Berlant

How I felt when looking back at Berlant’s excerpt may end up saying more about me than the work itself but I honestly came to feel that the work was inhospitable and in the end lacked effort. That isn’t the right way to say it and maybe a version better told would include the discussion we had in class about the Reebok scene in Time Out. Julien didn’t care if the shoe was authentic or inauthentic and Berlant’s writing style had the same effect on me. The words were more false and academic than they were resounding, the flow was dictated by its ends, and, in truth, I was indifferent.

There’s a remarkable moment in Time Out when Vincent, towards the end of the movie and its long stretched denouement, asks Julien, “Was I too absent?” I had forgotten about it until I searched through my notes to find something worth writing about and found it circled. It stood out like a problem and I realized that this is how I feel about Beast in the Jungle and about writing as a whole, that there is more truth and an amplified friction in entertainment when the cause or its meaning is separate. Someone sitting behind me in class brought up the idea that Vincent used lying as a commodity in both social and emotion capital. That thought then looped into the possibility that Vincent’s internal narrative made space a commodity as well. Working around the emptiness in his exchange value allowed him to amplify his own self-worth. Much of my point is to do with the way we manufacture suspense in conflict with a conclusion. My favorite quote of Berlant’s was on page 195 when she writes, “When a situation unfolds, people try to maintain themselves in it until they figure out how to adjust.”

Vincent in the line I quoted was finally hostile to himself. His sorrow with Muriel on the couch, as Bryan said, seemed artificial. His prognosis in his question to Julien is not the one I expected at the time. The typical I’m sorry didn’t matriculate into the cinematography with some background consisting of a framed family photo or a change in scenery, nothing vague was triumphantly fathomed. Instead it was only Vincent admitting what he felt all along. This is often the time we find ourselves in when witnessing the foreground and background to a “situation” unfolding that Berlant meanders about. The end of resolution is of little concern and lacks merit even in things as immediate as the results of sports and even of voting. What we are interested in is the imbalance and absence of result.

Calexrose in the take on intimacy in our blog postings wrote, “What the beasts actually are is less important than the process of John’s life” and that is an opinion I take to heart. I would extend it to prose, life, and experience in general. The process isn’t another place asking for words but instead is the flow and absence of experience it comes to determine. Some beast will probably in the end be rounded up at the end of our reasons or choices but it will never hold water in active experience. Words can even feel like that in general, as some in class have pointed out. The economy and exclusion of words might take more picking and effort and the destabilization of flow to meet an end. Berlant’s writing is style is elliptical like James, but doesn’t have the story to make up for it. The academia often has this flaw in general. I’ve read journals of people I greatly admire and find their words – when built to meet an exclusive, insular demographic – as mired in prolix and maintaining an incomprehensibility of, and possibly an accidentally artistic, tension in what they write. Larsen was betrothed with uplift, James with case study, and Vincent with expectation. I wonder what Berlant found herself dwelling over while she met her quota and her ends.

The “Beast” in The Beast in the Jungle

“The real form it should have taken on the basis that stood out large was the form of their marrying. But the devil in this was that the very basis itself put marrying out of the question. His conviction, his apprehension, his obsession, in short, wasn’t a privilege he could invite a woman to share; and that consequence of it was precisely what was the matter with him. Something or other lay in wait for him, amid the twists and the turns of the months and the years, like a crouching beast in the jungle. It signified little whether the crouching beast were destined to slay him or to be slain. The definite point was the inevitable spring of the creature; and the definite lesson from that was that a man of feeling didn’t cause himself to be accompanied by a lady on a tiger-hunt. Such was the image under which he had ended by figuring his life.” (43)

In this third-person narrative, James lets us into John Marcher’s innermost thoughts in regards to his life, the beast John is obsessed with, and his relationship with May Bartram. The “beast” is the object of John’s fear and premonition that carries him and May throughout the story. It’s a “secret” that is so dreadful May is the only other person that knows about it. James uses the words “secret” and “it” many times, possibly to add more drama to the story. Though “he really didn’t remember the least thing about her” (35) when they reunited after spending many years apart , John and May eventually grow and bond together. He courts her by taking her “to the National Gallery and the South Kensington Museum, where, among vivid reminders, they talked of Italy at large” (42) and bestow her with gifts and his presence on her birthday while now considering her side of the relationship and how she may respond to this level of intimacy.

Though John and May become exceedingly close, marrying her is not an option for John. He fears what would happen to May when, not if, this beast makes itself known and come after him. Even though he “invites” May into his life, his fear kept him from being intimate with her. He’s is physically close to her, but he is emotionally isolated. His obsession of “something or other” or the best laying “in wait for him” pushes him away from May. Though May knows about the beasts in the jungle, he is not direct with her about it. He gives her just enough. Just enough to keep him satisfied and secure and we see this were James writes that John “had a screw loose for her, but she liked him in spite of it and was practically, against the rest of the world, his kind wise keeper, unremunerated but fairly amused and in the absence of other near ties, not disreputably occupied” (44). May reveals to John her awareness of what she is to him when she exclaims “I’m your dull woman, a part of the daily bread for which you pray at church. That covers your tracks more than anything” (46). It’s possible that May knows as much about the beasts as the readers of the novel.

The deep thoughts and the beast that James reveals to us is many pages of fear, obsession, and premonition.  What the beasts actually are is less important than the process of John’s life and how his obsession eventually causes him to fail.

James, Henry. The Beast in the Jungle and Other Stories. New York: Dover Publications, 1993. Print.