Sunday, April 18, 2010

David Remnick, Robert Coover and Charles Bowden

Lots to report- David Remnick's THE BRIDGE:THE LIFE AND RISE OF BARACK OBAMA" is the best political biography out perhaps since Robert Caro's trilogy(so far) on Lyndon Johnson. It traces the history of our 44th President up to his election, and is an in-depth study of how this uniquely talented individual created an ethnic identity for himself as well as political roots in Chicago out of a background as the product of an absent African father and somewhat absent but loving white mother, growing up in the more racially tolerant community of Hawaii.This biography may not please his most unthinking followers or detractors, because it is so well- researched,nuanced and well written. But it conveys the first fuller picture of Obama's youth and college and law school experience which were only touched upon in the famous DREAMS FROM MY FATHER.
Remnick's book, which begins with Selma, Alabama, and Obama's speech there in 2007, is filled with flashbacks and in depth analysis of the civil rights struggle as well as America's continuing journey to make itself a "more perfect union", as our President is given to say from time to time.

Remnick wrote it, amazingly, in only one year while continuing as editor of the New Yorker- a tribute,given all the interviewing(the ground for which was laid by his duly acknowledged researchers)and writing that had to be done to produce a 600 page text.
I have very few gripes about this tome- it replaced 5 equally worthy literary offerings I have been reading-and you know how good a book The Bridge is when you awaken at 330 am on the weekend, and push the other volumes on your king sized bed closer to the floor, grab the eponymous volume in question and bite off another 50 or so pages before drooling back to sleep.

Hardly any gripes here- except the use of "conspiracy theory' as an unthinking term to tarnish the Daniel Corsi's(Obamanation) of the world as well as the Jeremiah Wrights(AIDS was caused by the Govt asa plot against blacks)
Let's be careful we do not succumb to putting some of the other events in history, which were real conspiracies,like the Gulf of Tonkin, Watergate, and the Kennedy assassination, (guilt for the latter now having admitted by three dead Mafia leaders and in E Howard Hunt's confession)-- in the same basket with the loony tunes space aliens or Glenn-Beck invented stuff. As Peter Dale Scott points out in his epochal study- Deep Politics- there is a level of parapolitical activity that goes on in politics that the media does not prefer to report, and even less so these days given the lack of real investigative reporting and the conversion of TV newschannels into 24 hour tabloid entertainment channels.

But overall, kudos for Mr Remnick, though his magazine would be the last to blow the lid off the truth of the seamiest undersides of American politics, as compared to its continued good reporting but from the inside by the well-motivated but highly connected Sy Hershes of the world.

Robert Coover, who has now published 18 or 19 novels, one loses count, has scribed another gem of black humor- NOIR- in which this sage Professor of Lit at Brown University and master of the post-modern send-up, having skewered westerns in Ghost Town, now does the favor for noir mysteries.It's a terrific read. Sample this- when the endangered private eye,one Mr Noir,(one can't use "" more than once in any piece) observes two yakuza opponents, fighting not with bullets but for tattoo space with the body of a prostitute being used as a message board and one tattoo being overwritten by another-

Or check out this passage where the alky dick blames all his troubles on the amorphous City-and how She,that targeted anonymous urban entity counterattacks:

"So whenever I got juiced,I'd start railing crazily at her,calling her every dirty name I could think of at the top of my voice so everyone would know.'.....The one night I stumbled over a loosened manhole cover and fell and skinned my nose and that threw me into a violent rage and I strted screaming at her from there where I was lying.You did that on purpose! I yelled.There were noxious vapors belching out of the hole with the filthy cover, so along with all the other filthy things I called her,I cussed her out as a fucking steaming bottomless cunt,and as soon as I said that I knew I had the hots for her,and I knew she was hot for me.That sounds crazy, it was crazy, I WAS crazy, I've said that.But I had to have her and I knew she wanted it.It was all I could think about,to the extent I could think about anything at all.
Come and get me big boy, I seemed to hear her say that. But how do you fuck a city?
The only thing I could come up with was to jerk off over a subway entrance,but when I tried to do that it just made her madder.Maybe she felt insulted or demeaned or just not satisfied,but after that she really got vicious,.Mean streets?? Until then I had no idea.What before had been a subtle sleight of hand became more like an out-of-control-merry-go-round.Whenever I stood up, I got knocked down again.The streets and sidewalks buckled and rolled like a storm at sea, pitched me round,reared up and smacked me in the face.Who knows, maybe I was driving her wild with desire and those were just love commotions of a kind,but they were killing me and I no longer had amorous ambitions.Stroking her when I was down seemed to help,but whenever I tried to stand, she started in on me again.Ever get hit by a runaway building?You don't want that to happen to you.That's when I knew I had to get off the sauce."

Of course, this is not a totally uncommon theme- look at the cover of Rem Koolhaas' Delirious New York, with two of the City's skyscrapers going to bed with each other.Or Art Spiegelman's City of Terror trading cards, enclosed with Raw Magazine no2, with the latest installmentthen published of MAUS, one of which wasa drawing of a man entitled Chased by Buidings.Or consider the bizarre piece I once read in the tabloid Weekly World News, where an Australian chap was alleged to have sex with a manhole cover- because he found the city life so maddeningly erotic. Well there!
This is a theme worthy of more exploration. When I was a little boy- and some say I still am- I ventured forth into the City on the train from the burbs, and was terrified the tallest buildings would fall on me.Little did I know......

This writing is all reminiscent of the great rant, or as it was known in the 19th century, "brag' a la Davy Crockett and the river men of the Mississippi as well as Walt Whitman, that is echoed in The Public Burning of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Coover's brillaint send up- written in the late 1970's- of our would-be American Empire(how we fail to listen to our wisest voices).
In that tome, which I had the distinct pleasure of reading for libel pre-publication, the main character is a literary then VP Richard Nixon, and other chaptersare written by Time Magazine as The National Poet laureate et al. Check this passge out from our own beloved symbol Uncle Sam, recast as Sam Slick the Yankee Pedlar:

"Who-Who-Whoop-Who'll come gouge with me-who'll come bite with me?In the name of the Great Jehovah,and the Continental Congress,I have passed the Rubicon, sink or swim live or die,survive or perish,I'm in for a fight,I'll go to my death in a fight,-..You hear me over there, you washed-up varmints?This is the hope of the world talking to you-I am Sam Slick the Yankee Pedlar- I can ride on a flash of lightnin',catch a thunderbolt in my fist,swallow[savages] whole,raw or cooked,slip without a scratch down a honey locust,whup my weight in wildcats and redcoats,squeeze blood out of a turnip and cold cash out of a parson,and out-inscrutabulize the heathen Chinee-...Yuppee- I'm wild and woolly and full'a fleas,never been curried beneath the knees,so if you want to avoid foreign collision you better abandon the ocean,women and children first!For we hold these truths to be self-evident-that God helps them what helps themselves,it's a mere matter of marchin',that idleness is emptiness and he who lives on hope will die with his foot in his mouth,that no nation was ever ruint by trade,and that nothin' is sartin' but death, taxes,God's glowin' Covenant,enlightened self-interest,certain unalienated rights,and woods woods woods as far as the world extends."

Coover is a master writer. Read his books, all of them!

Stay tuned in the next day or so for a discussion of the great Charles Bowden , Tucson- based Thoreauian crank chronicler of the Southwest Desert and the Mexican border, with all its deaths and drugs thrown in. A great naturalist and essayist as well.

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