STORYGLOSSIA    Issue 35    September 2009


A Companion Text to Modernity and Self-Identity by Anthony Giddens


by Angela Woodward



1.   Of key importance here is the emergence of the 'pure relationship' as prototypical of the new spheres of personal life.



Typically, a relationship comprises three things. At first the first thing rises in front of you, a volcano, an ox, it fills your eyes, overwhelms you, cancer, your mother, your lost job, Isabel—the one thing stamps its feet on the mat, knocking the door down, bellowing in the hall, announcing, "I'm here, the one thing."

Over its shoulder is always—Giddens confirms this—the second thing. A swallow, a collar, maybe something as small as a hyphen. But in any case, the opposite, the other hand, the alternative. With these two things, you can walk, like on stilts, left, right, left, right. You move forward smoothly, with balance. How capable you are. You were so worried. Now with these two things, the world is at last complete. The male, the female. The dark, the light. The eyelid, the blazing orb.

For a few days, I was at peace. Then I woke just like I used to, only hours after falling asleep, and pulled the curtain aside. Clouds whited out half the sky, and in the other portion, the stars seemed about to retract into their lairs. I was still sick, and even after the operation, I would be sick some more. The third thing, which I had hoped would be the spiritual one, crawled out of the blankets. A mist, a gas, the ineffable, it coiled around me, whispering something incomprehensible into my hair.



2.   'Futures' are organized reflexively in the present in terms of the chronic flow of knowledge into the environments about which such knowledge was developed.



Later that week the doctor asked me what I was so morose about. It could quite easily be cut out, my malingerancy. No, not a malignancy. Had I gotten such an elemental thing wrong? "You'll be out of the hospital in twenty-three hours," he said, leaving me to wonder if the bill kicked up a notch when the fateful twenty-four was breached. But even my skepticism was a symptom. "You'll be in your garden pulling weeds in three days," he said. "You'll go out to eat with your family." A little pain when I coughed or laughed, that was all. And after? I said. This question too was part of the disease. His lasers would eradicate all my doubt and separation.

On the drive home, I noticed the leatheriness of the unrelieved orchestra music pouring out of the radio. I couldn't imagine how everyone else stayed so skillfully in their lane, when the other lane was occupied by gigantic cranes swinging their laden beaks over our heads, only a row of lighted stakes keeping them to their side. Yet we rolled along in ours, the city planners having carried out their project well, so that during construction half the street remained open.



3.   Trust is specifically related to absence in time and space, as well as to ignorance.



You'd think this has to do with a lover or a thief, but in fact Giddens refers to the dissolution of clear categories. For example, I turned the television on after the children had gone to their father's. An old man with a twisted neck shouted at another with a long beard—perhaps they were castaways or revolutionaries, ensconced in an elaborately decaying mountain shack. Their world was wood, cursing, and an old file cabinet. No women livened the story for at least half an hour. I started picking the crumbs off the rug, then went upstairs and dusted the mirrors. I returned in time to witness a wedding, on another continent or 50 years in the past. Maybe it was just my state that evening, that I made no attempt to sort this out, but was all the while thinking other thoughts, that chronic flow, perpetual outgassing of concern for the things I have little control over.

What he showed me on the X-ray was galactic, a cluster surrounded by mysterious dark matter. The light spots, he said, were troublesome. I nodded, as if I could possibly concur, when I had no training in diagnostics, in radiology, or in anything to do with sickness, disease. We looked gravely at each other, as if we understood each other, me with my calcifications, he with his burdensome responsibilities. He allowed me to put my fingers on the edges of the film, giving me a tangential relation to my very innermost being.



4.   Such an example is one which demonstrates . . . the risks of driving, and thereby serves temporarily to pull apart the protective cocoon.



For a long time I took Giddens' admonitions about the "reflexive project" of the self as a peculiar kind of wording. I mean not even words, but "wording." He had a cool, gray way of laying down his prose, like so many cleanly cut iron rods. Only if seen from above would the pattern generate into a bar code for some object of desire not yet invented. Something like that—in any case, pure abstraction. So reading him was not even ingestion, not contractual, as in give and take. My aesthetic appreciation had a glow to it, a lunar luminescence, which I ascribed totally to Giddens, not to my reaction to him.

The boys in the library gave me a lot of difficulty. They set their chocolate milk and donuts by the computer, sprayed their deodorant on in front of everyone, having no sense of what was properly private, i.e. grooming. I had to ask the smaller one to go outside to make his phone call, as he was not capable of talking in a soft tone. As I said this, he told me he liked my bracelet, and asked me where it came from. I said my mother had given it to me. "I'd like to meet your mother," he said, not knowing that she was in Arizona, and then dead. I contemplated calling a staff meeting to discuss whether we could force the boys to leave. They were behaving to the best of their ability, which had more limits on it than most. Then all of Giddens, which I had misunderstood for months, rolled out at me—the dread of being held together only with provisional struts. The color or flavor of "modernity" became suddenly palpable: a windswept, orphaned emptiness backing onto an exhilarating freedom.



5.   A creative involvement with others and with the object-world is almost certainly a fundamental component of psychological satisfaction and the discovery of 'moral meaning.'



I left work early, ascribing some weakness to my "condition," so I could read some more. Giddens at that point seemed to be speaking directly to me. It was hard to meet his gaze, he was so earnest, but I left my fingers in his, looking down at our entwinement. I was so afraid of dying during the surgery that I contemplated killing myself first, cutting my throat before the anaesthetist could get hold of me. Giddens understood that my need for certainty trumped even the animal will to survive.

"I know," he said, "I understand." Whereas before he had fascinated me, amused me, now it appeared he had written his whole book so that I could finally make sense of myself. He asked me if I wanted him to be quiet now, and I said no. I fell asleep, then woke again, to his continual murmuring.



Copyright©2009 Angela Woodward


Angela Woodward's fiction has appeared in Gulf Coast, Pebble Lake Review, Thirteenth Moon, Diagram, elimae and others. Ravenna Press published her collection of fiction, The Human Mind, in 2007. A novella, The End of the Fire Cult, is forthcoming from Ravenna in 2010.