terça-feira, 29 de junho de 2010




Family and Nation
     The ancestors of Jorge Luis Borges were among the first Europeans to arrive in America. Explorers, conquistadors, founders of cities, and rulers of provinces, they were builders of the vast empire that Spain was to establish in the New World. Gonzalo Martel de la Puente followed Pizarro in the conquest of Peru, Domingo Martínez de Irala won Paraguay for the Spanish Crown, Jerónimo de Cabrera founded the city of Córdoba in Tucumán, while Juan de Garay secured the settlement of the remote township of Buenos Aires. However, Borges himself was indifferent to these connections: "The Iralas, the Garays, the Cabreras and all those other Spanish conquistadors who founded cities and nations, I have never dreamed about them.... I am quite ignorant about their lives. They were people of very little intelligence-Spanish soldiers, and from the Spain of those times!"
     The ancestors Borges dreamed about were the men who had broken with Spain and had fought to create the Argentine nation. On his mother's side, Francisco de Laprida was president of the congress that declared the independence of the "United Provinces of South America." General Miguel Estanislao Soler commanded a division in the patriot army that the great Argentine liberator, San Martín, led across the Andes to free Chile and then Peru from the Spanish yoke. On his father's side, Juan Crisóstomo Lafinur was one of the first poets of Argentina and a friend of Manuel Belgrano, a founding father of the nation. Among Borges's papers there survives a postcard depicting Lafinur (proudly identified with a cross by the young Jorge Luis) standing in the foreground of the picture as General San Martín is being received by the National Assembly of the new republic.
     The most romantic of all Borges's ancestors was undoubtedly Isidoro Suárez, a great-grandfather on his mother's side. At the age of twenty-four, Suárez led the cavalry charge that turned the tide of battle at Junín, the second-last engagement in the liberation of South America. The battle took place on August 6, 1824, high up in the Andes of Peru, and the lofty silence of the snowcapped peaks was broken only by the clash of lance and sword, for no guns were used in combat by either army, and the patriots defeated the Spaniards in little under an hour. Suárez's heroism won the praise of Simón Bolívar himself, who declared that "when history describes the glorious Battle of Junín ... it will be attributed to the bravery of this young officer." And it was Bolívar who promoted Suárez to the rank of colonel after the young officer again distinguished himself at Ayacucho, the battle that finally put paid to the rule of Spain in America.
     Borges conceived of the War of Independence as a "rupture in the continuity of the bloodline," a "rebellion of sons against their fathers." His family, after all, took great pride in being criollos, people of pure Spanish descent born in America, but the meaning of independence, in Borges's view, lay in the fact that the criollos had "resolved to be Spaniards no longer:" they had made "an act of faith" in the possibility of creating a national identity distinct from that of Spain, and it followed that if the Argentines did not persevere in the struggle to forge this new identity, "a good many of us" would "run the risk of reverting to being Spanish, which would be a way of denying the whole of Argentine history."
     The movement toward independence in the area now comprising modern Argentina was spearheaded by Buenos Aires. An important reason for the city's historic role is to be found in the strategic position it occupies on the estuary of a mighty river system that reaches right up into the heart of South America. This huge estuary was first discovered by Spanish explorers searching for a westward passage to Japan. In 1536 the first settlement, called Santa María de los Buenos Aires, was established on its right bank, but it succumbed to Indian raids, and it was not until 1580 that the town was founded on a permanent basis by the conquistador Juan de Garay. By this time the estuary was known as the Río de la Plata, the "River of Silver" (distorted since in English to "River Plate"), thus called because the Spaniards believed that deposits of silver could be found on its shores. No silver was discovered, however, and for the next two hundred years, Buenos Aires was to languish as an outpost of empire in a forgotten corner of the Americas.
     The tiny settlement was all but engulfed by vast plains, empty save for herds of wild cattle and horses that roamed the pampas, as these plains were called. These herds were hunted by tribes of nomadic Indians and plundered for their meat and hide by freewheeling horsemen of Spanish descent called gauchos. Otherwise the colony subsisted on the illegal exchange of silver from Peru for African slaves imported from Brazil. Only in the late eighteenth century, when advances in shipbuilding made it economical for Spain to communicate directly with the region, did it become possible to exploit the strategic position of Buenos Aires, and in 1776 the city was made the capital of the new viceroyalty of Río de la Plata. This relatively sudden promotion of Buenos Aires transformed the geopolitics of South America-all the Spanish territories (except Venezuela) that lay to the east of the Andes were obliged to sever a connection with Peru that went back 250 years and deal thenceforward with the upstart port city to the south. In this historic wrench lay the fundamental cause of the bloody conflicts that would bedevil the area for most of the nineteenth century.
     After the first revolt against Spain in 1810, Buenos Aires would struggle to maintain its authority over the provinces comprising the former viceroyalty. It failed to prevent Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay from going their separate ways, and even though the remaining provinces came together to declare independence from Spain at the Congress of Tucumán in 1816, there followed a long period of instability as the interior provinces continued to challenge the authority of Buenos Aires. The basic dispute was between the liberal unitarios, who sought to create a centralized state led by Buenos Aires, and the more conservative federales, who favored a confederation of provinces that would preserve as much local autonony as possible. The lack of effective nationwide institutions led to endless power struggles between caudillos, or provincial chieftains, of both conservative and liberal persuasion, who employed gaucho cavalry (montoneros) to further their own ends. Both sides of Borges's family were unitarios, and in his celebrated "Conjectural Poem," he recalled the murder of his ancestor Laprida, onetime president of the Congress of Tucumán, by the montoneros of Felix Aldao, a caudillo of the province of Mendoza.
     Eventually there appeared a caudillo strong enough to impose some order on this chaos. In 1829 Juan Manuel de Rosas, a wealthy landowner and a strong advocate of federalismo, became governor of the huge province of Buenos Aires, and over the next six years he acquired enough power to become the effective leader of the "United Provinces." In the city of Buenos Aires, a bastion of liberalism, Rosas instituted a reign of terror designed to wipe out the unitarios. He created a secret organization known as La Mazorca that recruited servants to spy on their masters and formed death squads to root out opponents. Rosas also enlisted the support of the clergy, who preached blind loyalty to the caudillo and allowed his portrait to be displayed in the churches. He gained immense popularity with the lower classes, and a hysterical personality cult came into being-the color red, the color of the federales, was worn on sashes and banners, and slogans such as "Long live the Federation! Death to the filthy, savage unitarios!" became tokens of loyalty to the supreme leader. After Rosas achieved total power in 1835, those liberals he did not manage to eliminate he drove into exile abroad.
     The privations endured by Borges's family under the dictatorship of Rosas were indeed horrible and outrageous. Colonel Suárez, the "Hero of Junín," was forced into exile in Uruguay, where he died in 1846. One of the colonel's brothers was shot against the wall of the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires by agents of the Mazorca. The man's eleven-year-old son was forced to watch the execution, after which the boy had to find work in a tavern, since there was no one to look after him. Thanks to Rosas, the family of Borges's grandfather, Isidoro Acevedo, lost their estates in the north of the province of Buenos Aires near the town of Pergamino. Isidoro's father joined a rebellion against Rosas but was taken prisoner and put to work in the tyrant's stables for nine years. One night the Mazorca raided the family home, horsewhipped Isidoro's mother and sacked the house. The two oldest daughters managed to escape but lost touch with their family for several years and ended up living in Brazil. Isidoro's mother took her three remaining children to Buenos Aires, where she was forced to earn a living as a seamstress mending trousers for Rosas's soldiers. Grandfather Isidoro used to tell a gruesome story about how, as a boy of ten, he came across a cart covered by a tarpaulin and, taking a peek inside, found the bloody heads of dozens of men killed by the Mazorca. He was so shocked that he was unable to speak for several hours after he got home. When he grew up, Isidoro became an unitario like his father and joined the struggle to overthrow Rosas.
     The tyrant was finally deposed in 1852, when his many enemies united to defeat him at the Battle of Caseros. But the victor of Caseros was yet another caudillo, General Urquiza, the boss of the rival province of Entre Ríos, who managed to topple Rosas with the support of Brazil, Uruguay, and the exiled unitarios. Being himself a federal, Urquiza passed a new constitution providing for a confederation of provinces, though under a strong presidentialist regime. The unitarios refused to accept this federal arrangement, but they were defeated by Urquiza at the Battle of Cepeda in 1859. Two years later the unitarios rebelled again, and this time their leader, Bartolomé Mitre, overthrew Urquiza at the Battle of Pavón, and Buenos Aires was at last accepted by the provincial caudillos as the de facto capital of the nation.
     With Buenos Aires at its head, Argentina was set upon the road of stability and modernization. In the course of the 1860s and 1870s, successive liberal presidents, Mitre, Sarmiento and Avellaneda-all former unitario leaders-put in place the machinery of a modern nation-state: an integrated judicial system, a central bank, a professional army, a system of public schools and libraries, an academy of science and other technical institutions. The Argentine economy was geared toward the export of wool, meat, and wheat for the industrial centers of Europe, and this required the progressive privatization and enclosure of land in the pampas. Successive governments actively promoted European immigration with the aim of developing a rural middle class to replace the gauchos and the Indian hunters on the open range. Foreign capital was invested in the construction of a modern infrastructure of communications and transport. The British in particular would build new docks in Buenos Aires and a railway network across the pampas designed to consolidate the export economy by linking up the hitherto fractious provinces to Buenos Aires and, through the port city, to the world outside.
     Domingo Sarmiento, who became president in 1868, was a prominent liberal intellectual and the author of one of the most influential books in Argentine history, Facundo: or, Civilization and Barbarism, a book in which the liberal vision of the nation's destiny was most fully expressed. Originally published in 1845, at the height of the struggle against Rosas, Facundo takes the form of a biography of Facundo Quiroga, a famous caudillo who pursued a violent career in the aftermath of independence until he was killed in 1835, almost certainly on Rosas's orders. Sarmiento argued that Argentina could be saved from this chaotic "barbarism" only by adopting the modern "civilization" of the European Enlightenment.
     By "barbarism" Sarmiento meant the lack of stable government based on legitimate authority. He argued that barbarism was rooted in the pampas because the great plains were so underpopulated that the people who lived there lacked the habits of social coexistence that provide the basis for civilized values. In this sense the gaucho was a barbarian because he led a life of anarchic individualism in which he resorted to force in order to assert his will. This made him the ideal tool for the ambitions of regional caudillos, whose power struggles had led to the anarchy that had engulfed the entire viceroyalty of the Río de La Plata in the aftermath of independence.
     How could this barbarism be tamed once more? There were two forms of civilization available to the rulers of Argentina: there was the clerical civilization of Catholic Spain, which had been successful in ensuring order during the colonial period, and the civilization of the Enlightenment. The former, in Sarmiento's view, was incapable of turning back the tide of barbarism. He portrayed the inland city of Córdoba, a bastion of Hispanic traditionalism, as a somnolent relic, its venerable buildings reflected on the stagnant waters of an ornamental lake. By way of contrast, he described the vitality of Buenos Aires, standing at the mouth of the river system of the Plata, a thriving port equipped to trade in goods and ideas with the world at large. Having initiated the wars of independence, Buenos Aires could claim a historic right to lead the nation toward modernity.
     The plight of Argentina was encapsulated by Sarmiento in the vivid image of a gaucho's dagger stuck in the heart of liberal Buenos Aires. But even in Facundo one encounters an ambivalence toward the gaucho, for when Sarmiento wrote about the gaucho's skills as horseman, tracker, and wandering troubadour, he could not help but display a certain admiration for this authentic son of the native soil. The fact was that even though the gaucho might have been a "barbarian," he also represented whatever distinctive identity the young republic could claim to possess in relation to Spain. And yet, by the logic of his own argument in favor of progress and modern civilization, Sarmiento had to accept that the gaucho's traditional way of life was condemned eventually to disappear.
It was during Sarmiento's term of office as president that a book appeared which was to become the other great classic of Argentine literature.


Excerpted from Borges by Edwin Williamson Excerpted by permission.
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Borges on the Couch By DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

Borges on the Couch By DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

A Life
By Edwin Williamson
Illustrated. 574 pp. Viking. $34.95. 

     There's an unhappy paradox about literary biographies. The majority of readers who will be interested in a writer's bio, especially one as long and exhaustive as Edwin Williamson's ''Borges: A Life,'' will be admirers of the writer's work. They will therefore usually be idealizers of that writer and perpetrators (consciously or not) of the intentional fallacy. Part of the appeal of the writer's work for these fans will be the distinctive stamp of that writer's personality, predilections, style, particular tics and obsessions -- the sense that these stories were written by this author and could have been done by no other.* And yet it often seems that the person we encounter in the literary biography could not possibly have written the works we admire. And the more intimate and thorough the bio, the stronger this feeling usually is. In the present case, the Jorge Luis Borges who emerges in Williamson's book -- a vain, timid, pompous mama's boy, given for much of his life to dithery romantic obsessions -- is about as different as one can get from the limpid, witty, pansophical, profoundly adult writer we know from his stories. Rightly or no, anyone who reveres Borges as one of the best and most important fiction writers of the last century will resist this dissonance, and will look, as a way to explain and mitigate it, for obvious defects in Williamson's life study. The book won't disappoint them.
     Edwin Williamson is an Oxford don and esteemed Hispanist whose ''Penguin History of Latin America'' is a small masterpiece of lucidity and triage. It is therefore unsurprising that his ''Borges'' starts strong, with a fascinating sketch of Argentine history and the Borges family's place within it. For Williamson, the great conflict in the Argentine national character is that between the ''sword'' of civilizing European liberalism and the ''dagger'' of romantic gaucho individualism, and he argues that Borges's life and work can be properly understood only in reference to this conflict, particularly as it plays out in his childhood. In the 19th century, grandfathers on both sides of his family distinguished themselves in important battles for South American independence from Spain and the establishment of a centralized Argentine government, and Borges's mother was obsessed with the family's historical glory. Borges's father, a man stunted by the heroic paternal shadow in which he lived, evidently did things like give his son an actual dagger to use on bullies at school, and later sent him to a brothel for devirgination. The young Borges failed both these ''tests,'' the scars of which marked him forever and show up all over the place in his fiction, Williamson thinks.
     It is in these claims about personal stuff encoded in the writer's art that the book's real defect lies. In fairness, it's just a pronounced case of a syndrome that seems common to literary biographies, so common that it might point to a design flaw in the whole enterprise. The big problem with ''Borges: A Life'' is that Williamson is an atrocious reader of Borges's work; his interpretations amount to a simplistic, dishonest kind of psychological criticism. You can see why this problem might be intrinsic to the genre. A biographer wants his story to be not only interesting but literarily valuable.** In order to ensure this, the bio has to make the writer's personal life and psychic travails seem vital to his work. The idea is that we can't correctly interpret a piece of verbal art unless we know the personal and/or psychological circumstances surrounding its creation. That this is simply assumed as an axiom by many biographers is one problem; another is that the approach works a lot better on some writers than on others. It works well on Kafka -- Borges's only modern equal as an allegorist, with whom he's often compared -- because Kafka's fictions are expressionist, projective, and personal; they make artistic sense only as manifestations of Kafka's psyche. But Borges's stories are very different. They are designed primarily as metaphysical arguments†; they are dense, self-enclosed, with their own deviant logics. Above all, they are meant to be impersonal, to transcend individual consciousness -- ''to be incorporated,'' as Borges puts it, ''like the fables of Theseus or Ahasuerus, into the general memory of the species and even transcend the fame of their creator or the extinction of the language in which they were written.'' One reason for this is that Borges is a mystic, or at least a sort of radical Neoplatonist -- human thought, behavior and history are all the product of one big Mind, or are elements of an immense cabalistic Book that includes its own decoding. Biography-wise, then, we have a strange situation in which Borges's individual personality and circumstances matter only insofar as they lead him to create artworks in which such personal facts are held to be unreal.
     ''Borges: A Life,'' which is strongest in its treatments of Argentine history and politics,†† is at its very worst when Williamson is discussing specific pieces in light of Borges's personal life. Unfortunately, he discusses just about everything Borges ever wrote. Williamson's critical thesis is clear: ''Bereft of a key to their autobiographical context, no one could have grasped the vivid significance these pieces actually had for their author.'' And in case after case, the resultant readings are shallow, forced and distorted -- as indeed they must be if the biographer's project is to be justified. Random example: ''The Wait,'' a marvelous short-short that appears in the 1949 story collection ''The Aleph,'' takes the form of a layered homage to Hemingway, gangster movies and the Buenos Aires underworld. An Argentine mobster, in hiding from another mobster and living under the pursuer's name, dreams so often of his killers' appearance in his bedroom that, when the assassins finally come for him, he ''gestured at them to wait, and he turned over and faced the wall, as though going back to sleep. Did he do that to awaken the pity of the men that killed him, or because it's easier to endure a terrifying event than to imagine it, wait for it endlessly -- or (and this is perhaps the most likely possibility) so that his murderers would become a dream, as they had already been so many times, in that same place, at that same hour?''
     The distant interrogative ending -- a Borges trademark -- becomes an inquisition into dreams, reality, guilt, augury and mortal terror. For Williamson, though, the real key to the story's significance appears to be that ''Borges had failed to win the love of Estela Canto. . . . With Estela gone, there seemed nothing to live for,'' and he represents the story's ending all and only as a depressed whimper: ''When his killers finally track him down, he just rolls over meekly to face the wall and resigns himself to the inevitable.''
     It is not merely that Williamson reads every last thing in Borges's oeuvre as a correlative of the author's emotional state. It is that he tends to reduce all of Borges's psychic conflicts and personal problems to the pursuit of women. Williamson's theory here involves two big elements: Borges's inability to stand up to his domineering mother,‡ and his belief, codified in a starry-eyed reading of Dante, that ''it was the love of a woman that alone could deliver him from the hellish unreality he shared with his father and inspire him to write a masterpiece that would justify his life.'' Story after story is thus interpreted by Williamson as a coded dispatch on Borges's amorous career, which career turns out to be sad, timorous, puerile, moony and (like most people's) extremely boring. The formula is applied equally to famous pieces, such as '' 'The Aleph' (1945), whose autobiographical subtext alludes to his thwarted love for Norah Lange,'' and to lesser-known stories like ''The Zahir'':
     ''The torments described by Borges in this story . . . are, of course, displaced confessions of the extremity of his plight. Estela [Canto, who'd just broken up with him] was to have been the 'new Beatrice,' inspiring him to create a work that would be 'the Rose without purpose, the Platonic, intemporal Rose,' but here he was again, sunk in the unreality of the labyrinthine self, with no prospect now of contemplating the mystic Rose of love.''
     Thin though this kind of explication is, it's preferable to the reverse process by which Williamson sometimes presents Borges's stories and poems as ''evidence'' that he was in emotional extremities. Williamson's claim, for instance, that in 1934, ''after his definitive rejection by Norah Lange, Borges . . . came to the brink of killing himself'' is based entirely on two tiny pieces of contemporaneous fiction in which the protagonists struggle with suicide. Not only is this a bizarre way to read and reason -- was the Flaubert who wrote ''Madame Bovary'' eo ipso suicidal? -- but Williamson seems to believe that it licenses him to make all sorts of dubious, humiliating claims about Borges's interior life: ''A poem called 'The Cyclical Night' . . . which he published in La Nacion on October 6, reveals him to be in the throes of a personal crisis''; ''In the extracts from this unfinished poem . . . we can see that the reason for wishing to commit suicide was literary failure, stemming ultimately from sexual self-doubt.'' Bluck.
     Again, it is primarily because of Borges's short stories that anyone will care enough to read about his life. And while Williamson spends a lot of time detailing the explosive success that Borges enjoyed in middle age, after the 1961 International Publishers' Prize (shared with Samuel Beckett) introduced his work to audiences in the United States and Europe,‡‡ there is little in his book about just why Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) is an important enough fiction writer to deserve such a microscopic bio. The truth, briefly stated, is that Borges is arguably the great bridge between modernism and post-modernism in world literature. He is modernist in that his fiction shows a first-rate human mind stripped of all foundations in religious or ideological certainty -- a mind turned thus wholly in on itself.‡‡‡ His stories are inbent and hermetic, with the oblique terror of a game whose rules are unknown and its stakes everything.
     And the mind of those stories is nearly always a mind that lives in and through books. This is because Borges the writer is, fundamentally, a reader. The dense, obscure allusiveness of his fiction is not a tic, or even really a style; and it is no accident that his best stories are often fake essays, or reviews of fictitious books, or have texts at their plots' centers, or have as protagonists Homer or Dante or Averroes. Whether for seminal artistic reasons or neurotic personal ones or both, Borges collapses reader and writer into a new kind of aesthetic agent, one who makes stories out of stories, one for whom reading is essentially -- consciously -- a creative act. This is not, however, because Borges is a metafictionist or a cleverly disguised critic. It is because he knows that there's finally no difference -- that murderer and victim, detective and fugitive, performer and audience are the same. Obviously, this has postmodern implications (hence the pontine claim above), but Borges's is really a mystical insight, and a profound one. It's also frightening, since the line between monism and solipsism is thin and porous, more to do with spirit than with mind per se. And, as an artistic program, this kind of collapse/transcendence of individual identity is also paradoxical, requiring a grotesque self-obsession combined with an almost total effacement of self and personality. Tics and obsessions aside, what makes a Borges story Borgesian is the odd, ineluctable sense you get that no one and everyone did it. This is why, for instance, it is so irksome to see Williamson describe ''The Immortal'' and ''The Writing of the God'' -- two of the greatest, most scalp-crinkling mystical stories ever, next to which the epiphanies of Joyce or redemptions of O'Connor seem pallid and crude -- as respective products of Borges's ''many-layered distress'' and ''indifference to his fate'' after various idealized girlfriends dump him. Stuff like this misses the whole point. Even if Williamson's claims are true, the stories so completely transcend their motive cause that the biographical facts become, in the deepest and most literal way, irrelevant.
*Of course, Borges's famous ''Pierre Menard, Author of the 'Quixote' '' makes sport of this very conviction, just as his later ''Borges and I'' anticipates and refutes the whole idea of a literary biography. The fact that his fiction is always several steps ahead of its interpreters is one of the things that make Borges so great, and so modern.
**Actually, these two agendas dovetail, since the only reason anybody's interested in a writer's life is because of his literary importance. (Think about it -- the personal lives of most people who spend 14 hours a day sitting there alone, reading and writing, are not going to be thrill rides to hear about.)
†This is part of what gives Borges's stories their mythic, precognitive quality (all cultures' earliest, most vital metaphysics is mythopoetic), which quality in turn helps explain how they can be at once so abstract and so moving.
††The biography is probably most valuable in its account of Borges's political evolution. A common bit of literary gossip about Borges is that the reason he wasn't awarded a Nobel Prize was his supposed support for Argentina's ghastly authoritarian juntas of the 1960's and 70's. From Williamson, though, we learn that Borges's politics were actually far more complex and tragic. The child of an old liberal family, and an unabashed leftist in his youth, Borges was one of the first and bravest public opponents of European fascism and the rightist nationalism it spawned in Argentina. What changed him was Peron, whose creepy right-wing populist dictatorship aroused such loathing in Borges that he allied himself with the repressively anti-Peron Revolucion Libertadora. Borges's situation following Peron's first ouster in 1955 is full of unsettling parallels for American readers. Because Peronism still had great popularity with Argentina's working poor, the exiled dictator retained enormous political power, and would have won any democratic national election held in the 1950's. This placed believers in liberal democracy (such as J. L. Borges) in the same sort of bind that the United States faced in South Vietnam a few years later -- how do you promote democracy when you know that a majority of people will, if given the chance, vote for an end to democratic voting? In essence, Borges decided that the Argentine masses had been so hoodwinked by Peron and his wife that a return to democracy was possible only after the nation had been cleansed of Peronism. Williamson's analysis of the slippery slope this decision put Borges on, and his account of the hatchet job that Argentina's leftists did on Borges's political reputation in retaliation for his defection (such that by 1967, when the writer came to Harvard to lecture, the students practically expected him to have epaulettes and a riding crop), make for his book's best chapters.
‡ Be warned that much of the mom-based psychologizing seems right out of ''Oprah'': e.g., ''However, by urging her son to realize the ambitions she had defined for herself, she unwittingly induced a sense of unworthiness in him that became the chief obstacle to his self-assertion.''
‡‡Williamson's chapters on Borges's sudden world fame will be of special interest to those American readers who weren't yet alive or reading in the mid-1960's. I was lucky enough to discover Borges as a child, but only because I happened to find ''Labyrinths,'' an early English-language collection of his most famous stories, on my father's bookshelves in 1974. I believed that the book was there only because of my parents' unusually fine taste and discernment -- which verily they do possess -- but what I didn't know was that by 1974 ''Labyrinths'' was also on tens of thousands of other homes' shelves in this country, that Borges had actually been a sensation on the order of Tolkien and Gibran among hip readers of the previous decade.
‡‡‡ Labyrinths, mirrors, dreams, doubles -- so many of the elements that appear over and over in Borges's fiction are symbols of the psyche turned inward.
DAVID FOSTER WALLACE’S most recent books are ‘‘Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity’’ and ‘‘Oblivion: Stories.’’

Borges and the Foreseeable Future By Noam Cohen

Borges and the Foreseeable Future By Noam Cohen
     The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges might seem an unlikely candidate for Man Who Discovered the Internet. A fusty sort who from the 1930s through the 1950s spent much of his time as a chief librarian, Borges (1899-1986) valued printed books as artifacts and not just for the words they contained. He frequently set his stories in a pretechnological past and was easily enthralled by the authority of ancient texts.
     Yet a growing number of contemporary commentators — whether literature professors or cultural critics like Umberto Eco — have concluded that Borges uniquely, bizarrely, prefigured the World Wide Web. One recent book, “Borges 2.0: From Text to Virtual Worlds” by Perla Sassón-Henry, explores the connections between the decentralized Internet of YouTube, blogs and Wikipedia — the so-called Internet 2.0 — and Borges’s stories, which “make the reader an active participant.” Ms. Sassón-Henry, an associate professor in the language studies department of the United States Naval Academy, describes Borges as “from the Old World with a futuristic vision.” Another work, a collection of essays on the topic from Bucknell University Press, has the provocative title “Cy-Borges” and is expected to appear this year.
     Among the scores of Borges stories, a core group — including “Funes the Memorious,” “The Library of Babel” and “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” — first appeared in the United States as “Labyrinths” in the early 1960s. With their infinite libraries and unforgetting men, collaborative encyclopedias and virtual worlds conjured up from the printed page and portals that watch over the entire planet, these stories (along with a few others like “The Aleph”) have become a canon for those at the intersection of new technology and literature.
     New Directions, the publisher of “Labyrinths,” reissued the collection in May, for the first time in more than 40 years. In a sign of the changing times it includes an introduction from William Gibson, the cyberpunk author. (The original, by contrast, came with a preface from André Maurois of the Académie Française.)
     By 1955 Borges had lost his sight yet was appointed director of the National Library of Argentina. Assessing his predicament (the digital age predicament) of having access to so much information and so few ways to process it, Borges wrote in “Poem of the Gifts,” “No one should read self-pity or reproach into this statement of the majesty of God, who with such splendid irony granted me books and blindness at one touch.”
     What follows are excerpts from prophetic Borges short stories — translated by Andrew Hurley in “Borges: Collected Fictions” (Penguin Books) — and examples of those prophesies fulfilled.

     Infinite Encyclopedia
     Then “Who, singular or plural, invented Tlön? The plural is, I suppose, inevitable, since the hypothesis of a single inventor — some infinite Leibniz working in obscurity and self-effacement — has been unanimously discarded. It is conjectured that this ‘brave new world’ is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebrists, moralists, painters, geometers, ... guided and directed by some shadowy man of genius. There are many men adept in those diverse disciplines, but few capable of imagination — fewer still capable of subordinating imagination to a rigorous and systematic plan. The plan is so vast that the contribution of each writer is infinitesimal.” “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (1940)
     Now Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia project that began in 2001, now has a total of more than nine million articles in more 250 languages. There are more than 75,000 “active contributors,” many of whom remain anonymous. As it grows and becomes ever more influential, its operating logic remains a mystery. A favored saying among Wikipedia’s contributors is: “The problem with Wikipedia is that it only works in practice. In theory, it can never work.”

     Life Is Like A Blog
     Then “Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day; he had never once erred or faltered, but each reconstruction had itself taken an entire day. ‘I, myself, alone, have more memories than all mankind since the world began,’ he said to me. ... And again, toward dawn: My memory, sir, is like a garbage heap.” “Funes” (1942)
     Now The path from diary to blog to the frequently updated “microblog” has now descended to “life-logging.” Not content merely to record their thoughts or even daily activities, life-loggers record and preserve everything they see, hear, say and read during the day. The world-recognized early adopter is Gordon Bell, a 73-year-old computer programmer who wears an audio recorder as well as a tiny camera that snaps a picture every 60 seconds. A 2006 profile in Fast Company described Mr. Bell as at one time being “worried about filling up his hard-drive space too quickly.” He adds a gigabyte of information a month and figures that an average 72-year-old person would require one to three terabytes, “a hefty amount of storage.”

     Nothing Is Forgotten
     Then “I was struck by the thought that every word I spoke, every expression of my face or motion of my hand would endure in his implacable memory; I was rendered clumsy by the fear of making pointless gestures.” “Funes” (1942)
     Now There once was a time when a poet could assert that “the revolution will not be televised.” But today, of course, even a politician’s informal meet-and-greet will be recorded for posterity. Senator George Allen of Virginia learned this in 2006 when a tape of him calling his opponent’s videographer a “macaca,” a racially tinged epithet, spread like a virus across the state and, soon, the world. He lost his re-election bid.

     Universal Library
     Then “From those incontrovertible premises, the librarian deduced that the Library is ‘total’ ... that is, all that is able to be expressed, in every language. ... When it was announced that the Library contained all books, the first reaction was unbounded joy. All men felt themselves the possessors of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal problem, no world problem, whose eloquent solution did not exist.” “The Library of Babel” (1941)
     Now In announcing that an ambitious international project to digitize universities’ book collections had passed the 1.5 million mark, one of its organizers, Raj Reddy, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, proclaimed in November: “This project brings us closer to the ideal of the Universal Library: making all published works available to anyone, anytime, in any language.” To others, the Internet itself is the Universal Library, where readers can search for recipes, medical treatments, barroom trivia or perhaps even Google themselves.

Borges on Pleasure Island By RIVKA GALCHEN

Borges on Pleasure Island

     Little is quite as dull as literary worship; this essay on Borges is thus happily doomed. One finds oneself tempted toward learned-sounding inadequacies like: His work combines the elegance of mathematical proof with the emotionally profound wit of  Dostoyevsky. Or: He courts paradox so primrosely, describing his Dupin-like detective character as having “reckless perspicacity” and the light in his infinite Library of Babel as being “insufficient, and unceasing.” But see, such worship is pale.
     And problematic as well. More than any other 20th-century figure, Borges is the one designated — and often dismissed as — the Platonic ideal of Writer. His outrageous intellect is cited as proof of either his genius or of his bloodless cerebralism.
     But Borges did have some mortal qualities. He lived most of his life with his mother. He loved detective and adventure novels. (His first story in English was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.) Though he started to go blind in his 30s, he never learned to read Braille. And in his later years he made some unappealing political remarks about being happy that, following the military overthrow of the Perón government, “gentlemen” were again running the country. (Perón, to be fair, had “promoted” Borges from head of the National Library to head of poultry inspection.) Such remarks are perhaps why he never won the Nobel.
     But perhaps Borges’s most glorious and provocative “fault” was that he lived to be 86 and never wrote a novel. “It is a laborious madness, and an impoverishing one,” he wrote, in the introduction to a 1941 collection of his short stories, “the madness of composing vast books. . . . The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them.”
     He certainly did read vast books, however. For us Borges may be the ur-writer, but he thought of himself primarily as a reader; writing was just among the most intensely engaged ways of reading. In his essay “Literary Pleasure,” reprinted in ON WRITING (Penguin Classics, $15), one of three new Borges anthologies appearing this month under the general editorship of Suzanne Jill Levine, he says of his youthful reading — “the greatest literary joys I have experienced” — that he “believed everything, even errata and poor illustrations.” Reading was faith; writing a call-and-response form of prayer. To love a text: isn’t that just to find oneself helplessly casting about for something to say in return?
     Which brings us back to worship. If serial rereading is one way to define worship, then one of Borges’s most revered gods was Robert Louis Stevenson. This even though in Borges’s time, Stevenson’s work was basically considered kid stuff. The first seven editions of the Norton Anthology of English Literature do not deign to include Stevenson, though he finally surfaces in the eighth edition, published in 2006. Borges not only commented on books that didn’t exist. He read books — pulpy and arcane alike — that few others bothered to see.
     The Stevenson book Borges revisited most often was “The Wrecker,” a relatively obscure novel that Stevenson wrote with his stepson. Published in 1892, “The Wrecker” is a story of high seas adventure, high stakes speculation and high interest loans; it’s part mystery novel, part adventure novel, part mock Künstlerroman. The title refers to the practice of auctioning off the remains of wrecked ships along with any recoverable cargo, which is, yes, an irresistibly resonant metaphor for neglected books.
     On the surface, “The Wrecker” could hardly resemble a Borges story less. At 500 pages, and full of incident, “The Wrecker” has the feel of a 27-course Victorian feast, served on a table crowded with doilies and finger bowls and odd utensils whose functions we can’t even imagine; Borges’s stories are more like truffle oil. Stevenson can barely go a page without mentioning bankruptcy, smuggling or sea captains; Borges, though he writes of bar fights and criminals, more often mentions Zeno’s paradox and the “Annals” of Tacitus. In the false dichotomy of the sword versus the pen, Stevenson is red and Borges black.
     The main character in “The Wrecker,” Loudon Dodd, is a wealthy, untalented, unglamorous and highly likable young American man who cares nothing for his unearned money and longs for the life of an artist. Dodd goes to Paris to become a sculptor, fails at that, abruptly loses all his money, becomes involved in a series of wild business adventures through his charismatic friend Pinkerton, and eventually finds himself entangled in a maritime adventure involving opium trading, bunk stocks, debt and deception. All this adventure, it is almost explicitly said, eventually makes of him a kind of artist, or at least his life a kind of work of art, if a very pulpy one.
     So why did Borges read and reread “The Wrecker”? What was it that he believed every detail of? And how was his own writing a way of reading Stevenson’s sacredly profane text? Borges’s readerly attention re-invents Stevenson, just as his writerly attention created those vast unwritten books that Borges chose not to write, but just to imagine and comment on.
     Dodd and the other characters often marvel at how their lives have become as full of surprise and drama as a dime novel, and this is, basically, a happy thing. It’s as if to say that here, finally, are circumstances that do justice to the scope and scale of my emotions. It’s the idea of the objective correlative, done extra boyishly. In “The Wrecker,” the hyperbolized material world measures up to the outsize passions of the heart.
     Think of it this way: there is a vast unwritten book that the heart reacts to, that it races and skips in response to, that it believes in. But it’s the heart’s belief in that vast unwritten book that brought the book into existence; what appears to be exclusively a response (the heart responding to the book) is, in fact, also a conjuring (the heart inventing the book to which it so desperately wishes to respond).
     In his work, Borges achieves a related effect, by different means. Stories like “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” and “The Book of Sand” refer to epic plots, but it’s the ideas and erudition, more than the action, that are colossal. Time, eternity, infinity and dreams — these are the only subjects commensurate to the passions of this quiet man who lived in Buenos Aires and in Geneva, though mostly in the vast nutshell of his own mind.
     In “The False Problem of Ugolino,” an essay on Dante not included in “On Writing,” Borges quotes from an essay by Stevenson that makes the rather Borgesian claim that a book’s characters are only a string of words. “Blasphemous as this sounds to us,” Borges comments, “Achilles and Peer Gynt, Robinson Crusoe and Don Quixote, may be reduced to it.” Borges then adds: “The powerful men who ruled the earth, as well: Alexander is one string of words, Attila another.” The great deeds of the past may become no more than words, and no more than words are necessary to summon a power as grand and enduring even as Quixote or Achilles.
     Among the vast books that do not really exist, and that Borges has commented on, are the innumerable pages of the future. Borges’s work answers the unanswerable weight of his reading, the boyish and the arcane at once. The pages of both what he wrote and what he only traced the shadows of present us with their own wavering interrogations; we are happy and afraid to be lost amid our insufficient and unceasing responses. Borges created his precursors, even Stevenson. We still do not know how to create Borges.
Rivka Galchen is the author of the novel “Atmospheric Disturbances.”

segunda-feira, 28 de junho de 2010

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross -Excerpt

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross

     WHEN DAVID PEPIN FIRST DREAMED of killing his wife, he didn't kill her himself. He dreamed convenient acts of God. At a picnic on the beach, a storm front moved in. David and Alice collected their chairs, blankets, and booze, and when the lightning flashed, David imagined his wife lit up, her skeleton distinctly visible as in a children's cartoon, Alice then collapsing into a smoking pile of ash. He watched her walk quickly across the sand, the tallest object in the wide-open space. She even stopped to observe the piling clouds. "Some storm," she said. He tempted fate by hubris. In his mind he declared: I, David Pepin, am wiser and more knowing than God, and I, David Pepin, know that God shall not, at this very moment, on this very beach, Jones Beach, strike my wife down. God did not. David knew more. And in their van, when the rain came so densely it seemed they were in a car wash, he boasted of his godliness to Alice, asked rhetorically if a penis this large and this erect (thus exposed) could be anything but divine, and he made love to his wife angrily and passionately right in the front seat, hidden by the heavy weather.
     He dreamed unconsciously and he dreamed sporadically. His fantasies simply welled up. If she called from work, he asked, "Did something happen?" If she was late coming home, he began to worry too soon. He began to dream according to her schedule. "Taking the train today?" David asked in the morning. "Taking the train," Alice said. It was a block west to Lexington where she'd pick up the subway down to 42nd Street. At Grand Central, she'd take Metro-North thirty minutes to Hawthorne, where she taught emotionally disturbed and occasionally dangerous children. Anything could happen between here and there. On the edge of the platform, two boys were roughhousing. The train came barreling into the station. An accidental push. Alice, spun round, did a crazy backstroke before she fell. And it was over. David winced. The things that went through his mind! From their window, he watched Alice walk up the street. A helicopter passed overhead. On Lexington, at the building under construction, a single girder was winched into the sky. And David imagined this was the last time he would ever see his wife-that this was the last image he'd have of her-and he felt the sadness well up and had the smallest taste of his loss, like the wish when you're young that your parents would die.
     There could be no violence. It was a strange ethics attending his fantasy. He dreamed the crane tumbling, the helicopter spiraling out of control, but he edited out all the terror and pain. There was Alice, underneath the wreckage, killed instantly or sometimes David was there, by her side, inserted just before the fatal moment. He held her hand, they exchanged last words, and he eased her into death.
     "David," Alice said, "I love you."
     "Alice," David said, "I love you too."
     Her eyes glassed over. There could be no violence. But occasionally David became a Walter Mitty of murder. He dreamed his own agency.
He did it. He shot Alice, he bludgeoned her, he suffocated her with a pillow. But these fantasies were truncated; they flashed in his mind, then he cut them off before the terminal moment because he never surprised her in time. He saw her recognize him as he came round the corner with knife, bat, or gun, felt her hand grip the arm that held the pillow over her face-and it was all too terrible to contemplate.
     "Whale!" he screamed at her, because she was enormous. "Goddamn blue whale!" (She'd struggled mightily with depression but was now back on meds.)
     When they argued, they were ferocious. They'd been married to each other for thirteen years and still went for jugulars and balls.
     "Genius," she said.
That drove him nuts. He was a lead designer and president of Spellbound, a small, extremely successful video game company. People in the industry called him a genius all the time, but during moments of doubt David confessed to her that the games they produced were inane at best, mind-killing-to his and to the kids who played them-at worst.
     "I wish you were dead!" David screamed.
     "I wish you were dead too!"
     But this was a relief. The desire was mutual. He wasn't alone.
     Later, after the quiet time, he apologized. "I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't talk to you like that."
     "I'm sorry," Alice said. "I hate fighting with you."
     They held each other in the living room. It was evening now and there were no lights on in the apartment. For hours they'd been sitting separately in the dark.
     His love for his wife was renewed. How could he think the things he'd thought? They took a shower together; it was one of their favorite things to do. He put his arms against the walls and she lathered his back, cleaned the cheeks of his ass and behind his ears. When she shaved his face, she unknowingly mimicked his expression. Afterward, she ran a bath.
     "You know who I was thinking about today?" David said. Things between them still felt delicate, bruised, and he wanted to make conversation.
     "Dr. Otto."
     She glanced at him and smiled sadly. Whether it was the associations his name conjured up or how long ago it was that they'd sat in his class-it was where they'd first met-he couldn't be sure. At the moment, David was sitting on the edge of the tub, Alice's ankle in hand. He had soaped down her calf and was shaving it carefully. Hair grew in different directions in different spots.
     "Have you spoken to him?"
     "Not for years. I read in the quarterly that his wife passed away."
     "I'm sorry to hear that."
     "I'm sure he's had a hard time."
     "And who hasn't?" Alice said.
     She completely filled up the bath. Her triceps swelled out separately, like a pair of dolphin fins; her breasts floated like twin islands. And she had the most beautiful face, the longest, finest chestnut- colored hair, and fabulous hazel-colored eyes. But she'd grown huge, and David didn't pity her, though he knew it was difficult for her to carry the weight. At her maximum this year she'd reached 288 pounds. She'd bought a digital scale (doctor's orders) that flashed bright red numbers. She'd weigh herself in the morning as soon as she woke up, her hair hanging over her face as she stared between her feet.
     "I wish I were dead," Alice said.
     And he wished her thin for her own happiness, but for himself he wished she remained fat. He loved the giganticness of her, loved to hold on to her mountain of ass. If he made love to her from behind, he imagined himself an X-rated Gulliver among the Brobdingnags. It was the difference in proportion that turned him on. Closing his eyes, he exaggerated her size, made himself extra small, David holding on, his arms outstretched, smashing into her rear for
life, life, life. She was not his wife but a giant she-creature, an overlarge sex pet: his to screw, groom, and maintain. After they made love, she lay facedown on the bed, palms turned up toward the ceiling, eyes glazed open and body motionless (the weight had not deformed her, only intensified her curves, widened her like the Venus of Willendorf), Alice shot dead by David's potent love.
     There were no children. In the end, it had been her choice.
     "I was talking with Marnie the other day," Alice said.
     David, working in his study, minimized the screen. "And?"
     "She's pregnant."
     Alice waited. David waited too. He put his elbow on the desk and rested his chin in his hand.
     "And they just found out that their second child is going to be a girl," Alice said.
     "They only have a two-bedroom apartment."
     "Go on."
     "And the son, he can't share a bedroom with the daughter. But they can't afford a bigger place."
     "So they're going to have to move out of the city."
     David took off his glasses, gently placed them on the table, then got up, walked to their bedroom, and leaned on the jamb.
     "Can you imagine?" Alice said. She was focused on the TV;
The Man Who Knew Too Much was on A&E. They looked at each other, smiled knowingly, then she turned back to the screen. She was deep into her second sleeve of low-fat Ritz crackers, halfway through her second bottle of wine. Crumbs lay across her chest and stomach like snow. At the edge of her lips were two upturned, grape-colored tusks.
     David walked over and hugged her. When he squeezed, the crumbs on her shirt crunched.
     "I'm glad it's only us," David said.
     "Oh, David," she whispered, and pulled him to her. "Sometimes I don't know why you love me."
     It didn't help everything, but it helped.
     There was nothing left unaccounted for in David's mind. He kept a running tab of his beneficent deeds, his good husbandry. Yet what occurred to him after he'd made her happy was: Why can't I always be this good? Why can't I be here with her completely now?
     It was because of the book, he realized as he sat down at his desk again and brought it up on-screen. The book preoccupied him, gnawed at him. This book, unfinished, was always there. He'd started it just over a year ago, as an idea for a video game, but it had grown into something more. It was his top secret and he worked on it like a double agent, when she was out, when she was doing the dishes or surfing the Web-marriage's half-blind times. David kept the manuscript in a large box under the desk in his study. The writing had been a process of fitful stops and starts, of bursts and binges, of terrible dead ends. He was stuck now, stuck badly, but he refused to give up. The structure was complex, perhaps overly so, but the story was impossible to tell straight. Stymied, he had to step away from it for long periods at a time. He ignored it for weeks and weeks on end. He often worried there was nothing there; then he came around, sure that there was. And after Alice fell asleep, he sometimes wandered back to his study and took it out of the box to have a look. There's something about hard copy that a screen could never convey. He had a test he liked to take. It was the mark of a strong narrative that any page plucked by chance should be gripping, should pull the reader along like a current. David read one. It was gripping! It
did pull! A new idea occurred to him, a new direction to follow, possibly a way around this impasse. He thought for a moment, then found the chapter and wrote down several notes.
     "David," Alice said. "What are you doing?"
     "Nothing," he said, and stood still.
     "Then come to bed."
     He put the box back under the desk. He'd write tomorrow morning, first thing. In bed, sentences flashed like meteors in his mind.
     But the next day their brightness had dimmed. While it wasn't clear to him why one night should make such a difference when it came to inspiration, it did.
     It was also not clear to him how Alice had put on the weight. She began their marriage at a ripe 165, a big woman to begin with, large- boned, tall, five foot eleven in bare feet; by their thirteenth year, 288. It wasn't clear to David how this had happened because her diet was so strictly limited. She was allergic to shrimp, mussels, oysters, escargot-anything with a shell. At a dinner party once, she accidentally ate a dropperful of clam sauce, and the hives she broke out in, white at their tops and pink at the base, swelled her eyes closed and turned her arms into a crazy moonscape. Her breathing was shallow. There was a doctor in the house. He happened to be allergic to bees (Alice was too) and he hit her with a shot of adrenaline (she'd forgotten her EpiPen), and she quickly deflated and lost her spots. Cashews were out, almonds, macadamias, all out of the question. Peter Pan peanut butter might as well have featured the skull and crossbones on the label. Alice rationed her poisons every day. She had a checklist on the refrigerator door, with a small table at the bottom of the sheet for her numerical conversions: a little of this, divided by that, times a little of this. Substitute mushrooms, subtract the difference for the grapefruit. It was an allergic person's algebra, David thought, watching her tabulate before her meal, a subdiscipline of alchemy.
     His love for his wife was renewed. When Alice ate, she leaned over her plate and chewed dreamily, staring into blankness, a void that hovered just off to the side of David's left breast. Every few bites, she tucked her hair neatly behind her ear-her mind running through fields, eating always relaxed her-and youthfulness was restored to her features. She was the young woman he had married. With a bit of imagination-Alice was now thirty-five-he could make out the girl she was before they'd met. He didn't disturb her. She was very hungry. How could he have dreamed of losing her?
     In one fantasy, he saw himself at her funeral. Mourners surrounded him, besieging him with condolences. During the service, people spoke about her beautifully, though she was such a loner, David thought, he wasn't sure who they'd be. Later, Alice was interred, the oversized casket lowered into the ground. Then all he saw was himself, sitting there bereft. He couldn't imagine what he would do afterward. He might as well be like that little dog, Greyfriars Bobby, and sleep by her grave. Pepin shuddered. He was here to support her. His love for his wife was renewed. And then one day, Alice began to lose weight.
     BEFORE ANY UNDERTAKING, Detective Sheppard thought, we have our rituals. Like deep knee bends before a run or a hitter's crotch grab as he steps up to the plate. Efforts to prime the pump. The mind, body, and soul's preshot routine. Habit's comfort, Sheppard thought, loading his pipe, and habit's effect. The carpet worn down from our usual route through the house. Gums brushed away from the teeth over time. Tastes we've sampled so often we can't detect them anymore. At the police station, Sheppard spied an old whore putting on makeup, fascinated by the delicacy with which she painted on her lipstick, how she held the mirror out before her as if she were aiming a precision instrument, turning her head from side to side in the small reflection, checking her work, then snapping the compact closed and dropping it in her bag, ready to hear charges.
     Murder, Sheppard reflected further, is an interruption of habit, or its culmination.
     But before any undertaking, Sheppard thought, even an interrogation, the same motions apply. We orbit, we repeat. Already Detective Hastroll would be sitting before the one-way glass, staring down the suspect, thrilling, Sheppard imagined, to his own invisibility. It was always remarkable to Sheppard that you could feel Hastroll feeling you when you entered a room. Hastroll kept his back to him, staring down the suspect all the while, thrilling and analyzing and focusing. And yet there was that subtle reaction Sheppard noticed as soon as he stepped inside, not a move on Hastroll's part so much as a transmission of energy. Like something electrical. It was almost as if he could feel Hastroll blink in slow disgust at his arrival.
     "What do you think?"
     "Guilty," Hastroll said flatly. "Guilty as sin."
     Sheppard stood next to his partner. Behind the glass, the suspect, David Pepin, sat weeping.
     "You could at least go either way on this one, Ward-a shadow of a doubt, at least. The man's in an authentic state of distress."
     "Guilty," Hastroll said, his huge humped shoulders hunched. "Guilty distress."
     "How about aggrieved distress?"
     "Guilty, guilty, guilty."
     The two men gazed at the suspect for a time.
     “Good cop first or bad cop?”
     “You go,” Hastroll said.
     There is the same thrill of one- way glass, Hastroll thought, as in hearing the sound of your voice recorded. Or catching sight of yourself in the background of a photograph. Or passing yourself on a television screen in an electronics storefront—a peep of a view as your image walks toward you. For you are always a secret to yourself, Hastroll thought. But there are glimpses and hints and clues.
     Sheppard entered the interrogation room and sat directly across from Pepin.
     “Don’t even ask me,” Pepin cried. “I didn’t kill my wife!”

Excerpted from Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross Copyright © 2010 by Adam Ross. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.