1976 - Jeffty is Five

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P.A. Berman
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Postby P.A. Berman » Tue Feb 15, 2005 2:25 pm

I don't have a lot to say about this story that hasn't been said already, but I do love this story and I find the ending deeply painful, second only to the end of "Ahbhu." Like Mary, I wish I could swoop in and save Jeffty, protect his innocence and cherish him for what he is. The world doesn't allow that, though.

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Postby sjarrett » Tue Feb 15, 2005 9:41 pm

I love the discussions of nostalgia and what it means, and I do agree that this is central to the story, but I think there is something else going on in this story as well. I remember once hearing a story about a young boy who approaches his infant brother's crib and whispers, "Tell me about Heaven -- I'm forgetting already." It speaks to the idea that we come to our lives with precognitive wisdom, which must be surrendered in trade for the cognitive skills that will see us through life in the pragmatic world of business. We must learn the ways of striking silent partnerships with aunts, and spending precious time hawking televisions instead of going to the movies, in order to appease the relentless imperatives of food and shelter. Unfortunately, it seems that our childhood immersion in the world of the spirit is inevitably the coin with which such survival skills are purchased. One way of looking at the role of the artist is in terms of struggling mightily to make one's way in the pragmatic world while doggedly refusing to entirely relinquish that childhood connection to precognitive wisdom. I'm not articulating this all that well -- my five year old self might have come nearer the mark -- and, as I said, I'm certainly not offering this way of looking at the story in place of the nostalgia interpretation, but rather in addition to it. I think the story supports both.

Steve J.

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Steve Evil
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Tv War. . .

Postby Steve Evil » Tue Feb 15, 2005 10:05 pm

sjarret, you're articulating it wonderfully. I see your point and fully concur.

We're all provided with a short period of innocence that we have to give up eventually so that newer people can have their turn. It becomes our duty to safeguard theirs.

When war, or perverts (or both) interfere, something more valuable than all the art treasures in the world is lost.

Jan mentioned "Graveyard for Lunatics". That was Bradbury's tribute to pop culture, and I did not enjoy it as much as his others.

Interesting this talk about the ruinous effects of television. When I think childhood, all I can remember is television. While some of those cartoons were wonderful, I wonder what it would have been like to have adventures of my own instead of watching other people's. . .

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Postby BrianSiano » Wed Feb 16, 2005 9:32 am

David Loftus wrote:Brian’s point about the revival of many good things from the past is well taken . . . except it isn’t the same, is it? Whether you’re talking about the real thing (complete Robert Johnson recordings; DVDs of cleaned-up copies of great old films), or bastardized copies of crap that wasn’t particularly great to begin with (live-action feature films of the Flintstones and Scooby-Doo), it’s something less. In the former case, the embarrassment of riches and the ease with which you can obtain it somehow makes it a little less wonderful, don’t you find? And in the latter . . . well, I don’t even have to waste verbiage on how bad that is.


As I said, our time kind of creates a paradox around the story. The story addresses, in part, the steamrollering of the past to make way for the flashy new present. But in the two decades since, we've seen a large revival of the past's wonders. This is partly due to the new technologies we have, and partly due to the rise of the postmodern sensibility that new, fresh invention may require reviving techniques and ideas and motifs from the past. One could easily see _Raiders of the Lost Ark_, and maybe _Sky Captain_, as the sorts of movies Donny and Jeffty would see in Jeffty's private cinema.

Granted, as David says, merely recreating the past "isn't the same," even when it's done well. But so what? David, can you imagine a recreation of the past that _is_ the same? I can't.

Lemme give you an example. I mentioned the early comics conventions I used to go to. Let's say we assembled a fake version of it. Let's say we assembled vendors, props, tables, the curtained walls the hotel used to wall off the space, the 16mm projectors, and the battered underground comics. We got people to dress in period-authentic clothing. In almost every way but fact, it would be the same... but if I was placed in the middle, it would not be the same. At least, not for me. I wouldn't be _embeddded_ in that time.

As for the ease of finding stuff, I agree. I've posted a lot about this at the Pavilion, too. But the joy of browsing has not disappeared from the face of the planet.

Brian’s more poignant point, seconded by Steve Evil is about who we were in whatever particular time that was, not just what was going on and available then. In December 1980 my college roommate’s father asked me why everybody was making such a big deal about a mere pop singer’s death (John Lennon). He (the father) had been much involved in the civil rights movement in the mid 1960s, which he thought was a much more significant event than the Beatles. And in some ways, it was. But, I told him, I think people were mourning their youth. Lennon was a big feature of it, and now that he was gone, they were waking up to the fact that it was gone -- dead and irrevocable -- as well.

I _was_ young when Lennon was killed. I was 17. Main thing I was mourning was that this great artist, and generally decent guy, had been murdered by that most worthless of Americans, a schizophrenic Jeezer. The man was back from five years of privacy, he was producing music, he seemed to have found a good and happy life... and then someone else's madness tore him apart. And it was the dawn of the Reagan presidency.

In other words: I would _never_ sum up the mourning over Lennon as the mere desire for lost youth. It's a glib, shallow appraisal that misses a lot in favor of smug superiority over those silly Baby Boomers, crying over a dead rock star as a substitute for their graying hair and spreading midsections.

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Postby Jan » Thu Feb 17, 2005 5:43 am

Yesterday I was rearranging my books and stumbled upon something Harlan wrote about JEFFTY for a NEBULA anthology. He says it can be dangerous to wallow in nostalgia and the word he prefers in this case is remembrance. The point being that when you only remember something you don't lose sight of what the present has to offer. By mentioning videotapes, he made exactly the same point some of us made.

(I'm not sure I completely see what he means, though. Nostalgia is a *kind* of remembrance and certainly the kind that we see in JEFFTY. If you're nostalgic there's nothing harmful about that unless you're nostalgic all the time. In my opinion the story does "wallow in nostalgia", the word is certainly as suitable as remembrance, because it focuses on positive aspects of the past. Not so?)

Steve: I'm glad you read GRAVEYARD FOR LUNATICS - I actually love it, I think it's one of his best books.

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Postby yamsham » Thu Feb 17, 2005 10:13 am

Jan wrote:One could make a number of assumptions about why Jeffty turns sick in front of the tv sets. My explanation is that the content (or lack thereof) of the tv programs is too much for him to handle. If you agree with this, then you will also agree that Jeffty commits suicide at the end of the story. (A comment of Barney's led me to believe that this ending is not understood in the same way by everyone, although it is not yet under discussion, as if we all agreed. Jeffty's mother did not murder him.)

I can't see the ending as suicide. I think Mrs Kinzer did murder him ("So she still loved him, still, a little bit after all these years...") by putting the means, the radio, within Jefty's grasp, knowing full well what he would do. If you think back to the scene in front of the theater, where he gets beaten up for changing the boy's radio station, it's almost the same thing. Jefty is completely innocent; he doesn't think about what he's doing when he's altering reality. He just reaches for the radio...

Which raises an interesting question, how exactly did Jefty perceive the world? Did he see the Present and just ignored it? Or did he see the Past overlaid on the Present? Or some strange combination of both? Did they exists side by side for him? It's weird because he clearly accepted Donny, and he must have known that Donny was different, older; and yet the TVs in the showroom nearly destroyed him.

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Postby David Loftus » Thu Feb 17, 2005 10:40 am

> I would _never_ sum up the mourning over Lennon as the mere desire for lost youth.

Nor would I. It was a possible rationale for what my roommate's saw as an irrationally outsized flood of grief over what was the death of a "mere rock singer" -- an additional reason laid atop the others.

I didn't even say it was a "desire" for lost youth, but the forced acknowledgement of its inevitable passing and irretrievable loss.

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Postby Jan » Thu Feb 17, 2005 10:41 am

yamsham wrote:I think Mrs Kinzer did murder him ("So she still loved him, still, a little bit after all these years...") by putting the means, the radio, within Jefty's grasp

But if she loved him, why would she murder him?
Also, did she know and understand him well enough to know what he would do? I would presume she had no idea what would happen, having no knowledge about what had cause his condition. She couldn't know he wouldn't manage to listen to the stuff he wanted to listen to. Even if the radio wasn't in the bathroom normally, it could be that she was *trying* to be a good mother and put a radio in there because under normal circumstances he likes to listen to it. It's not like she went in there, put the radio in his hands and said "Here, listen to some rock music you little shit." So, I still think it was suicide, and certainly the parents, as well as Donny, were responsible, but they didn't murder him.

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Postby BrianSiano » Thu Feb 17, 2005 10:46 am

Jan wrote:But if she loved him, why would she murder him?

I go with the murder theory. Susan Smith loved her children, and she murdered them, too.

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Postby Barney Dannelke » Thu Feb 17, 2005 11:22 am

My comment was only directed toward the percentage of readers - and they seem to be legion - who have NO IDEA what happens at the end of the story at all. I mean I've met people who claim to have read that ending more than once and tell me they think Jeffty might still be alive.

I pretty much walk away at that point.

I never think of Jeffty as a suicide. That would require some sort of intent that Jeffty simply never gives any indication of. Murder, criminal negligence, youth-enasia and Wharton-esque criminal conspiracy after the fact, sure. But not suicide.

- Barney

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Postby yamsham » Thu Feb 17, 2005 1:23 pm

Jan wrote:
yamsham wrote:I think Mrs Kinzer did murder him ("So she still loved him, still, a little bit after all these years...") by putting the means, the radio, within Jefty's grasp

But if she loved him, why would she murder him?

Ah, I see now. We are interpreting the object of the sentence differently. I interpret "him" to mean Mr Kinzer, the husband. "So Leona still loved John, still a little bit after all these years..." That's how I read the sentence and how I come by the conclusion that Leona deliberately placed the radio within Jeffty's reach. That, and the statement that they didn't move as the "hideous crackling" blots out the music. While it's probably true that they were both so...stunned by all the years and emotionally cut-off that they couldn't move, couldn't react to anything, with any alacrity, I think it's more than that. I think Leona killed Jeffty and in that "hideous" moment, John either knew implicitly what had happened or truly was too stunned...or weak? Was Leona the stronger of the two?...to move.

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Postby Jan » Thu Feb 17, 2005 2:27 pm

Although I remembered the sentence vaguely, I somehow didn't find it when I tried to, but now I looked some more. It does change things a bit.

To me the object is absolutely Jeffty, but it sure sounds like Leona *did* something because she loved him, which is: she put the radio in his reach because she somehow perceived that there is no hope for him. He still committed *suicide*, but Leona expected it.

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Postby Jan » Thu Feb 17, 2005 2:40 pm

Barney:
I never think of Jeffty as a suicide. That would require some sort of intent that Jeffty simply never gives any indication of. Murder, criminal negligence, youth-enasia and Wharton-esque criminal conspiracy after the fact, sure. But not suicide.

So I was right about your opinion. :)
Jeffty has lost the ability to cope with the world due to some sort of overexposure. As I said previously, at a certain point he would have been too out-of-place in the current world anyway. That moment came in the store. For the first time he realized that what he believed in was all gone.

There was rock music on the radio when he died -- he couldn't change it. He terminated his life because he lost the power to transform the world into the place where he belonged. It had become too different and alien.His best (and only?) friend had disappointed him, so he felt alone, and in pain. I don't know what kind of intent you're looking for, since there is ample reason for what he does. Do you guys think the radio *fell* into the bathtub?
Last edited by Jan on Fri May 30, 2008 2:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Steve Evil
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Five.

Postby Steve Evil » Thu Feb 17, 2005 2:57 pm

I always took the rock music to be the signal Jeffty was dead. It wasn't playing old stuff anymore, it was playing Rock music. Jeffty was gone.

If he couldn't change the television sets, it was because Televisions werent' around when he turned five. They were alien, out of his league, beyond his range. I really don't think he commited suicide: I don't think a five year old would take the reasons given into consideration.

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Postby Barney Dannelke » Thu Feb 17, 2005 3:47 pm

***Jan***

You're looking for some sort of self-realization that reads like existential angst on Jeffty's part. No way.

Fell in, slipped in, left in a precarious position OR dropped in by mom, sure. Any of the above.

Picked up by Jeffty and dropped in because he wanted to end it all? No way. He's FIVE. He wouldn't have even understood the consequences of those actions.

- Barney


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