Adjustments and juxtapositions
There is adjustment between the animal and its food, its parasite, its enemy. Balances are kept. --Emerson, Fate

I was thinking about Flitcraft, as one does. Flitcraft, the strange, wandering star of an anecdote Sam Spade tells to Brigid O'Shaugnessy in Hammett's Maltese Falcon. Why does he tell her? Partly it's an anecdote about himself, about his fatedness to be what he is - which is someone who knows it's everyone's fatedness to be what they are.

Flitcraft is walking down the street after lunch when "a beam or something" falls from a building being put up. It misses him by inches.
He knew that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them.

It was not, primarily, the injustice that disturbed him: he accepted that after the first shock. What disturbed him was the discovery that in sensibly ordering his affairs he had got out of step, and not into step, with life. He said he knew before he had cone twenty feet from the fallen beam that he would never know peace again until he had adjusted himself to this new glimpse of life. By the time he had eaten his luncheon he had found his means of adjustment. Life could be ended for him at random by a falling beam: he would change his life at random by simply going away.
He tries to change his life, but ends up simply repeating it in a different place in a different but equivalent social surrond. Spade goes on:
"I don't think he even knew he had settled back naturally into the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that's the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling."
And there I was, walking down Valencia Street, reasonably near to where Sam Spade tells his story and I saw a poster for The Adjustment Bureau (a movie I look forward to):
Image removed.

I love that word, adjust. I'm sure the movie won't use it the way Hammett does, but I think Dickinson used it that way:
I died for Beauty—but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining room—
Adjustment and adjoining - the prefixes and the alliteration in J must matter to her there; they underscore the difference between her and Keats, the difference between the grim, undeceived, precise, proto-Hammettian understatement of "adjust" and the rosy hope of "adjoining" - they're brethren, Keatsian interlocuter says, they're friends who can talk from room to room. (Ashbery, always a Keatsian poet: the words sung in the next room are unavoidable, but their passionate intelligent e will be studied in you."). Dickinson doesn't think so. Adjustment is what she does - she does it because it's what the universe does too, and it's her way of matching the universe. Consider the word here, in a later poem:
We grow accustomed to the Dark --
When light is put away --
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye --

A Moment -- We uncertain step
For newness of the night --
Then -- fit our Vision to the Dark --
And meet the Road -- erect --

And so of larger -- Darkness --
Those Evenings of the Brain --
When not a Moon disclose a sign --
Or Star -- come out -- within --

The Bravest -- grope a little --
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead --
But as they learn to see --

Either the Darkness alters --
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight --
And Life steps almost straight.
Notice the departure from the neighbor holding up her cheerful lamp and saying good bye. We're going elsewhere, adjusting ourself to that.
What is adjustment, then, in Dickinson and in Hammett? It's an act of will which doesn't change anything. It's rather an adjustment in the will's attitude towards the world. It's a change in knowledge and therefore in expectation: but really it's a metachange, a change in the idea that you can expect anything at all to come out as you wish it. The will adjusts itself to knowing that its adjustments make no difference to the world and to one's fate, except in the sight that sees this truth. Emerson again: "Well, they had a right to their eye-beams, and all the rest was Fate."

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