Tossouts from The Color Purple

As I wrap up editing the follow-up volume to 2017’s La Vento, I wanted to preserve some of the quotes and lines and ideas that won’t make it into final cut.

Simon Reynolds, Shock & Awe

The impossible perfection of a Moment or an Image—it could be a lover, or the tableau of the in-crowd scene—that is the ever-receding quarry of the glamour chase.

Amanda Lear, I Am A Photograph

I am a glossy photograph… in colour and softly lit… You can look at me for hours; I won’t mind, I let you dream.

Annie Dillard, Encounters with Chinese Writers

As we drink, Wu holds my eyes… There is something extraordinary in his look… The man is taking my measure. He is measuring what I can only call my “spirit”—my “depths,” such as they are… There is nothing personal or flirtatious about it. He is going into my soul with calipers. He is entering my eyes as if they were a mineshaft; he is testing my spirit with a plumb line… I won’t lower my eyes. I let him look; I hide nothing… The deeper he goes, the more interested he gets, but, I stress, his is an analytical interest, and, I stress, he hits bottom. My depths are well within reach of his plumb line… I wish I were deeper, but there you are.

Her insistence, twice, in the full passage indicates that sexual is, in fact, the underlying logic of the exchange.

Otessa Moshfegh, An Honest Woman

Moshfegh, interview 2016: «The inspiration for writing “An Honest Woman” came when I met someone who was so physically unattractive I felt sorry for him, and so I kept mum and polite while he lamely attempted to seduce me. I never called attention to the fact that his motivations were transparent and that, by ignoring him, I was protecting his dignity.» She spots it too: “lecherous on his side, patronizing on mine.”

Elderly, vitiligous Jeb sets up a date between his attractive young neighbor (henceforth ‘Tag) and his nephew, with pre-drinks at his home. That he’s so friendly at first is part of the complex, the fear of a predator who’s become good at faking it, a practiced checkboxer of sentimentality, the essence below his image revealed as sociopath, or maybe just a garden-variety creep. He leverages social scripts in order to guilt her, knowing that self-deprecation begets rebuttal, knowing certain offers, on politeness, will not be refused. The pre-drinks get arranged when Jeb tells the girl she and his nephew don’t need an old man like him joining their date; she of course, contradicts him, gives him a ceremonial invite expecting him to refuse. “If you insist,” Jeb responds.

(What does the lecherous Jeb do, he who cannot make himself big being took weak in the knees. Makes himself small, pitiable, appear harmless, even cute.)

When Jeb’s nephew is held up by a storm, his uncle attempts to entertain ‘Tag on his own, making increasingly transparent advances. ‘Tag sips whiskey, fantasizes about getting back with Trevor, an ex-boyfriend (he shares the name of the ex-boyfriend Rest & Relaxation, perhaps a biographical nod, perhaps the building of a world.) She tells him “I see your game. You’re trying to shame me for being young and pretty. You want to make me apologize for all the other girls that didn’t like you. You just can’t stand that I’m right next door reminding you of all that.” Is this Moshfegh speaking? Only after Jeb asks ‘Tag to try on his (invented) ex-wife’s lingerie does she climb on top of him, straddling him, breasts raised in offering, before hopping off, walking out the front door.

Author (very much alive) herself seems not to know why her own character sticks around. The protagonist gestures vaguely to how she “should” leave, tells Jeb to get his “nasty paw” off her leg. She knows the nephew isn’t coming. “Still, the girl did not get up.” One answer, attention, is flippant but inevitably factors; no one is immune to demonstrated flattery. The problem is that cat-and-mouse is a common courtship game, so anything short of leaving is considered participation. (Who said, the only way to leave a culture war is to walk off the field.)

One way of understanding the story is as justification, a banishing of guilt. ‘Tag feels sorry for him. Were he genuine in his kindness, were he noble in his intents, the tragedy of his appearances and his loneliness would overwhelm unresolved. Only through an essence which match his external image can the world’s image-based injustices be waved away. This is part of the story, but cannot be all of it.

Another part: Jeb’s nephew asks if ‘Tag has kids. “Functional issues, more like,” Jeb answers. “Stray cats, all of them, either purring in your lap or pissing on your shoe.”

Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

If there’s ever a problem, I film it and it’s no longer a problem. It’s a film.

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