Friday, September 23, 2011

Bruno Eats a Little More Peach

Bruno Takes the Peach
(Image from Amazon)

I finally found time to order and begin reading Benjamin Hale's novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore. Benjamin, as some readers might recall, is the first son of Pete Hale, one of my Ozark friends from the old days. I've not gotten very far into the book yet, but I like it so far and am enjoying the reminiscences of Bruno, the loquacious ape, who speaks for himself, more or less, though I suppose Ben is the puppetmaster pulling the strings. Intriguingly, though Pete (or Ben) will have to clear this up, the temptation scene that initates Bruno's loss of innocence leaves me wondering if my blog might have contributed to Ben's ideas:
The scientist who had conducted me into the room was not the woman whom I would later come to know as Lydia (was that you watching from behind the mirror, Lydia?), but some droll old fat bearded sot who held no special interest for me. There was a transparent plastic box on the floor. The scientist pro­duced from the pocket of his white coat -- with the excessively the­atrical flourish of an amateur magician -- a peach.

A peach, Gwen -- he was my serpent and I was his Eve. There we were, me in my prelapsarian nudity and he in his demonic white coat, tempting me with fruit coveted but prohibited. The only dif­ference was environmental: we'd swapped sexy Edenic lushness for the sterile whitewashed walls of Science. Also, that particular fruit is semiotically associated with the female pudenda, isn't it? Isn't that why Cézanne painted them? -- Still Life with Peaches? -- why, that's just a quivering bowlful of vulvae sweating on the breakfast table, waiting for you to eat them up!

But the peach in question: so he takes, this scientist does, he takes a juicy piggish bite out of it and starts making yummy-yum-yum noises, mmmmmm, rubbing his belly, trying to goad my jealousy, you see. And as I recall, it worked. I was a simpler creature then. I remember wanting the peach at that moment more than anything. Hell, I would have sold my soul for a peach. (And in a way I did.) I remember hating, no, loathing that old smug fat imperious blob for the way he lorded the fruit over me so. So he took his bite, break­ing the skin, releasing into the room the ambrosial aroma of that sticky wet fleshy treat, and then he, bastard, pushed me away when I reached for it. Then, turning to the box -- transparent plastic box on the floor, remember? -- he operated some sort of device which made the lid spring open, placed the peach inside and shut the lid. I was watching his actions with curiosity and a motley of deadly sins: greed, envy, gluttony, lust. Then, the demonstration: the box-opening mechanism consisted of a button and a lever; he pressed the button; then he rapped on the lid of the box three times with his knuckles, like this -- knock, knock, knock; then he flipped the lever and the lid of the box popped open. He reached in and -- again, moving his arms in such a grossly histrionic manner it was as if he wanted the people in the nosebleed seats to see what he was doing and making a face like Look, Bruno, what do we have here? -- extracted the peach.

Again I reached for it. Again he pushed me away. Then he put the peach back in the box, promptly left the room and pulled the door shut behind him. Bruno was alone.

Alone with the box, with the peach clearly visible but locked away inside, forbidden to Bruno. I looked at it a moment. I pressed the button, knocked thrice on the lid, flipped the lever, opened the box and removed the peach. Did I dare to eat a peach? Indeed I did.

In this way I fell from my state of innocence. (Benjamin Hale, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, New York: Twelve, 2011, pages 12-13)
Regular readers will recall my various lapsarian posts on John Milton's description of the fruit of knowledge with imagery that better fit a peach than an apple, an idea not my own but that of the scholar Robert Appelbaum. Perhaps Ben had been reading that scholar? Or reading Gypsy Scholar on Appelbaum's thesis? Or did Ben, like the artist Matthew Skenandore, arrive at the same conclusion separately? Pete? Ben? Which speculation comes closest?

Ben has at least been reading Milton, or seems to have been if I can take the descriptive clause "releasing into the room the ambrosial aroma" as an echo of Milton's "ambrosial smell diffus'd" (Paradise Lost 9.852).

The scene, however, is more ironic than Milton's -- or, rather, the irony is more distant, given the different sort of narrator -- but it's quite a clever reworking of the primeval temptation story. Science, that is to say, knowledge, offers Bruno a puzzle that he must work through to obtain the peach. He has to know how to work the mechanisms to open the box. He first has to learn by observing and then to experience by aping what the scientist does. But there turns out to be a trick, for the Maxwellian demon of science doesn't let all of Schrödinger's cat out of the bag. The three taps are unnecessary, a ritualized distraction from the functional procedure, but the scientist had included them to distinguish between humans and apes. Distinguish, this did, but the result was to surprise the scientists themselves, for young chimps quickly learned to drop the three taps as a waste of time and energy, whereas young children always made sure to tap three times. What distingushed humans from apes was therefore the former's more faithful aping of other humans' actions.

Alone among the apes, Bruno proves himself more human, for he never forgets to perform the tapping ritual -- as we discover by reading on -- and he is thus truly fallen . . .

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At 12:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi again Jeff--I'll start by reading and commenting on the first of your three recent posts on "Bruno". I think you and Ben would have an absolute blast discussing this stuff, basically; I hope you do at some point. I believe Ben has indeed read a bunch of Milton, and a lot of other stuff, in the course of concocting "Bruno". Bottom line, as I've learned the hard way more than once, the dude himself will ideally comment on these matters as opposed to me trying to say anything, but I do think you're focusing in as closely as pretty much anyone I've read who has commented on the monstrous thing, so far. It's clearly got allusions and references to many things I can't begin to comment on fruitfully (sorry), but it's nonetheless very fun to try. I'm glad you're enjoying it.--Pete

At 5:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Pete, I am enjoying the novel. Who suspected our picaresque lives would lead to such experiences? We are Bruno!

Jeffery Hodges

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