Storyological 1.14 - Lamborghinis and other signifiers (transcript)

(click here to listen to the episode)

PREVIOUSLY ON STORYOLOGICAL…

CK: Emma I want you to play the song on the jukebox, that goes (best singing ever) burrrrrrn theeeee witch (/best singing ever)

CK: Did you know that Radiohead released a new album recently.

EG: Yeah I did. I heard it once or twice now.

CK: Once or twice is British for eighty-five.

EG: All the times in all the days that you have been playing it since it came out. Which is all of them. When are you going to make a theme tune for us with your ukulele?

CK:  (even better singing) When you gonnna make a nameee (/even better singing) (note: I have no idea why I said name and not theme).

EG: Stop it.

CK:  (more singing) when you gonnnna make a naaaame (/more singing)

EG: (sigh). You’re so annoying.

INTRO

EG: This is Storyological. A podcast about amazing stories.

CK: That we kinda like. I'm Chris Kammerud.

EG: And I’m E.G. Cosh.

HER MAJESTY’S LAMBORGHINI AND THE GIRL WITH THE FISH TANK

CK: Her Majesty's Lamborghini and the Girl with the Fish Tank by J.Y. Yang in Lontar #6, Spring 2016. A brief, as Emma would say, précis of the story would be as follows:

EG: (laughter)

CK: What J has done is she has laid out a story composed more or less of two parts. There is the first part, which involves a kind of Ferris Bueller's Day Off Lamborghini who has…

EG: Where the car is the star. Nice. I like it.

CK: …where the Lamborghini has broken free from its garage and run rampant across the the Queendom to the top of the building and we have the prime minister of the kingdom who is a former pirate that has lost their hat though retained their eye patch and a Defense Minister and I think the secretary of education.

EG: Could be.

CK: Yeah it's an interesting component. It becomes clear that in this part of the story where there are war giraffes and infantries of…dogs

EG: War giraffe that can see for forever. For infinity!

CK: Yeah. War giraffes that can see forever! What’s going on in this part of the story. Where this car has gotten loose. Is that these are toys and they're in a young girl's room and the thing about this young girl is that she can bring things to life generally on purpose though occasionally she brings things to life without really meaning to which you know as we say the magic in your story should work mostly against your character, and occasionally for them, so long as in working for the character they create horrible consequences.

And what's going in the little girl storyline is a mirror of what's going on in the Lamborghini storyline which is the Lamborghini escaped from it's pinned in life locked in this garage and this little girl as she's discovering her powers is beginning to scrape against her parents' authority and feel like it's unfair and she doesn't understand.

EG: Control, right? Control and freedom that is what weaves through both parts of this story and it's done so beautifully and so weirdly that you know I just I kind of I guess the place I want to start actually is not with the control and freedom. I’ll come back to that because that's the kind of the theme that I got from it by the time I got to the end. The place I wanted to start. Something that J does that's incredibly smart in this story is the way she structured it. Right, you have these two very clear distinct storylines, and she starts with the weirdest shit storyline…the Lamborghini escaping and being chased by pirates and giraffes. And so you, you kind of just let yourself sink into it and you're like okay this is crazy what's happening it's a little bit like the Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, right that George Saunders story…

CK: Fairly long story…

EG: Fairly long story, yeah. But then that scene finishes, and she moves on to the little girl story. And it's only after I'd read a couple of the scenes with a little girl that I suddenly start to think, oh shit, that's what this little girl’s doing, she's making the situation come to life. She's making the Lamborghini come to life and try to free itself and having that realization as a reader rather than having it told to me made me fall so hard for this story.

CK: There’s this thing I remember a long time ago that someone said to me from a television. About how a good essay should contain within it its opposite. So whatever point you're arguing you should have the opposite of your argument inside the essay. And in a lot of ways the storyline of the girl is about her chafing against the authority of her parents and wanting freedom. But, in the other storyline the Lamborghini was told to stay in its garage by the little girl because she was trying to maintain some semblance of control over these lives that she had created. So in the one world the little girl is seen as Her Majesty. You know the font of all knowledge and the ruler of the universe whose arbitrary rules all of these figures brought to life by her must follow, and then of course in the little girl's world, it's her parents that are these Majesties that have just been appointed as the powerful figures over her. And she doesn't know why and the moment that I fell in love think was around the time…where the prime minister was described as

Once upon a time he had been a pirate and he moved to touch his pointy hat out of habit only to remember that it was no longer there. He settled for an expression of gravity instead.

And I loved it. One, because I just was like I really like this this prime minister. He's cool. He used to be a pirate.

But also because I began to see how in putting those two storylines together, kind of similarly to the Lego movie which was a much better movie than you ever thought it was going to be, J’s story combines elements of innocence and cruelty and imagination and a sense of powerlessness so well and that so precisely and beautifully capture the feelings of childhood where you kind of feel, that you just are discovering power in yourself and in other people and you don't understand what rules you’re supposed to follow and which rules maybe you can break and things are okay.

EG: And yeah that's exactly it. I wanted to come back to the thing about the girl telling the Lamborghini to stay in the guy, the gara… I'm going to stumble over that because I almost went for the American pronunciation.

CK: I believe the pronunciation you are looking for is garridge… (note: Chris succeeds at sounding British for the length of an entire word).

EG: Garage, yes, the girl telling the Lamborghini to stay in the garage, because that is totally in counterpoint to saying that she doesn't like to control the things that she animates. Right that's the whole philosophy is no control let them do what they want. That's what she wants in her life and that's what she wishes her parents would do and no doubt, that's what they want, and they wish they didn't have to set rules for her, but they feel responsible for her and responsible for how she exists.

CK: Right, right because the reason she makes the rules for the Lamborghini is because she knows, the little girl knows, that her mom will get upset if her toys go racing about about the house and they might get hurt.

EG: It's such a beautiful echo.

CK: All stories, the hearts in the story should be in conflict with themselves and by having these two storylines, J draws it out in a way that works, but also in a way where I just felt ecstatic with some of the world building, of the as we said the pirate prime minister and the war giraffes with rockets slapped on their back and also the ecstatic sadness that she's able to get out of it like the moment where the little girl, in trying to bring this dead fish back to life accidentally brings a pot of flowers to life. It's the first thing she's ever brought to life that doesn't have a semblance of eyes or a mouth and so the flower kind of scrapes along wondering why, it doesn't understand, and ultimately flings itself out of the window…

EG: Right, yeah and it smashes to pieces and dies

CK: It kind of reminded me of Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.

EG: And she says oh yeah, “death was the inevitable conclusion to the creation of life.” I was like, man, this kid is learning some hard lessons early.

CK: Once you know how to bring things to life, inevitably you're going to learn some hard lesson right.

EG: Yeah. Just picking up on the your your comment about world building. I put in my notes that it was it's like running through a colorful parade. That is turned into a riot. But you always feel like everything is perfectly placed and exactly the right, the right way of describing the little girl's room or the crazy giraffes or any of the images that she uses.

CK: One place I really enjoyed that was when the Lamborghini roared to freedom from the rooftops of the Queendom, the Lamborghini was described as having, “an engine roar that was the sort that would fell trees, flatten Queendom, and destroy universes.”

Yes that sounds like what a Lamborghini would think.

EG: A hundred percent. Her sentences do that the whole way through this story. They are both beautiful and elegant in themselves but they end up in places that are so surprising that they kind of make you take a little gasp.

So I'm going to read the paragraph where she introduces the little girl.

in a room in a house on a small hill lived a clever and headstrong little girl

And already I'm loving that she's been introduced first by her intellectual characteristics rather than her physical ones.

CK: Not only her intellectual characteristics but the characteristics that are in opposition.

EG: Right. So it continues.

She had eyes bright as gemstones and that shone like snake skin and a mouth that was always pursed as if in thought like now as she sat cross-legged on the bed plotting ways to get out of her room where she had been imprisoned since making the dustbin sing yesterday.

And I read that and I was like dustbin singing…w.t.f..but the pacing and the rhythm and the elegance of the sentences and the kind of conflict within it like, “hair that shone like snakeskin.” Is that beautiful? I don't know, but it's a perfect image.

CK: Having the eyes bright as gemstones just before, it begins in a place that feels kind of familiar and then immediately jumps to something a bit different. And I loved, you were talking about the pacing of the sentences, that as the story goes on and the two stories go back and forth, there’s a bit of, a bit of careful reduction of the lengths of the sections so that the pacing feels like it quickens towards the end until till you get into the climax the bit where when the little girl has decided to rebel against her parents and has run up into the room to create her, well, her army of glass by destroying the fish tank, which footnote, yeah, it’s sad, freedom through destruction and death… as she runs across the room the Lamborghini is running between her legs across the carpet and she's like go, car! Go!

EG: Picking up on that footnote, coming back to the control and freedom thing that I said up front, I love how she's got these two different sizes of story about control and freedom. One is family-sized and domestic and the other is political and governmental but the governmental space is the one that is crazy ridiculous. It's the one with the pirates and the killer giraffes and lamborghinis fighting for freedom.

CK: In the most beautiful of ways it's the most childish of the two stories.

EG: And yet also the most realistic and that’s perfect to represent how bollocks crazy politics is in our world.

CK: Power. I would say how crazy and arbitrary power is, in who has it and who is enforcing it.

EG: I wrote down, it exposes the preposterous nature of government and then in brackets, I think that makes me sound pompous. But it's just so amazingly depicted that it made me want to write an essay about how accurate it is on the way that governments, invading factions, families, any group of people in power subjugate the people that they're trying to control and try to justify it in any way they can. And kind of create these crazy set of rules to keep themselves in the power that they have.

CK: That probably makes sense. You should probably write that essay.


Hello, readers. Enjoying this transcript? 


EG: My pick for this week is, “You Can’t See It ‘Till It's Finished” by Joseph Allen Hill which was in the first issue of Liminal Stories magazine which came out what, beginning of May 2016?

So it’s the story about Ian and his two best buddies from university Clutch and Rick who he hasn't seen in a couple of years and they have a reunion at Rick's new pizza joint which is in a pocket universe called the pizza dimension.

CK: You know how we love pockets.

EG: (laughs) Right? A restaurant that is its own pizza restaurant…

CK: (laughs) A restaurant with a restaurant inside it???

EG: A restaurant that is it’s own pocket universe.

CK: Brief pause. Do you have Chuck E. Cheese or such establishments in England?

EG: We have McDonald’s and something called Harvester which I think is a lot like your Cracker Barrel.

CK: Okay, but nothing like Chuck E. Cheese.

EG: I don’t really know what it is.

CK: Would you like a brief footnote before we begin.

EG: Cue me in, cue me in with the Chuck E. Cheese, sure.

I read Carmen’s essay on it but I still didn’t really understand what it was.

CK: Oh. It’s a pizza restaurant that is in miniature a small theme park for children to play in, I suppose in theory so the parents eat the food and the kids eat the food and then the kids go and play and there is always a bunch of arcade games and in particular, most famously in establishment like Chuck E. Cheese, the giant ball pool. I don't know what to call it… is it a ball pool… I don't

EG: A ball pit.

CK: A ball bit. Yes. That is different. There is a giant ball pit where…

EG: Right, so basically we have things like Hungry Horse or Harvester or any number of things that seek to rip off yet another American creator of joy.

Anyway so I'm going to tell you a little bit about this pop universe that is a pizza restaurant.

So Rick. One of the buddies from university is now a post-human, and he is a collection of disembodied floating lips who after some catching up on life: petty jealousies and failures, takes Clutch and Ian to see his new creation right. Deeper into the labyrinth of Chuck E. Cheese and the new creation is a ball pit. That's why I know what it's called (laughs).

It’s a ball pit the size of an ocean which self organizes into 3D sculptures of sharks and dinosaurs and probably other things, but those are the ones that we see. And this induces such a rage in Ian, because he feels like his aesthetic has been stolen by Rick, that they they throw down.

Anyway the three friends fight…

CK: The two guys fight. And the girl watches.

EG: Yeah, but then they all argue, and then the moment of catharsis after the fight they are able somehow to let it drift away and they, at the end of the story they lie together on the beach at the edge of this ball pit…not lie together in a sexy way—readers he's making kissy kissy face (laughs). They lie together making patterns and art out of the constellations in the sky. And finally are able to communicate through the art that they're creating in a way that they never could through the conversations they had. And it's very it has this kind of peaceful perfect ending.

CK: As you said Rick, RICK one of the old friends whose pizza dimensions this is…How did you describe him?

EG: He is a collection of floating lips.

CK: A collection of floating lips Yes. Or as I saw it, as we were reading, the story begins with this long discourse on the sign out front of the pizza restaurant of a pig holding what is described as the Platonic form of the pizza slice and how the pig, if you could imagine it was real in an ontological sense, if you could put yourself in that place for the pig was real, it would still be holding a piece of pizza. That was alas just a signifier of a piece of pizza and so the pig will never be able to eat it.

And kind of right from the beginning the story had me in mind of David Foster Wallace because it was losing itself in symbols and language in a way more than likely deliberately arranged to confuse and obfuscate the meaning of what was going on so the reader would have to wade through it. And so when we arrived at Rick who was this collection of lips, I was like, Oh, Rick! Rick is just a collection of symbols. He’s a collection signifiers representing…

EG: Right. Yeah. That’s what post-humanity is. I mean what’s left except symbols in that state.

CK: Oh yeah and in fact. Yes. Yeah. You could say that in the way that we communicate on the Internet now through…

EG: Oh my God. Rick is the personification of a GIF.

CK: Yes, yes. That's right, yes, that is what I'm saying. He is the personification of a GIF or an emoji. He is that. And the story is interested, at least tangentially, in building a world that reflects our world in the sense that the way we communicate through texting and through Twitter, yeah, and through all of that is we're all awash in symbols constantly and a lot of the ways we communicate with each other now is not face to face but symbol to symbol.

EG: Yeah. Absolutely. The thing that really bowled me over about this story is how, how much of a pose it struck. And I do like…

CK: (laughs)

EG: …a story that strikes a good pose. But it. And it. You know I started reading I was like, oh is it? Is it in danger of disappearing up its own ass? But, no. It retrieves it. It saves itself because it's so deeply inside of Ian’s point of view and Ian is like, the ultimate, failed artist poser who is too cool for literally anything in his life or literally anything that he encounters.

And so you see everything, the whole narration is done from that kind of viewpoint, and that’s how I think it saves itself. By being from his perspective and also letting us see his pain, letting us see how difficult it is for him to connect with anything in a real emotional sense.

CK: Yeah. I had the same worry at the beginning that the story was ultimately just going to be a signifier itself. That in describing. You know in adopting this pose, about how everything is signifier nothing means anything, and everything is empty, that it would only stand there. That it would be, that it would be just the signifier that was full of sound and fury but ultimately signifying nothing.

And you’re right, it saves it to a certain extent because it is in his point of view. What you said in particular was that when you first started it you were like this story strikes a pose. And when I said it reminded me of David Foster Wallace it was it was because of that. That David Foster Wallace often embodied poses because he was obsessed with artifice and authenticity. Which is what this story is obsessed with. Like you said he and is this this artist that is as you might say lost up his own asshole.

EG: The phrase I have in my notes here is: Ian is so butt-clenchingly self-conscious, from his carefully stolen dance moves to his judgment and disposal of everything he encounters.

CK: As I do, I looked up what was going on in David Foster Wallace's life, even though he's dead, and a movie came out recently where Jason Segel, you know the guy from How I Met Your Mother plays David Foster Wallace.

EG: I have not seen How I Met Your Mother.

CK: Uh. The Muppet Movie? Any Judd Apatow movie with a tall gangly man with curly brown hair?

EG: (noncommittal noises)

CK: Oookay. Saving Sarah Marshall??? Remember with Veronica Mars?

EG: Oh, that’s so forgettable I can’t remember anything about it.

CK: It is very forgettable. Anyway. In the movie, that is based on a book that was written, by a journalist that had gone on tour with David Foster Wallace and failed to write a coherent article apparently, but he wrote this book called Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. And in discussing the movie and the book the movie critic for Salon said that if there was anything about David Foster Wallace it was that in his work was the idea that understanding that every performance contained something real.

And you're right that ultimately the story of Ian moving toward, moving into conflict with these people from the past. It does capture something real. It gets to something. There, that place they get to at the end, where they've gone through basically a maze again of symbols that have been constructed by Rick and then they're on the beach and thinking…I felt like right you can't see it till it's finished. Like art. Life. They’re only understanding what they had as friends that was important to them now that they’ve realized that that’s over.

So, I have the sense that yeah they reached this moment of peace at the end, but I feel like in that peace they may never see each other again.

It’s like that moment when you break up with someone, and you remember how and why you fell in love with them, but that's just like a gift you get to take away with you. You don't get to hold that and stay with the person. And that's what it felt like with these friends and I was like, yes! You know. He landed it.

EG: Yeah, absolutely. And the three of them. You know in that moment at the end when they're lying on the beach having this moment connecting through art, I really, it really brought home to me one of the things this story was saying was, A how valuable art was for connecting us, and B, how when you are an artist and you're pursuing that kind of desire to express something that is both unique and original and possibly fiscally advantageous. There are a lot of risks on that road and the three of them represent three of the broad kind of categories of what can happen to you.

So, Rick is commercial successful but has apparently stolen the aesthetic. Ian is this kind of no hoper who possibly had one original idea but can't bring himself to finish anything else. And Clutch has kind of sold out and she's working nine to five in an art gallery and no longer making anything for herself.

CK: She's no longer performing anything in particular.

EG: Except maybe performing…

CK: Performing normal.

EG: Performing normal. Exactly. And I love the way that the story demonstrated that none of them were happy in that single perspective of being an artist. You have to kind of accept that you combine something of all three and possibly other dimensions of artistry as well.

CK: Yeah, yeah and I think you can, as joyfully happens with stories and with signifiers, you can just take the word art and artist out of that and just say human and human being and it's all the same amount of truth.

Because you know, as it’s mentioned in the story, when you say how do you act like X, it’s in the word. Like you can't act normal without acting. You can't act nice without acting. It is all to a certain extent a performance.

And one of the through lines of this story, or yes the fact that it reactivated my obsession with David Foster Wallace, is about how when you, when you find yourself lost in all of this information and all of these texts and all these symbols and all these expectations…so like now like even in the bio of the author…

EG: (laughs) He strikes a deep pose.

CK: Joseph Allan Hill. Yeah. He strikes a pose. And, he was like, “you know for a while I was doing this seventies thing.”

Like whatever David Foster Wallace was writing about and whatever, you know Joseph is writing about here, It feels like we've just accelerated all of that. Because yes, everything that we put on Instagram and Facebook has probably been discussed endlessly. And so again it's hard to figure out what feels meaningful in those discussions that all of the things we're doing is more performative in the way that the Internet makes everything more. Not because we're doing something new, but because we're doing it without friction. We can just throw it all up there.

EG: Along with with all of the symbolism and metaphysical angst. Joseph also slips in some really beautiful sentences and perfect ideas. So, he has sentences like: “The sunny sweet summer day has faded into little more than a butter cream smudge.” And I was like. Mmmhmmm.

CK: Yes.

EG: Too, too much maybe? I don’t know.

CK: Well, it is exactly too much. But I think, I mean, one of the things that I wrote down that I loved is the change in register that he does.

EG: Yes!

CK: And so he will say the buttercream and the smudge. He will say ontology, representational, Tantalus. By the way I looked up Tantalus. That's where we get the word tantalize. Tantalus was a god that was punished by being submerged in a body of water with a little bit of fruit hanging above his head that he could never reach

EG: God…

CK: And then he will, Joseph not the God, change in register and, in their conversations between the people, they will be like: “I’m late bro.” “Where are you?” “I’m waiting outside.”

EG: Yeah. The smooshing together of registers is exactly one of the things that just it makes me do a little tap dance in my heart because I'm like yes this person is completely aware of what they're doing and knows how to kind of balance against each other.

So you have the Metaphysical angst, and yet, all he says when he greets his girl who he was in love with for so long after two years. Is “Yo.”

CK: Yeah. And even he does it in his mind too sometimes. He would drop to that register where after he discusses, after going on this long recursive search of images about pigs in which he goes deep, you know he goes deep deep Internet on this stuff, and he comes out of it and he thinks: “It’s going to rain later.”

That's just his last thought on that section.

My favorite line that in itself encompasses all the registers is a bit hard to render in speech (note: HAHA NO LIMITATIONS OF SPEECH HERE, LOOK OUT, YO!) but it is, after he gets a text of a smiley face from his possible current love, he says:

I do not look into the :) and the :) does not look back.

EG: (laughs) I feel like that is a play on a quote from something but I can't think what it is.

CK: Uhhh, you would be surprised to know that I know.

EG: Of course, of course you do.

CK: It’s from Nietzsche, about looking into the abyss.

EG: Yes, yes.

CK: That when you look in to the abyss, the abyss looks back.

EG: Still not read Nietzsche.

CK: Nietzsche (trying to pronounce it like EG).

EG: When I was eighteen I went to Belize and Mexico and traveled around for a bit and I took a copy of Nietzsche’s book with me and it remained unopened in my rucksack the whole time. I was really, I was ready to find myself but apparently I was not as ready as I thought I was.

CK: That is a metaphor for Emma’s life right there…

EG: Whaaat?

CK: …wrapped up in a rucksack.

EG: (laughs) I want to tell you the sentence that I love most of all of them in this story and it's one that to me really demonstrated Ian’s pain. And it describes when his ex-girlfriend walks up, and in his mind she's this cool artist girl. And he describes her outfit like, “it's matchy-matchy and I'm embarrassed on behalf of all clothes everywhere.” And I just thought, what a weight you carry around with you Ian and it must be fucking exhausting to be you.

CK: What do you mean the weight…

EG: I am embarrassed on behalf of all clothes everywhere. Somehow that is his, he cannot step away from that level of judgment, like it's his job to judge the world.

CK: Uh. I hear you. Yeah, yeah, in the sense of it being a weight, except that I didn't think of it in anyway like a weight he carried around so much, unless you think of it as a weight in the way that a suit of armor is a weight that you carry around. The guy, you know, he may think of it as a responsibility but it is entirely a shield to protect him from the world.

EG: It’s a very heavy shield. That's what I feel.

CK: I feel like if you're this excited about the story you have to at some point tackle Infinite Jest and see what you make of it.

EG: I have discovered that Infinite Jest is available on Audible. It is forty eight

hours (laughs) of audiobook so maybe that's where I'll start.

OUTRO

CK: Thanks for listening readers. As often happens, we have failed to discuss the infinite number of stories that exist in our infinite universe.

EG: And probably haven't even managed even to catch all the things about these awesome stories so you can hit us up on Twitter.

CK: We are @storyological.

EG: (laughs, note: I don’t know why. Maybe Chris said our twitter handle in the most hilarious way?) Which is story…

CK: like the word.

EG: And ‘o’…

CK: Like in the alphabet.

EG: And logical…

CK: Another word. Look it up in the dictionary.

You can follow her on Twitter @EGCosh.

EG: And you can follow him on Twitter, @Cuvols. C. U. V. O. L. S.

CK: And if you love the podcast and want to show your love, you can shout it out the window or leave a review on iTunes if you don't have any windows to shout out.

EG: I'm definitely hoping they leave the iTunes review. (note: ratings are also good. as is android. but we don’t know about the androids. if you have the android probably shout your love on twitter. that’s basically a window.)

CK: And for show notes, links to all of the things we reference that have nothing to do with the stories except the way they bounce around in our heads, and appropriate GIFs, and a chance to subscribe to our newsletter and this podcast, and also to possibly win a million dollars, no that’s a lie. You can visit us at our home on the web.

EG: Which is storyological.com.

EG: See you next week!

CK: Happy reading.

HIDDEN TRACK

EG: When are you going to make a theme tune for us with your ukulele.

CK: I will. I'll call it you’ll, you’ll know, I’ll call it where you are when[1].

That’ll be the name of our theme. “Where You Are When.”

 It’ll be like.

(note: oh god, more singing…)

Do you know where you are

when you listen to our show

We are story-o-log-ical.

We are story-o-log-ical.

ding ding ding dingaling ding ding.

boop.

(/singing)

THE END

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[1]      This is a lyric from a Radiohead song that Chris loves very much.