Naming comes from seeing, or vision; it comes from sight
& observation: "billy the kid was born with a short
dick but they did not call him richard (1)."
In that same part we read: "they called him the kid
because he was younger & meaner & had a shorter dick."
This is an observation [of] sorts: "could they have called
him instead billy the man or bloody bonney? would he have
bothered having a faster gun? who can tell."
Craig Owens, in "The Allegorical Impulse: Towards a
Theory of Postmodernism," writes "[the Allegorist]
lays claim to the culturally significant, poses as its interpreter.
& in his hands the image becomes something other (_allos =
other + agoreuei = to speak). He does not restore an original
meaning that may have been lost or obscured; allegory is not
hermeneutics. Rather, he adds another meaning to the image
(my emphasis). If he adds, however, he does so only to replace:
the allegorical meaning supplants an antecedent one; it is
a supplement" (205). The first untitled part of bpNichol's
short epic reads: "this is the true eventual story of
billy the kid. it is not the story as he told it for he did
not tell it to me. he told it to others who wrote it down,
but not correctly. there is no true eventual story but this
one. had he told it to me i would have written a different
one. i could not write the true one had he told it to me."
Finally, nonetheless: "all other stories will appear
untrue beside this one." Truth is a supplement [of]
the false. That is fiction.
1. "this is the true eventual story of billy the kid."
So begins bpNichol's novel (or anti-novel, if you prefer).
"eventually all other stories will appear untrue beside
this one." The true
& eventual "story" opens with a demonstrative: "this."
"there is no other story but this one." Well, it
really says: "there is no true story but
this one" --
the one you are reading -- a supplement. "true"
& "this" are meant to go together. "this"
one makes it the "true" one; the true one is this one. So the story goes.
2. The author doesn't have any answers, authors just don't,
authors do. Emphasis
on the verb. billy the kid doesn't have any answers either,
he's just a character in this true story, like the author.
Neither does the narrator have any answers. What is told is
always going to be different than what is written down. That
is his/tory. Rumour
& legend are faster than history. Truth resides in this.
What is this, again? Right.
3. Gertrude Stein was bpNichol's great mentor; she loved
it that there was no such thing as repetition, only insistence,
emphasis in that sense, & so many readers didn't understand
why she repeated a lot. The phrase "the true eventual
story" of billy the kid is repeated at least 3 times
in this short epical beginning -- more if you consider its
many versions & permutations. What does all this self-reference
mean? It means that we are reading the true eventual story
of billy the kid, & that the true eventual story of billy
the kid is a story, something made. Maybe billy the kid is
an every-body sort [of] character. Or, construction. I wonder
if the true eventual story of billy the kid
is another way [of] writing the real autobiographical historical
fiction uv everyone? Like i said, allegory.
4. There are explanations. "billy was not fast with
words so he became fast with a gun". "The true eventual (nice word, that, "eventual") story is billy became
(nice word became
-- to go with eventual) the faster gun". Gradually, eventually,
billy the kid became the kid, the kid with the fastest gun
-- the kid who wasn't much for small talk, even tho he had
a small, well. Did you catch the word even in the word eventual? That's interesting when you think about it. "this"
story doesn't have a lot [of] ups & downs in it, it's
pretty flat as epics go. Even, even.
5. HISTORY plays a role in the novel, that's obvious. It
is also a kind [of] character. Of course it is. What makes
history? How is history made? People & place. There is
a section in this true anti-epic novel & allegory that
is about the town in which billy died. This is getting interesting
even more. "this" true story of.
"history says that billy the kid was a coward".
Legend, which is different than history, says that billy the
kid was a hero. billy, the truth is, didn't take either all
that seriously. How can you when they are the same & different.
"rumour is billy the kid". That's probably true; this is the true eventual
story of billy the kid after all. billy the kid, superman.
Well. Or if he had had his portrait painted; if anyone could
paint the true eventual story of billy the kid it would be
6. Craig Owens, once again, writes: "Allegory is consistently
attracted to the fragmentary, the imperfect, the incomplete
-- an affinity which finds its most comprehensive expression
in the ruin, which [Walter] Benjamin identified as the allegorical
emblem par excellence. Here the works of man are reabsorbed
into the landscape ["Place"]; ruins thus stand for
history as an irreversible process of dissolution & decay,
a progressive distancing from origin" (206). Remember
what bpNichol, or the narrator, said: "it is not the
story as he told it to me for he did not tell it to me. i
could not write the true one had he told it to me." Naming,
seeing & vision make allegory. Reading makes allegory,
too; they do not make history. There are too many holes.
7. billy the kid is meek in death. Eventually, & then
he is not. "as he lay dying he said to the sheriff goodbye
& the sheriff said goodbye. billy had always been a polite
kid". 2 versions [of] the word kid again; billy the
ruthless killer with the fast gun &. billy the kid with
the small. Now billy is in heaven. Observe the word even
in the word "Heaven." Neat, eh? He's not off the
hook yet! He's like God's brightest star. He questions God's
authority. "if billy had had a gun he'd of shot god full
of holes." Not fast with words, eh? Look again. Observe
how many holes there are in that sentence. What does this
say about the religious stance of this short epic anti-epic?
George Bowering [says] that "Literature cant hurt you
but reading can". I have always liked hearing that, even
tho it set up an artificial boundary between the writing process
& the reading act. Barrie Nichol loved to tell stories.
That made him the greatest story-teller [of] our time; his stories
are parables. Walter Benjamin: "This is the form in which
man's subjection to nature is most obvious & it significantly
gives rise to not only the enigmatic question of the nature
of human existence as such, but also of the biographical historicity
of the individual. This is the heart of the allegorical way
of seeing" (cited in Owens).
"This piece was written as a lecture on Nichol & modern & experimental writing for th
kids [of] BC FICTION AD: INTRO 2 MODERN FICTION, November 25ish 2005,
University College [of] the Fraser Valley."
Nichol, bp. the true eventual story of billy the kid.
Toronto ON: Weed/Flower Press, 1970.
Owens, Craig. "The Allegorical Impulse: Towards a Theory
of Postmodernism." Art
After Modernism: Rethinking Representation. Ed. Brian
Wallis. New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984.
This piece was originally written as an afterward to the
new edition of the true eventual story of billy the kid,
published in Ottawa by above/ground press in 2005.
carl peters wrote his MA thesis and doctorate on bpNichol, Kabbalah
& the practice of the sacred; he is the editor of bpNichol Comics (2002). He is currently writing a critical study on
Gertrude Stein's prose, and another on bill bissett for Talonbooks.
bpNichol is the
author of The Martyrology,
a life-long poem of 10 books, including an opera; Nichol explored
and experimented with every conceivable form -- he wrote children's
books, criticism, theory and novels. A list of his major publications
would include: love: a book of remembrances (1984), Zygal: A Book of Mysteries & Translations
(1985), art facts: a
book of contexts (1990) and Truth:
A Book of Fictions (1993). He co-won the Governor-General's
Award in 1970 for four books of poetry: Still
Water, Beach Head, The Cosmic Chef, and The True
Eventual Story of Billy the Kid (the other winner was
Michael Ondaatje for his collection The
Collected Works of Billy the Kid).