When people are incapable of listening, when they are stone(d) deaf or blind to each other, the resulting condition may seem comic if the observer has the requisite distance, which observers in these circumstances seldom do. Comic dramatic writing depends, at least in part, on misunderstandings, mishearings...
When people are incapable of listening, when they are stone(d) deaf or blind to each other, the resulting condition may seem comic if the observer has the requisite distance, which observers in these circumstances seldom do. Comic dramatic writing depends, at least in part, on misunderstandings, mishearings, misinterpretations, misplacement, comic self-centeredness, and a daily diet of broken-off conversations. All this can be funny to watch and to listen to. But then, very quickly, it modulates into the peculiar hellish isolation of the person who faces a blank wall, in the form of a non listener, or a compulsive interruptor.
There should be a wise discussion somewhere of the non discourse of modern narcissism. We all know the type who generates it: after all, who has not heard hours and hours and hours of self-conversation by virtuosi of the boarded-up self? Such people are almost incapable of conversation except when priming their own pumps. In perpetual therapy administered to themselves by themselves, they must be roused to conversation by a question about their biographies, like opera singers waiting for their cue. Once incited, their arias have commenced and cannot be stopped until the curtain falls. There are no questions directed at the listener, no inquiries about subjects of common interest, no curiosity about larger subjects, no real diversions, no points of interest out there. Certainly there can be no conversational back-and-forth. How could there be? There are only statements, followed by other statements, leading eventually to over statements, when the listener eventually tires, flags, sighs, grows tried of saying, “You’re right,” and turns away.
The word “distraction” has some etymological relation to “madness.” But distraction, the mental state in which information cannot be separated from noise, is hardly the same mechanism as psychic deafness and referential denial. Deafness and denial manifest themselves when we can’t stand to absorb what...
The word “distraction” has some etymological relation to “madness.” But distraction, the mental state in which information cannot be separated from noise, is hardly the same mechanism as psychic deafness and referential denial. Deafness and denial manifest themselves when we can’t stand to absorb what’s being said. Narcissism and egomania and psychic vulnerability are the three great pillars of the Tower of Voluntary Deafness. They are the silent markers of subtexts in all dialogue; contemporary dialogue is marked by all three of them, and they are the signs, in good writing, of what Gertrude Stein once called the excitement of our contemporaneousness. If you’re a good writer, these days, you pay attention to the way that people don’t pay attention.
A woman who once said to me, “I’m not listening to you. I just turned off my hearing aid,” had no hearing aid and was using a current expression of that particular year. The following year, the new expression was, “Talk to the hand.” But even here, the energy of denial has to be separated from the cooler, glassier shield that narcissism erects to guard against the pain of others.
These days, the best and most artful dialogue is marked by the inattentiveness of its characters.
In second-and third-stage narcissism, nothing gets through that does not directly address oneself, but the self can only be addressed in certain ways—through corrosive wit, for example, an endless deflection, by means of a distracting style, of a genuine subject. The true narcissist, it seems to me, feels the pain of a perpetual wound. The wound is both peripheral and somehow central. This pain makes him or her distractable. But the wound, having no clear definition, is largely indescribable. Yet it seems to demand description, even though words are inadequate to it. (In some versions of the myth of Narcissus, Narcissus’s scream is soundless.) Most of the narcissist’s conversations therefore have a lengthy, free-floating, and often witty complaint built into them. One of the only forms of conversation that flames the true narcissist into attentiveness has to do with reparations. The narcissist is always waiting, in one stance or another, for the world to offer its apologies. If there are no apologies, then admiration will do.
Self-dramatizers know that people are looking at them, but what they’re not good at is paying attention to others. They command your attention by speechifying and turning spotlights in their direction, but they rarely listen carefully; they’ve lost the gift for it. Their actions are densely rhetorical, done to practiced turns. Having lost a sense of what the other person is saying, they often don’t know what world they inhabit, which is why their emotions can explode unpredictably—this is what happens again and again to all four of the Tyrones. People like this are great characters to write about as long as the story or other characters notice how stagy they are.
Staging in fiction involves putting characters in specific strategic positions in the scene so that some unvoiced nuance is revealed. Staging may include how close or how far away the characters are from each other, what their particular gestures and facial expressions might be at moments of dramatic...
Staging in fiction involves putting characters in specific strategic positions in the scene so that some unvoiced nuance is revealed. Staging may include how close or how far away the characters are from each other, what their particular gestures and facial expressions might be at moments of dramatic emphasis, exactly how their words are said, and what props appear inside or outside. Excessive detailing is its signpost. Certainly it involves the writer in the stage craft of her characters just as a director would, blocking out the movement of the actors. Staging might be called the micro-detailing implicit in scene-writing when the scene’s drama intensifies and takes flight out of the literal into the unspoken. It shows us how the characters are behaving, and it shows us what they cannot say through the manner in which they say what they can say. Staging gives us a glimpse of their inner lives, what is in their hearts, just as Esteban Werfell’s study leads us also to his soul. Staging, you might argue, is the poetry of action and setting when it evokes the otherwise unstated.
For years I was puzzled by the phenomena of airport/ airplane reading. The spectacle of people reading before and during flights wasn’t especially perplexing, but what always baffled me was the narrowness of the selections. Walk down the aisle of almost any airplane and you are likely to see passengers hunched up, bent over, the men reading Tom Clancy novels and the women reading Danielle Steel novels. I am exaggerating here, but not to a criminal degree.
The techno-political thriller and the romance novel are similar in their preoccupation with procedural issues related to material objects. But they aren’t “staged” in the way I am using that word because they have virtually no interest in using dramatic means to reveal character and the inner life. Instead, they provide materially overdetermined hypernarratives that aim to reduce the scale of human beings in relation to the things that surround them.
In a Tom Clancy novel, we are presented with details of military hardware, hierarchies of power, both military and civilian, and a loose cannon to set the plot into motion. The loose cannon is always required to destabilize things-as-they-are. In any particular scene the writing locates the characters quickly, but then characterizes the hardware at length. In these novels human beings can be summarized with almost embarrassing ease. They have roles to play, which they perform well or badly. (Conveniently, however, they have no souls.) The hardware, by contrast, is unimaginably complex and requires considerable writerly hubbub. In fact the hardware takes on the sex appeal that the characters typically lack. The only element left in doubt is the outcome of the plot, not the vagaries of human nature. The characteristic resolution to a novel of this type is a return to the status quo, with the addition of a new regulatory agency.
Similarly, in a romance novel the exotic location and the details of material wealth eventually lead the reader to an understanding of who is profitably to be paired off with whom. The imaginative energy devoted to hardware in the techno-political thriller is applied here to clothing, sex appeal, accessories, the sovereignty of riches, location (the more exotic the better), physical attributes, and lifestyle choices. In a romance novel a disturbance to social hierarchies may be settled through marriage or a cunning liaison. Men once thought to be mysterious and dangerous can be understood and tamed through sex, domestic affection, and familial ties. The characteristic resolution to this sort of novel is a marriage and the displacement of a threatening female figure to the distant background, usually a cemetery.
Both kinds of novels are fully explicit about human nature, which, though more complex in the romance novel than in the techno-political thriller, must be revealed by the novel’s end. Things are celebrated and given an aura. The aura around a thing is a good sign of commodity culture busily at work. Both genres are absolutely opposed to ongoing mystery and to the unknowable. Everything that needs to be said can and will be said. As a result, these books leave very little to the imagination to reconstruct. And both kinds of novels indulge in material overstatement—a knowingness about objects thought to be valuable, along with a fascination with technique, the exact way to do something properly—making love, mixing a martini, or firing off a torpedo.
The techno-political thriller and the romance novel serve as antidotes to the imagination rather than stimulants to it. For this reason they make for ideal reading in airports and airplanes. They effectively shut down the imagination by doing all its work for it. They leave the spirit or the soul—and ambiguity, for that matter—out of the equation. By shutting down the imagination, genre novels perform a useful service to the anxious air traveler by reducing his or her ability to speculate.
A Universal Autism
The repression of practice and the antidialectical false consciousness that results from that repression are imposed at every moment of everyday life subjected to the spectacle—a subjection that systematically destroys the “faculty of encounter” and replaces it with a social hallucination: a false consciousness...
The repression of practice and the antidialectical false consciousness that results from that repression are imposed at every moment of everyday life subjected to the spectacle—a subjection that systematically destroys the “faculty of encounter” and replaces it with a social hallucination: a false consciousness of encounter, an “illusion of encounter.” In a society where no one can any longer be recognized by others, each individual becomes incapable of recognizing his own reality. Ideology is at home; separation has built its own world.
……Imprisoned in a flattened universe bounded by the screen of the spectacle that has enthralled him, the spectator knows no one but the fictitious speakers who subject him to a one-way monologue about their commodities and the politics of their commodities. The spectacle as a whole serves as his looking glass. What he sees there are dramatizations of illusory escapes from a universal autism.
The spectacle obliterates the boundaries between self and world by crushing the self besieged by the presence-absence of the world. It also obliterates the boundaries between true and false by repressing all directly lived truth beneath the real presence of the falsehood maintained by the organization of appearances. Individuals who passively accept their subjection to an alien everyday reality are thus driven toward a madness that reacts to this fate by resorting to illusory magical techniques. The essence of this pseudoresponse to an unanswerable communication is the acceptance and consumption of commodities. The consumer’s compulsion to imitate is a truly infantile need, conditioned by all the aspects of his fundamental dispossession. As Gabel puts it in describing a quite different level of pathology, “the abnormal need for representation compensates for an agonizing feeling of being at the margin of existence.”
The depoliticization of the private sphere in late-Socialist societies is 'compulsive', marked by the fundamental prohibition of free political discussion; for that reason, such depoliticization always functions as the evasion of what is truly at stake. This accounts for the most immediately striking...
The depoliticization of the private sphere in late-Socialist societies is 'compulsive', marked by the fundamental prohibition of free political discussion; for that reason, such depoliticization always functions as the evasion of what is truly at stake. This accounts for the most immediately striking feature of Kundera's novels: the depolitical private sphere in no way functions as the free domain of innocent pleasures; there is always something damp, claustrophobic, inauthentic, even desperate, in the characters' striving for sexual and other pleasures.