In Watermelon Sugar and Tunnel Music
The clearest vision of reality is often the most abstract. While the rise of science and progress suffocate the notion of an extrasensory experience within the reading of literature, the phenomena persist. Meanings are communicated, participating in a magnificent cosmic-cultural aura, penetrating a communication of meaning, intent, and scandalously--truth. There is a process of intertextuality occurring, a conversation between authors, texts themselves, and the readers who venture to interpret them. Richard Brautigan's imaginary novel, In Watermelon Sugar converses well with a poem written many years after his death, Tunnel Music by Mark Doty. This conversation appears to be about the collapse of our techno-egocentric society.
Because of the cryptic nature of In Watermelon Sugar, it aids analysis to offer some form of comparison to its labyrinthine meanings. Through the lens of Mark Doty's poem, a particular feature of the novel is offered a clarity and relevance of vision: the Forgotten Works are indicative "of the coming world." (Doty 27) Allow me first to outline the basic feeling of the novel and how the Works figure into their lives. To paraphrase William James, generally there is a smell of watermelons.
At once the novella details a simple community of nature-minded folk, centered on a compound called iDEATH, a place "always changing" (Brautigan 16) with trees, and a river "flowing out of the living room." At iDEATH, the sun shines a different color every day, making the watermelon crops reflect that color. The people of iDEATH make "a great many things out of" watermelon sugar. (Brautigan 1-2) Sculpting their lives from this sugar, and mixing it with trout, they have lantern oil. Brautigan once said "everything in America is about trout fishing if you've got the correct attitude." (McDonnell) Rivers run everywhere here, they take the qualities of whatever the reader would like them too, if you look hard enough--everything can be a river. "Some of the rivers are only a few inches wide. . . I know a river that is half-an-inch wide. . . We call everything a river here. We're that kind of people." (Brautigan 2)
Beyond iDEATH and the trout hatchery are the Forgotten Works. They "go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on." (Brautigan 69) They are "hammered out" as Mark Doty puts it. The Works are "much bigger than we are.