Pringle told the audience of “an obsession with place-making and how it makes us,” concomitant [or co-morbid?] with an obsession with Manifest Destiny and sick-houses, “how buildings can be sick buildings.”In addition to its most-prevalent connotation of anger, one might read “temper” with its sense of extreme change through force and alloy; and also with the sense of illness carried by its cognate “distemper.” Through wandering, the titular lovers contract, and become carriers of, a toxic, diseased ideology infecting the body politic. A central motif in the pattern of national expansion is the spread of social and biological cultures—language, religion, smallpox.
Selected sections of the text take the form of direct presidential address, although with certain syntactical elements are left blank, or indicated in terms of variables. In the first of these addresses, dated “Friday, January 20, 19____,” the text is an adaptation of George H. W. Bush’s 1989 inaugural address:
I have just frequented several words that our Primal Head,
Here the blanks and variability point to the mootness and mutability of the New Head taking power from the Preceding Head. The import of these words is that a peaceful transfer of power, between the two major parties, is proof of success.
Throughout the book, the language of illness and its sick-rooms is folded in with that of orderliness; the etiological force of the Great American Mythos, its “Continuity,” as that sought in triage, or feigned and prolonged emergency, makes it possible that “this place swallows places that used to / be a place. a place long before it was an acknowledged place.” The process of expansion doesn’t necessarily require, but certainly often entails, reassigning places through the application of new names, stripping older layers and with them their “messy” histories and meanings, and replacing them with a newer, cleaner sense of order. The “gentle neighborhood” with its “clean gutters” and “perfectly symmetrical single family / homes,” with its “green plastic easter basket grass” is just an extension of the antiseptic protocol of the orderly’s domain, and it “stretches synthetically” beneath “cottonball clouds in the sky.”
Attendant and dependent upon this order, this Temper is Felicity, who “THANK[S] YOU / FOR KEEPING IT DOWN. THE NOISE.” As in, thank you for keeping your mouth shut and stomaching all of this, the pill that will kill all trouble-lines, just the kind of peace and quiet the doctor ordered. Do you want to feel safe, the way that Felicity does? Try the Grey Room on for size. It exists in one of the houses on that manicured block, and is just the kind of room that Diana Moon Glampers would love, its mundanity an opportunity for vacant reflection, just the thing for a retiring Mr. and Mrs. Bergeron:
You notice that the room in which Felicity stands
This place that swallows places is the kind of place you can really get a lot of thinking un-done. Felicity says: “I have thought a lot about MEMORY. I think about MEMORY / that is not MEMORY and then I think about MEMORY that is MEMORY and then I decide not to REMEMBER so that I don’t / REMEMBER any MEMORY that is not MEMORY.” This kind of self-reflection, which could be similar to self-policing or self-censoring, is what leads to the immobility that follows terror(ism), the self-ceding of “dominion” to “the Head” at the cost of “the Rest’s impotence.” The legacy, the Continuity, of “OUR BODY” is to obviate the hard work of thinking through the costs-benefit analysis that pits material comfort against dis-ease: “TERROR HAS BEEN REPLACED WITH SEVERAL AGENCIES OF EASE.” And Felicity at least, is seeking ease or isn’t: forgetting to remember as defense, as safety.
The “exclusive or” suggests a necessary choice, such as that between security and liberty (per Franklin, that Slightly Lesser Primal Head, to coin a phrase), but the suggestion of the book’s title is that, as pringle succeeds in reminding, there are ways to avoid making the hard choice one way or the other. To be tempered, it turns out, is to be happy, untroubled, pacified: “THAT WHICH KEEPS US SAFE KEEPS US FREE” (79). What a Romantic, what a Beautiful, what an Easy marriage it will be has been.