Antin brilliantly deconstructs his own experience of buying a mattress with his wife to illustrate the indecisiveness and skepticism that defines post-modernism, and he does this in a way that lends itself well to audio essays or broadcast journalism. Within the first “sentence” we learn that the subject of this essay is a mattress, a seemingly mundane topic eccentrically explored through fragmented, unpunctuated prose. In the descriptions of his wife’s indecision, their pleas for outside help, and eventually, their experience in the mattress store, Antin evokes this feeling of wavering that not only keeps readers engaged, it allows them to arrive at the same conclusion that he comes to at the end. “We don’t know if we got the right anything/there’s no way to know/let us live cheerfully in our ignorance” declares one of the only parts of the text that speaks in a reflective manner. Before I got to this line, I was already forced to have a similar notion because of the way he and his wife exhaust every option they have to make the “right” decision, to find the “perfect” mattress. The majority of readers, those who have suffered from back pain or insomnia at one point in their lives, will immediately empathize with his wife’s determination to find the perfect mattress, and will recognize the efforts she makes to accomplish this as only natural. A few years ago, before I bought my new mattress, I researched for weeks, went to several furniture stores, sought out advice from so-called mattress “experts,” all with the hope of finding this ideal bed that I didn’t even know how to describe. What kind of mattress do I want? I don’t know. Will prospect 48 provide a better night’s sleep than #12 did? I don’t know. Is this one too soft? Too hard? “Am I right she asks/you’re right I say” And then, like his wife, I second-guessed my prolonged decision before I even made it home. While reading this essay, you gradually start to understand this mattress as a metaphor for the many big decisions we make in life; the timeless philosophical conundrums we hope to solve with enough extensive research, even though we know, deep down, (and are reminded by post-modernist works) that there really is no “right” answer. That the “right” answer, like the present, is all relevant to the past and the future; to our previous pains and our idealistic futures without this pain.
Not only did I really enjoy this essay, it’s helping me to think about how to frame my own audio essay. Kern notes that “expressing your thoughts in short, declarative sentences doesn’t require you to eliminate any of your ideas- just to ration them out. You aren’t sacrificing anything by writing less convoluted prose.” If Antin had taken the claims about post-modernism that he arrives to at the end of his essay, and delivered them in a purely abstract form of clever and lengthy prose, his piece would never be able to translate to an audio format. And I don’t think it would be as powerful. Because he tells us a story, gives us these concrete images that we can absorb, and illustrates his points instead of writing them, I can see this essay being really successfully when delivered orally. He might need to take a few suggestions from Kern before going this route, but this is a good example of what I need to do to my own audio essay. My textual essay is very reflective, and mostly abstract, so I need to find my own “mattress” and use it to ground my thoughts. And it’s not just that Antin grounds his thoughts with a concrete reference point. He structures his entire story in a way that deliberately stimulates indecisiveness in the reader, and allows them to inevitably consider that reality- in this case “the perfect mattress-” is defined by our own understanding of it; our own perception of it. He says what he wants to say without actually saying it, and instead, forces us to feel it.