Posts from 8th April 2004

Apr 04

TS: Fact vs Fiction

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 125 views

TS: Fact vs Fiction

‘The celebrated East Room was still unfinished, although Jefferson had recently used it to give shelter to the largest cheese ever made in the United States. This odoriferous miracle of American inventiveness most appropriately furnished that noble chamber until the electorate finally ate it.’ (Burr, Gore Vidal, Bantam Books, 1974, p330

GV likes to salt his historical novels with comical little facts ‘ here I wondered briefly if said cheese wasn’t also the parent of T. Pynchon’s notorious ‘Octuple Gloucester’, in Mason & Dixon (the dates are a bit strained if so, not to mention the geography). Also would I actually be faintly disappointed if it turned out Pynchon nicked his cheese from Burr?

I wz rereading Lincoln and Burr as distraction wind-down get-self-to-sleep material during the frantic final fortnight of finishing the if…. book (bcz no likely crossover => no last-minute total revamping). Lincoln is of course saddled with a cap-G Great cap-P Plot that everyone already knows: our Saintly Hero Dies Freeing the Slaves. GV’s achievement I think is to render the Big Abe plausible and human against the natural pull of momentous hagiography, so that his Lincoln is (among other things) a man with a titanic sense of the absurd, plus the first media politician in the modern sense (he grew his beard to improve his electability!!)

Aaron Burr’s story is much less well-known, even within the US (he’s unknown outside it): which means as a device he’s a somewhat blanker page to fill in and fill out… Vidal’s Burr is a winning rogue, which is fine if ho-hum stuff, and there are solid what-if surprises (the only reason Burr, generally considered a ‘Bad Man’, wasn’t Third President, instead of Jefferson, is bcz Burr chose not to press his advantage in an Electoral College tie in 1800). But the achievement here (apart from a fat and readable book) is I think getting across the seat-of-pants aspect of the United States’s invention of themselves, that this was a nation-out-of-a-notion being juggled into existence by LAWYERS ALONE: a crew of ambitious rivals, not exactly unprincipled, but quite happy to expoit the idea of principle for unprincipled ends, all playing wildly fast and loose with all kinds of ideas about who ‘we the people’ were, and how, and an axiomatic grounding structure they’d JUST MADE UP!!

The thing that occurred to me (for the first time) this time was this: the presence in this story of an old-fashioned 18th-century-style duel with pistols ALSO HAS SIGNIFICANCE within the US conception of law and lawlessness cf pretty much every Western ever!! It always annoys me when anti-US rhetoric yatters on abt cowboys and John Wayne, but only bcz it’s so lamely used (‘cowboys = stupid’ is abt the total extent of it): the question of power and right action, when the frontier is unclear, is of course a very important one in international politics, and there are few places it’s been more deeply explored than in the Western.

In Burr’s time, ‘Western’ meant not-yet states like Tennessee, or ACTUAL OTHER COUNTRIES, like Louisiana and Texas: but this novel isn’t (quite) just an ‘Eastern’ (even though the fatal gun battle happened on Washington Heights overlooking the little Dutch village of New York…

‘Oh, Burr, O Burr, what hast thou done?
Thou hast shooted dead great Hamilton!
You hid behind a bunch of thistle,
And shooted him dead with a great hoss pistol.’
(That’s genuine history, apparently: but it reads like a ‘bad’ Pynchon lyric!)

[Afterword: Well, no, it doesn’t read LIKE pynchon, particularly, it’s actually much better – because much worse!]

wive$watch (cross-disciplinary)

TMFDPost a comment • 250 views

wive$watch (cross-disciplinary)


Do You SeePost a comment • 194 views


‘I’m a dad twice over ‘ and I scored a goal today!’

You hear the argument sometimes (probably a lot more in a week when sportsfolk graduate to the front of the red tops) that what goes on off the pitch is ‘Nothing to do with football’ (or whatever). This is plainly nonsense ‘ footballers can no more firewall off their lives from their jobs than anyone else, and the assumption that anyone should is very dodgy ‘ but it’s nonsense with purpose: fans don’t want moralists and pundits getting any more unearned purchase in the world than they already have. The term ‘role model’ gathers about it even more dodgy assumptions.

But let’s take the fanview purely on its own terms: assuming the ‘quality of the game’ is the highest object (as an aesthetic line, it’s solid down-the-line Arts&Crafts/Modernist morality-in-technicity hurrah), what kinds of social and sex and private lives should players have? Old-skool analysis argues thus: loyalty to spouse and kids = loyalty to locale and team-mates. But this bears little relationship to the modern game, where players may trade up to a new club and play their old team and old locale the following week. Pathological compensatory unhappy trophy-bird promiscuity is hard to defend, but only bcz I loaded all six sides of the dice: being able intelligently, wisely, justly and imaginatively to negotiate the dilemmas of mutiple partners over time (and complicated sets of offspring thereto) is plainly a skill worth having. (Though more a ‘gay’ skill than a straight, possibly, currently?) (haha polyamory…) Being able to care and not to care: to commit and detach: to share and to focus: the most important family-value skill anyone can learn is triage, and that has uses on-pitch also.

Besides, all sport is just a method whereby blokes discover novels ways of touching each other…

(On a last-night’s-ep tip: YAY the idea of GHOSTWORK in ‘REALISTIC’ DRAMA!!)