A friend of mine, the author of four self-published books — one of which got 22 million YouTube views when a subversive porn star read from it on camera — occasionally prints bulletins in limited editions about whatever grabs his attention. Then he mails them to friends. The most recent, Bulletin #4, arrived at the end of June. It was titled Dada Caligula, and it began in boldface caps: DISGUST, THE ABILITY TO CAUSE UNUTTERABLE DISGUST, IS CALIGULA.
The text in the second graf continued, also in caps:
TO NEGATE THE FAMILY AS WELL AS THE INDIVIDUAL IS CALIGULA. TO PUT DOWN A PROTEST, BURNING TRASHCANS, THE INSECT HUM OF POLICE HELICOPTERS, CALL AN UBER AND FLIP IT, WHEELS SPINNING IN THE AIR AND DRIVER HANGING UPSIDE DOWN BY HIS SEATBELT: A NEW PERSPECTIVE: CALIGULA. TO BE UNASHAMED, TO CHEW WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN, TO SPRAY THE PERSON YOU’RE SPEAKING TO WITH SPIT, TO GRAB YOUR BALLS IN KINDERGARTEN OR CHURCH; CALIGULA. CONFIRMATION BIAS, DOUBLESPEAK, TO USE LOGIC THE OTHER WAY AROUND LIKE A MAN USING A GUN TO FUCK; CALIGULA. SURVEILLANCE OF CITIZEN, DERISION, SEXUAL ASSAULT, UNBRIDLED ID, HANG THE LAST PARTY POOPER WITH THE GUTS OF THE LAST FEMINIST AND EXULT: CALIGULA.
The third graf settled down to this:
He was tall and extremely pale, with an unshapely body but thin neck and legs. While it can be said of almost anyone that he is a man of contradictions, Caligula was an emperor of paradox. His real distinction was to be an anarchist in a position of absolute power. His eyes and temples were hollow, his forehead broad and grim, his hair thin. If the essence of anarchy is a state of lawlessness, does it not mean very different things depending on whether it is sought by the subject or the giver of the law? While his face was naturally forbidding and ugly, he purposely made it even more savage, practicing all kinds of terrible and fearsome expressions before a mirror. The point was not to fuck but to outrage.
It went on from there for six pages, ending: CALIGULA, CALIGULA, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM.
Six weeks later Paul Krugman in his NY Times column referred to Donald Trump as “President Caligula.” He wasn’t the first pundit to make the comparison. Nor the last. Just today Nicholas Kristof takes Caligula out for a trot. When Krugman’s column appeared, I mentioned it to my friend. He messaged back: “Must be those damn leakers. I need to demand greater loyalty from my staff. Oh wait . . . Why am I writing you an email when I could be tweeting?”
He also pointed out for the record that his sources were Suetonius (for 30% of the text); a 1999 essay of his own about Caligula as an anarchist (60%); and Tristan Tzara’s “Dada Manifesto” of 1918 (10%). Except for the lines of dialogue pasted on it, the cover is all Norman O. Mustill — a 1975 collage appropriated from Cuisine Rapide (a folio of Mustill collages published by Cold Turkey Press in 2013). Each cover of Dada Caligula says something different. The one I received says: “Give yourself a poke in the nose and drop dead.” I didn’t take it personally.