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Women & Men Chapter Discussions > 0690 OPENING IN THE VOID (smile)

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message 1: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Discuss.

message 2: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Obfuscations, I was going to say a few things in response to your original post this morning, but it looks like you answered your questions. I also realized I had posted in the wrong area yesterday. I need to move it in here. I am so terrible in posting in the right area. It's like everything is grey in my head. I don't do well with black and white. Well, things are gray in my head. :oD

message 3: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Okay, moving this from the previous section but in one post, in case I have to move it for the third time. I'm hopeless.

Nathan and I got into a good discussion about this section in my update comments, when Nathan reminded me we should put it in here. This is an interesting section. We were wondering whether this was second person or epistolary. I'll copy my wonderings from there to here. Sorry for the quick copying, but I want to quickly get back into the flow of my rumination about this chapter.

I just started this, but it sounds epistolary, in the second person talking to Jim as the "you." Obviously, Jim visits him in prison. I'm trying to determine what their relationship is, interviewer/interviewee, fellow journalist in prison? He seems to know an awful lot of personal things about Jim.


“So what’s the issue, Jim, you visitor, me captive host?”

The interesting part is his reference to Jim in the future, Jim not having dreams, and the "unconscious."

Which brings me to the "Colloidal unconscious" referred to earlier in the book. I have to review the meaning of that. There's also "simultaneous reincarnation." It's interesting to see an author's reinterpretation of various concepts, such as the many ways of interpreting "infinite recursion." I kept on having to refer to that concept in my reviews.


“Smitty will never tell you but he knows he’ll never be a journalist but comes to the workshop to stay out of his cell till eight-thirty”

Jim teaches journalism to prisoners?


“you paused to let, I know, those sub-microscopic half-knowing mirror-particles face me a message: which was, Can’t you give me an address?”

He said that their connection is the Chilean economist, the reason why Jim visits him in the cell. It seems Jim wants information from him regarding the economist.


“connection though not through the Colloidal unConscious with him—only with you”

Is this what you were referring to when you thought it might be telepathic, Nathan?

message 4: by Aloha (last edited Oct 27, 2012 08:07AM) (new)

Aloha | 497 comments McElroy repeats a lot of the vignettes as you read on, so I don't think this part is any more significant than the other parts, not that it's insignificant.

message 5: by Aloha (last edited Oct 27, 2012 08:28AM) (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Sue was married to Marv, but divorced him because she's a lesbian. It's the same Sue, different time.

message 6: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Let me go through all the passages with Sue in it. I may be wrong. Get back to you on that.

message 7: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments You're right. In Still Life: Sisters Sharing Information, it was confusing because Maya and Sue both have a boyfriend named Dave.

message 8: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Aloha wrote: "You're right. In Still Life: Sisters Sharing Information, it was confusing because Maya and Sue both have a boyfriend named Dave."

I just ran across a Dave in the first Grace Kimball section. He's a friend of Cliff's. Not much information there, but it would count as the first appearance of Dave.

Jonathan wrote: "'Sue, formerly of Marv, Sue, and Larry, would not have been at a party so pair-bound as all that: therefore, the woman who was heard to say "Sue" names another of that name or is urging action upon her hearer.'"

There is a good bit of McElroy ambiguity in that statement. My memory is that there is only one "Sue." But my memory has proven faulty before.

message 9: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Nathan, Jonathan is right. It makes sense in the timeline that there are two Sues. Also, when you get to Still Life, note that Maya and Sue both have boyfriends name Dave. I had to do a double take, but that's what it is.

message 10: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments I see that after reading this, it's going to take at least a couple of weeks for me to write the review. I'm going to have to make a list of characters, places and time line. There's also the Anasazi medicine man, the incarnations of the Hermit Inventor, Margaret's history, meteorology, etc., etc. I love it!

message 11: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments It is conceivable that there's alternate universes where there's a gay Sue and a straight Sue. However, I think it's more in line with McElroy's subtle style to indicate that people can have same names within the same sphere of relations. The two Daves is a clue to that.

message 12: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments I would pay close attention to double names/identities because they are one of the significant clues to solving the puzzles in this book. The Sues and Daves are only minor clues, but most obvious to warn you of this. McElroy weaved them throughout the book to culminate in surprise ah-has toward the end. This book is like multiple maze lines that all relate, yet in ways that do not seem to relate, and in the end connect for you to see relations. I am loving this book! This is definitely a book that is worth even closer scrutiny after I'm done with it.

message 13: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments I'm rereading this section, and I noticed a few more things.

1. Mention of Hegel's obstacles. I found an article regarding Hegel and history that is interesting:


2. "Smile". Is that symbolic of a significant communication?

message 14: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments This chapter is one of the most important chapters. It's chock full of clues. I'm picking up clues that didn't register with me on the first reading, the reading that helps me to familiarize with the terrain of the book.

message 15: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Yes, upon my rereading of this section, I'm convinced it's a communication through the Colloidal Unconscious, since there are references to mental communication without close physical proximity or technology. The references were more than the quotes you provided, Jonathan, so there is plenty of allusions to a sort of telepathic communication.

Sometimes I wonder whether Jim was a prisoner whose chore is to teach prisoners, since prisoners do help out by teaching, too.

message 16: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Your description of memory merges (twin scopes) is a better description than telepathy. That can also be a description of Collloidal Unconscious.

I'm also convinced he's not an inmate, but I can't recall what passage led me to stop my wondering about whether he was also a prisoner. I'll have to get back to you on that and many other questions, since I'm onto something else about this book. Lots of stuff!

message 17: by Aloha (last edited Nov 16, 2012 06:02AM) (new)

Aloha | 497 comments obfuscations wrote: "in further-removed hindsight i realize this is one of the chapters i most enjoyed. i think largely because the narrative voice is so unusually clear and singular (however confusing some of the cont..."

This is a book that demands that you take your time (sequentially or eventfully?) to absorb it, that you reread it so that you can understand and follow it. W&M's plotting does not follow the traditional sequential time (Ha! I didn't say "linear", Nathan), but the Navajo's sense of time, as hinted at in his book. And he followed that by giving you events as a way of tracking time.

That single consciousness is eerie, though. It's omniscient from a sociopath in prison, kind of like in a horror movie when the babysitter receives a telephone call telling her that he can see what she's doing.

For me, a book that only calls for me to read it for pure entertainment value, then forget about it, is not as satisfying as a book that calls to me to learn more, and to track how the author arrived at the content of the book, either from the author's background or research. I guess I'm more of a systems theorist than I thought. If I hadn't read this book, I wouldn't have known about Systems Theory.

message 18: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments I noticed McElroy reinforced this Navajo event non-sequential time by repeating several events (in particular true historical details) over and over again throughout the book, but in slightly varying details, and embedding them with his plotting of the book, such as Coxey's march. McElroy's structure is atypical and quite beautiful if you look at it in detail.

message 19: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments There's also a possibility that there is only one Sue. You'll see why as you go to the part where Grace analyzes Sue.

message 20: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Jonathan's deleted posts ::

obfuscations wrote: "first clear follow-up reference (that i recall) to the closing scene of 'division of labor unknown', tho from a different perspective in the room and related 2nd hand."

There is a follow up to 'division of labor unknown' in the last paragraph on page 417, the echo of the first line of the novel, the daiquiris, repetition of 'Martin or Marvin'. In this case, it's the interrogator discussing the party, repeating what "you had admitted" about it. My emphasis. Not sure still how to understand this semi-scene with what comes before and after, but it's there. I think I should be focusing more on the transitions between parts of the BREATHERS than I have been.

I also want to add that it confirms in this echo of the scene that the Sue at the party is not the Sue as in Marv, Sue, and Larry (the party is too 'pair-bound' for her), so that means that the Sue is proooobably the Sue as in Sue and Maya from still life: sisters...

I'm pretty sure there are two Sues. If Sue in "still life" was Sue ('of Marv, Sue, and Larry') after her divorce (or at least her entering into OM), she would presumably not be a fiance to Dave (unless she got over her coming out very quickly). And it can't be that Sue pre-Marv because she didn't know Grace pre-Marv and the Sue in "still life" does know Grace (attends Body-Self). BUT, you are farther along than me, so I'm not totally closed to your one Sue theory, but it makes zero sense with the timeline I have. Until I get as far as you, I back down.

I'll also write out a full sentence on page 418 that lends itself to my theory when combined with the info above: 'Sue, formerly of Marv, Sue, and Larry, would not have been at a party so pair-bound as all that: therefore, the woman who was heard to say "Sue" names another of that name or is urging action upon her hearer.' Now I'll shut up and try to catch up!

Well, you'll probably hit still life this week. That's where all the relevant information is, and why to me the ambiguous sentence was a winking confirmation.

The chapter (so far, I'm on p 700) isn't solely spoken or written (or as Foley puts it 'not by word-unit or real-page') but addressed to Mayn by means of 'voice-over and memory-merge and the twin-scopes to come' (693). Also: 'So maybe my communication to you here and now, this penetration of your head, Jim, by chain (clunk) reflection, given as well as written you from way back before I knew you were, and half-unwritten now like primal scripts among many unsnarled (smile) thoughts, it what's transmitted here by need...' (694).

And yes, Jim teaches journalism to prisoners, on a 'once-a-week' volunteer basis. As it's put on 698 he's 'helping a clutch of cons be journalists'.

#22---(response to Aloha, "Yes, upon my rereading of this section, I'm convinced it's a communication through the Colloidal Unconscious")-----
Yes, I caught the discussion of the Colloidal Unconscious, I just used the quotes I used because I found them a more detailed and immediate ways of understanding the way the text is presented, snippets of voice over, some direct presentations of memory (though what a twin-scope does to aid in the creation of our text, I'm not sure). But do I think this is something actually transferred by any means literally into Mayn's head? Well, it's ambiguous, but no. So going with Colloidal Unconscious rather than twin-scopes and memory-merges, that's fine by me. Does this mean that I think it's all just not real? No, but I think it's a techno-mythologized version of their connection, like the Choor story is sometimes a mythologized version of Margaret's travels. I retain the right to edit these thoughts by the end of the chapter/book.

I do not see too much evidence of Jim being a fellow prisoner from what I've read. His interactions upon meeting his class for the first time seem inconsistent with your theory, but I'll follow up with you when I finish the chapter or come across direct textual evidence that he is visiting from the outside (there perhaps may even have been some of this in the Choor chapter). I hope I don't sound aggressive. I enjoy this friendly sparring over an often ambiguous book, in fact, it partially is what leads to moments of clarity that I think we both desire.

edit: Some stuff regarding Mayn as outside: on 702 Mayn is 'driving up here' (to the prison). He exchanges letters w/ Foley. On 705 he asks about visiting hours.

I see that while I'm right about two Sues, I'm wrong about our main Sue not being at the party. She does show up unexpectedly and that's why her name is shouted. So it goes.

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make of this or any prison a home

George Foley is in a Maximum Security prison in upstate New York, a "seventeen hundred toilet redoubt", but though his "dad sees only one thing when he looks at [him] now", we are invited to see more of Foley and more of prison life, prison life beyond "its secret suicides posed as murders, its historic farts and mutterings in the night.": from within a system of violence, a system so engrained that Foley compares it to the organization of a colony of African termites, Foley hopes for a prison organized around new principles, a kind of utopian barter market that "exists already of all men's skills" that serves its own needs and those of the Outside. Until then he thinks alongside communists, photographers, future journalists who found themselves thus in prison. On evenings, if only for a "getaway from the tedium", the inmates interact with a series of "substitute teachers", women and men from Outside, one of which is a journalism class led by an initially reluctant Jim, to whom this chapter is addressed by Foley.


Where is this violence of prison life?...I guess it is here. We are, and so much in the abstract!, in blind talk like the African termites who in their forty-food-high termitaries work like secrets all together-soldiers, workers, the Queen entombed engorged in secret touch with them all-which is their secret from themselves.

sate of body-brain turns to mind and mine to ours

What is this communication, "this penetration of your head, Jim, by chain (clunk) reflection, given as well as written you from way back before I knew you were, and half-unwritten now like primal scripts among many unsnarled (smile) thoughts, it what's transmitted here by need". Is this chapter's text an amalgamation? Of multiple letters from Foley, snatches of conversation with Jim, thoughts Foley had that Jim picked up on when he was "tuned toward" him, and what Jim has himself added to (or rephrased from) the message(s) while receiving them ("for we make our contribution I mine here and you who might be there and there say it all in your own way better")? Or more?

Foley introduces less familiar communication methods when discussing the Colloidal Unconscious. A colloid is a substance evenly dispersed throughout another substance that won't naturally settle out (as opposed to a suspension) e.g. milk, fog, blood. To do injustice to the complex ways that Foley presents it, I think the basic idea is that like a particle of the dispersed, Foley presents himself as communicating with other particles through the "dispersion media" around him, allowing for a kind of telepathy. One held by the The Colloidal Unconsciousness is even posited to have other "powers", like if sentenced to death by electric chair to put "two thousand volts of inorganic commercially generated mere alternating current...to peaceful communications use...[or] theoretically repel it right back to the generator where it came from, thereby blowing out their circuits..." Ambiguity abounds. Foley reminds us that language here is "more a material to see through than a pay-off formula to say the word; for what is colloid but a name for the unnameable, a name to say, a word and little more."


Colloidal silica particles at mica substrate. (Provided by T. Seery, from http://www.ims.uconn.edu/~avd/Physics...)

others, few though they be, share portions of my information

Jim isn't the only one Foley is communicating with. He, through Jim and Mackenna (a correspondence whose details are built on from its mention in Choor Monster) is also communicating with Larry and the current incarnation of the NY-Inventor respectively. He also is familiar with Spence, though not enough to identify him here:

[Mackenna] is in danger from a journalist unknown to me who in return for not indicating present involvement with inmate [the Cuban Clara and Mackenna are (supposedly?) helping free to he can free Luisa's father in house arrest in Chile], or so I hear, yields to journalist further information regarding his role in scrambling of an American company down that long beachhead of his country.

and has received, being an information hub, news that Clara had initiated a "countermove" against Spence which imperils her, news that Larry and Amy have broken up, etc.

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