The Great American Novel

RothColonel Chichikov relates how his experiences with American capitalism provided Stalin with this classic witticism:

From each according to his stupidity, to each according to his greed.

I have to admit that when I read this passage in Philip Roth’s The Great American Novel, I was confused: although the witticism is attributed to Stalin, it seemed to fit the current Republican Party much better than pre-war Communism in the USSR.

In fact, the more I read Roth’s novel, the more it illuminated the current political situation in the United States. How do you gain power, power to control the population? Lies, character assassinations, spreading fear, promoting myths, creating enemies, developing hatred and fear.

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Richard Wright, Black Boy

Black BoyBlack Boy is routinely listed as Richard Wright’s autobiographical novel. But it’s important to realize that this work is not an autobiography or even a memoir: it is fiction. As such the author is free to use the elements of his life as grist for his fiction, but we should always read his story with the understanding that the events and characters in the novel may sometimes be manipulated for effect if they actually even occurred (emphasize: IF they are even remotely related to actual events).

A novel such as Black Boy should never be relied upon to tell the truth about a life and often cannot even be relied upon to project the essence of a life (although often fiction does a much better job of portraying truth than any non-fictional account).

Overall, I enjoy reading Wright; he’s certainly not the best writer and his narrative techniques are pedestrian at best. But Wright does a good job of portraying the black experience and for that reason he is a must read.

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Playing Red Indians

JawsJames Bond, who miraculously survives death while undergoing extreme torture in Casino Royale, is resigning his position in the British spy business. Having recently earned his Double-0 status by killing in cold blood when on the job, Bond sees that it isn’t really easy to differentiate the good guys from the bad guys anymore. As Bond was being tortured, the bad guy Le Chiffre spoke of “playing Red Indians.” Although not politically correct for today, back then half my life was dedicated to running around the neighborhood playing Cowboys and Indians. You too? Remember that one day you were a good cowboy and the next day you were a savage Indian? But every day it was still you … were you personally a good guy or a bad guy?

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Who are the enemies of the State?

There is a point in John Le Carré’s novel, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, where a young English woman is confronted by a female guard in an East German prison. The guard’s statement is short but rich in political irony:

“The English! The rich have eaten your future and your poor have given them the food—that’s what’s happened to the English.”

Is this not a perfect description of the Republican Party here in the United States in the 21st century?

poverty