Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Believe Care Invest in “The Intuitionist”

Why Lila Mae might be hard to identify with:
  • Well, first of all she might be hard to identify with because she’s an elevator inspector, which is not a profession we’re used to rooting for. But she makes it look really cool, so we quickly get on board.
  • At one point Whitehead says, “Lila Mae’s been a practicing solipsist since before she could walk.” It’s hard to root for a solipsist.
  • Nevertheless, due to the excellent BCI, I was totally onboard with Lila Mae, until the inciting incident happens and she doesn’t react the way I want her to. When she hears that one of the elevators she okayed has crashed, she doesn’t ask if there were any casualties or go to investigate. We like that she’s tough, but this is a little too tough to fully identify with. It’s alienating, and could lose the reader if strong BCI hadn’t been built up.
  • The second paragraph begins, “She doesn’t know what to do with her eyes. The front door of the building is too scarred and gouged to look at, and the street behind her is improbably empty, as if the city had been evacuated and she’s the only one who didn’t hear about it.” We’re plunged right into her self-conscious head, describing her unease in a way we’ve never heard before but instantly recognize as similar to our own self-consciousness.
  • Place names are never mentioned, but we assume that Lila Mae has migrated from a small southern town to a big northern city in the 1940s, and encountered massive racism in each. Nevertheless, she’s not portrayed as as nobly suffering victim. What’s fascinating is how conservative she is. Whitehead says, “Even from the twelfth floor, she can still hear the woman downstairs yelling at her children, or what Lila Mae supposes to be children. You never know these days.” Later he describes, presumably from Lila Mae’s point of view, “a city with an increasingly vocal colored population—who are not above staging tiresome demonstrations for the lowlier tabloids”. Lila Mae has a southern small town attitude to big northern cities, regardless of her race. This makes her seem very real to us.
  • Lila Mae has the particular values of her profession, which is always good. Her political enemy tries to bribe the opposition with new screwdrivers, and Lila Mae has to admit “the new screwdrivers were quite beautiful.”
  • We begin with a scene that we assume happens every day: Lila Mae endures humiliating treatment by a building superintendent who has never seen a black or female elevator inspector before, (“How come Jimmy didn’t come this time?” the super asks. “Jimmy’s good people.”) She then suffers the ultimate humiliation for an elevator inspector: An elevator she okays crashes.
  • We can tell Whitehead loves comic books, because he lifts a character wholesale from Frank Miller’s “Daredevil” comics. And, as a comic book lover, he knows the value of giving Lila Mae superpowers, established right away. She doesn’t climb around elevator shafts, she can simply sense what’s wrong with an elevator, and, until the incident, gets it right every time. 
  • We’re then impressed when the superintendent tries to bribe her to make her forget about it, but she takes the bribe and cites him anyway. (“You placed sixty dollars in my pocket. I don’t think I implied by my behavior that I wanted you to bribe me, nor have I made any statement or gesture, such as an outstretched palm, for example, saying that I would change my report because you gave me money. If you want to give away your hard-earned money”—Lila Mae waves her hand toward a concentration of graffiti—“I see it as a curious, although in this case fortuitous, habit of yours that has nothing whatsoever to do with me. Or why I’m here.”) That’s pretty bad-ass.
  • Jimmy in the garage has a crush on her. She’s self-conscious, but we sense that she needn’t be.
Five Es
  • Eat: Not till later.
  • Exercise: No. There’s a chase scene much later in the book.
  • Economic Activity: Very much so, her life is her job.
  • Enjoy: No, never, other than appreciating her new screwdriver.
  • Emulate: When she inspects an elevator, she reads though the initials of the previous inspectors and tries to figure out who each one was. She’s overwhelming aware of those that came before her, and her various amounts of respect for each.
Rise above
  • She decides not to check in after the accident, sensing that she’s going to look out for herself in this thing and can’t trust her bosses.
High five a black guy
  • Not an issue.
  • No, never. She’s a solipsist, and not interesting in helping anyone other than herself.

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