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Postmodern Village
est. 1999
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Perambulations in LitWorld: an Expediment in Prop Culture Haibun
by Mary Chino-Cherry

Criticism is a comparative science. Whether between works, between works and aesthetic theories, between works and their stated purposes, criticism compares. So the new-and ever hopeful Coral Gables-based theme park LitWorld can't but be compared to the authors and works that comprise its stated theme, even as

sidewalk tar melts; goo
oozes through the Croc's soft foam:
power parking lot.

Thus we wonder if the power of LitWorld -- the old world spires and thatch of which, the mini-Manhattan skyline and Paris mimesis of which pokes over the lightpoles and scrub -- derives from its subject or the objectified null-set that is popular culture proper, prop-culture, if you will: gutted and shelled, scrubbed clean for the selling.

Sliding my day pass
through the turnstile's scanner, thrust
into holiness,

I ped toward the first and most popular (if one can call it that) part of this, least popular of theme parks, where rise the braces and tracks of the amusement part of the park, and I wonder, is this really what people want, the tenuous vestiges of the greatness that was? Yet they are here, in sufficient numbers to make a go, perhaps, to the same crowd that shows for the latest regurgitation of reprocessed Austen or Forrester or Waugh, puked into theaters each year for our cinematic edification and to elide the dear guilt of not reading.

Close enough to hear
reports from the Hemingway
shooting range, I cringe.

The paper outlines of elephants and tigers march past. Whole faux African villages invite the tourist in for a gin, tonic only for the least aware. Here, the dirt streets open to plastic cobblestones, a facsimile of Paris under the fiberglass eaves of which bustles the Moveable Feast French Buffet. Clammy, green-grey foie-gras and bad wine in wicker-wrapped jugs abound, and the "writers," costumed college kids playing Eliot and Pound, Toklas and Stein, fail for eight bucks an hour to promote an authentic feel. What sociological treatises are they penning in their Moleskine notebooks and period cravats? What code for what new game?

My stomach turns spring--
cruel, down The Alley of Drunks.
Here Fitzgerald looms

blithe and yet somber, and the '20s roar drowned out by the shatter of dreams. In back, The Crack-Up room with its padded walls and clean-scrubbed attendants awaits those unflinching from a fright or the internalized torture of the DTs. The theater major playing Zelda deserves a Tony. Back out in the ballroom the tony toast the town, all tuxes and spats.

Even deeper in,
Laudanum Lane, and a man
of the crowd lurks dark.

It's hard here, to tell the actors from the "guests" all packed into a 19th century gaslight haze, the permanent twilight of an architectural hoax. Sniff deep and you smell the ghost of Coleridge, the rotten funk of dead albatross. Listen beneath the murmur of humanity for the tales your heart tells.

It bears repeating,
as 'round the next corner all
heartbeats stop, self-tombed:

Suicide Avenue. Nowhere to eat here, Hemingway's glorious paunch reduced to two barrels, gauge 12. The ride turns static, though the brave can pay nine tickets to nod for a bit in Plath's Oven. Chlorine is in the air here, as just past this somber street, the swamp called after Woolf/Chopin/Ophelia (LitWorld draws no distinction between created and creator) hisses with the sound of foaming water. A few pasty women in discreet Land's End one-piece suits saunter into the wave pool, their own awakening a chill of treated Atlantic brine. Fat Germans plunge from a bridge modeling a certain one above the Ouse. Here, too, further off, is a tiny slice of rotten Denmark and Ophelia's Leap, from turret to pond, sanitized for your projection, where animatronic carp clean the pools with filter-gills and kind, life-rendering robotic pelicans electro-mechanically pluck them out when clotted and in need of a charge.

Shagged out, after all,
I creep back to my room at
Recluse House, Amherst

on a half-shell. Quiet like a tomb with names fading from the door, yet I know the black wagon will kindly stop for me when I resume my travels morning next. From the room to the left, the heft of cathedral tunes, and to the right, the unmistakable sound of a woman's shoulder smooching the wall and shaking the pattern in the paper, tying to get out.

After fitful dreams
of Dante's Hell, faith that new
attractions beckon,

always, through InfernoLand, though not yet open, which bellows forth test-firings of its immense gas flames and brimstone-scented infusers, fires visible even through the bars of my suite isolation. The reflections early this morning on the half-filled concrete Styx remind me of the po-mo promotional material slid under my door after a lackey eyes my press pass: the river's eponymous band itself is to play the premiere of LitWorld's latest creation, still a few weeks' hence at this writing. Meanwhile, I restart soft, with Yoknapatawphaville and nine holes on the Compson Memorial Miniature Golf Course, wearing BenjyVision virtual reality headgear, of course, supplying superimpositions of implanted memories and the constant patter of Autisto-Graph™ random information generation fucking up my every shot. But then, this game is not about perfection; in this game, you endure. A quick shimmy up Caddy's Tree reveals the way to The Burning Barn ride, where participants either shunt into the darkened Snopes Entrance and toward the tempting incendiaries, or forthright into the bright and stuffy courtroom wherein I find on my particular visit spare members of Oprah's book club, wandering helplessly in order to rediscover what all the fuss is about, at a loss now without their televisual maven to guide them through.

As if they'll find it,
the fuss. They will, I guess, but
something real? What then?

Looking for a rise, I take the fearful Erica Jong chair lift, flying up to the Kerouac Kars miniature speedway where riders start atop a replicated Rockies and drop at a beat, 90 miles an hour to the plains below, jazz music blaring through the shiftless amazement of a rattletrap old Buick descending, the car out of gear, a virtual Cassady plying the wheel. Or else hitchhike up and a buzzed hipster in a hot rod will floor it all the way to the top. But either way the landscape is subtly shifted through the latest in carbon-fiber formation to represent the American West through a slight smear of Benzedrine blur. I'm not saying the ride blows, man, blows, but afterwards I am more than ready to rest, for a while, in the Ken Kesey Electroshock Room -- only to be jolted awake, barely missing biting off my own tongue by an errant tooth or two.

My mood all aglow,
it is time to bring it down:
summer, high cotton

to be picked at the Alex Haley Living History Plantation -- the definition of a working vacation. Tethered to a Blakcberry has never looked so good in comparison to the literal, "just for fun" shackles here. What's grown gets ginned into $40 t-shirts with Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison silk-screened on. They've got you going and coming, and just to add injury, at the Company Store, they'll serve you rum.

The 40 Lashes
sauna is welcome after,
brings on Dust-Bowl dreams--

and a harrowing ride by crank-start Conestoga to Steinbeck's Pick-Your-Own Peach Farm, where samples of the staple crop can be washed down with trickling portions of potions from the Rosasharn Milk Bar. Somehow, despite Depression Era prices, I leave in debt, but managing to escape before the scheduled, and as always "just for fun," flood.

Day three leaves me stunned
and gasping for Pilgrim-age
to war's rabid flames

and the inspiration for InfernoLand's (ever) nascent fire, Vonnegut's Dresden, the ride to end all wars, a monstrosity of a meat locker, housed in a state-of-the-art 1940's German town, replete with self-reconstructing features and detailed models of B17s that cloud the virtual skies above. The roar of conflagration is very real, the scent of melting flesh mere chemical allusion.

Between disappointment and discursion, we follow our lines out to the parking lot. The thrill ride over and after eternal waiting,

the deep emptiness
returns--another season
lost: rhinoceros!

My cheap rental buzzes as I pass the park's eastern edge where rises their latest creation, to open right after Dante's InfernoLand: Kafka's Castle, the only part of this repackaged universe the visitors' feet, despite labyrinthine efforts, will never be allowed to breach. Here LitWorld's corporate offices will go, showing once and for all that a population that cannot for the life of it find a theme in a work of literary art is more than able to find a theme park in a swamp near Coral Gables.