i have been patiently waiting for maggie to post about Flarf. she has been telling me all week she's going to post about Flarf. she has lots of questions. and i'm eager to read this post-to-come from her [because i haven't heard ALL her questions yet, i'm sure.] but she's not been posting. sadly. not yet, anyway. and so, i feel the need to close out the table series and disappoint so many of our readers.... especially the three that have actually been reading the series, as the conclusion is not a conclusion.
i like to dangle.
and so... i do.
anyway... i'm sure soon maggie will give us her Flarf post. until then.... [which could be as far as 10 days away as she leaves soon for Prageeta's wedding]... here is Orestes via de Man:
The Spirit-Rapper introduces mesmerism as connected via scientific study:
I had heard of Mesmer indeed, of his extraordinary pretensions, and the wonderful phenomena which he professed to produce by his rod and tub; but I had supposed that the matter had been put at rest for all sensible persons by the famous report of the French Academy in 1784, signed, among others, by Bailly the astronomer, and our own Franklin. I supposed that every scientific man acquiesced in the conclusion of this report, that the extraordinary phenomena exhibited by magnetism were to be ascribed by the imagination, and that from the date of the report magnetism had cased to occupy the attention of the scientific. (5)
Our narrator is then surprised to learn that Dr. P------, a doctor that he holds great esteem for, is a practitioner of animal magnetism, and that the “famous report” was actually regarded by most Spiritists as ‘humbug.’ This event lends a credibility to mesmerism as a science for our narrator, who so thoroughly believes in physical science that he is seduced by the possibility of mesmerism as a physical science. His pursuit of knowledge and desire for more leads him to a common Faustian trope: he makes a pact with the devil (the devil standing in for: man and god.)
Despite the fact that the spirit-rapper’s dear friend, a young lawyer named Jack Wheatley, has been almost killed by his own practice of mesmerism and nursed back to life by the spirit-rapper himself, our narrator is yet drawn to the scientific study of mesmerism. Brownson’s depiction of this satanic pact is overtly biblical in its rendering . Brownson’s Priscilla is clearly a powerful Eve: a world-reformer with a strong philosophy of her own: God is Satan, Satan is God. It is this adopted substitution that the narrator wishes to confess.
Do I have a ribbon yet? Is my ribbon, my evidence, really Priscilla? Can there be made an equation that looks like this: Science substitutes God substitutes Power substitutes Desire substitutes Priscilla? Is the narrator’s desire for knowledge really a desire for Priscilla? He finds no way of involving himself in her life except by way of this encounter with the mesmerist, Dr P----. If this is so, then is it possible that his confession, or rather, details of his confession, are unrecorded because they are more directly pointed towards this desire?
So far in my narrative I have endeavored to understand what is meant by autobiography and not-biography in relation to the Brownson text. I feel that what is between these two terms is a way to understanding the text on a deeper level. There is a fiction here as well as a reality. The actual story is one of philosophical dialogue. Most chapters contain several characters debating over the actual. Whether it be the actual state of the world or the actual religion or the actual Satan, there is much debate. These philosophical discussions are often over real events/persons in history: Pope Pius IX, the French Revolution, events in London. Real names of real participants in the real world of 1800’s America and Europe. The connection between these real events and the narrator is what is the most unreal. As he states at the beginning of his narrative, his name has not been associated with these famous events or people publicly, but he takes responsibility for these events. Is it confession? Is it all really an excuse to be united with the married Priscilla?
Priscilla, upon realizing that the narrator is intent on world reform, through philanthropy [and thus substituting God for Man and Man for Satan, thus Satan for God] says this regarding marriage:
The great and glorious work of regenerating man and society, cannot be carried on either by man alone or by woman alone. The two must be united and co-operate, or there can be no spiritual, as there can be no natural offspring…. Married and made one in the spirit they must be, but not married and made one in the flesh. (48)
One final comment regarding confession and the Brownson text before I move on to autobiography and am forced into a discussion of the discussion to come.
The only place that the word confession is explicitly used is in the conclusion: “I am trying, a far as in my power, to undo the wrong I have done, and have dictated with that view these my confessions, which will see the light as soon as may be after I am no more”(233). In what ways has he tried to “undo the wrong” ? There is only this confession, that is dictated, and so taken to be verbal, a transcription. There is no effort made to identify the transcriber of words. (An echo of the mesmerized table?)
Also, there is suspicion in a statement that soon follows: “Priscilla is not unfrequently my nurse” (233).
Has our narrator’s desire for Priscilla made a requirement for this confession? And if so, is the confession not a true confession, but a tactic? A means to a particular end? A political strategem?
Again I must return to Brownson’s preface in search of answers:
“The book, though affecting some degree of levity, is serious in its aims, and truthful in its statements. What is given as fact, is fact, or at least is so regarded by the author” (1). The book has ‘aims’ and is ‘truthful’, this much is so, though it is curious that the preface places this truth inside the author at the same time it removes the author: “This is not a biography.”
I find that I am at a place in my narrative that I cannot withdraw myself from easily. To go further into what it is to write an autobiography that is not biography would be ideal at this point, as I feel the confession has been investigated heavily, even if incompletely, and would ultimately lead to definitive statements regarding the two subjects and the text/narrative. I find that I am closing with more questions than answers.