hobart logo

August 11, 2015 Nonfiction

Second Tractatus

John M. Ganiard

Second Tractatus photo

On our way to Denver, Peter got us into an accident after we were diverted from the interstate by a roadblock for a bad accident. After defeating Boris Spassky in Reykjavik for the World Chess Championship in 1972, Bobby Fischer immediately has his driver take him into the countryside. The body as a series of facts cannot be redacted, if the body can even be said to be a series of facts. The driver stops at the foot of a hill and Fischer gets out of the car. Harry Benson takes a photograph of Fischer, sitting down, midway up an incline. Fischer’s face holds an unmistakable expression of euphoria, the exhaustion of human triumph. Contra the body, the personality of the body can be redacted. Almost unbelievably, two wild ponies nuzzle Fischer, seem to forgive him, it is not widely understood then that Fischer is in many ways a towering example of the impenetrable privilege afforded the troubled solitudinarian male genius. The concern, the question, is which parts are our ghost parts. The human personality is a list, written or spoken, unwritten or unspoken, and lists can always be redacted. Peter had taken the service road for awhile and then turned on to what he thought was the on-ramp. When a list is redacted the redacted list becomes a new list. This new roadway was just a frontage road for a ranch. The idea of persona arising from or over and above personality, the idea of persona as a solution or a way to escape or assert or escape and assert personality, to hold agency, the idea of the persona as both a ghostlike and real face is simply another list from a list redacted. Peter began rapidly accelerating. A ghost is said to appear to hold its shape but be weightless and untouchable, to come upon a person as both obvious and unverifiable. I saw a sign that said “Dead End” but I couldn’t get a warning out of my mouth. An entreaty to speak on the true self after several hours spent reading out loud, recording, and then listening to the intrusive, emotionally crippling, often automatically undergone obsessional thought patterns one is at once indebted to and horrified by is sometimes called Massed Imaginal Exposure by practicing clinical psychologists. The road gave way to ice and no road. Peter said “shit.” We hit a low snow bank which slowed us down, then hit a small utility box in front of a telephone pole and I felt only embarrassment, looked at although no one was looking. There is a phenomenon in moments of intense focus where the present takes on the clarity of a nightmare you will later forget and the past is a twinge like a child’s crude and friendly drawing of a ghost. Fischer feels content as he stands to wipe his pant legs of the stray grass. Searching for a true self is like looking for the ghosts of the still living, too much rumination begins to resemble a paranormal othering. Peter was wearing a tricorner hat as a joke. Go into the dark house and demand the apparition we all half believe. The airbags didn’t deploy. Sensitivity, in this way, is an illusion we are very early on conditioned into believing is real. The airbags had been disabled. The police officer who found us unhurt said that every year people careen off into the ditch we did not quite careen off into. We ask what it was early prose was awake with, so are we also asking what it is we are asleep with now?

(Because for the most part senior year English class was simply our teacher going on wildly for long stretches of time and not about Dante or his companion Virgil but just about the kinds of sufferings the fallen were experiencing at each particular stage and didn’t we think they were apt punishments not just symbolically but in light of the present moment, didn’t it starkly reify the painful potential of sin? When he’d show us movies I’d just repeat “the specter of death, the specter of death, the specter of death” over and over again to myself, trying not to nap during the clear instances of apotheosis in Cool Hand Luke or Being There, when right after the last scene, after Peter Sellers, playing a shut-in, developmentally stunted gardener, leaves a funeral and proceeds to walk right across a small lake, our teacher paused it with the credits about to roll and stood in front of the set, stood in front of us, maybe, in the dead center of the classroom, because the classroom was in the round, with all of us damp in that late-afternoon way because it was May and humid and the school was in part funded by the parish, and he said  “would you accept Jesus Christ into your heart truly and honestly if he came back and he was a retarded person? This is what we have been driving to, this is what we have been driving to all class is the struggle of this message: would you accept Jesus Christ into your heart, even if he were mentally retarded?” I wanted to cry. I was crying a lot, almost recreationally at the time, dutifully going through with it, taking breaks to do it in the stalls after witnessing some fucked up proposition take place between underclassmen, anything, and it would all really get me turned on that I was so overwhelmed by anything, not a serious arousal, just the kind of pleasure one already gets from crying, a need bleeding into a need, even if the need frightened me, because why experience something which—albeit uncomfortable—had really nothing to do with me as if it deeply and critically involved me? Why be selfish, why be a locus when the one true locus was nailed to all the walls, so to speak? Why this and not my peer’s interest in accessing substances or sexual partners? After all, maybe our English teacher was Jesus Christ and just could not get around to figuring it out for himself, meaning my shame of him was a shame of the Lord. Maybe some huge anomalous spiritual glitch had occurred with regard to how these things are supposed to go such that Jesus did come back as a tall bearded man very tripped up in speculative theology. I had every opportunity to twist the crying into something worse, for instance when the school would hold the sacrament of reconciliation on the gym floor with a smattering of priests seated next to empty metal fold out chairs in the near-darkness, candles on music stands, and usher in the successive classes to sit on the bleachers and contemplate the body before choosing a vessel of forgiveness I could have done lots of self-serving and deeply therapeutic crying. Instead, I sat at the top row with the evangelist kid and sort of glazed over, trying to trace the meaning in the bowed heads nodding as the cross signed over them, trying to see the transgressions entailed by all human gesture.)          

The tow truck was designed for larger vehicles and came at dawn. Peter and I tried to make small talk with the driver about the mountains. I said they looked static and unreal and after awhile he replied “sure.” He mentioned he was almost out of gas and would need to stop and then disappeared inside a Flying J for twenty minutes while Peter and I sat in the truck’s cab saying nothing to each other.  The world where respect is reciprocated, the ideal and strived-for world of equity toward all others, is and will always be routinely belied by our casual everyday disparagement of friends and complete strangers to other friends and other complete strangers. I imagine this is how sweet and clear life isn’t for others but, what can I say, I grew up here. There is a stench to this world that predates the body, predates rot. Did it begin with the dust rising in the low winds over the cracked metaloid valleys of the adolescent planet’s sole continent, the pools of standing fluid bubbling audibly in a middle-distance? It had all that time to think about it. Dominus meaning near literally “lord of the house,” Domine, the vocative case, addressing “Lord (later, God),” domus meaning “house.” Language always impolitic. I guess at most I have tried to stay out of this, but to stand back now is the trick of the denominator.  The garage called our second morning in Denver and told Peter the car was effectively totaled and he yelled. Intense emotive experiences exhibited by males in the stages of extended adolescence take on the air of ego performance. Someone you are staying with lends you a red Japanese crossover. You have sushi and buy scalped tickets to an NBA game. Later there was a party at the house where Peter and I were staying and toward the morning several men, including Peter, huddled close to the door of a bedroom where two other people were loudly fucking. All the men outside of the door were, well, they were giggling. It occurs to me that the history of touch cannot be redacted beyond being removed from the historical record or lost to cognitive distortion. I’m trying to remember cocaine. To ask if those were human faces is how I will miss the point.  You look for Allen Iverson during the pregame warm-ups. You think maybe he is injured, then remember that Allen Iverson sometimes does not and should not need to attend warm-ups. I was standing on the other side of the couch. When I try to think of my expression all I can picture is a bad ghost or the foaming, vestigial flesh of a whale lapping along the surf like a sign of no coming forgiveness, like tens of thousands of walrus forced to beach. Bobby Fischer dies a racist with an alien’s passport, having found asylum in Iceland. His last words are “nothing is as healing as the human touch.”  It is probably beneficial to believe in the spirituality of animals because then when a dog licks you or the pony nuzzles you it is actually like a god or the god is licking you or nuzzling you. For whatever reason it unsettles me—our failure to secure a logic underpinning the persistence of any object through time, that there weren’t any animals at that house Peter took me to in Denver. Most saliva is mildly antiseptic, they say. Wash it all over my face.


image: Harry Benson