Tag Archives: Beta elements

Where there is hierarchy there is violence (part one)


A line from my novel, Crystal From The Hillsa section wherein Chris Leavitt is reflecting upon doomed relationships, including those with authority. Bosses tend not to like him, want him gone. Sometimes the exiles occur abruptly, yet directly. The separations are brutal yet honest. But mostly, Chris’ rejections have been subtle, protracted, and torturous, in work and play. His has ruffled the feathers of doctors at the hospital in which he works as a surgical assistant. Administration is biding its time, following procedure and deliberating on how best to let him go. Jill Evans, his girlfriend, has been inconvenienced, imposed upon, even clumsily assaulted by Chris, yet her most basic complaint about him touches on none of these crimes and misdemeanors. He has let her down, for sure, but mostly because he had once, quite simply, sold himself as being more winning than he really was. Read my novel and you might identify if you’ve ever felt yourself slide from a pedastel; the chill of being slowly pushed out an exit door.

Consider the assault passage between Chris and Jill, which has stirred controversial reactions from my few readers thus far. The reason: there is power involved. Hierarchy in sex: it’s a delicate area, and what I imply is that the lines of authority are unclear. Here are the passages in question:

**Anyway—that day in the supply room: It was a curious moment for her; a hijacking of good sense, with her split-off libido disguised by charitable aims. An unwise decision was made: namely, to sexualize the moment—just a moment—and then maternalize whatever followed. More thoughts followed, mostly containing the word bad. Bad girl: that’s what I’ll be, she resigned.

            As she pulled away from an initial kiss she regarded the aroused grimace that flushed his features, and

considered an abrupt escape. She was following an impulse that seemed real at the time, but pathetic soon thereafter. She kissed him again, thinking one more will placate, and one more will feel good. One more did feel good. Jill, staring past his ear toward the blur of a window behind them, felt the drop of his pants, the aura of his flesh radiating heat against her thigh. “Chris,” she tentatively whispered. His hands started to fumble about her waist. Too late. They were heading toward the string of her scrubs, pushing away her fingers as they tried to leverage their way in. Jill felt the pressure of the closing space; the impermeable softness of his hips as they formed a barrier against her.

She was transported to the night before, when he’d kissed her hard on the lips and then pushed her on to her bed, ultimately breaking a spring. His eyes, transformed in a flash from a light blue to charcoal emptiness, bore into her like the eyes of a black-eyed shark biting down. Jill anticipated the sharp pain of a bite and the tearing sensation of a terrible invasion. She wanted to stop. Jesus, she thought. She had to stop. It, the invasion, never really came, because within a minute Chris did. Time stopped, like it belonged to someone else, and now that someone was seizing control. Jill’s eyes let her down. She closed them as a pain began—the digging in of his fingers into her arms, like they were stakes being driven into the ground in order to fix a tent. He broke his grip just once. Reaching down with his right hand, he pulled from the underside of Jill’s buttock, attempting to leverage her into an inclined position. Jill found a wedge between her body and Chris’ ribs. She inched her way up his torso with her fingertips. Feeling the rub, Chris’ pressure relented as he assumed her cooperation—a dream come true—and so pressed himself against her. Next he felt a blockage and looked down into the thin, dark crevice that could be seen between them. An inexplicable obstacle was stalling penetration. He could barely make out the detail of a wrinkled skin wedged against an opening, looking vaguely like some creature desperately trying to squeeze in through a crack in a door. Though not optimally firm, he

nonetheless felt a gathering within his system. It felt thin, yet insistent, the incipient stream. An ambiguous pain, a drip sent along a catheter, passed through his shaft like a wayward satellite. No, he thought. He panicked.

Round tow: in the closet the next morning she called out, intruding upon his fast wetting reverie, this hasty attempt to wipe out the memory of the previous night.

“Chris!” Jill cried, this time with a contortion across her face. Startled, he opened his eyes and noticed with horror the tight grip he had upon her arms. Immediately he looked down and discovered her hands against his chest, now pushing him away; now working against him. Looking through her hands, he peered down into the chasm between their bodies, as though catching a visual reminder of the previous night’s ignominious effort. This is not how it happens in the movies, he thought briefly. Forgetting himself, he let out a snort of ironic laughter at which Jill growled. With her hand pinned against a shelf, she was by now working with a stubborn pain, and became enraged. She felt the throbbing pinch against her artery and reflected for a second that the self mutilators that fill the upstairs ER will know something of this feeling.

With a quick series of thrusts, Jill broke away and fell back against the aluminum stack of shelves. Though her arms fluttered and blocked him from getting closer, it was the strength of her legs that won the day. Pistoning against him, they ejected her backwards. She slid backwards with surprise, having expected the shelf to form a hard barrier and obstruct her from creating space. Instead the shelf gave way, and let her fall to the ground. Thanks for nothing, she thought of it. A crash of three stainless steel covers, tops to bottles containing needles, sounded out, punctuating the collision. Jill rebounded, and with an instinctive jerk, kicked out at Chris’groin, catching him hard upon his upper thigh. **

So, what’s happening here? It seems to bear explanation, I think because the average reader moves quickly, passing by the repeated signs, the beta elements to which I am continually drawing attention. Clearly, there are two scenes being reflected upon, both ostensibly consensual encouters, and the climax of the first is about premature ejaculation, not rape. The second scene, the incident in the hospital supply room that gets Chris in trouble, not only with Jill but also his employers, is the more ambigous happening–a clumsy grapple combining feelings of lust, anxiety, the influences of adrenaline, memories of past and lurking humiliations. Chris and Jill are kissing, but just as he had the night before, Chris loses himself, loses touch with his own feelings, and in turn, with Jill’s. This is what makes him dangerous–his disconnectedness–and so he hurts her. Fortunately, Jill can fight back with the spirit and athleticism foreshadowed by previous characterizations (not to mention reenactments, such as the street mugging she experiences), and so she can exact revenge, at least spontaneously. 

These passges, story elements, and characterizations are about the problem of conflict: how people contain or exhibit aggression; manage their hate alongside their love; how they navigate power within the confines of intimacy.

BTW, in keeping with my interest in Beta elements, there are some symbolic fragments either referenced in the above passage, or alluded to elsewhere. For example, a section of backstory earlier in the novel references the infamous Versailles Treaty of 1919, which illustrated humiliation between adversaries, and here used as foreshadowing of the humiliation between lovers. Meanwhile, the above passages refer to a broken spring of a therefore broken bed (i.e.: the broken, sexually dysfunctional relationship). Finally, the references to movies (one of several in the novel) are a shorthand characterization of Chris’ flights into fantasy. Image

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Towering Inferno Decisions

Beta elements. That’s a term coined (at least in the context of psychoanalysis) by Wilfred Bion, to indicate fragments of life–behaviors, thoughts, ephemera–that represent split-off, dissociated elements of reality. Unconsciousness. In Crystal From The Hills (purchase link), friends Chris Leavitt (Crystal) and his friend Sweet speak of “towering inferno decisions”, bantering in offhand ways to signify watershed and ironic trivial events. For me, Towering Infernos are an alpha element: a vivid memory of a mid-seventies glam-disaster movie that proved far more prescient than it ever intended. Chris and Sweet, on the other hand, are witnessing backwards with unwitting senses, not forward. Read:

Chris’ parents, not long before Eric’s death, actually had one more shot at reconciliation—a brief one in late 2001, under tragic, yet bizarre circumstances. Nancy’s then husband and former lover was a financier in Manhattan, and died, it was later presumed, in the 9/11 attacks. It took several days for this conclusion to hit home. Initially, Nancy held out hope like countless others, thinking or rather assuming at first, and then later praying, that her husband’s failure to respond to calls following the breaking news would be easily explained. The phone service told a cold, disinterested story: “That caller cannot be reached at this time.” It persisted with that message, like an aphorism of cosmic loneliness. Eventually, that message gave way to the more earnestly sepulchral, “That number is no longer in service.” She spoke to Chris on that terrible day, as well as many others. Their call was cut off—twice—as others, friends mostly, desperately tried to get through. Chris was understanding, but struggled nonetheless with the implication of relegated status. Frantically, Nancy would put him on hold, and promise a return call in minutes. An hour passed, followed by another interruption—this time his mother apologized, sensing for the first time that she was indulging herself at the expense of her son. Then two days passed without hearing anything new. Nancy had made arrangements with friends to take a pilgrimage to what was already being dubbed “ground zero”, to walk around with a photo in hand, and to pin copies along with flyers upon temporarily erected bulletin boards.

On the fourth day, Chris heard from his father, who’d been in regular contact with Nancy during this spell, reporting that “It didn’t look good.” Eric delivered the news like he was himself mired in the clean-up or rescue effort: there was a grim, terse summery, void of pain; focused on the task at hand. That task, Chris speculated, was a fresh opportunity. Over the next several weeks, Eric was Nancy’s confidante, a supplicating listener, resurrecting a role he’d once played in their early twenties. Chris had stayed over at his Dad’s place a couple of nights during this period. He observed the ambiguous hand-wringing, the sorry attempts at providing succor: “I know,” he’d say repeatedly to Nancy, punctuated with contrived apologies, in calculated increments so as not to overwhelm with reality. Chris eavesdropped on one call, held his breath as he listened closely for the words, the moment wherein his father might spring his trap. Why don’t you come home? He was waiting to hear that climactic entreaty.

Aunt Jenny, observing nearby, though not in person—unlike Chris—plainly disapproved. She condemned her brother for what she thought was his shameless exploitation of grief. “I’m trying to help,” Eric defended weakly. His shallowness gave him away, though he argued that his motives were redemptive in nature. Delusion. Explaining himself, Eric told Jenny that he’d foreseen the attack upon the Twin Towers, through visions that posited dark-skinned men next to billows of fire thrusting upwards. He’d not said anything, of course, because he knew he’d be dismissed as a crank, and a racist crank at that. But that didn’t help him feel any less guilty, especially as one of the visions had positioned Nancy’s lover and former husband next to one of the fires. Jenny was disbelieving, of course, which simply reinforced Eric’s persecutory beliefs. She thought that the best one could say of him during this episode was that he was patient and methodical. Chris’ own attempts to assuage his mother, she observed, though lacking the ulterior motives of his father, were equally awkward. A new plateau of listening is how he later described the exchanges to her: an acid test for the silent and helpless.

Nancy wasn’t one for anger. She had always been a smiling, positive person; sanguine, Jenny had once said disparagingly. She later regretted the slight, but it was too late. Chris agreed. However, while the nation was baying for blood, performing an unprecedented appraisal of its security measures, or denouncing liberal dissent, Nancy fell down, flattened by the strangers’ blow. She kept her positive outlook, but only thinly, and not with respect to humankind. The cruel attack of the apparently foreign enemy retained its strange anonymity over time. Despite the media overwhelm, the subsequent arrests, trials, and general politicization of 9/11’s fallout, Nancy stuck to her essentially apolitical roots. It wasn’t so much that issues of national defense, wars on terror, or civil disobedience didn’t matter; it was rather that they never did. Somehow, not being involved, or not being interested, was a defiant, albeit unwitting victory: you won’t change how I am, she seemed to exude. Externally, she appeared to deflate, with lines down the side of her face marking a steep decline. Fatigue emerged as a central condition, weighing her down, tying her to her bed for days at a time, forcing her beauty inside. Loving the imperfect had been a virtue, she’d once thought. Now the price seemed too much. On better days, she liked to step outside onto her New Jersey home, onto a balcony wherein she could bird-watch. Admiring that which could fly peacefully became a favorite pastime.

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