The Unlimited (from Griffin Feathers)

Find Phoenix at

Enjoy this excerpt from Phoenix’s novel Griffin Feathers. Enjoy the YouTube reading below.

Like I said before, English class was the time when me and my friends could all be together. Ever since we’d worked it out with The Punk, things had been a lot smoother, and a lot more enjoyable.

            Which, naturally, would be perfect, for more than one reason. But definitely because I was sure that things were going to heal if The Punk kept doing what he was doing.

            We were all sitting outside, enjoying each other’s company. Maxwell was telling a joke, and making us laugh a million miles an hour, and it was perfect. I honestly couldn’t ask for more.

            Then the bell rang, signaling for us to get to class.

            Maxwell finished his joke as we walked toward the class, and then we all sat down together. I felt as though nothing could tear us apart. Our friendship was unlimited, our care for each other endless. It felt good.

            Ms. Burns went to the front of the class, and said, “All right, you guys, you trouble makers, you punks, you hoodlums … today we’re going to talk about a theory of literature that’s been floating around recently.”

            Ms. Burns paused. I looked around and saw that all of us were at the edge of our seats, which made me smile. We loved anything Ms. Burns taught. We loved the mystery. How could we not? She was intelligent and savvy. She was awesome, to put it bluntly. She was good with kids.

            “There’s a theory floating around,” Ms. Burns began, “about the unlimited text and the limited text. I’m going to talk mostly about the unlimited text, but it would probably be helpful to know about the limited text, so you have a source of comparison.”

            I looked at my friends, and saw that they were still at the edge of their seats. Even The Punk was, and he never got that excited about this stuff.

            “There is a novel called The Street Kid, which tells the story of Phoenix.”

            “Yeah, that’s my world,” Maxwell said proudly.

            “I would say,” Ms. Burns continued, acknowledging Maxwell with a nod, “that that is a limited text. It’s a limited text because, if you look at the writing, it’s very … I don’t want to say convoluted, but … mentally complicated. And that’s not even including the actual structure of the novel, which is indeed complex, what with the way that stream of consciousness thoughts mix in with stream of consciousness narrative in interrupting and seamless ways, which I imagine would be difficult to follow, the way the thoughts meander. But the novel follows the viewpoint of Phoenix, who is split in many ways, and complicated, because he can’t even figure out what reality and fiction is. He can’t figure out, who he is. Not to mention the fairly large cast of characters that are probably hard to follow, and even the writing itself, which is a little … elevated. Those elements make up the limited text. Essentially, a limited text is anything that is complex in certain ways, whether it’s the language, the plot, etc. etc. Are you guys following me so far?”

            “Loud and clear,” Maxwell said.

            “Now, anyway, the unlimited text, would be … oh, I would say, a story kind of like: Griffin’s story.”

            I wasn’t sure what to think of this. I lived in an unlimited text? I wanted Ms. Burns to continue, all of this was extremely fascinating.

            “An unlimited text is a text that is extra good with characterization, where you can practically imagine the characters as living real lives. Unlimited texts carry a large degree of innocence with them, and a little bit of heartache. Usually, unlimited texts are narrated by a kid, but not always, and they are usually stronger in first person, to capture the immediacy of the character, but not always. Plenty a good unlimited text has been written in third person.”

            “Why does it have to be good at characterization?” The Punk asked.

            “Because the characters are what make the story. They are the story. In the limited text, that aspect can be experimented with a little bit. Characters can simply be caricatures, or metaphors, or symbols, and the like. Not always, but they can be. An unlimited text has succeeded if you can see a character you’re reading about walking around in your mind, and walking around in the supposedly fictional space they occupy. The goal of the unlimited is fully realized if you see them walking around in the real world.”

            I absorbed all of this information, like water to a dry sponge. I was fascinated by the idea of the limited and unlimited text.

            “In contrast to the limited text, the unlimited text seeks to be simple. Not necessarily as simple as possible, and not necessarily in the sense that it has no complexity at all … but, it’s still simple. And it has to be simple, if it’s trying to describe child-like things, innocent things, kid things. But that doesn’t mean the unlimited text isn’t complex in other ways. It’s complex in the sense that it constantly has to remind the reader that they are reading about an innocent kid, or reading about innocence, or just reading about something that’s … awesome. It’s a text that puts humans in a positive light, showing off the vulnerabilities of the average person.”

            “Following that logic,” Maxwell said, “I should be in an unlimited text.”

            “Why do you say that?” Ms. Burns asked.

            “Because that’s all Phoenix’s world is about, is about that vulnerability. You see it in Phoenix, and you see it in other characters. I know I have an innocent side to me, will always have that side, and so just because I’m in a language-rich, language-complex, world, doesn’t mean that I’m also not in an unlimited text.”

            “I see your point,” Ms. Burns said, “and I’m not even going to disagree with you. But for the sake of understanding the stark contrast between the two, try to see The Street Kid as a limited text, and Griffin’s world, or Griffin Feathers, as an unlimited text.”

            I could see what Ms. Burns was trying to do. Not stick something as being one way or the other, but showing that by looking at things a certain way, we could understand unique things about the world, and about literature.

            I felt excited, at the prospect that I was living in an unlimited text. I liked to think that I was with innocent people. Good people. There was something comforting about that. And it seemed to be the case, in many ways. My friends were innocent. Even The Punk had an innocent side … perhaps one harder to describe, but it was still there.

            “But one thing you need to understand about the unlimited text is that it’s evasive,” Ms. Burns continued.

            “What do you mean?” Maxwell said.

            “What do I mean?” Ms. Burns paused, and went to her bookshelf and pulled out a copy of The Street Kid. She said, “The problem with limited texts is that they are tangible. Maybe not mentally, because of how complex they are, but … literally. So, Maxwell, you could very well say that I’m holding this book, right?”

            Maxwell nodded.

            “An unlimited text is exactly the opposite. Limited texts seek to be real by being as super-intelligent as possible, as complex as they can possibly be. The unlimited seeks to get people to feel. But feel what? Rather, it seems that while the unlimited text can possess technical, structural, even experimental traits, things that are indeed mechanical, like good characterization, they also seek to capture the unlimited. They seek to capture a feeling that has a mind of its own. It’s too simple to say that an unlimited text is just about innocence. And while that’s true, it seems that the unlimited text is something that is ultimately intangible, the way it needs to be. But it is something that makes you feel good about humanity, for various reasons, of course, and depending on the text … but they do actually exist in that way, if that makes sense.”

            Maxwell jumped to his feet. “I get it!”

            “What do you get, Maxwell, dear?” Ms. Burns asked.

            “I see why it has to be intangible, Miss,” Maxwell said.

            “Would you like to explain for the class?” Ms. Burns said.

            Maxwell nodded his head, and began: “The unlimited is, in some ways, though this is an oversimplification, is … love. And true love for another human being, is … intangible. The unlimited text isn’t about showing off how smart you are, but showing the reader, or reflecting in the reader, things like love. Empathy. Compassion. Kindness. Kid-ness. Perhaps even to the point of pain. And that’s why I think The Street Kid is also an unlimited text, though it will probably be pigeonholed forever as a limited text, a mere cerebral exercise. Though Phoenix is a real person.”

            “Well, certainly no disagreement from me,” Ms. Burns said. “Crazily enough, I think I agree with you, about the unlimited, and why it’s more of an idea that can be felt, an emotion that can be appreciated, rather than just words on a page that create a particular effect.”

            I definitely appreciated Maxwell’s take on the unlimited text, and I had to admit, it made a lot of sense to me. The unlimited was something that could only be felt, not intuited rationally.

            Painter had something to say about exactly that: “It reminds me a little bit of Eastern, ancient Chinese philosophy.”

            “In what ways, Painter?” Ms. Burns asked.

            “In the sense that we shouldn’t always intuit our world around us through the logical means. That’s why I think art is so important, because it doesn’t always have to be about logic. It can be, to the point of murder, even, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. Sometimes it can get you to simply feel, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

            “Very astute observation, Painter,” Ms. Burns said. “And I think your reference to Chinese philosophy is very relevant here.”

            “But it is its own thing, though,” Painter clarified. “It has to be. I’ve never heard of this unlimited theory, anywhere. But it’s fascinating.”

            “Well, it doesn’t get taught a lot,” Ms. Burns said, “but I thought you guys might like some literary theory with your literature. And that is actually the assignment. What I’d like all of you to do is go to your local library and find books that fit into the unlimited and limited category. You don’t have to read the whole book, just pick up a few books and read a passage or two, and if it seems to go one way or the other, note it. Your assignment is to find one limited text and one unlimited text, and write why it makes you feel that way.”

            It didn’t sound like too hard of an assignment, and I had to admit, I definitely wanted to go and look and see if I could find the limited and unlimited in literature. I thought the dichotomy between the two texts was interesting, and I could write a whole paper about that, if I wanted to.

            I decided I would leave such a task to Painter, since he was the brilliant analyst of these things.

            “So I guess that’s why the text is considered limited,” Painter said. “Because, we are limited by what we try to pinpoint as tangible. Intelligence can ultimately only go so far, but emotion … that can go a million different ways.”

            “Yes, definitely, Painter, that … I agree with for sure,” Ms. Burns said. “Personally, I like unlimited texts better, but I of course appreciate the beauty of the limited text. Writers like Shakespeare probably wouldn’t have the same weight if they weren’t limited, of course.”

            We talked about the two different texts, the binary, for a few more minutes, and then the bell rang.

            I knew that now we needed to go our separate ways, to go to our next class, but The Punk caught me off guard when he came up to me and said, “I think that was why I felt uncomfortable by you at first, Griffin.”           

            “What do you mean?” I asked, not sure what The Punk was talking about.

            “I saw power in the limited text, in having the most brains, in having the strongest brawn and might … but you, my friend, are a walking unlimited text, and I think I was intimidated by that brilliance. There is brilliance in the unlimited text, you know, even if the goal is more about the beauty of simplicity. And I think that just wasn’t appreciated by me.”

            “Well, thank you, Punk,” I said.

            I must say, this compliment caught me off guard. I knew that The Punk was changing, becoming nicer, but this compliment was still very kind-hearted.

            “I think I was trying to turn Kip into a limited text, because I felt like a limited text myself,” The Punk continued. “But I don’t want to do that anymore. I can’t say I won’t stop smoking, but I won’t smoke around Kip anymore. Hopefully he’ll get the message.”

            I felt enormously relieved at this, and smiled at The Punk. “That would be amazing, my good friend.”

            “It’s the least I can do. I’m starting to repent from my ways, realizing how much chaos and unneeded destruction I’ve caused. I think a little bit is inevitable. I’m an anarchist libertarian for a reason, you know. But, on the same token, I should have respected your guys’s unlimited nature more. Painter is so unlimited he could probably paint the whole world. And that’s just Painter. All of you are unique in your various ways, and it’s incredible. That’s all I wanted to say.”

            Then before I could say anything, The Punk was off.

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