Front Desk Position

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That
the White House Press Corps, CNN, all the networks and other statist
media organs should be so shocked by the Bush campaign’s subliminal
suggestion that liberal bureaucrats are actually RATS in a now canceled
televison ad, is curious indeed. It demonstrates that it is the
media, not the candidates, that occasionally get “off message;”
for unless the whole world is clamoring to avenge the alleged injustices
of racism, sexism, and homophobia, the media have no idea which
way is up.

But
then the press is the last to see that the world is replete with
hidden narratives. They are to the rhythms of logic as recursion
to the patterns of scattered stones. A visionary new work, thinly
disguised as a job posting in the New York Times classified
section, takes up the narratological puzzle of hidden texts with
the kind of élan one usually associates with the highly controversial
modernist classifieds of the New York Post and almost never
with the help-wanted vagaries of the Village Voice. Withal,
it is a work of singular force and urgency:

Publishing/Reception

Front
Desk
Position
Are
you…
cheerful
friendly
articulate
helpful
dependable
Could
you…
handle
messengers
welcome
guests
redirect
phone calls
take
accurate messages
interact
well with others
Would
you like to work…
Full-time
M-F
8:30
a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
in
a pleasant office
with
a friendly staff
at
a book development co.
If
your answer is yes…
come
to our front desk
and
fill out an application
Applications
available at Kirchoff/Wohlberg, Inc.
866
United Nations Plaza #525
(at
E. 48th St. & First Ave)
New
York, New York 10017

It
begins simply enough with the truncated question, Are you…

This
formal strategy is, at once, spare and complex. Recalling as it
does Eliot’s own plaintive, “What is it?” from Prufrock,
but here moving to larger provocations by displacing the parochial
question mark with the obdurately proletarian ellipsis (…), it
becomes a wry and affectionate nod to Kant’s famously cryptic use
of dashes in his treatise on transcendental logic from the work
he often called in private correspondence, the Critique…Reason,
and which Samuel Johnson is rumored to have further abbreviated
as “CR” during his scandalous cabaret eating tour of 1777.

However,
Front Desk Position’s real triumph is its brusque parody
of James Whitcomb Riley’s turgid naturalism, particularly that of
his rhyming animal catalogue. The fireworks build in its variously
textured iambs: “cheerful/friendly/articulate/helpful/dependable,”
then shift darkly to “handle messengers/welcome guests/redirect
phone calls/take accurate messages/interact well with others. Massive
accretions of stentorian declaration cascade over the line breaks,
snaking as dactylic brocades through our subconscious tapestry.
These materials are, thus, organized and executed with the virtuosic
rigor of middle Blake but without the forced lyricism of late Wordsworth
who, for all his gifts, could never reconcile his command of the
19th century bucolic mode with the malaise of a shrinking
British empire or the growing prominence of Emerson whose oeuvre
contained, despite the vicious slander of New Critical propagandists,
fewer trees and virtually no illicit dashes.

When
the inevitable specter of “work” appears in the third sextet, it
is as a question: "Would you like to,” thus formulating our
author’s decisive break with the humanist phenomenology of “Could
you” and opening Front Desk Position’s Marxist critique.
There follows a solemn documentation of “work” as reductive social
construct: “full-time,” “friendly staff,” and, horribly, “book development.”
It is a grim portrait of the world conceived in ecstatic consecration,
but destroyed in grotesque execration and, yet, seems to resolve
Henri Lefebvre’s inquiry into the problematics of a spider’s relationship
to its web: is it really work? Certainly, but only with a mandated
increase in the minimum wage over a two year period.

Front
Desk Position represents a fundamental transmutation of contemporary
poetics in that its strictly Imagistic deployment of authorial voice
in an anonymous context does not conceal its radical urbanity or
change the fact that Fernando Vargas remains a long shot in his
title bout against Felix Trinidad. Still, I have money on both.
And when wise Iago says,”Whip me such honest knaves,” none should
wonder whether he means Republican Rodentia or the DemocRATS themselves.
They are all bringing the plague.

September
14, 2000

Scott
Wilkerson is curator of the Ward Library at the Mises
Institute
.

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