By Andy O’Clancy
All rights reserved.
At present a new discovery, a new machine, is at work to turn the attention of men back to a visual culture and give them new faces; […] The silent film is free of the isolating walls of language differences. If we look at and understand each other’s faces and ges- tures, we not only understand, we also learn to feel each other’s emotions.
She is the shape of my lens.
No one reported that the armored cars had been sent for. The clocks never struck thirteen, there were no decaying houses painted in infinite gradations of gray, pearl and off-white, no smoke and bullets or commander shooting himse
lf in front of the troops, bits of debris were not littered far and wide, no fertilizing rooms ever universally hatched uniform batches of standard women and men, and not all the buildings were made of glass, proclaiming to be permeable. Still, civilization had long ago abandoned itself.
And what will become of habitual whispers of this hour now remembered, while records, documents, and other memoirs fade like day-old footprints on dry desert sand, she thought.
People moved unlike ants or bees, with no mother; scrabbling upon decentral- ized plateaus, smiles and grimaces—the face—their only legitimization.
[This section/chapter will be from the perspective of Justice at JFK airport moments before being apprehended (you read her trial with the last submission). Even as you read, efforts continue in breakout groups of independent federal agencies like the National Science Foundation and other Western countries attempting to use emerging technologies to locate, organize, and interpret faces for “commercial” potential. Just to mention a few examples: Computer scientists at one of the recent “New Ivies,” the world-renowned Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, and the “Affect Analysis Group” at the Research lab at the University of Pittsburgh have formed an interdisciplinary research team for facial expression analysis by computer processing. They were crucial in helping to place those cameras at INS passport control booths at major airports spotting known terrorists on international watch-lists. However, they also have plans of prophecy. That is, monitoring and interpreting facial signals regarding deception or attitude (i.e., detecting future terrorists using algorithms to extract facial- expression and body-gesture as indicators of intention and deception for a remote sensor system using video sources), boredom or inattention in workplace situa- tions. Such metaphors convey the camera’s supposed abilities as a mechanism of knowledge, as a new ocular instrument stripping the veil from the face of objects to a previously imperceptible reality. Facial configuration relations between sub- jects are spatially dependent, and therefore represent temporarily determined phenomena produced according to someone or something else as a model. Consider Fanon’s response before this sort of technology became available: “I am overdetermined from without. I am the slave not of the ‘idea’ that others have of me, but of my own appearance. […] And already I am being dissected under white eyes, the only real eyes. I am fixed. Having adjusted their microtomes, they objec- tively cut away slices of my reality” (Black Skin White Masks, 116). Originally, microtomes were late nineteenth-century instruments for microdissection. We are now back to the surface, to the tissue always ready to be dissected, collected, cat- egorized, classified. While subsequent microtoming techniques have altered sig- nificantly, the intellectual apparatus embedding distorted forms still bear the same distinct knife marks. Because facial casts within these convergences can never be independent of some sort of spatial scale, approximating complexities to make character pronouncements indicates a perpetual driving problem this section of Groundless Revolution will explore]
Safely concealed within his electrically charged enclosure, surrounded by the blinding whiteness of the same eight-foot high walls where he’d been tirelessly guarding the sacred cow of his culture by manning the control booth for facial expression analysis through computer processing at JFK for nearly five years, he knew the proper procedure. He trained one of the greenhorns only this afternoon before clocking in, repeating FEA instructions from memory almost verbatim:
“First you take a facial enhancing lens and fold over the fasteners as indicated on the container. Then you take part 3 and, using mild pressure, fix it to your completed section 1 at point X, where you see the tiny hole. Attach the small sec- tions of part 2 to section 1 before sticking the sections together. From sections 1 and 2 take the outer parts and stick them together from inside with section 3; then stick this section to the front of 1. Now after sticking the whole “lens” to the viewfinder, you simply mark the acceptable passengers and other fellow travel- ers by pressing this button. BE CAREFUL! We are compelled to inspect vigilantly every face, every physiognomy that attempts to pass our way. This is an intuitive operation that depends on accuracy! And you know the satisfaction we take in that facility which gives more meaning, more consequence to life for us than for those monitored.”
Good Seeing, he called it. Supplementing technological observational quality. Afterwards, he figured that he had initiated the neophyte well enough, and he went to his assigned control booth. Nearly five hours passed before he realized he had not eaten.
Horrors! Lunch at 8 pm. In this spotless hole of perpetual monotony.
“So you would like to know why I hate you today?” he alleged aloud, gazing at the compliant funeral procession making its way through the updated airport. As far as he was concerned, its architectures effectively designed the structure to induce confidence despite the incomprehensible resentment of zealous imbe- ciles, and his furtive duty within its intentionally soothing atmosphere amplified this. Connecting these social engineers to his own station, he considered the thankless piety of countless anonymous craftsmen who, with venomous satire, sculpted the Disney-like prison for the legions of grotesque, monstrous figures scattered across nearly every walkway, seat and ledge. Still, his thankless task was unenviable and absurd, and he knew it.
Avoid Mondays and bad weather.
Then, like a creeping presence lying behind the curtain in a puppet show full of holes, he bit into his pickle sandwich and, via the many cameras conspicu- ously placed throughout the airport, traced his lens across the thickly clotted gulf of space through vague clatter, drinking, dancing, snake handlers, juggling balls, and Jesus Jumpers jumping for Jesus, until, almost immediately, he caught sight of a familiar face midway between change on a rotating advert for the latest real- ity show. Lounging on a bar stool with three other men near the billboard, their faces reflecting desperation, infection, and plague, the human version of this hol- low figure motioned via acrobatic eyebrow movements and variations of mouth holes for the others to observe the splendidly attired mystical letters of the ad floating toward their eyeballs with the occult effect of stars while drinking from a bottle of Midleton Irish Whiskey:
“It all started as a goddamn experiment, you know. I was just going to do this shit for 202 days. But what you might take into account is that when I was on those shows talking about being off whiskey and drugs, I was still on them. It’s a level I’m very proud of.
“Indeed!” one replied.
“Come!” rejoined another. “Transmit windspeak with us—use your cognitive mush to push tree breath through your vocal chords while fashioning no less than gymnastic wonder with your throat and tongue to produce audible waves of patterned sound into the atmosphere, which I may discern as some sort of halfway entertaining thought or idea for love’s sake—say something, damnit, say something, man! Say something that professes to mean something; all that work and wheel—make it good!”
“And, just for the record, bizarre is as billed,” the third countered. “I propose a toast,” the entertainer bellowed. “Let’s pay homage to the long vanished sun of Art.”
“And all that other shit sure to land each of us in the grand furnace.”
“Salud then—to being born with monkey asses!”
No longer wanting to concentrate on this rotting atrocity, he trained his lens toward the cross-section of travelers waiting in the vicinity of the next arriving flight. Near the trashcan by the bathrooms he saw the war-crippled remains of a veteran sitting alone in a crumbling wheelchair. He was missing one leg and part of an arm. He also noticed that the medals the man proudly wore on his chest matched the color of the small coins people dropped in his begging cup, which he extended with a trembling hand. It was easy enough to see the fake nose and the scars across his cheeks and lips, but these traumatic dislocations did nothing to evince the veteran’s discontent, which went unnoticed until running a Facial analysis that also revealed the man’s tear-filled left eye was false.
Still and all, he thought after checking the computer analysis, despair, deception, and disillusionment do not equal direct action.
He told himself personal bias had nothing to do with running the mischievous faces of two children laughing together like brats near the new fountain; they had sadistically glossy gun mouths, and their four eyes stared too fixedly. He was about to run the worthy woman of about thirty-five, with weary face and slightly graying hair, who stood near the boys carrying a puking little girl on her arm, when a number of deadly serious, hyperbolically muscular men strutted through his lens in tight fitting attire. Disfigured and deformed by steroids, he noticed that they had an almost brutal physiognomy; he decided there was nothing overtly suspicious about them.
“Point is that when they say shit they’re used to hearing what color?“
“It’s like my neighbor, supposedly retired Navy; this guy is ousted from his house on a gurney, eyes closed in a neck brace, and you think, ‘Oh, hope he’s okay, no real family, mostly private, better check up on him, see if he needs anything,’ but the only document with a name on it is too far away to make out through the blinded window, so you get binoculars and such, and after more than a little trouble find that the names don’t add up, know what I mean?”
“I knew him like a regular simile, like, you know, like, two $.99 tacos and five or more stuffed jalapeños with ranch dressing on a double bacon sourdough cheeseburger with an extra-large French fry, extra-large Coca Cola, and, of course, a $.99 chicken sandwich at 3 am on Saturday night.
Undeviating night blindness, and yet, every word enamored of assurances resembling blessed counsel.
Just then, a coterie of half-costumed-full-drunk Joeys breaking wind and more than a few of the clown code of ethics rules exited the international flight like they were still involved in the tail-end of an all-night game of poker.
“First traveling circus I have ever been in where circus clowns sport clown names outside the ring, Sir Galahad. Not like we are going to be staying in a place long enough to get known by a clown name.”
“I used to ride the rails with a dog like you,” a hobo clown offered through downtrodden makeup. “One night he fell off the back of a box car.”
A thrust. Jabs. Whacks. Socks. Pain—aches and agonies, free record—maybe even a little unplanned coin exchange, until the boss clown, an overly orderly outfitted white face usually responsible for coordinating routines and represent- ing the clowns in business matters, stepped in.
“Now you listen to me!” he shouted, “listen to me good: most clowns don’t even know my real name, you understand? Do I care? Fuck you I care! I’m glad my name became sticky, because that’s what it takes to make yourself known! Names are important. The point is you don’t just start calling yourself Gumdrop because you like gum; I mean do you know how many clowns out there are named Buttons because their costume had buttons? Why do you want to get mixed up with them? Don’t be satisfied, desire more for yourself, and go out there with your own representation. That’s it. Now go bump a nose next time.”
Another clown had apparently separated from the group and was busy defend- ing himself to a college student that had been forced to sit near him on the plane.
“Couldn’t you have at least been a Charlie Chaplin, or something like that?” she insisted. “I mean, do you really need to keep glorifying a modern version of an Auguste clown while Ronnie McDonald sells poison sugar-water to children?”
“C’mon, baby, you know you like my wild pink hair, the large red nose, enormous shoes, along with all the other comically exaggerated features I bring to the table.”
No need to even run an analysis—with one push of a button the men were apprehended for wearing disguises. He pirouetted the lens to survey the light gleaming through a couple of women in skirts, their faces unmistakably genital.
I want to tuck my luminous body into you all, you know—similar to an asteroid or a comet streaking naked and unhindered through an unsuspecting planetoid, or a soli- tary splotch inside the boundaries of a bleached black hole.
In the tower where no one was watching, the lens of his ocular instrument stripped the veil from the face of each and every unprincipled, lonely little human exiting the plane, while he listened in on any conversation he wanted. Half-extinguished shadows stretched out from the doorway nearly all the way past the circular information booth, where most trotted briskly along like impris- oned donkeys following a long-established rutted path. Some were confined in elegant clothes or stagnated by murky grins. There were violent yawns, wicked whispers, pleading faces filled with fright, unprincipled profiteers, bestial priests, bedizened senior citizens, and sociable wives with soily jaws.
In the midst of this garrulous clamor, he could hear her lightening as she stum- bled out from the airplane departure hall, although she said nothing.
Broad wings make doorways cumbersome.
The surface of her face seemed as lusciously obscure as sunshine on a rainy day,
and in her eyes the song of angels radiated. He imagined her parading down a cat- walk nebulously tinted white and green when she twisted her way back toward the windows where the wounded night fog obscured the airplane, though he noticed that the light gnawing through the broken pall came from the rotating beacons and auxiliary lights after deforming his vision long enough. He failed to remember his own lunch as he watched her blithely chomp and swallow two crumbly cookies from the plane. The richness of her bliss saturated the entire area. He studied the contours of her shoulders, zoomed in as her abdomen shifted across the screen, and kept the moment when she stepped across to the trashcan to throw away the cookie package under surveillance. He adjusted focal lengths to closely inspect her wiping the crumbs from her knees and pulling at her blouse before stopping to embrace the veteran. In that instant he imagined she could show anyone how to maintain unwearying strength, invent fire, or speak to god.
Who is she? Why is she here/ What celestial mystery has landed her here on this desperately decomposing globe?
He imagined her as… [this will be a list of a wide range of disguises/fantasies]
He reread the memo from last week:
The use of a ground check may be necessary…
An optimal mouth image was called for, and he captured this the instant she yawned.
fake buttons [these are not operational]
The badge said Senior Supervisor R.Gus: F.E.A.
“Where are you coming from? What have you undergone, and what places and people have you seen?”
She said she was a dancer and a student. She said she liked sexpositive theory and practice, trash art, and her little pony. She said places traveled presented issues such as economical and social status.
“In no way does globetrotting not require capital,” she beamed. “Also spurious, range of scale interpellating designated areas of ‘occupied’ space and theatrics of homogeneous continuity compulsory to retelling that narrative, e.g., “i’ve trav- eled to mexico or france,” or, “i’ve traveled to rhode island or nagaland,” as well as multiplicities of heterogeneous lines and other de facto prerequisite singular master coordinates, e.g. “i.”
Her naked body was held forth like an uncanny exhibit. Beneath the inked muscled torso of a bloody-looking angel, some nostalgic Lucida Blackletter font arched across the apical of her chest like a counterclockwise covenant—a primeval rainbow message tattooed like a low thick necklace illuminating the dimly emerging landscape slowly silhouetted from brilliant darkness over two neatly pierced silver-studded nipples matching the two symmetrically perched through her lower lip: Death to Cowards Traitors & Empty Words. The word Traitors, the pivot point of that inverted arch, hovering between the first fleshy inclines of modest boobs. The only visible part of the kneeling angel was the zenith of his bald head and the back of his naked, bloody upper torso, his gaze descending in the direction of both hands, themselves palms down, each seized by penetrating barbed spikes above &, two majestic wings slouching toward to and Words. Her left arm slightly sleeved with a little color, a second look revealed witnesses to the tattooed trial upon the shoulder. There was March Hare, holding his Mad Tea Party with the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse. The foundation of their tabletop looked like an endless framed tunnel, the back of two long white ears and a red coat shilly-shallying inward. And there, in a blue and white dress, the side of her face facing the rabbit, her shoulders towards the viewer, was the youthful audacity of Alice—only the cook’s hand interspersing between the two, presumably, of course, with too much spice. Two matching golden-eyed blue tigers with serpent-like tails situating toward her underarms and lining the lowermost side of each rib right down to the uppermost part of her hips, open fangs hinting toward empty space above her unshaved badge (lighter than the dyed black hair harmonizing the matching horn-rimmed glasses she wore), which he imagined she was sometimes fond of teasing lovers with by slipping one end of those specs in. He could not see what the tigers’ ribbons said. One had the words Animal Liberation, the other, Through Dire something, Tactics, he thought.
She said, “Whether a person is a criminal or a public servant must surely be simply a matter of perspective.”
Andy O’Clancy reads theory and fiction and writes fiction and theory.
This story is included in Issue #45: About Seeing. Copyright © 2012 by Fiction International. Authors of individual works retain copyright, with the restriction that subsequent publication of any text be accompanied by notice of prior publication in Fiction International. Please contact the editor for reprinting information.
Purchase About Seeing from Amazon.com