the queer feet

G. K. Chesterton's story first appeared in 1911, in the collection, The Innocence of Father Brown.This short story has it all – the essence of mystery fiction,as it were — but it also uses each of the elements of the bolagram in a self-explanatory way. With only this story to go by, anyone might construct a theory of boundaries or, for that matter, a Lacanian psychology.

Story.An exclusive club, "The Twelve True Fishermen," meets annually at a posh hotel in Belgravia for a dinner. They bring their own silver service with them — a set of bejeweled silverfish-knives — to use on the dinner's elaborate fish course.Father Brown, Chesterton's famous detective character, is called to give last rites to an Italian waiter who has just suffered a paralytic stroke. While filling out the necessary papers in a small room adjacent to the hallway connecting the kitchen with the dining room serving the banquet in progress, Brown hears something strange: footsteps that walk slowly in one direction and quickly in the other. Deducing that there is, literally, a "crime afoot," he confronts a gentlemen who is attempting to leave the banquet early and thinks that Brown is the coat-check clerk.The "gentleman" is none other than the master criminal Flambeau. The trick was based on the fact that both waiters and guests were dressed in tuxedos. A stranger in a tuxedo could,by changing his posture, gait, and demeanor, appear to be a waiter when in the presence of guests, and a guest in the presence oft he waiters.

To see a complete text of G. K. Chesterton's story, courtesy of Wheaton College,click HERE.


COMMENTARY

The Queer Feet bolagram, like the bolagram for skin, reveals the strong influence of the system of humors that was the mainstay of medicine and physics for nearly a thousand years. The "sanguine" guests of the hotel are really the hosts in this case and are canonically structured as an apostolic group of twelve. The other main ecclesiastical reference to fish- the surplus-value silver service, sets up the two principle lines of action: (1) the metaphorically maintained conventional relationship between masters and servants and (2) the metonymically structured relationship of this relationship to the priest, Father Brown, and the value of the silver as contraband.

Chesterton was keenly aware of the political dimensions of his stories. Written at a time when anarchy was threatening the ruling classes, he pointed out that civilization itself was the most ruthless and revolutionary of conspiracies.The concentration of wealth involved creating surplus objects,such as the silver service, that had symbolic value in the master-servant dimension but a market value otherwise. Such objects are, properly speaking, "buried wealth," and the connections with the "dry and cold" melancholy of earth is suggestive.

In fact, black is the ruling color of the story and the bolagram. Chesterton's Brown asserts the central,chiastic role of all "men in black" who is able to form the essence of the clue's anamorphic quality. Black also explains the relationship between the custom and circumstance that, as a "teleological hinge," connecting (among other things)chance and necessity, law and order, fate and accident. The "custom line" connects the sanguine representatives of social authority with the servants who are "immobilized" by this system(the cold/wet humor of phlegm – prudence).

Humoristic themes are eclipsed and interpreted by the role of anamorphy. The black coat enables the thief Flambeau to look like a waiter among guests and a guest among waiters.This chiasmus in miniature creates a "crossing" (the hallway) where the theft can be enacted and concealed.

Detection of the crime comes about in an"acousmatic" way. Acousmatics is a term used by Michel Chion to describe the use of ambient noise in Rear Window to shape action and audience response. There is also an interesting relationship to the phenomenon of "stochastic resonance"– the reinforcement of a weak signal by background "white noise." White noise is the white substance that dominates the symbolic line linking servants and masters. Wet and cold at the servants' end, it obeys the rule imposed on servants and children(and audiences): silence. The signal that is reinforced in this case is pure difference. The auditor becomes phallic by definition.His ears "pick up" at the difference. Father Brown becomes the bachelor par excellence. His detection creates a "dry line" that connects the head (the psyche of the intellectual detective) with the objects of desire, the silver service. The embodiment of this dry line is named, appropriately, "Flambeau"(flame). Chiastically dressed in black, he is the factor that undermines the chummy club members' security.

Father Brown does not turn Flambeau over to "the authorities." He lets him go after relinquishing the silver. Instead, Brown has extracted something like a promissory note from Flambeau, a debt that is, he says, like a hook (again,a fishing metaphor) which he can jerk no matter how far the line is extended. He has, the reader infers, gotten Flambeau to confess and the power of this confession binds the priest to the thief in a mutual bond of confidentiality. Brown cannot reveal the name of Flambeau to either the victims or the reader.

map elements

A bolamap of "The Queer Feet"formalizes and separates the individual elements of the bolagram.This list defines the regions that might be located within the plan of the imaginary "Vernon Hotel."

Notes.There is an almost 1:1 mappable relationship between the wet line(the hallway between the dining room and kitchen) and the dry line (Brown's acousmatic surveillance of the hallway). The Ø of the priest's role as administrator of last rites to the dying waiter is the theme of a Catholic rite in a Protestant/Jewish domain and justifies the desire to conceal Father Brown in a cloakroom out of sight of the main rooms of the hotel. The return of the silver comes with an "enthymemic" speech to the club members and is a form of the "anagnorisis" (discovery scene) of classic drama.

© 2012, Donald Kunze, all rights reserved