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Tag: Bartleby

Notes on “je me touché,” 4 essays by Jeremy Fernando

je me touché, Jeremy Fernando, 2017, Paradiso Editores, Delere Press, 77 pages.

Jeremy Fernando’s method of writing shows his acoustic, vibratory thinking, making connections, moving from one idea to another, enharmonic soundings, transported by his readings. In “je me touché” (it is i touch me – or, I me touch: I touch myself), he connects, in four essays, as cars interconnected on a train, Flann O’Brien’s short story “John Duffy’s Brother,” Melville’s “Bartleby,” the Occupy Movement, and, in an “Afterword,” sound, touch, and tune.

If Flann O’Brien’s Brother is a train, Melville’s Bartleby is a station, the last stop, the end of the line, no turnaround. Nothing to be done now but occupy that well-foreshadowed destination, where we hear night and day the whistle of a human train derailed, “the scream of the scrivener” (25). That scream is a kind of tinnitus. There is no actual sound. What we are hearing is a phantom noise in our imagination.

In the beginning was the word, and the word created community. In every beginning originating with a word, a commune is created, a habitat for the imagination. Community contains potential for sharing, for touching, without conflict, but with the possibility of divergence, which is risk, which becomes reading, a home, a place to dwell. And every household invites divergence, a library of dry goods.

Fernando begins “je me touché” with an immersion into Flann O’Brien’s short story “John Duffy’s Brother.” Following some strange inexplicable happening, Brother (unnamed, perhaps one of Beckett’s unnamable) believes himself to be a train. Children often play at being things – “Choo!Choo! Good and Plenty. Good and Plenty.” But Brother really is a train. What is a train? Following a linear path, tied to its tracks, a community of cars carrying sundry goods and people and animals, all properly ticketed or listed in a bill of lading, the train rolls, pulls, steams along, along the line, picking up speed, braking for curves, slowing on hills (“I think I can. I think I can”), forward to a destination, for every train has a purpose, clear and unmistakable. And part of its purpose it to run on time, less the socioeconomic demographics harmonizing the connecting stops becomes disrupted (45-48). We don’t care about the people on the bus any more than we care about the bus drivers. What we care about is the system, the fixed routes, the timetables, the robotic movement of time. We become the bus, the train. But the story is not about the train; it’s about our thinking we are the train, a secret few of us care to admit, less we be admitted. What happens when the drivers (today’s scriveners, writing a line along a predestined route) go on strike?

Our choices are limited. All authority lies in the tracks, and “it is only truly authority when ones does not have to use any force.” The system that runs on time requires no force but to enforce the schedule, which should require no force once set into motion. The individual who leaves the track, detours the bus route, goes on strike, does not necessarily wander far afield, but comes to rest, as does Melville’s Bartleby. Employed as a scrivener (a human copy machine), Bartleby inexplicably begins to “prefer not” to do any more copying, or have anything to do with the office or its community, yet he will not vacate the premises, for he prefers not to do that either. Bartleby’s boss, possibly the first humanist, works around him, but Bartleby eventually winds up in the Tombs, and we learn that he started out in the dead letter office. “Ah, Bartleby. Ah, Humanity,” the story ends.

We begin to see Fernando’s connections, how he unravels then weaves again the themes found in Brother, Bartleby, then the Occupy Movement, and lastly, in “Afterword,” into one wandering path. Along the way, we meet the likes of Zizek, Ronell, Kant, Otis Redding, Cervantes, Wall Street and its Bull (symbol, sculpture, art), reading as touching. “Prosopopoeia”: feeling, book, relation, touch. The word empathy is not used, but perhaps should be, as in to feel oneself is to grant oneself some altruistic version of how another might feel us. Henry Miller. In tune. Dash, the dash. Coming together. Risk. Love (“I love you,” 72-73). Laughter as music, as language.

Fernando’s layers upon layers of reading unfold, every word its history we must also remember, “keeping in mind” how others might have used it. And under the surface a stream, a river, runs undercover. Thus relation, within words: correspondence, interconnections, kin, intersections. Connecting Bartley with Occupy – occupy what? Nothing? The stairs? Bartleby occupies, to occupy already an occupation (“…why don’t they just apply themselves and get a job,” 37). Touch themselves? Now here: no where? To read is to touch oneself as another might touch, with permission.

This is not a pipe dream, but a book, hard copy.

(“Try this apple, Adam, very good”). Essay as fruit of the word.

Who reads when we read? Even reading something we ourselves have written, we wrote, yesterday or some time ago, we are not the same person reading as we were writing – we are not exactly that same person who sat at that very desk, now also changed, and wrote, for we have already a myriad of new experiences constantly adding to our connections.

I first read Melville’s “Bartleby: A Story of Wall Street” when, as a sophomore in high school, I was assigned Melville as my first term reading and research author assignment. I remember some of the other boys who got Hemingway, Steinbeck, Babbitt. I wasn’t all that happy to get Herman. But that attitude changed. Of course I loved Moby-Dick, but I tried to argue “Pierre; or, the Ambiguities,” written just after The Whale, the better work. Meanwhile, though he died before I was born, my paternal grandfather was an engineer on the Louisville Nashville Line. “So it goes.” Connections.

Ending Net Asset Value; or, Hook up, hat up, and let go: “Calling Dr. Bartleby!”

Atul Gawande is a Harvard trained surgeon who writes eloquent prose on health and illness. His New Yorker pieces “Letting Go” and “The Way We Age Now” are full of pathos, ethos, and logos on how and when to die decisions and the bedpan reality of growing old. If he continues his work combining writing, doctoring, and educating, he may some day be up for a Nobel Prize. Gary Becker is a Nobel Prize winning economist and professor at the University of Chicago who writes in his blog, The Becker-Posner Blog, pedestrian prose sometimes infected with either-or fallacies. He shares weekly blog posts with Federal Judge and University of Chicago Law School Professor Richard Posner.

What usually passes for health care in our current reasoning is health care insurance. Those with insurance believe they have health care; those without may think they have neither. And the health care debate is derailed with decisions before legislators that have to do not so much with health care but with health care insurance.

Last Sunday, Becker included in his post what appears to be an economist based claim that includes a formula for calculating the value of a year of life: “Presumably, frail elderly people tend to receive less utility from a year of their current life since their lack of health prevents them from greatly enjoying their leisure time and consumption of different goods. However, the utility cost of any time and money they might spend on prolonging their lives is also lower for them. The fundamental measure of the value of a life year is the ratio of the utility gained to this marginal utility spent on prolonging life. This ratio could even be higher for the old and frail than for healthy younger persons.”

We are becoming increasingly Spartan by the moment, for the reductio ad absurdum of Becker’s argument would have us carrying individuals of any age whose disabilities or frailties preclude utility or whose cost to live outweighs their ability to “enjoy their leisure time and consumption of different goods” out to the rocks to die, as did the Spartans.

“Welcome to the 23rd Century: The Perfect World of Total Pleasure,” heads the poster for the sci-fi film “Logan’s Run,” which depicts a dome-covered society that eliminates growing old problems by zapping all citizens when they turn the age of 30. The police, called Sandmen, hunt down and kill those who would run from their forced to die moment. Yet there’s a myth, an old story, of life beyond the dome, where people are allowed to grow old. The place where people are allowed to grow old is called Sanctuary.

But there appears to be no Sanctuary for our elderly these days, at least not provided for by Medicare, for there’s simply not enough money to go around, the Becker-Posner argument seems to go, and we should spend what money there is to go around on those able to enjoy life and consume goods. Perhaps enjoying life, in the worldview of the economist, is consuming goods. In any case, the argument has been boiled down to an either-or moment: either we let old people grow old and die sooner than they would with life prolonging health care (including the R&D necessary to develop that care), or we go broke.

But there are other solutions. Yet there is another problem with Becker’s formula: the value of an old person’s life is not necessarily limited to what that person can enjoy or consume; the lives of the elderly may have intrinsic value to others. But not, apparently, to young doctors, for Gawande points out the current dearth of young doctors going into gerontology. There’s a shortage, and there’s no short-term remedy to what will be an ongoing need for specialists to treat the elderly. Gawande’s solution is for every health care practitioner to be versed in basic elderly care issues.

But to be fair to Becker and Posner this week, they do focus on quality of life versus quantity of life and the avoidable invasions of quality by a system not guided by health care concerns but by health care insurance. And Atul Gawande does also question quality versus quantity. What separates Gawande’s argument from Becker-Posner’s is his value of human life expressed in human versus econometric terms. It’s one thing to force someone to die at the age of 30; but is it something else again to force, or even to encourage, that same person to live beyond what most of us, including our ancestors, would recognize as living? Ah, Bartleby! Ah, Doctor!

Related: An Object Lesson in Health and Happiness