Sunday, March 3, 2013

Metonymic Ethics of the Comma in Midnight Cowboy

"Just Close His Eyes, 
Nothing Else We Can Do. 
Just a Little Illness, 
We Will Be in Miami Soon"

Midnight Cowboy (1969)


These are the last words we hear in Midnight Cowboy, repeated in neurotic rhythm by the bus-driver, to sooth the passengers, himself and perhaps the audience as we all take in Rico's death. It's rhythmic, repetitive, and near rhymes give it the semblance of a song, a funeral dirge. 

The insistent words and the paranoid drive forward marks what I feel are a limit for Marxism and psychoanalysis, for repetition and reification, so that we must face in the difference between metonym and metaphor why we are left only with the aspiration for totality and totality itself: 

The terminal case. The pause. The touch of difference. The form Rico's body takes in the picture above ( , ). The punctuation whose very shape suggests cripness: the comma.


Metonym v Metaphor

Attempting to justify his use of Midnight Cowboy as an allegory for sexual, social, national conditions, Kevin Floyd in the Reification of Desire uses Frederic Jameson's argument on the intimacy of metonym and metaphor:

"Though Jameson does not explicitly frame allegory in relation to the category of metaphor, that figure typically opposed to metonymy, allegory does assume strongly metaphorical implications ... it serves to make connections, to assert unity, and, yes, identity in response to capitals radical differentiation of the social." (191-2). 

Floyd is most concerned here with asserting that sexuality functions along and a part of the logic of capital and history. That I will grant to Floyd, and indeed, for my own part, I hardly needed to be convinced. 

What strikes me about the conflation of metonym and metaphor to make this point, however, is that the difference between the two are exactly what seems to set the limit on the repetition and reification that plagues all three and which Floyd notes in places but passes on without dwelling on: the absolute character of failure.

Now, Floyd will admit that metonym and metaphor are not the same, indeed his argument depends on the fact that the act of repetition and reification depend on the fact that they will prove insufficient in sustaining what is lost in the failure of identity, capital, and history. 


An Aspiration for Metaphor

There is always repetition with a difference, a reification that aspires to totality which always produces a lack and a surplus (aka. a heuristic failure), there is a split (a comma) that separates things metonymically over time, space and meaning that no amount of metaphoric implications will extend beyond its own limits.

Capital replaces bodies but loses the body in the process. Sexuality replaces bodies with the symbolic (for psychoanalysis), the speech/act (for Foucault & Butler), or other bodies (for the hustler), but something remains lost. History too loses the bodies of the past in marking them. 

All are aspirations for totality, but no matter how much "materialism" is insisted on within these systems, they are predicated on the loss of the material for the sake of a network, a language, a history, a drive. At best, like Floyd, we can note and insist on the loss, but move on.

Floyd as bus-driver, sings "Just Close His Eyes, Nothing Else We Can Do. Just a Little Illness, We Will Be in Miami Soon."

A Queer Marxism embraces history and horizons, but in its drive to keep on going, like the bodies in Midnight Cowboy, there is a loss insofar as they refuse to Stay and Dwell with the lost bodies. 


Rico's Comma

We hear Rico tell this to Joe when he asks him to "Stay" with him, when Joe is so ready to keep on running (from Texas, to NY, from house to house, until at last we leave him en route to Miami). Rico asks him to Stay with him at the grave of his father, but Joe is insistently antsy. People all around Rico, at the club, in the bar, and Joe himself all want to touch him, fix him, and so leave him without further consequence. There is a desire to "learn a lesson" or "fix a problem" or to "keep things moving" (be them capital, language, history).

Rico, the metonymic body, crippled by the presence of a comma, however refuses to go on, to flow into the next thing. There is a pause which for those who read on, can be so slight that we blur the words together like a world seen through the windows of a bus, but for the word on the other side of the comma, it is a perhaps interminable silence, a cut, and edge that says "I go no further." The comma is an invitation to pause, to stay for a while. The comma is a breath -- a final breath.

Rico can only wonder what is on the other side of that comma, "some think that you up. others, you know, they think you go... somewhere else." Joe can ignore the comment, can refuse Rico's invitation with a lust for life, a refusal to be morbid, a rejection of limitation and cripness, "if I do come back, it better not be in your body." 



There is a difference between a comma, and a period. What I called "the absolute character of failure" was meant to suggest that it also had other characteristics, including continuation. The pause and the loss is indeterminate, how much is lost and how much goes on is uncertain. 

The question becomes embodied. Death is a transformation, a continuance and loss. As a mode of speech, however, the length and breath of the comma is felt in mouth & chest. One body pronounces it quickly, another lingers over the pause.

Floyd too can keep on going, he has "aspirations" to follow. Really my main disagreement is a critical one about accent and pacing. Must we read with such distance and such speed? Can we not theorize like Rico, like Lady Gaga, whose song (about the death of a family member) came to me like a counter-verse, a counter-spell to the bus-driver's hymn:

"There aint no reason you and me should be alone tonight...
I'm going to run right to the edge with you.
I'm on the edge-of glory. I'm hanging on a moment of truth.
I'm on the edge-of glory. I'm hanging on a moment with you."


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