Dave Eggers

June 5, 2006


American writer and editor
Attended University of Illinois
Founded McSweeney’s publishing house
Currently teaches writing in San Francisco at 826 Valencia

You Shall Know Our Velocity! (2002)

Fictional novel narrated by Will
Will and Hand set out on a week-long, around-the-world odyssey to give away a large sum of money to people whom they arbitrarily decide are most deserving


“Everything within takes place after Jack died and before my mom and I drowned in a burning ferry in the cool tannin-tinted Guaviare River, in East-central Colombia, with forty-two locals we hadn’t yet met.  It was a clear and eyeblue day, that day, as was the first day of this story, a few years ago in January, on Chicago’s north side, in the opulent shadow of Wrigley and with the wind coming low and searching off the jagged half-frozen lake.  I was inside, very warm, walking from door to door.”

“I argued with strangers constantly, though only in my cloudy skull, while always I adopted this hollow admonishing tone- my grandmother’s, I guess- which even I couldn’t stand.  The silent though decisive discussions were a hobby of my mind, debating people I knew or passed on the road while driving:
-Your, driving the Lexus.
-Yes, you.  You paid too much.
-You paid too much and your soul is soiled.
-You are right.  I have failed but will repent.
It helped me work through problems, solving things, reaching conclusions final, edifying and even, occasionally, mutually agreeable.
-You, on the motorcycle.
-It’s only a matter of time.
-I know.”

“‘He wants to make sure God wants him to live.  So he spends a lot of time asking.  He brings himself close to the edge and he feels God’s breath on his back.  If God wants to take him, all he needs to do is blow.'”

“There was no time to think, which was plenty of time- I had a few fractions of a second in mid-air, between rocks, to calculate the location of the next rock-landing options, the stability of each, the flattest surface among them.  My brain and legs and feet all working at top speed, at the height of their respective games- it was thrilling and I was proud for them, for us.  I had the thought, while running, without breaking stride, that I would like to be doing this forever, that thought occurring while I almost landed on a very sharp rock but adjusted quickly enough to avoid it in favor of a nearby and more rounded rock, and while I was congratulating myself on having made such a perfect rock-landing choice, I was also rethinking my thought about jumping on rocks forever, because that would probably not be all that fun after a while, involving as it did a certain amount of stress, probably too much- and then, I thought, how odd it was to be thinking about running forever along the rounded gray rocks of this corner of Senegal- was this Popenguine? Mbour?- while I was in fact running along them, and how strange it was that not only could I be calculating the placement of my feet in midrun, but also be thinking of my future as a career or eternal rock-runner, and noting the thinking about that at the same time.  Then the rocks ended and the sand began and I jumped into the sand with a shhhht and my feet were thankful and I stood, watching the water and waiting for Hand.”

“But why doesn’t this water fill us up- why doesn’t the water come through out ears ad drown us?  The hissing is the ocean’s rage at not being able to drown us.  But what prevents our overflowing?  Are we so pressure-packed?  I believe that we are.  Oh, shut up.”

“Among the tea sets and chess sets and tiny chests for special things, I looked for and found the smallest, cheapest and least desirable item the store held.  It was a keychain anchored to a small white animal, probably a sheep, crudely carved from a smooth milky material looking like lucite.  I held it, I caressed it, I presented it to Hand, posing as my knowledgeable dealer in precious objects, with a rumble of approval.  He came to me and touched it and purred his interest. 
‘It’s incredible?’ I said. 
‘It’s almost painful,’ he said. 
Our interest was made clear.  We turned to the portly man and asked him, in French, how much. 
He spoke no French.  He scurried to a desk in the back and returned with a lined piece of paper, folded to a fourth.  On it he wrote: 60DH. 
Sixty dirham, about $3. 
I looked at the paper, then at the keychain.  I frowned.  I shook my head slowly.  This is where the trick would come in.  I asked for the paper and pen.  He handed them to me and on his paper, under his 60DH I wrote: 150DH.  Then I gave it back. 
‘Okay!’ he said, grimacing.  It was a deal.  We had taxed his patience, but a hard bargain had been won; he was a fair man. 
Hand stepped closer.  I showed Hand the paper, and indicated that this good man had agreed to my hard-driven terms.  Hand, though, was not to be easily satisfied.  He asked to hold the sheep keychain.  I put it in his palm.  He held it and weighed it in his hand.  He ran a finger along its length.  He examined, closely, the keyring, clicking it open and shut as if fidgeting with a carabineer.  Then he shook his head and took the pen and he paper and under the 60DH and under the 150DH he wrote: 250DH. 
Here I thought we might have gone too far. 
Not a chance.  Instead, again, the man took a long hard look at the proposal, fist to chin… and slowly agreed with a slow nod.  My knees were shaking. 
I took the sheep again.  Now I held it to my face and rubbed it.  I kissed it softly, and looked into its tiny black eyes.  The price was not right.
‘Two-fifty?’ I said to Hand.  ‘That’s an insult.’
I took the paper from Hand and wrote under it: 1800DH
I handed it back to the salesman, at this point truly expecting him to throw up his hands and laugh.  We were insisting on paying about $120 for a keychain priced at $3. 
But the man didn’t flinch.  He was a titan.  He touched a finger to his mouth, either gauging our sanity or pretending to mull our newest offer, and after a long perfect pause… again acquiesced.  I was having probably the best time I could remember ever having. “

“-Why are you people the way you are?
-You cannot judge us.
-I know you.
-We have been overrun for centuries.  The Swedes, the Germans, the Russians.  Then the Germans again, the Russians again.  In the last thousand years, we have known twenty years of peace.  You have no place to judge.  You know nothing.
-But I do!
-You can’t ever guess at life, at pain.  All pain is real, and all pain is personal.  It’s the most personal thing we have  It eats each of us differently.  You cannot know-
-But I can! I can!”

“‘…Their point was that not only are you of the same blood as those in your bloodline, but you carry all of their memories with you.  All of their souls.  You carry their dreams and their pains and their anger and everything.  Raymond was talking a lot about the bad stuff you carry.  Like if your relatives died in some wrong way…It’s a density thing.  Apparently they wanted that density of soul.  The density is desirable.  Apparently they see the soul the opposite as we do, where it’s the lightest thing, this wispy ghost thing.  They think of it like a mountain.  Like a mountain each of us carries around, and you want your mountain strong and dense, because that means your family has lived lives of great experience.  But the trick I guess is to find a way to move around…Well so the point is, these are the people you’re responsible to.  You’re literally carrying them with you at all times.  You’re you but you’re also them, in a way that’s much more, you know, tangible than any Judeo-Christian way.  And it’s not a reincarnation kind of thing- you’ll never really e you again, directing some body with any sort of control.  You die and become of a chorus, a voice in a chorus.  The way Raymond explained it, it sounded so beautiful.  And so when we talk, you and I, we’re speaking on some level with the voices of thousands…It’s just this illusion we live with, the illusion that we want to forget things.  That we need to forget so we can live, because everything is too much, our burdens are so great we need to self-lobotomize, at least partially, chemically or whatever, right?… But these people want to carry around everything and everyone.'”

“‘So apparently,’ Hand continued, ‘ages ago these people, a thousand years ago or whatever, were bird-worshippers… They were totally fascinated by flight, more than most ancient tribes, and of course they wanted to fly themselves-… They were mountains, and so heavy.  They knew this.  So this was the primary problem of their civilization after a while.  How to fly?  How to fly with this weight?  They would jump from small cliffs and try to fly, but would fall.  Hundreds died that way, and they assumed it was because their souls were too heavy… they would just jump and fall… So they watched and studied the birds, and came to the conclusion that the birds ate air to stay afloat… They’re really just experimenting, and they’ve already been jumping off the cliffs to their death, so now they just jump from lower levels, trying to get themselves full of this special air.  They’re jumping like crazy.  They’re jumping, and they’re running, and it becomes just part of their daily routine, leaping around and darting from place to place…but of course it doesn’t really work, and they start realizing, deep down, like Christians have with the Second Coming, that maybe it’s not going to happen after all.  But that doesn’t mean the lessons aren’t valuable.  The one goal has all these nice by-products.  In this case they started liking all the jumping around, I guess.  It was part of their culture.  They saw a hill, they started leaping down… The Spanish found these people and they were jumping around all the time, going up hills and crests and jumping all the time, so they called them the Jumping People… The conquistadors at some point are mounting a siege on their main village, high on a jagged ridge.  It’s Masada, basically.  There’s about three thousand Jumping People there, and maybe fifteen hundred Spanish, but the Spanish have the artillery, so the Jumping People know it’s a lost cause… These guys think they’re the fastest people on Earth!  They think they can outrun anyone, barefoot.  So they’re going to wait for a while, see if the Spanish go away, and then they’re gonna haul ass.  They’re going to fly, basically.  Take their mountains and go… But the Jumping People left this one message on the cliff above their village, carved it in for the conquistadors.  This basically turned into the motto of the Jumping People, even though I don’t think it makes all that much sense.  I mean, it does and it doesn’t.  Raymond admitted that this has been translated from the original Jumping People tongue, into Spanish, and back again, and then into English, so who knows how accurate it is.’…
Hand took a breath and opened his palms, as if accepting the gift of rain. ‘YOU SHALL KNOW OUR VELOCITY!’ he bellowed into the cold exhausted city.”

“And soon there were only twenty of us left- the parents and children had gone home- and we danced until two and then three to Slade and Quiet Riot and Cyndi Lauper, her voice tearing through us with its bloody wailing grieving hope- the deejay, from Cuernevaca, knew everything and knew joy and how to maintain and even elevate joy- and when at five we were all soaked in sweat and bewildered by how blessed we were, after the last bus left, for the hotels, leaving us to get home via foot or taxi or sleep under a table on the high soft grass, people started jumping in the pool and when they jumped in I jumped too.  I took off my pants and my shoes which still held currency from a cold and suspicious land and I jumped in- it took so long to land and in the air I saw all the faces!- I jumped with my mouth so open, taking it all in, way in, all at once, and my heart froze.  Man, I thought that was the end, right there.  It stopped for a minute I swear, but then the sound and pictures came back on and for two more interminable months we lived.”

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius


“I worry about exposing him to bands like Journey, the appreciation of which will surely bring him nothing but the opprobrium of his peers. Though he has often been resistant- children so seldom know what is good form them- I have taught him to appreciate all the groundbreaking musicmakers of our time- Big Country, Haircut 100, Loverboy – and he is lucky for it. His brain is my laboratory, my depository. Into it I can stuff the books I choose, the television shows, the movies, my opinion about elected officials, historical events, neighbors, passerby. He is my twenty-four-hour classroom, my captive audience, forced to ingest everything I deem worthwhile. He is a lucky, luck boy! And no one can stop me. He is mine, and you cannot stop me, cannot stop us. Try to stop us, you pussy! You can’t stop us from signing, and you can’t stop us from making fart sounds, from putting our hands out the window to test the aerodynamics of different hand formations, from wiping the contents of our noses under the front of our seats. You cannot stop me from having Toph, who is eight, steer, on a straightaway, while I take off my sweatshirt because suddently it’s gotten really fucking hot. You cannot stop us from throwing our beef jerky wrappers on the floor, or leaving our unfolded laundry in the trunk for, fuck, eight days now, because we have been busy.”

“Why do you want to be on The Real World?
Because I want everyone to witness my youth.

Isn’t it gorgeous?

Who’s gorgeous?
Not like that. No, I just mean, that it’s in bloom. That’s what you’re all about, right? The showing of raw fruit, correct? Whether that’s in videos or on spring break, whatever, the amplifying of youth, the editing and volume magnifying what it means to be right there, at the point when all is allowed and your body wants everything for it, is hungry and taut, churning , an energy vortex, sucking all toward it. I mean, we’re in the same business, really, though we take vastly different approaches, of course, your Real World being kind of brutally obvious, no offense, whereas the videos at least don’t purport to be anything but wha they are- but you gusy, your show claims to do more but then has a strange ability to flatten all the depth and nuance from these people.

So why are you here?
I want you to share my suffering.

You don’t seem to be suffering.
I don’t?

You seem happy.
Well, sure. But not always. Sometimes it’s hard. Yeah. Sometimes it’s so hard. I mean, you can’t always suffer. It’s hard to suffer all the time. But I suffer enough. I suffer sometimes.

Why do you want to share your suffering?
By sharing it I will dilute it.

But it seems like it might be just the oppposite- by sharing it you might be amplifying it.
How do you mean?

Well, by telling everyone about it, you purge yourself, but then, because everyone knows this thing about you, everyone knows your story, won’t you be constantly reminded of it, unable to excape it?
Maybe. But look at it this way: stomach cancer is genetic, passed more down the female side of our family than otherwise, but because according to Beth and me my mother was done in by dyspepsia, the dyspepsia caused by swallowing too much of our tumult and cruelty, we are determined not to swallow anything, to not keep anything putrefying down there, soaking in its juices, bile eating bile… we are burgers, Beth and I. I don’t hold on to anything anymore. Pain comes at me and I take it, chew it for a few minutes, and spit it back out. It’s just not my thing anymore.”


2 Responses to “Dave Eggers”

  1. Eddie Says:

    The book speaks of the phrase or symbol the “jumping people” carved into the wall to signify YOU SHALL KNOW OUR VELOCITY. What does it look like?…or how would I go about finding it?

  2. Eddie, I’ve been trying to figure out what you’re asking me. Are you suggesting that the carving really exists? If that’s the case, sorry, but I haven’t got a clue. I just read the book.

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