back from oblivion! CHANDLER BROSSARD!
Where’s Kissinger? Good question–turn the book over:
There he is, eating a baby. That’s Henry Kissinger.
This novel was written in the early 70s by a very outraged novelist, and so I thought it might be helpful to write an introduction for younger readers:
HOW TO READ RAGING JOYS, SUBLIME VIOLATIONS,
With your eyes, you fucking moron. But that’s not Chandler Brossard’s type of humor. Let’s try this: with J. Edgar’s nipple in your mouth and your hand on your crotch. That’s more like it. As Steven Moore in his introduction to the collection of short seizures this novel was removed from via heat sought precision strike would have us believe, Brossard’s mind was at work like a G.I. parachute worn by an ape descending on Lafayette Park over this whole work that comes across as an off the cuff series of juvenile jismics written by a pissed off boot camp failure who didn’t get to kill any gooks.
Where is the art in that?
To which is answered fuck you by Brossard, from Nicaragua six or seven years before the Sandinistas did have Uncle Sam removed, after first inserting in his narrative what he calls »…a conventional realistic description of the scene in the jungle.« Then the fuck you:
Va bene. Traditional literary demands have been met. The illusion of physical reality has been created. Atmosphere and all that. Sociopolitical implications and details have been cannily supplied. The age-old bourgeois writer-reader arrangement has been carried out. And to what end? Smugness and self-deception, aesthetic and political status quoism, cultural and humanistic fraud, and endless spectatorship empathy—these are the ends of such trickery and brown-nosing…(and he returns to his absurdist montagery, from which emerges a contemporary Tom Paine:) …we shall enthusiastically swim swollen torrents of blood, even if the blood happens to be our own, to destroy the black-hearted aggressor, however clothed he may be, in sheep’s wool or Brooks Brothers suits.
But does that not date the novel, cast Brossard back to…to…to…well, wherever they’re keeping Petronius? Yes, it certainly does, which is all the more reason to get our heads out of our asses and try our best to recall the circumstances of that self-insertion, for if you know your history of the wars in Vietnam, and you’ve been alive long enough to have heard of the Reagan regime, you might want to check in with Brossard for help deciphering that riddle.
Let me take a step toward the grandiose: reading Raging Joys, Sublime Violations and emerging from the artfully pleasant romp strangely yet enraged and seeking more Brossard, failing to sleep that very night as the collocation cluster bomb colloquializes your brain to the point you find the threat is real, then you are on the path toward understanding how devastating an act it was for a nation to put its collective head up its ass, and to take a further step, reading Brossard’s two big novels, Wake Up, We’re Almost There, and As the Wolf Howls at the Door. [Here I literally break off to smoke a cigarette on the balcony until Dylan quits mocking me with his do you, Mr. Jones.]
Once the US was crawling with humans. Empathy and disillusionment were wide awake and collaborating. The bombing of Asians, which, oddly, just a decade earlier was a vestige of World War II and sure the US had changed sides and was propping the Jap sympathizers in Korea, but what with all the new maps and formulae for Greek fire–so effectively used on commies in Greece—who could be expected to nip-pick?, the bombing of Asians was no longer a natural reflex of US history and what with all the nuke talk and Berlin tirades it surely seemed strange to be chasing peasants in collectible hats with helicopters, gunning them down in rice paddies, setting jungles on fire. What had they done that Castro had not? And for that matter, what had Castro done? (And might it be a good idea.)
Yet the task here is not to dig so deep as to find reason for a surge of humanity among a sector of the US citizenry, but to figure out where it has gone. Reading Raging Joys, one suspects Brossard was early to cast a deeply suspicious eye on his government and very early to realize his fellow citizens would adapt rather than persist in attempting to draw attention to their outrage.
I wonder if he is answering me in this paragraph: »A fat green lizard slowly crawled up the wall. In no way was our knee-to-knee dialogue altered by this. He was there and we were here. Only a misguided hegemonist would have attempted to exploit these discrete phenomena. Symbolism gone berserk is a malady of our times. Phenomenological chastity is the only known cure. That or inkless pens.« Or if it is as simple as Richard Nixon’s response to the announced national essay contest on »How Napalm Has Helped Me Love God«, upon hearing which, Nixon »whipped out his cock, grinning wildly, and started fucking a big bowl of mashed potatoes.«
More or less, this novel follows a social scientist around the world, from northwestern Europe, to Nicaragua, Washington D.C., and, most oddly, Minorca, where the book ends (one of the mantras that was delivered up by the war was ‘bomb them back to the stone age’, and in that there may be a clue to Brossard’s mad methods). Actually, more oddly is probably Mont Blanc, where he must deal with the »overdue crisis…the sexual needs of mountain climbers,« which establishes the mix of absurd research, text haunting warriors of repute such as Maxwell Taylor and McGeorge Bundy, US pop culture with its characteristic white phosphorous economics, and straight out of the mouth comments on the progress and tactics of the Vietnam war.
The question as to how to read the book has something to do with the familiarity readers born during the Reagan years and onwards may lack with the full football squad of names that are each resonant in their own particular ways to those who lived through those years and/or studied the war in Vietnam. Remember the war began in 1953, when Ed Lansdale, The Quiet American, arrived in anticipation of French defeat, which occurred in 1954. He was sent by the Dulles brothers, and the names flow on through the Kennedy and Johnson years—Rusk, McNamara, Rostow—each of whom is as memorable in one way or another as Dick Cheney is now. (To have lived through all that and witnessed Negroponte rising from the grave under Baby Bush is a horror difficult to get across.) Then, of course the folie a deux of all follies: Nixon and Kissinger. My own hatred of Kissinger runs so deep that if there is no hell one will have to be created with room enough for his corpse and my soul. This guy is so odious and so beloved by evil forces he has survived full length books by both Seymour Hersh and Christopher Hitchens. Brossard, limited by the sheer number of fascists on the team, hasn’t much time to mock Henry, but establishes his credentials and, as we certainly suspected, reveals that Kissinger’s great disappointment was that a Novel Prize is by no means an Oscar.
Less ironically than I would like, it is to film I must turn to begin to guess what contemporary readers bring to a book like Brossard’s. I can think of two pop culture films that have established bland, saccharine lies that Brossard would not tolerate, yet would welcome into his satirical, absurd take on the world of US empire. First, the Ken Burns 10 part documentary on Vietnam, which I turned off as soon as I heard the narrator’s second sentence: »It was begun in good faith, by decent people, out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War miscalculation.« I could read that in Brossard’s book, if spoken from a vagina that sends radio program speeches from politicos, but I can’t hear that presented as history. The war was begun by people who maintained faith in colonialism throughout and despite the humiliations of the Second World War, meaning the French, who refused to give up their Indochinese colonies, despite the peaceful entreaties of Ho Chi Minh, and the fact that they could not afford a war if that’s what it came down to, as it did because of their imperial intransigence and the very accurate Cold War calculation by the United States that money in Europe was well spent by the emergent imperial power. The war picked up significantly in 1946; by 1950, the US was paying for at least 80% of the cost of the war to the French. Good people with good intentions? In 1954, when the French set up their defeat in the mountains at Dien Bien Phu, the US struggled with the decision whether or not to use nuclear weapons to alleviate the pressure on the French. If they did not, it was because they had the CIA at work in the south and plans of their own that excluded the rest of the world. Following the defeat, a conference in Geneva established a plan for a peaceful transition to a democratic Vietnam that would be inaugurated by the national election of 1956. Knowing that in that election Ho Chi Minh would win fairly and by a landslide (hard not to type Lanssdale there) the US frantically sought to establish a regime that they could prop in the South, that they could establish as an anti-communist country (that slicing had appeared to have worked in Korea). They found Ngo Dinh Diem, who, through manipulative effort unmatched in the conflict, they kept in power until 1963, which brings us to the second popular film, Oliver Stone’s JFK, which forcefully makes an argument that Kennedy was killed by plotters in his own government, for which, of course, there need be motive, and which Stone finds in a single tepid memo from an ambiguous context of ambiguous content that runs contrary to all of Kennedy’s own behavior. The memo suggested to Stone what is as such accepted as fact by far too many people, that Kennedy was killed because he intended to begin withdrawing from Vietnam. This despite something our man Brossard brings up twice in his novel, that a month before he was assassinated, Kennedy gave the order to have Diem and his brother brought down by coup and subsequently assassinated.
Burns and Stone are not right wing propagandists, yet what they and a series of inevitable failures of thought or victories of oligarchic scheming have brought about is an hallucination that passes for reality. Though Brossard does take a couple swipes at the press, this Vietnam War was their heyday—and if they only uncovered one My Lai when we now know they were quotidian affairs, they did report atrocities. Leap ahead in time to Baby Bush and his push for the Iraq war, which every journalist knew was bogus, though none dared speak up.
What happened? Did the weight of horrific subversion of thought break the capacity for thinking? Steven Moore credits Brossard with foresight for his scene in Nicaragua: I wonder if Moore noticed that Brossard made reference twice to jelly beans, Reagan’s favorite fruit, which one who suffered grievously under Reagan could not fail to see as visionary.
Yes, the lasting disease of the Vietnam War is its droning presence, its fine tuning into the elevator music score to our history, which miracle was effected by the fairy dust brought to the overtaxed teary eyes of the guilty. Only by fated accident of time and place did Reagan not put Hitler’s death factories back together again.
And so we have Chandler Brossard unloosed, National Purpose Panties, ‘Columbia, Gem of the Ocean’ played by two monkeys on a machine gun, Kissinger wiping his »steaming brow with a piece of an old nonaggressive pact«, flicking a dirty scruple off his sleeve, undeniable truths such as that the entire nation of Laos »is not worth the cock of one Kansas farm boy!« (hard to argue with that), new things to scream upon orgasm like my new one, »Furiakisaki wants some seafood, mamma!«, Jacquie Kennedy getting doggie fucked in her first porno film while Jack arm wrestles Ari Onassis while getting a lengthy blow job from a redhead continuing even as he gets the damning report on Diem that leads to the death order, all of which we certainly had coming as, please admit it, we »paid for more rounds of drink than Wellington fired at Waterloo.«
Happily, some collateral damage occurs. J. Edgar Hoover swishes by in drag, this written long before Hoover’s homosexuality was public knowledge, but only about seven years before it was known in academic circles, for, coincidentally, I was told at a sociology conference in Boston of a sociologist who had been jailed by the FBI on the black until he agreed to remove the chapter in his book that revealed not only that Hoover was gay, but how he operated at work (he sucked but wouldn’t be sucked) (executive toilets).