What the Mirror Does
Thanks for sending me that [“The Face of Seung-Hui Cho”]. I was mesmerized by it. It’s a scarily good piece of writing. Can’t think of when I read a piece about a mass murderer that was about identifying with him. You DO have a bad personality (so do I1)))). In fact, funnily, I actually wrote that (“I had a bad personality”) in the section of my autobio-in-progress that was recently published in the Brooklyn Rail.
I mean I identified with your piece in a way that was almost creepy, and was creeped out by it! There’s also a passage in my novel GO NOW about identifying with an unnamed serial killer (it was Ted Bundy). Forgive me for so crassly responding to your piece by finding myself in it. But somehow I feel invited to! I don’t mean to be flippant. It really is a great piece of writing, even if it left me with this strange emptiness inside. I can’t help myself!!! Somebody stop me!
I have read none of the novels Chad Harbach reviews in “The End,” and am now happy not to need to be planning to. They interest him because of their content, because of the ways their imagined future is or isn’t plausible or like the past; Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is “the best” of them not because of its “novelistic means” but because those means are “in line with its vision of a radically impoverished world.” At the end of “The End” he asks, rhetorically, “Why bother dreaming up a devastated world when you live in one?”
It’s a good question, but one that cannot be addressed or even asked within the range of Harbach’s article. To say that “the bulky, unmemorizable novel” is “an oil-dependent technology” which requires the geopolitical system in which the present-day American economy is embedded is true only with an extraordinarily narrow definition of “the novel.” Cervantes wrote novels, as did ancient Greeks; novels are shorter than the Iliad memorized by Greek bards or the inordinately longer Tibetan Gesar epic still memorized today. Mary Shelley’s The Last Man of 1826 is not the first “post-catastrophic novel”—nor is Charles Brockden Brown’s Arthur Mervyn (1798–1800, about the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia), nor Robinson Crusoe, nor even The Decameron, in which “Florentines fell ill daily in their thousands, and since they had no one to assist them or attend to their needs, they inevitably perished almost without exception. . . . In the face of so much affliction and misery, all respect for the laws of God and man had virtually broken down and been extinguished in our city . . . everyone was free to behave as he pleased.”
so do I (((ha ha ↩