On Bruising (& the Insinuation of Breakage)

I must say, Foreign Correspondent was impressive to me in a lot of ways. It had fairly extensive character portrayal, and quite a few metaphors for such a short narrative, many of which relate to those found in The Flamethrowers.

Not surprisingly, one of the most common themes in both novels was violence – how it is portrayed, and what that portrayal reveals about the characters involved. As far as Foreign Correspondent is concerned, however, there are very few scenes in which actual violence is portrayed, and even then, it’s more alluded to than anything. Johnnie herself is hardly violent; one can easily say that her biggest motivator for learning to box and grapple (although she doesn’t say this outright) is to have another way to feel connected to her idol, a “semi-retired” cage fighter named Scooter Macintosh.

Her relationship with Scooter is intriguing from the beginning, if only because readers don’t know how it came about. A devoted fan, Johnnie takes to sending Scooter extensive emails, though he typically only replies with a few lines, when he does so at all. It was not surprising to me that any relationship (or beginnings of one) that may have formed between them gradually disintegrates as Johnnie insists of flattering Scooter extensively – what was interesting to me, however, were the ways certain elements of her grappling lessons could be tied to their interactions.

It will be easy to learn where to hold onto me, [my instructor] said, placing my palm on his hip…You want to press really hard there, he told me. Try to bruise it if you can; that’s going to give you more control.(60)

The idea of holding on, of doing it so tightly as to cause one to bruise, is a metaphor for what I believe to be the biggest reason why Scooter stopped responding to Johnnie – he simply had no other way to get away from her, one of many starry-eyed fans with whom he would never be on the same level, and more than likely he feared hurting her feelings. During a separate lesson, she notes:

“…I find myself in the hands of someone whose intention is to indicate that he can injure me, but that he won’t do so unnecessarily. Such trust is twofold: he must also believe that I will actually communicate the point at which some part of me is ready to break.”  (68)

To end their correspondence suddenly and without warning may be cruel, but the rules of interpersonal relationships aren’t the same as the one’s you find in the ring; there’s no tapping out when you can no longer handle the pressure placed upon you in an uncomfortable position – and, thus, the breakage is triggered, the silent splintering of Scooter’s ability to type out yet another short, if courteous, reply to someone with whom he could never truly communicate.

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One comment on “On Bruising (& the Insinuation of Breakage)

  1. First, I loved the connection that you drew between Scooter and the Jiu Jitsu instructor. The idea of holding on too tightly and causing damage as a result, I think, it in line with one of the book’s key interests: too much enthusiasm about anything is not good. More simply, it is not desirable to seem extreme in any way. This is what I found most interesting about this book, so I greatly appreciate your connection between literally and emotionally holding on tightly and causing damage.

    Second, I’d like to add an idea to your second point about “tapping out” and interpersonal relationships. I think that there might be a way to courteously “tap out” of a relationship: Scooter could have written to Johnnie and told her that he no longer wished to correspond with her. However, I think the fact that he did not do this has to do with a distinction between “correspondence” and “communication.” This book also seems interested in defining the concept of “correspondence,” and I think that your point about Scooter and Johnnie’s relationship demonstrates that “correspondence” does not necessitate really communication. It is merely saying things back and forth – it doesn’t require that either party really understands the ideas of the other. It only requires that each party responds. (I think Scooter and Johnnie’s lack of understanding – and mere correspondence – is demonstrated especially when Johnnie receives a letter from Scooter that begins “Wow,” and Johnnie’s not sure what that’s referring to.) So, maybe if Johnnie and Scooter had really been communicating with one another, Scooter would have felt more comfortable and more willing to “tap out” of that relationship instead of just abandoning the correspondence.

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