For those of you about to rock - sure, I salute you, but first, I want you to ease down on the pre-rock exercises and consider touring all the museums and sites dedicated to the atomic bomb in the United States. Invariably these places sit in the sun-scorched centre of Nowhere At All (so many places are described as being in the middle of nowhere that the middle of nowhere must be pretty damn crowded. In fact, it's probably a bustling metropolis of podunk towns and coworkers' acreages, entire suburbs of nothing but your in-law's retarded cousins and their stupid canola farm), so it's probably best to buy a gigantic old station wagon circa 1974 and load up the back seat with water, Scotch, mushrooms, guns and anti-evolution pamphlets of some kind. The pamphlets will come in handy when the state troopers pull you over; either they'll judge you to be harmlessly crazy or an upstanding example of the values that make America great, never mind your bloodshot eyes, booze-soured sweat and that clenched tooth grin that signals the first prickle of psilocybin along the nerves. Just don't titter at the trooper and you'll do fine.
Derrida, back in his productive non-dead phase, said in The Other Heading of nations that "it is proper that a society not be identical to itself". This is one of those spongy Derridean statements that keeps on leaking meaning with each squeeze. I'm paraphrasing from seminar courses of the late 1990s, so perhaps I've bent the phrase until it suits my own imaginings, but I've taken it to mean that the State should never assume a unified face, a single monolithic identity that permits itself one interpretation of the world. I would guess that Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the Soviet Union were a bit too identical to themselves for comfort. Perhaps Derrida worried about the prospect of an overidentifying European Union? Gee whillikers, Jacques. You're dead.
Anyway, I think that A Scanner Darkly sheds further light on that spongy
tissue statement of Derrida's. As most of you probably know by now, Linklater's film, based on a Philip K. Dick novel, is a near-future sci-fi tale of a narc whose addiction to a drug called Substance D splits his personality to the point that he no longer understands that he's narcing on himself. In my favourite scene in the book, the cop is watching footage of himself and his friends as they tell a particularly pointless, stoned joke. He begins to fast forward through the joke, thirty minutes, forty-five minutes, an hour and a half, but every time he plays the recording, they've only progressed to the next line. The cop is disgusted, at the stoners he's watching, at himself for watching them, at the pointlessness of the whole enterprise.
He's not in the real joke - that he is watching himself but no longer understands who he is, that once he removes his uniform he becomes a criminal. In Dick's novel, the State has looped in on itself, closed the circle of governance on its citizens. The State is both victim and victimized, criminal and enforcer, pusher and junkie, like a person who doesn't recognize his own subconscious and is therefore truly unconscious. Anyway, it hasn't come to any theatres in my city yet, so until then I've got all the Superman Returns and Click I can handle.
I work on the ninth floor of an office/hotel tower. A dirty grey Walmart bag just sailed up past my window, flew over the casino and flopped down in the Canada Post parking lot a few blocks away. It wasn't begging me to come and play with it. It more looked like it was getting punched around brutally, like it had lost an argument with the wind. Man, I love my job.
Later: a huge ugly black cloud, riding in the underside of some high white cirrus clouds, has pushed its way over the city. Tails and tentacles of rain sweep down. The cloud has blocked the sun so completely that streetlights have lit up, the great band of green that covers the suburbs has turned ash-grey, no colours left but a few bright yellow signs and the dark red Hyundai shipping crates in the rail yards.
A little later: Big-ass forky lightning.
Sing it to the tune of "Big Rock Candy Mountain".
On the weekend I stopped at a Starbucks to pick up lattes for the family. Only the frothiest of lattes would do, I reasoned, and so Starbuck's it was, for the exceptional froth. In keeping with my abjuration of froth, though, I bought a plain coffee for myself. I don't know what I'm talking about.
While the baristas - three girls who were presumably not related, but who shared some quality of skin and hair that made them very difficult to tell apart - made the froth-related drinks, I poked around the merchandise. Most of it was mildly stylish and extravagantly overpriced, unless you think it's fine to pay twenty five bucks for an ugly ceramic mug with a rubber lid and a stainless steel bottom. That was an "urban stripe coffee mug," and the word urban in a marketing context makes me think of Billy Dee Williams, which then makes me think of Billy Dee Williams working in some office somewhere drinking Colt 45 from his urban stripe mug and frantically chewing breath mints before he stumbles into a board meeting, and then I picture him trying to hook up the digital projector to his powerful new notebook computer for the Powerpoint presentation that he and his assistant have worked on all night, but his nerves are sheathed in a mitten of liquor and he just can't do it. He drops the laptop, kicks it across the room, trips over a chair and upsets the flip chart. He hits the carpet and crawls under the boardroom table, all the while saying "It's alright folks. I'm alright!" And that's how I picture Billy Dee Williams losing his high-powered office job.
On the clearance table sat the few last sad novelty items that people buy for holiday occasions. One of them was a little fake golf bag with a stainless steel dildo-bullet of a thermos inside. The item, once priced an appalling thirty six dollars, had been reduced to thirteen ninety nine, since the item was such a transparent grab at the Father's Day market. Once the spell of the Official Buying Event had worn off, the nifty golf bag-shaped carrying case revealed a tackiness rare for the usual reserve of Starbuck's. Therefore it had been exiled to the clearance table, tainted by deep discount. Operating on the same impulse that compels me to adopt the sickest and ugliest cat at the pound, I took it home with me and the frothy drinks.
I can't understand why the staff hadn't tossed the novelty case and simply sold the thermos, which retailed on its own for about thirty dollars. Price it at twenty-five and it would have moved off the shelf in no time flat. Was the manager so slavishly attached to procedure that she refused to alter the product? Or was she simply invested in the notion of the item as a single object, existing independently of its component parts? If that was the case, then I had actually bought three items instead of just two: the little fake golf bag, the thermos, and the novelty gift item of a thermos in a little fake golf bag. What a deal. And it also gave rise to the following brief conversation:
Palinode: So, did you like my thermos?
Schmutzie: Sure. I guess. Is there anything special about your thermos to like?
Palinode: No, it's just a nice thermos. What's the matter, you don't like a thermos?
Schmutzie: I don't like a thermos?
Palinode: That's the message I'm getting here.
Schmutzie: You don't say a thermos. You say 'I like thermoses' or 'I like that thermos'.
Palinode: Well, you don't seem to like any thermoses, so I don't think you'd be using either of those phrases. In fact, I'm starting to think that you hate a thermos.
Schmutzie: I don't 'hate a thermos'.
Palinode: Oh you do. You hate a thermos. This talk of a thermos, it gets you all het up.
Schmutzie: What does that even mean?
Palinode: I'm employing the vernacular.
Palinode: It lends authenticity to a conversation.
The best part of that conversation was that we were sitting next to each other on a bus and she couldn't get up and leave.