Listen to Carly Stone read from their work as you read along below:
A clove of garlic so big that I can barely get my hand around it. I feel like one of those farmers at the show. Have you seen the picture of the old man who grew the world’s biggest onion? He’s holding it so carefully, like a newborn baby but twice the size. He is happy. His smile is so big that the rest of his face disappears.
We just changed the bulbs in the kitchen so I’m lit up like a sitcom character. I wish I had something funny to say about the garlic clove but all I can think about is how small and happy I feel when I hold it. Look at the picture of the old man again. Something inside you has shifted and now the onion isn’t very big at all. Through some cognitive miscalculation, the onion becomes normal-sized, and the old man becomes very small. This is good. You feel like your head has come off your body. Let your mind rearrange the proportions of the world. Let your body dissolve into the soup of reality.
1983: The Talking Heads release a concert film called Stop Making Sense. It’s the one where David Byrne dances in the big suit and the audience goes nuts. This is an absurd suit, powder-blue, floppy, double the width of David Byrne. It comes from a joke about over-literalisation. His fashion designer friend said well, David, everything is bigger on stage. The suit is so big that it barely touches his body. It hangs from its scaffolding, which is made from two webbed shoulder pads and a big webbed girdle.
David Byrne is very interesting to look at because of the way he looks at other things. He responds to his own voice with strange expressions like he’s hearing his music for the first time as it’s coming out of his body. His face is well-suited to caricature: extreme intrigue, extreme concern, extreme enthusiasm. He is like an algorithm making overly literal copies of human emotion. This is what feelings look like! Fans adore him.
When the Talking Heads was starting out, Byrne lived in suburban Baltimore where he could watch business people going to work. He recalls the original thought: I should wear a suit. But the one he bought was too hot for the stage and when he put it in the wash it shrunk down to nothing. So he opted for something bigger. A double of the businessman, doubled in size.
He explains the choice in the film’s DVD feature: why a big suit? He responds, I wanted to make my head appear smaller, and the easiest way to do that was to make my body bigger. Look again. The suit is normal-sized. Byrne is a dryer-shrunk head flopping out of the collar.
I can’t predict when the guillotine will fall but I know how to wear down the rope. If I listen to David Byrne, for example, I know there’s a good chance my head will come off. That’s because staying real and whole involves taking a number of concepts for granted, starting with skin, which is the concept that connects all the parts of my body. Skin / that covers me from head to toe. / except a couple tiny holes / and openings. Here is David Byrne picking at the epidermis of the concept and exposing the soft mass underneath.
Thinking until my vision splits: there is no smaller feeling than this. You’ve felt it too. Reality cracking and doubling. Your head as light as a bath bubble, floating up, up, up into that powdery nothing. Your iridescent membrane wobbling. The whole world, soft and infinite, like TV static. Sometimes thinking is a kind of decapitation.
Thinking until your head is in a vat: this is thrilling to you. Thinking until words vanish off the surface of reality. For some reason, you’re chasing the feeling of complete derealisation, are you getting miserable? No. You’re going on Twitter. You’re looking at the stuffed bear with the tiny head. You’re following an account that photoshops celebrities to make their bodies seem massive. You’re retweeting the video of the adult man with his baby on his shoulders, because he’s done his coat up all the way, so it looks like his baby is an extremely tall boy.
Roquentin dissociating over the tree root, with its hard and thick skin of a sea lion. Meaning disintegrating under close observation, like photons, like an afterimage clinging on to the retina. Sartre: All at once the veil is torn away, I have understood, I have seen...the feeble points of reference which men have traced on their surface. When Byrne peels back the skin of the world, I feel like a baby again, crawling on the surface of sense
Like a small moon in orbit I am drawn to drawn to big bodies. They are hyperreal and exact in a way that makes my body make sense. Nothing can hide behind the veil of smallness: not freckles or pock-marks or odd scars. Touching the wrinkled indent where my dad’s big nose met his big cheek, he told me, you’ll get this when you grow up. As the body exaggerates out into adulthood it becomes more real, or less real; it becomes easier to read.
When I was small I liked the TV because there were lots of big heads and big bodies there. The industry uses the talking head technique for when a commentator’s head swells up to the size of the screen and the body has to be cut off. A talking head usually belongs to somebody who is talking in doubles, no substance, all hot air, as though the body is just a heater for the head. When I was small my dad would tell me that the commentators were doing secret funny dances just out of frame.
The body is just a heater for the head, in the suburb where I grew up car dealerships were invariably manned by inflatable dancing tubes called Tall Boys, who I adored. Tall Boys are long fabric tubes resembling very big bodies. They are attached to an electric fan that blows air through the fabric so they look like they’re dancing. Inside they are empty, embodied only by the heat that moves through them. They clock in at six metres and five hundred grams. Like my favourite puppets (Lala, Big Bird, Henry, Bear), there was nothing of interest happening underneath the costume. Just hot air.
1938: Nausea. Sartre’s protagonist stares at a tree root and his language dissolves around it. That is to say he dissociates. Dissociation vanishes all the metrics he needs to understand the root, so that he can get a glimpse into the reality underneath, a soft amorphous wet, a glossy kaleidoscope.
1984, The CIVIL warS: A Tree Is Best Measured When It Is Down. In Robert Wilson’s 12-hour experimental opera, a tree turns into a boat into a book and then into a tree again. David Byrne was commissioned to write the knee plays: this is Wilson’s term for the connective tissue between scenes in a show. Those in-between moments that make time for behind-the-scenes set and costume changes.
Track 3 is called The Sound of Business. It goes like this: they were driving south on the highway / Their business was in another town / Bigger than the town they were driving from / Business took place during office hours in both towns / This drive was considered business...One of them was playing with the radio / Slowly changing the channel from one station to another / Sometimes listening to both channels at once / On one channel a man was talking to another man on the telephone / The other channel was playing oldies.
What exactly does a businessman do? Business? The word feels bad for my brain. The word was thrown around a lot on my way to school. Flinders Street Station was my connecting link, then I took the same line for six years and developed a small troupe of ‘train friends’. The five of us would swing our legs from the platform and speculate about the businessmen. We would give them jobs (accountant, consultant, secret agent). There was one man we saw just about every day in just about the same suit. He had a shiny head like a small planet on top of his huge padded shoulders. I think he was the man we appointed ‘political advisor to the moon.’
When I think about space I have to think in cartoons. My mind won’t render the real thing, it wasn’t designed to process that much nothing. Q: how big is the universe? A: about 93 billion light-years. I am 175cm tall. Like a suitless astronaut I get swallowed up by the ratio.
Cartoons make space small and blue and manageable. Pluto is a dog. A star is a wish. Of course David Byrne covered a Disney song: A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes. The Walt Disney Company is the largest American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate and David Byrne is 183cm tall. A body of that size would get digested quickly in space. Like space, Disney has a lot of power because it makes most people small. It swells up over your life until you can barely see your childhood, just the shows you were watching. Do you remember the bigness of the cinema? All the faces of the audience, floating and tipping up underneath the ectoplasmic glimmer of the logo. The castle and the flags and shooting stars, enhanced eight times from 1985 to 2020 like an amoeba under a microscope. Have you noticed that, since Disney died, there’s no shooting star in the pre-movie logo? Now there are fireworks. Man-made celestial phenomena. Disney tamed the stars.
Childhood means making unreal copies of real things. Cartoons. Dress-ups. Doll houses. Pins and needles, rolling down the hill. Childhood means seeking out complete depersonalisation. It is that dizzy float at the top of a rollercoaster. It feels like the cart will keep going and leave you there until you look down. Like Wile E Coyote running off a cliff but staying suspended in space until he looks down and realises the situation he’s in. Then his head floats in space for just a moment, occupying a small bubble in physics before he falls. Why do kids spin around until they’re sick? They want to copy that high.
And who can blame us for all this copying? A baby is just a little copy of its parents. But always cooler than them. Baudrillaird’s simulacrum is a copy of a copy that is mostly populated by sitcom characters: copies of real people that real people copy in turn. The copy is more thrilling than the real thing, etc.
My dad is a physics teacher but still, my understanding of alternate realities comes from that fake physics lesson in Back to the Future. Doc: obviously, the time continuum has been disrupted, creating this new temporal event sequence resulting in this alternate reality. Marty McFly: English, Doc! Doc (here h-here let me illustrate) rummages around for a blackboard, drawing up a timeline: Past—1985—F. Then he points to the moment where the timeline skewed into this tangent. He draws a second branch turning out from the first. An alternate 1985.
What if your body kept going on one timeline but your head turned off to another? In middle school a man came to assembly in a baseball cap (cool) and a suit (but serious) to tell us why drugs are bad. More specifically: uncool. He told us about a highschool football player who tried Marijuana one time and never came down. His body was still there but his head wasn’t. He lived the rest of his life suspended in a viscous daze, unaffected by the prosaic operations of everyday life. I know the football player is fictional but I still think he must be happy.
TV actors are just bodies with no heads. That is to say: they could be thinking about anything. I grew up wondering how Julia Louis Dreyfus was really feeling. Like when Seinfeld gets a new kitchen, with cabinets so low that you can only see their torsos, and she says: it’s like you’re selling movie tickets back here. She could be thinking: you are selling tickets, Jerry, making the world pay to watch you standing in your own fake kitchen, copying lines from a script that were in turn copied from conversations you’ve had with monetisable friends. Then George comes in and is like, fitted hat day? That’s what you asked for? and Jerry is like, cool, and then George is like, now I gotta figure out the different head sizes of FIFTY NINE THOUSAND different people! He’s yelling but he isn’t really angry. What if a pinhead shows up! I’ve gotta be on top of that! But he doesn’t. He’s not really worried about pinheads, he’s just an actor.
1984: Found a Job by the Talking Heads. Damn that television / What a bad picture. A frustrated couple gives up on watching TV and they decide to write their own shows. Judy’s in the bedroom / inventing situations. And then they stop being frustrated because they’re very successful. This is the sitcom mimicking the real home, and then the home mimicking the sitcom, and the sitcom mimicking the home again, so that no trace of the original is left.
In Bicycle Diaries, David Byrne writes about walking through a fake home in a TV set. The mental dislocation is a wonderful feeling. Have you ever been on a set? The lights are so bright that everything is funny. You can feel the original world dissolving like stock in soup. The disconnect is somehow thrilling
Q: When will it be over? A: The Heat Death of the Universe. When the universe stretches out so far that there’s no more heat and energy and everything ends. This could happen in a few ways. The Big Rip, the Big Shrink, the Big Crunch. When I think Big Freeze I think of a deep-frozen universe in the back of the freezer, next to the garlic naan that has been there forever, it seems, suspended in time.
In The Vital Illusion, Baudrillard explains the simulation by separating heads from bodies. He’s talking about Phoenix’s cryonically suspended population, which is mostly decapitated. Their heads were cut off and frozen so that the brains might be brought back in the future. These heads are balanced out by all the headless animals being cloned in private laboratories so that scientists can practice for when they’ll need to clone human bodies in the future.
I recently learned that Walt Disney collected miniatures, over a thousand of them. Miniature trains, ovens, gloves. A miniature ship in a bottle, a miniature bible, a miniature history of England. Tableware, wine, a candelabra. He made his own village using miniature hammers, screwdrivers, clamps, magnifying glasses and called it ‘A Land of Little Things’, and in it, a little mechanical person ate the world’s smallest hot dog. Then he made a music hall called ‘Project Little Man.’
When your money gets big enough, time and space become smaller in proportion. Your hand becomes very big and the objects you use become very small. Sub-orbital space tourism for the rich. Longer lifespans, bigger houses. Walt Disney had so much money that he could cryogenically freeze his whole body. That last one is only a rumour but I still believe it.
In the late 2010s the Internet developed a shrinking tic. The I’m baby catchphrase was born in 2017 and we grew out of it in early 2020. It was a satisfying response to just about anything. Did you file the taxes, honey? / I don’t know. I’m baby.
That was real nonsense, the good stuff. I’m baby expresses a bunch of logical fissures through language, identity, time, and social ontology. More than that, it provides a perfect out. It says, stop. You can’t make me make sense of this world anymore because I’ve given up my ability to do so. I’m baby. A search for I’m baby in a group chat with my closest friends yields forty-odd results. It’s as if we’re all curling up together beneath the covers of the world, dissociating into slush.
I can direct you to tenish think-piece writers who have psychoanalysed the phrase to mush. Usually they diagnose infantilism, daddy issues. I don’t think I’m Baby was a Freudian thing. It was just funny to say I’m baby when we so clearly weren’t babies at all. It’s funny to scrap it all, to go back, back, back, before logic, before sense, before reason.
I'm just a baby in my Daddy's arms / Who will protect me from these women's charms / I'm 6 ft. tall, but I can barely speak / My mind goes crazy when the taste is sweet.
The mental dislocation is a wonderful feeling, are you getting anxious? No. You’re just watching TV. You’re looking at cartoons from your childhood, you’re watching businessmen from the window, you’re chasing the heat death of meaning and reality, are you getting miserable? No. You’re on the Internet sharing pictures of shaved huskies that look like bobbleheads. You’re trying to lift your head off your body. You’re scrolling the psychedelic wallpaper of your feed. You feel everything stretching and shrinking and losing shape. Wonderful.
Carly Stone is a writer and editor living on unceded Wurundjeri Country. You can find their work in Meanjin Quarterly, Going Down Swinging, The Lifted Brow, Westerly, Voiceworks and Australian Poetry, among others. Carly recently submitted their thesis on nonsense writing. They are an Editor at Voiceworks Online.