Let me just say that, as my 37th year speeds toward the platform and is due to arrive in a paltry seven days, I’m not crazy about this novel’s claim about the 35th year:
You begin to think, ‘Well, I more or less understand how things work. Do I really want to disassemble tens of thousands of semi accurate beliefs on the off chance that I might be able to bring one small receptor field into better focus?’ (111)
With a projected 50 years left, give or take a decade, that’s a long time to sit on my ass and give up the quest. Let the disassembly continue… Full Speed Ahead!
That said, let’s move on to pages 48-153 of the novel.
CHILDHOOD REALITY V. ADULT DELUSION
One would generally assume that children would have a stronger imagination than adults, the ability to create their own reality and imaginary friends, but that isn’t what is being said in this novel. As I mentioned in a previous post, “something between childhood and becoming an adult shifts the understanding of language, makes it less literal, less real.” I found this idea interesting when Powers described a book that permanently influenced him while he was still young (19). This same type of reference appears later, when Lentz and Hartrick dupe Powers about Imp C’s ability:
A babe in the woods would have seen through this… I myself would never have bitten, had I still been a child. Yet I’d believed. I’d wanted to. (123)
Powers can no longer see the real, but why? Perhaps, as our narrator describes, it is his adult desire to want to believe.
In childhood, facts are collected much like William and Peter Hartrick’s alphabet and international flags. Conceptual meaning hasn’t yet been assigned, as Hutcheon would point out. Unlike the boys, Powers associates everything with narrative rather than fact. When speaking about their mother, Diane, Powers says “I didn’t know the first thing about her” (136) but “I recognized this woman… from a book I read once as a novice adult” (137). This referential knowing is not real. It stems from a concept learned elsewhere during Powers’ early adulthood rather than from what actually stands in front of him in the moment.
Powers recognizes the impact of narrative on his thoughts and the ways in which those thoughts then shape his reality. “Here was the home I would never have. Shaped by a book, I’d made sure I wouldn’t. I’d forced my heart’s reading matter to come true” (138). To deny himself access to Diane or a home based on a particular book leads me to believe that, had he read another book (or no book), things might have turned out differently. Like ideology, the story has the power to order Powers’? houghts, but also to confine him within that story.
SUBJECT V. OBJECT
Confinement within the story becomes problematic for all the main characters in this novel. Diane, Lentz, C. and even Powers become splintered identities in terms of subject/object. As said above, Diane is a stereotype in Powers’ internal narrative. First she is scientist, then mother, then “she became a different woman” (136) after she put her children to bed and sat in her living room. None of these images allow access to the real Diane, for Powers or the reader. Lentz too is seen solely as mad scientist until Powers recognizes him as husband and father thanks to the calendar on the door. Still, he doesn’t know who Lenz truly is or why he’s such a sad, angry man. These characters are nothing more than objects seen through the one limited lens of the narrator.
Powers and C. are special cases in the subject/object dichotomy. Powers, when proofing his latest book, says:
My eleventh-hour triage demoralized me even more than the first writing. I felt a despair I had not felt while still the teller… What lost me, while listening to my own news account, was learning that I didn’t have the first idea who I was. Or of how I had gone so emptied. (117)
Is Powers really so emptied and lost within his own identity? The word “emptied” implies that Powers was once full. When he writes about himself as the subject, he is unaware that this identity crises exists because it doesn’t yet. It is when he no longer writes but reads, making the switch from subject to object, that he feels some sort of self identity loss. It is the mechanism of narrative that induces the loss, unable to capture the whole of who Powers is, even in his own attempt to portray himself.
Perhaps Powers has stopped disassembling his “tens of thousands of semi accurate beliefs” at 35, having learned little since his relationship’s end with C. Prior to this autobiographical fiction, Powers becomes the subject of C’s story and she becomes the object, driving the wedge of death into their relationship. Powers knows this to be true when C. says, “It’s your story… It makes me feel worthless” (108). He begins to question:
What did the finished thing mean? That book was no more than a structured pastiche … One that by accident ate her alive… She would never again listen to a word I wrote without suspicion. (108-109)
Even after living the consequence of setting the divisive dichotomy of subject/object in motion with C., Powers inflicts that same divide within himself and feels the power and pain from both sides.
Of course, objectification is okay when you’re Powers, the author of this novel, portraying the narrator as the author and narrator of his own novel. Only by making this move does narrative no longer mean objectification alone. Narrative, in this manner, becomes self-reflexivity, or has… self-reflexive Powers. (Insert “bad joke” groan here.)
PS: If C was with Powers in U., E., and B., who do you think A. is in her 22nd year? Son of [a] B!! I can’t seem to work it out yet but I sure do sound like a mathematician when I try.