Monday, February 28, 2011

To be a figurant excerpt from...
Infinite Jest
by David Foster Wallace

[Text added in brackets is my addition for the purpose of clarity. Text in parentheses is part of the author's text. Footnotes at the bottom are also the author's footnotes. Any areas where text has been omitted for clarity are indicated with an ellipsis.]

And the wraith on the heart monitor looks pensively down at Gately from upside-down and asks does Gately remember the myriad thespian extras on for example his beloved ‘Cheers!,’ not the center-stage Sam and Carla and Nom, but the nameless patrons always at tables, filling out the bar’s crowd, concessions to realism, always relegated to back- and foreground; and always having utterly silent conversations: their faces would animate and mouths would move realistically, but without sound; only the name-stars at the bar itself could audibilize. The wraith says these fractional actors, human scenery, could be seen (but not heard) in most pieces of filmed entertainment. And Gately remembers them, the extras in all public scenes, especially like bar and restaurant scenes, or rather remembers how he doesn’t quite remember them, how it never struck his addled mind as in fact surreal that their mouths moved but nothing emerged, and what a miserable fucking bottom-rung job that must be for an actor, to be sort of human furniture, figurants the wraith says they’re called, these surreally mute background presences whose presence really revealed that the camera, like any eye, has a perceptual corner, a triage of who’s important enough to be seen and heard v. just seen. A term from ballet, originally, figurant, the wraith explains. The wraith pushes his glasses up in the vaguely sniveling way of a kid that’s just got slapped around on the playground and says he personally spent the vast bulk of his own former animate life as pretty much a figurant, furniture at the periphery of the very eyes closest to him, it turned out, and that it’s one heck of a crummy way to try to live. Gately, whose increasing self-pity leaves little room or patience for anybody else’s self-pity, tries to lift his left hand and wiggle his pinkie to indicate the world’s smallest viola playing the theme from The Sorrow and the Pity, but even moving his left arm makes him almost faint. And either the wraith is saying or Gately is realizing that you can’t appreciate the dramatic pathos of a figurant until you realize how completely trapped and encaged he is in his mute peripheral status, because like say for example if one of ‘Cheers!’’s bar’s figurants suddenly decided he couldn’t take it any more and stood up and started shouting and gesturing around wildly in a bid for attention and nonperipheral status on the show, Gately realizes, all that would happen is that one of the audibilizing ‘name’ stars of the show would bolt over from stage-center and apply restraints or the Heineken Maneuver or CPR, figuring the silent gesturing figurant was choking on a beer-nut or something, and that then the whole rest of that episode of ‘Cheers!’ would be about jokes about the name star’s life-saving heroics, or else his fuck-up in applying the Heineken Maneuver to somebody who wasn’t choking on a nut. No way for a figurant to win. No possible voice or focus for the encaged figurant. Gately speculates briefly about the suicide statistics for bottom-rung actors. The wraith disappears and then reappears in the chair by the bed’s railing, leaning forward with its chin on its hands on the railing in what Gately’s coming to regard as the classic tell-your-troubles-to-the-trauma-patient-that-can’t-interrupt-or-get-away position. The wraith says that he himself, the wraith, when animate, had dabbled in filmed entertainments, as in making them, cartridges, for Gately’s info to either believe or not, and but in the entertainments the wraith himself made, he says he goddamn bloody well made sure that either the whole entertainment was silent or else if it wasn’t silent that you could bloody well hear every single performer’s voice, no matter how far out on the cinematographic or narrative periphery they were; and that it wasn’t just the self-conscious overlapping dialogue of a poseur like Schwulst or Altman, i.e. it wasn’t just the crafted imitation of aural chaos: it was real life’s real egalitarian babble of figurantless crowds, of animate world’s real agora, the babble* of crowd’s every member of which was the central and articulate protagonist of his own entertainment. It occurs to Gately he’s never had any sort of dream where somebody says anything like vast bulk, much less agora, which Gately interprets as a kind of expensive sweater. Which was why, the wraith is continuing, the complete unfiguranted egalitarian aural realism was why party-line entertainment-critics always complained that the wraith’s entertainments’ public-area scenes were always incredibly dull and self-conscious and irritating, that they could never hear the really meaningful central narrative conversations for all the unfiltered babble of the peripheral crowd, which they assumed the babble(/babel) was some self-conscious viewer-hostile heavy-art directorial pose, instead of radical realism. The wraith’s grim smile almost disappears before it appears. Gately’s slight tight smile back is the way you can always tell he’s not really listening. He’s remembering that he used to pretend to himself that the unviolent and sarcastic accountant Nom on ‘Cheers!’ was Gately’s own organic father, straining to hold young Bimmy [Gately’s nickname as a youngster] on his lap and letting him draw finger-pictures in the condensation-rings on the bartop, and when he was pissed off at Gately’s mother being sarcastic and witty instead of getting her down and administering careful U.S.-Navy-brig-type beatings that hurt like hell but would never bruise or show. The can of foreign Coke has left a ring on his forehead that’s colder than the feverish skin around it, and Gately tries to concentrate on the cold of the ring instead of the dead cold total ache on his whole right side—DEXTRAL—or the sober memory of his mother Mrs. Gately’s ex-significant other, the little-eyed former M.P. in khaki skivvies hunched drunk over his notebook’s record of his Heinekens for the day, his tongue in the corner of his mouth and his eyes scrunched as he tries to see a unitary enough notebook to write in, Gately’s mother on the floor trying to crawl off toward the lockable bathroom quietly enough so the M.P. wouldn’t notice her again.

The wraith blows its nose in a hankie that’s visibly seen better epochs and says he, the wraith, when alive in the world of animate men, had seen his own personal youngest offspring, a son, the one most like him, the one most marvelous and frightening to him, becoming a figurant, toward the end. His end, not the son’s end, the wraith clarifies. Gately wonders if it offends the wraith when he sometimes refers to it mentally as it. The wraith opens and examines the used hankie just like an alive person can never help but do and says No horror on earth or elsewhere could equal watching your own offspring open his mouth and have nothing come out. The wraith says it mars the memory of the end of his animate life, this son’s retreat to the periphery of life’s frame. The wraith confesses that he had, at one time, blamed the boy’s mother for his silence. But what good does that kind of thing do, he said, making a blurred motion that might have been shrugging. Gately remembers the former Navy M.P. telling Gately’s mother why it was her fault he lost his job at the chowder plant. ‘Resentment Is The #1 Offender’ is another Boston AA cliché Gately’d started to believe. That blame’s a shell-game. …

The wraith reappears slumped back in the chair with his weight on his tailbone and his legs crossed in that Erdedyish upscale way. He says Just imagine the horror of spending your whole itinerant lonely Southwest and West Coast boyhood unsuccessfully to convince your father that you even existed, to do something well enough to be heard and seen but not so well that you became just a screen for his own (the Dad’s) projections of his own failure and self-loathing, failing ever to be really seen, gesturing wildly through the distilled haze, so that in adulthood you still carried the moist flabby weight of your failure ever to make him hear you really speak, carried it on through the animate years on your increasingly slumped shoulders—only to find, near the end, that your very own child had himself become blank, inbent, silent, frightening, mute. I.e. that his son had become what he (the wraith) had feared as a child he (the wraith) was. Gately’s eyes roll up in his head. The boy, who did everything well and with a natural unslumped grace the wraith himself had always lacked, and whom the wraith had been so terribly eager to see and hear and let him (the son) know he was seen and heard, the son had become a steadily more and more hidden boy, toward the wraith’s life’s end; and no one else in the wraith and boy’s nuclear family would see or acknowledge this, the fact that the graceful and marvelous boy was disappearing right before their eyes. They looked but did not see his invisibility. And they listened but did not hear the wraith’s warning. Gately has that slight tight absent smile again. The wraith says the nuclear family had believed he (the wraith) was unstable and was confusing the boy with his own (the wraith’s) boyhood self, or with the wraith’s father’s father, the blank wooden man who according to family mythology had ‘driven’ the wraith’s father to ‘the bottle’ and unrealized potential and an early cerebral hemorrhage. Toward the end, he’d begun privately to fear that his son was experimenting with Substances. The wraith keeps having to push its glasses up. The wraith says almost bitterly that when he’d stand up and wave his arms for them all to attend to the fact that his youngest and most promising son was disappearing, they’d thought all his agitation meant that he had gone bats from Wild Turkey-intake and needed to try to get sober, again, one more time.

This gets Gately’s attention. Here at last could be some sort of point to the unpleasantness and confusion of the dream. ‘You tried to get sober?’ he thinks, rolling his eyes over to the wraith. ‘More than once, you tried? Was it White-Knuckle?** Did you ever Surrender and Come In?’

The wraith feels along his long jaw and says he spent the whole sober last ninety days of his animate life working tirelessly to contrive a medium via which he and the muted son could simply converse. To concoct something the gifted boy couldn’t simply master and move on from to a new plateau. Something the boy would love enough to induce him to open his mouth and come out—even if it was only to ask for more. Games hadn’t done it, professionals hadn’t done it, impersonations of professionals hadn’t done it. His last resort: entertainment. Make something so bloody compelling it would reverse thrust on a young self’s fall into the womb of solipsism, anhedonia, death in life. A magically entertaining toy to dangle at the infant still somewhere alive in the boy, to make his eyes light and toothless mouth open unconsciously, to laugh. To bring him ‘out of himself,’ as they say. The womb could be used both ways. A way to say I AM SO VERY, VERY SORRY and have it heard. A life-long dream. The scholars and Foundations and disseminators never saw that his most serious wish was: to entertain.

Gately’s not too agonized and feverish not to recognize gross self-pity when he hears it, wraith or no. As in the slogan ‘Poor Me, Poor Me, Pour Me A Drink.’ With all due respect, pretty hard to believe this wraith could stay sober, if he needed to get sober, with the combination of abstraction and tragically-misunderstood-me attitude he’s betraying, in the dream.

He’d been sober as a Mennonite quilter for 89 days, at the very tail-end of his life, the wraith avers, now back up on the silent heart monitor, though Boston AA had a humorless evangelical rabidity about it that had kept his attendance at meetings spotty. And he never could stand the vapid clichés and disdain for abstraction. Not to mention the cigarette smoke. The atmosphere of the meeting rooms had been like a poker game in hell, had been his impression. The wraith stops and says he bets Gately’s struggling to hide his curiosity about whether the wraith succeeded in coming up with a figurant-less entertainment so thoroughly engaging it’d make even an in-bent figurant of a boy laugh and cry out for more.

Father-figure-wise, Gately’s tried his best these last few sober months to fend off uninvited memories of his own grim conversations and interchanges with the M.P.

The wraith on the monitor now bends sharply at the waist, way over forward so his face is upside-down only cm. from Gately’s face—the wraith’s face is only about half the size of Gately’s face, and has no odor—and responds vehemently that No! No! Any conversation or interchange is better than none at all, to trust him on this, that the worst kind of gut-wrenching intergenerational interface is better than withdrawal or hiddenness on either side. The wraith apparently can’t tell the difference between Gately just thinking to himself and Gately using his brain-voice to sort of think at the wraith. His shoulder suddenly sends up a flare of pain so sickening Gately’s afraid he might shit the bed. The wraith gasps and almost falls off the monitor as if he can totally empathize with the dextral flare. Gately wonders if the wraith has to endure the same pain as Gately in order to hear his brain-voice and have a conversation with him. Even in a dream, that’d be a higher price than anybody’s ever paid to interface with D.W. Gately.

* Or possibly Babel.
** Boston AA slogan meaning trying to quit addictive Substance-use without working any kind of Recovery Program.

Fugue-doodling behind the phone: self-importance, vanity, and the fall of videophony excerpt from...
Infinite Jest
by David Foster Wallace


The answer, in a kind of trivalent nutshell, is: (1) emotional stress, (2) physical vanity, (3) a certain queer kind of self-obliterating logic in the microeconomics of consumer high-tech.

(1) It turned out that there was something terribly stressful about visual telephone interfaces that hadn’t been stressful at all about voice-only interfaces. Videophone consumers seemed suddenly to realize that they’d been subject to an insidious but wholly marvelous delusion about conventional voice-only telephony. They’d never noticed it before, the delusion—it’s like it was so emotionally complex that it could be countenanced only in the context of its loss. Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation—utilizing a hand-held phone whose earpiece contained only 6 little pinholes but whose mouthpiece (rather significantly, it later seemed) contained (6 squared) or 36 little pinholes—let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet—and this was the retrospectively marvelous part—even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end’s attention might be similarly divided. During a traditional call, e.g., as you let’s say performed a close tactile blemish-scan of your chin, you were in no way oppressed by the thought that your phonemate was perhaps also devoting a good percentage of her attention to a close tactile blemish-scan. IT was an illusion and the illusion was aural and aurally supported: the phone-line’s other end’s voice was dense, tightly compressed, and vectored right into your ear, enabling you to imaging that he voice’s owner’s attention was similarly compressed and focused…even though your own attention was not, was the thing. This bilateral illusion of unilateral attention was almost infantilely gratifying from an emotional standpoint: you got to believe you were receiving somebody’s complete attention without having to return it. Regarded with the objectivity of hindsight, the illusion appears arational, almost literally fantastic: it would be like being able both to lie and to trust other people at the same time.

Video telephony rendered the fantasy unsupportable. Callers now found they had to compose the same sort of earnest, slightly overintense listener’s expression they had to compose for in-person exchanges. Those callers who out of unconscious habit succumbed to fuguelike doodling or pants-crease-adjustment now came off looking rude, absentminded, or childishly self-absorbed. Callers who even more unconsciously blemish-scanned or nostril-explored looked up to find horrified expressions on the video-faces at the other end. All of which resulted in videophonic stress.

Even worse, of course, was the traumatic expulsion-from-Eden feeling of looking up from tracing your thumb’s outline on the Reminder Pad or adjusting the old Unit’s angle of repose in your shorts and actually seeing your videophonic interfacee idly strip a shoelace of its gumlet as she talked to you, and suddenly realizing your whole infantile fantasy of commanding your partner’s attention while you yourself got to fugue-doodle and make little genital-adjustments was deluded and insupportable and that you were actually commanding not one bit more attention than you were paying, here. The whole attention business was monstrously stressful, video callers found.

(2) And the videophonic stress was even worse if you were at all vain. I.e. if you worried at all about how you looked. As in to other people. Which all kidding aside who doesn’t. Good old aural telephone calls could be fielded without makeup, toupee, surgical prostheses, etc. Even without clothes, if that sort of thing rattled your saber. But for the image-conscious, there was of course no such answer-as-you-are informality about visual-video telephone calls, which consumers began to see were less like having the good old phone ring than having the doorbell ring and having to throw on clothes and attach prostheses and do hair-checks in the foyer mirror before answering the door.

But the real coffin-nail for videophony involved the way the callers’ faces looked on their TP screen, during calls. Not their callers’ faces, but their own, when they saw them on video. IT was a three-button affair, after all, to use the TP’s cartridge-card’s Video-Record option to record both pulses in a two-way visual call and play the call back an see how your face had actually looked to the other person during the call. This sort of appearance-check was no more resistible than a mirror. But the experience proved almost universally horrifying. People were horrified at how their own faces appeared on the TP screen. It wasn’t just ‘Anchorman’s Bloat,’ that well-known impression of extra weight that video inflicts on the face. It was worse. Even with high-end TPs’ high-def viewer-screens, consumers perceived something essentially blurred and moist-looking about their phone-faces, a shiny pallid indefiniteness that struck them as not just unflattering but somehow evasive, furtive, untrustworthy, unlikable. In an early and ominous InterLace/G.T.E. focus-group survey that was all but ignored in a storm of entrepreneurial sci-fi-tech enthusiasm, almost 60% of respondents who received visual access to their own faces during videophonic calls specifically used the terms untrustworthy, unlikable, or hard to like in describing their own visage’s appearance, with a phenomenally ominous 71% of senior-citizen respondents specifically comparing their video-faces to that of Richard Nixon during the Nixon-Kennedy debates of B.S. 1960.

The proposed solution to what the telecommunication industry’s psychological consultants termed Video-Physiognomic Dysphoria (or VPD) was, of course, the advent of High-Definition Masking; and in fact it was those entrepreneurs who gravitated toward the production of high-definition videophonic imaging and then outright masks who got in and out of the short-lived videophonic era with their shirts plus solid additional nets.

Mask-wise, the initial option of High-Definition Photographic Imaging—i.e. taking the most flattering elements of a variety of flattering multi-angle photos of a given phone-consumer and—thanks to existing image-configuration equipment already pioneered by the cosmetics and law enforcement industries—combining them into a wildly attractive high-def broadcastable composite of a face wearing an earnest, slightly overintense expression of complete attention—was quickly supplanted by the more inexpensive and byte-economical option of (using the exact same cosmetic-and-FBI software) actually casting the enhanced facial image in a form-fitting polybutylene-resin mask, and consumers soon found that the high up-front cost of a permanent wearable mask was more than worth it, considering the stress- and VPD-reduction benefits, and the convenient Velcro straps for the back of the mask and caller’s head cost peanuts; and for a couple fiscal quarters phone/cable companies were able to rally VPD-afflicted consumers’ confidence by working out a horizontally integrated deal where free composite-and-masking services came with a videophone on the side of a TP’s phone-console, admittedly looking maybe a bit surreal and discomfiting when detached and hanging there empty and wrinkled, and sometimes there were potentially awkward mistaken-identity snafus involving multi-user family or company phones and the hurried selection and attachment of the wrong mask taken from some long row of empty hanging masks—but all in all the masks seemed initially like a viable industry response to the vanity,-stress,-and-Nixonian-facial-image problem.

(2 and maybe also 3) But combine the natural entrepreneurial instinct to satisfy all sufficiently high consumer demand, on the one hand, with what appears to be an almost equally natural distortion in the way persons tend to see themselves, and it becomes possible to account historically for the speed with which the whole high-def-videophonic-mask thing spiraled totally out of control. Not only is it weirdly hard to evaluate what you yourself look like, like whether you’re good-looking or not—e.g. try looking in the mirror and determining where you stand in the attractiveness-hierarchy with anything like the objective ease you can determine whether just about anyone else you know is good-looking or not—but it turned out that consumers’ instinctively skewed self-perception, plus vanity-related stress, meant that they began preferring and then outright demanding videophone masks that were really quite a lot better-looking than they themselves were in person. High-def mask-entrepreneurs ready and willing to supply not just verisimilitude but aesthetic enhancement—stronger chins, smaller eye-bags, air-brushed scars and wrinkles—soon pushed the original mimetic-mask-entrepreneurs right out of the market. In a gradually unsubtlizing progression, within a couple more sales-quarters most consumers were now using masks so undeniably better-looking on videophones than their real faces were in person, transmitting to one another such horrendously skewed and enhanced masked images of themselves, that enormous psychosocial stress began to result, large numbers of phone-users suddenly reluctant to leave home and interface personally with people who, they feared, were now habituated to seeing their far-better-looking masked selves on the phone and would on seeing them in person suffer (so went the callers’ phobia) the same illusion-shattering aesthetic disappointment that, e.g., certain women who always wear makeup give people the first time they ever see them without makeup.

The social anxieties surrounding the phenomenon psych-consultants termed Optimistically Misrepresentational Masking (or OMM) intensified steadily as the tiny crude first-generation videophone cameras’ technology improved to where the aperture wasn’t as narrow, and now the higher-end tiny cameras could countenance and transmit more or less full-body images. Certain psychologically unscrupulous entrepreneurs began marketing full-body polybutylene and –urethane 2-D cutouts—sort of like the headless muscleman and bathing-beauty cutouts you could stand behind and position your chin on the cardboard neck-stump of for cheap photos at the beach, only these full-body videophone-masks were vastly more high-tech and convincing-looking. Once you added variable 2-D wardrobe, hair- and eye-color options, various aesthetic enlargements and reductions, etc., costs started to press the envelop of mss-market affordability, even though there was at the same time horrific social pressure to be able to afford the very best possible masked 2-D body-image, to keep from feeling comparatively hideous-looking on the phone. How long, then, could one expect it to have been before the relentless entrepreneurial drive toward an ever-better mousetrap conceived of the Transmittable Tableau (a.k.a. TT), which in retrospect was probably the really sharp business-end of the videophonic coffin-nail. With TTs, facial and bodily masking could now be dispensed with altogether and replaced with the video-transmitted image of what was essentially a heavily doctored still-photograph, one of an incredibly fit and attractive and well-turned-out human being, someone who actually resembled you the called only in such limited respects as race and limb-number, the photo’s face focused attentively in the direction of the video-phonic camera from amid the sumptuous but not ostentatious appointments of the sort of room that best reflected the image of yourself you wanted to transmit, etc.

The Tableaux were simply high-quality transmission-ready photographs, scaled down to diorama-like proportions and fitted with a plastic holder over the videophone camera, not unlike a lens-cap. Extremely good-looking but not terrifically successful entertainment-celebrities—the same sort who in decades past would have swelled the cast-lists of infomercials—found themselves in demand as models for various high-end videophone Tableaux.

Because they involved simple transmission-ready photography instead of computer imaging and enhancement, the Tableaux could be mass-produced and commensurately priced, and for a brief time they helped ease the tension between the high cost of enhanced body-masking and the monstrous aesthetic pressures videophony exerted on callers, not to mention also providing employment for set-designers, photographers, airbrushers, and infomercial-level celebrities hard-pressed by the declining fortunes broadcast television advertising.

(3) But there’s some sort of revealing lesson here in the beyond-short-term viability-curve of advances in consumer technology. The career of videophony conforms neatly to this curve’s classically annular shape: First there’s some sort of terrific, sci-fi-like advance in consumer tech—like from aural to video phoning—which advance always, however, has certain unforeseen disadvantages for the consumer; and then but the market-niches created by those disadvantages—like people’s stressfully vain repulsion at their own videophonic appearance—are ingeniously filled via sheer entrepreneurial verve; and yet he very advantages of these ingenious disadvantage-compensations seem all too often to undercut the original high-tech advance, resulting in consumer-recidivism and curve-closure and massive shirt-loss for precipitant investors. In the present case, the stress-and-vanity-compensations’ own evolution saw video-callers rejecting first their own faces and then even their own heavily masked and enhanced physical likenesses and finally covering the video-cameras altogether and transmitting attractively stylized static Tableaux to one another’s TPs. And, behind these lens-cap dioramas and transmitted Tableaux, callers of course found that they were once again stresslessly invisible, unvainly makeup- and toupeeless and baggy-eyed behind their celebrity-dioramas, once again free—since once again unseen—to doodle, blemish-scan, manicure, crease-check—while on their screen, the attractive, intensely attentive face of the well-appointed celebrity on the other end’s Tableau reassured them that they were the objects of a concentrated attention they themselves didn’t have to exert.

And of course but these advantages were nothing other than the once-lost and now-appreciated advantages of good old Bell-era blind aural-only telephoning, with its 6 and (6 squared) pinholes. The only differences was that now these expensive silly unreal stylized Tableaux were being transmitted between TPs on high-priced video-fiber lines. How much time, after this realization sank in and spread among consumers (mostly via phone, interestingly) would any micro-econometrist expect to need to pass before high-tech visual videophony was mostly abandoned, then, a return to good old telephoning not only dictated by common consumer sense but actually after a while culturally approved as a kind of chic integrity, not Ludditism but a kind of retrograde transcendence of sci-fi-ish high-tech for its own sake, a transcendence of the vanity and the slavery to high-tech fashion that people view as so unattractive in one another. In other words a return to aural-only telephony became, at the closed curve’s end, a kind of status-symbol of anti-vanity, such that only callers utterly lacking in self-awareness continued to use videophony and Tableaux, to say nothing of masks, and these tacky facsimile-using people became ironic cultural symbols of tacky vain slavery to corporate PR and high-tech novelty, became the Subsidized Era’s tacky equivalents of people with leisure suits, black velvet paintings, sweater-vests for their poodles, electric zirconium jewelry, NoCoat LinguaScrapers, and c. Most communications consumers put their Tableaux-dioramas at the back of a knick-knack shelf and covered their cameras with standard black lens-caps and now used their phone consoles’ little mask-hooks to hang these new little plasticene address-and-phone diaries specially made from former mask-hooks. Even then, of course, the bulk of U.S. consumers remained verifiably reluctant to leave home and teleputer and to interface personally, though this phenomenon’s endurance can’t be attributed to the videophony-fad per se, and anyway the new panagoraphobia served to open huge new entrepreneurial teleputerized markets for home-shopping and –delivery, and didn’t cause much industry concern.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Addie," or the inadequacy of language excerpt from...
As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner

In the afternoon when school was out and the last one had left with his little dirty snuffling nose, instead of going home I would go down the hill to the spring where I could be quiet and hate them. It would be quiet there then, with the water bubbling up and away and the sun slanting quiet in the trees and the quiet smelling of damp and rotting leaves and new earth; especially in the early spring, for it was worst then.

I could just remember how my father used to say that the reason for living was to get read to stay dead a long time. And when I would look at them day after day, each with his and her secret and selfish thought, and blood strange to each other blood and strange to mine, and think that this seemed to be the only way I could get ready to stay dead, I would hate my father for having ever planted me. I would look forward to the times when they faulted, so I could whip them. When the switch fell I could feel it upon my flesh; when it welted and ridged it was my blood that ran, and I would think with each blow of the switch: Now you are aware of me! Now I am something in your secret and selfish life, who have marked your blood with my own for ever and ever.

And so I took Anse [Addie's husband-to-be]. I saw him pass the school house three or four times before I learned that he was driving four miles out of his way to do it. I noticed then how he was beginning to hump--a tall man and young--so that he looked already like a tall bird hunched in the cold weather, on the wagon seat. He would pass the school house, the wagon creaking slow, his head turning slow to watch the door of the school house as the wagon passed, until he went on around the curve and out of sight. One day I went to the door and stood there when he passed. When he saw me he loked quickly away and did not look back again.

In the early spring it was worst. Sometimes I thought that I could not bear it, lying in bed at night, with the wild geese going north and their honking coming faint and high and wild out of the wild darkness, and during the day it would seem as thought I couldn't wait for the last one to go so I could go down to the spring. And so when I looked up that day and saw Anse standing there in his Sunday clothes, turning his hat round and round in his hands, I said:

"If you've got any womenfolks, why in the world dont they make you get your hair cut?"

"I ain't got none," he said. Then he said suddenly, driving his eyes at me like two hounds in a strange yard: "That's what I come to see you about."

"And make you hold your shoulders up," I said. "You haven't got any? But you've got a house. They tell me you've got a house and a good farm. And you live there alone, doing for yourself, do you?" He just looked at me, turning the hat in his hands. "A new house," I said. "Are you going to get married?"

And he said again, holding his eyes to mine: "That's what I come to see you about."

Later he told me, "I ain't got no people. So that wont be no worry to you. I dont reckon you can say the same."

"No. I have people. In Jefferson."

His face fell a little. "Well, I got a little property. I'm forehanded; I got a good honest name. I know how town folks are, but maybe when they talk to me......."

"They might listen," I said. "But they'll be hard to talk to." He was watching my face. "They're in the cemetery."

"But your living kin," he said. "They'll be different."

"Will they?" I said. "I don't know. I never had any other kind."

So I took Anse. And when I knew that I had Cash [Addie's first-born], I knew that living was terrible and that this was the answer to it. That was when I learned that words are no good; that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at. When he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn't care whether there was a word for it or not. I knew that fear was invented by someone that had never had the fear; pride, who never had the pride. I knew that it had been, not that they had dirty noses, but that we had had to use one another by words like spiders dangling by their mouths from a beam, swinging and twisting and never touching, and that only through the blows of the switch could my blood and their blood flow as one stream. I knew that it had been, not that my aloneness had to be violated over and over each day, but that it had never been violated until Cash came. Not even by Anse in the nights.

He had a word, too. Love, he called it. but I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn't need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear. Cash did not need to say it to me nor I to him, and I would say, Let Anse use it, if he wants to. So that it was Anse or love; love or Anse; it didn't matter.

I would think that even while I lay with him in the dark and Cash asleep in the cradle within the swing of my hand. I would think that if he were to wake and cry, I would suckle him, too. Anse or love: it didn't matter. My aloneness had been violated and then made whole again by the violation: time, Anse, love, what you will, outside the circle.

Then I found that I had Darl [Addie's second-born]. At first I would not believe it. Then I believed that I would kill Anse. It was as though he had tricked me, hidden within a word like within a paper screen and struck me in the back through it. but then I had realised that I had been tricked by words older than Anse or love, and that the same word had tricked Anse too, and that my revenge would be that he would never know I was taking revenge. And when Darl was born I asked Anse to promise to take me back to Jefferson when I died, because I knew that father had been right, even when he couldn't have known he was right anymore than I could have known I was wrong.

"Nonsense," Anse said; "you and me aint nigh done chapping yet, with just two."

He did not know that he was dead, then. sometimes I would lie by him in the dark, hearing the land that was now of my blood and flesh, and I would think: Anse. Why Anse. Why are you Anse. I would think about his name until after a while I could see the word as a shape, a vessel, and I would watch him liquify and flow into it like cold molasses flowing out of the darkness into the vessel, until the jar stood full and motionless: a significant shape profoundly without life like an empty door frame; and then I would find that I had forgotten the name of the jar. I would think: The shape of my body where I used to be a virgin is in the shape of a and I couldn't think Anse, couldn't remember Anse. It was not that I could think of myself as no longer unvirgin, because I was three now. And when I would think Cash and Darl that way until their names would die and solidify into a shape and then fade away, I would say, All right. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what they call them.

And so when Cora Tull would tell me I was not a true mother, I would think how words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless, and how terribly doing goes along the earth, clinging to it, so that after a while the two lines are too far apart for the same person to straddle from one to the other, and that sin and love and fear are just sounds that people who never sinned nor loved nor feared have for what they never had and cannot have until they forget the words. Like Cora, who could never even cook.

She would tell me what I owed to my children and to Anse and to God. I gave Anse the children. I did not ask for them. I did not even ask him for what he could have given me: not-Anse. That was my duty to him, to not ask that, and that duty I fulfilled. I would be I; I would let him be the shape and echo of his word. That was more than he asked, because he could not have asked for that and been Anse, using himself so with a word.

And then he died. He did not know he was dead. I would lie by him in the dark, hearing the dark land talking of God's love and His beauty and His sin; hearing the dark voicelessness in which the words are the deeds, and the other words that are not deeds, that are just the gaps in people's lacks, coming down like the cries of the geese out of the wild darkness in the old terrible nights, fumbling at the deeds like orphans to whom are pointed out in a crowd two faces and told, That is your father, your mother.

I believed that I had found it. I believed that the reason was the duty to the alive, to the terrible blood, the red bitter flood boiling through the land. I would think of sin as I would think of the clothes we both wore in the world's face, of the circumspection necessary because he was he and I was I; the sin the more utter and terrible since he was the instrument ordained by God who created the sin, to sanctify that sin He had created. While I waited for him in the woods [referring to her adultery with Whitfield, a minister], waiting for him before he saw me, I would think of him as dressed in sin. I would think of him as thinking of me as dressed also in sin, he the more beautiful since the garment which he had exchanged for sin was sanctified. I would think of the sin as garments which we would remove in order to shape and coerce the terrible blood to the forlorn echo of the dead word high in the air. Then I would lay with Anse again--I did not lie to him: I just refused, just as I refused my breast to Cash and Darl after their time was up--hearing the dark land talking the voiceless speech.

I hid nothing. I tried to deceive no one. I would have cared. I merely took the precautions that he thought necessary for his sake, not for my safety, but just as I wore clothes in the world's face. And I would think then when Cora talked to me, of how the high dead words in time seemed to lose even the significance of their dead sound.

Then it was over. Over in the sense that he was gone and I knew that, see him again though I would, I would never again see him coning swift and secret to me in the woods dressed in sin like a gallant garment already blowing aside with the speed of his secret coming.

But for me it was not over. I mean, over in the sense of beginning and ending, because to me there was no beginning nor ending to anything then. I even held Anse refraining still, not that I was holding him recessional, but as though nothing else had ever been. My children were of me alone, of the wild blood boiling along the earth, of me and of all that lived; of none and of all. Then I found that I had Jewel [the bastard son of Whitfield, Addie's third-born]. When I waked to remember to discover it, he was two months gone.

My father said that the reason for living is getting ready to stay dead. I knew at last what he meant and that he could not have known what he meant himself, because a man cannot know anything about cleaning up the house afterward. And so I have cleaned my house. With Jewel--I lay by the lamp, holding up my own head, watching him cap and suture it before he breathed--the wild blood boiled away and the sound of it ceased. Then there was only the milk, warm and calm, and I lying calm in the slow silence, getting read to clean my house.

I gave Anse Dewey Dell [Addie's fourth-born] to negative Jewel. Then I gave him Vardaman [Addie's fifth-born] to replace the child I had robbed him of. And now he has three children that are his and not mine. And then I could get ready to die.

One day I was talking to Cora. She prayed for me because she believed I was blind to sin, wanting me to kneel and pray too, because people to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too.