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
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
After fitful dreams
of Dante's Hell, faith that new
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
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
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
Between disappointment and discursion, we follow our lines out to the
parking lot. The thrill ride over and after eternal waiting,
the deep emptiness
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