Archive for March, 2013

vs. propaganda

Posted: March 30, 2013 in reviews

I really wanted to like Rachel Levitsky’s The Story of My Accident is Ours. I’d read a sample of it online, and it looked good. Besides that, I’ve enjoyed other books put out by Futurepoem. They’re a good press.

The prose is, for sure, interesting. Levitsky piles one clause atop another. Combined with the often scientific prose, it often creates interesting perspectives. Here’s one I found cool:

As I write this, i find myself far from certain that what I am describing–this tremendous aspect of our lives clamoring for articulation, an all-consuming absence of affect in which we were left, such that the thing by which we were consumed and which made us always feel aware of the threat as both looming and happening at the same time was also something foreign, as a concept, outside immediate experience because we could neither apprehend nor comprehend it, leaving us in a situation in which we could only pursue it, for example, in movie theaters, where we went to press what was under our skin, and therefore sealed, through the surface, into a shared and public field of vision, assessment, objectification, tactile sructure, something supraorganic, though having had once belonged to us, inside us, us lacking names, unnamable, untenable, adrift but not wandering–was not boredom after all but rather a constant state of seasickness in the way that seasickness implies the struggle of land leaving the body.

I imagine that the diagram of this sentence extends like the paw of a many-clawed demon for which we have no name. It is wonderful in its massiveness, and the study of its single scales can provide pleasure.

But only so much pleasure. My experience of this book might have been different had I not read the acknowledgments, which address WTO protests and a need for radical politics. I did, though, after my first sit-down with it. I’m no Newt Gingrich. Rather, I think a clear vision of politics should not guide the writing of a novel. It can lead, as it appears to have led Levitsky, to the creation of propaganda rather than art. (Spare me the discussion of Triumph of the Will’s art. Propaganda may have artistic elements. Even if you claim it’s art, you must know it’s a quite low art.)

This paragraph is indicative of the book’s failure:

It is in the fact that the once not-yet-completely ruling class had been able to be first the somewhat ruling class and later the ruling class completely that we learned–we could see–no, those of us who came before us could see and come to know and therefore help us to see and come to know–that a something could come to be where something else was and furthermore that this replacing thing could shift and budge the shape of the rest of things until the shape of things was completely transformed into an exaggerated, or diminutive, or diminished version fot he shape of the once new thing once it was no longer new.

This account of the narrator’s awakening (this narrator is almost always a “we” except when speaking of the narrator’s accident, though that accident is “ours”) is necessarily loaded with abstractions and vagueness. It is sweet, I guess, but really it’s boring. Beyond the shape of the sentence, nothing new is offered here. The vague is the general is the blah of political sloganeering–necessary to marshall others to the feeling.

The use of “we” and “us” is a pretty normal aspect of propaganda, too. The constant need to group many together, for us all to see the same things. Meh.

But the worst part of propaganda is its humorlessness. Because the politics are felt rather than examined, believed rather than explored, those politics must be taken seriously. The “We” can never be ironized. The “I” cannot be laughed at. It certainly cannot mock itself. The antagonistic State and all who are within that State are taken most seriously, Lex Luthor seriously.

Literature is meant to be written seriously. Art is a serious business. But in a true novel, the most serious of moments are treated with the lightest  of hands. That light is meant to be understood here in the sense of weight and weightlessness. We’ve known this from Don Quixote: allow your people their foibles. Do not shrink from them. They must suffer, true, and their plights will be serious, but they will not be merely serious.

All people are ridiculous. If nothing else, the novel reveals this. If you cannot show this, you probably should not write. If you can show this, but choose not to, you write dishonestly.

You must love your subjects, but not enough to lie for them.

A remembrance that newspapers were once slang-termed fishwraps led me to this extended pondering:

Suppose that the chemical print ink of the many thousands of circulated fishwraps drizzled their ink into the scales, meat, and bones of dinners across America from the late 19th through mid-20th centuries. Our triply-great-grandparents in their mass immigrants’ unknowing ate those fish and made love afterward, occasionally hitting God’s magic mark. You might say that any effect of that ink upon their DNA was soon weeded out by statistics. As more illiterates hit our shores and hated papers and murdered the early bourgeois on the come-up and then bred with other bourgeoisie in their attempts to come up and thus ending the practice of reading papers or at least divorcing the purchase of papers from the handle of dinner altogether, the fish-ink problem was solved unwittingly thereby.

But do you suppose that was likely the start or end of human ingestion of clear toxins with the capacity for genetic fouling? Do you suppose we have no more or less conflated the consumption of information with that of food to deleterious effects upon the young and unborn? My guess is that the latest local news scare involving our town’s children is therefore bupkus. Or maybe I have dished the Action News Team a hot lead. Do not watch.

History may be unwrapped in a line that improves the globe. So claim the Happy Pundit Droids of Hope. They deny Egypt. But we have squatted these houses and rounded these blocks and driven alongside the river at least a hundred million days of weather. No matter how calendars get marked, our corpses pose in ancient styles. Whoanow, for instance, had been eaten out and drained, his arms folded upon opposing shoulders and his eyes unfocused like all gods. He bled upon a streetlamp. Right then we would have killed for mummy wraps.