Novels and stories describe for us their characters’ sexual positions: people enacting instructions from the Kama Sutra, or from the smooth rational sheets that accompany IKEA boxes. As though narration is verbal geometry or even topology, an accounting of objects’ situation in space, the angles of their relation to one another. This reminds me of the idea that the self is socially constructed. So, people, first you are constructed, then you are positioned. It is hard to find active verbs and clear agency here. A spiritual exercise: to trace the genealogy of one’s sexual positions. Did you see it at the movies, or do you imitate a scene from a Jonathan Franzen novel?
I have a friend who is now a priest but was once a set designer who specialized in operas. That first career began when he was a child in Vancouver, B.C., in a family for whom Texaco’s Saturday afternoon presentation of the Metropolitan Opera was their closest approach to sabbath rite. By age ten he had become fascinated with the stories as much as the music and, unable to cross the continent to see them for himself, had to be content with imagination. But he was not content. So he waited for the end of each broadcast, when Milton Cross would announce the opera to be broadcast next week, and then each Monday retrieved the relevant libretto from his local library. He read it with passionate attention. The story bloomed in his mind. He designed sets and characters, cut their shapes from cardboard, painted them precisely. On Saturday all was ready. When the broadcast commenced, scene by scene, aria by aria, the boy brought forth his magnificent fragile rooms and placed the elegantly dressed two-dimensional people in them. He moved them into their proper positions. Sometimes he propped two of them against each other in a cardboard embrace; later, he laid the dead ones to rest. They lay then perfectly still, perfectly flat, in that position of repose which has no successor.