Monday, 23 January 2006

What "Everyone Knows" About NAMBLA and Historical Methodology [X-posted to the Valve.] Reading through the complete (online) works of the handsome Benoit Denizet-Lewis, I found the following paragraph (warning: long) on the North America Man/Boy Love Association: Curley family attorney Larry Frisoli flatly compares NAMBLA to the Mafia. "NAMBLA is a criminal organization that teaches its members how to rape kids," he says in a conversation in his Cambridge office. "To say that age-of-consent laws should be changed is fine; it's legal. But to actually encourage and assist in the abuse of children is illegal. If you look at The Godfather , in the '40s and '50s, the Corleones always got up there and said, 'We don't exist.' Yet they did exist. And NAMBLA does exist. And it has tiers of membership. And like the Mafia, the question becomes how much can you blame the Godfather for what the foot soldier on the street is doing?" The evidentiary standards set by Curley family attorney Larry Frisoli lack a little something in the substance department. To prove that a conspiracy of pedophiles exists in the face of overwhelming evidence that it doesn't, Frisoli compares it to the fictional counterpart of La Cosa Nostra. One could say that this tactic works on the analogical level because "everyone knows" that Puzo based the Corleone family on LCN. But shouldn't what "everyone knows" be based on fact instead of fictionalization? Shouldn't the Curley's attorney appeal to the inner-workings of LCN instead of what Puzo imagined them to be? Otherwise Frisoli transfers to what he believes an actual conspiracy the attributes of Puzo's fictional one. The oversimplification involved in such a move isn't merely explanatory either. Unlike a scientific analogy intended to communicate the complexity of a process by baby steps, Frisoli's analogy is an end unto itself. No further learning involved: If NAMBLA is structured like La Cosa Nostra, then it is a criminal conspiracy. Frisoli invokes The Godfather not to explain the workings of a more complex network but to explain away the complexities of any bureaucratic organization . . . by pointing to an imaginary one in which all actions are intentional and all consequences the result of premeditation. "Everyone knows" that Michael Corleone is responsible for the infamous Baptismal Bloodbath. Thus "everyone knows" that all pederasts intend to kill the likes of Jeffrey Curley. From analogy to intention to conviction via a single fictional leap. As much as this particular analogy bothers me—and lest I be misunderstood by those who could only want to misunderstand me, I'm not defending Curley's murderers nor NAMBLA here—what bothers me more is the insistence on the logic of what "everyone knows." Because not "everyone knows" all that much about anything. At least that's what it seems like today. But irony of ironies: My dissertation is predicated on the notion that there are some things that "everyone knows" and that these things are so pervasive they appear in almost all the literary and popular writing of the period. So when reading a surprisingly (given...
The Stoning of Adam Roberts, Part II: Science Fiction and the Picaresque-esque Rich's characterization of Stone as a "Vancian picaresque" seems fundamentally sound to me . . . so long as you drop the "Vancian." Much as I appreciate Vance as a stylist, his novels lack the narrative drive and voyeuristic characterization typical of a picaresque. Without delving into the horrors determining whether the picaresque is a mode or a genre would entail, the two identifying characteristics of a picaresque are: a sympathetic rapscallion for a protagonist who moves from place to place as he or she (but really mostly "he") wears out his or her (ditto) welcome Simple enough? The picaresque allows an author like Henry Fielding—whose Tom Jones is considered the finest example of the picaresque in English—to forefront the novelty of places from which his pícaro is sequentially expelled while showcasing his authorial wit without falling into the trap of the modern picaresque-esque: the collapse of the protagonist into an authorial persona. Now I call this "modern," but it originates with the Romantic lionization of the author as life-experiencer extraordinaire. The prototypical contemporary picaresque-esque would be something like Kerouac's On The Road : an abundance of pointless movement by a narrator/author who's sympathetic without being particularly likeable. I have -esqued the picaresque here because On The Road points to the reasons why the picaresque cannot survive outside of science fiction anymore. How many millimeters of narrative distance does Kerouac establish between himself as author and Sal Paradise as narrator? Four? Fourteen? Metaphorical imprecision aside, Fielding never had to worry that people would mistake him for Tom Jones. Kerouac encouraged people to mistake him for Sal Paradise. The distance required by the picaresque is absent because "I Am Author Hear Me Roar" has become a defining assumption in contemporary literary fiction. Not so in science fiction. In Stone Adam is able to create a narrator for whom direct authorial identification begins as "unlikely" before quickly veering into "impossible." (Unless Adamette has something she would like to share with the class.) He estbalishes the distance necessary to create a viable picaresque narrator then proceeds to toy with the reader's sympathies for the better part of 316 pages. The tension between flat declarations of genocidal tendencies and the sympathy Stone's sharp and knowledgeable narrator provokes always resolves in favor of the latter over the former. We sympathize because facts are facts but people in piteous situations are people. In piteous situations. That Ae is a charming wit aids in this identification immensely. The identification is now with Adam via Ae's proxy. It is with Ae. Directly. Despite ourselves. To state something boldly: I believe this kind of narrative can only exist in science fiction novels now. (Prove me wrong. I dare you. And would appreciate the feedback.) I now yield the floor to commenters . . . since I think the sheer length of Rich's post may have dissuaded some people from commenting on it.

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