Hi Pemulises of the world! I’m going to cheat at Lectio Divina today and pick a passage I want to think about in relation to this week’s theme of “commitment.”
“Michael Pemulis is nobody’s fool, and he fears the dealer’s Brutus, the potential eater of cheese, the rat, the wiretrap, the pubescent-looking Finest sent to make him look foolish. So when somebody calls his room’s phone even on video, and wants to buy some sort of substance, they have to right off the bat utter the words ‘Please commit a crime,’ and Michael Pemulis will reply ‘Gracious me and mine, a crime you say?’ and the customer has to insist, right over the phone, and say he’ll pay Michael Pemulis money to commit a crime, or like that he’ll harm Michael Pemulis in some way if he refuses to commit a crime, and Michael Pemulis will in a clear and I.D.able voice make an appointment to see the caller in person to ‘plead the honour and personal safety’ so that if anybody eats cheese later or the phone’s frequency is covertly accessed, somehow, Pemulis will have been entrapped.” (156)
1) What is happening in the text?
We learn about Michael Pemulis, his paranoia, social class and background, desire to keep his record clean, and the code words he needs to hear when dealing drugs in order to clear himself of any blame, should someone happen to listen in.
2) What is happening on an allegorical level?
In relation to the theme of “commitment,” I’m interested in the definitions of “commitment” below (from OED):
(a) The action or an act of placing a person in custody or confinement, esp. as a punishment or while awaiting trial; committal to a place of incarceration, correction, etc.; imprisonment, detention. Cf. committal n. 2a(a) (now the more usual word in this sense).
3. The action of entrusting a thing, matter, person, etc., to the care, custody, or charge of another; the action of transferring responsibility for or control over something to another.
In the passage above “commitment” takes on the meaning of transferring responsibility or control over something to another, particularly, Pemulis asks for the code words “Please commit a crime” to be uttered, which deflects the blame on the person who’s asking, even though Pemulis is also implicated as the dealer.
This meaning of “commitment” relates to the capital C Commitment of AA gatherings in IJ. The Commitments mean duties, obligations — things bigger than oneself. The Pemulis passage shows us how “commitment” is a limiter, a filter in a way, because it restricts other actions, desires, duties, and gives priority to what’s necessary, which would be staying clean, sober, and attending AA gatherings. But Pemulis’ passage also shows us that in committing, one is giving oneself over to another. In this giving oneself over to another, there is a deflection of responsibility in Pemulis’s case, and I think that this deflection of responsibility extends to AA too where people give themselves over to the program and acknowledge something outside of their addiction and themselves in order to regain responsibility for themselves and their lives.
In both these examples, I choose to see “commitment” not as a conscious decision made about priorities, but as a necessary relegation of responsibility in order to regain a sense of responsibility for oneself.
3) What does this remind me of from my own life?
This passage in IJ reminds me of all the things I am committed to, for example, my writing. I feel that it’s not a decision I make but a necessity that needs to be acknowledged and practised every day to remind me of my sense of purpose, otherwise I get super miserable.
4) What action does this call me to do?
The Pemulis passage brings to mind the way social class could affect someone quite deeply. As a working-class person, I understand his paranoia about his future re: funding, scholarships etc. The passage calls me to re-evaluate the things that matter to me and acknowledge the many ways that “commitment” is a double bind and involves a giving over of responsibility to be able to learn to decide how to be responsible in the future.