18 November 2013


Filed under: Fiction, Reflections — ktismatics @ 1:16 pm

When I was in grad school it was rumored that, some years earlier, one of the professors had had an affair with a woman working in the departmental office. The enraged husband had come gunning for the prof, who went off into hiding somewhere until the shitstorm blew over. The frustrated husband shot a hole in the office wall, a hole that could still be found if one looked behind the right file cabinet. Anyhow, this philandering prof had a stutter. Once I was involved in a discussion in which this prof was a participant. Someone made a point that had already been addressed by someone else, which the prof was quick to point out: “Isn’t that re-re-redundant?”


“Get different!” That’s the slogan typed onto the battered 3×5 card taped to the door of the original fictional Salon Postisme. It’s not surprising that I tend to resist redundancy. But…

There’s plenty of redundancy in contemporary music, in pop genres as well as classical composition. Samples are looped, beats are repeated, phrases are recycled, over and over again. Taken to extremes, redundancy becomes a source of difference.

In the sixth book of the cluster I intentionally repeat several events that had already transpired in earlier books. I even cut and paste the same words. The redundancy continues until a certain point is reached, after which the trajectory swerves off course, leading the event into a different resolution.

So, I’m now going to post those same three paragraphs from Book 1, Chapter 2 that I posted here before, several years ago. Probably none of the few people following the blog back then is still around. Besides, I’m rereading it again myself. I’ll add the immediate context this time, just to change it up a bit:


Rik brought Miguel over to Stephen’s table. “So you’re what, a therapist?” Miguel asked abruptly.

Stephen smiled, not for the first time recalling his conversation with Hank Adamowicz. Was Hank Adamowicz the first Proprietor? Had he started the Salon? Stephen assumed so, but somehow he hadn’t asked. “And so you’re what,” Stephen had asked Hank: “a therapist?” Hank rolled his eyes. “Some sort of high priest?”

“More like an usher,” Hank had replied.

A former colleague of Stephen’s had been a therapist, but she’d quit to become a business consultant. She said she didn’t care enough about people. As the slow flow of clients merged into a monotonous stream, she began to forget from one week to the next: is this the one whose wife is threatening to leave him, or the one who’s afraid that her neighbor is going to kill her dog, or the one who’s trying to quit shopping? Everyone who came into her office could be slotted into a sadly small number of garden variety pathologies. No florid hallucinations, no multiple personalities, no hysterical anesthesias. Plenty of anxiety, paranoia, anger, narcissism, failure, victimhood.

Adjustment falls within a narrow bandwidth; the therapist is charged with tuning everyone to the same channel. Like Tolstoy said, more or less: every unhappy person is unhappy in his own way, but happy people are all alike. Stretched out on the procrustean couch, the client knows what the therapist is trying to do to him, and still he keeps his appointments with the executioner. He wants to be happy; he’s ready to be purged of all those idiosyncrasies that keep him unhappy. He comes prepared to tell stories about himself, stories he chooses specifically to elicit the helping reflex. It’s a ritual: the therapist bestows the recognized rites of restoration on the transgressor and the outcast. Stephen’s colleague had found this work increasingly distasteful. So she quit.

As new Proprietor of the Salon Postisme, Stephen believed he could avoid falling into the trap. He had faith that the unhappy outsiders would prove far more interesting than the happy insiders they might wish to become. Instead of snipping away at their stray threads, he would look for an alternative weave, a secret and subtle delirium unique to each individual. His job as he saw it was to enter into the client’s real strangeness, to have the client guide him into other ways of seeing, into exotic regions of the soul that they could then explore together. What he really wanted, of course, was to become the client. He didn’t want to pull the clients out into his normalcy; he wanted to climb with them into their madness. I guess I’m just a romantic at heart, Stephen acknowledged to himself.

“Not a therapist,” Stephen replied to Miguel. “More like an usher.” Miguel nodded, smiling: apparently he found the answer satisfactory. He agreed to meet with Stephen next Wednesday at the Salon.


Suppose someone came to Hanley concerned about repeating the same thoughts or behaviors over and over again. Would Hanley try to help this person overcome the personally troubling (and presumably obsessive-compulsive) tendency toward redundancy? Or would he regard the client’s presenting problem as a personal idiosyncrasy to be cultivated into a mark of distinction, a personal style, a unique artform, a subjective embodiment of the Death Drive, a metaphysical manifestation of the universe’s Eternal Return?

Hanley takes on Miguel Obispo as a client. Eventually he reaches an impasse. Does he help Miguel push his HemoBoy performance art to even further extremes, leading possibly to his inadvertently bleeding out altogether onstage? Or does he try to protect Miguel from himself, from his audience, from his handlers, from his acolytes? Hanley asks his wife about it while she’s engaged in her own personal act of redundancy, painting a watercolor reproduction of a Kandinsky print. I posted this exchange on the blog before too, by the way, in August 2011. Fuck it: here it is again.


“Listen, suppose I have a client who believes things that are sort of nutty. Surely I don’t need to go along with everything the client believes?”

Concentrating, she extended the purple shape out and down. “You mean that young guy with hemophilia? Can you give him your opinion without sounding like you think he’s a little off center?”

“I guess not. Still, it seems dishonest not to, or at least disingenuous.”

Lynne put her brush down. “See this painting? Kandinsky had synaesthesia. When he saw colors he heard music. Literally. He painted like he was playing a keyboard, like he was playing his audience. He believed that each brushstroke would set off sympathetic harmonies in people’s souls. Kind of odd, but also kind of true. Before Kandinsky there was another Russian, a composer, Scriabin. Scriabin believed that if he played a certain chord at the exact same moment that a certain pattern of colors was displayed, then the world would come to an end. Right then, at that very moment.”

Maybe Scriabin was right, Stephen thought: maybe some day somebody will hit the right combination. Maybe Scriabin already did it a century ago, and since then we’ve been living in some other world. “So,” he asked his wife, “would you have told Scriabin and Kandinsky you thought they were nuts?”

“I’d have told them I admire their work very much. Besides, only Scriabin was really nutty. Kandinsky was just eccentric.”

Stephen looked again at the Kandinsky postcard. A work of exuberant precision, the picture looked to him like a mapmaker’s rendition of a dreamscape. The fragments of geometry incorporated into the work: were they engineered segments of an intricate scaffolding being erected around the fantasy in order to contain it? Or was something uncontrollable smashing through the gridwork, breaking it to bits? “One more thing,” he said to Lynne. “If you’d had the chance, would you have encouraged Kandinsky to pursue his eccentricity to the limit, even if it took him all the way into madness? All for the sake of genius, for the sake of art, for the end of the world?”

“I wouldn’t have had to,” Lynne replied as she picked up her brush. “Kandinsky had Scriabin. I’m not sure who Scriabin had – maybe Rasputin.”


For quite some time I seriously entertained the feasibility of starting my own practice along the lines sketched out by Stephen Hanley, I explained the idea to a friend, a psychology professor who had gone to grad school with me. You mean, he asked me, that you’d encourage clients to exaggerate their symptoms for the sake of creative difference, even if it makes them feel worse instead of better? Nobody wants that; no one will come; it’ll never work.

I abandoned the practice with real people, but I have pursued it in a fictional parallel reality. There, the clients do show up. There, my fictional practitioner counterpart never has to worry about clients who want symptom relief. There he worries about his clients getting too different. After awhile even that worry gets to be repetitive, redundant.



  1. Then there’s my father, who is redundant in the extreme. It’s not compulsive; he just has no awareness that he’s repeating himself. For most things his memory has a half-life of about thirty seconds, so he repeatedly asks the same questions — What’s in this jar? Where are my glasses? What place is this? — because he doesn’t remember having asked before or what the answer is. Seen from an observer’s perspective he is completely mired in mindless repetition. From inside his own head, is he experiencing every mundane little thing as new and different? I’m surprised he doesn’t seem more terrified, all the time.


    Comment by ktismatics — 19 November 2013 @ 9:05 am

  2. A forerunner of Scriabin:

    In 1564 John Dee, adviser to Elizabeth I, owner of the greatest library in England, introducer of Euclid’s Geometry, and one of the most learned men of his time, published the Monas Hieroglyphica. It is a strange, moving treatise, dense with arcane scholarship. Dee thought he had discovered, through long, careful study, a symbol that could change the world — a sorcerer’s stone that would really work. It was a sun and moon interlocked and set atop the cross of the elements, with the sign of Aries at its side. Dee wrote that if this symbol were visualized by a magus in the right state of spiritual purity, with the skill to know and understand the meaning of the form, reality itself would change. The magus would become invisible, and a new and better era would be born. Dee seems to have believed that it could really happen: that a trained man who bent his mind with pure intention upon this image could, with the intensity of his focus, bring a new world into being.
    – T.M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back, 2012

    A later variant: John Carpenter’s imaginary apocalyptogenic film La Fin Absolue du Monde — here’s my post about it.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 November 2013 @ 11:44 am

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