. . . Hitchcock

. . .

Speaking of Turner Classic Movies.... College football may not seem tailor-made for the Rodgers-and-Hart treatment, but 1940's Too Many Girls is the best available record of the team's work. Unlike earlier translations (in which rights to the musicals were bought by moguls who then stripped out the songs because musicals are box-office poison) and later ones (which suffocated under tons of papier-mâché production values), "Too Many Girls" cakewalked directly from Broadway to Hollywood with score, arrangements, jitterbugging, newspaper headlines ("Pottawottomie U. Defeats Texas Gentiles"), and cast mostly intact. Desi Arnez is cute as a sweaty button singing "Spick-and-Span-ish," Ann Miller pounds her legs like Cassandra predicting Pearl Harbor, Lucille Ball is dubbed, Eddie Bracken enjoys being a sex object ("There are ten girls to every guy here. Go find your own ten girls."), and there's a formal experiment worthy of Hitchcock when, halfway through the big romantic duet, the film jumps forward to an eavesdropper's description of the duet: "And THEN he said, [crooning] 'I didn't know what year it was....' [shouting] HE DIDN'T EVEN KNOW WHAT YEAR IT WAS!" Essential viewing for the producers of America's Funniest Celluloid Closets.

. . .

What better way to celebrate the Alfred Hitchcock Centennial than by buying a brand new Psycho bean-bag bear or shower curtain? (Well, drinking two bottles of wine and three snifters of cognac would probably be better....) Head on over to QVC and search on "Hitchcock" for more values! (Pointer via the Association of Moving Image Archivists)

. . .

On the other hand, anything that publishes a profile of Mister Rogers can't be all bad. Unless it's Readers Digest. Or TV Guide. OK, it can be all bad. But Mister Rogers can't be.

Sadly, Salon's editors missed the exciting link between Mister Rogers and the Alfred Hitchcock Centennial: Fred Rogers attended Florida's Rollins College at the same time as Mister-Rogers-lookalike Tony Perkins. "I had a piano in my room because I was a composition major, and Tony used to stop by and play every once in a while," says Mister Rogers. They co-starred in a school production of The Madwoman of Chaillot; some years later, they met in Manhattan and threw paper airplanes off a roof. "I wish that we'd been able to stay close after that. But his was a very different life from the one I had chosen."

. . .

Found in One Reel a Week by Fred J. Balshofer and Arthur C. Miller, a little late for the Centennial:

In 1921 in the middle of July we sailed for London to make Three Live Ghosts. Alfred Hitchcock was the art director. On one occasion I went along with him to a rather shabby residence where he spent some time bargaining with the woman of the house for all her old furniture to be replaced entirely by new. Among the furnishings Hitchcock thus acquired was a wind-up phonograph and a few records, one of which was a vocal by a girl about "the monkey chews tobacco and spit some in my eye." The crew was enchanted with it and played it so often that all of us knew the lyrics by heart.
I'm sorry to say that my Web searches haven't turned up the rest of those lyrics....

. . .

Don't you know about the bird? Everybody's heard that bird's the word.

. . .

The 100 Super Movies au maximum: The Old Dark House

Karloff and Stuart
What you're likely to hear about The Old Dark House:

  • Its camp value. Which is only to say that it has a large part for Ernest Thesiger.

What the first-time viewer is likely to notice about The Old Dark House:

  • The tedious ineptitude of the romantic scenes between so-war-damaged-I-forgot-to-laugh Roger Penderel and infant-with-a-sex-life Gladys DuCane.

  • The title card confirming that, yes, as hard as it might be to believe, the Karloff who plays the menacing grunting giant in this movie is the same Karloff who played the menacing grunting giant in Frankenstein.

  • The Pre-Codedness of it all, starting with the first line of dialog: "Hell!"

What I'm likely to mention about The Old Dark House:

  • Most old dark house movies go for a thrill a minute. Which means a lot of randomness, arbitrarily cut short by a rational explanation at the end. Sometimes it's great randomness, like in Seven Footprints to Satan, but it still levels out in the way that random action randomly tends to do.

    THE Old Dark House, on the other hand, builds up a definite structure, albeit one that's always threatening to tip over or burn down to the ground. Each permutation of Femms is allowed to come to a rolling boil before a new Femm is sprinkled into the brew, and "They didn't tell you about Saul, did they?" is right up there with "Have a potato" and "I like gin" in my personal store of happy hostess remarks.

  • As the great American frontiersman Cooper has proven time and again, it takes a queen to really milk homophobia for all it's worth. And The Old Dark House uses homophobia to scarier effect than any other movie anywhere. Yes, more effectively than Hitchcock. Oh, come on, Quentin Tarantino couldn't milk a cow if he was pressed against its heaving udder. Yes, goddamn you, more effectively than William Friedkin!

    None of the Femms respect personal space, but when the hairiest of the lot acknowledges to Melvyn Douglas:

    Like you? I love you, my friend.
    and finishes off the ensuing knife thrusts and tussle with a serious no-body-double hickey -- mm-mmm, that's where we stop separating the men from the boys!

. . .

Not Going to See the Movie Comment: I was too young to deal with Mansfield Park the first time I read it, and I can't picture a living commercial movie director who isn't. Maybe if Kubrick had been interested in women, he could've managed it instead of Barry Lyndon. Maybe the Hitchcock of Vertigo and The Wrong Man could've, if he didn't mind having another flop.

But probably it's best left to an uncommercial experimenter like Valeria Sarmiento, 'cause it's never going to be a popular story: it's too unpleasant to seem charming and too pleasant to seem important. And unless you maintain that sour-and-sweet balance between the character of poor fostered-cousin Fanny Price and the voice of Jane Austen, you might as well throw the book back onto the Unfilmable shelf.

And that's OK by me, since I like Fanny almost as much as the villains and the narrator do. But then I wouldn't be all that popular in movie theaters either....

2015-06-09 : Regarding the "narrowing of horizons," Josh Lukin adds a contender:

You'd be surprised at how many people think We Have Always Lived in the Castle ends happily (Although I guess Constance's horizons aren't broad at the start, however much she wants to imagine that they are).
And, following up:
I had in mind the feminist readings that say, Yay, productive community among women, for which one has to pretend that Constance likes where she ends up as much as does her sister, rather than having to relinquish all her hopes and become a '60s homemaker, as it were. Reflecting on it, I guess it's no surprise that some readers trust Merricat so much that they miss that part.

. . .

Those Incestuous Weblogs!

I wonder if the necronautical proprietor of Alamut has ever seen the "Alfred Hitchcock Hour" episode "Final Escape," in which a prisoner named Paul Perry seeks freedom by being buried alive with a corpse.

. . .

Goodbye, Judy Tuesday

Best-tailored eBay auction ever?

"Thanks for looking."

. . .

Bergman, Camera, Men

Two Years Before the Mastiff

"What I was going to say is that the other thing Hitch had in mind for us to do was fun but insane. He wanted to take a John Buchan novel, and he was going to rent a yacht, and Alma and he and my husband and I and my dog were going to sail around the world, going from port to port, doing research for this John Buchan novel, and we were going to take two years doing it. It sounded great, but as Hitch was an old Turk of the deepest dye, he loved working with women, but he really didn't like their husbands. Lewis was so excited about the boat, and I said, 'You fool! You'd be the first to go overboard! Before the dog!'"
- "An Interview with Jay Presson Allen" by Richard Allen

In Notorious, a table of well-fed well-dressed men discuss, in perfect comfort, plans for the lifelong degradation of a young woman, Alicia. (They're the good guys.) One who spent the previous night with her protests. But he's an emotional coward, his protests are weak, and he quickly deserts the field.

Then Alicia enters the room, and their detached contempt shifts to avuncular concern as smoothly as if they'd trained from birth to handle the transformation.

Squirmingly recognizable, that scene remains film's clearest-eyed depiction (as opposed to manifestation) of how sexism works.

In the (mercifully hypothetical) Demi Moore remake, Alicia would tell the old farts off and go get the job done her own damn way. Here, Alicia suffers all the degradation the good guys hoped for and more, and her stoically endured terrors fill all but the last few seconds of film.

What might we infer was the filmmakers' intention?

  1. To expose the workings of sexism.
  2. To linger over the pain of a young woman.
  3. To apply social insight to the narratological problem of isolating and endangering a protagonist while increasing tension on her sole lifeline that is, to revivify the gothic form by finding contemporary equivalents for the moribund sexist institutions that originally powered it: wives and daughters as property; restricted civil rights and employment; acceptability of rape....

Check all that apply.

But please, don't then publish essays with titles like "Hitchcock the Feminist" and "Alfred Hitchcock: Misogynist or Feminist?" As a collective name for five decades of collaborative work, "Hitchock" is much too large and slippery for such personal labels to be meaningful. ("Random House: Vegan or Murderer?") All we're likely to establish is that the movies partake somewhat of experience, where misogyny and feminism find their common source.

As for Alfred Hitchcock the human being, more appropriate than a false dilemma like "Hitchcock: Misogynist or Feminist?" might be a conjunction like "Hitchcock: Artist and Laborer".

Or "Hitchcock: Fat Ugly Sissy and Heterosexual Man".

Or, more generally, "Hitchcock: Observer and Manipulator".

. . .

For who is there who anything of some significance has apprehended but is conscious that that exterior splendour may be the surface of a downwardtending lutulent reality

—The ways of the Creator are not our ways, Mr Deasy said. All history moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God.

Stephen jerked his thumb towards the window, saying:

—That is God.

Hooray! Ay! Whrrwhee!

For most people, the real is what cannot be argued with (it partakes of a transcendental authority); for me (and those who agree with me), the real is what cannot be avoided, what must be dealt with, what must be interrogated, acted on, argued with. (Again, it's synonymous with the political.)
- Samuel R. Delany
Here's another for you. (he frowns) The reason is because the fundamental and the dominant are separated by the greatest possible interval which...
Which? Finish. You can't.
(with an effort) Interval which. Is the greatest possible ellipse. Consistent with. The ultimate return. The octave. Which.
(Outside the gramophone begins to blare The Holy City.)
(Abruptly.) What went forth to the ends of the world to traverse not itself. God, the sun, Shakespeare, a commercial traveller, having itself traversed in reality itself becomes that self. Wait a moment. Wait a second. Damn that fellow's noise in the street. Self which it itself was ineluctably preconditioned to become. Ecco!

Pound's and Eliot's Ulysses is a depressing impoverished book by a quirkily upstart Irish-Catholic Zola. I don't know if they could've produced a plot summary, but it would've supported their view: This is the worst day of the protagonists' lives, and there's no reason to think next week or year will get any better.

Whereas my Ulysses has been a reliable pick-me-up Wonderworker for 25 years.

What the book does is much stranger than what the book tells.

As we learn more bewilderingly more details about the characters and their context, the text we know them by becomes more bizarrely more distant. This long dolly-zoom effects a vertginous ambiguity of scale. The clowns swell to heroic, archetypal, even divine proportions: Aristophanes on Olympus.

We lose all sense of perspective. We might even come to believe that there was some innate possibility for beauty and joy in the mere inescapability of human limits and plasticity of human vision. Almost like we wouldn't mind being one ourselves.

Near as Human, as Theodore Sturgeon almost might've said.

Like the best science fiction, a genre developing at the same time under similar pressures, Joyce's writing refuses either to evade the real or to take it as a given. Unlike science fiction, Joyce keeps his fire scrupulously within the confines of the whale.

Finnegans Wake would be the sneeze.


The real is what the king's foot measures.

Except in the court of Charles II, when the yard was the measure of man.

David Auerbach writes:

So what is your take on Milly's presence in the book, in light of your tribute to her? I probably have tended to underestimate it in favor of Rudy, but despite the light presence she has in the later parts, maybe she does seed the way for Bloom's tentative recovery. And on the subject of the text/story relation, it certainly has an alienating/distancing effect; you say that the text becomes more distant, but leaving aside the mythological aspects, the struggle to assemble the many, many constituent pieces as forces of abstraction and prolixity (a la Stephen) weigh in against piddling detail after piddling detail (a la Bloom) takes on its own significance. For me, it provokes a more interventionist attitude of reading since I was considerably more aware of the process of triage and simple elision when reading the thing. Reaching something that seems like closure (even when its not) was like finishing some video game and seeing the 1 minute cartoon at the end, which would have held no significance whatsoever but for what you go through to get there. (Again, when I wonder about the flow from Bloom to Stephen, which is less clear than that from Stephen to Bloom, this seems to resonate.) But Ulysses has lots of short cartoons... Maybe the metaphor isn't exact, but I couldn't resist.

I'm uncertain about Milly's part in any recovery (particularly if Bloom unwittingly supplied the condom that'll deflower her), but Milly's absence from the book seems to me to play an essential role in Bloom's marital crisis and paternal peregrinations.

Speaking of Rudy, another reader traces another ghostly presence:

Joyce's not-yet institutionalized daughter standing in ahead of the crowd for Bloom's and for Stephen's mother. " algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather..." The eternal seen in pieces. A refusal to bend any knee in any direction, home or away; he says time is disjunct and reconfabulated, but we don't believe him; it makes the story more fun though, and increases the grandeur of its scope.

He's dead nuts on that. And the retrospective arrangement.

A few weeks later, David Auerbach adds to the matter of the condom:

I guess I'm not much of a Joyce scholar, but the supposed passage providing the "evidence" seems so obscure I can't believe anyone would claim to know for certain. On thinking about this bit this time, it actually doesn't seem quite so grim, that whatever debauchery she engages in, it's ultimately a sign of progression (relative to Gertie Macdowell) that she's grown up and has survived childhood and the Bloom family and is at least reasonably a success.

Insofar as Ulysses is a well-constructed realistic novel, skepticism wins out. But insofar as Ulysses is a self-conscious experiment in the limits of well-constructed realism, there's one solid argument for gullibility: It is a formal rule that no chance to misinterpret Bloom will be passed up. To invalidate Bloom's explanation for coming home so late, Molly plans tomorrow to see if he has that French letter still in his pocketbook; therefore Molly must discover it missing; therefore he must have donated it to young Bannon. Between twosofars I'm content to doubt.

I'm surer you're right that I wrote too glumly about Milly's prospects. Although her ending's iffy (which Joyce would hardly consider exceptional), Bloom has at least given her a happier starting point than any other young person in the novel.

. . .

Reference Work, 1

For JL & JL

Two artists in dudgeons, one low, one high:

And every single person in the real world looks at this, and that's why we make our films the way we do. Because you don't have the freedom, you don't have the integrity, you have to remake everything we've done anyway. I go to see Martin Scorsese, and I say, Don't you think I should tell you about the lenses? And he says, What do you mean? And I said, Well, you're remaking my film, which is Infernal Affairs. Infernal Affairs was probably written in one week, we shot it in a month and you're going to remake it! Ha ha, good luck! What the fuck is this about? I mean, come on. In other words, if you read The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, then you'd actually have a very clear idea [laughs] about what's really happening in the U.S. right now. So what do we do? You tell me. [...] If Martin Scorsese can make a piece of shit called The Aviator and then go on to remake a Hong Kong film, don't you think he's lost the plot? Think it through. "I need my Oscar, I need my fucking Oscar!" Are you crazy? There's not a single person in the Oscar voting department who's under 65 years old. They don't even know how to get online. They have no idea what the real world is about. They have no visual experience anymore. They have preoccupations. So why the fuck would a great filmmaker need to suck the dick of the Academy with a piece of shit called The Aviator? And now he has to remake our film? I mean this is bullshit. This is total bullshit. I love Marty, I think he's a great person. And the other one is Tarantino. Oh yeah, let's appropriate everything. Are you lost? Yes, you are lost.
- Chris Doyle
Let's see, if we chide the writer who makes reference to low-brow material, who appropriates cultural material because appropriations are a bit like sampling in rap, really borderline plagiarism, everyone knows this we'll have to roll back to T.S. Eliot. Oops, we have to throw Eliot on the scrap heap, too apparently he risked some high-low mixing, and some appropriations. Forget Joyce, of course. We'd better go even further back. Once you begin looking at the underlying premise a blanket attack on the methods that modernism uncovered the kind of bogus nostalgia for a pure, as opposed to an impure, literature, what you really discover is a discomfort with literature itself. [...] It's not about reading. That's the problem. It really is about I'm repeating myself class anxiety. Once you have an eye for this you spot it in odd places. I read a review in Book Forum where a critic, quite incidentally, in attacking Michel Houellebecq, said in an aside, "But then again, the French regard Hitchcock as art." Well, now, wait a minute! These battles were fought and won. These victories were decisive ones, fifty years ago. There's no rolling that back. Hitchcock is art. So if you pin Hitchcock's scalp to your belt: "Not only have I seen through Michel Houellebecq, the charlatan, but in fact I'm going to tell you that the auturists were wrong and Hitchcock is low-brow and unsavory," you've discredited yourself so absolutely that you deserve to read nothing but Trollope for the rest of your life.
- Jonathan Lethem

OK, first, Trollope worked a day job for the fucking post office, so let's leave Trollope out of this fight.

Otherwise, it's a fight I felt like starting myself when I read this shallow attack on shallowness two years ago. (Why didn't I? Well, I work a day job, see....) For John Leonard, the difference between profundity and immaturity comes down to name-dropping:

Is it so unreasonable to want to know more of what he thinks about Julio Cortázar and less of how he feels about Obi-Wan Kenobi? [...] Superpowers are not what magic realism was about in Bulgakov, Kobo Abe, Salman Rushdie, or the Latin American flying carpets. That Michael Chabon and Paul Auster have gone graphic, that one Jonathan, Lethem, writes on and on about John Ford, while another Jonathan, Franzen, writes on and on about "Peanuts," even as Rick Moody confides to the Times Book Review that "comics are currently better at the sociology of the intimate gesture than literary fiction is," may just mean that the slick magazines with the scratch and sniff ads for vodka and opium [sic] are willing to pay a bundle for bombast about ephemera.

This approaches J. Jonah Jameson levels of wrong-headedness. As if Ulysses would've been improved by more of Lohengrin and less of "The Low-Backed Car". As if John Leonard ever actually took time to honor Alfred Bester for referencing Joyce or Patricia Highsmith for referencing James and Camus.

He asks me, "Do you care how many times I have seen The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, or what's going on in my head while I watch Sara Evans sing 'Suds in the Bucket' on the country music cable channel?" And I answer: "No more than I care what's going on in your head while you watch Carol Burnett. I don't even care what you think about books. Moreover, if you were a movie critic or a music critic, I still wouldn't care about your renting a Demy video or your pseudo-ironic celebrations of Evans but you'd tell me all the same. What matters in our relationship isn't whether I care; all that matters is what the NYRB and New York Magazine will publish."

In Leonard's horror at public lapses of taste, this professional book-and-televison critic failed to notice that his subject is not a professional critic of anything and The Disappointment Artist is not a collection of criticism: it's a linked collection of autobiographical essays whose hooks happen to be American cultural artifacts. Lethem could hardly have been more explicit about it. In his long tribute to the The Searchers, the "critical" argument is confined to two paragraphs terminated by the sentence "Snore."

Sure, some generic ambiguity exists: there's that strain of criticism-as-New-Journalism which was domesticated down from mutants like Meltzer and Bangs into the cage-raised free weekly strains. But those conventions presume a like-minded community, whereas Lethem peddles his wares to a middlebrow camp unlikely to have any interest in his ostensible topics. Therefore the focus stays on Lethem-as-character.

So let's imagine our successful young novelist writing a similar autobiographical essay about reading Kafka or Cortázar:

"And suddenly I realized: I write fiction too. Just like him."

Yeah, there's news.

Equally newsworthy:

"Professional pundit publishes asinine remarks; bloggers rant."

But god damn it, I can't seem to let it rest at that. What irks me is the feeling that I share some aspect of some response with Leonard and, in a different way, or a different aspect, with Lethem, too. And again, Lethem's admirably blatant about it: he put Disappointment right there in the title for us.

... to be continued ...


Even if you don't care for my stuff, I recommend this essay by tomemos which starts from Leonard but goes in a very different direction.

Can't speak for Leonard but my celebrations of Evans are strickly appreciations of artistry.

My guess was that Leonard admired Evans but threw "the country music cable channel" in for distancing thus the "pseudo-" of his irony.

. . .

The Male Feminist: Myth or Menace?

As one of the repelled colonizers of Bryn Mawr's Denbigh Hall in 1978, I can actually speak with authority on this question. It's a completely trivial and distracting question, but hey, you take what authority you can get.

"Feminist" is a label. A label is not essence, nor an equivalence function. Like all such social markers, it's meant to be applied when applicable, and applicability varies by context.

In contexts where the label is a contested object of desire (notably some blogs and some academic departments; I'm not sure women's folk festivals even exist anymore): No, a man cannot be a feminist. Proof by contradiction: To insist on the "feminist" label would help me override a woman's voice or take a woman's place.

Anyway, the self-applied label usually conveys little information beyond hope for a merit badge. Treating a woman as a sentient being should be a matter of common decency rather than a newsworthy achievement, and enjoying the company of women might indicate nothing more than heterosexuality.1 You shouldn't need to be acknowledged as a "feminist" to feel disgust at date-rape, or to argue with idiots,2 or to shut up and let others get a word in edgewise. Painstaking accounts of female suffering can sometimes be useful to feminism, but to produce them you need only find female suffering attractive as spectacle.3 You only need ears to appreciate Joanna Russ's prose. And you only need eyes and a brain to notice that Hollywood buddy comedies (like William S. Burroughs) posit an Earth populated by two species: male humans and female Borg.

In contexts where the label is used dismissively (notably most non-academic settings after 1985 or so): Yes, a man can be a feminist. Dismissive senses include "crazy people who take that crazy shit seriously" or "killjoys who bitch about gross power imbalances" or "perverts who don't mind leg hair" and so forth. And I am, in fact and undeniably, one of those crazy killjoy perverts and might as well fess up to it. Besides, how far am I really gonna lower the tone of a neighborhood consisting mostly of Daddy's-Girl feminists, Let's-Go-Shopping! feminists, and Rich-Republicans-Are-The-Real feminists?

1   Stendhal supported higher education for women on the grounds that it would make them even more fun to hang out with. I find this a convincing argument.

2   From a vanished comment at vanished UFO Breakfast:

I reserve the right to reveal this revelation at my own site or deathbed confession, but I discovered the American economic class system, cultural class system, and how fucked up the rest of my life was going to be on my first evening at the Quaker teaching-oriented financial-aid-guaranteed no-frat no-football college when the guys I was walking with talked about going to Villanova to seek stupid girls because only stupid girls would fuck you.

And I knew -- I knew from the bottom of my balls -- that this was evil and wrong. Because only smart girls knew where the local Planned Parenthood was.

3   From innumerable cites, I pluck Hitchcock.


Jessie Ferguson kindly pointed out that at least one of my attempted jokes ("indicates heterosexuality") was too compressed even for my intended audience, and that blogs provide a safer home than the academy for contemporary feminist discussion. I've quickly revised in the hope of clarity.

Josh Lukin points out more error:

"You only need ears"? What kind of ableist message is that?
Marge: Homer, didn't John seem a little... festive to you? Homer: Couldn't agree more. Happy as a clam. Marge: He prefers the company of men! Homer: Who doesn't?

And remember, chicks dig male feminists!

. . .

Assume the position

by Percival Everett

Three police procedurals with a likably quirky and fallible protagonist and a shocking twist you won't believe!!

Or, hell, you probably will. Even if you never heard of Oedipus and didn't cut your genre teeth on Trent's Last Case and never saw Dark Angel on the late-late show, thirty years of blockbusters have established the good-guy-who's-really-bad as a convention which no more needs justifying than, say, a Tom Cruise love interest. Mystery readers who've reviewed Assumption felt satisfyingly tricked. Of the two academic papers on the book, one accepts the revised characterization at face-value and the other doesn't even mention it (which is a neat trick in itself).

I believed it, too, but my "it" was something stranger in reviewerly terms, if more familiar in fleshy ones. I took the ending at its word rather than at its face value:

"This is the way is is, Warren, simply the way it fucking is. Sad, sad, sad, sad, sad. Shitty, shitty, bang, bang. Nothing makes sense and that's the only way that any of it can make sense. Here I am, the way I am, not making any sense. Blood in the water. Blood on my shirt."

Generically, Assumption is a story series with the sort of showy dismount favored by writers whose ambitions reach past the commercial district. Back in the day, each novella could've appeared separately in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, with the third generating plenty of hate mail. For me, the insinuations which came increasingly (and maybe too abruptly) thick and heavy didn't (and don't) feel like clues laid to prop a backwards-reading; instead, they detoured us to structural collapse: solution by dissolved form.

The distinction partly comes down to reality effect. "Innocent" passages of the final story are detailed, individualized, and localized. Whereas the "guilty" intrusions are vague, off-the-shelf stuff, thudding the same "BOMM! BOMM! BOMM!" soundtrack used by every thriller trailer of the past, well, thirty years. The kind of bullshit which comforts juries but no one else.

I'd also been softened up (or simply concussed) by earlier apparently-realistic wholeheartedly-affective formal experiments. For reasons outside the immediate reading experience, I often find myself turning to Dhalgren:

"But thinking that live streets and windows are plotting and conniving to make you into something you're not, that's crazy, isn't it?"
I'm not a poet.
I'm not a hero.
But sometimes I think these people will distort reality in any way to make me one. And sometimes I think reality will distort me any way to make me appear one but that's insanity, isn't it? And I don't want to be crazy again.
I don't.

Most of all, my interpretive preference was swayed by hope for shared witness.

I sometimes hear shaming justified as punitive rehabilitation. A learning experience, so to speak, and I suppose it generally is, in one sense or another. It most often serves to exile (or confirm the pariahdom of) its target, strengthening the border between in-group and out-group, and confirming one's own claim to centrality. As evidence, those who consider themselves most securely in-group are notoriously shameless. Bullies (whether self-made or hammered-out) and their slaveys treat shame as weakness: the only thing that shames them is shame itself.

Censors are rarely fooled by the pretenses of the "cautionary tale"; they sense how easily the supposed warning becomes the irresistible script, a second-hand experience which your first-hand starts to grasp for.

BART: Wow. A drifter!

FUTURE BART: Lousy sheriff... Run me out of town... He's lost my vote...

BART: Cooool.

Shaming is a cautionary tale with an army and navy. Unless you have your own tribe to back you up, even if you're annoyed by the shamers' presumptions, you may later watch yourself act them out or remember having acted them out. At my lowest ebb, I recall the sudden relief of not bothering to argue with the world or myself, just doing the expected thing and waiting for the movie to be over instead of stretching it out to tedious length. If going with the flow sent me over the falls, well, I guess that's where I was meant to be.

Everett's decent-but-no-genius deputy sheriff is a black man in an overwhelmingly white-and-armed community. Wherever he goes, he's viewed with suspicion; should external reminders of bigotry be momentarily lacking, he can fill the void with memories of his father's jeremiads. He's got a place in the sheriff's department; he feels at home in a trout stream; he has to watch what he says in front of his mother.... It's not a lot to fall back on.

None of which is meant to insist that the last story's Big Kill was "really" done by anyone other than the guy who confessed to it. I don't think Assumption is a realistic story of false memory. Instead, I think it's a story that realism can't tell: the incomprehension of "Did I do that? I couldn't have done that, could I?" "Did he do that? He couldn't have done that..." "Did we do that? ..." The "No, not again" sensation of turning on the news and seeing another house idol, another icon we took as proof that life could escape that particular script Assumption freezes those final drowning moments of denial, the thing that catches in your throat even after you've begun to accept it as part of your throat....

Do I believe my own theory, as the man says? I'm not as certain of it as I am that, for example, Delany consciously embedded the funky clues that invalidate a Kid's-just-crazy interpretation of Dhalgren. The finales of both Erasure and Assumption felt rushed to me, which may betray readerly incompatibility. And in at least one interview, Everett seems to endorse the clever-clew-stringer take.

But I do feel a reasonable doubt, and the only menace I'd like to hang is the jury.


Eminent scholar Josh Lukin adds:

"Bullies (whether self-made or hammered-out) and their slaveys treat shame as weakness: the only thing that shames them is shame itself." That may be so IRL, but novels, often committed to the shaky premise that people have depth or the shakier conviction that bad behavior is a sign of that, may follow different rules. I blame Russian hacking.

You're right, I was thinking only of bullies I've witnessed or received witness of. Junior-high hallways, initiation rites, military indoctrination, and Norman Mailer all separated real-men from faggots with a crowbar by testing revulsion or scruples.

(Of course my personal canon shows close acquaintance with the appeal of insouciant transgression. But I would never mistake such refined tastes for manliness; I know the true standard of manhood is how much you can drink.)

As proven by domestic abusers and the Gorilla-Glass Tigers of 4channish doxxing, this bully-badge of courage rests easily alongside physical cowardice. And while such figures were conventional comic butts for Shakespeare's audience, bulliedom's most remarkable recent innovation has been open disavowal of bravery (as, I suppose, another convention in need of trampling). In present-day blancmange-with-a-gun America, completely irrational terror has become a surefire legal defense carrying no consequences whatsoever.


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