up to him, but he does not answer. They look at one another. Come down from there, the rider says. The old man descends the ladder, still holding the chisel in his teeth and the riverstone in his hand. They look at one another for a moment, then the rider walks his horse past the old man. You[9]did all this? the rider asks, gesturing at the cliff face. The old man stares. The rider dismounts and hitches his horse to a tree. He walks up to the shack and seems to examine it as though considering its worth, the effort of craftsmanship it represents. The old man clears his throat and takes the chisel from his mouth. I have little in the way of hospitality to offer you[10], he says. His words creak like boughs in the wind. But you are welcome to what I have. The old man walks past the rider and goes inside. The rider follows, stooping under the low doorway. The old man places his tools on the table, gently, and spoons out a bowl of stew from the pot over

Page 4 >


[9] The second person is never used rhetorically. The phatic utterance is always already addressing the reader, the viewer, the recipient – it cannot exist without one. A tree crying for attention in the forest makes no sound if no one is there to validate it. You is not a stand-in for the everyman. You is not interchangeable with the hypothetical, scholarly “one.” You is always you. You are always you. This is what we (what you, you, dear reader) struggle with every day, every page. The understanding, the conceit (what an apt word) that the author and speaker are separate but possibly related, that when the artist says I he does not necessarily mean me but he might, or he might mean someone like me or a persona I have created or even you. But we are confusing ourselves (I am confusing myself, I am confusing yourself) because we are forgetting the reality of the phatic utterance, the reality of phatic identity.


[10] The reality being, of course, that the only identity is I. The phatic utterance is, at its core, a measure of self-reassurance. In the post-Cartesian world, the only entity whose existence can be proven is one’s (your, my) own. In the postmodern world, even this is uncertain. A howl in the dark has the primary purpose of reassuring yourself that you exist, that you have substance and agency. If another entity (whose existence may be dubious but is ultimately irrelevant) answers back in the distance, so much the better.