THE JOKE

TRANSCRIPT-FRAGMENT FROM INTERVIEW SERIES FOR PUTATIVE MOMENT MAGAZINE SOFT PROFILE ON PHOENIX CARDINAL PROFESSIONAL PUNTER O. J. INCANDENZA, BY PUTATIVE MOMENT MAGAZINE SOFT-PROFILE-WRITER HELEN STEEPLY, 3 NOVEMBER Y.D.A.U.

‘Q.’

‘Well, there are odd sorts of consolations in having somebody go progressively bats in front of your eyes, such as for example sometimes The Mad Stork would go off on things in sort of a funny way. We always thought he was funny a good bit of the time.
‘You’ve got to remember he came at entertainment more from an interest in lenses and light. Most arty directors I think get more abstract as they go on. With him it was the opposite. A lot of his funniest stuff was very abstract. Are those earrings real copper? Can you wear real copper?’

‘Q.’

‘You’ve got to remember that he came out of all these old artish directors that were really “ne pas a la mode” anymore by the time he broke in, not just Lang and Bresson and Deren but the anti-New Wave abstracters like Frampton, wacko Nucks like Godbout, anticonfluential directors like Dick and the Snows who not only really belonged in a quiet pink room somewhere but were also self-consciously behind the times, making all sorts of heavy art-gesture films about film and consciousness and isness and diffraction and stasis et cetera. Most extremely beautiful women I’ve ever met complain of getting a sort of itchy green crust when they wear real copper. So the tenure-jockeys and critics who were hailing this millennial new Orthochromatic Neorealism thing as the real new avant-garde thing were getting tenure by blasting Dick and Godbout and the flying Snow Brothers and The Stork for trying to be avant-garde, when really they were self-consciously trying to be more like après-garde. I never did get straight on what Orthochromatic means, but it was very trendy. But The Mad Stork talked a lot about intentional atavism and retrogradism and stasis. Plus the academics who hated him hated the artificial sets and the chiaroscuro lighting, which the Stork had a total fetish for weird lenses and chiaroscuro.
‘After the thing about the Medusa and the Odalisque came out, and The Joke, and the film-establishment theory-queers were holding their noses and saying Incandenza’s still mired in this late-century self-referencing unentertaining formalism and unrealistic abstraction, after a while Himself, The Stork, in his own progressively bats way, decided to get revenge. He planned a lot of it out at McLean Hospital, which’s out in Belmont, which is where Himself had almost his own private reserved room, by then. He made up a genre that he considered the ultimate Neorealism and got some film-journals to run some proc-lamatory edictish things he wrote about it, and he got Duquette at M.I.T. and a couple other younger tenure-jockeys who were in on it to start referring and writing little articles in journals and quarterlies about it and talking at art openings and avant-garde theater and film openings, feeding it into the grapevine, hailing some new movement they called Found Drama, this supposedly ultimate Neorealism thing that they all declared was like the future of drama and cinematic art, etc.
‘Because I’m thinking if you like copper stuff and little Aztec suns there’s a small place down in Tempe where I know the owner and he has some incredible little copper pieces we could parp down and have you look at. My own theory is it takes an incredible natural complexion to be able to wear the baser metals, though it might just be an allergy-thing, the way some women react and some don’t.’

‘Q.’

‘What Found Drama was — and you’ve got to keep in mind that Duquette and a Brandeis critic named like Posener who was in on the revenge each got a mammoth grant for this, and The Mad Stork got two smaller ones somewhere, grants, to go cross-country to graduate film programs giving turgid theoretical deadly-serious lectures on this Found Drama, and then they’d come back up home to Boston and The Stork and the couple critics would lay up drunk and invent new Found-Drama theoretical lectures and chortle and laugh till there was evidence it was time for Himself to go back to detox again.’

‘Q.’

‘Like a family nickname. Hal and I either called him Himself or The Sad Stork. The Moms was the first to say Himself, which I think is a Canadian thing. Hal mostly said Himself. God knows what Mario used to call him. Who knows. I said Mad, The Mad Stork.’

‘Q.’

‘No see there weren’t any real cartridges or pieces of Found Drama. This was the joke. All it was was you and a couple cronies like Leith or Duquette got out a metro Boston phone book and tore a White Pages page out at random and thumbtacked it to the wall and then The Stork would throw a dart at it from across the room. At the page. And the name it hit becomes the subject of the Found Drama. And whatever happens to the protagonist with the name you hit with the dart for like the next hour and a half is the Drama. And when the hour and a half is up, you go out and have drinks with critics who like chortlingly congratulate you on the ultimate in Neorealism.’

‘Q.’

‘You do whatever you want during the Drama. You’re not there. Nobody knows what the name in the phone book’s doing.’

‘Q.’

‘The joke’s theory was there’s no audience and no director and no stage or set because, The Mad Stork and his cronies argued, in Reality there are none of these things. And the protagonist doesn’t know he’s the protagonist in a Found Drama because in Reality nobody thinks they’re in any sort of Drama.’

‘Q.’

‘Almost nobody. That’s a very good point. Almost nobody. I’m going to take a chance and just tell you I’m a little bit intimidated here.’

‘Q.’

‘I’m worried this might sound sexist or offensive. I’ve been around very, very beautiful women before, but I’m not accustomed to them being really acute and sharp and politically savvy and penetrating and multilevelled and intimidatingly intelligent. I’m sorry if that sounds sexist. It’s simply been my experience. I’ll go ahead and simply tell you the truth and take the chance that you might think I’m some kind of stereotypical Neanderthal athlete or sexist clown.’

‘Q.’

‘Absolutely no, no, nothing got recorded or filmed. Reality being camera-free, being the joke I’ll again underline. Nobody even knew what the guy in the phone book had been doing, nobody knew what the Drama had been. Although they liked to speculate when they’d go out after the time was up to have drinks and pretend to review how the Drama went. Himself usually imagined the guy was sitting there watching cartridges, or counting some pattern in his wallpaper, or looking out the window. It wasn’t impossible maybe even the name you hit with the dart was somebody dead in the last year and the phone book hadn’t caught up, and here was this guy who was dead and just a random name in a phone book and the subject of what people for a few months — until Himself couldn’t keep a straight face anymore or had had enough revenge on the critics, because the critics were hailing — not just the critics in on the joke, but actual tenure-jockeys who were getting tenure to assess and dismiss and hail — they were hailing this as the ultimate in avant-garde Neorealism, and saying maybe The Stork deserved reappraisal, for a Drama with no audience and oblivious actors who might have moved away or died. A certain Mad Stork got two grants out of it and later made a lot of enemies because he refused to give them back after the hoax was like unveiled. The whole thing was kind of bats. He spread the grant money for Found Drama around a couple of local improvisation companies. It’s not like he kept the money. It’s not like he needed it. I think he especially liked the idea that the star of the show might have already moved away or recently died and there was no way to know.’

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
(Footnote 135)

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