Cell Phone Solipsism: On Selfishness and Spectatorship

Last night the woman sitting next to me at Pina Bausch's completely sold-out "The Window Washer" spent the first half hour of the show deleting old emails on her smart-phone before (blessedly, although only after several loud yawns and a number of quite stony stares from me) falling fast asleep for the remainder of the half.

I was at first relieved to find that she had disappeared after the interval, but unfortunately her friend one seat over (who kept calling her a "clever girl" and stroking her in a possessive manner before the show started) stayed. Before the second half had really gotten under way, he began checking his phone every five minutes, in apparent agony over the time the show was taking out of his life. Finally the man on his other side whispered harshly, "That's incredibly rude. Either turn it off or take it outside." Ten minutes later, exactly in the middle of one of the night's most solemn and tragic dances, I had to get out of my seat to make way for his early departure.

I've spent much of the last fifteen hours imagining what the level of the Inferno devoted to Cell Phone Solipsists must look like.

I'm thinking a Clockwork Orangesque hyperexposure to blaring/glaring non-stop technological spectacle, precluding sleep or any other sort of rest or solace, for the rest of time.

Of course there are theatrical contexts in which dividing your attention between the performer and other objects is appropriate. I myself always take notes in a small journal at the theatre: I find that what I lose in emotional absorption I more than make up for in retention and critical openness.  The distinction here is between distraction that changes your own experience of the work of art and that which actively changes everyone else's experience of the work.  Seriously, if you are blithely lighting up or leaving on your phone in any place defined by its communal darkness and quiet, or by the absorption of a group of people in attention to a single, easily disrupted task, then know that you are being a giant jackass. If you intentionally do this (as in the case of last night) after an explicit announcement telling everyone to turn their phones all the way off because the light disturbs neighboring spectators, I think you should be banned from experiencing artistic pleasure for the rest of your life.

Apparently I'm not much of a Futurist. Tant pis. I am, however, making great progress on being a desiccated curmudgeon.  And I
look forward to the day when some other desiccated curmudgeon (following me and Rousseau) derides a newer technology for disrupting our absorption in tweeting and texting. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012
London, UK

The Uneasy Eye

We're in London, after a brief stop in Boston for D's monthly needle-in-the-eye.  Did I ever tell you why he's being subjected to this slowest of all medieval tortures? 

A few months ago, when he was flying back to work in Hawai'i from a brief sojourn home to Nova Scotia, he called me from an airport in the midst of the seventeen-hour journey and said, "The vision is funny in my right eye." 

"That doesn't sound good," I replied, "I think you should see a doctor as soon as you get to Honolulu."

Thirty-six hours later he was completely blind in that eye.

Lucy, Patron Saint of the Eye-Afflicted, painted by Domenico di Pace Beccafumi (1484–1551)*
The ophthalmologist could see immediately that there was some sort of a rupture or blockage near his optic nerve; this sort of condition often spontaneously improves on its own, so she told him he should go away and come back in a week.  In the intervening days, his vision didn't improve, and he thought that he could feel a distinct pressure behind that eye. Of course, he's highly suggestible, so we didn't know what to make of this particular symptom. When he came back a week later, the doctor was openly alarmed.  The pooling of blood behind his eye was dramatically worse; it threatened now to detach his retina.

So he's been having monthly shots, direct to his eyeball (eurgghh), of medicine that will reduce the inflammation of these blood vessels, restore normal circulation, and prevent new vessels from being formed that would obscure or bypass his optic nerve (thereby causing permanent damage to his sight).  These are shots that are much more readily available in the States than in Canada or Britain, so he's made a sort of pilgrimage to the closest eye clinics from sea to shining sea, as we strove to preserve the shape of our summer as best we could.

All in all, he's been a stoic about it; untroubled by the Bunuelian prospect of sharp objects entering his eye. (Several of our friends, experienced medical professionals all, winced to hear about this treatment, telling us that the eye was the last part of the body that still evoked squeamishness in them.  "Is it because it's a delicate sac of goo?" I asked.  "Yes," they replied.)  It's our hope that he's come to the end of this particular brand of torment, although the original optic nerve troubles still plague his sight in that eye, because the secondary problem of swelling has been largely taken care of by his needle-courage, which was worthy of a bit of medieval hagiography.

* Is anyone else unnerved by the way in which St. Lucy's breasts seem to mirror her four hostile, wary eyes in this painting?  I'm reminded of the famous round of ghost stories between Lord Byron, the Shelleys, and others that ultimately inspired Frankenstein.  Here's how a doctor who was a fellow guest describes that fateful day
Began my ghost story after tea. Twelve o'clock, really began to talk ghostly. L.B. repeated some verses of Coleridge's Christabel, of the witch's breast; when silence ensued, and Shelley, suddenly shrieking and putting his hands to his head, ran out of the room with a candle. Threw water in his face, and after gave him ether. He was looking at Mrs S., and suddenly thought of a women he had heard of who had eyes instead of nipples, which, taking hold of his mind, horrified him.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012
London, UK