Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What order actually looks like

When they were alone, Ironside said, "I never thought this would be easy."

"Sir, may I ask you a question?"

"I wish you would." He ran his hand along the schedule for today. The film of Trotsky next.

"What if that" — Pishkoff swept his scarred right hand to indicate everything outside the room — "what if that is what order actually looks like?"


"We're here to bring order. I know. But what if this mess is the natural state and what we're doing is ridiculous?"

"You can't believe that."

"I think people get tired of fighting, and for ten years, twenty years, they agree: let's stop. You have some silk, I have a cow, your daughter marries my nephew, we'll drink, it's good, happily ever after, the end. But it's not the end. It's always chaos and shouting and homicide in the end."

Ironside shook his head. "I don't think that's right."

"Why are we fighting now?" Pishkoff presented a well of intelligence behind eyes cobwebbed with despair.

"Honestly? For our lives," Ironside whispered. He missed Pishkoff.

Unexpectedly, Pishkoff snorted.

"There we are," Ironside said. "I was worried you'd lost your sense of humor."

"You know what the peasants believe? They think the devil gave man a sense of humor."

"Why would he do that?"

"So we laugh at our problems instead of solving them."

There's a hell of a lot going on in this book. It may be saying something profound about war, and America's involvement therein. As much about today's wars as yesterday's.

A very entertaining book, Sunnyside, a kind of comedy, but a tragedy too, but only if you think about it really hard. The novel starts on a day in 1916: Charlie Chaplin is sighted in 800 locations. Pretty absurd, really. But what do I know? Maybe it happened.

There's no way to sort out (for one as myself, ignorant of this time period) what bits of which characters and what events they face are based in fact. Doesn't matter.

We trudge through World War I, as seen from Hollywood, but also through France and Archangel (Archangel! My own family has connections to Archangel, during a later wartime.). I don't care much for war stories, or dogs, but there's a lot of both in this book and it turns out that they're very interesting.

This — this book — is what order looks like. Not that I'm any kind of expert. But the way the jokes are set up and the fact that they pay off are evidence of a fine bit of construction.

This is the dawn of celebrity culture. Some people don't see it happening at all, but those who do struggle with how to bend it to their advantage or for the American good, if they can be bothered to care. What you can get away with, and for how much money.

One of my favourite characters is Bill McAdoo, former Secretary of the Treasury, Chaplin's hero, the man who signs the dollar bills, who holds an almost perverse fascination with the Hollywood industry, at first it seems as a factory of potential propaganda, but overwhelmingly as the great experiment to help achieve and prove his grail of economic and social function: the pleasure equation.

It's about squirrels and pigeons.

It's about image versus reality, whether it be of war, of celebrities, or of how it all gets processed in our individual heads.

When they'd lived in Beaumont, there had been that day when Chaplin was seen everywhere. What if that happened all the time? What if people's images were suddenly all over the place, thousands at a time, and this had been going on for years? Maybe there were times a person was projected when there was no projector, and people we met on the street were just these strange modern ibburim invested with living souls, and that's why the movies were so compelling; it was part of our collective memory. Maybe that was why acting was so attractive: you got the chance to be everywhere at once, and you could pretend to be many different people, the way nature intended. No one would have known about these ibburim until now, because now certain people were famous. If, for instance, she, Rebecca, was everywhere, and there were thousands of Rebeccas in cities and villages and in the ocean an on mountaintops, who would know? No one except her, and only if she ran into herself.

See also my first impressions, with a little clarification.

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