At face value, this short 117 page novella is about a filmmaker and his hopeful subject (a retired professor and military/government thinker) at the professor’s Southern California desert home. This main story arc is nestled between an opening and ending narrative (titled “Anonymity” and “Anonymity 2”) that take place in a gallery showing ’24 Hour Psycho’ at MoMA- which was a real life art instillation at MoMA in 2006 showcasing the Hitchcock film in slowed frames, expanding the short Hollywood movie to a 24-hour length art projection.
These bookended anonymous pieces, to me, focused a lot on interpretation and authority in art. What is it? — it being anything. What did the author/artist/director mean? What did the audience think? Art is open to interpretation both by the reader and the author, yet critics and academics put pressure to find the authority of meaning, some point that the artist is expressing that you need to know in order to get it. In these opening/closing scenes, the anonymous man is obsessed with wondering how other audience members are interpreting the art-movie installation. He wonders, on pg. 8, if two men standing in the gallery “were seeing what he was seeing. Even if they were, they would draw different conclusions, find different references across a range of filmographies and disciplines.” This is mirrored in the closing section (Anonymity 2, taking place the next day from Anonymity “1”) when he is speaking to a stranger who asks if what they are watching (“Psycho”) is a comedy. On pg. 111: “He wanted to dismiss the idea that the film might be a comedy. Was she seeing something he had missed? Did the slow pulse of projection reveal something to one person and conceal it from another?”
The elements of repetition, performance, and construction were present in several minor moments through the novella. One of my two favorites: pg 48, describing how when Jessica was little she would look at her father’s lips to anticipate his words so that she could construct and synchronize their speech together, and would always be “looking, thinking, repeating, interpreting” like a performance. The other: pg. 69, Jessica talks about helping an elderly couple she volunteers for, and how they often lose stuff around the house, and they would all look for items together, “all three of them moving through the apartment talking, looking, trying to reconstruct,” as if it were a performance that they were all watching.
This short and quick read has many other elements to dissect, including some theories of space, time, grief, and loss. Overall I liked this little mystery think-piece and can’t wait to read more of his meatier novels.