Monday, October 19, 2009

Procedure in Plain Air by Jonathan Lethem

Superfluous society becomes immune to the humane condition.

This story comments on access and the superfluous preoccupations of our society. Stevick, the main character, goes to the coffee shop for a caffeine boost not for the taste, nor for the atmosphere which he finds excessive. His moment there is juxtaposed with the other café denizens who are preoccupied with the wifi, their cell phones, the perfectly tuned Ipod, whether the coffee has a soapy after taste, the other denizens in the shop. Stevick sits outside to escape the mind numbing convoluted society inside.

Outside, he witnesses a man being placed into a hole in the ground. Outraged by his being left there with little protection from the rain he stands above him with an umbrella. His values again are being juxtaposed with people concerned over the property value, walking their dogs and just doing their jobs as was the case with the men who inserted him into the hole.

He is later accosted in the street by what he terms a yuppy who is belligerent that his presence is lowering his property value. Fueled by his anger over the situation of the man in the hole and his beliefs he starts fighting. The fight quickly ends as both parties get bored and go back to perspective lives.

The uniform changes everything

Charlotte, his ex-wife, belittles his efforts much as society seems to, that is when they even notice him. The uniform in the bag changes everything for him, he is now part of this enterprise and this strengthens him isolating him for the superfluous judgmental denizens, “Charlotte, like much else, was receding from view.”

The Man in the hole

The man in the hole is also symbol of the purely functional necessity driven lifestyle. At first outraged by the mans condition, he later muses that he himself may one day be placed in a hole. Which makes me think, to each his own obsession. What he once thought of as heinous, he concludes, he is happy to be a part of.

Integration is unavoidable

He is happy to be part of an art installation which shuns the superfluous, the fancy, whimsical the unnecessary. However this installation and the idea of art represents all those things. Integration is unavoidable.


  1. Anonymous2:47 PM

    Interesting point of view. Makes me want to rewind and reread.

  2. What a profound metaphor for the dreadful isolation we experience in this society. Society places us all in holes, with more or less social interaction. In our holes we fit and forget our own humanity. There is rarely anyone to hold an umbrella over us. The act of holding the umbrella is equally isolating, and one can predict the next move will be into another hole.


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