1965 - 'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman

The SPIDER Symposion: in-depth discussion of specific Ellison stories and works.

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Barney Dannelke
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Postby Barney Dannelke » Thu Jan 20, 2005 10:28 am

I really love all the comments about paying attention to schedules JUST so that we can disrupt them and keeping a clock to arrive on A.S.T. - anarchist standard time, if you will. Pranksters and anarchists are good planners. They just don't work for anyone. ;-)

**DOUG** Look at your 2nd paragraph. Then think about Rumsfeld's Q&A session with the American troops. These people aren't archetypes. They're the political cronies who ruin lives and they're on tv even as I type this.

- Barney

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Postby David Loftus » Thu Jan 20, 2005 11:13 am

Doug--

Even though I think Barney already answered them, the answer to the two questions in your second paragraph is of course: Yes.

As for sj's question, I would suggest that Repent is the most anthologized because it's fairly simple, entertaining, at times even cartoon-like, with no unseemly sex or violence (which knocks oout some of my candidates for best Ellison story, such as "A Prowler in the City"), no nastiness about religion ("The Deathbird" pushes those buttons a little too hard -- it would be okay, of course, if it were primarily about Islam), and no harsh language (e.g., "A Boy and His Dog," which also fails on some of the other counts, as well as being too long for your typical anthology).

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Postby Micheal » Thu Jan 20, 2005 11:14 am

Sjarret:

There really is no answer as to why this one gets chosen over others, especially when one subjects choice to something as subjective as aesthetic.

The only explanation I could suggest is that this story perhaps hits at the level of empathy with all who have felt the duress of society upon their art and their selves connect easily to this tale of one who could find a means to fight back. Likely, it connects much more in the seat of the heart than in the head than most of Ellison's work.

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Postby Jan » Thu Jan 20, 2005 11:37 am

Just correcting myself here, after being bewildered by some recents posts. So there *is* a connection between the last two paragraphs I didn't realize was there. The Ticktockman does change, and Harlequin is responsible for it. Sometimes I miss the most obvious details. I think these discussions really help.

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Postby FinderDoug » Thu Jan 20, 2005 11:47 am

Barney - I was just trying to incite discussion, and you had to drag Rummy into this (Did you hear Biden yesterday? I gave the man a big, fat "BOOH-YAH" when he verbally knifed Rummy to Condi... "From Rummy To Condi" - now THAT could be a film...)

I'd started a post on why this one and not others in anthologies, but David and Micheal each hit one of the points I was going to expound; the story has someone for every reader to relate to or cheer for (or against, though I suspect anal-retentive control types would root for the Master Timekeeper), and the execution is definitely all-ages, all-demographics when you consider some of Harlan's other work, an important facet that would appeal to non-genre anthologizers looking to include work bysomeone associated with a genre.

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Postby P.A. Berman » Thu Jan 20, 2005 11:19 pm

There is another theme in this story that just occurred to me: the idea of growing up v. staying a child. It was the comment about what type of person would root for the Ticktockman in the story. I tried to imagine who would take that view, and I heard a voice saying, "Schedules are part of life-- Marm needed to learn to grow up and accept that society runs on a timetable and that it's immature to waste people's time and run around messing up people's lives by throwing off their perception of time. At the end of the story, he's a productive member of society."

Who would say that? An adult, that's who. Who would throw jellybeans in a machine? A kid, of course. Marm is the adult who doesn't want to grow up and conform to the social imperative of running your life by the clock. I'm guilt of this too-- the pressure of timeliness is something that I've internalized to a frightening degree; after all, I only have 39 minutes a period in which to teach my students, and that damn alarm rings at 6:10AM every morning. How I wish I could gum up the works by unplugging those clocks!

I wish it were summer. I wish time didn't matter. But it does. Does sanity lay somewhere between the Ticktockman and the Harlequin? It seems like it's one or the other, though...

PAB

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Postby JaySmith » Fri Jan 21, 2005 1:33 am

PAB has a point,

I first heard this story in a UCLA dorm room, listening to Harlan on a Walkman in the middle of the night. I was 18. The comparisons to youth joining the orderly workforce of adult life struck me. Over the years I've used this story to illustrate the necessity of chaos to create change within a conservative society, the bleak and conformist workaday world of the drone, the perception of Terrorism versus Liberation, but the one thing that works for me personally is the idea that - eventually - we all fall into the pattern. We are all eaten by the machine.

You can do it willingly. You can fill the mug and merge with traffic and punch the clock and carry out the daily routine meeting deadline after deadline and performing life's tasks on the schedule of the Master Timekeeper (whoever that is in your world) or you can fight it. Are you wearing enough flair? Did you read the memo on the TPS Reports? What the fuck does PC Load Letter mean?

Eventually, we all conform to the ways of the Master Timekeeper. Sometimes your failure to abide by him is cause for a swift kick in the ass and a reminder that society works best when you do what is expected of you, do what you are told to do when you are told to do it because everyone else has a schedule. Everyone else lives and dies by the precision of your schedule and you hurt them - hurt them - hurt them if you fall out of pace. If you leave the desk to take a leak. If your productivity doesn't meet an inflated or imaginary percentage. If you simply don't care any more about your job.

And reading this story in the midst of the Reagan 80s, applying it to the white collar work ethic of the time, I could see where it was leading. Eventually that was the choice I would have to make when I offered myself to the corporate world. We were already seeing the machine eat the children of the 60s. Yippies to Yuppies to AARP beneficiaries. Peace buses to Beemers and Volvos. To me it was a cautionary tale.

And I understood what it felt like to be the Master Timekeeper two decades later, requiring others to meet inflated and imaginary percentage numbers, to arrive on time - not a minute late! - and keep productivity at a machine pace, never accepting the weakness of human emotion as an excuse for failure to meet the needs of the machine. Not because we were fighting for a cause or working toward a greater goal, but because we'd become pieces within the machine. The failure of one small piece would lead to the failure of the mechanism and that was unacceptable. I remember sitting in counseling sessions with kids who saw me as someone more concerned with numbers, timetables, schedules than anything. GAH! ticktockticktockticktock.

Even if it isn't the workaday world, the Master Timekeeper has a schedule for your life. DING! Here's your diploma, kiddo - time to move out. You're 24 - aren't you married yet? Did you make that million by 30? 35 and you don't have kids? Your biological ticktockman is calling - ticktckticktick. A new car every 2 years? You're in your 40s and you still play with trains?

This isn't necessarily my account of how the story hit me personally. Most of Harlan's work speaks to some aspect of my life, sometimes as a warning and sometimes as fatherly, grandfatherly advice or otherworldly detached observation. Since I can't really engage in deconstructionist or historical contextualizing the work, I rely on where I was and what I learned from it.

If that makes any sense.

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Repenting by the long ton

Postby Barney Dannelke » Fri Jan 21, 2005 2:12 am

With regard to the question of WHY this is his most anthologized piece, I think it's because totalitarianism and civil unrest are going to be with us for a good long while. Melville's remark about novels and fleas comes to mind.

Now that the AOL lawsuit is done I feel comfortable tossing in this biographical note. I feel much better with bio notes than literary interpretation although Harlan is fast to point out those days when I suck at both. And rightly so since it's his life.

Back when the AOL thing was just getting off the ground and Tim Richmond was at about mid-point with research for FINGERPRINTS ON THE SKY Tim got a call from Harlan asking for "just" the citations pertaining to Repent/Beast/Jeffty and perhaps 2 others. Harlan was doing some level of discovery where you essentially make the case that this material is indeed bread and butter work. That was also the day Tim's PC or printer started acting up so he sent me some files for final compile and printing so that we would have copies to give to Harlan at ICON that he could then present to AOL's lawyers as proof that these stories had some *ahem* mileage on them. So I printed off a few copies.

Single spaced citations.

5 stories.

Just under 70 pages.

Repent alone was something like 35 pages. And I bet plenty of foreign translations and course work packages were missing.

So when FINGERPRINTS comes out [soon,baby] if you should ask yourself some question about why Tim didn't include ALL the information about each story in each section [trust me, it's ALL there in at least 1 section] just ask yourself what that book would look like once you throw REPENT HSTTM into the mix for EACH section. Magazines, anthologies, foreign, etc.

The ms. was something like 450 pages as is and that's just the citations. Then there are intros., photos, indexing...

It's a doorstop, I'm tellin' ya.

- Barney

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Postby Micheal » Fri Jan 21, 2005 3:26 pm

Jay Smith:

I came in from work one day frustrated at my job, and more than a bit angry at myself for my choice of vocation: claims adjuster with an insurance company, 55 large a year w/benefits. I was coming to hate it, all the large and small shit, office politics, the works.

I poured it out to Linda, the significant other I'd been lucky enough to find during my stint in the Navy.

She said; "Quit, or I leave you".

She then reminded me of the three years we spent hitching across Canada, the U.S., Central America and Europe; working when he had to, living all we could. Whatever the world threw at us, we just took it. The only certainty was that our days were never boring.

The next day, I told the manager to shove the whole kit and kaboodle, and never looked back.

Next year, Baby and I go to China and Nepal. You can make whatever moral out of this that you wish. As for me, I'm happier than I've ever been.

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Postby Steve Evil » Fri Jan 21, 2005 3:29 pm

The Ticktockman does change

See! I told you so! The Master Time Keeper is getting tardy.

I never said why the Harlequin repented. If he did so under torture, that's still a change in character. The stereotype (superhero) would have resisted torure.

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Postby Duane » Fri Jan 21, 2005 3:50 pm

Whenever I read this story, I always pause a bit and ponder the inner lives of the teeming masses in the story who punch in at a certain time (was it 2:17 pm, or something like that?).

My first reaction is people locked in the patterns of slavery. But then I look around at the world and come to the conclusion that most people are where they are because it is COMFORTABLE for them. It isn't at all necessary to expend a single creative brain cell to keep yourself and your family housed and fed and, well, comfortable.

When I think of the teeming mass of people in this story, I don't see "slaves" at all, as a matter of fact. These people, despite their shift work, are doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, et al. People who work at any number of noble and fulfilling professions.

I've always understood that showing up on time and getting things done on time (within reason) is what makes the world such a comfortable place for most people. I've also understood that if I want to break out on my own and get paid for doing work that is exclusively my own, I have to perform a different kind of work than what the world requires: Self discipline.

After a day of serving at the Machine, it is required of me to get home and expend a completely different kind of effort to Write That Book, or Compose That Song, or Develop That Business Idea, or whatever it is that I want to contribute to the world of fresh ideas and get rewarded with My Own Money. That requires me to take care of myself, my health, spend the necessary time with my family, get enough sleep, and on top of all that, set wheels in motion to make my own dream come alive. "Repent, Harlequin...." reminds me how difficult it can be to do that.

But people do it every day, don't they?

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The Devil's Advocate POV

Postby P.A. Berman » Fri Jan 21, 2005 5:27 pm

I have a confession to make-- I hate being late and I hate it when other people are late. I think it's rude and insensitive and selfish to waste someone else's time when you know they're waiting for you. Does that mean I'm a slave to the Ticktockman? Isn't there something logical, sensible, and positive about being attentive to time, since we all have a finite amount of it on this Earth. I want to spend as much of my time doing stuff that I enjoy, and waiting is dead time, wasted time, and it's aggravating. Just so employers have a right to want their employees to be on time to do their jobs, since people's livelihood is at stake.

I think when schedules become oppressive and grind people into shapes they can't stand to hold, then they're bad. Then, as Micheal said, you have to bail for your own health. In "Repent!" there is no opportunity to bail, which is what makes it evil. But keeping track of time is a very primal human occupation, and necessary. I think it'd be overreacting to say it wasn't.

PAB

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Postby Micheal » Fri Jan 21, 2005 9:06 pm

P.A.:

I think it's not so much that we demand control of time, I think it more that we FEAR it.

We fear the fact that we exist in one moment, perhaps not in others. The clinging fear of an end, perhaps of whether or not we waste the moments that tick, tick, tick, counting days/months/years, and how do we account for it? What did we do, what did we accomplish, what was it worth?

It always runs out, despite our measurements, our attempts to control it. Early, late or on time, what does it really matter? If you find you can save time, tell me: where can you bank it?

Duane:

I don't think anyone is suggesting slavery, only some demand a respite. You suggest that discipline and order are the best for the system that is, and I will grant you that to some degree. The doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, all reform ritual and routine when needed, but even those within those norms at times find themselves angered or frustrated when their efforts are put under job-related stress and demands, when the system they conform to begins to press upon them with its requirements.

Not only that, but without divergence of perpsective, those who decided to begin thinking "outside the box", we wouldn't have almost all of the progressive changes brought on by research or reinterpretation of the parameters a system operates under. No open heart surgery, moon landings, cures for disease, no U.S. Constitution, no cars, no books; most where created either in whole or in part by those who didn't necessarily conform to the society they were encased in.

Giordano Bruno burned as a heretic for defying the ten accepted norm of a geocentric universe; Margaret Sanger, charged for violation of the Comstock laws; Nelson Mandella...

I don't believe anyone wishes the overthrow of the social order, on the whole civilization has provided well for those of us fortunate to live within it. What I take from Ellison's Harlequin is the request that opposition to the order of things can be a viable means by which the processes that we allow to govern our lives be made better, more inclusive and tolerant by not isolating or dismissing the deviant, but finding ways to incorporate the dissenting viewpoint without excising its importance and impact so as to improve the lot for all.

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Postby Jono » Fri Jan 21, 2005 9:14 pm

Barney: Yeah Fingerprints! It will be soon! Lay it on me, I've been paid and ready for awhile now. It's been too long since Leslie's listing!

I haven't had much to say about this one, but it seems to me its impact is due to everyone understands all ramifications, pro and con, on both sides on being late, or 'lateness' in general. Its popularity reminds me of somebody (probably HE) writing somewhere of 'Carrie' that the popularity was guarenteed by the openning shower scene, which half the population could relate to; it being one of their worst nightmares.

luv to all,

jono
Le plus ca change le plus ca le meme chose ...

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Duane
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Postby Duane » Fri Jan 21, 2005 9:33 pm

Hey Michael,

I totally agree. My thoughts above were more of a personal reaction to the story; certain elements of it harmonize with stuff I'm struggling with right now. The big personal lesson I'm gaining from the story this time around is "time is short -- get your ass moving!"


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