Hello, It’s Me.
My Medium posts are recently shaping up to be different than I had expected. I’ve recently been writing more about what I’m experiencing personally, in the moment.
So what’s happened today?
I woke up at 3 am. (This happens more frequently than I’d like. More frequently than it should.) We live in the city. The light from the house next door shines through our bedroom window — through the closed blinds — at 3 am, daily. Over a year ago we bought something to block out that light. I still haven’t taken the time to put it in place. Maybe it’s time.
I’m going to say a few things about the two Hari Kunzu novels beginning with White Tears.
Both White Tears and Red Pill feature narrators characterized by weakness, impotence, and confusion. For White Tears the narrator is Seth, an otherwise uninteresting person who has become the sidekick of a wealthy, popular college kid. For Red Pill the narrator is a writer who has accepted a fellowship at the Deuter Center for Social and Cultural Research in Wannsee, Germany, leaving his wife and child behind in the U.S. He’s trying (thought perhaps not hard enough) to find himself. And he’s failing.
And, perhaps by implication, we are all trying (not hard enough), and failing. These narrators are the personification of a liberal/progressive spirit that has become lost and is struggling, but not hard enough, and trying, but not hard enough, to find its way. The personal odysseys of each of these narrators are journeys characterized by an entirely uncertain duration and outcome. Odysseys on which we have collectively embarked, whether we realize it or not, culminating in some future state that at present we cannot possibly know or understand.
In both novels the story that first unfolds is a kind of feint, offering a way into a mach larger journey, and a much larger, darker reality that we may or may not be seeing or hearing.
In White Tears, the protagonist’s odyssey seems at first to be about an audiophile who finds meaning in music and in the sounds unheard and ignored by the many and the powerful. The “sound of music” here is no Rodgers and Hammerstein sort of thing. Instead, these sounds — including the hiss and crackle of vintage vinyl records and the magic of the musician’s performances they’ve captured — are likened to the persistent truths of a forgotten past, sounds of history Marconi thought he’d be able to hear if only he had a microphone with sufficient sensitivity.
The violence of an earlier era has now become the violence of a system that bestows wealth, fortune, and station on a few while destroying those who cannot pay with money but will pay with time, with their lives. White Tears is about music, artists, class, and race. About the all-too real systemic racism, brutality, inequity, and violence, obscured in the U.S. for so many in the white majority by time and hundreds of years of entrenched injustice. Obscured not at all for those the system was never designed to serve in the first place.
Red Pill’s unreal reality explores a different subject. What seems at first to be a story about a writer who cannot find his way turns out to be a tale of fascism, surveillance, control, and the rise of a pervasive political malaise that may or may not be unfolding, everywhere.
Both novels deconstruct, reconstruct, and dismantle yet again a reality that is perhaps subjective, perhaps not, using temporal shifts, memory lapses, and a loss of perspective about what is real, what is not, and what may be more real than reality itself.
Kunzru says, in this NYTimes Book Review podcast, that these two books are two thirds of a trilogy. He’s given us Red & White. His next novel, he says, is Blue: “Blue Ruin”— which he says will be about the visual arts. Upon the trilogy’s completion he’ll have covered language and literature, music, and the visual arts, offering through these novels a very different sort of patriotism that connects humanity and the arts with the human search for meaning.
With novels, he says, “You can change scale all the time;” you have the ability, to zoom out, to think and write in terms of big systems, and you can also zoom in, to think and write about the individual and the individual’s experience and mental and emotional state. “With the ground shifting under our feet,” the novel has “become a good form.”
He’s certainly right about that.