Men will the laws of nature (From Stanley Elkin’s novel The Franchiser)

They drove up to the Broadmoor, a pink Monaco castle at the foot of the Rockies, and he showed her the hotel in a proprietary way, taking her through the nifty Regency public rooms with their beautiful sofas, the striped, silken upholstery like tasteful flags. He showed her huge tiaras of chandelier, soft plush carpets. “Yes,” she said, “carpets were our first floors, our first highways.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“We call the rug in the hall a ‘runner.’ It’s where the runners or messengers waited in the days of kings and emperors.”

“I never made the connection.”

“It’s an insight. Chandeliers must have come in with the development of lens astronomy at the beginning of the seventeenth century. I should think it was an attempt to mimic rather than parody the order of the heavens, to bring the solar system indoors.”

“Really?”

“Well, where, to simple people, would the universe seem to go during the daylight hours, Ben?”

“But chandeliers give light.”

“Not during the daytime. The chandelier is a complex invention—a sculpture of the invisible stars by day, a pragmatic mechanism by night. But a much less daring device finally than carpeting.”

“Why, Patty?”

“Because carpeting—think of Oriental rugs—was always primarily ornamental and decorative. It was a deliberate expression of what ground—our first flooring, remember, and incidentally we have to regard tile, too, as a type of carpeting—ought to be in a perfect world. Order, symmetry, design. And since rugs came in before lens telescopy, how could they know? Oh, carpeting’s much more daring. A leap of will.”

“Of will?”

“Men will the laws of nature.”

From Stanley Elkin’s 1976 novel The Franchiser.

 

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