The Floozman Discussion
by Bertrand Cayzac
part 1 of 3
Bouncing on Being
“Folk etymologies and silly puns in Joe Dasein’s quest: ‘I think nothing but country matters,’ says the French author.”
I confess I was carried away by my tentative response to a deep question raised by Gary Inbinder in Issue 648’s Critics’ Corner. Had it not been for this dire, folk-etymology derived joke I had to account for, I would have stuck to a few paragraphs. But like the apprentice’s sorcerer, I was overwhelmed by the powers lying dormant in the pun, and it’s only after several dense pages that I came back to my wits with a better insight into the rhizome of my own imagination.
* * *
Thank you so much for your critique in issue 648, Gary. I feel uplifted by the challenging questions it raises and all “warmfuzzied” by its laudatory lines.
Rabelais! It’s like being invited to the utopian Abbey of Thélème built by Gargantua! What’s the dress code? “Do what thou wilt” all right but, you know, there’ll be quite a nice crowd in there... I mean... young ladies, maybe... What if I look weird? I mean, just weird?
Anyway, in such a circumstance, I know I can call on the best spiritual direction in the world, one who is worth at least two, in the person of Mr. Yorick, a.k.a. Laurence Sterne. Sermon IX — inspired by Luke 14:10-11, “But thou, when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room...” — will not only remind me how viciously pride can steal in even as I write but will also give me a vertical plan to sort out all the confused ideas that have been spinning in my head since I first made an attempt at a response of my own to the core question:
Is Bertrand following the Existentialists in Joe’s metaphysical pilgrimage from Dasein (“being there”) to Being-Towards-Death and Existenz (Authenticity), culminating in a revelation of transcendent Being? Or is he mocking overreaching philosophers, in the tradition of Rabelais, Sterne, and Voltaire? In other words, is he having fun tweaking certain noses and pulling certain legs with a metaphysical-theological story?
First of all, “a response of my own” means exactly that: I’ll endeavor to answer for myself: “for what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught.” So step on the prank, Frank, and relax, I say to this self of mine — hoping it is solvent — and remember: “The person you chat with at a party and the person who writes a novel are not the same person,” as Marcel Proust puts it in his essay “Against St-Beuve.”
So, invited to respond and still heeding Luke, I take place in the lowest room of the discussion, not so far from the tavern that I can’t hear the loud laughter and the drinking songs. It looks very much like the inn below my interior Castle. Here I can indulge in all kind of crooked ways such as this stupid habit I have to spur my imagination with bad puns.
No, I can’t remember which of the two names came up first in weaving the space mortician narrative. Was it the coffin model “B4 Death” (Ch. 8), a reference to the Heideggerian notion of Being-for-Death? Or was it the patronym “Joe Dasein” we are considering here?
It seems to me that the former joke laboriously paved the way to the paramount merriment of the latter. Indeed, inventing “Joe Dasein” made me cry with laughter so that the salt of my tears crystalized the whole thing once and for all.
“And why is that?” will you ask. Ah, dear reader, the blame is on me, really: only the few who were exposed to French pop music during the 1970s can shiver in awe with the glory of JOE DASSIN the singer, the son of the American film director Jules Dassin — this being said to feed the “people sequence” of this piece. Still. No matter my quasi-idiosyncratic joke, Heidegger was thrown into this story in the first place — or was it death?
“Friend, go up higher.” Any minute now, the landlord will beckon me to come up and join the VIP banqueting lounge. No doubt he will show up at the balcony as soon as he is finished attending guests of higher rank.
Am I prepared to join the Convivio? As I fancy the editorial committee seated at the feast with the philosophers of all times, a young messenger is making his way through the crowd of peasants, headed to the thick wooden table at which I am having a beer. I can tell from his official attire that he doesn’t belong to the village.
“Please pardon me if I get straight to the point,” he says when we meet. “I’m afraid you do not have any license to talk about H.”
“I don’t, but I was invited to comment on my use of H.’s concepts.”
“You were not. Something went wrong with the Castle’s processes, and you received the wrong signal. However, according to the Mayor, you may stay and work as a local jester.”
Though confused by this fuzzy, wayward, Kafkaesque drift, I proceed to tell him my story. Here again, giving insight into the creation process may shed an oblique light on the author. Anyway, I resolve to depict myself as I am.
The question of death in versus away from the crib of humanity being one of the main nodes in the serial, Heidegger came to my mind as I wrote about Janatone returning on earth to meet her death.
Indeed, once expressed, this vision summoned the famous notion of being-toward-death, the meaning of which I left gleaming in a pleasant chiaroscuro for the time being. Besides, the full philosopher’s conceptual toolkit was not at hand, chiefly because the couple of blunted screwdrivers I have were left in my garage, but above all because the connection took place in the background, almost perfunctorily.
In short, I confess I just plugged a few Heidegger-head cables into Janatone’s death-bound story “for all purposes,” certainly in order to read smart critiques someday, critiques such as Gary’s, which makes a lot of sense, for sure, but a posteriori, as far as I am concerned as one of the nexus where the connections happen to take place.
Besides, our character is not acting up to his name. Those things happen in books: one may think of Dostoyevsky’s noble prince Mychkine, literally “little mouse.” Pragmatic, business-oriented, Joe is not the kind of guy to care about the being of beings or the essence of things which only unveils itself to... the Dasein or “the being that is here,” according to Heidegger. And Joe doesn’t seem to care about death either, whereas Waldenpond...
“Who? Who did you say?” the messenger asks, startling me. “Waldenpond? Like the pond of Walden, Massachusetts, in the woods where Henry David Thoreau spent two years, two months and two days in order to front only the essential facts of life and live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to quote only his introduction?”
“Uh... yes, that’s in his book all right: Walden.”
“And you’re gonna tell the Mayor this is just another bad play on words, aren’t you? That the pond in the woods has nothing to do with Heidegger’s clearing of the being!?”
“The clear... well, come to think of it... ’makes sense. The place where the being is disclosed...”
“Yeah. You didn’t mean it, uh?”
“No, not really. It all came into place by itself...”
|Stanley Cavell, “Night and Day: Heidegger and Thoreau,” Revue française d'études américaines 2002/1 (Nº 91), pp. 110-125|
“All by itself, for sure. Tell me, do you know Cavell? Stanley Cavell? Are you sure they won’t find his paper “Night and Day: Heidegger and Thoreau” if they search your place?”
“I’m a fiction; I don’t have any place. Of course, the text loaded itself into the immediate web as we were speaking, but I hadn’t heard of it beforehand, really.”
“Listen, I can help you in making your case. All of a sudden, as they cross the Rio Grande, Janatone and Joe experience that they are both being-towards-death, a dazzling revelation of the inconceivable possibility of impossibility of being. See? Therefore, convinced that their essence resides in their existence, it’s with the utmost sense of the latter that they will flee on a frantic love story shaped as a road movie. How about that?”
“Yes! Sounds great. Are we done now?”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2016 by Bertrand Cayzac