Johnnie, Automatism, and Lingisian Travel

In Bodies in Transit, Sparrow explains Lingis’s ideas about travel and encountering “foreign” things, and they seem to speak to Howard’s characterization of Johnnie. For example, Sparrow explains that Lingis believes people’s habits and tendencies can “reconfigure in an instance” as the result of contact with something new and foreign. He explains that this change can be as life-changing as the loss of a loved one (117).  Perhaps I’m just harping on Johnnie’s “enthusiasm” again, but I see a connection among (1) Johnnie’s inability to stop herself from acting in the way that comes naturally (her “automatism” (Sparrow 117)), (2) Johnnie’s desire to be a foreign correspondent, and (3) Lingis’s belief that interaction with something foreign allows people to break away from or modify their automatism. 

My Howard included the character Alphonso in the text to help us recognize that although Johnnie cannot overcome her automatic behavior, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to. Maybe with some new interactions – away from the domestic reporting that she does – she would be able to grow as a person. 

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Home/Away

Johnnie spends an excessive amount of time discussing her “hometown” and “region.” It is obviously a point of focus for her throughout the book. It appears to me that the two primary male characters, Scooter and Alphonso, are tangible human stand ins for her mild obsession with home versus away.

Scooter is so loved by Johnnie because he is home. On page 21 Johnnie writes to Scooter, “I am feeling melancholy for my hometown…suddenly I know that you are there…and I am hopeful for our town.” She also regularly discusses items of “home” with him, such as his devotion to [his] kids” and his “heart that is not so easily contained by a cage of ribs.” Thus, her extremely fond interactions with him are indicative of her inability to separate Scooter as a correspondent from Scooter as part of her home.

Alphonso exists as an opposite to this, which may explain the lack of outward affection Johnnie shows for him even though she does indicate she keeps his picture. He is the prime representation of “away” – something that Johnnie thinks about (as is evident of the picture), but does not feel as emotionally fond of. Correspondence with Alphonso is fraught with moments of confusion or misunderstanding. For example, Johnnie is confused, and perhaps threatened by, Misha the pigeon. The “treasures” of Alphonso’s house are also foreign to Johnnie as they are representations of religious deities and Johnnie “never ascribed to any religious learnings.” Alphonso is the unknown – the “away.”

Jones and James

Although I struggled at first to see any major connections between Foreign Correspondent  the book and Foreign Correspondent the movie, there were a few similarities that I found. First was the eagerness with which Johnny Jones and Johnnie James pursued their love interests. Johnny confessed his love for Carol and proposed to her after knowing her for a very short period of time. This reminded me the way in which Johnnie pines after Scooter, a man which she has never met. While Johnny’s love story had a happy ending, I think it can be argued that both characters are idealistic in the way in which they view both Carol and Scooter. It seems improbable that you would know you wanted to marry someone after such a short period of time–almost as improbable as being smitten with someone you have never met.

Another similarity I saw was the blending of fact and fiction. The movie was filled with fictionalized events surrounding WWII, while the book drew on nonfictional things and people like Alphonso Lingis. This is also something we saw in the Flamethrowers. Although I think there are many possible reasons for this, one of them could be to make the story seem more real. By adding elements that we can relate to, the stories are seem to be founded in real life while still bending our imaginations.

Johnny

I kind of read Johnny’s emails (it wasn’t obvious, but when she said 73 hours instead of so many days, then referenced laptops to connect to) to Scooter like an obsessed fan writing towards her favorite celebrity. If Scooter had a Twitter or Facebook account, Johnny would be all over that. And I get where she’s coming from, it’s not often you sort-of know someone from your own town who’s famous, even if it’s in a niche community (cage fighting, as it turns out). I would be psyched to know someone from my tiny town who somehow became famous. But I think Johnny takes it a little too far.

She’s Facebook stalking him without the Facebook. Stalking is even mentioned in the novel, and although Johnny is self-aware that her emails to Scooter can come off as overenthusiastic, naive, and very creepy, she seems to throw it off like a joke. It’s not just fan-mail she’s writing, but a sort of unequal correspondence. Scooter is desperately trying to keep this woman at arm’s length while Johnny is determined to make herself closer. If she can’t get information from him, she’ll talk about herself (which in turn tells the audience) in the hopes that it’ll somehow make Scooter closer. I certainly wouldn’t share personal information for someone who is basically a stranger, for all intents and purposes, no matter how much of a celebrity they are. Friendships and relationships are usually gradual, with the two parties knowing more about each other in roughly equal amounts over time. In Foreign Correspondence, Scooter knows way too much stuff that he doesn’t want to know, while Johnny hardly knows anything beyond interviews that even Scooter doesn’t enjoy. It bewilders me how Johnny thinks that this might eventually work out, even to the point of romance (although she admits that this is a little far-fetched).

I find it quite creepy as well that the author decided not to include ANY of Scooter’s replies, only referring to them by Johnny to Johni. I think this had the great affect of making Scooter even seem MORE detached than he already was to the story – figuratively, Johnny is not getting a clue from his short responses, seeking connection just as we are because we have no idea what he’s saying. It makes me relate to Johnny, almost forcibly because we both want knowledge of some mysterious man (of mostly her imagination). I liked reading the parts where Johnny was making up these little details about him, not exactly specific but created a sort of character that Scooter wasn’t actually like in reality. She’s sort of making up for the lack of knowledge about him, and possibly creating a barrier for when she might discover something about him she doesn’t like. For me, Johnny doesn’t exactly come off as normal, and I wonder just how far she’ll take it.

On Fighting One’s Own Way

To echo the comments of most everyone who has posted about the movie Foreign Correspondent thus far, I’ll admit that I had difficulty in drawing very many comparisons between the two narratives, other than Johnnie James vs Johnny Jones and their respective careers.

However, a particular line that Carol said towards the end of the movie caught my interest; following her admission that her father had been involved in the kidnapping of Van Meer, she turns to Johnny and says that, while her father’s actions may not have been in the best interest of many people, he was still fighting for his country in his own way, and, by being open to telling the press about what had happened, she, too, was fighting for her country in her own way.

Though patriotism isn’t much of a theme in the book Foreign Correspondent, the idea of fighting certainly is: Scooter Macintosh is an icon for cage fighting, an activity that Johnnie emulates in a way through her jiu-jitsu lessons. However, they have very different reasons for fighting; it doesn’t seem to come very naturally to Johnnie, who sees it as “a skill like no other in the world, since it pushes the body to an absolute limit” (29); Scooter, on the other hand, thinks that fighting “‘is not violent. It is everyday life.”‘ (12) Perhaps it is a stretch to consider these sentiments on a very different kind of fighting a direct parallel, but, all the same, it is interesting to consider their implications in light of the movie.

Johnny/Johnnie

In all honesty, I have had a hard time finding the relationship, or rather the purpose of the relationship, between the film and book versions of Foreign Correspondents.  The main characters share a similar name (Johnny Jones and Johnnie James), so clearly Howard is reaching out to this film in an important way.  One thing I noticed is the way the gender of the characters seems to inform the rest of their characteristics.  

For instance, Johnny’s idea of “foreign” is travel, overseas, war, uncovering a story, etc.  His purpose in Europe is to learn what he can about the impending war, which turns into a great story about finding the truth.  However, Johnnie’s idea of “foreign”, as we have discussed in class, is the male sphere.  She focuses on the domestic: “home and heart, heart and health, sense and sensuality” (2).  By trying to write for men’s magazines instead, she is stepping into “foreign” waters.  

In addition, their genders also play a role in how they each interpret romantic situations/feelings.  Johnny pursues his love interest, Carol, rather unabashedly, and is successful.  Even before they have had a love scene together, they both agreed they were going to get married.  Johnny behaves confidently, even when his feelings are strong (for example, when he is at the Fisher dinner party and Carol is speaking – he has sent her notes all evening and stares at her affectionately until she has lost her train of thought), and this leads to his romantic success.  Johnnie, in great contrast, does not behave confidently, especially when her feelings are strong.  When she is writing her emails to Scooter, she second-guesses herself immediately upon hitting the “send” button.  She is driven to act because of her feelings, but doesn’t believe in her actions because she lacks the confidence.  It seems that male and female factors are at work in these characters, leaving the man more confident in pursuing than the woman. 

Lastly, there is some duality in each of their characters.  Johnny Jones goes by the name Huntley Haverstock while he is in Europe, although he makes it known that that is just an alias.  At first, there is intended to be a separation between his American and European identities, but that line becomes blurred and he goes by either name.  Meanwhile, Johnnie spends a portion of the book writing to her friend of the same name, Johni.  Not only does their name tie them together, but Johni is the only other character whose responses are present.  She and Johnnie also correspond with one another in similar ways (briefly commenting on what the other has said and swiftly moving on to what is happening in their own lives), so I have been thinking of them as two halves of the same coin.

Lingis/Johnnie

In class we discussed the idea of home.  The quote in particular was, “I long to long for a home.”  I feel that the general connotation gained from the class and its position in the book led me to believe that she wished she could even care about being homesick or just being homesick.  However after reading through Sparrow’s paper I find a quote discussing Lingis’ nature.  “Lingis is a constant wanderer and a cosmopolitan philosopher par excellence, perpetually in search of sensations and constantly giving expression, or the closest thing to it, to the sensualist he encounters.”  I can’t help but to feel these are the relationship between Lingis and Johnnie.  Perhaps Lingis is the philosophical Johnnie.  Constantly somewhere else covering everyone else’s obsession yet she has no connection to home that can be afforded through her pursuit of sensualist encounters.  It’s clear both in the book and real life Lingis’ exploration of sensual expression was sought through and a causation of his travels.  Johnnie’s own interactions with Scooter were fantasy driven expressions of ambiguous truth yet sexually charged sensuality.