Friday, 4 March 2011

Idiolectical Cunninasus OR Sex, Lies and Noses

I’m rewatching the spectacularly good and amazingly dated A Very Peculiar Practice (1986–8), an early success by Andrew Davies. Episode 5 of the first series opens with body language expert Lyn Turtle in bed with Dr Stephen Daker (played by Peter Davidson in his first post-Who role), talking about ‘sexual idiolects’:
Lyn: You know when you were at school...?
Stephen: What?
Lyn: Did you have to read all those Shakespeare plays and things?
Stephen: One or two.
Lyn: You know, where the blokes are after the wrong girls, or wise Duke of something slips another girl into bed with him in the dark and he can't tell the difference.
Stephen: I don't think anything like that happened in Julius Caesar.
Lyn: No, but the point I'm making is: Shakespeare was a wally. Everyone is totally different like that. I'd know you anywhere. In total darkness in a split second. It's like an idiolect. Do you know about idiolects?
Stephen: No.
Lyn: Well,  quite a lot of people can share the same dialect, but no two people speak exactly the same. In that respect, we're all unique. Good, eh? We've all got our own idiolect.
Stephen: Yes, I see.
Lyn: Well, I'm a body language person and, er, no one's ever done sexual idiolects.
Stephen: But you're going to.
Lyn: Hmm. Dead difficult. Much easier to experience than describe. 
Stephen: Yes, I do see that, Lyn.
Lyn: It's you that's made me think of it. I dunno: being with you, it's, erm, it's like listening to you. I mean it's like listening to you.
Stephen: Is that all right?
Lyn: Yeah, of course it is. What's the matter?
Stephen: Nothing, really. It's just that, occasionally – I mean, don't get me wrong, I feel amazingly lucky and grateful and all, and I am – it's just that, now and then I feel like, well, one of those smoking beagles.
Lyn: An experimental subject...?
Stephen: Well, yes.
Lyn: We're all experimental subjects, Stephen.
Stephen: ... in life's cruel laboratory. That's the sort of thing Jock says.
Lyn: Hey, listen you! I was trying to tell you you're special.
Stephen. Oh.
Lyn: I'd say more, only it's against the rules.
The connection Lyn makes between sex and idiolects – and specifically the deception of the wrong person slipping into someone's bed in the dark – got me thinking. 

A swordsman and a lover.
I’ve always been anxious that when Christian climbs up to the balcony to be with Roxane, Cyrano de Bergerac has written cheques Christian's arse can’t cash. She is seduced by Cyrano's poetic idiolect, his unique and distinctive use of language, but can Christian's performance possibly match the build-up? Cyrano allows him one kiss from her – apparently satisfied that, were it not for his nose, it would have been him up there – before the plot intervenes. But does he really think Roxane wouldn't have been able to tell the difference? There is more at play here than mere poetry, but he refuses to admit it. He is not deceiving just Roxane, but also himself, and he maintains the lie until the end of the play, ultimately failing to become a real hero. It is astonishing how oblivious he is of how much he has to offer Roxane sexually, and she has no idea what she's missing. Cyrano's poetry and sexuality derive from the same outsized extension of himself: his 'panache'.

What happens next?
Pinocchio's linguistic idiolect is also founded on lies, and specifically self-deception, which is so powerful that he will actually become an ass before he becomes a real boy. (And, whereas in the Disney film he is a naïve innocent who become corrupted, in Carlo Collodi's original novel he is dishonest and psychopathic by nature. One of the first things he does is to kill the talking cricket with a hammer.) It was inevitable that film-makers would want to explore the sexual aspect of this unique idiolect, the most famous examples being The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio (dir. Corey Allen, 1971) and Pornocchio (dir. Scotty Fox, 1987). Yet the little wooden boy is as much in denial about his sexuality as Cyrano is. He cannot acknowledge that his nose is growing, as to do so would implicate him in a Cretan (Epimenides) paradox. The statement 'My nose is growing' cannot be true. It must be false, because true statements do not cause his nose to grow.

Ken Campbell's Pigspurt is another story principally about lies, nasal sex and self-actualization. In the final act, when KC meets 'God', he fears punishment first for his dishonesty in introducing lies into his stories, and then for his life of coitus proboscidalis. 'God' simply makes fun of him, 'cruelly impersonating my accent' (i.e. his idiolect). 'You were always invited up, weren't you?' he says, and, in likening KC to Christian, who gets his kiss, rather than the tragic, self-deceiving and idiolectic Cyrano, who dies unacknowledged, he is making fun of KC's naïvity. For 'God', life is about what you do, not in the truth of how you tell it. Uniqueness is incompatible with uttered truth. (Life is in the dashes – the connections between utterances – not in the full stops.)

These three examples from cunninasal literature tell us something about our idiolects. It is difficult to become completely aware of them by ourselves. It is impossible to hear (or feel) ourselves the way others do, and as long as our idiolects remain mysterious to us, they will remain instruments of self-deception. (Dan Mintz explains this revolutionary masturbation technique: rather than sit on his own hand so that it feels like a stranger is jerking him off, he sits on his own dick so it's like him jerking off a stranger.) In other words, we must 'find our own voice', which is far from easy. It is particularly unnerving to listen to a recording of your own voice, or, in KC's case, to catch glimpse of your own arse in the mirror. Similarly, it requires a singular effort to become aware of your own nose, which sits invisibly in plain sight, at the centre of your field of vision, your entire life. Stumbling on the key to your own (sexual) idiolect is the first step in unravelling your own inherent self-deception and unscrewing language itself. And that is the quickest route upwards and inwards to... 'God'.

PS Afterthought: I'm surprised there's nothing nasal about Lyn and Stephen's relationship in A.V.P.P. Perhaps I need to look again, more carefully (Julius Caesar's nose?). I also need to reread the Nikolai Gogol short story. 

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