Inventing the Self

Whistling Chimpanzees in baggy overalls

December 3rd, 2013 by Shona Mari Sapphire · 2 Comments

I ended up enjoying Dennis Cooper’s tumultuous tale of a father’s post-traumatic life experience. His rhetorical style engaged me towards what felt like a slow downward spiral into an ever more viscous, weed-smoke-filled fog. The themes of embodied sensations, both physiological and emotional, mental-escapism courtesy of marijuana and virtual video-game landscapes, and secrecy and shame were present throughout. The father’s emotions of hidden grief and shame over the accident that killed his son seem enmeshed within his physical habitus – in the status of his post-accident legs,  “I like to sit around our deserted house wishing things were different. That’s how I found out I could walk. I wished my legs could support me and they did.” (23) The fact that he conceals his returning ability to walk from his wife for some time, serves almost as a barrier from her permeating gaze. He notes his difficulty, as a former athletic person, in keeping his legs limp- as a means of de-sexualizing himself before his wife. Later, returning the site of the monument, he refers again to the function of his legs in relation to his emotion tied to the accident, “When your legs have amnesia, you have only two choices. You either torture them until they pretend they remember you, or you show them the world and hope they magically ignite like an infant’s” (117). The father tragically recalls the last thing his son said to him before the crash- “I wish you were my dad” – a humorous quip which was actually drenched in meaning. The self-alienating vehicle (or my interpretation as such), of video games and smoking weed engulfed the father’s existence and made it seem like the hope of emerging with any sort of clean-conscience or emotional catharsis was entirely implausible.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • John Giunta // Dec 3rd 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Cooper utilized some really interesting language to described the relationship between Jim and “the bear” avatar – a kind of oddly organic bond akin to changing skins, putting on a new set of limbs – these sections about starting the game up were particularly striking and will probably be what I focus on in class tomorrow. As a gamer myself, I’m often frustrated by in-game constraints on motion and movement (avatars are often unable to do things like climb, jump, swim, etc., depending on the game genre), but here the bear becomes free to move (or not move) in ways that the disabled/drug-addled/depressed/obsessed Jim cannot do without being judged, or at all. I’m reminded of, well, James Cameron’s “Avatar”, especially the groan-inducing scene early in the film when the main character is able triumphantly run for the first time in his new alien body. Both works, to an extent, put forward this idea of the mind or personality as able to be separated from one body and reintegrated into another with no problem, so I wonder what we could make of this idea as far as Inventing the Self goes?

  • Samantha Gamble // Dec 4th 2013 at 11:30 am

    In reading God Jr., the father’s obsession with the game was difficult for me to understand. It became difficult to read the section in which he was having conversations with the characters in the game. This was reminiscent of Eric Coates’ book, Hearing voices. Eric Coates went into detail explanation of the way his mind operated when he was experiencing psychosis. In reading Coates I could almost feel his despair. I felt the same in reading the last chapter of God Jr.

    Through weed and gaming, the father did lose himself. The fathers obsession with the game stemmed from his trying to find a way to connect with his son, because he neglected to connect to his son while he was alive. The game actually fed the father’s obsession with his son causing him to have a mental break.

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