josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

newest | archives | search | about | wishlist | flickr | email | rss

29 Jun '12 11:07:04 PM

April 26 is the most expansive chapter so far, and longest, after those following Lee in the Bronx, introducing Branch and the conspirators on April 17, and again following Lee in New Orleans. The account of the 26th goes: Win Everett at home, 'at work devising a general shape, a life'; Parmenter and George de Mohrenschildt (who lives in Dallas now) meeting for lunch in D.C.; Nicholas Branch, who 'is writing a history, not a study of the ways in which people succumb to paranoia'; T.J. Mackey visiting Guy Banister's detective agency in New Orleans; Mackey sitting in a room, waiting for a woman procured on his behalf, or just sent to him, remembering how the Bay of Pigs went wrong, 'a clear and simple reading', 'one scrubbed mission', not 'a general misery of ideas and means' like Everett believes; Everett at home in pajamas, receiving word by phone from Parmeneter about their prospective (patsy) shooter, Oswald, and having sex with his wife, 'adept' after years of marriage at 'discharging an air of shy curiosity', at encouraging him 'tacitly, creating receptive fields around him, stillnesses', which tonight elicits some gossipy talk about photographs, spy planes, and an opinion about the significance of increasing surveillance—'It means the end of loyalty. The more complex the systems, the less conviction in people. Conviction will be drained out of us. Devices will drain us, make us vague and pliant.'—and, after Mary Frances falls asleep, private thoughts about Win's plan:

'He would put someone together, build an identity, a skein of persuasion and habit, ever so subtle. He wanted a man with believable quirks. He would create a shadowed room, the gunman's room, which investigators would eventually find, exposing each fact to relentless scrutiny, following each friend, relative, casual acquaintance into his own roomful of shadows. We lead more interesting lives than we think. We are characters in plots, without the compression and numinous sheen. Our lives, examined carefully in all their affinities and links, abound with suggestive meaning, with themes and involute turnings we have not allowed ourselves to see completely. He would show the secret symmetries in a non-descript life.

An address book with ambiguous leads. Photographs expertly altered (or crudely altered). Letters, travel documents, counterfeit signatures, a history of false names. It would all require a massive decipherment, a conversion to plain text. He envisioned teams of linguists, photo analysts, fingerprint experts, handwriting experts, experts in hair and fibers, smudges and blurs. Investigators building up chronologies. He would give them the makings of deep chronos, lead them to basement rooms in windy industrial slums, to lost towns in the Tropics.'

The figure of Everett's plan is 'pocket litter'. He will 'script a gunman out of ordinary dog-eared paper, the contents of a wallet'.

'Mackey would find a model for the character Everett was in the process of creating. They wanted a name, a face, a bodily frame they might use to extend their fiction into the world.' When Mackey tells Everett about Oswald, who Everett calls 'a nice find', Mackey says:

'Don't make it sound like a three-room apartment. We could put him together. A far-left type. Work him in. Tie him to Cuban intelligence. Possibly even place him at the scene. If he thinks he's operating on the left, pro-Castro, pro-Soviet, whatever his special interest, we'll help him select a fantasy. There's never a dearth of reasons to shoot at the President.'

'If he thinks he's operating on the left': i.e., he doesn't know what he thinks, we'll tell him what he thinks, help him see, imagine what he's thinking; help him realize a fantasy. Or: he thinks he knows what he's doing, he doesn't even know. We'll tell him what he's doing (but not what he's really doing).

Immediately afterward, and after making love with his wife, conversing post-coitally, Mary Frances wonders what people say, then: 'Maybe there are things we haven't thought of'. 'Do you think we've been saying the wrong things all these years?' Win's question does not do much to reveal what he thinks of the possibilities. Does he think he knows what people say to each other? Is he gripped by any wonder about whether they might say things he hasn't thought of, or in other words, about whether they might tell him what people say to each other, might tell him what he could think, what he could be doing, but does not realize?

28 Jun '12 01:08:49 PM

In both parts, the chapters alternate. Lee's life is tracked in chapters named things like 'In the Bronx', 'In Minsk', 'In Dallas' (often there). Other chapters named with dates advancing toward November 22 track the conspirators and other players; them, and a retired senior analyst of the CIA 'hired on contract to write the secret history of the assassination of President Kennedy', Nicholas Branch. Branch is introduced before any of the conspirators are. Little sign is given of the reason that his story is folded into the dated chapters, where it sits unmarked alongside the stories of Everett and Parmenter and the others. One clue comes during his first appearance: 'He enters a date on the home computer the Agency has provided for the sake of convenient tracking. April 17, 1963'. The same date which heads the chapter including this account of Branch and of the activities of some of the conspirators on that date. The existence of the computer would be suggestive enough, but later (presumably while writing about April 26) Branch's story is dated at least after 1979, when 'a House select committee determined there was nothing statistically abnormal about the death rate among those who were connected in some way to the events of November 22', all of those linked to Lee H. Oswald or Jack Ruby who are now 'conveniently and suggestively dead'.

So it may be that Nicholas Branch is the one telling Lee's story, where Lee too is being tracked through time, through his life, but in a story parceled out by place, by where it was possible, on the basis of the evidence, to locate him. Lee's story is intimate, personal: the narrator knows his secrets, knows that 'never again in his short life, never in the world, would he feel this inner power, rising to a shriek, this secret force of the soul in the tunnels under New York' that he experienced while riding the subway, where 'he liked to stand at the front of the first car, hands flat against the glass'. Later, Lee keeps a journal, 'the Historic Diary', so perhaps Branch raids it, interpolates an inner life, induces a narrative, perhaps not. Lee's story starts, though, with a sentence that shows the hand of an outsider, coming after, placing Lee in time as well as in the Bronx: 'This was the year he rode the subway to the ends of the city'. The sound of a writer, a historian, indexing, fixing the point from which to remember, or fabulate.

But when Nicholas Branch's story is being told, it doesn't sound like he's the one telling it.

28 Jun '12 11:48:04 AM

'He saw himself go inside, a fellow on a quiet street doing ordinary things, unafraid of being watched.'

28 Jun '12 11:22:40 AM

Interpretation becomes unseemly all too frequently.

28 Jun '12 02:13:54 AM

Look, if any of your footnotes end with forward references to other footnotes, you have a problem. And if any of your footnotes are nothing but forward references to other footnotes, there is some shit you should have gotten straight before publication.

21 Jun '12 11:38:37 AM

'Pip is no one. Pip is as alone as any figure in the history of literature, the "all-one," the deep thought-diver, call him Ishmael, lost brother, invisible man, split, schizoid, least body on the good ship Pequod, eyewitness to the white event, floating in the sea, clinging to the coffin of his one imagined friend, mad, lost, the lonely self.'

21 Jun '12 10:36:04 AM

I remember my friends and I, readers all, once being a little fascinated, maybe perplexed, by the maxim, 'the only real reading is re-reading'.

Perplexed, of course, because it seems to say that reading means, needs, repeating: before you repeat you won't have read. As if the point of reading were to get every word, and the dumb advice dispensed to achieve that aim were simply to keep staring dumbly at the pages, over and over, until you have pieced it all together. Of course, that assumes that you can. Maybe it never ends, never terminates, culminates, and no reading is real.

Perplexed also, because it contradicts the lowest level of our experience as readers: if you've read something once, you have read it, you haven't read nothing, you didn't not read. So how could your reading be any less real? (I think 'real' in its contrast to 'counterfeit' might be useful here: imagine someone else testing your reading to see if it's real, to see if they'll accept it, let it into circulation. Circulation of what?)

But all reading is re-reading in the sense of reading again, to again perform the activity of reading. I would like to say that the only real reading is reading that unites these two senses, the first, obvious one of reading the same book in repetition, and the second, of reading as a continuation of (past) reading into which repeated reading is taken up. At its lower limit rereading destroys sense rather than clarifying or deepening it, as when a word said or looked at over and over loses its meaning. As we similarly suspect, at least vaguely, sometimes, about repeated greetings, expressions, jokes, stories (the detective: 'he's not making any sense, he just keeps giving me the same story over and over'), rituals. This has something to do with why both senses of re-reading are called for for real reading, and it means in part that other reading is, is to be interleaved among the repeated readings of those books we return to.

20 Jun '12 10:09:43 AM

'…our labors, our outward condition… to which we are "religiously devoted," are our sacraments, and the inward state they signal ("our very lives are our disgrace") is our secret belief that the world has already come to an end for us.'

20 Jun '12 09:43:45 AM

'The social contract is nowhere in existence, because we do not will it; therefore the undeniable bonds between us are secured by our obedience to agreements and compacts that are being made among ourselves as individuals acting privately and in secret, not among ourselves as citizens acting openly on behalf of the polis. The logic of our position is that we are conspirators. If this is false, it is paranoid; if it is not, we are crazy.'