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Sexual Codes of the Europeans


Helen DeWitt

Artwork by Andrew Topel

Sexual Codes of the Europeans

A Preliminary Report


i The Blog

On 17 March 2007 a little blog appeared on a WordPress template, so unpretentious a blog that even the "Just another weblog" slug had not been customised, the blogroll had only the two links and, and there were only 5 posts. They gave the sexual codes for 5 provincial European cities. The About page explained the rationale behind the posts.
It accepted no comments or pingbacks. It offered no clickable buttons to encourage readers to share.


00 About

Let us suppose you are in a foreign country. You know the word for banana. You know no other words for food. You are restricted, therefore, to foods which may be picked up at supermarket, shop or market stall, foods you may point at, and bananas.
Demand for bananas is likely to go up with your knowledge of the word. Other foods are not scarce. Money is not scarce. The scarcity is one of vocabulary. This is, however, not a scarcity intrinsic to the system. The inhabitants of the country have an abundance of words for the foods of their country. If you go to France you will find 600 different cheeses, each with a name. You have an abundance of words for the foods of your native land.
The traveler buys a book. He learns the words for venison, wild boar, hare, rabbit, reindeer, elk, kangaroo, ostrich, buffalo. He learns the words for salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, swordfish, cuttlefish, crab, shrimp, eel. He learns words for noodles in the shape of shells, spirals, feathers, string. He learns the words that accompany the speech act of requesting these things. He has no desire to eat the flesh of these animals; he has no desire to eat the flesh of fish or crustaceans. He is indifferent to the shape of noodles.
The words for sexual practices and preferences are not included in a book for travelers, nor are the words that would accompany the speech acts of requesting a practice, expressing a preference. Perhaps you think: yes, but the words and speech acts must be known to the natives! If you buy a book in your own country you will find words for practices. You will not find an account of the speech acts in which the words may be deployed. The scarcity, it seems, is not one of vocabulary but one of speech acts. Therefore we see all kinds of workarounds, social mechanisms whose function is to compensate for the gap in the system.


1 Dijon

In Dijon the code signals colors of hair, skin, eyes, mouth. The player sits at a table at a sidewalk café. In front of the empty chair the player sets out 4 items, whose colors, read from left to right, signal the desired colors of hair, skin, eyes, mouth. A cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a bowl of fruit, a dish of ice cream or chocolate mousse or crème brulée—these display the desired palette. If one or more features is a matter of indifference, an empty glass acts as placeholder. If one seeks a woman, the empty place is to one's left; if a man, to one's right; if the sex of the person sought is indifferent, the empty place is opposite; if two partners are sought, one sets two empty places. If one partner is sought, but either of two palettes would be acceptable, one sets out two rows of coffee, ice cream, fruit. The logic of the system would permit one to signal for any number of partners, 2, 3, 5. One sometimes sees 2 people at a table, with an empty place remaining to be filled; the higher numbers are less common. The logic of the system would permit one to signal for a sexual partner with no preference specified (one could set out 4 empty glasses), but this is never seen. The logic of the system would permit one to signal 3, 4, any number of acceptable alternatives, lining up the rows of coffee, fruit, ice cream, but I have never seen more than 3.


2 Bilbao

In Bilbao a distinction is drawn between the granular, the viscous, the oily, the milky, the briny. A girl dreams of lying with a lover on fine sand. In the morning, sitting in a café, she opens a paper envelope of fine sugar and pours it into the lacquer tray. Or perhaps she dreamt of lying with a lover in coarse red sand; she pours crystals of raw brown sugar into the tray. Or perhaps she dreamt of a pool of honey, or a pool of scented oil, or a pool of milk. Perhaps she dreamt of lying on the skin of a tiger, or on raw silk. Or perhaps she slept dreamlessly and woke up and invented a caprice.
Perhaps someone walks by who also dreamt of fine sand. Or perhaps someone walks by who will indulge a caprice. Opinion is divided on which is more desirable. It is pleasant, perhaps, to dream of fine sand and in the morning meet a dreamer of sand. But it is pleasant to have a caprice, it is pleasant to indulge a caprice.
There are problems. It's understandable that a code developed for signaling preferences in a café made use of the materials to hand, fine white castor sugar, raw brown crystals, to represent a desire to make love on this or that beach with its fine or coarse sand. It's understandable, though, that use of these signs gave rise to thoughts of making love on fine white sugar or coarse raw crystals, which could no longer be used as signs for themselves. I have heard accounts of two solutions. The first uses fine sand to represent fine sugar, requiring the signaler to pass by the beach en route to the café. The second requires an unopened packet of sugar to be placed by the sugar on the lacquer tray, an operator marking the sign as self-referential. Convenience makes the second likelier to prevail.


3 Stuttgart

Stuttgart is in the south of Germany, in Schwaben. The Swabians are good with their hands, good at making things that require skill and precision. The Porsche factory is in Schwaben, as is the Mercedes-Benz factory. I was told that Schwaben had the lowest unemployment in Germany.
I had gone south to see the birthplace of Hegel. I saw something that excited my curiosity: in the cafés I would see people take tiny plastic figures from a pocket and set them out on the table.
I ordered a Sachertorte. I asked my waitress the meaning of the plastic figures. She explained that people seeking sexual partners in uniform used this method of advertising their requirements. She explained: If you go to a club you might see someone in costume, dressed up as an LA cop or a pilot, but you would not find the real thing because a cop would not go to a club in uniform.
At the table to my right two tiny plastic sailors stood behind the coffee cup. At the table to my left were a tiny fireman, a Canadian Mounty and a stewardess from Air Singapore.
In the days that followed I saw 1 plastic British bobby, 1 plastic LA cop, 2 plastic Parisian gendarmes, 3 plastic cops of unidentified provenance, 6 firemen, 23 soldiers in a variety of uniforms and ranks, 27 sailors, 13 nurses, a Mickey Mouse, stewardesses from 17 different airlines, 8 Canadian Mounties.
I sat one day at a table beside a woman who had set out 7 plastic figures in this formation: parallel to the edge of the table were a Canadian Mounty, a Zimmerman, a sailor and a stewardess from Air Singapore. Behind the stewardess from Air Singapore were three more stewardesses from Air Singapore.
I asked her to explain. She explained that because you could never be sure of getting what you looked for, it was better to be open to a variety of options. So if a Zimmermann is an acceptable substitute for a Canadian Mounty, for instance, you place the Zimmermann next to the Mounty. If you would like to have a Zimmermann and a Mounty you would place the Zimmermann behind the Mounty. She explained that she did not like to sleep with more than one man at a time, but if four stewardesses from Air Singapore were to come along she would happily take them all. She said she might make an exception for Canadian Mounties, but there would be no point advertising for more than one Mounty because the chances of finding even one were slim to nil.
I sat one day at a table beside a man. I asked: What do you do if you want a lover in the uniform of an Algerian cop, for instance, but have only a figure in the uniform of an LA cop or maybe a Stuttgart cop? My informant did not know. He said perhaps one could place a tiny flag beside the figure to indicate that the cop was generic, the uniform to be specified by the flag. He said, It would be possible, but I think it would spoil—the pleasure arises from the correspondence between the figure and the body wearing a matching uniform. He said: You often see soldiers specified by rank—a private, a sergeant, a 4-star general.
He said: We suffer from lack of variety. You can buy a plastic Canadian Mounty but you never see a real one in the streets. He said: Maybe in other parts of the world a cop in our local uniform would be sexy, but we're used to it. The market is failing to clear. I think that's really sad.
He said: There is an imbalance between those who wear a uniform and those who do not. These American tourists, though, they come through and they wear the same shirt from the same store, freely chosen. That's really scary.
I asked: Is a distinction drawn between a real policeman and a man in the costume of a policeman? Is there a way of signaling that one is looking for a real policeman rather than someone dressed like a policeman?
He said: No one is looking for a lover who is just in costume.
He said, Well. If you put out a figure in the costume of a soldier in the Napoleonic army, people know you're not looking for a revenant. Or a figure in an SS uniform, not that you'd want to. He said: But it is the thrill of a lover in contemporary uniform, that it's the real thing.
He said: This is practical. We Swabians pride ourselves on our practicality. You can bring your laptop to a café, deal with correspondence, work. Or you can bring a book, you can read Die Phenomenologie des Geistes.
He said: There's one problem with the system. It would be quite rude to sit in a café with an icon of a waiter.
He said: Another problem. People in religious orders can be very sexy.


4 Ravenna

The code in Ravenna is flawed.
The code distinguishes two types of people: those indifferent to the clothes encasing the body, who prefer their lovers unclothed, and those who imagine penetration through, whether through silk, wool, tweed, fur, fake fur, lace, snakeskin, sheepskin, pigskin, moleskin, latex, pvc, satin, brocade, leather, corduroy, nylon, fishnet, rubber or other casing. The code covers only the preferences of the latter; it is assumed that anyone who does not make use of the code falls into the first category.
The traveler who comes to Ravenna sits in a café, falls into conversation with a waiter, sees a woman wearing snakeskin trousers; on her left wrist is a bracelet of a snake biting its tail. The bracelet, explains the waiter, signifies that the woman seeks a lover who wishes to penetrate through a barrier, in this case of snakeskin. He explains that the women of Ravenna above the age of 35 are sexually voracious but prefer to remain clothed. He then explains the many defects of the code.
The code permits one to signal a desire for penetration through the second skin currently on display. If one wants to make use of a substance or textile not commonly worn on the street, however, one is unable to do so: one is constrained by a code too narrowly deictic in application.
The code does not permit one to signal the stuffs in which one wishes the penetrator to be clothed: it's absurd. There is clearly a difference between, for example, a tweed-silk interaction and a silk-silk, a leather-fur interaction, leather-leather, fur-fur, not to mention the further combi-natorics offered by different sorts of fur. There are different sorts of tweed—Harris, Donegal, Shetland.
The code does not permit the penetrator to distinguish himself from those who prefer the removal of clothes! Let alone signal the stuffs he would prefer to penetrate.
A homosexual who wishes to be penetrated cannot use the code: what man wants to be seen wearing a bracelet?
A waiter said he had heard the code had been taken up in Ravenna, Texas. He said: This is the problem with leaving the flaws in the code unresolved.


5 Krakow

Little information is available on the codes of Krakow.
It is said that if a woman wears black cowboy boots and a fake leopardskin skirt she seeks a fur fetishist lesbian triangle; if a black-and-white tigerskin skirt, two fur fetishist men; if a black-and-tawny tigerskin, a fur fetishist man and fur fetishist woman.
In winter, when coats are worn, the code must be of limited use, confined to indoor venues.
This was explained to me one evening in late May by a girl in a leopardskin skirt. I left the next day. There must certainly be many more codes than the one I happened to discover.


ii Praxis

1 The Merch

The posts surfaced on StumbleUpon and Technorati, Digg and Reddit and, they were briefly mentioned on boing boing, they were briefly or not-so-briefly mentioned and linked to on a thousand other sites.
No cities were added to the original 5.
If a traveler wished to try a sexual code in France it was necessary to go to Dijon.
A boy who went to Dijon would write about it on his blog or to his friends: that he saw a girl in a café with a bowl of whipped chestnut cream and a bowl of blackcurrants and a cup of espresso, and because his skin was the color of whipped chestnut cream and his eyes the color of blackcurrants and his hair the color of espresso he had introduced himself and yes, yes, it was exactly as described in the guide. Then others came who perhaps had no interest in fine distinctions of skin, eyes, hair, but who were drawn to the simplicity of the code. They went to Dijon because the codes of other cities had not been catalogued.
Or a girl might go to Bilbao, and perhaps she had never thought of lying with a lover in a bath of milk, of selecting a lover for his disposition to lie in a bath of milk, but this is pleasant: if you take a lacquer tray in a café and pour honey you will not be told that you have beautiful eyes. A girl writes on her blog or to her friends, yes, yes, I poured olive oil scented with cloves into the tray, 9 men and 3 girls introduced themselves but I was capricious, a boy came to my table, the boy I had hoped for in Dijon where I had set out whipped cream and glazed pistachios and thick-cut marmalade, a boy with very pale skin and pale green eyes and blazing orange hair.
Things happen so quickly these days. Backpackers in a hostel tell each other, the codes are copied and pasted a thousand, a hundred thousand, a million times, Lonely Planet and Rough Guide update their descriptions of Dijon, Bilbao, Ravenna, Stuttgart, Krakow, it is not possible, of course, to copyright a sexual code, but it was evident that the guides had borrowed the research of SCOE. They offered codes for no other cities. They offered no information on the codes of the 5 cities that was not available in the 5 posts.
A boy goes home to Seattle. He wears a t-shirt bought in Dijon, a black t-shirt displaying a jar of mustard. He sits in a café; he lines up the cup of coffee, the cherries, the blueberries. At the next table a girl wears a t-shirt from Stuttgart, a blue t-shirt displaying the cathedral. In front of her is a double espresso. Behind the double espresso she sets out 4 plastic figures: a Canadian Mounty and 3 stewardesses from Air Singapore. She is not really looking for a Mounty or 3 stewardesses from Air Singapore: in Stuttgart, these are 2 impossibilities, and if you advertise for 2 impossibilities with no possible substitutes it shows that you want to be left alone. The boy and girl talk. She says: There is no equivalent in Bilbao for the Mounty and the 3 stewardesses from Air Singapore, there's no equivalent in Dijon. If you want to be clear that you are not looking you must use the Stuttgart code.
She says: Even if you are not a uniform fetishist it is good to have that code to say leave me alone.
He says: In Dijon you could set out a glass of creme de cassis and a bowl of strawberry sherbet and a bowl of black cherries because there are probably not that many people with hair the color of creme de cassis, skin the color of strawberry sherbet and eyes the color of black cherries.
He says: A t-shirt does not work well as an operator because you can display only one at a time. It would be possible to have a t-shirt printed with Stuttgart and Dijon, but who would want to wear that t-shirt?
She says: & we don't know what other codes are available. There could be.
She says: We need something different, maybe you wear arm bands in beadwork, not that I like beadwork, that say Dijon, Stuttgart, Bilbao.
He says: Did you go to Bilbao?
She says: Yes. I put honey in the lacquer tray.
Her skin is the color of acacia-blossom honey.
How much would it cost to fill a bath with this pale color? $100? $200? $300?
He would like to see the clear sticky honey of acacia blossoms sliding over the skin of this girl.

This happens not once but many times, travelers return from Europe and they think that the codes of Dijon and Ravenna and Bilbao, there is no reason why these codes should not be used in Pittsburgh.
The Canadian Mounty/Air Singapore code is popular with girls who want to be left alone. It is possible to buy a Mounty/Air Singapore set online at a discount.

When the blog was finally updated it did not add codes for new cities. It added a shopping cart. One could buy t-shirts by PayPal for $9.95. One could buy a printed pamphlet with the codes for $7.95.


2 Catharsis

A boy from Mississippi went to Dijon. He had been repelled when he first heard of the code, but as time went by it began to exercise fascination. He had read online of girls with pale skin and silky pale hair setting out a cup of espresso, a dark chocolate mousse. He had to see for himself. He said that it was cathartic, it was not a place where skin could be visible or invisible depending on its color, everyone inhabited their skin, everyone was always everywhere skin deep.


3 Authenticity

You meet X, who wears a Dijon t-shirt. You are wearing a Bilbao t-shirt. In the morning, you swap t-shirts. So it is possible, clearly, for the wearer of a Dijon t-shirt to find a person who corresponds to the advertised desire who is wearing a Bilbao t-shirt. It is possible for the wearer of a Bilbao t-shirt to find a person who corresponds to the advertised desire who is wearing a Dijon t-shirt.
In this concatenation of signs, the fact that X wears a t-shirt signifies that X has previously had an encounter with a person wearing a Dijon t-shirt.
Therefore, the wearing of the t-shirt may signify only that its occupant was on some previous occasion drawn to the occupant of a Dijon t-shirt. You do not know what t-shirt X wore, nor whether that t-shirt corresponded to a desire of X or simply to a previous attraction to a person occupying the t-shirt . . . this t-shirt we cannot see.
One possibility, it seems, is to wear an additional operator, something indicating that the t-shirt exists in a system of exchanges. So then there are those who exist in the system of exchanges and those whose t-shirts do express a stable preference for a particular code. (Or it would be possible to wear an additional operator indicating that the t-shirt expressed a genuine preference . . .)
This point is made: the fact that a t-shirt was acquired from an earlier sexual partner does not necessarily mean that it does not correspond to an actual desire of the wearer. The wearer is under no compulsion to wear a t-shirt. Even if the wearer swaps Bilbao for Dijon, he does not have to wear Dijon again; couldn’t he just keep a whole drawerful of Bilbao t-shirts at home? Isn’t wearing the Dijon t-shirt a choice?
In the Midwest people are matter-of-fact and down-to-earth. The preference is for a t-shirt to be worn that expresses the desires of the wearer without reference to previous sexual encounters. In Paris it’s different. Who has not picked up a sexual practice from a partner and used it with a subsequent partner? Who has not felt, somehow, that it would be nicer to mark this practice as an inheritance?
In Paris there is the feeling that it’s nicer if operators are natural. Obviously, if a t-shirt is swapped many times, it will get washed many times, there will be soft, faded t-shirts in the system and bright new ones. In the system of commercial exchange there are old, worn notes and crisp new ones, but though the former have been through many transactions we know nothing of the nature of these transactions. It’s nice, somehow, when a sign carries a little of its history with it. Of course, if you meet someone wearing a worn Dijon t-shirt, you don’t know the colors of skin and eyes and hair for which the previous occupants have advertised.
Of course, there’s always the possibility of deception. It’s boring for a woman sometimes, being asked what she likes, having to dream up a response, having to act out enthusiasm. If you live in a system of swapped t-shirts, though, even if you have not acquired a t-shirt by exchange, you can buy one and wash it 20 times.


4 Observation

I had no particular desire to select lovers by the color of their skin or hair, but I had a desire to see this system. I took the train to Dijon. I walked the cobbled streets of the ancient town. In a café I saw a boy with a dish of lemon sorbet, a dish of blueberries, a dish of coconut sorbet, a dish of raspberry sorbet. In another café I saw a girl with a dish of mango sorbet, a dish of pistachio sorbet, a dish of coconut sorbet, a dish of redcurrants. I wondered: Would it be rude to go to a café and set out colors that replicated those at another table? Or would the system, in fact, work better if everyone desiring a particular palette went to the same café? So that any boy or girl with bright orange hair, pale green eyes, pale skin, clear red lips, could go to a single café and select from a range of prospects? Thereby drawing persons corresponding to the palette to that single café?
I passed a café where a girl with very pale blonde hair and dark blue eyes had set out an espresso, a dark chocolate mousse, an espresso, a dark chocolate mousse. I thought: The system is flawed. Unless, perhaps, the waiters make it work? Is there a system of Instant Messaging among the waiters?


5 Game theory

Z specialized in game theory. He had given an introductory course in game theory for many years. As a graduate student he had been compelled to mark many papers by undergraduates who had imagined they would like to understand game theory. It was the jolliest sounding of the economics courses, and therefore drew 100 registrations every semester. It was worse after the release of A Beautiful Mind. Enrollment tripled to 300. You must imagine Z wretchedly marking 100 papers. 100 problem pages. In short you must understand that exposure to the idiocy of those who imagine themselves interested in game theory was the price he had to pay for getting a doctorate.
As an undergraduate he had been arrogant but charismatic, a hot shot, happy to talk for five hours about the Austrians to a companion whose contribution was restricted to "do go on." The throng of dull-to-middling students only made him look good. He didn’t have to read their work. He didn’t have to turn ‘thick as 2 short planks’ into ‘thick as 1 short plank’. Introduction to Game Theory had changed him.
He could not talk to a non-economist in casual social interactions: the non-economist always seemed to believe that he had nothing better to do with his time than explain the rudiments of game theory to a lay audience, an activity for which he normally got $25 an hour. Or he would be asked to explain his work, which was anything but rudimentary, to a lay audience. An undergraduate would have to take three prerequisites before taking the kind of seminar in which his work would be presented, but now he was a hostage to social decency.
His tendency in these situations was to shift the burden. He would ask a musician to explain the difference between Ligeti and Berio, saying with an airy laugh that it all sounded the same to him. He would share his thoughts on Coriolanus with someone writing about the history plays of Shakespeare: In my opinion, it’s basically about revenge! The loser in these conversations was the one who had to answer the largest number of lay questions.
Sometimes a solution was found: they would talk about something neither knew anything about. Film.
Knowing full well, well one of them knew full well that if someone who knew about film had been in the room he would have been vomiting in a corner.
A solution was to limit himself to the pool of economists. Among the graduate students there were three women, two taken, one bearded.
He graded papers to the accompaniment of violent sexual fantasies. Performances would improve, he was sure, if penalties were meted out to the worst. He worked his way balefully through the papers, while in his mind skirts were raised, jeans dropped to the floor, buttocks presented to the attention of the engorged member—
He went to Dijon. He sat at a table reading Dasgupta's Inquiry into Well-Being and Destitution. He has ordered a second line-up of the double espresso, freshly squeezed orange juice, croissant with marmalade. Still young and pretty, with piercing blue eyes, tousled brown hair, an aggressive jaw, he could work in an investment bank, leave the plankton behind. Someone stops by his table. She has fierce orange hair, brown eyes, pale skin with very pale freckles. She is carrying a copy of Analyse et Creation Musicales.
It feels strange to take off her clothes without a preliminary three hours explaining utility in lay terms. The world feels fresh and clean.


6 Aversion therapy

J inhabits a body that's undeniably repulsive. It weighs, neither he nor anyone else knows what it weighs. It weighed 280 pounds a decade ago, when clothes fit that now don't. Strands of oily black hair stray across an evil pale scalp. A fleshy mouth, a thing like a couple of plump slugs, opens on a coward's rotting teeth, closes on pronouncements.
J wearies. He does not dispute the sacrifices made by others for physical beauty. The hours put in over the years yield sleek succulent flesh, glowing skin, rotting minds.
J is distinguished. He believes that with rare exceptions it is an offence to be asked to teach. Contact with grossly inferior minds leaves a smear of stupidity across brilliance.
The world is alien.
This is self-evident:
If I look at images of beautiful people I shall not come to resemble them.
If I have sexual intercourse with beautiful people I shall still not come to resemble them—nor will they, for their part, resemble me.
If merely looking sufficed, he supposes that the magazines which used models would go out of business. Unless, perhaps, it was necessary to top up, as it were. If one could improve one's appearance by having sexual intercourse with more prepossessing persons, he imagines that the very repulsive would have to begin with persons only slightly less repulsive than themselves. Perhaps it would be possible to buy the services of the spectacularly beautiful. Normally he thinks as one improved one would work one's way slowly up the chain, sleeping with the most attractive person one could find within the ambit of one's level. He is willing to suppose that compassion would sometimes obtain. Presumably, though, there would be constraints: the beauty of the benefactor would be tarnished by the repulsiveness of the beneficiary, until at some point there would be no beauty left to transmit. Unless, of course, the beauty could replenish, burnish, by reparatory intercourse with another beauty. The constraint would be visible to all: it would be impossible to fail to see the dimming of brightness.
Are these not, though, precisely the constraints on the mind? The fine blade is dulled hacking blockheads. The boorish, the stupid, the ignorant do acquire a little polish from contact with better minds. If a repulsive mind comes into contact with a very fine one it can creep a little upward. But if a fine one is forced to engage with stupid ones repeatedly it will be blunted, ground down, stupefied.
It is for this reason that we have books. Those who wish to observe the workings of minds better than their own can do so without intruding. The workings of excellent minds can be disseminated among a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand dullards without impeding serious thought. To require dissemination of knowledge by other than textual means is an abomination.
J avoids teaching whenever it is possible to do so, but it is not always possible to do so. He could deal, more or less, with introductory lectures to large halls, though even the gross simplification of the material, the inclusion of uninteresting topics to cover the ground, curdles the brain in the skull. Difficulty arose with so-called advanced students, students in their junior or senior year or first or second or third year of graduate work. Students entitled by convention of the seminar to make their opinions known. The mind was tarred with the emissions of these ill-formed minds, unable to pull itself free—unspeakable.
J drank. He introduced the jolly collegiality of a bottle of vermouth and bucket of ice to seminars; he quaffed, he joked, he shut the fierce mind in its cage. He smoked. He did not get prettier.
He could not see why it was socially unacceptable to restrict participation in seminars to the physically attractive and require sexual services in return for intellectual advancement; most students had nothing to offer him, why not privilege those who did? He drunkenly made a comment to this effect at a party; offence was taken (he had put a hand on a breast to illustrate the point), scandal flared, he was invited to retire.
He has set out a few glasses on his table for the look of the thing. He doesn't, of course, expect offers. Disgrace beats far far away on alien shores; he sits quietly reading Spinoza. It's pleasant, clean, sitting with the printed pages propped on the table; if the mind is rotten the stink can't carry.
He raises his eyes and sees Z at the cafe across the street.
He's not being paid to talk to Z, thank God, thank God.
He tosses a couple of crumpled 5-euro notes on the table, hoists the mass of flesh onto protesting feet, waddles precipitately around the nearest corner.


iii Theoria

1 Speculation

When there isn't a code people don't talk about it.
When there's just one code, the hanky code, people don't talk about it much. They say: Why aren't women more like homosexual men?
They say: This is what you get when men deal with men, there isn't the hypocrisy.

When there are five codes people become dissatisfied, more dissatisfied than when there were none. Why can't there be more? And what must one do to institute the code one sees lacking? Must one attach it to a city? (But how?)

We don't know enough about preferences, says X.
A Glaswegian accent is sexy. Everyone knows that. So a Glaswegian who stays in Glasgow loses a comparative advantage. It's absurd. Why don't they go out and see the world? There are not enough Glaswegians to go around.
Also, and it's strange that no one has commented on this, if you're not attractive, maybe you're grossly overweight, it's sometimes easier to change an accent than to change the body, at least overnight. It could take a year, maybe more, to lose 100 pounds. Would it not make more sense to go to Glasgow? Could one not pick up the accent in a month or so and take it—well, perhaps not home, where one was known, but to some locality or other which was undersupplied? Live out the year as a fat sexy Glaswegian—it's astonishing that more fat people don't try it. You have to ask yourself, too, why unattractive Glaswegians stay in Glasgow when guaranteed a warm welcome on foreign soil.
How much better, says X, if a Glaswegian were to identify himself by some sort of button or t-shirt, so as not to pass unnoticed in the street. How much better, too, if one could indicate one's preference for the accent, for this or any other accent, by a button or t-shirt or other sign. How much better, also, if we knew the preferences of Glaswegians. Does like attract like? Is there an accent one should acquire to improve one's chances? No one knows. We go in ignorance for want of a code which would facilitate the gathering of data.
A French accent, too, X goes on, the accent of a Frenchman speaking English sends chills down the spine. Why do the French remain obdurately in France, squandering their comparative advantage? & how can it be that M Houllebecq, who has written with such eloquence of the sexual economy of our time, has failed to comment on the ease with which a Frenchman may charm, however physically repulsive he may be—well, there may be exceptions, but a Frenchman must be very fat and very ugly indeed for his English to fail to charm all who hear. Given the choice between Brad Pitt and a nondescript man uttering English with a French accent—
It's quite nice when a Frenchman speaks French, too, says Y, though maybe the French don't appreciate it. One has the sense, again, of comparative advantage being wantonly—
Do Glaswegians keep that sexy accent in French, asks Z?

This is all dinner table prattle. It doesn't get anyone anywhere. But what is to be done?


2 Some People Just Don’t Get It

They get into arguments at dinner parties. They say: But sometimes you don’t know what you want. Or they say: It seems so calculated and unspontaneous.


3 More People Just Don’t Get It

Things happen so quickly these days. There are iterations of obsolescence. There is always an X to say What about? What about Twitter? What about Instagram? What about Grindr?
There’s rarely a Y to say Yes but what about Roman Keycard Blackwood?
It’s true, sometimes you pick up a hand and get wildly excited, not because it’s such a great hand, per se, but because it offers a chance to use the Multi-Colored Two Diamond. Sometimes you play with a new partner and get wildly excited just knowing they play the Multi-Colored Two Diamond.
Maybe your favorite bedtime reading is Brunel & Sarian’s Les Conventions.
There’s rarely a Y who wants to explain this to a lay audience.


4 Uncertainty

    X wears a Dijon t-shirt on the tram, on the bus, in the street, in a library, in a museum. One knows the sorts of preference she signals but not what she prefers. Could one go up to her and suggest a coffee? Over coffee she might deploy the code and reveal her preferences. Would this be rude? What if one’s eyes are black, one’s hair black, one’s skin pale brown, and she sets out a lemon sorbet, a bowl of blueberries, a bowl of cherries? Might it be better to chat before she has had a chance to eliminate undesirables?

    Y wears a t-shirt from the Guggenheim Bilbao. What do you want, Y? I’ll do anything you want, anything.