Wednesday, April 27, 2022

on the Adam's Apple

 Although the “body” long ago became an intangible asset of academic study, certain body parts lag behind in the race for recognition Who, for instance, has written a definitive study of the Adam’s Apple? I went to Ebsco, naturally, for the latest gender scholarship, but was disappointed. Aside from an article in something called Pastoral Psychology, the Adam’s apple article that was the longest was, actually, about the apple in Eden that was depicted in Jan van Eyck’s painting of Adam and Eve.

Thomas Browne, in the Seventh book of Pseudodoxia epidemica, devotes a chapter to the inquiry into what fruit, exactly, hung from the tree of good and evil. He goes through the responses of scholars, and even inquires into why, in the Bible, sometime a detail is given, sometimes it is withdrawn – an inquiry pursued in different texts some four hundred years later by Roland Barthes. However, Browne is not a disturber of the critical peace, but bids us be content with outlines and the general moral : “Since thereafter after this fruit curiosity fruitlessely enquireth, and confidence blindly determineth, we shall surcease our Inquisition, rather troubled that it was tasted, then troubling our sevles in its decision; this only we observe, when things are left uncertain men will assure them by determination; which is not only verified concerning the fruit, but the Serpent that perswaded…”
This indetermination of the fruit is curiously suited to the Adam’s apple, in my memory. I don’t hear in memory’s ear my childish piping – at thirteen, I vaguely remember, the voice broke. An excellent word, broke. There are boys whose voices break and heal with amazing swiftness, so that the lower pitch is suddenly coming out of their mouths like it was always at home there. In my memory, one of the characteristic of bullies is that the deep voice comes naturally. Characteristic of victims is that the voice gets caught in the break, and chirps away, as though in a trap, in every sentence. Myself, I was in the middle range – my voice, a sort of whiny, nasal thing with Southern hints, grew in my mouth until it was what I called my voice. It should be noted, the idea of my voice, of one’s voice, is laughable – the voice is a family tree, a sponge that takes in geographical region, class subgroup, etc. The voice of the freak, for instance, in highschool in Atlanta in the seventies was a high school phenomenon – it was the very voice of reefer. These voices were, of course, owned, but as pets are owned – they are never thoroughly owned, always in a deep part of themselves wild.

The voice and the Adam’s apple are somehow paired in my mind. There were certain boys who, from the seventh grade on, had large Adam’s apples. And then there was the jock’s throat, which seemed to be a pure slab, a cut of meat.

Although mucho attention is paid to puberty’s netherworkers, the genitals, little is paid to the thyroid cartilage. It appears, to quote a dictionary of sexual differences, “as a secondary male sex characteristic … at puberty when the male larynx enlarges and the male voice cracks just about the time that penis development ends.” The coincidence of Adam’s apple, the voice cracking, and the “end of development” of that marvelous app and lifelong companion, the dick, is quite the whammy. As well, of course, hair starts appearing on the lower face, and you have to learn to shave with that Adam’s apple making for a slalom that you have to navigate with your razor.
It all, I remember, vaguely offended me. I was ready for adulthood at 13, but certainly not adolescence. Although I am reconciled with facial hair and my increasingly gravelly voice, and have no complaints about the marvelous app, the Adam’s apple still slightly perturbs me. In photographs, I try to slightly lower my chin and thus diminish the Adam’s apple’s place. It is, of course, going to accompany me to the end, so one would think that egotism would do its bit and blur my image of it so it doesn’t bug me, but the self imago drags it along. Georges Bataille wrote of the big toe, and its uncomfortable ugliness – which I interpret as a hesitation on his part, as the Adam’s apple would be much more on the inhuman/human spectrum. But it is true that the Adam’s apple has, to my knowledge, no fetishism attached to it. It has, at most, what Bataille called a “valeur burlesque”. However, I would have to insist, contra Bataille, that the Adam’s Apple is certainly “base”, that is, the opposite of the sublime or the high. The body, as one learns at thirteen, is not so easily interpreted by old categories, by the feet and the head, by the old symbols, as one was taught.

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Face at the window


I was reading to Adam from our Sherlock Holmes book a couple of nights ago. Adam is at an age that he still allows, and even likes, his Dad to read to him, and I am, of course, a ham actor from forever, so I love trying on accents and the whole dramatic reading shtick. The vaudeville in my soul gets little chance to act out, so I take it when it comes.

We were reading “The Creeping Man.” Adam didn’t see what was so scary about a creeping man, so I had him turn off the lights and I crept on my belly on the floor. He admitted that it could be the slightest bit scary. Then we read about the man looking in the window at his daughter in the middle of the night. Again, Adam objected to this as objectively non-scary. I was tempted to go outside to demonstrate this, but I didn’t. However, we did talk about the “face at the window”.

When I was around nine or ten, I slept in a room in the downstairs of our house on Nielson Court in Clarkston, Georgia. It could get very dark in the downstairs. One of my nightly duties – or perhaps it was simply the habit of the nervous boy I was – was to make sure the back door was locked. I always forgot to check on the back door until I was in my pyjamas and the lights were all turned off. I slept in the same bedroom as my brothers, and so I couldn’t just turn on a light, so I had to creep out of the bedroom, through the rec room to the door and check the lock. Looking back, I can of course see the neurosis in this routine – the forgetting of the task, the turning out the lights, the going to bed, the remembering and the creeping out to do it. Looking back, I think I needed, for one reason or another, to play a game in which I scared myself. At the time, though, my real dread was that there would be a face staring at me through the window on the door.

The image of the face at the window is related, on the one side, to the face behind a mask, and on the other side, to the face as pure, malevolent other. There’s a wonderful scene in The Turn of the Screw which, in a sense, sums up the whole scare of the plot. The governess had been going to church with the old nursemaid, Mrs. Grose, and had gone back inside the house to get something, when she saw a man’s face at the window, staring at her. She of course rushes out and tries to find the man.

“There were shrubberies and big trees, but I remember the clear assurance I felt that none of them concealed him. He was there or was not there: not there if I didn’t see him. I got hold of this; then, instinctively, instead of returning as I had come, went to the window. It was confusedly present to me that I ought to place myself where he had stood. I did so; I applied my face to the pane and looked, as he had looked, into the room. As if, at this moment, to show me exactly what his range had been, Mrs. Grose, as I had done for himself just before, came in from the hall. With this I had the full image of a repetition of what had already occurred. She saw me as I had seen my own visitant; she pulled up short as I had done; I gave her something of the shock that I had received. She turned white, and this made me ask myself if I had blanched as much. She stared, in short, and retreated on just my lines, and I knew she had then passed out and come round to me and that I should presently meet her. I remained where I was, and while I waited I thought of more things than one. But there’s only one I take space to mention. I wondered why she should be scared.”


The game of staring through the window – or the way it becomes a game when the governess imitates the man – is a pretty wonderful circuit, something that Lacan should have written about – although God knows, given the infinite number of Seminaires, maybe he did. Between the scariness of the face staring in and the Governess intentionally standing at the place of the man and staring in, something happens – a sort of exorcism that opens the world of the Governess to the possibility of exorcisms.

I didn’t think in this way when I was a brat, creeping out to check the door was locked and trying to avoid seeing the window in the door. But surely the routine of the face at the window had me in its spell. It was intersubjectively scary.

But Adam is nine, and perhaps he doesn’t want his Dad to go on about “intersubjectivity”. I save this for posting on facebook.


olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...