Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

At the Sunday Market

In Baraboo a few days ago, at the Sunday Market, I was chatting with a young artist visiting from Chicago. Learning that he had enlisted before enrolling in the Art Institute, I expressed pleasure at learning one can survive the brainwashing involved in military service. That someone should want to be an artist seems to me a sure sign of survival. He understood what I was saying and uttered what must have been a survival mantra, along these lines: "Don't eat the eggs and don't drink the milk." I hope I have this correct in substance, at least, in thinking back over a busy trio of days. Drugs for inhibiting adrenaline production which are mixed in the milk and eggs, he said, helped in the process of crushing the individual being remade into a soldier.

He and his friend, another artist, had already commented on how much my voice reminded them of an Art Institute teacher -- "He even laughs like him," she said to him -- which made me ask about that teacher's area of expertise; so when the topic of brainwashing came up I felt free to speak of my own area of special interest in science fiction; and I asked if the 1950s interested him. Since the decade did, I spoke of a novel that tells of a soldier's emergence from brainwashing, presented as science fiction adventure. The novel is Gunner Cade.

"This is so weird," the young man said. "You're the second person in five days to tell me I should read that novel."

I must have felt as startled as he by the coincidence. Since he had not learned the book's author, I wrote it out: Cyril Judd (Cyril Kornbluth and Judith Merril).

I mentioned that I had, only a few days before, happened to open Gunner Cade again, and had been struck by its opening paragraph: for in depicting the machinery behind Cade's morning waking it suggests so well the world-machine that wholly encompasses his life, and sets for him his horizons:

"Far below the sleeping loft, in ancient cellars of reinforced concrete, a relay closed in perfect silent automaton adjustment; up through the Chapter House, the tiny noises multiplied and increased. The soft whir of machinery in the walls; the gurgle of condensing fluid in conditioners; the thumping of cookers, where giant ladles stirred the breakfast mash; the beat of pistons pumping water to the top."

"Now I really have to read that novel," he said after I described the paragraph.

This morning the thought comes to me that Cyril might have produced a work of stunning intensity had he tackled this novel solo. Even so he outlined and presented it to Judy as a project to work on together to earn some fairly quick cash for the household. He may have felt, consciously or unconsciously, unready to confront his military experience in full. Some direct memories emerged in one of his first solo novels, The Naked Storm, written around the same time -- but only as fragments. Memories of the whole life-changing experience surged too powerfully within him, as of yet, for him to reduce it to dimensions he could grasp, to express them more fully as an artist.

This morning, too, a memory strikes me -- of a small item the young man found in our booth. He reacted to it with enthusiasm. A small, wooden three-piece box, the old thing once served, I believe, as a match-safe. The young man conceived of a different use related to his art-making.

It strikes me only now that the match safe was shaped much like a standing-upright bullet.

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