invites Sven to his lake house for the weekend. Sven says no, he has to work. The balding man asks Sven if he needs money. Sven says no and thanks him. He tells the balding man not to worry.
Sven exits the café, crosses the street, enters a patisserie and buys a croissant. He carries the croissant down the street.
I fidget in my seat. My eyes are tired and dry.
Sven is in his bedroom wearing long underwear. He gets into bed.
Sven enters a factory. A woman in grease-covered overalls waves to him as he walks by. Sven is working in the factory, operating a machine. The loud, grating noises of the machines begin to sound rhythmic. We see various other factory workers with grins on their faces. Sven begins to sing in time with the machine music. His voice sounds like a studio recording playing in sync with his opening and closing lips. Some kind of factorywide dance number is underway. Workers are doffing their hardhats in time to the music. We hover above the workers as they dance in rotating formations that seem choreographed.
After a few minutes, the music and dancing stop. The workers return to their machines. Sven frowns a little, breathes deeply, and returns to his machine.
Sven waves to his friends as he leaves the factory.
He is walking down a highway.
We see snow on the ground and his footsteps in the snow.
He moves away from us until he is a shadow on the horizon.
We are right alongside him and can hear his heavy breathing.
He is walking. His boots are cracked and a toe is visible.
It is snowing. We can hear the wind.
Hair blows in his eyes.
He is staggering. He moves slower and slower and slower. There are no buildings in sight.
We wonder where he is going and he drops to the ground.
He pants and tries to move his arms and legs.
We see his face and try to interpret his expression.
His head sags, and his body slumps over into the ditch and is still.
Everything ends and we are sitting in the dark. Names scroll and music plays. Lights come on.
I open my phone and see a message from Natalie: “hey can u come by and pick up your stuff tomorrow? i have your bluray player & your clothes & that book hopscotch.”
Stephen Tully Dierks edits the magazine Pop Serial (http://popserial.tumblr.com), and has had work at Metazen and New Wave Vomit. Video of him reading this story at the Ear Eater series can be viewed here.
Serious Art is one of the best shorts I've read this or any other year. Squatting at Dennis Cooper's blog since '07, I'm seeing a lot of "experimental" writing before the experiment breaks out of the lab. Truly strong, lovely and exciting.
I saw the Youtube video first. I don’t know what to call it. I wouldn’t call it a poem. Someone named David commented that it was a short, so I’ll go with that. I’ve watched Serious European Art Films. I’ve never known what to do with whatever it is you take away from watching Serious European Art Films. I like how Stephen Tully Dierks has taken something away and used it to make a nice, funny short. I liked how he read it in front of people and they laughed and enjoyed it. I like how it was recorded on video, and you can read it online.