The Return of the Son of A Certain Style of Being?


What I feel is a hand slapping my face, and leaving a pain that is itself bright red, quite apart from the color one might see on the cheek.

But there’s dripping, and my shirt is wet.  It’s water.  Someone has thrown water in my face.  Why did I think it was a slap?

I open my eyes, and it’s one of my sixth grade teachers.  He has a mustache that almost covers his mouth, and when he speaks (if he’s not yelling), it sometimes comes out a bit mushy.  He has bushy eyebrows too.  Am I remembering that part right?  Probably not.  Who knows?  Let’s say his name is Cole.

He’s holding a wooden pointer in one hand.  For a second, it’s the pointer that he had hit me in the face with.  Then I see the small pitcher in his other hand (his left), the size pitcher I’ve seen used for baptism by pouring in Mennonite churches, only this one is stainless steel rather than ceramic.  Now it’s the water again.  The water came from that.

“Are you gonna frickin’ wake up now?”  Not yelling, so a bit mushy.

“I’m awake.”  I thought my voice would be croaky, but it’s clear and pretty strong.  “How long have I been asleep?”

“Hell if I know.  I was just told to wake you up.  I thought I was done with you years ago, and now I have to wake you the hell up.”  He’s smiling now, but it looks like he’s in pain.  I remember that this is how he smiled when he was my teacher.

“Why you?”

“Why any of this make-believy bullshit?”  The smile is gone, but not the pain.  “You’re supposed to pick up on this stupid blog thing again, because you’re supposed to be thinking.  And you don’t get as far with your thinking if you aren’t writing.  That, along with how to wipe my own ass, is all that I know.”

I don’t remember Cole as being vulgar.  But somehow it fits.  It fits with sixth grade, which I remember the way one might remember an acid trip.  (Not that I’ve ever actually been on one of those myself.)

“Writing.  On the blog.  Not just to myself.”

“Yup.  Don’t ask me why.  I really don’t know anything more.  I gotta go listen to my Beatles records now, so you’d better be all the way awake.”

“Why would you HAVE to go listen to Beatles records?”

The pained smile again.  “That’s a device to reinforce my identity for you, since you’re not clear on my appearance.”  Right.  He played Beatles records in class for us, and discussed their meaning, including the drug references.

I don’t have any response to offer, so I just nod.  Cole turns and walks away.

As he leaves, he simply walks out of the light that we’ve been in the whole time.  It’s like a large spotlight glow on an otherwise dark stage.  But the spotlight isn’t coming from anywhere in particular.  I look around and think about where I might be.  Sixth grade.  That’s why it was Cole.  But the important thing is that it was right before middle school.  Before the middle.

“Before the middle” is the associative payoff here.  I’m supposed to do something with that.

As soon as I realize that, there is a loud click somewhere above, and the spotlight goes dark.

You Know That Old Saying

Dramatis personae: my self (today presented as only two).  The actors: Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy era), with hair tied back in a bun, wearing glasses and business attire, holding a notepad in such a way that she looks like a stereotypical therapist; John Lithgow (Third Rock era).  Lithgow plays the POV, or ‘narrator’ or (if you like) ‘the real me’ (“can you see?”).  Setting: a park bench in some sort of ‘public’ space.  We are outside, and it is very cold, but neither of us gives any indication that we notice.

The “therapist” speaks first.  “You say that you’re disappointed.  Can you be any more specific?”

“I’m not sure if I can.  It seems like a series of specific disappointments if I think very hard about it.  But I think I’m lacking perspective right now.  More often, it feels like a general disappointment in anything that one might SAY.  It’s like a disappointment in how impossible SAYING seems to be right now.”

“The lack of perspective is why we’re having this conversation, of course.  When you use that word, ‘SAYING,’ are you implying a distinction between saying and just thinking?”

“No, that’s part of the problem.  Thinking IS a kind of saying, as far as I can tell.  And before you ask, I’ll clarify that I take saying to be a kind of DOING.  So I’m not simply distinguishing saying from doing, either.”

“Huh.  So…  Is there anything that is not saying?”

[several seconds of silence]

“Of course there is.  Here’s another disappointment:  It can’t be said, and that’s so maddeningly cliché!.  I’d like this to go somewhere, and that goes nowhere.”

“’Nowhere’ seems too strong, I suspect, but…”   My interlocutor places a finger against her cheek, pondering.  I lose track of how much time passes before she speaks again.  “This is about what you usually think of as ‘belief,’ right?”

“I think so, yes.”

“Specifically religious belief?”‘

“I don’t think there’s such a specific thing as religion.  And yet I do.  I’m unsure whether or not I believe in ‘belief.’  And yet I clearly do.  When someone actually suggests that what we call ‘religion’ has NOTHING to do with belief, I know that this just has to be wrong.  That is, I know it in my gut or my heart or wherever, not in my head.”

“Ah.  One of your disappointments is about who suggested this to you most recently, correct?”

I nod.  “Having done a quick read of Bruno Latour’s book, Rejoicing, Or the Torments of Religious Speech,[1] my strong impression is that this is his message there. As is always the case when I’m first reading something, I’m far from confident that I understand well what I’m reading.  But he seems to be so freaking MODERN in his insistence that religious speech ‘conveys no information.’  And this, after all his provocative insistence on hybrids, and on us ‘never having been modern.’”

“Why would you be especially disappointed that Latour writes this way?”

“Because he otherwise seems to understand so well how stupid it is to see the notion of something being ‘socially constructed’ as entailing that it is ‘just pretend’ (as I’ve put it elsewhere).”

“So you’re afraid that Latour’s book is treating religion as ‘just pretend’?”

“That’s well put.  I’m afraid.  It’s not so much that I’m convinced or persuaded.  I’m afraid.”

“This is clearly not a fear about exactly what Latour is saying.  It is a fear that you might be….  Let’s see, how to put it?”

Another longish silence before I speak again. “I think perhaps it’s a fear that I have to give a finalized account of what ‘saying’ is, in order to be able to say anything.”

She smiles.  “But you also know – in your gut, as you said before – that this can’t be right?”

I nod again.  “That’s what I would say today, if it were possible for me to say anything.”

Her smile tightens a bit.  “You clearly are saying it, you know.  Even the possibility that you might eventually unsay it does not change this.”

I sigh again.  “You’re right, of course.  But today that’s not enough.”

Now her look is serious, but not harsh.  “That it is not enough is why we will go on, no?”

“I suppose so.”

I notice that we are both weeping, and (for now) nothing more is said.

[1] Polity, 2013.


Some Kind of Way Out of (t)Here

For about two years now, I’ve kept a separate blog, entitled “A Certain Style of Being.”  I maintained it “anonymously” (under the name Craig Alter) though a fair number of my family and friends knew that the blog was mine.  (It has long been listed here under “Other Blogs I Know,”)  I have considered it an experiment in thinking about the multiplicity of selfhood.  The “anonymity,” though it has been (and probably will still be) misunderstood in unfortunate ways by some, was mainly a device for freeing something(s) up in my own writing and thinking.

Today I added a final post to that blog, and will no longer post there.  If anything further develops, it will happen here or via some avenue of more “official” publication.  I don’t have an explanation right now for its “end,” in any sense of that word.

I do not expect you to read it unless for some reason you are truly interested.  The same caveat applies there which is given here:  Views expressed are not necessarily even my own, let alone those of any organization or group with which I am associated.