Just saw another approving reference to DFW’s 90s essay in which he — the most irony-driven author of his or most other generations — putatively makes his argument against irony. I hate this. The essay wasn’t actually about irony, it was about him, about his sense of own unending insincerity, unending in that even acknowledging his insincerity was itself an insincere new appeal to be liked, and so on it goes, a wilderness of mirrors. Seen in that light it is immensely painful. I wish people would stop quoting it or seeking confirmation in it of their opposition to irony. Without irony art is not possible. It’s a ludicrous thing to argue against. Like arguing against “judgment”. Or shoes.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez died today. There is of course, for most of us, the memory of reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, with its extraordinary opening sentence (which, legend had it, came into his mind as he was driving out of Mexico City with his family for a much anticipated vacation — it’s said he turned the car right around to head back home and begin the book, family furious, though 40 million copies later I’m sure they’ve forgiven him). But for me even more affecting was a story that appeared in the New Yorker in 1978. It was called “Eyes of Blue Dog.” It was one of those literary encounters that shows a young writer how vastly many more possibilities there are for literature than he or she had even begun to consider. I always liked his short work best: No One Writes to the Colonel is a great book. In March 1983 the premier issue of newly revived Vanity Fair arrived: those early issues (pre-Brown) were extraordinary. The March ’83 issue (shout out to editors Richard Locke, Pat Towers, Wayne Lawson and Don Guttenplan) contained among other treasures (such as Edward Said and Tim Page with two essays on Glenn Gould) the entirety of Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I thought it was the best thing he’d ever done and I still think so. His Nobel Prize acceptance speech is also a great piece of literary criticism, on the implications of so-called “magical” realism.
And if you want to know where it ALL began (as the Firesign Theater people used to say, only they thought where it all began was “back on the isle of Lesbos”) — where magical realism, that is, began — read the very great Juan Rulfo’s short novel, Pedro Páramo, and his brilliant short stories, collected in The Burning Plain. These two short volumes are the only books Rulfo ever published. They are overwhelmingly good, in the classical sense, the sense in which we think Sophocles is good.
Since the Kansas City JCC and Jewish nursing home killings — it so happens I swim nearly every day at a JCC in my town, and my father-in-law has just entered The Jewish Home for the Aged in Riverdale, with my wife over there nearly every day — I am lost again in this concept of “hate crime.” It has seemed to me, since they thought this one up in the late 80s (that’s a guess-memory), that there is no way for this concept on the local or federal level to withstand constitutional scrutiny. If I shoot you and kill you, I have committed murder, and once convicted I will serve the time normally allotted. It can’t be MORE of a crime if I kill you because I hate you, your group, your skin color, your convictions. These are not acts, these are beliefs.
We did not demand, before ratifying the constitution, the first ten amendments, ccommonly called “the Bill of Rights”, because we thought all the nice people with nice convictions and nice things to say should be protected from the majority. We thought dangerous people with unpopular convictions and infuriating things to say needed that protection.
Am I missing something here, legally, constitutionally? Has the concept never come before the Supreme Court for adjudication? I feel like going out and committing a (mild) hate crime just to make a test case. My wife would be furious. My older sons would be disgusted. My young one would be a little heartbroken. So I won’t.
Meanwhile this Missouri Klansman is a hard case. He’s been spouting this stuff in public places and online for years. Somewhere like Germany, a dignity-based legal system rather than a rights-based legal system (my friend Joyce Hackett gave me that distinction) this dude would have been in jail already years ago, and those people would not have been shot and their families would not be wrecked with this catastrophe, from out of nowhere.
And yet, I like the freedom better. It is expensive. It hurts. But every time some terrifically guilty person is not imprisoned because the rule of law does not allow him to be imprisoned, we are not made weaker as a society. We are made stronger. This may be the last domain of American courage. It seems to me that the designation of “hate crimes” is exactly what the founders meant to protect us against.