you know the routine...

That duplicity dogs the android is the puzzle around which La Mettrie’s Essay on Happiness winds itself, looking for an entrance, another metaphysician double crossed by metaphysics. As soon as they’ve dispensed with it and gotten down to hard reduction, the muses come back as curses, the slave emerges as a whole different zombie in the way La Mettrie and Hume set it up: the passions are unexpectedly discovered to be the masters, the body is one of those legendary slave ships where the slaves have taken over, and reason is demoted, begins its difficult career as an accompaniest, Kant’s transcendental caspar the friendly ghost, the x trailing a spectral glory behind the man machine as he goes merrily on his way to the mass grave and other more odorless triumphs. Still, even giving up the whole of the man machine to pleasure, folly’s great victory, doesn’t dispel the eeriness of pleasure itself, even if its climactic, the orgasm, is hidden within a literature of the obscene that adds another layer to the perplexing problem of feeling, which is another product of happiness triumphant, free from all the dodges now, the tooth fairy in the positional marketplace. And the problem of how the sage, by his clever engineering, managed to produce a theory that excluded sages, thus making a fool of himself forever after, sinks into a half remembered bed time story for dolts suffering the midlife crisis pangs.

Well, I’m going to make a leap, here, to William Burroughs. Burroughs because the man boldly tried to see the market economy in terms, primarily, of addiction, of which the secondary aspect is exchange. Which is in back of the routine, as he called them – not just riffs, but also the whole schtick of a life, doled out in the traps it makes for itself out of its rounds, its segments each being routines themselves.

The most famous of the routines is in Naked Lunch, and begins with a story from the infamous Doctor Benway:

“I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole to talk? His whole abdomen would move up and down you dig farting out the words. It was unlike anything I ever heard. "This ass talk had a sort of gut frequency. It hit you right down there like you gotta go. You know when the old colon gives you the elbow and it feels sorta cold inside, and you know all you have to do is turn loose? Well this talking hit you right down there, a bubbly, thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell. "This man worked for a carnival you dig, and to start with it was like a novelty ventriloquist act. Real funny, too, at first. He had a number he called 'The Better 'Ole' that was a scream, I tell you. I forget most of it but it was clever. Like, 'Oh I say, are you still down there, old thing?' "'Nah! I had to go relieve myself.' "After a while the ass started talking on its own. He would go in without anything prepared and his ass would ad-lib and toss the gags back at him every time.”

In time, the asshole and the man came to be enemies, and a tug of war ensued to see who would be master:

"Then it developed sort of teeth-like little raspy incurving hooks and started eating. He thought this was cute at first and built an act around it, but the asshole would eat its way through his pants and start talking on the street, shouting out it wanted equal rights. It would get drunk, too, and have crying jags nobody loved it and it wanted to be kissed same as any other mouth. Finally it talked all the time day and night, you could hear him for blocks screaming at it to shut up, and beating it with his fist, and sticking candles up it, but nothing did any good and the asshole said to him: 'It's you who will shut up in the end. Not me. Because we don't need you around here any more. I can talk and eat and shit.' "After that he began waking up in the morning with a transparent jelly like a tadpole's tail all over his mouth. This jelly was what the scientists call un-D.T., Undifferentiated Tissue, which can grow into any kind of flesh on the human body. He would tear it off his mouth and the pieces would stick to his hands like burning gasoline jelly…”

Burroughs called the pieces out of which he made Naked Lunch routines. and he’d write them in letters to his friends. Where did routine come from? It is a burlesque/vaudeville word. The OED’s first citation for it as a stage term is from 1926, but that seems pretty late. Searching around in Google Books, I came upon Brett Page’s 1915 Writing for Vaudeville. Page footnotes the term routine, as though his readers may not have heard of it:

Routine – the entire monologue; but more often used to suggest its arrangement and construction. A monologue with its gags and points arranged in a certain order is one routine; a different routine is used when the gags or points are arranged in a different order. Thus routine means arrangement. The word is also used to describe the arrangement of other stage offerings – for instance, a dance: the same steps arranged in a different order make a new “dance routine”.

Page’s suggestion for writing the gags foreshadows Burroughs’ cut up method:

“Have as many cards or slips of paper as you have points or gags. Write only one point or gag on one card or slip of paper. On the first card write “Introduction,” and always keep that card first in your hand. Then take up a card and read the point or gag on it as following the introduction, the second car as the second point or gag, and so on until you have arranged your monologue in an effective routine.”

“Then try another arrangement…”


Anonymous said…
LI, you probably know, there's a moment where the good doctor Charcot refers to la Mettrie, in the context of hysteria -- oh where there is the sage and the buffoon in our happy happy modern times, the hysteric is always a fun fun limit-test!
Charcot is into artificially reproducing hysterical scenes with his 'patients' through hypnosis, about which he says: c'est vraiment , dans toute sa simplicité, l'homme machine rêvé par de la Mettrie, que nous avons sous les yeux.

There's a lot to go through there! There's Burroughs' "routines", but I also think of Büchner who you mentioned in this thread, a student and practicionner of the science of medicine but also of the theatre, who wrote of automatons, of Medusa's Head...

And according to an old tradition Hypnose has a twin -- Thanatos.

roger said…
I didn't know that about Charcot, but I am not surprised. Your comments point to something I just haven't dealt with very well so far, which is the role of the woman's body in all of this. I tried, a while back, to talk about the 17 century Epicureans who saw materialism specifically as a way of breaking the stranglehold of male privilege - insofar as it made up the qualification for sagehood. La Mettrie's model body in orgasm is, I assume, female. And of course Caillois' praying mantis is the female looming as the bad dream in Don Juan's black heart.

All of which is a way of saying that the Epicurean materialists seemed to be, on the one hand, objecting to patriarchy per se - with its way of making the female sage into a sage-woman, and then - by a depressingly familiar sequence - into a witch or a whore - but on the other hand, just as you think La Mettrie or Danton is going to make the liberating leap, they lapse back into the most stereotypical sexual language. And the lapse is always registered as a distinct lowering of intelligence. There's a certain click, there. You see it in Nietzsche too, of course. A sort of amnesia - a forgetting of irony, a forgetting of the negation of the negation, a return to the stupid - overcomes them.