Monday, March 12, 2018

You can't spell 'Apotheosis' without 'pot'

Here at the Riddled Institute of Forensic Literature and Postmodern Milking-shed Design, we have been looking at the vexed issue of the Uncanny and the Unheimlich in household appurtenances and appliances. It's a dirty job and no-one else wanted it.

We are particularly interested in the "pot" passage in Watt, where Sam Beckett invented a kind of Capgras Delusion for kitchen containers -- an Invasion of the Potty Snatchers, as it were --
Looking at a pot, for example, or thinking of a pot, at one of Mr. Knott's pots, of one of Mr. Knott's pots, it was in vain that Watt said, Pot, pot. Well, perhaps not quite in vain, but very nearly. For it was not a pot, the more he looked, the more he reflected, the more he felt sure of that, that it was not a pot at all. It resembled a pot, it was almost a pot, but it was not a pot of which one could say, Pot, pot, and be comforted. It was in vain that it answered, with unexceptionable adequacy, all the purposes, and performed all the offices, of a pot, it was not a pot. And it was just this hairbreadth departure from the nature of a true pot that so excruciated Watt.

I write "invented", but the evidence suggests that Beckett was inspired by a 1930 work by two English historians / philosophers. The Journal of Beckett Studies has declined to publish my paper on this trail of intellectual influence, not that I'm bitter or anything.

Anyway, the 1953 Watt Pot passage is brief, but we have advanced speculative-imaging technology available at the Riddled Institute. We used this to enhance the text, imputing missing details and reconstructing the actual pot whereof Beckett wrote. It turns out that the same pot came out of retirement, in 1976, to inspire Dick and Zelazny* with another pot-related passage of strangeness and alienation:

The 23-year periodicity of this sequence of appearances allows us to predict that a fourth tupperware text was published in 1999, though we are still pot-scouring the literature to find it. The fifth passage will appear in 2022, and will probably be an entire book in length, given the exponentially-expanding length of manifestations so far. Assuming that there are still books in 2022.
Kids these days have it easy, with a vastly expanded armamentarium of household gadgetry -- with or without Internet-of-Shite -- to feel estranged and dissociated from. So here is a recent exercise in science fiction in which the narrator's thoughts wander down weird paths after she replaces her washing machine... thoughts centred on the alien, unheimlich nature of the replacement (until it re-familiarises itself behind a protective camouflage of domesticity).

But try telling kids what it used to be like, and they...

Is the story any good?

It is competently written, though derivative: Zoline's "Heat-Death of the Universe" filtered through the sensibility of Sheckley's "Can You Feel Anything when I do This?" What brings it to the attention of the Riddled Institute is the fact that through some glitch in the Matrix, it was published in an academic journal.

We hope that Riddled isn't turning into just another of those lazy let's-laugh-at-silly-academic-essays, Uncle Smut.

Not at all! And I would have got away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids! I am just relieved to find a suitable journal to publish my ground-breaking paper on post-modernism in the design of conceptual, non-utilitarian milking sheds.
* With feline editorial commentary:
Work proceeded sporadically over several years as each author forgot about it in turn (and Zelazny's cat took the opportunity to urinate on the original manuscript). But they finished it quickly in the spring of 1975 when the publisher demanded the manuscript or repayment of the advance paid to Dick. The editor discovered Zelazny had sent photocopies of some pages and demanded the originals as per Doubleday's policy; much to Zelazny's chagrin, he had to send in the urine-stained pages and he always wondered what the editor made of them.
Commentary-Cat was only following a long feline tradition. See whole Twiddle-thread here.

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