THE "ATROCITY EXHIBITION" DISCUSSIONS (from the JGB list at Yahoo Groups)

8: THE SUMMER CANNIBALS


[RMcG: 10 February 2007]

The Summer Cannibals is an oddly-stripped down little story, a kind of parable about sexual desire that takes place in some offseason resort, away from the people and obsessions of the mental institute.

our story opens with tman and his wife -- he's off wandering the heat-stricken shore and finally returns to the car where she's been reading a novel...

then he's in their resort room, lying in bed, watching the drained river, a white power cable, and his wife, fresh and wet from a shower, lies down wet and starts smoking on the bed

he's next outside, watching a woman with "unintelligent eyes" flipping thru magazines... he follows her to an outdoor cinema, becomes bored with her, and sits watching the curved screen... she watches him

he's back in the resort room, lying in bed with his sleeping wife... deformed by a sleep pose, her boobs squish against his shoulder... he fantasizes on restructuring her body into a more obscene geometry, and moves without disturbing her... outside bits of bridget bardot's body are visible on the cinema screen

he's now with the young woman at the drained river... the mud basins remind him of labyrinths, then of aspects of bardot's body... somehow, he already knows intimately the repertoire of her body... the inclined floors of the car park somehow contain an operating formula for their passage thru consciousness (conceptual perversity?)

he's in the kiosk with the woman... discovers a mole on her shoulder... kisses it... she watches with a tired smile, the same one she used when they screwed that afternoon...

back to his wife... she's drying her novel and painting her nails... the gap between them has widened... "what act between them would provide a point of junction?"

he remembers stuff that used to provide such a junction: a combination of her activities in what appears to be taking a trip from the room to the resort's pool, with the car park and elevator panel tossed in... obsessive attention to detail

back at the cafe with the girl, he plays with stuff on the table while she reads a magazine... his trouser's crotch is wet... turns out she has been putting him off with "chronic cystitis" and "sore urethra", so he got dressed, took her to the restaurant, and has been feeling her up for four hours, "hunting for some concealed key to their sexuality"... why is his crotch wet?

Tman then indulges in some philosophic wondering about sex... interestingly, he asks the "what" question... "in what way is intercourse per vagina more stimulating than with this ashtray, or with the angle between two walls?"... and then JG makes his point: "sex is now a conceptual act... sexual perversions are morally neutral, cut off from any suggestion of psychopathology.... we need to invent a series of imaginary sexual perversions just to keep our feelings alive"... while tman's explaining this, a young man appears and listens... later the girl is seen with him by the cinema

tman is next back with his wife, driving among the dusty, ashy dunes... the novel is in the car... all day they've been driving around and walking beside the drained river... overhead the motor bridge crossed... he tells her to drive

"elements of an orgasm", the next para, is a tour-de-force of imagination and observation, as wife and car tend to blend into a duchamp-like description of her changing seats with tman... a purely scientific description of almost pornographic detail... later, in the dark room, he rebuffs her invitation for a drink on the beach.. she's cleaning the shower stall, outside he can see the cinema and car park

tman next follows the young girl and man from the cinema kiosk to car park... they drive away a billboard appears, but a billboard of sex and accusation... they drive to the bridge over the drained river ... tman is behind them, in his car... when the girl gets out of her car tman drives into the oncoming traffic...

an accident occurs and the young man is killed.. she's hurt and covered in blood... she grabs her purse and runs towards the cinema screen in town... tman follows her in his car as she runs in the lights... tman ends up turning off his car lights and slowly following her, "steering from side to side as he varied her position against the roadside hoardings" (billboards), the cinema and the car park... what is he conceptualizing? is it sadistic?

at the end tman is back with his wife... she's in the oil-spattered car wiping her wrists with a cologne pad while he's wandering the beach... "after his little affairs he seemed to enter a strange zone"... while she waits, a young man arrives and "deliberately" leans against her car, staring at her, almost touching her elbow... after he's left, the sand slowly fills in his footprint... she puts away the novel and takes a newspaper, studying the pix of the car crash -- five minutes later, tman returns... thinking of he pix, she puts her hand on his lap...

hmmmm... certainly a more "literary" story, as one might expect when the two major symbols are a novel and a magazine... with the novel representing physical sex, and the magazine conceptual sex... and also as interiors, with the cold rectangles of the resort and its rooms set up against the curves of dune, cinema, river and bridge...

in fact, perhaps it is the lack of enigma in identifying the symbols and plot that makes "summer cannibals" a short, understandable little story with a fairly simple message -- "invent a series of imaginary sexual perversions" and your relationships will maintain that all-important psychic zing... I'm sure this message had a lot more power in it during the late 1960s, when a lotta sex probably became boring sex (as an aside, I have to wonder if JG was getting any sex at all during this time -- writing, raising kids, out in the dumps of sheppville... it couldn't have been that erotic)

I have a little paperback book from 1975 called "Fanta-Sex", by rolf milonas, and it describes 60 fantasy sex roles, and 40 erotic situations in combination with 30 plays and 20 positions. Any number can play! Bend the rules to player's needs! causing car crashes and attacking a novel unfortunately aren't in my book, but hanging out in spain during the hot summer isn't recommended, either..

This seems a strange story, and even JG's annotations seem to be trying to add interest where there is little... admitting this is a "saner" version of tman, "devoid of those larger concerns that pre-occupy him elsewhere in the book"... part of that, one assumes, is the result of locale: for the first time tman appears without his doctorate, the institute, nathan, karen, all of the couriers -- there's not even a helicopter... basically, it's a story of sexual deceit told with a lack of affect that gives it a scientific narrative with some radical musings on sexual psychology. Tman is drawn to the young woman because of her "public" beauty, but he does not try to confuse her with bardot. He is drawn to the car park, but does not visit it. He initiates a car crash, but does not participate in it. He feels nothing for the girl, but merely uses her for "some perverse pleasure of his own", which appears to be some kind of a psychic recharging for sex with his wife...

basically, the whole story seems to boil down to a little sex-game tman and his wife play... she is the novel (old school missionary position = love with history) and the young woman is the magazine/newspaper ("her face, with its unintelligent eyes...was reflected in the stereotypes of a dozen magazine covers"), with its attention firmly on the popularization of sex and violence...

the image of he novel is interesting -- the first time for a "literary" form of media to appear... it first appears as the wife reads in the car while tman wanders the beach... next, the novel "hurts" tman in the ribs at the moment he disassociates from the wife... suddenly, she's not "obscene" enough... he tosses it in the bidet (with her pubis), but she rescues and dries it out and next thing you know, tman is cheating on her... it re-appears in the rear window ledge of tman's xar when he and the wife go driving thru ash heaps (hardly symbolic, no?)... the heat "flowers" the pages... finally, at the end, again in the car, again at the beach, she abandons the novel for the newspaper, and tman immediately returns, and the pix of the car accident has a positive effect on her libido... nice little ironic statement on the novel --

on the flip side, tman finds the girl, seduces her, publicly mauls her, gives her to another man, follows them, kills him by causing a traffic accident, follows her in her bedraggled state, and conceptualizes her in terms of bridget bardot and the car park, then zones out until his wife re-initiates sexual activity...

the question JG asks in this story is "in what way is intercourse per vagina more stimulating than with this ashtray, or with the angle between two walls?"... and the answer must be in no way, as a transference to something non-biological (sex aid), or to simply using your imagination (which is what I think the angle between two walls is -- what lies between reality and fiction)... really doesn't matter if your only goal is an orgasm.

but if sex is now (or will be) a conceptual act, it's basic concepts will now come, according to Ballard, not from the atrophied novel form, but from the sexual and violent sadism shown in mass media like popular magazines and newspapers... and once again the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom...

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[MH: 12 February 2007]

RMcG wrote: The Summer Cannibals is an oddly-stripped down little story, a kind of parable about sexual desire that takes place in some offseason resort, away from the people and obsessions of the mental institute.

hmmmm... certainly a more "literary" story,

Having finally caught up with Summer Cannibals, I think that Rick is just about spot on with that description of this latest At. Ex. chapter. There are some musings that mightn't be out of place in the other chapters, such as the comparisons of the human body with the geometry of cars or buildings, and the conceptualization of sex, but this story is more straightforwardly written. I think that I'd take it as an attempt to investigate one of the key concerns in At. Ex. - what to do in a meaningless world - but in a more mundane setting that may better reflect our everyday lives.

So what here's a few thoughts to add to what Rick's already said.

There's much play, both in the story and in the later annotations, on the way in which people's lives are enervated at this type of Mediterranean resort. For example: "exhausted by the sun, the resort was deserted", "the growing numbers of full-time residents seem almost decorticated", "bodies ... as inert as the joints of meat on supermarket counters", and so on. Time passes, but nothing much happens, rather as in Vermilion Sands.

This enervation is reflected in T-Man's relationship with his wife: "An enormous neutral ground now divided them, across which their emotions signalled like meaningless semaphores." And this neutral ground, which the sun opens up by bleaching away meaning, feelings, etc, is something that T-Man can utilise ... it opens up new vistas for him to explore.

The drained river bed that he examines with the young woman is one such area. It is largely devoid of movement and life, but can reveal all sorts of interesting patterns and shapes on its floor, for example "beds of mud like nightmare chessboards". He wanders around the river bed, trying to make sense of its geometry. Another fruitful area is the young woman's body: "in many ways her body retraced the contours they had explored together."

The neutral ground provided by the resort suggests a suitable form of sexuality, and T-man muses that "Sex is now a conceptual act, it's probably only in terms of the perversions that we can make contact with each other at all. Sexual perversions are morally neutral, cut off from any suggestion of psychopathology ... We need to invent a series of imaginary sexual perversions just to keep our feelings alive ..."

But isn't it a bit odd for JGB to say 'cut off from psychopathology', given all he has said elsewhere about using the psychopathological? Well, I think what he means is that these perversions are not driven by anything deep within us, but are just there on the surface, driven by the strength of the imagination rather than the strength of the emotions ... or to use one of the catchphrases of At. Ex., they are more 'conceptual'. Which is exactly what you would expect in the spiritually exhausted inhabitants of the resort.

As meaning drains out of the resort and the out of lives of the people within it, the normal sense of time disappears; i.e. time as a past and a future that link with the present. So the past, instead of being a history, becomes something that exists in our imaginations, and T-man can play around with his memories: "He remembered these pleasures: the conjunction of her exposed pubis with the polished contours of the bidet; the white cube of the bathroom quantifying her left breast as she bent over the handbasin; ... her right hand touching the finger-smeared panel of the elevator control. Looking at her from the bed, he re-created these situations, conceptualizations of exquisite games."

And just as 'the past' disappears, so does 'the future' ... or at least that idea of the future as something that helps tie together our activities and lives. Instead, we have an open plain of endless possibilities ... more exquisite games for T-man: "Was he playing an elaborate game with [the young woman], using their acts of intercourse for some perverse pleasure of his own?"

In a way, the absence of time passing, the lack of change, is reflected in the first and last paragraphs, both of which feature T-Man's wife waiting for him in the car as he wanders around on the beach. These two paragraphs, which bookend the story, are very similar: but are they two alternative versions of the same event? ... or two different moments between which nothing much has changed? ... or is there in no real difference between these two alternatives?

And right at the end of the story, the disappearing footprints of the young man are symbolic of everything that may have happened: "she looked down at the imprints of his feet in the white pumice. The fine sand poured into the hollows, ... [she sits] watching the last of the footprints vanish in the sand." They just disappear, as if they were never there, vanishing to leave no trace. They have been erased just as surely as the events of the story.

RMcG wrote: the image of he novel is interesting -- the first time for a "literary" form of media to appear... it first appears as the wife reads in the car while tman wanders the beach... next, the novel "hurts" tman in the ribs at the moment he disassociates from the wife... suddenly, she's not "obscene" enough... he tosses it in the bidet (with her pubis), but she rescues and dries it out and next thing you know, tman is cheating on her... it re-appears in the rear window ledge of tman's car when he and the wife go driving thru ash heaps (hardly symbolic, no?)... the heat "flowers" the pages... finally, at the end, again in the car, again at the beach, she abandons the novel for the newspaper, and tman immediately returns, and the pix of the car accident has a positive effect on her libido... nice little ironic statement on the novel --

The references throughout the story to his wife's book and the young woman's magazine are an interesting touch, although I think another interpretation of them is possible. I'd see the novel as symbolizing a story with a narrative (a thread of meaning throughout), whereas the magazine is something we consume a bit here, another bit there, whenever we feel like it, without any overall meaning to hold it together.

And it is his wife's novel that T-Man throws into the bidet. What he now wants is precisely the meaninglessness of a relationship with the young woman (or, more strictly, a non-relationship) ... the meaninglessness of an issue of Paris-Match.

All the same, I think there's an ambivalence here (as usual with JGB). The title is, after all, "The Summer Cannibals" ... and in the neutral zone that opens up for the characters, some of them may get devoured by others.

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[RMcG: 12 February 2007]

MH wrote: There are some musings that mightn't be out of place in the other chapters, such as the comparisons of the human body with the geometry of cars or buildings, and the conceptualization of sex, but this story is more straightforwardly written. I think that I'd take it as an attempt to investigate one of the key concerns in At. Ex. - what to do in a meaningless world - but in a more mundane setting that may better reflect our everyday lives.

mike, perhaps it's a "world without affect" that we're reacting to... I don't think JG has sucked the "meaning" out of the landscape... but he sure has sucked the "emotion" out of it...

MH wrote: There's much play, both in the story and in the later annotations, on the way in which people's lives are enervated at this type of Mediterranean resort. For example: "exhausted by the sun, the resort was deserted", "the growing numbers of full-time residents seem almost decorticated", "bodies ... as inert as the joints of meat on supermarket counters", and so on. Time passes, but nothing much happens, rather as in Vermilion Sands.

well, nothing much happens because there's nobody around to do anything... another of JG's little inversions, no? place a story at a resort, but do it when it's so hot nobody else is around... except mad dogs and englishmen

MH wrote: This enervation is reflected in T-Man's relationship with his wife: "An enormous neutral ground now divided them, across which their emotions signalled like meaningless semaphores." And this neutral ground, which the sun opens up by bleaching away meaning, feelings, etc, is something that T-Man can utilise ... it opens up new vistas for him to explore.

precisely... it's their "emotions" that signal fruitlessly... but not the meaning...

MH wrote: The drained river bed that he examines with the young woman is one such area. It is largely devoid of movement and life, but can reveal all sorts of interesting patterns and shapes on its floor, for example "beds of mud like nightmare chessboards". He wanders around the river bed, trying to make sense of its geometry. Another fruitful area is the young woman's body: "in many ways her body retraced the contours they had explored together."

here I think Tman is just getting into his "game"... he's found the woman (even tho at first he found her boring) and he's "adding meaning" where there is none by comparing the river's mud flats to bardot's body... already he "knew intimately the repertoire" of the young girl's body... and he knows the inclined floors of the car park will act as an "operating formula" for their time together...

MH wrote: But isn't it a bit odd for JGB to say 'cut off from psychopathology', given all he has said elsewhere about using the psychopathological? Well, I think what he means is that these perversions are not driven by anything deep within us, but are just there on the surface, driven by the strength of the imagination rather than the strength of the emotions ... or to use one of the catchphrases of At. Ex., they are more 'conceptual'. Which is exactly what you would expect in the spiritually exhausted inhabitants of the resort.

is the resort "neutral"? in one sense, it's so hot and bright it tends to dull everything within it... but the bit about sex and concepts might be expanded out: I'm now thinking that when JG says "concept" he's thinking about it in an advertising kind of way: like a sales campaign needs a "concept" to hang its message on... he's making sex a literary thing, pointing out that people need to "invent a series of imaginary sexual perversions"... probably in the same way that richard pearson invented his KC ad campaign... but just what are these perversions that Tman feels compelled to create? this is almost a comment on art: will the concept be a metaphor or simile on sex? in either case, it's a transference of libido from the body to the mind... or, more to the point, it's an attempt to have the mind placed above the body... there is no "instinctual" or body-pleasure sex at work here... just the imagination attempting to create emotion

the bit about perversions being morally neutral and "cut off from any suggestion of psychopathology"? is that just JG doing his "inversion" thing again? or just being perverse himself? or is he just saying what he says... that that sexual perversions are not intrinsically right or wrong, but are designated so by an external culture, rather than an innate mental state? or that perversions are beyond psychopathology, which is simply "The study of significant causes and processes in the development of mental illness"... basically, perversions must be sane because JG sez they don't contribute to mental illnesses... in fact, I bet they tend to prevent mental illness...

regardless, the point of the exercise is to "keep our feelings alive" -- in other words, maintain an emotional connection...

but the conceptual sex doesn't seem to be between Tman and the young girl... the concept is needed to bring together Tman and his wife... they need a sex concept to form a "point of junction"

MH wrote: As meaning drains out of the resort and the out of lives of the people within it, the normal sense of time disappears; i.e. time as a past and a future that link with the present. So the past, instead of being a history, becomes something that exists in our imaginations, and T-man can play around with his memories

again, I think the "meaning" of the resort is irrelevant, except as it represents the landscape of Tman's inner space... as such, it's virtually dead and emotionless, devoid of water and overlit... I think this remembrance of Tman's is part of the "concept" he and his wife are acting out... and basically they're all visual -- no sound, no smell -- a collage of female bits juxtaposed against the background of social technology.... the "exquisite games" reminds me of the old surreal parlour game, "exquisite corpse", so named from the first line of poetry generated by it...

MH wrote: And just as 'the past' disappears, so does 'the future' ... or at least that idea of the future as something that helps tie together our activities and lives. Instead, we have an open plain of endless possibilities ... more exquisite games for T-man: "Was he playing an elaborate game with [the young woman], using their acts of intercourse for some perverse pleasure of his own?"

I don't agree: I don't think the past disappears at all... the whole episode is actually quite short... they arrive, Tman finds the girl, they have an affair, he blows here away, they leave... it could all have happened on a weekend

Tman must be playing a game with the woman... he's playing with the concept of turning her into bardot, but that connection never seems to gel completely, or as it does in the other stories... I think the "perverse pleasure" Tman is seeking is an emotional response -- any emotion -- to take an axe to the frozen sea within him... ironically, it appears that it's the young woman who is tiring of Tman... "she watched him with a tired smile, the same rictus that had fixed itself on her mouth during their afternoon in the dusty heat trap below the bank"... the word rictus is loaded with death imagery, and it would appear our Tman is not much of a lover...

MH wrote: In a way, the absence of time passing, the lack of change, is reflected in the first and last paragraphs, both of which feature T-Man's wife waiting for him in the car as he wanders around on the beach. These two paragraphs, which bookend the story, are very similar: but are they two alternative versions of the same event, or two different moments between which nothing much has changed ... or is there in no difference between these two alternatives?

I agree: the beginning and end is sorta like High-Rise... same, but slightly advanced...

but mike, you've avoided the denouement... after tman and the girl split, with the girl finding the young man, tman and da wife go for an "erotic game" by driving thru the ashy dunes, over mud flats... until Tman gets stuck at the end of a road... hmmmm... it's at this point that mrs tman takes over... Tman becomes all sexually excited by the way she walks around the car to drive (sado-maso?)... revealing his perverted ability to blend body and metal in the heat cauldron of deserted dunes...

later, she makes an attempt at intimacy by suggesting they go down to the beach for a drink, but tman is still operating at the conceptual level: he's attracted to the images of the cinema and car park

voyeuristically he now spies on the girl as she has a tryst with the young man... he follows them to the car park and then they drive out of town, where they meet a billboard: "cinemascope of breast and thigh, deceit and need"... it's a blend of the bardot movie and Tman's concept for an imaginary perversion... sort of a take-off on the old cheat and make-up scenario...the bridge is in the distance, the river below... all we're missing is a little ultra-violence, and that soon comes as Tman apparently causes a car accident which kills the young man and injures the girl... in her disturbed state he follows her, re-conceptualizing her in terms of the bridge, movies, billboards and car park...

MH wrote: The references throughout the story to his wife's book and the young woman's magazine are an interesting touch, although I think another interpretation of them is possible. I'd see the novel as symbolizing a story with a narrative (a thread of meaning throughout), whereas the magazine is something we consume a bit here, another bit there, whenever we feel like it, without any overall meaning to hold it together.

yes, certainly: and probably more... as the magazine could also represent the kind of impersonal violence of a society veering towards the death of affect... in this case, the death of affect seems to be cancelled by "concepts" -- imaginary perversions that give emotional meaning to a loveless physical act...

MH wrote: All the same, I think there's an ambivalence here (as usual with JGB). The title is, after all, "The Summer Cannibals" ... and in the neutral zone that opens up for the characters, some of them may get devoured by others.

precisely... you can't imagine all this taking place at high season: no heat, no brightness, no dead river, no ash heaps... way too many people around... but if it's people eating people... I'd say it's tman and his wife who "consume" the "series of imaginary sexual perversions just to keep our feelings alive"... in their ad campaign for emotion, the concepts are deceit and desire... they both have to cheat on each other in order to maintain their perverse relationship... his sexual dalliance is unfulfilling until he sets up and kills his competitor; her sexuality is not unleashed until she allows herself to be "emotional" -- responding to a flirtatious situation without "embarrassment" and being affected by the conceptual violence of the reported car accident... I think the footprint in the sand is a metaphor for the entire story... it represents "the little affair" that comes and goes like "a series of whispers"... she re-establishes a sexual junction with tman just as the events conclude, just as her potential lover's footprints "vanish in the sand"...

anyway, what's next?

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[MH: 12 February 2007]

RMcG wrote: mike, perhaps it's a "world without affect" that we're reacting to... I don't think JG has sucked the "meaning" out of the landscape... but he sure has sucked the "emotion" out of it...

Well T-Man certainly *finds* meaning in the landscape, and in the architecture, etc - but he presumably only needs to do so because the rest of his life is without it ... for the very reasons that are paraphrased by the term 'death of affect'. So I don't think there's much difference between us there ... as you put it, T-Man is 'adding meaning where there is none by comparing the river's mud flats to bardot's body'.

RMcG wrote: regardless, the point of the exercise is to "keep our feelings alive" -- in other words, maintain an emotional connection...

but the conceptual sex doesn't seem to be between Tman and the young girl... the concept is needed to bring together Tman and his wife... they need a sex concept to form a "point of junction"

Mmm ... I know JGB sort of suggests that in places, but in this story emotion is absent throughout. If T-Man has the specific aim of re-establishing some sort of emotional relationship with his wife (which is not really how I read it), then does he actually achieve it? If there is some sort of consummation of *their* relationship it's in the three paragraphs An Erotic Game, Elements of an Orgasm, and Post-coitum Triste. But the 'orgasm' described there is as unemotional and conceptual as anything in the chapter; and it is all one-sided ... when T-man tells his wife to drive, she 'looks up wearily' ... and post-coitum we're told "He ignored her voice, with its unconvinced attempt at intimacy".

He goes straight from there to his alternative erotic encounter (causing the automobile accident) in a paragraph tellingly entitled 'Foreplay'.

RMcG wrote: I don't agree: I don't think the past disappears at all... the whole episode is actually quite short... they arrive, Tman finds the girl, they have an affair, he blows here away, they leave... it could all have happened on a weekend

The past doesn't disappear ... it isn't in the story at all, except in the memories that T-Man plays with. And there's no future referred to - the end paragraph is virtually identical to the first. So the short period of time in which the events of 'Summer Cannibals' takes place is entirely self-contained ... it only means as much or as little as T-Man makes it mean.

The 'no past, no future' reading is really just similar to the oft-expressed idea that the modern world has tended to destroy the meaningful links that used to characterise and structure peoples' lives, so that we live in an 'everlasting present'. What I'm trying to say is that T-Man is an extreme result of that process ... but that's taken for granted in the story; it's why we aren't told anything about him, and it's why the story is self-contained. Or at least, that's the way I read it ...

Parenthetically, I might add that I'm trying to relate this idea of 'no past, no future' that I see in 'Summer Cannibals' to what goes on in those stories from the early 1980s, which are all about the 'living outside of time'. But that's for another occasion.

RMcG wrote: they both have to cheat on each other in order to maintain their perverse relationship... his sexual dalliance is unfulfilling until he sets up and kills his competitor; her sexuality is not unleashed until she allows herself to be "emotional" -- responding to a flirtatious situation without "embarrassment" and being affected by the conceptual violence of the reported car accident... I think the footprint in the sand is a metaphor for the entire story... it represents "the little affair" that comes and goes like "a series of whispers"... she re-establishes a sexual junction with tman just as the events conclude, just as her potential lover's footprints "vanish in the sand"...

I think that's where you and I have different readings of 'Cannibals'. I just can't convince myself that there's any meaningful connection (in the usual sense of that phrase) re-established between T-Man and his wife. If T-Man is really trying to do that, then he has to *care* about the relationship with his wife in some way, and there's no evidence in the story for that, so far as I can see. When he wonders 'what act between them would establish a point of juncture', he seems as cool and analytical as the rest of the time.

So maybe the best thing is pass on to ...

RMcG wrote: anyway, what's next?

Tolerances of the Human Face.

And then that's it so far as I'm concerned ... I don't really feel I could do justice to the sections collected at the end of the book - the Reagan piece, Love & Export, etc. Unless of course you fancy doing a lengthy disquisition on 'Generations of America'. ;)

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[RMcG: 13 February 2007]

MH wrote: If T-Man has the specific aim of re-establishing some sort of emotional relationship with his wife (which is not really how I read it), then does he actually achieve it? If there is some sort of consummation of *their* relationship it's in the three paragraphs An Erotic Game, Elements of an Orgasm, and Post-coitum Triste. But the 'orgasm' described there is as unemotional and conceptual as anything in the chapter; and it is all one-sided ... when T-man tells his wife to drive, she 'looks up wearily' ... and post-coitum we're told "He ignored her voice, with its unconvinced attempt at intimacy". He goes straight from there to his alternative erotic encounter (causing the automobile accident) in a paragraph tellingly entitled 'Foreplay'.

well, in his notes jg sez that locus solus is a place where, "sex becomes stylized, relationships more oblique... the white light has bleached out the identities of the characters..." and later "traven is veering between his wife and the young woman"...

as for emotion -- well, they're not completely inhuman yet... there's some emotion (save love and hate)... but I think I agree with you -- there's no conscious plan of reconciliation between tman and his wife... their relationship is as dry as the landscape, predictable as the architecture, etc etc.. but say, didja notice how often tman's wife is wet in the story, eh? part of her inability to get with the program, as tman never gets near the stuff (except by the beach)? or does she think naked women in the bathroom will turn tman on?

MH wrote: The past doesn't disappear ... it isn't in the story at all, except in the memories that T-Man plays with. And there's no future referred to - the end paragraph is virtually identical to the first. So the short period of time in which the events of 'Summer Cannibals' takes place is entirely self-contained ... it only means as much or as little as T-Man makes it mean.

The 'no past, no future' reading is really just similar to the oft-expressed idea that the modern world has tended to destroy the meaningful links that used to characterise and structure peoples' lives, so that we live in an 'everlasting present'. What I'm trying to say is that T-Man is an extreme result of that process ... but that's taken for granted in the story; it's why we aren't told anything about him, and it's why the story is self-contained. Or at least, that's the way I read it ...

OK... altho I think the temporality of all these stories is more a result of the "experimental" writing style than the narrative... the fiction of TV news and advertising copy styles, the rationality of technical writing, the choppy timelines, the purposeful ambiguity of personal metaphor and symbolism, the externalization of the nervous system, etc etc... it's like a newsmagazine with glossy ads... the story is like a 30-second ad for how to use someone for sex in between a boring movie about a guy wandering a beach... it's part of the effect that we know nothing about these characters... their past and future is implied, much like in "The Index", by hint and association... our protagonist could very well be the tman from the other stories, on a vacation, and then we could include all that tman "past" in fleshing out this story...

MH wrote: I think that's where you and I have different readings of 'Cannibals'. I just can't convince myself that there's any meaningful connection (in the usual sense of that phrase) re-established between T-Man and his wife. If T-Man is really trying to do that, then he has to *care* about the relationship with his wife in some way, and there's no evidence in the story for that, so far as I can see. When he wonders 'what act between them would establish a point of juncture', he seems as cool and analytical as the rest of the time.

OK, as I said above, I may have been pushing it with a reconciliation motive... if this tman is like the others, except a bit saner, then he's also narcissistically pursuing his own attempts at regaining "normalcy", and this time his object seems to be conceptually consuming some person in order to find what must be a sexual release... "veering" between the two women must set up some tension, and consummating his affair with the young woman seems to place him in "the zone", even if it is the "zone of nothing" -- a quiet mind?

and I think the para titled "elements of an orgasm" is in actually the description of a sex scene between tman and his wife... translated, of course... afterwards, in "post-coitum triste", the mechanical nature of their relationship is revealed, and tman rejects her unconvinced attempt at intimacy and turns to the forbidden pleasures of the cinema screen and car park... so sex with the old lady is like asking her to drive, and tman decides to taste more dangerous fruit... satisfied, he acquiesces back to his solitary beach-walking ways...

bottom line? certainly the problem and the solution in sumcan is not as complex or imaginative as tman escapades in other stories... away from the institute and his usual audience, tman chooses to cheat on his wife and rationalizes the event as a form of conceptual sex based on the need for present-day perversions in order to make contact with "others" and "keep our feelings alive"... he's as bad as dr nathan... (whom I've got no faith in)

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[MH: 13 February 2007]

RMcG wrote: didja notice how often tman's wife is wet in the story, eh? part of her inability to get with the program, as tman never gets near the stuff (except by the beach)?

His 'damp crotch' ... don't forget about that!

RMcG wrote: OK... altho I think the temporality of all these stories is more a result of the "experimental" writing style than the narrative... the fiction of TV news and advertising copy styles, the rationality of technical writing, the choppy timelines, the purposeful ambiguity of personal metaphor and symbolism, the externalization of the nervous system, etc etc...

Yes, the experimental style used by JGB and others around that time was partly a deliberate attempt to try and reflect the rhythm of the way we now live ... chopped up, lack of connections, concentration on the present, and so on. That's partly the reason for leaving the reader free to make their own interpretation of what's going on ... if you put in all that's needed to tell the reader what's happening, then you've already made the text unrealistic in terms of the way people live, it's all too over-determined. Both JGB and Moorcock will bang on about that even today ... and it's a topic that JGB touched on at both of the events I attended for his last two books - the pitfalls of 'realistic' literature.

RMcG wrote: consummating his affair with the young woman seems to place him in "the zone", even if it is the "zone of nothing" -- a quiet mind?

I'd not really picked up on the title of the final paragraph ... it's quite apt on either of our interpretations, isn't it? A quiet mind ... or everything vanishes like the footprints.

RMcG wrote: tman chooses to cheat on his wife and rationalizes the event as a form of conceptual sex based on the need for present-day perversions in order to make contact with "others" and "keep our feelings alive"... he's as bad as dr nathan... (whom I've got no faith in)

Do you mean you've got no faith in the good doctor's diagnoses? I think the problem with Nathan is more that, while he *understands* (as JGB suggests in the annotations), he doesn't act. Or maybe that's not quite right ... it's that he isn't *engaged*, so he stands no chance of getting anywhere else.

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[RMcG: 13 February 2007]

MH wrote: Do you mean you've got no faith in the good doctor's diagnoses? I think the problem with Nathan is more that, while he *understands* (as JGB suggests in the annotations), he doesn't act. Or maybe that's not quite right ... it's that he isn't *engaged*, so he stands no chance of getting anywhere else.

I think he'll be a problem... are all the characters "symbols"? my problem with nathan is I think he's a fake... his "scientific" raps all too often fumble away into imaginary concepts, giving us an "understanding", but not a "realistic" one...

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[MH: 13 February 2007]

RMcG wrote: my problem with nathan is I think he's a fake... his "scientific" raps all too often fumble away into imaginary concepts, giving us an "understanding", but not a "realistic" one...

It's T-Man who's the scientist in At Ex, isn't it? After all, he's the one who frames hypotheses, designs and carries out experiments ... all Nathan does is talk.

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[RMcG: 13 February 2007]

MH wrote: It's T-Man who's the scientist in At Ex, isn't it? After all, he's the one who frames hypotheses, designs and carries out experiments ... all Nathan does is talk.

precisely... and tho nathan sounds "scientific", he's not:

"nader's true role is clearly very different from his apparent one, to be deciphered in terms of the postures we assume, our anxieties mimetized in the junction between wall and ceiling"...

there are many like examples of nathan offering these enigmatic "answers", these alternate, subjective ways of communicating information... in fact, isn't a large part of AX concerned with "communication"? mediums and messages? and how/why nobody really knows real from false? and how/why that tension creates the death of affect?

anyway, nathan's poetic flights might be revealing (a) the closeness of science and art as a creative project, (b) science is basically bullshit when it goes completely cerebral (total intelligence is madness), (c) you can make anything sound scientific if you use the correct language, regardless of its comprehensibility (form over content... the basis of a textual analysis?)

but there's no doubt about it: nathan is one of the key images... the scientific "observer" who, quantum-like, influences the experiments he observes... just like we do when we attach meanings meaningful to us to this collage of consumer/consumed icons from a psychologically-charged moment in western history...

could we say it's an Exhibition of the 60s zeitgeist, with the usual ballardian "inversions" to keep us in the terminal zone?

no wonder JGB wanted it to be called "TAE" and have that story start us off... it picturesquely defines the rest of the book... and no wonder he was pissed at grove press for renaming it the improbable "Love & Napalm: Export USA".... that title eliminates the book's "entry clue", takes away yr ticket to get into the show...


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