THE PUBLIC GREEN
THE PUBLIC GREEN
2421 words by Stanley Lieber
Redaction Day festivities were well underway by the time Rimbaud arrived on the Public Green. Green Ladies, resplendent in their traditional attire, ensured that every mug remained filled; or in any case, that each did not remain empty for long. This was fortunate since a lot of important talking was taking place under the big canvases. Tempers would buffer in the mugs.
Rimbaud approached a food tent and ran his eyes over the menu. I can't eat here, he thought. He moved to another tent and found himself much the same situation. Pork. Beef hearts. Nothing of substance. Typically, there were no vegetables to be found at any of the stalls. And the real animal flesh would only send him into allergic fits.
Near the edge of the Green, Rimbaud noticed a small group of children huddled around a wounded animal. He noted that the creature seemed to be mechanical in nature. Likely little more than an evolved toy. The young people were painting designs on its exposed flesh with dabs of white mud. He reflected that the mud in question normally anchored the grass of the Public Green.
This Redaction Day, Rimbaud had promised himself only limited interaction with his employees. But the flux of the crowd had made that impossible, as every attendee was expected to issue a lively greeting to whomever he passed by in the isles. Rimbaud observed that standing in one place for too long would lead to being ground under by the aggregate mob. Consequently he'd kept moving and had already come face to face with most of his subordinates several times.
What exactly, he wondered, was really being redacted here? Rimbaud surveyed the crowd and uncovered no sign of the ostensible paring away of cumulative excess. To him it seemed that the surplus interactions were multiplying.
A group of students had gathered on the Green to search for their friend. As a regular participant in the Redaction Day preparations, it was unlike their companion to wander off just as his toil was finally coming to fruition. But vanish he had, and under the most peculiar of circumstances. One moment he had been present, and the next he had seemed to disappear without a trace.
At first Rimbaud could not avoid overhearing them. After a few moments he could no longer prevent himself from joining in.
"Ask yourselves this," he said. "Why is it that this man is in the Off-White House? The majority of Northies did not vote for him. Why is he there? I tell you this morning that he is in the Off-White House because God put him there. God put him there to lead not only this nation but to lead the world in a time such as this."
Rimbaud stammered, unsure of himself.
"I don't know why I said that."
"El Nortes," one of the children remarked.
Something in Rimbaud caught onto the phrase. He felt as if he had lost control of his vocal chords.
"True enough. But there is a difference between quoting from academic sources, which Albert mostly avoids, and quoting from mass media sources (i.e. telescreen), which is mostly what Albert does. When he approaches feminism as an intellectual construct, it doesn't bolster his points to attack the watered-down, simplified, fatuous pablum that passes for a given 'movement' or strain of thought on the telescreen. What he does by gathering all of these strains under the same umbrella is akin to what journalists do when they headline articles about Albert Lunsford's comics with blurbs like 'Biff! Bam! Slap!'"
With this, he had captured the children's' full attention. One of them ventured a response.
"By my understanding, that is generally correct. But I do think there is a sort of 'trickle-down' effect from academia to popular culture. Albert vacillates between crediting academia with benign progress on the one hand and accusing it of the malicious destruction of society on the other. But in both cases he acknowledges academia's contribution to pop-feminism."
Rimbaud offered no objection, so the boy continued.
"It is true that the overwhelming preponderance of super-heroes in the medium renders comics, for most people, something that is strictly about super-heroes. But the interesting thing with regards to Lunsford is that, following his own logic, the aforementioned dominance of super-heroes also renders Albert Lunsford, himself, an atheist/marxist/feminist."
"Allow me to explain."
"Most comic books are about super-heroes. Therefore comic books are about super-heroes."
"Most comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists. Therefore comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists."
"Most comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists who are also feminists. Therefore comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists who are also feminists."
"You can see what this is leading up to, I'm sure."
"Most comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists who are also feminists who are also marxists. Therefore comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists who are also feminists who are also marxists."
"And finally... Albert Lunsford creates comic books. Therefore Albert Lunsford is an atheist and a feminist and a marxist, and his comic book work features the all-ages adventures of traditional American super-heroes."
"Clearly, if Albert does not wish to be associated with these atheists, feminists, and/or marxists, as well as the sorts of people who give two shits about super-heroes, he should stop referring to his work as 'comic books,' and/or abandon the medium entirely. Thus, responsibility for his public image is placed squarely upon his own shoulders. If he does not publicly disassociate himself from the medium of comics, he is implicitly supporting the groups identified as participants in the medium, and therefore society will have no choice but to lump him in with them and to treat him accordingly."
The boy who had first responded to Rimbaud raised his hand and simultaneously jumped back into the conversation without waiting to be acknowledged.
"But that's playing fast and loose with the terms we've already agreed have specific meanings (as Albert himself does in so many areas, i.e. marxism, atheism, etc.). Albert doesn't qualify his statements the way you are trying to do for him. He rejects the notion that there is any difference at all between these classifications. Atheist, marxist, feminist -- to him, they're all the same thing. In this way, he's exactly right that his arguments are 'unassailable,' because he has completely removed the ability to distinguish one discreet concept from another."
"His way of approaching classification just doesn't scale. In fact, this deficiency is precisely why Albert, in other situations, has railed against the erosion of grammatical and syntactical rules in the English language. Pretty soon, people are redrawing the boundaries of what words mean to fit their arguments, which allows them to alter history without even changing what they said!"
Rimbaud offered his summation: "As with his enemies, Lunsford merely contorts the context of a given discussion to support his pre-determined thesis."
A boy who had been seated on the opposite side of the circle now stood up and joined the discussion.
"Yes, and every time I would point out one of these collisions of mutually exclusive claims, Albert would just say that it was all self-evident to those who had already joined 'his team.'"
"And that's why, no matter how far he travels in search of new ideas, he will only ever succeed in discovering the tropes he brought along with him. He proceeds from the premise that he's addressing emotional irrationality and -- surprise of all surprises -- he arrives at the 'valuable confirmation' that he has indeed been addressing emotional irrationality. Is he really seeking after Truth, or is he merely riffing on foregone conclusions? Well, it's a bit of a trick question. He admits that he's merely riffing on foregone conclusions! Every event, whatever the outcome, is merely new evidence that he was right all along. And that's usually the totality of his argument. I think, therefore you are wrong. Back in 1974, I might have kept faith that his essays were leading up to something meaningful. But how long am I expected to wait for the prize? There is no there there. A smooth writing style will only carry you so far. He kept, and keeps, shifting the floor beneath the reader. Presently, he doubles back and ties every strand of rhetoric into his atheist/theist binary. He's gone completely off the rails as far as constructing an 'airtight argument' (as he calls it) is concerned. The obvious charge here is confirmation bias, and Albert Lunsford is history's most notorious offender."
Rimbaud stopped. Looked around. What was he saying? Where had all of this come from?
The crowd continued to churn, oblivious to his befuddlement.
He glanced around the circle of children, who were still lobbing balls of paint onto the mechanical animal. None of their mouths were moving. Their body language suggested that they had not even noticed his presence.
He could feel himself losing control again.
"No, no, no. Women are clinically insane, but Albert Lunsford cannot be schizophrenic because psychiatry is not a valid science."
"I think his mental health is sort of a non-issue. Albert interprets it as the fulcrum his freedom hinges upon; but since he is, so far as we know, not a danger to anyone else and since he does, so far as we know, manage to take care of himself, I really don't think anyone cares. I know I don't care, personally, whether or not he is considered 'crazy.'"
"Albert, for his part, seems to think that the whole of society is simply waiting for him to die. But really. I think he tends to overestimate the common man's awareness of his oeuvre. Most of society doesn't know he exists. When people call him 'insane,' I don't think they mean for men in white coats to forcibly remove him from the Off-White House and drag him off to some kind of state-run facility. I think the people he's really worried about -- some small percentage of his peers in the industry -- see him as either an amusing crank or as a sad example of what happens when a man convinces himself he's the only person on Earth with access to The Truth. Just because people make fun of him being overdue for his meds doesn't mean they are going to come and strap him into a chair, inject him with marxist/feminist/atheist/homosexualist meta-proteins."
"The fact that he was actually committed once, against his will, probably contributes to his paranoia about the perception of his mental health. Perhaps his fear is exacerbated by his vast experience with hallucinogens, as he may have acquired some idea of what psychotropic medications would do to him. My own parents took me to a psychiatrist once, against my will, and I can say that I was quite belligerent in my response. But I was not given medication, and in fact I was not even held overnight for observation. The psychiatrists seemed confused as to why I had been brought to their clinic in the first place. Given his hostility towards psychiatry, I can only assume Albert was treated differently."
"If one examines the timeline of recriminations between Albert and the comic book industry, it is interesting to observe the escalating pattern of self-ostracization Albert has enacted over the past several years. I do not dismiss what his latest published material purports itself to be about, but it is instructive to note that Albert's latest theories have expanded to encompass a neat explanation of why he is no longer a fan-favorite creator, and why his latest works haven't garnered the universal acclaim he seems to think they deserve. He obviously has a very high opinion of himself, and requires a comprehensive explanation as to why the rest of the world doesn't hold him in similar esteem. It's fascinating to me that the very tenacity and pigheadedness that make him so difficult to interact with seem to be precisely the traits that enable him to complete his multitudinous extended works. I think this is where Ian Kenny's observations have been centered: Kenny marvels that Albert's single-minded determination seems to have resulted in the self-destruction of his critical faculties -- that is to say, his ability to honestly evaluate himself. At the same time, he has turned the remainder of that focus outward, towards the world. To that end I don't just think Ian is being a 'fuckwit,' as you put it. He sort of has a point. Others would no doubt remind us that Albert has always been closed off to intimacy, and that he has only stopped portrayed himself otherwise since the summer of 1974.)"
Finally, Rimbaud began to wind down. He seemed to have said his piece.
"I'm sort of getting tired of this relentless harping on the negative aspects of Albert's philosophies and his approach to arguing them. But dammit, it seems to me that even the people who explicitly admit they are opposed to everything he stands for never seem to criticize him on the right points. I tried writing to him and taking him to task in private, but as we know, Albert is famously unreceptive to actual intellectual combat. He prefers to maintain the authorial distance. All of you folks who hold it as an article of faith that Albert is unfailingly polite and self-effacing to his fans; well, it's hardly a universal constant, as many of us have learned from hard experience."
It finally dawned on Rimbaud that none of this was actually happening on the Public Green. What he was feeling, seeing and hearing was but a resonant echo of the original Redaction Day. What he seemed to be interacting with was actually just a part of the holiday decoration. His mesh transceivers had passed on the data unchecked. What a clever presentation, he thought.
Before he could tear himself away from the simulation, one of the children appeared at his side and began tugging at his shirtsleeve. He bent down so the child could whisper in his ear.
"Keep your mouth shut. Don't listen to the worries inside," the child said.
In light of Albert Lunsford's harsh experience, Rimbaud considered this to be good advice.
To be continued...