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ألبــــوم الصــــور

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rasoulallahbinbadisassalacerhso  wefaqdev iktab
الإثنين, 03 تموز/يوليو 2023 06:09

Secret Histories

كتبه  By SIDDHARTHA DEB
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An assassin works from a partial understanding of the world. If not literally a hashishi, as suggested by the word’s etymology, an assassin must nevertheless see the world in tunnel vision, his victim viewed through the lens of a scope. The vast, complex network of humanity to which he and his victim belong, with contending narratives and blurred individual motives, cannot be allowed to exist. To do so would be to fail as an assassin.

A Don DeLillo novel grasps both the assassin’s monomania and the contradictory, counterintuitive world of which it is a part. It is capable of displaying fidelity to both perspectives, brushing one against the other to edge its way toward a fictional truth that neither can uncover on its own. Six novels published in the 1970s established this principle, but the approach truly came into its own only with Libra (1988), DeLillo’s ninth novel. “Hashish. Interesting, interesting word,” a character says to Lee Harvey Oswald as the novel uncoils toward its climactic moment in Dallas with the Kennedy assassination. “Arabic. It’s the source of the word assassin.”

 
 

This knowingness, highlighted by the verbal certainty of the character, only throws into sharp relief all that is unknown, confusing, and contradictory in the novel. By its end, we are still uncertain whether either the shadow men who set the Kennedy assassination in motion (including the character riffing on the etymology of “assassin”) or the fastidious figures who attempt to piece the event together have any greater grasp of the whole than Oswald has. Nothing is knowable in full in the world as depicted by DeLillo, and this is why the Kennedy assassination is the prime exhibit in this hall of mirrors. “We are not agreed,” DeLillo wrote in an essay for Rolling Stone a few years before Libra’s publication, “on the number of gunmen, the number of shots, the origin of the shots, the time span between shots, the paths the bullets took, the number of wounds on the president’s body, the size and shape of the wounds, the amount of damage to the brain, the presence of metallic fragments in the chest, the number of caskets, the number of ambulances, the number of occipital bones….”

 

Libra is the last of three DeLillo novels from the 1980s that have now been reissued by the Library of America. With appendices, notes, new prefaces by the author as well as his Kennedy assassination essay and another on neo-Nazis in the United States, the volume runs to over 1,000 pages. Including The Names (1982), a novel about a cult set mostly in Greece, and White Noise (1985), a Midwestern campus drama that devolves into existential uncertainties, this is a compilation that grasps everything while also pointing out that an excess of material may, in terms of understanding, easily amount to nothing. We learn about fossil fuels and risk analysis, Hitler studies and toxic chemicals, millenarian cults and shadowy operatives of the deep state, but at these novels’ core are the mysteries of American power at home and abroad. Written in the fog of the Cold War, they take the story of America’s postwar years, usually seen as a triumphal rise to perpetual dominance and the end of history, and convert it into the story of a long, chaotic decline. Perhaps for this reason, these American novels written over the course of a decade feel like they are recording half a century, and if they speak powerfully of the past, they simultaneously manage to address the present.

 

The Names, probably the least known of this trifecta, is soaked in the triumphant self-mythologizing endemic to a superpower. Its protagonist, James Axton, is an American working as a corporate risk analyst in Athens. Axton’s days are an expatriate’s seesawing from mundane activity to joyless pleasure, his sensibilities always at odds with a jagged, old city that now serves as a forward operating base for Americans working the levers of finance, oil, and military aid in Asia and the Middle East.

 
In effect I review the political and economic situation of the country in question. We have a complex grading system. Prison statistics weighed against the number of foreign workers. How many young males unemployed. Have the generals’ salaries been doubled recently. What happens to dissidents. This year’s cotton crop or winter wheat yield. Payments made to the clergy. We have people we call control points. The control is always a national of the country in question. Together we analyze the figures in the light of recent events. What seems likely? Collapse, overthrow, nationalization? Maybe a balance of payments problem, maybe bodies hurled into ditches. Whatever endangers an investment.:
 

Axton is not unusual in this regard. His American associates are all stereotypes, energetic corporate men and their lonely wives, cool and intelligent and as soulless as the risk assessments they carry out in places where dollar investments have been made. They are alternately puzzled by Greece and oblivious to it, unable to make sense of the graffiti they occasionally encounter in Athens (“Death to Fascists”) or the rant about NATO delivered to Axton by a choleric Greek man called Andreas.

 

What Axton and his fellow Americans are unable to see—and what the “authoritative” Library of America will not tell us either, since not a single one of its dozens of footnotes offers the necessary background—is that the Greece they are carousing in is napalm-scarred terrain, a front line in the US battle against communism ever since the Americans (and the British) turned against the Greek left after it helped them defeat Hitler’s troops. In the civil war that followed the end of Nazi occupation, it was the Greek right that received benediction from the leaders of the free world. When a military coup in 1967 put an end to any pretensions to democratic politics and led to the seven-year, torture-and-death-filled “Regime of the Colonels,” the United States backed the colonels to the hilt.

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