Thursday, May 14, 2009

If we left it up to chance...

I didn't have breakfast this morning. And I don't have any classes to distract me from the gnawing hunger and unseemly growling noises in my belly. On the plus side, Mi Sun is sitting next to me and her tummy is growling way louder than mine. So that's funny. On the other hand, it's still an hour and a half till lunch. Boo.

I'm bored. I'm taking the day off from studying the Korean to kinda let the knowledge gel in my brain... I think if I keep adding new stuff it'll just push out all the old stuff that hasn't yet taken root. So, instead, I'm watching the Nuggets/Mavs game online... I really wish I could care about this game, but I just don't. I'm not a fan of Dirk "Stop calling me a Nazi" Nowitzki, or Jason "I only beat my wife when she deserves it" Kidd, or anybody else on that team really. As for the Nuggets and Carmelo "So what if I smoked a little pot" Anthony and Kenyon "Stay away from my mom" Martin... meh. I am a Chauncey Billups fan, in a small mostly-meaningless way. Really, the most interesting thing about this game is that whenever I watch Billups play, it always makes me think of one of my favorite fictional characters, Chauncey Gardiner.

First of all, if you've never seen the movie "Being There" starring Peter Sellers in his penultimate performance, stop whatever useless thing it is you're doing right now (get it? 'cause what could be more useless than reading this nonsense?!) and go scrounge up a copy. They might have it at the video store... I'm sure you can find it online if you look hard enough. Anyway, the story goes that after Jerzy Kosinski published his novel of the same name, he received a telegram from the main character, Chance the gardener. Probably after freaking out for a while and questioning his sanity, he opened to find a message from his (completely fictional) leading man, saying that he was "available, in my garden or out of it." When Kosinski called the number on the telegram, Peter Sellers answered the phone. Now, I've always loved Peter Sellers; his Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies is brilliant comedy. Do I sound British enough for ya? Anyway, he felt that Chance was the role he was put on earth to play.

The premise is simple: Chance the gardener is a man who has spent his entire life isolated. From everything. He's lived, always, in the same house, working in the same garden. With no knowledge of the outside world apart from the TV he loves so much, he is basically a blank slate. He is enchanted by the constantly moving images of the television, and he seems equally captivated no matter what is going on around him. He is a perfect representation of Martin Heidegger's concept of the Dasein, a complex and more-or-less incomprehensible philosophical notion. But the gist of it can be understood simply by the name itself, or (ha!) at least by its translation into English: being there. Heidegger went on from there into all sorts of mental gymnastics about Being-in-Time vs. Being-in-the-World, most of which I have almost no understanding of whatsoever, but Kosinski's main character Chance the gardener (later to be known as Chauncey Gardiner) is a wonderfully understated and beautiful portrait of the power and novelty of simply existing in the here-and-now, of letting all the phenomena of appearance and existence wash over you.

When Chance's (for lack of a better word) caretaker dies, he is forced to leave the house that was his whole world. His first experiences in the outside world are filled with a kind of sublime horrible cluelessness, as the audience realizes his precarious grasp on the situation while he remains blissfully unaware. He eventually ingratiates himself into the inner circles of political power in Washington, as time and again his passive acceptance and reflection of the personalities of the people he talks to leads them to misintepret the interaction. Every person he meets projects their own values and ideals onto him, and he never does anything to disabuse them of their own entrenched notions. Rather, he simply agrees with everything he hears. A better way to say it may be that acts as a mirror, letting everyone see and hear exactly what they want to, and what they want to hear of course is that they're right, they're smart, they're worthwhile. Chance (or Chauncey, as he comes to be known in the political circuit) eventually becomes so well-respected that he receives offers for a book deal, television appearances (I think -- I haven't seen it in a while) and a chance to become an advisor to the president. His views on economic turmoil especially struck me. If I remember correctly, it ran something like this (I'm paraphrasing, so bear with me): "In the spring we have many beautiful flowers, and in the fall we have delicious fruit. But we know that in the winter, there will be no flowers and no fruit. We just have faith that spring will come again with beautiful flowers, and later we'll have delicious fruit." Naturally, the economic thinkers are won over by his simple yet profound assertion of confidence in the economic system for which they're responsible, and Chauncey becomes known as a brilliant yet easy-to-understand authority on the economic climate. And so it goes...

Now, please understand that I've neither read nor seen this work since probably 2003, so I'm a little rusty on the details, and it's entirely possible that nothing I've said above is even remotely true. I may, in fact, have made the whole thing up. But the simple fact is that my imagination's just not that good, so you can come away from this with reasonable confidence that many of the things noted above are actually contained in either the book or the movie. Maybe both. Who knows?

Oh, and by the way, the Nuggets are up 8 in the 3rd quarter right now, and I almost care. Slightly less than an hour till lunch. A watched clock never ticks, or something.

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