The Electronic Labyrinth

Afternoon: Another Reading

I want to say I may have seen my son die this morning.
Michael Joyce, Afternoon, a story

The hundreds of lexia that make up Afternoon, a story are so many phosphorous shards glinting on the pavement after an accident; they trace in their uneven distribution a missing body, an absent centre, a death which may or may not have occurred. The scene of the car wreck which may have claimed the lives of the narrator's son and wife is also the scene of writing, the point to which it compulsively returns in order to go forward. These deaths exceed the bounds of the text and thus, like a wound that won't heal, continuously rip it open in order that it may begin again. In one node, entitled "fenceline," the narrator arrives/returns to the scene of the accident:

Here there is a catch place, a low wire fence along a ditch which snatches what the wind wafts. Among candy wrappers, newspaper pages, and oak leaves there [...] is a fresh white paper with my son's name upon it, and red markings from a teacher. It is a report on Louis Quattorze, and his looping handwriting makes me weep.
It begins: "I am the Sun King," said Louis the Fourteenth of France.

At the scene of death the reader finds writing, thick words which yield to further nodes, new points of embarkation and exploration. Rather than providing, as does the classic realist text, a clearly delimited problem or enigma, which the narrative than sets out to resolve, the accident here remains enigmatic. "I want to say I may have seen my son die this morning." The element of desire here, the "wanting" to say, bespeaks of the desire for a fixed, determined origin, an etios for the text, but one which is immediately problematized by the provisionality, the unrevoked tentativeness of "may." It is precisely this lack of certainty which produces the mulitiple narrative configurations of the text, which produces the space in which the narrative lives. The fenceline on which the child's essay is caught is emblematic of the text's own processes. The death of the child is but a fenceline, a narrative limit on which the the text momentarily catches, which arrests the reader's attention for an epiphanic moment, only to release it again to the winds of chance, of an aleatory reading that is also a writing.

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
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