An Open Floodgate for Our Enthusiasms

There are several comparisons that can be drawn between Foreign Correspondant and The Flamethrowers, one of which is the mixing of fiction and nonfiction. I was surprised to discover that Alphonso Lingis is a real person. His Wikipedia page describes him as “an American philosopher, writer, and translator, currently Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Pennsylvania State University.” Scooter McIntosh, however, is completely fictional. This is reminiscent of The Flamethrowers in that Kushner wrote about fictional things like the Valeras and Ronnie Fontaine, while including real things like the March on Rome and Behind the Green Door. In Foreign Correspondant, I think the realness of Alphonso is meant to underline the idea of foreign versus domestic that is running though the text. Alphonso’s realness, or domesticity, is contrasted by Scooter’s foreignness.  Johnnie is very obviously obsessed with Scooter, but in the beginning of the book she also describes her fascination with Alphonso, saying that she has “been carrying around a picture of Alphonso in my wallet, his head wreathed in flowers” (3). Later on Johnnie says “Alphonso writes that the figure outside us, whoever he or she might be, that distant foreign body, unapproachable, across a great gulf of time or space, in another country entirely, or in a region we recognize but can’t return to, this figure becomes a tinderbox or an open floodgate for our enthusiasms. I spend some time thinking about these descriptors. The first one consumes or destroys. The other can be opened or closed as needed to control the flow of the body. A restraint or barrier against the outpouring, or a sluice, through which is might pass” (40). I think it is possible that Johnnie thinks of Alphonso as the tinderbox (which she can close against the flood) and Scooter as the open floodgate. She is enamored with both of them, but they starkly contrast each other. Despite Alphonso’s realness, she is not nearly as obsessed with him as she is with Scooter, who she has never met and who she has largely created in her mind.   

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