Sunday, July 25, 2010

Disgusting but memorable

Watching the DVD of Deleuze interviews called L'Abécédaire, in the "C comme Culture" section I suddenly noticed a disgusting detail: Deleuze's fingernails are uncommonly long, wide, and misshapen - as if on a Mandarin manqué. They look too long for plucking guitar strings, but I may be wrong about that.

Anyway, since today is one of my be-nice practice days, I felt obliged to call myself on this one: "What do you mean, disgusting ? Deleuze will have had his reasons for keeping his fingernails like that. What do you care about Deleuze's fingernails ?" etc. etc.

With my eyes right up to the screen to check the fingernails, I replayed over and over a section where they can be seen. I heard this over and over:
Dès qu'on fait une chose, il s'agit d'en sortir. [pause] Il se faut aussi d'y rester dans le sortir. Alors, rester dans la philosophie, c'est aussi comme en sortir de la philosophie. Oui ... [pause] sortir de la philosophie, ca veut pas dire faire autre chose. C'est pour ça qu'il faut sortir en restant là-dedans. [pause] C'est pas faire autre chose, c'est pas en faire un rebond.
With this curious mantra in my ears, I sunk deep into program-notes mode* and arrived at the following considerations. I think I now understand better how structuralism and deconstructionism came into fashion - all that "death of the author" and il n'y a pas de hors-texte crap.

It happened when critics decided they should be ashamed of peering at the personalities and personal habits of authors. They wanted to become more objective by dealing only with the texts. But these critics were now devoting the same over-expectant attention to words as they previously had to ambience, substituting one fetish for another. They were still interpreting, associating, reading things in, and wondering "why this, why that ?".

Suddenly I got a good look at the fingernails, and dropped the program notes. It was now clear that no matter what engages your attention as a writer or speaker, it can pay off to pay attention to your performance as well. An amusing or disgusting detail, although initially distracting, may ultimately help the audience to remember what you said, or reconstruct it. I had figured out what Deleuze meant by Dès qu'on fait une chose, il s'agit d'en sortir. Il se faut aussi d'y rester dans le sortir.. Back in the sixties, we called it "keep on truckin'".

* When you're attending a concert, there are occasionally boring stretches. That's when you turn your attention to the program notes, in search of something more interesting.


AJP Crown said...

There's no need for anyone over five years old to have dirty fingernails.

I've recently found that taking omega-three pills in a gelatine capsule has improved the strength and appearance of my nails.

Apparently doctors always used to check their patients' nails to see if they were in good general health. I don't know when or why they stopped.

Stuart said...

Oh, they didn't look dirty, just unkempt - like on a Mandarin fallen on hard times.

Your remark about doctors checking fingernails reminds me of something. Trying to remember what it was, I first checked back on what I had read recently about the connections between pellagra and the proper preparation of corn.

In the early 1900s, pellagra reached epidemic proportions in the American South. There were 1,306 reported pellagra deaths in South Carolina during the first ten months of 1915; 100,000 Southerners were affected in 1916. At this time, the scientific community held that pellagra was probably caused by a germ or some unknown toxin in corn.

But I found nothing about fingernail symptoms in pellagra, just this as a summary: "Pellagra is classically described by "the three D's": diarrhea, dermatitis and dementia". Jesus H. Christ !

What I am trying to remember seems to be something I am usually trying to forget: yet again something my father told me as a kid, about how important it is that doctors learn to closely observe patients for signs and symptoms, instead of just tanking up on clinical book-larnin'. I think he may have mentioned fingernails in particular.

For instance, as the "Symptoms" link below says, brittle nails can be a sign of anemia. Now I remember something more specific having to do with fingernails, I think, although I no longer know exactly what it was: he told me that pregnant women in poor families often bought shirt starch, cooked it and ate it, because it was cheaper than food. It gave them the starch they craved, but led to vitamin deficiencies and other problems.

Over the years, just by chance, I have picked up a little knowledge about certain genetic disorders of the fingernails. Possible Causes of Nail Discoloration tells you what brown, green, yellow and blue nails might mean as symptoms. At Causes of Fingernail Symptoms you can luxuriate in 238 symptoms, and their names: "Amelo-onycho-hypohidrotic syndrome" = hyperconvex nails.

If doctors no longer pay attention to these things, then they are bad doctors. My father may have been a bastard, as I never tire of repeating, but I sure did learn a lot of important and useful stuff from him.

AJP Crown said...

That's all very interesting, Stu, and very sad about the shirt starch. I really ought to check back here more often.

AJP Crown said...

"Kommentaren din har blitt lagret og vil vises etter at den har blitt godtatt av bloggeieren."

How do they know I'm in Norway, for God's sake?

des von bladet said...

When a critic seized upon Deleuze's unusually long, uncut fingernails as a revealing eccentricity, he replied: "I haven't got the normal protective whorls, so that touching anything, especially fabric, causes such irritation that I need long nails to protect them."

Stuart said...

Nice find, des ! It must be hard to identify Deleuze's influence on other writers, because he leaves no fingerprints.

marie-lucie said...

I don't come here often, so this is a little late, but:

- Il se faut aussi d'y rester, dans le sortir:

il se faut .. de .. ??? The language is going to the dogs.

- Interesting info on nails. I used to have to keep my nails very short or they would break. They don't any more. Perhaps it is because I now eat cereal fortified with Omega 3.

Stuart said...

Ah, marie-lucie, you make me very nervous now. That is a transcript prepared by an imperfect transcriber, i.e. yours truly. Deleuze doesn't always speak clearly during those interviews, slurring his words and speaking too fast - from my point of view. It's more likely that I'm wrong than that Deleuze is. Before we admit my transcript as evidence that the language is going to the dogs, I should check again.

marie-lucie said...

Stuart, perhaps he said "il s'en faut aussi d'y rester", etc, but that would only be marginally better if he meant that "one should stay there" (which should have been il faut aussi y rester).

Il s'en faut means more or less "there is some [unspecified ingredient] missing" and can only be used with a quantifier, as in Il s'en est fallu de peu que j'y passe " "Just a little more and I would have died" or il s'en faudra de beaucoup pour que j'accepte de me présenter aux élections "It will take a lot before I agree to stand for election".

The other possibility is that he die say "il se faut", as an impersonal version of il nous faut "we have to ...", in which case it might be a recent innovation, but il nous/me/te/vous/etc faut would not take the preposition de after it.

AJP Crown said...

Perhaps it is because I now eat cereal fortified with Omega 3.

Yes! Finally, someone sees the importance of Omega 3. It's not just the geletine for the nails, either, it's very good for the brain.

AJP Crown said...

My god, who would have sublime suffering if they could have cheap happiness. What's wrong with cheap happiness?

Stuart said...

Nothing's wrong with it. I think there was a Romantic, Russian-soul fashion for "sublime suffering" in the historical context (1860s ?). The figure in the novel means that, when you answer without thinking and posturing, you will concede that that stuff ain't worth a hill of beans.