My Meteorite Or, Without the Random There Can Be No New Thing — Harry Dodge
by Genevieve Flavelle
If you read it, you may or may not recall that The Argonauts (2015), Maggie Nelson’s wildly successful book credited with popularizing the term “autotheory,” was addressed to her partner, the multidisciplinary artist Harry Dodge. Nelson’s book primarily explored the themes of queer love (with Dodge) and becoming a parent (with Dodge). In My Meteorite: Or, Without the Random There Can Be No New Thing, Dodge finally speaks, and what he has to say is triple the length of Nelson’s book. I was rereading The Argonauts when I saw My Meteorite circulating in social media posts—a random coincidence, or as Dodge suggests throughout the book, perhaps not. However, a comparison between the two books is awkward because they are wildly divergent in their themes. They are similar in that they are both autotheory, a hybrid form of autobiography, theory, and criticism, popularized by writers such as Nelson and
Chris Kraus. And both books also reflect, in part, the life that Dodge and Nelson share in a mix of intimate and mundane snapshots. My Meteorite is not, however, as one might assume, Dodge’s side of the story. The book is hardly about sexuality or gender at all; it holds its own strange and unique narrative.
My Meteorite is a collaged glimpse into Dodge’s personal life, career, and fantastic intellect. Declared a genius in elementary school, his inner life is a brightly lit maze. Though he prefers to be left alone in his studio and let his artwork speak on his behalf as his “social body,” a series of coincidences and encounters with friends and colleagues leads Dodge to the light-bulb realization that human interaction generates new things in ways that cannot be reproduced otherwise. This moment of illumination might seem obvious, not earth-shattering—especially as many have watched their social lives crumble over the past year and continue to deal with the fallout in their careers and psyches—but for Dodge, it becomes the loose thesis of the book. He reflects on his childhood, the death of both of his adoptive parents (one after the other from cancer and dementia respectively), meeting his birth mother and brother, raising two children, navigating success in the international art world, and the growing presence of artificial intelligence in contemporary life (and its attendant ethical and metaphysical questions)—oh, and his fascination with a meteorite he purchased off eBay.
With so many themes, the book exceeds genre, which makes it difficult to distil. I categorize it as autotheory because Dodge writes in the first person, uses a diaristic structure, and seamlessly integrates quotations by various theorists into the narrative. The book also features a good deal of name-dropping—describing meetings, dinners, studio visits, and parties with notable friends and acquaintances such as Hilton Als, Catherine Opie, Helen Molesworth, Fred Moten, and Carrie Brownstein, to name a few. This loose documentation constructs a glimpse into his artistic milieu, mimicking Kraus’s “gossipy” depiction of New York’s art scene in I Love Dick, and Gertrude Stein’s constant naming of soon-to-be-famous guests in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. While there are references to the wild days of Dodge’s youth in San Francisco’s DIY queercore radical art scene running a “feral coffeehouse-cum-performance-space” called the Bearded Lady with Silas Howard, most of the parties and openings Dodge attends these days tend to feature children or awkward professional interactions. In a minor plot of the book Dodge chronicles enduring the hair-pulling process of having one of his sculptures acquired by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (the conclusion of which is Dodge finding out his work is on view at the museum well before the institution confirms its purchase).
The book does not have a plot per se but unfolds as a spiralling narrative. The chapters and sections combine non-linear passages, sometimes dated, sometimes not, that range across a broad swath of Dodge’s life and thoughts. The book’s main time frame is 2006, when Dodge’s mother passed, to 2017, when he began to write the book in the wake of his father’s death. His parents’ deaths thus constitute a significant focus, matched similarly in scope by his inquiries into artificial intelligence, all of which he elaborates on in great detail. Dodge writes that his research on machine-born intelligence began when he realized his materialist beliefs, “that the universe, consciousness—literally everything—is the result of the behaviour of matter, i.e. that the mind is computing with meat,” were at odds with his technophobia. His research includes watching every science-fiction film about AI he can find, and academic reading wormholes. In contrast, Dodge leaves other scenes or events hanging, pieces of a puzzle poured out but pushed aside to be fit together at a later date. The meteorite is one such puzzle piece; Dodge carries it with him as a companion throughout the book, but its allure never fits fully into place. To add to the existing confusion of the book’s fractal structure, some passages (two particularly graphic sex scenes come to mind) appear to be dreams, a detail I only clued in to near the end of the book (the only cue being the genuinely bizarre turn of events). The book is challenging and strange, but Dodge is a compelling and masterful writer, his use of language as elegant as it is complex.
By turns emotionally moving, intellectually rigorous, reassuringly mundane, and fantastically eccentric, My Meteorite is a gratifying read. At a time when our social contact is so tightly contained, reading My Meteorite felt like having a refreshingly expansive conversation with a friend who thinks in ways wildly different than I do (but experiences plenty of the same human anxieties). As I read through Dodge’s twisty narrative and then circled back to finishing The Argonauts, I increasingly felt that my coincidental co-reading of the books was less than random. Dodge suggests throughout My Meteorite that coincidences, rather than being indiscriminate, may be the result of putting oneself into the world to orbit, spark, and collide with others. By leading the reader down innumerable rabbit holes such as this, Dodge encourages a sense of enchantment with our fraught reality, or as he says, “a renewed connection to the awesome flows of unexplainable cosmogonic reason, cosmic correspondence” in our lives.