The Double Dealers, Chandler Brossard
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The Double Dealers, Chandler Brossard

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The fifth Brossard from corona\samizdat is the richest in terms of literary goods. The introduction by Zachary Tanner is unparalleled in my long history of reading inroduction. I think Sartre's biography of Flaubert might have been as good. The novel itself is a surprising masterpiece, surprising in that it is far beyond the simplistic novels that were deemed the best the US had to offer during the early 50s when this was written.  There is nothing wrong with The Old Man and the Sea, but it is in the juvenile league compared to this complex and stunning work. Then there is the afterword by Brossard's duaghter Iris, which reads like an extraordinary short story, that leaves self-analysis to the reader who can't decide whether it is all too sad or ultimately hilarious. And that cover!

Quantity

 

 

the Janus-faced nickel even

Rimbaud couldn’t have dreamed up

 

an introduction by Zachary Tanner

 

 

The month after we received permission to reprint this novel (for the first time ever with Chandler Brossard's original title1 to boot!), I received an email2 from the captain of the Brossard Studies flagship, Steven Moore, whose idea it was (as with our edition of The Wolf Leaps3, aka Did Christ Make Love?) to use the better, unpublished, author's preferred title:

 

I just finished reading Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde—one of those classics I had never got around to reading when young—and was startled to see Stevenson use "double dealer" in the same sense that Brossard does. The compound word has been around since the 16th century, and I'm not suggesting Brossard was inspired by Dr. J & Mr H (though I'm guessing he read it at some point), but the entire two-page passage I've attached resonates so well with what Brossard's characters are up to that it might be worth pursuing. This passage occurs near the beginning of the final chapter, if you want to find the context.

 

The passage in question:

 

"…I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life. Many a man would have even blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of; but from the high views that I had set before me, I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame. It was thus rather the exacting nature of my aspirations than any particular degradation in my faults, that made me what I was, and, with even a deeper trench than in the majority of men, severed in me those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man's dual nature. In this case, I was driven to reflect deeply and inveterately on that hard law of life, which lies at the root of religion and is one of the most plentiful springs of distress. Though so profound a double-dealer, I was in no sense a hypocrite; both sides of me were in dead earnest; I was no more myself when I laid aside restraint and plunged in shame, than when I laboured, in the eye of day, at the furtherance of knowledge or the relief of sorrow and suffering. And it chanced that the direction of my scientific studies, which led wholly towards the mystic and the transcendental, reacted and shed a strong light on this consciousness of the perennial war among my members. With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not only truly one, but truly two.4

 

Fast-forward seven months, and as I'm rereading The Double Dealers, I come across this paragraph from page 33:

 

Here was Mr. Hyde or Dr. Jekyll, whichever you preferred, whichever circle of humans you happened to be in at a given moment, the figure of Harry or Eddie Brien as he was up here in the Bronx—Eddie Brien, photographer's assistant, living alone, who went with some of the boys and a couple of the girls. A kind of part-time neighborhood hanger-on, you might say.

 

A revelation! And what serendipity to think that this light was shed by the critic who just-so-happened to pick up one-of-those-classics-you-never-got-around-to-reading-when-young and just so happened to have also written, 34 years ago, most presciently of The Double Dealers (with page citations amended to the present edition):

 

"Brossard's next novel was published in 1960; originally entitled "The Double Dealers," it appeared as The Double View to much better reviews than his first two received. The original title sharpens the contrast between most of the book's characters—New York pseudo-intellectuals suffering in various degrees from a kind of cultural schizophrenia—and more straightforward characters like Shanley, "no dillier with identities, no dallier with self, a single dealer of infinite simplicity. The others dilly-dally with their identities in a number of ways: Margaret, a wealthy socialite, leads a complicated double life as an organizer of foreign charities and private orgies; Phillips has ambivalent feelings toward his Jewish heritage (as his gentile name suggests); Christopher Hawkins is a black professor who wants to be white so intently that he wears a white "skin-tight suit of long woolen underwear" and has such a tenuous grip on his identity that he is not even named during his early appearances; Rand has a doppelgänger relationship with his best friend Carter Barrows, sharing both Carter's wife and his nervous breakdown. Carter, the book's protagonist, is in an insane asylum throughout the novel, wondering when and where he took "the fatal fork in the road" that separated "his strange self and his not strange self" (130,163-164).

     The most interesting of the double dealers is Harry. Here it is worth noting that the novel was written in 1953, for it anticipates in several essentials Norman Mailer's 1957 essay "The White Negro." Harry perfectly illustrates Mailer's hipster as a "philosophical psychopath, a man interested not only in the dangerous imperatives of his psychopathy but in codifying, at least for himself, the suppositions on which his inner universe is constructed." An intellectual radical (who nonetheless "writes lies for an advertising agency"), Harry has decided, in Mailer's words, "to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self…to encourage the psychopath in oneself, to explore that domain of experience where security is boredom and therefore sickness." Harry leads a secret life as Eddie Brien, a vulgar small-time hood, doing no more than practicing what he preaches in an early chapter; asked what he means by "exploiting schizophrenia," he replies: "Oh that. Well, instead of destroying yourself with anxiety by repressing certain aspects of your whole self, aspects that conflict with the so-called moral self, why, it would be better to try to express them all. For example, if you have some criminal desires, become a part-time thief, or at least let the emotion have some badly needed exercise. See what I mean?"

     As good as his word, Harry goes from entrapping and mugging some out-of-towners to knocking over a bowling alley with his small gang, and finally to raping Margaret and burglarizing her apartment with two other masked assailants. Harry's actions are a dramatization of Mailer's notorious definition:

 

Hip, which would return us to ourselves, at no matter what price in individual violence, is the affirmation of the barbarian, for it requires a primitive passion about human nature to believe that individual acts of violence are always to be preferred to the collective violence of the State; it takes literal faith in the creative possibilities of the human being to envisage acts of violence as the catharsis which prepares growth.

 

No growth, however, takes place; three double dealers are destroyed or debilitated during this climactic scene, and only the single dealer Shanley escapes unharmed.

     The masked murder is a convention of Elizabethan drama, including The Revenger's Tragedy, the closing lines of which supply the epigraph to Brossard's novel. In fact, the numerous parallels between these two works are instructive: like the play, the novel has a dramatic structure, eschewing prosaic transitions in favor of jump cuts to scenes of dialogue or internal monologues that read like theatrical asides. The characters in both play and novel frequently resort to disguises and live in the same climate of moral corruption. And like Middleton, Brossard is a stern moralist; his dust-jacket remarks on his novel apply equally to The Revenger's Tragedy: "I like to think of The Double View as a stringently moralistic work. It tries to show what happens when people lose sight of God; when they begin to use each other, the way we use commodities, rather than love each other; and what happens when a person does not know truly who he is and what he should do on this earth." Just as Vindice the revenger becomes tainted with evil in the very process of seeking revenge and thus must be destroyed, Harry likewise perishes, as much from a "failure of belief" (129) as from a policeman's bullet. Harry had rationalized his crimes with a variant of Ivan Karamazov's challenge: "In a society which has no meaning, Hawkins, my boy, what could be a more appropriate gesture than ours?"

     A more constructive attitude is taken by Carter, who struggles to learn how authenticity slipped through his fingers:

 

"Failure of belief must have been the reason I'm here now, otherwise why would any one wish to leave a world, or anything else, that he believed in? Question before the accused is, how to regain Belief and in what. Without that there is simply no point in accused leaving present address. One is not required to have anything here (the asylum) except a pulse. In the place I left, outside, living without belief is even crazier than it is in here, and I know. At what point did I lose it and why? That's what must be discovered. The fatal fork in the road."

 

On the same night Harry and his cohorts execute their burglary, Carter escapes from the asylum with his black friend (an act that looks back to Huckleberry Finn and forward to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and plans a similar bloody revenge against his unfaithful wife and friend. But at the very moment he plans to consummate the deed, "a beatific, transcendent lucidity" illuminates him—conveyed in sexual imagery—and he lays down his knife in order to return "back down that long, long highway, to the fatal fork in it, to the town where he was born, where the wrong direction had been chosen or forced upon him…he would return to the particular fragrant spawning street of his childhood and begin there to search for the person he had been."

     The Double View is a nervy, compact book written with economy and a flair for unusual imagery, accomplishing in fewer than two hundred pages what Brossard's friend William Gaddis spent nearly a thousand pages doing in The Recognitions (admittedly in greater depth), namely to chart a pilgrim's progress from hell through purgatory, leaving him poised for a paradisiacal rediscovery of authenticity and atonement.5

 

Brossard's friend, William Gaddis, yes, author of one of my favorite gigantic novels, JR, whom Chandler was Greenwich Village roommates with in the 1940s.6 If you have just returned from NOTE 6, you will see clearly how such critical grunt work and posthumous editorial mediation from Chandler's friend, Steven (to whom As the Wolf Howls at My Door is dedicated), has vastly enriched corona\ samizdat's endeavor to bring Brossard back to print, to sustain his essential creative work well into the twentieth century, to keep his novels in the hands of readers in lightweight travel editions designed to be lugged through the post-apocalypse of an impending climate tragedy of which famine, fire, and flooding are only flux forebodings of a greater runaway disaster. Who's to say? Meanwhile, I'll be reading my conveniently-sized corona\samizdat Brossard reprints and telling the people I love that I love them.

Another such email dated Fri, Jan 29, 2021, 6:06 AM reads:

 

I finally got from Syracuse Library the statement/preface that Brossard wrote for Wake Up. I'm disappointed it didn't arrive in time to add as an appendix to your edition—damn pandemic—but if you ever reprint the book, I hope you can insert it at the end. Attached is a PDF for that purpose.

 

We will hopefully include the entire essay with the next printing of Wake Up. We're Almost There, but I came across a passage that seems particularly relevant when contextualizing The Double Dealers within Brossard's ouvre.

 

To wander a bit... There was a time, in the beginning of my life as a “writer” (though I really do not think of myself as one of those, and I will go into this later) when all I wanted to do was write a good tight story about somebody doing something. In that phase of my awareness (more precisely: my novitiate in an intense and small sect) I thought that such things as good writing and good form were authentic and self-evident truths. I gradually discovered that this was nonsense, and that by submitting myself to such nonsense I was undergoing self-deception and self-maiming. These forms and rules, I learned, have their origin not in the soul or in organic ontology, but rather in socio-political areas/classes whose dynamics and epistemologies are reductive, anti-feeling, anti-chaos, and fundamentally terrified.

 

What else was he writing at in the early 50s? Moore writes in the already-plurally-referenced essay, "These Brossard dismissed as 'three-penny dreadfuls,' and although they all have occasional points of interest, they probably would not repay close study."7

    I read that when I was first writing my introduction for Wake Up. We're Almost There and decided to see for myself whether or not they rewarded careful attention, and though I found the hard way that in many cases the author's assessment of these works as Minor—when set on a shelf abreast Major Brossard: the two mammoths, Wake Up and As the Wolf Howls at My Door, The Wolf Leaps, Who Walk in Darkness, The Bold Saboteurs, Raging Joys, Sublime Violations, and all of the later, little European books posthumously collected for accessibility' sake in Over the Rainbow? Hardly: Collected Short Seizures—is quite accurate, and I agree with Chandler's self-depreciating moniker, but let us not dismiss them without briefly turning to my home library and examining some cover copy from three of my vintage paperback Brossard pulps, to let you seek them out and decide for yourself the hard way whether or not you think, given what you've thus far learned about The Double Dealers, they might greatly benefit your understanding and interpretation of, appreciation for the book you currently hold in your hand. And, on the off chance that even if you don't think they'll help you in this endeavor, perhaps, like me, you like what you find in Major Brossard, and would like to see the Chandler you love take on some of the timeless themes that obsessed him his entire career but in a style that he would later see as "self-maiming":

 

 

 

 

Paris Escort (1953)8

 

     YOUNG MAN ON THE DOWNGRADE

     AN AMERICAN GIGOLO

    This is the story of a young G.I. in postwar Paris. In cheap bars, in gaudy nightclubs, in other people's bedrooms, he finds the hidden life that only starts when a great city sleeps…and he finds how hard it is to break free from the fascination of that life and its reckless women.

    PARIS ESCORT IS AN ORIGINAL NOVEL, NEVER BEFORE PUBLISHED, OF THE ULTIMATE DESPAIR OF A YOUNG MAN WHO CHOSE TO FORGET MORALITY.

 

*

 

The Wrong Turn (1954)9

 

A JUDGE, A HOODLUM—AND A TRUANT WIFE

     BULLETIN…

    The nation's capital is buzzing today over the headlines now breaking about the beautiful wife of a noted Judge.

    Rumor has it that it will be loaded with dynamite—telling about this noted society woman who gave up the diplomatic set for a cheap hoodlum with whom she is living a life filled with narcotics, tawdry love and other incidents guaranteed for headline breaks…

         Further details will follow…

 

*

 

     Episode with Erika (1954)10

         aka All Passion Spent

 

The nightmare life of a woman and her ravening hunger for thrills

     A FEMALE JEKYLL & HYDE

    They began to dance, closely, very slowly, in their drug trance. Erika looked like herself, yet at the same time like another human being. Almost like an insane sleepwalker. I barely recognized her, in a way, so different was the change in her character. Then Erika stopped moving around and lay down on the floor and began carefully, slowly undressing herself as Vincent, so remote yet so close, watched…

   Here is an uncensored reprint of the daring best-seller (All Passion Spent) about an average young man who fell in love…and was drawn into the vortex of a life more depraved—yet irresistible—than any you have read about in recent fiction.

 

So taking this all in, what of The Double Dealers? I find much artistic merit in this novel. Were I writing to critically dissect this book rather than introduce it to a reader who may have a good time with it, perhaps a profound experience, or—as with any worthwhile novel—hopefully a little of both, I'd take some time to do such things as trace the trajectory through different players' hands of Groz's pleading letter, examine all the implications of the painting of Margaret's Grandmother Arabella who "made her bundle slave-trading, no doubt," or pinpoint the resonances between the Broyard vs. Brossard "passed Negro" drama and the character of Hawkins. Maybe even would I compare and contrast these resonances with those from Who Walk in Darkness. I'd take a character map and draw a scatterplot with the story scribbled between, there being several points from which we might unlink and try to unravel, detangle the mise-en-abyme of this psychotic, plot-based fiction. Here, as in some of his best books, we find Chandler shamelessly recycling earlier writing or perhaps writing something originally here that he shamelessly recycled in speech and literature later.11 We find explicit, often cheeky allusions to ee cummings,12 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Dickens, the Bible, and Shakespeare packed into an uncouth, flat-character-driven, situational dark comedy that will appeal to fans of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Trailer Park Boys.

    On the surface, readers who have not, such as myself, experienced the isolation of a psychotic break or watched countless friends go through the same (as if by turning 25 everyone magically, all-of-a-sudden went insane according to the genetic predispositions of their own DNA) might still enjoy this book if they appreciate the Updike of Couples, the Delillo of Americana, or the Hawkes of The Blood Oranges (one of my favorite books, but worth noting that Chandler dismissed Hawkes as "terribly self-conscious and very 'literary,' and not of any interest to me"13).

    For those with an interest in Disintegration Fiction or who suffer from the genetically unfortunate reality of insanity, you Freaks who freak at the Freaker's Ball, you are among those kindly disposed to appreciate this story, and I invite you to ponder like a two-faced Janus nickel such scenes as Janine blatantly asking Carter about the boy who jumped from the window—what made her say it!—or perhaps Hawkins near run-in with Janine and Rand—and then go back to the first page of the book—**nudge nudge** jumping around much like you did with the contorted notes of this essay **wink wink**—or your looseleaf-jotted reader's plot treatment if you, like me, use one to appreciate the Shakespearean plotting of early Brossard, and see if you don't blow right through the glass ceiling. The doubletalk dialogue in this book juxtaposed with the happen-fucking-stance of rich sociological intercourse lend a charm to early Brossard (this early Major work and the early Minor dreadfuls alike) that is reminiscent of the allure of a one-line drawing or perhaps a song with shifty lyrics that relays unique messages to each listener, each interpretation as valid as the next, all existing simultaneously in situated difference, by the power of literature and of art, thus: Society.

    I'll cut my introduction here, for fear that if I go trying to point out all the smoke and mirrors, you'll lose sight of what's really important here, which is the abyss of reflections therebetween, to see your own face on the Janus nickel, both faces inside your head, separate but equal, not mutually exclusive, not symbiotic, not complimentary, just there, the enervation of remembering that you are a Witnessing and an Experiencing self and you're never not both at the same time.

    We are what we do when no one is looking; so what happens when we learn something of someone we know (Vera Cartwheel v. Miss MacIntosh)14, or worse, love, that we can't shake, something that can't be unseen/unheard that forever alters our perception of them, perhaps something they've done when they didn't know we were looking?

 

SM: This religious/moral impulse seems to be especially strong in The Double View. Yet that book seems also to be sending out conflicting signals. On the one hand, it argues for freedom from repression by living out one's fantasies, and yet everyone who does so in the book is destroyed for doing just that.

 

CB: Well, I think that's a classic existential dilemma, isn't it? (46)15

 

What else before you dive into this maniacal little book? A proper New York introduction, how about? For, like Zorn the stage, Chandler commands the page like a hometown comic a Manhattan night club, and anyone who can't hang, who "doesn't know the difference between a whiskey sour and a Virginia Woolf suicide note,"16 who isn't here for the music, can get the fuck out! So to prove a point, without further ado…

        

This is the Masada String Trio, and we are not going to play one note of music until every one of these photographic leeches get the fuck away from the stage. Good-by! Every one of you. Get the fuck out of here. Good-by! Not one fucking note. Go!... Someone say it in Polish. Wypierdalaj! How do you say, "Get the fuck out?" Wypierdalaj! Wypierdalaj! Go. No, good-by; no, good-by; come on. Good-by. Good-by. We're here to play music for the audience. We're not here to have our fucking picture taken. Good-by. You too! I don't care who the fuck you are, get out of here. Or what color your hair is dyed. Good-by, all of you. Erik Friedlander on cello…Greg Cohen on bass…Mark Feldman…We are the New York Jews, motherfucker.17



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