Sesshu Foster’s “You’ll Be Fucked Up” stages a kind of introductory tour of the American west coast. But instead of working in an accumulative mode, creating new knowledge and experience over distance and time, Foster’s journey is fundamentally negative of memory, identity, and agency. Whisked along the west coast landscape by an anonymous and predatory “they,” the hypothetical victim addressed by the poem disintegrates under the influence of his new home. Oppressed by the look but don’t touch mentality of the California spectacle, he consents to total subjugation and obedience.
The menacingly ambiguous “they” of the poem serve primarily as guides for the mythologized landscape of California. Facilitating an inverted geocultural orientation program, their tour schedule ensures that their guest is perpetually displaced: “they’ll take you to San / Diego and put you on a plane, they’ll make up some / itinerary of churches and parades, they’ll show you / Hollywood, you’ll get driven up and down Sunset Boulevard, around Melrose clothes boutiques” (3-7). Rapidly shuttling their guest between nameless and generic places like the “churches” and “parades” and iconic features of the California landscape (San Diego, Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard, Melrose), they prevent any attempt on his part to establish a personal connection with the places around him. Superficial representation dominates as a cognitive mode. His encounter with the Baja coastline demonstrates the logic of tour most explicitly: “maybe a glimpse of hundreds of miles of smooth sand / dunes along the Baja coastline, inaccessible even by / 4-wheel drive” (9-11). Catching only glimpses of brilliant places and things that cannot ever be touched, the guest is at once impressed with the splendor of what he sees and interpellated into the superficial logic of the spectacle.
To this end, the nameless American hosts also do their best to negate their victim’s ability to sense anything immediate or familiar. Their very first move is to snatch away his possessions: “They’ll take your things away / when you’re not looking, they’ll take your shit and / discard part in the dumpster” (1-2). This deprivation even penetrates the body of the guest, “and bit by bit they’ll take out your teeth / and eyes, your sexual parts and your hair, your original / shoes and sunglasses will be put away” (11-13). they even reduce the body to a formless lump of nondescript flesh; the selected parts are both markers of identification in phenotypical distinction as well as ways to interface sensorially with the outside world through the human. The resulting corpse like husk is both anonymous and senseless. Establishing the victim as suspended in a visceral/material/geographical/cerebral vacuum, the narrator brings full significance to the title line of the poem, “you won’t even be wearing your own shoes or eyeglasses, ideals or nightmares, / you’ll be fucked up and nothing will be yours” (20-22). The American host has created a specimen invested in absolutely nothing, apprehending everything from remote distance but never truly encountering anything set before him, “somebody will be out playing / golf and they’ll leave you in the car, / by then you’ll know how to wait” (16-18). Both literally and figuratively, the whole activity of life has been collapsed into a simple matter of waiting for something new to watch or something else to happen.
This state of personal evacuation produces terrifying and mechanical compliance. The authorities bluntly and effortlessly articulate their demands without fear of resistance; their speech is a monologue with no response necessary: “they will say yes, yes, they / will say yes and no, no and yes” (22-23). Emptiness and obedience more explicitly converge in the final lines: “they will take you / to where you can see the waves starting far out at sea, / coming in across the big patches of light on the ocean / and moving across the far distant point, they will do / the talking and you won’t care at all” (24-28). Here, the ocean is both beautifully expansive and eerily anonymous, gorgeous but unknowable. Blown away by the American spectacle where it seems the only space for difference rests in the commodified “Thai and Italian restaurants” (8), resistance and identity have all been erased, and the ultimate conclusion lands on an image of frightful apathy, “you won’t care at all.”
Ironically, touring areas associated with paradise and sunny bliss has emptied out the real pleasure of encountering and inhabiting beautiful places. Through their attempts to accumulate experiences and pleasures for their guest, They have actually taken away more than they could have ever given.
Copyright 2006 by Michael Simeone