Helmers, James, and trying to understand Paranoia

I did my “make up class” post on James’ The Beast in the Jungle and related it back to the Halberstam reading. For this post, I want to focus more on fleshing out the Matthew Helmers reading. This essay was definitely more difficult than the last one. I was able to understand the first part of the reading as I have read some of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s work before. I think there are a few places in the text that point to the possibility that Marcher is homosexual, for example, when Marcher tells Bartram that she helps him “pass for a man like another” (James 51). He also realizes his potential deeper feeling for Bartram after witnessing strong feeling coming from another male (James 69). On the other had, I am really more interested in May Bartram. I can’t help but wonder if she is actually satisfied in her arrangement with Marcher. Her satisfaction can be supported by the fact that she never wants any payment from him, but simply asks for him to continue “going on as you are” (James 51). Maybe she doesn’t want to marry, and is content living an independent life. If Bartram acts as a sort of surrogate heterosexual partner for Marcher to pass as “normal,” I don’t see why she can’t be using him for the same reason. As Bartram says, “If you’ve had your woman I’ve had,’ she said, ‘my man’” (James 50). Of course, this is just one possible theory, and it could very well be that I am still just being influenced by my Willa Cather class. One of the questions that I had in my last post was why Marcher is so interested in payment. I think that the Helmers reading and our discussion in class have helped me understand this a little better. Helmers writes that “paranoia enjoined us to look at time and see a system that applies to knowledge as well, to look at knowledge and see a system that applies to desire, and to look at desire and see the same system that applies to sexuality and, through syllogism, to reduce all of these elements into a well-understood structural unity: the tessellated pattern of Western culture […]” (Helmers 114). If I am understanding this right, Marcher begins to think of Western culture as the only correct form of knowledge, despite “his struggles to exist within [this] system” (Helmers 115). A point in the text where I think James points out the failure of this system is when Marcher doesn’t understand why, despite their close relationship, he had such “few rights, as they were called in such cases, that he had to put forward, and how odd it might even seem that their intimacy shouldn’t have given him more of them […] He was in short from this moment face to face with the fact that he was to profit extraordinarily little by the interest May Bartram had taken in him” (James 64). In this quote Marcher seems to be wondering how such a deep relationship could be considered lesser by society solely because they were not, for example, legally documented as married. This could be James’ way of questioning capitalism/ Western culture and values, or strong theory. To end this post, I admittedly struggled with the idea of paranoia, so I hope I articulated myself well enough. I am sure as the term continues I will gain a better understanding of this reading.

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1 thought on “Helmers, James, and trying to understand Paranoia”

  1. Stephanie,
    I agree that Bartram could be using Marcher as a means to make her own life less “queer” as she could prefer a more independent life. I also think Marcher’s interest in payment is strange, especially as it seems to boil his relationship with Bartram down to a simple capitalistic exchange. I would argue that Bartram’s insistence that he continues to go an as he is complicates that capitalistic exchange, as there isn’t actually an exchange, and Bartram never does receive any payment in return. This is further evidenced in the following sentence which reads: “It was into this going on as he was that they relapsed” (51). What this passage demonstrates is Marcher’s inquiry into repayment as a way of moving forward, and then Bartram’s refusal to take any payment as a way of “relapsing,” or being unable to move forward in this transaction, or in the relationship that the two are developing. I think this would help your argument about how Marcher struggles to exist within the Western system of culture, and would further show that Bartram has the same sort of struggle. Following that line of thought, I think it’s important to note that neither one of them seems to profit from the investment they are making in each other, Bartram because she refuses to take any sort of repayment (or is maybe waiting for Marcher to realize what the repayment actually needs to be), and Marcher because, as you pointed out, doesn’t profit in any way from Bartram’s death. It’s strange that Marcher feels that his intimacy with Bartram should have been acknowledged by monetary gain after her death. What confuses me is whether Marcher is more upset about the fact that he didn’t gain anything from her death or if he just wanted their intimacy to be broadcasted to the world through his inheritance of her worldly possessions.

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