Jul 23, 2007

Immanence in the Backseat

    Driving, we saw dogs. We saw them on a rural highway, in a white Volvo. The driver was an adult. The sky was partly cloudy. We had just driven past the fire house. In the passenger seat I could tell there was a dog and in the backseat was a pack of dogs, all no older than Old Yeller or Prince Hal or the Prince and the Pauper. I could discern them through the tinted brown of their window. The dogs in the back moved in syncopated motion. Their heads jerked back intermittently. It was a combination of the spurting movement of their car and their own unmitigated energy. Our brown discolored Toyota was filled with music; my friend and I were talking about a novel I had been reading for my graduate seminar on Animals and Literature. It was about a women and her chance, violent encounter with a cockroach. Kind of like Kafka’s Metamorphosis. 
     It may just be that a bug figures prominently in both books. In Kafka’s story a man wakes up as a bug and his family, at the horror of what he has become, kill him. In Lispector’s novel The Passion According to G.H., a woman confronts a cockroach she wants to kill and in the process of eliminating this invader, she co-identifies with the insect. In both stories there is a radical identification with (and also, revulsion of) an “other,” entirely alien from what we would call “human.”
Both stories are about immanence. Immanence here meaning being completely within an experience without any form of known consciousness of the experience. Which is what happened to this dog at the traffic signal near the Hammond Municipal Airport. Our cars came to a periodic stop. The dog in the front passenger seat craned his head out of the window. In the brief seconds that I saw the creature, from the moment both our cars stopped at the traffic signal, I could see that he was a rather tan, middle-class looking caucasian dog with slightly tousled summer hair. His head was poking out of the car like wind-loving middle-class dogs tend to be. But, I became nauseous when I realized the dog had stuck out his equine head to spit out the contents of his Orangina. I said, “Ewww. Look at that dog … What are they feeding it?” Judging from the dog’s face, he or she was concentrating on spewing out as much as s/he could before the light turned green. And judging from the contents of the car, the other dogs were laughing at him. It is such a dog thing to do. To laugh at the discontent of another person, especially if it is another dog. And the adult at the helm of the vehicle was remonstrating him with her vocal hands. I could tell by her sideways-placed face she was telling the dog to hurry up. But the dog was no more than an adolescent herself. The dog paid no attention though. Apparently the dog still had some kind of independence. Or maybe it was just that the dog was completely wrapped up inside its experience, like G.H. when she confronts that cockroach. Or the oblivious bug-state of Gregor in The Metamorphosis.
I don’t think this dog was trying to garner any special attention by this gross spectacle; the dog was completely into his action, oblivious to me, oblivious to the master, oblivious to everything except for the consternated state of throwing up the contents of its belly.
     Except for the face, perhaps, which seemed to suggest to me a kind of disconcerted affect. I realized by the viscosity of the liquid pouring from his lips that the dog was vomiting a human drink that had been irresponsibly given to it rather than just spitting it out. Was the dog sick? Maybe the dog had been swimming? Sometimes your stomach ties into knots swimming endless hours at the community pool. Or maybe the dog had eaten too much sugar coated orange flavored candies. I wanted to get out the car and correct its owner. How dare you feed your dog candy. A dog’s body just can’t take the indulgence. Out it goes.
I could tell the animal looked exasperated. With his long liquid tongue it wiped the contours of its mouth with a fast motion, then reinserted itself into the habitus of its former existence as a dutiful passenger, drew the window back up, and as if on queue — I swear it did! — and the traffic signal turned to green and we all sped off in horizontal decorum. The other dogs were still laughing their heads off. And life went on as usual.

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