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Theo Fales is a one-time historian turned book editor who specializes in ghostwriting the memoirs of leading American policy-makers. For over twenty-five years, Theo has been helping retired generals and CIA directors justify their decisions in the first-person. One day, however, hearing a song at a colleague's memorial service, Theo has a vision: he senses, in the music, a completely different way to live. He becomes obsessed by a need to align musical time with the metre of his own life and prose. Theo's method...
Theo Fales is a one-time historian turned book editor who specializes in ghostwriting the memoirs of leading American policy-makers. For over twenty-five years, Theo has been helping retired generals and CIA directors justify their decisions in the first-person. One day, however, hearing a song at a colleague's memorial service, Theo has a vision: he senses, in the music, a completely different way to live. He becomes obsessed by a need to align musical time with the metre of his own life and prose. Theo's method opens onto two seemingly contradictory interior landscapes: one, a rage of identification with a college classmate who has written and signed the legal document justifying the use of torture by the US; the other, a love for the singer best known for her interpretations of the composer who wrote that vital song. Theo commits himself to the idea that only through his method will he be able to save himself. Is he mad, or has history itself lost its way?
Dalkey Archive Press
One of the most important aspects of literature is its ability to counter and rebuff ideology. As Kafka put it in a 1904 letter, "A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us." A story that fails to transport its reader to a different mental climate is, in all likelihood, a misfire.
In the afterword to Peter Dimock's politically mad novel, George Anderson: Notes for a Love Song in Imperial Time, Dimock comments on the ideological foundations to which his novel takes a shovel. Chafing at the notion of American triumphalism, he writes:
I have tried to write a novel that explores-what I believe is a national narrative failure. The success of my ambition, it seems to me, will rest upon the reader's response to my invention of a form that purports to create the internal imaginative condition for the refusal of American national triumph — and a determination to live, love, and speak without compromise from the ground of that refusal, no matter how estranged or estranging the results may seem at first.The key verb here is estrange. Considering that Dimock underscores this word while gesturing toward the form of his novel, I imagine he had the Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky in mind when he composed his remarks. One of the great literary figures of the twentieth century, Shklovsky coined the neologism ostraniene, which is usually translated into English as "estrangement," to describe the formal devices that literature uses to remake or make strange our perception of the world. In his seminal essay "Art as Device," Shklovsky notes, "By 'estranging' objects and complicating form, the device of art makes perception long and laborious."
It never occurred to me to insist that Fred Avery deal in his memoir more conscientiously with the question of his responsibility for authorizing and overseeing the torture with which the agency he directed was tasked by those who appointed you to head the Office of Legal Counsel, the post you always dreamed of holding? [Avery's] high rhetoric (and boyish laughter) — the devotion of his public service — the stern kindness of his unpretentious command — my complicity — the fellowship of our birth and class — all this prevented it. The stillness surrounding the careful silence of authority is not kind?.By fessing up to own capacity for choosing expediency over ethical purity ("I edited and helped write a war criminal's self-laudatory memoir") Fales establishes a moral correspondence between his actions and Kallen's signing of a 2004 memo that provided legal cover for the dubious interrogation practices undertaken in the War on Terror.
Power's pleasures were written as self-sacrifice in the public interest. Devotion to family and country were written to suggest they entailed the burdens of atrocity in fighting savage wars a moral man could not refuse. Frederick Avery's strength and discipline, we implied, spared the ordinary citizen the moral consequences of dominion.
Temporalities of managed, stochastic determination have ruled events since 1945. Stochastics is that branch of mathematics that concerns random sets of observations each of which is plotted as a point on a separate distribution curve. This technique assures that knowledge has no way to distinguish truth from power: algorithms manage preference backed by force, mathematics suspends choice and replaces politics.If one is not fazed by such knotty syntax, or the occasional flight of lyricism that at first blush seems unintelligible but is clarified pages later, one may find in this dazzlingly executed work an icebreaker ready to be swung at whatever dogma might have crystallized inside you.
Reviewer: Christopher Byrd