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Nula: Butterflies Rise is a decision-making game that explores the experience of living with anxiety.

Inspired by puzzle adventure games of the early 90s like Myst, the surreal comedy of Flann O'Brien, and the author's experience of living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Nula creates an immersive textual experience, an insight into the daily struggle anxiety can be.

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The 500
F-F-F-Foreign Man: Andy Kaufman and the Stutter

Jordan Harrison-Twist

17.01.19

Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

A man walks in front of a velvet curtain. Immaculate side-parting; eyebrows flirtingly close over the nose; swollen, scurrying eyes; turtleneck under shirt under sports jacket — sleeves too short, drawing attention to hands held vertically down at both sides: awkward, mechanized — trousers: legs too short, drawing attention to white socks and black shoes: foalish, puerified; shifting weight from left to right, right to left; slight alteration of the jacket as if it were suspended independently of his sway, lacquered onto the hot air. The fingers on his left hand curl up in sequence and then fall to rest. Again, again. He looks terrified.

‘It was… three people… and dey carried the biggest cennon… in the world to Spain…’

Indefinable accent, broadly Eastern European. Singular third person pronoun ‘it’ with matching incorrect conjugation of the verb ‘to be’ for a noun phrase containing a quantity ‘three’. Who is this man, this twerp, who cannot grasp basic grammar? Who is he — you know — the foreign man?

‘So… it was two boys and one girl and dey took the-the cennon to the highest mountain… in Spain…’

The word ‘foreign’ can simply mean ‘dealing with or relating to other countries’, or ‘strange and unfamiliar’ and ‘coming from outside’. This is the role, the position, of the stand-up comic. As critic Philip Auslander writes of the originators: ‘urban, immigrant, outsiders […] confined to the cultural ghetto’. The self-deprecating subject uses herself, outré, outside of society, to reflect the ills of the inside.

‘So, the first boy, you know, they on top of the mountain… and the first boy, he point the cennon to thees castle, and so-so-so-so he… so he say to the second boy, “alright, hend me the cennonball”. So-so-so-so-so, the second boy say, “eeeeer, I thought you had dem”. So-so-so wait, listen, so-so-so-so listen, so they both turn to the girl, and she say…’

Spasmodic repetition of the discursive marker ‘so’ is in fact not spasmodic at all. With each fell sibilant swoop, Kaufman stabs the building tension, killing the communion in the room, making an audience individuals.

One wonders what the best method of transcribing this stutter would be:

‘S, s, s, so—‘ is different from
‘so-so-so-so—‘ which is different from
‘So’, stuttered Andy Kaufman.

The first is an internal physiological struggle: the material production of phonemes failing its host. The second is a plea for attention, quiet, respect. The third demonstrates fear.

Foreign Man’s conceited stutter reflects an attempt to regain control: empty signifiers repeated in stretched time, a satire of the comic ignorant of his audience. Speech is intransitively reaching the moment at which it communicates nothing but noise — the body, and the body alone, speaks.

Kaufman’s Foreign Man is the outsider twice-removed: the performer from society, and the delusional from the performer. He, as Freud writes in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, ‘completely disregards his inhibition, because it is not present in him’. And when the punchline arrives:

‘Don’t look at me!’

the belly of the joke is pierced, and it squeaks away to a flaccid wiggle. Don’t look at me. Don’t look at me. Don’t look at me. The foreign body is making itself sound as foreign as possible to agitate the audience’s immune system.

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