Eye of the Story

The Evergreen State College

Author: Henri Poilevey

“GOOD” (Short Film by Henri Poilevey)

Below is a YouTube link to my final project. The reason I’m posting it using YouTube instead of Vimeo is because by clicking on the embedded link you will find my YouTube channel called angryglockenspiels, which also showcases my previous video work, which is public to view for anyone interested 🙂

Close Reading of Sebald… by Henri Poilevey

“For a while I sat on the grass between the electric fence and the cliff edge……….I would imagine that the world was held together by the courses they flew through the air.”
(pg. 66-67; text indicated by ellipsis omitted for brevity)

Before this passage begins, the narrator is walking along a beach, which narrows into mere coastline as he ascends upwards onto a cliff. He notes the lifelessness of the area; the “broken, barkless wood” of the trees that resemble animal bones of species long extinct. There is something grey and pallid about the nature imagery he describes, the sea in the distance being “leaden-colored” for instance, and it seems his use of black-and-white photography whose details are hard to make out matches his descriptions of the environment throughout the book. Looking out to the water, he sees a lone sailboat in the distance, his only companion in sight. The boat seems motionless to the narrator; it could be because the boat is moving at the same rate as the narrator, so no motion is seen. Or perhaps its motionlessness is abstract, like how the moon never seems to move even as we approach it.

As he reaches the top of the cliff, he comes across a herd of swine enclosed in an electric fence and makes his acquaintance with one of them, and the narrator notices the dirtiness of the pig and how miserable and submissive it seems. Our passage starts afterwards, as the narrator goes on the edge of the cliff, only a short distance away from the fence that held the pigs in, perhaps to prevent them from jumping off the cliff into the water. I believe this is what the narrator thinks as he looks out to the water and notices the sailboat, strangely, has disappeared. His memory, rich from Biblical teachings of his youth, makes him recall two stories from the Gospels, both involving the Sea of Galilee, the scene where many of Jesus’s teachings and miracles are purported to have happened. He recalls the miracle of the calming of the storm, which was a story of a furious storm attacking a boat on the Sea of Galilee, a boat carrying Jesus and his disciples. Why does the narrator think of this story as he witnesses the sailboat mysteriously disappear, especially when it previously seemed to be completely motionless? It seems as if there was a suggestion of a thought in the narrator, although not a conviction or even a little suspicion, that the sailboat sank as the narrator interacted with the pig, despite there being no storm whatsoever. I cannot think of another reason why the narrator would think of this story in this particular context. After all, this book as a whole is not about firm connections, but about loose associations, many of which happen by chance in the myriad ways the human finds themselves in nature, which mirrors the myriad ways one text can be in the presence of another text.
Then there is the second story, also telling one of Jesus’s miracles. The narrator summarizes this story in more detail than the previous one. The story is quite simple: Jesus encounters a man, thought of as being possessed by demons because of his psychotic and self-destructive behavior. Jesus then performs an exorcism on him. In the traditional routine of an exorcism, the exorcist asks the demon’s name, which Jesus does. The demon replies, “My name is Legion: for we are many.” Jesus then performs the exorcism, but he doesn’t rid of the demons completely; he transfers them to a herd of about a thousand swine. The swine, all together, then plummet headfirst into the sea. I think there is a connection between the demon saying “we are many” and there being many swine. If there are “many” beings in one person, there is inevitably internal conflict among all those beings, which is the figurative cause of the maniac’s insanity and terror. So if there’s an impression of conflict, which I imagine as many beings shooting in different directions inside the madman, which causes the agony… then how come when the many demons are transferred to the pigs they all go in one direction, with conformity, into the sea? The narrator suspects the story was made up by an evangelist to explain the inferior nature of pigs to humans. He writes, “…was this parable made up by the evangelist, I wondered, to explain the supposed uncleanliness of swine; which would imply that human reasoning, diseased as it is, needs to seize on some other kind that it can take to be inferior and thus deserving of annihilation?” (67)

I once again ask the question about why this particular story comes to the narrator’s head in this environment, and I briefly hinted at my suggestion earlier, that he saw the pigs, so close to the edge of cliff that the only thing that prevented them from plummeting off the cliff into the water was the electric fence that would shock them if they even considered it. And I agree with the narrator on his suspicions about the story and its origins; the submissiveness of the pigs that the narrator noticed is not inherent to the pigs’ nature, but is a trait that is both learned and bred through generations of human-animal relationships and agriculture. One can think forward on this topic, on what the story means and how it came to be, and go on for many hours or many pages. But this is not the nature of the narrator, he does not stay in one place. The diversity of his thoughts are as diverse as the history of the environment he explores.

© 2023 Eye of the Story
The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington

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