The Jungle

It is a good to identify thesis and antithesis, but one can intervene in the process by recognizing the point at which the one reverts (umschlagt) to the other, the positive coinciding with the negative, the negative with the positive.

—Irving Wohlfarth, “Et Cetera? The Historian as Chiffonnier”

Francis’s last stop collapses cemetery, junkyard, and home town, the three symbolic landscapes of the novel. It also offers another oblique, Whitma- nian litany of the desolate: “Ashpit, a graveyard, and a fugitive city. . . . a haphazard upthrust of tarpaper shacks, lean-tos, and impromptu constructions. . . . It was a city of essential transciency and would-be permanency, a resort of those for whom motion was either anathema or pointless or impossible” (208). Only in the company of cripples and the natives of this abject city does the reader find out about Annie’s invitation to come and talk again and to sleep in the cot if he decides to stay over next time. In displacing the invitation to “remain,” Annie’s home is narratively rerouted. Displaced and dispersed, Annie’s house now lodges in the jungle, just like for Francis the jungle lodges in Annie’s house. Space bifurcates into thesis and antithesis, yet, as Wohlfarth’s heading suggests, one may wonder at what point one becomes the other. Even if both spaces initially appear as contraries, the one bearing the features of a sanctuary, the latter bearing the features of a rerouted home, a residual space that resembles Rosskam’s junkyard, both places harbor similar dynamics: at “the jungle” Francis enjoys the hospitality of a fellow bum and officiates a “last supper” with his extended family of the discarded. If Francis’s rummaging for memories takes root while he is at Annie’s, he now furthers the process of personal cleansing as he confesses to his improvised congregation that he dropped his baby boy, even if he feels the confession seemed wasted and is trivialized in subsequent dialogues (214). Which one, one may wonder, is Francis’s personal habitat? The question finds a subtle echo in the name of one of the hobos, “Andy Which One.” Andy’s is a performative name, and its inconclusiveness questions retrospectively and prospectively the interpretive options in the novel. This twoness or unresolved dialectics is at the very heart of Francis’s identity, described by the narrative voice as “this twofold creature, now an old man in a mortal slouch, now again a fledgling bird of uncertain wing” (222). Despite the endless string of wrong decisions that led Francis to this apparently terminal abode, Francis is the Good Samaritan and the warrior protecting the weak, like Sandra, the homeless Eskimo woman who dies at the doors of the mission without being allowed in. And that is the side of Francis that finally comes to the fore when men in legionnaires’ caps advance into the jungle, knocking down everything standing, pouring gasoline on the ruins, hitting everyone. Their role is not that of the chiffon- nier, that of picking and selecting, but that of the terminator, the ultimate cleanser or waste manager, ready to eliminate the remainder of society, the layer of those who, being idle, manifestly allow the dropping of some moral standard. As they proceed with their task, they confront Francis and his powerful stroke. Francis, the homeless man and the rag-picker, the lowest of the low, the scraper of the barrel, the remainder of society, is also the Messiah figure that is capable both of contrition and redemption. For has not the Messiah, as Wohlfarth questions, often been portrayed as a beggar or chiffonnier? Only the discarded or remaindered can restore an image of the whole. After his entourage scurries away from the jungle, Francis takes Rudy to the hospital, where he is pronounced dead. After Rudy’s death the objective mode is discarded and Francis’s movements are referred to with the subjunctive “would.” Francis would check on Helen, who lies dead in the room they always shared at the Palombo Hotel. By dawn Francis would be on a Delaware & Hudson freight heading south, accompanied by a bum that died while coughing. He is also at Annie’s, casually answering what he would like for lunch, hiding from cops again, since they would be looking for him for murdering the guy at the jungle. It is Kennedy’s thirding, a narrative mode that dismantles boundaries of time and space in favor of a tertiary system. Francis is not contained within striated spaces because he has created and occupied a different spatiality akin to Bartleby’s. Like

Melville’s character, he has moved to a space of stubborn indeterminacy, an exilic space that, according to Bauman, refuses to be integrated. Francis’s space bears a double articulation, for it comprises the limits of his home and the unbounded empyrean “which is not spatial at all, does not move and has no poles. It girds, with light and love, the primum mobile, the utmost and swiftest of the material heavens” (227). The empyrean marks the confirmation of his flight from the bounded spaces he has inhabited and his ascension to a place outside space parameters. He finally becomes the inhabitant of a place that is not spatial and moves beyond the premises of authority and power; it is not mapped out or charted, and he dwells in it, as Heidegger would have it, at peace.

 
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