Early on in “The Other Day After the Rain,” in describing the decaying building in which he lives, the narrator identifies it as being in the “residual phase”, a phrase which puts the structure’s decline in unusual terms: not that of an arc which would account for movement through time, but rather as a kind of reversion, a lapsing backward toward a prior state. “I think this place exists outside of time,” writes the narrator. “I realize now that’s why I came to live here.”
A similar regression through states with mysterious borders appears even earlier in the story—in fact at its very beginning—with the narrator’s emergence from dream life into waking life, one provoked by a “cock so stiff it seems as if it’ll split at the slightest touch.” But the worlds he might have inhabited while asleep and which become inaccessible upon waking aren’t useful to him in the revelatory way in which dreams are usually interpreted. He isn’t interested in how they might help him better understand his waking self. The thinker at hand here isn’t Freud, it’s Descartes. The narrator is holding out for a duality of body and mind—one which he doesn’t really believe in but longs for all the same. It’s easy enough to identify what could incline him toward such a desire; his daily life amounts to an endless string of humiliations while in the abstract world of his books, he moves quite capably. But what to make of the erection? How should we understand it and the exceedingly odd way that other characters react to it?
Perhaps we should see it as a representation of self-consciousness or insecurity about one’s masculinity in a place where it’s always being tested or probed and placed in the foreground. But more complexly, because many of the philosophical ideas and texts being engaged here are more or less antiquated, it’s tempting to read in the unruly erection, and in the story at large a kind of Menippean satire. This tradition is probably best associated with works by Jonathan Swift, though its origins are considerably older, and according to Mikhail Bakhtin’s taxonomy, is defined by “bold and unrestrained useof the fantastic and adventure . . . for the provoking and testing of a philosophical idea, a discourse, a truth." The narrator is little more than the embodiment of that impossible desire for pure mind. The effect of the satire is sealed by the archetypal roles that every other character in the story plays—the power-drunk cop, the thuggish neighbor, the impeccably feminine Yemima, the theological con man—as well as the scarcity of information about the narrator, his past, livelihood, or anything else that might help us understand the origins of this desire. Just as a syllogism’s inferences proceed from a presupposed premise, this story’s logic is self-contained. Why does he want to escape his body? As it is, we must refer back to that humiliating appendage and just as importantly, to the archetypes of corruption, greed, and tyranny he encounters. It’s no feat of the imagination to see these characters as defining symbols of the society the narrator inhabits, nor is it a leap to connect the pressures of living in that society with the erection.
The building’s regression into the “residual phase” acts as a model for our narrator’s desire for pure mind, an escape from corporeality into timelessness, and formlessness. With that in mind, perhaps we need find no further significance in the erection other than the character of its form: big, provoked in ways that evade conscious control, and asymmetrical. Johan is dealing here in territory that modern fiction rarely tackles, and when it does, it tends to employ very different techniques in doing so. Its power, similar to that of myth lies in its constellations of strange, resonant, and ineradicable images.
Published Nov 27, 2011 Copyright 2011 David Iaconangelo