Saturday, March 5, 2011

Deselbiana: Intimidations of Mortality edition

Received opinion (pace Bassett's negative assessment) would have it that de Selby was no expert in child-rearing and child psychology. He notoriously dismissed infancy in The Layman's Atlas as "a form of malingering" and no more necessary than the conditions and events that characterise the other end of life's parabolic trajectory. Hatchjaw, however, in his commentary on the Country Album, calls attention to the presence there – leavening the savant's customary abstractions and ex cathedra declamations – of observations into infantile cognition that would establish de Selby's priority over Piaget's later research, except that for some reason he chose to couch his remarks in the form of a discussion of immigration policy.

De Selby's objective, it seems, was to reconstruct the conditions experienced by infants before they are inveigled into an existence in this present plane of reality. A process of reverse-engineering convinced him that those conditions are almost unimaginably alien from the physical laws that function here, accounting for the new-born child's habitual expression of gobsmacked stupefaction.

He observed, for instance, that no amount of repetition of the experiment will accustom infants to the way an object reappears after it has vanished behind a visual barrier. Each demonstration of object permanence is as flabbergasting as the first. Evidently the mode of existence from which they recently arrived was one of oneiric, Heraclitean flux and transformation, in which objects lack permanence and the very concept of 'object' is moot.

It is not clear how de Selby came by opportunities for this observation. One struggles to imagine the austere philosopher divesting himself of his dignity so far as to play Peekaboo with a toddler; still harder to conceive of parents who would willingly entrust their child to a man noted more for his otherworldliness than for his pedagogy. Hatchjaw accepts without question that the first draft of the Country Album was written during the poorly-documented phase of de Selby’s career in which he taught elementary school in rural Austria. In contrast, du Garbandier implies that the savant’s nephew may have served as an experimental subject – a Baby Albert to de Selby’s Watson, as it were – but the only evidence to bolster this calumnious speculation is the sense of responsibility and obligation that de Selby displayed when discharging the debts accrued by his reprobate relative in later life.

You call that a screwdriver?
Needs more vodka, ya wowser!

Nor is quantity constant in that previous existence, but rather is a function of physical conformation. In our world, the amount of material stays the same when a sheet of plasticine is rolled into a ball, or a tall glass of juice is decanted into a wider glass, or two cylinders of 235U are telescoped into one, but this constancy is a perpetual source of surprise to infants. There is merit to Bassett’s description (in Appendix IV of his De Selby Compendium) of de Selby's experiments in household hydraulics: that they read like attempts to recreate those primal conditions by breaking down the conservation of quantity, somehow disposing in the process of up to 80,000 gallons of water in one week. In this interpretation the celebrated Water-box is the equivalent of the Large Hadron Accelerator.

Some of the practical inferences built by de Selby on this empirical foundation seem unexceptional, even anodyne. He expresses his confidence that "these new arrivals in our midst" are capable of overcoming their origins and assimilating into society as model citizens, assuming an effort on their part to learn the dominant language and relinquish any sentimental attachment to their previous environment. Other remarks may raise the eyebrows of contemporary readers, as for instance his call for an attitude of greater suspicion and heightened surveillance, given the uncertain nature of their loyalties and intentions. It is easy for the savant to point out how little we know about why infants have migrated – whether they are refugees, or driven by more sinister motives – but there are ethical dimensions to the harsher interrogation he promotes. Most probably this represents a resurgence of de Selby's long-standing gastric complaint, with concomitant clouding of his mental acuity.


BDR said...

Flann is on my night-table for another reading, scheduled for book after next.

Substance McGravitas said...


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I weish! (wv)


mikey said...

It's astounding!
Time is fleeting
Madness takes it's toll

vacuumslayer said...

He observed, for instance, that no amount of repetition of the experiment will accustom infants to the way an object reappears after it has vanished behind a visual barrier. Each demonstration of object permanence is as flabbergasting as the first.

This works on me, too. I also respond very approvingly to jingling keys.

Smut Clyde said...

Way too much information, VS.

vacuumslayer said...

Smut, I assure you I was inappropriately young to attend any key parties at the height of their popularity. As you can see the by the picture, though, I was clearly a swinger.

Nowadays, I suppose I'd be up for attending a key party, but I reckon I'd probably just end up stealing people's cars.