2.16.2009

A Rather Awkward Introduction

In Terry Gilliam's dystopian retrofuturistic movie Brazil, one of the subplots involves the efforts of a renegade air conditioner repairman, Henry Tuttle, played by Robert DeNiro, who calls himself “a plumber."

Working outside the accepted bounds of the bureaucratic public works department, Tuttle keeps the system running for the benefit of the little guy, working around the system to do the work of the system while simultaneously attempting to upend the system. For this, he is labeled a terrorist, and the main plot of the movie depends upon the system’s view of insiders-turned-outsiders.

I prefer to think like Tuttle; the system, as it is, has failed. The only way to revive the system is to work around the system in an attempt to replace the system with our own parts, regenerating the system in our own image. This choice depends not on dismantling the system, but improving it from without; it is not a radical reaction to the system, but it is a different way, a way that chooses a middle path, or a way that is newly blazed.

By way of introduction, I should say that I am not a classicist. My knowledge of the Greek poets, the Elizabethans, the Metaphysical poets, etcetera, is based on what I gleaned in undergraduate literature seminars when I was either a) extremely hung over or b) too tired from working the night shift. I come to this discussion not with a background in literary theory and knowledge, but from hours grappling with a pen in my hand both on the job, in the classroom, and at my desk in the wee hours of the morning.

Anything I say about writing and reading poetry is based on my understanding and reading and practice of poetry. I can't memorize and quote on demand and I am constantly flipping to my books, The Google, and Wikipedia to understand the references my fellow Plumbers are making. For me, this conversation is an education as much as it is a discussion. If I put my foot in my mouth, so be it. Perhaps I will come to like the taste of toes.

Yet at the same time, this position allows me to play the fool. And it is the fool that can speak truth to power. It is the fool that can point out the system's flaws.

2 comments:

Joseph Duemer said...

Plumbers & plumblines!

Matthew W. Schmeer said...

Yeah, I'm mixing tradeschools.

Plumbers need to run horizontal lines on slight angles; if it's perfectly plumb, it won't necessarily drain. And vertical lines need to be plumb so clogs don't occur.

You guys can be the carpenters; I'll be making sure the drains don't back up.