If the war came and you didn’t have one of these in your basement, what would you do?
Opening a can of chicken soup, I was thinking about war preparations, one of my preoccupations. It’s a leisure-time activity for a bellicose era in which my house is under the flight path for the fighter jets that patrol Camp David. There will be no underground Pentagon for me, no tank kitted out for a post-nuclear landscape. Just a wet basement, jugs of water, a hand-cranked radio and the prospect of eating the pets.
Plan A for today was the office, which changed to plan B after my doctor said to take antibiotics and rest, which was going to involve watching “Melancholia” and taking notes while experiencing mortal envy, until the school called to say that middle child had experienced a volleyball injury. I went to plan C, the emergency room, where we had to wait some time for a thumb x-ray because the radiologists failed to notice us during their extended chat about stomach viruses. School is brutal. Middle child also visited the ER last fall after a computer incident gave him an electrical shock, and we had to make sure his heart hadn’t been cauterized. The wave passed from hand to hand via his spine. You learn something new every day. Today I learned, eavesdropping as usual, that the teary teenaged girl in the next bed had to pay her brother to come pick her up. ‘Ten dollars,’ she offered. Sobs. ‘Twenty dollars.’ This he apparently accepted, and she hung up and cried some more. Terrible. I would have driven her home myself, except there some logistics vis a vis her car in the hospital parking lot, and I am sick, and middle child was getting a big splint for a contusion the nurse told us will turn black and purple all down his arm.
Talking to myself about the war is apparently a post-twelfth-century phenomenon–not the war but the internal commentary. Our inner tape-loop only developed after the advent of silent reading, according to David Abram, who is a maddeningly loopy and excessive prose writer, until he says something arrestingly smart. Ancient texts had to be read aloud to be understood, because there was little to no punctuation, no spaces between words (Latin and Greek), or no vowels (Hebrew). Only when monks began “aerating the text” (Becoming Animal, ridiculously long footnote, p.179) by adding spaces did it become possible to read silently. Aerating the text started in the seventh century, and as the practice, and the sprinkling of punctuation marks, spread from monastery to monastery, the literate people of Europe gradually learned to read to themselves. Now we force schoolchildren to do it, during SSR, or Silent Sustained Reading, sessions. But what if it is slowly driving them crazy because it leads to incessant internal chatter?
Nicholson Baker’s work is a literary expression of twenty-first-century consciousness, a.k.a. the inner tape-loop. One trembles to imagine what he might say about a can opener. It might be a trilogy. (Would I rather read a trilogy about a can opener or a vampire? A can opener.)
I was the sort of person who stood in a subway car and thought about buttering toast–buttering raisin toast, even: when the high, crisp scrape of the butter knife is muted by occasional contact with the soft, heat-blimped forms of the raisins, and when, if you cut across a raisin, it will sometimes fall right out, still intact though dented, as you lift the slice.
That’s from page 54 of The Mezzanine, and I put it in italics so that it’s easily skippable if you can’t stand this sort of thing. But isn’t “heat-blimped” amazing?
I was really hoping for more than 28 minutes of Lars Von Trier’s disturbingly beautiful movie, but middle child in his injured state must watch “Two and a Half Men” while elevating his splinted hand and eating chicken strips, and thus I am thrown back to the books and the cans. Von Trier skips the war idea entirely in favor of apocalyptic (possibly imagined?) planetary collision. In the opening shot, Kirsten Dunst, her face filling half the frame, slowly opens her eyes against a background of sky, and then pale dead birds begin falling around her.