Last night The Lotus and her mother, over Scrabble, were talking about the Schiavo affair (l’affaire Schiavo), which was filling up every spare moment of the news program that I was watching. My mother-in-law put the situation in a light that had never occurred to me when she said that the video of Schiavo gurgling and balloon-tracking raised the fear in her own mind of being in that same situation, trapped inside her own body but conscious nonetheless, like a Poe character bricked up behind a wall or buried alive. What she saw was not Terry Schiavo but the spectre of her own imagined abjection. And damn, Schiavo’s face radiates a kind of angelic joy at the presence of her family. Who, witnessing the purity of her expression, could dismiss the possibilty of a mind swimming around in that bath of spinal fluid?
Last summer while travelling through the Schwarzwald we stopped in the town of Triberg to shoot a segment for a children’s show on the world’s largest cuckoo clock. The clock was housed in a combination Kukuchsuhr workshop/theme park in which animatronic peasants waved, giant clockworks spun and busloads of tourists from all over Europe dropped coins into slots. In the room that houses the works of the giant cuckoo clock (replete with giant bellows and six-foot bird) a mechanical Kukuchsuhrtrager - that iconic figure of the man with the cuckoo clock strapped to his back - explained in four different languages the history and construction of the world’s largest cuckoo clock. Every so often, as the clockwork inside the figure unspooled and his body swivelled back and forth, his large dark wooden eyes would meet mine.
Despite the artificiality of the figure, the whirring of articulated limbs and the crowd of dour Dutch tourists crowding me, I couldn’t shake the feeling that those eyes were somehow conveying some kind of information to me, as if the inanimate had selected this puppet as its ambassador. And the information, as Martin Amis says, was Nothing. The eyes of this imitation of life were imparting an intimation of non-life, of abjection. In that brief look I got an idea of what the living are up against, the dead dark indifferent spaces that we imagine when Schiavo’s face pops up on Fox. No wonder Freud calls it the Unheimlich. We have to perform that unpleasant maneuver in which consciousness attempts to imagine what lies outside consciousness. That is, when we’re dead and being slowly divided into tiny pieces.
After the discussion about Schiavo we watched 13 Going on 30. Mark Ruffalo spends the whole film with this look on his face like there’s a big pile of smelly garbage just off-camera. The other actors are all facing the other direction and can’t see it, but Ruffalo has to deliver his lines with this huge pile of garbage in his line of sight. They were probably the dailies from the night before.