Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Blogging the Caine: Tope Folarin's "Miracles"

Aaron is at his best, for my purposes at least, in his discussion of the way that miracles, in Tope Folarin's Caine Prize nominated story "Miracles," function as a sort of currency, a way of converting between the story's initial "we" and its subsequent "I." His reading of the final paragraph of the story specifically:
The miracle is what the glasses become a reminder of, the "we" that his brief experience of isolation brought into focus. Only as an "I" could the meaning of that "we" truly become apparent, just as only the total lack of proof could prove the existence of faith.
Perhaps a better metaphor than currency, though, is exchange value; in this specific case, it is the glasses themselves that materially function as the currency, at least if we take the narrator's realization to be coterminus with the "message" of the story.

There is textual evidence to support this; the Blind Prophet who appears to work the miracles is a consciously literary figure, his blindness functioning explicitly as an embodied representation of the difference between material and spiritual sight. That he is doubled in the protagonist is again literary; it is not only that both the Prophet and the narrator both cannot see unaided, but both have respiratory ailments that are briefly alluded to. The Prophet coughs into a handkerchief before beginning his work of producing miracles; when he first encounters the narrator, he immediately focuses on the narrator's asthma.

"...America is trying to teach you to accept your failures, your setbacks. Now is the time to reject them! To claim the success that is rightfully yours!"
His sunglasses fall from his face, and we see the brilliant white orbs quivering frantically in their sockets, two full moons that have forgotten their roles in the drama of the universe. His attendants lunge to the floor to recover them, and together they place the glasses back on his ancient face. The prophet continues as if nothing happened.
The Prophet's sunglasses fall off at a crucial structural moment in the movement of the story that Aaron identified; it is in the lead up to the Prophet's (succesful) move to individuate members of the crowd. When the "we" becomes an "I," and the not-quite-a-miracle is performed, and the "we" is affirmed because of its individuation. Glasses, in both, figure as another method of individuation; they both mark and mask a disability in the wearer, and, through the dominant specular metaphor, become alchemized, in different ways, to be markers of what is outside of class but which still organize economically. The Prophet and the nerd.

Immediately after the Prophet's sunglasses fall off, he claims two things; a defense against celebrity and the multiplicative (or at least doubled) I.
"I do not perform these miracles because I wish to be celebrated. I perform these miracles because God works through me, and he has given me the grace to show all of you what is possible in your physical and spiritual lives. And now God is telling me; you, come up here."
The final sentence begins the process of individuating the crowd, or at least the narrator. But what interests me most about the story, what seems to me to rest closest to its heart, is the friction this initially generates.

More than anything else, it is the gap between the two lines, the challenge that converts "someone" to "we," that gives this story its weight:
"Now God is telling me that there is someone here who is struggling with something big, a handicap that has lasted for many, many years."
We fall quiet because we know he is talking about us.
This is immediately prior to the Prophet's sunglasses falling off, before the specular can assert itself.

***There is something else here, too, the invocation and condemnation of America, in "America is trying to teach you to accept your failures, your setbacks. Now is the time to reject them! To claim the success that is rightfully yours!" There is something going on in this story with scale, or size, I think; eyes are moons and fishbowls and Prophets are small and smaller. America is many far flung cities and a dream of riches at the same time as it is a teacher of earthly humbleness, against the church which for the moment, promises the world. I don't really know where to go with this, obviously.***

When it is still the "I" with the respiratory issues and the "We" with the hopes; before the sunglasses reveal the "two full moons that have forgotten their roles in the drama of the universe," and the "we" can spit forth a mirror copy, less impressive and without celebrity to deny, to be healed.

Before the exchange. The "We" there is so fecund, so capable of doing battle with the "someone," and, ultimately, so productive of it. Is it read as a defiance? An at least partially conscious refusal by the congregation to accept even this partial dissolution, no matter that it is ostensibly why they have traveled so far?

Or is it read simply, without guile; is this community so organic that it simply fails to recognize this move for what it is? No.

Is it, in its wrongness, speaking a deep truth? Perhaps. Again, taking Aaron's point: if the individuation takes place to affirm the community, then here we see it prefigured, but easily fractured. If the miracle is not the material, but the spiritual, then the apparent disparity is smoothed over, retroactively, the eternal return to the form of the "we" established.

I tend towards the first reading; not only because, when returning to it, does it still seem jarring, to retain its roughness. But how else to explain the obvious inaccuracy of the stated moral, the way that the narrator's takeaway point feels so trite and insufficient? Surely it is true, that he learned "that a community is made up of truth and lies," but this glib pronouncement obscures the frictions that give it weight.

It is in that moment, in which the "someone" is challenged with the "we," that the fancier moments of the story, its miraculous intervention that organizes the community and the individual in relation to each other, its specular economy, perhaps even its sense of disorganized scale, become tangible.

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