Watching Troy pack this morning. He has frying pans in colanders, and an assortment of other things in frying pans all across the countertop. The general state of the place could be described as a “pig sty,” with shit sort of just spread out all over the place, so of course the first thing that comes to my mind is the scene in Tropic of Cancer where Miller accompanies Van Norden while he moves apartments. It is one of the funnier scenes in a book that is filled with many.
“The maid has piled his things up on the sidewalk. The patron looks on with a surly air. When everything has been loaded into the taxi there is only room for one of us inside. As soon as we commence to roll Van Norden gets out a newspaper and starts bundling up his pots and pans; in the new place all cooking is strictly forbidden. By the time we reach our destination all his luggage has come undone; it wouldn’t be quite so embarrassing if the madame had not stuck her head out of the doorway just as we rolled up….
Meanwhile the luggage is being hauled in. And things begin to look crazier even than before—particularly when he attaches his exerciser to the bedstead and begins his Sandow exercises. ‘I like this place,’ he says, smiling at the garçon. He takes his coat and vest off. The garçon is watching him with a puzzled air; he has a valise in one hand and the douche-bag in the other. I’m standing apart in the ante-chamber holding the mirror with the green gauze. Not a single object seems to possess a practical use. The ante-chamber itself seems useless, a sort of vestibule to a barn. It is exactly the same sort of sensation which I get when I enter the Comédie Française or the Palais Royal Theatre; it is a world of bric-à-brac, of trapdoors, of arms and busts and waxed floors, of candelabras and men in armor, of statues without eyes and love letters lying in glass cases. Something is going on, but it makes no sense; it’s like finishing the half-empty bottle of Calvados because there’s no room in the valise….
We are sitting at the round table in a pair of comfortable old arm-chairs that have been trussed up with thongs and braces; the bed is right beside us, so close indeed that we can put our feet on it. The armoire stands in a corner behind us, also conveniently within reach. Van Norden has emptied his dirty wash on the table; we sit there with our feet buried in his dirty socks and shirts and smoke contentedly. The sordidness of the place seems to have worked a spell on him: he is content here. When I get up to switch on the light he suggests that we play a game of cards before going out to eat. And so we sit there by the window, with the dirty wash strewn over the floor and the Sandow exerciser hanging from the chandelier, and we play a few rounds of two-handed pinochle. Van Norden has put away his pipe and packed a wad of snuff on the under side of his lower lip. Now and then he spits out of the window, big healthy gobs of brown juice which resound with a smack on the pavement below. He seems content now.”
That damn, silly, pig balloon is half deflated, resting gently on the floor like a golden buddha taking a snooze. Troy can’t figure out how to deflate it the rest of the way because he would like to fold it up and take it along with us—he seems to have grown attached to it—but he can’t find a valve that would allow it to deflate. Clothes are strewn over the bed, frying pans, as I wrote, and various other kitchen implements are across the counter. Troy’s eating a small bowl of macaroni and cheese with chopsticks while I’m lying in my bed, the sofa, watching all of this only half awake. Both of us are moving. He still has yet to look at the new apartment, but that’s only because last night I told him I’d split the rent on it for a few days while I’m still in town.
What do people talk about? Is there really so much worth talking about? I’m prompted to ask these questions, as I’ve been in the past, while watching three Vietnamese gentlemen standing out front of the cafe chatter away like little birds. Happily, I might add. And it does remind me very much of birds perched in a tree or on electric wires in its meaninglessness.
The question is sometimes asked, “why do birds sing?” Well, the question “why do birds talk?” could just as easily be asked. So then we may ask, as I did, “why do people talk?” Is there a point? I think many people would ask “what is the point of birds talking?” Most people likely think there is none, that it’s compulsive, a natural instinct. So now we may ask what is the point, the purpose, of this instinct? We could ask this of humans too, because surely if it is instinctual for birds to chatter away to each other, it is equally so of humans. But what is that purpose?
To talk of “higher” matters is one thing—conversations on art, history, politics, religion, etc.—or, of things in an educational way—to teach, to learn—but of the mundane matters of daily life, what? One can only guess that these mundanities are of some significance to these people—to many people—and that by talking about these things one strengthens the bonds he or she has with others. But what determines the significance of anything? What does it mean to be significant, how does one determine the significance of something, and why place that label on anything?
What is the significance of significance?