Saturday, November 27, 2010

Class Warfare

Part of the inexorable pull the mystery genre holds for you is the ongoing implication that "they" cannot always get away with "it;" "they" may get away with "it" sometimes, but never completely; there is always something to spoil the completeness of "their" getting a free pass.  You understand that this smacks of such concepts as karma, cosmic retribution, even divine retribution--that there is indeed a personification of justice somewhere as a hungry animal wanting its evening meal.  You also understand that a great many of "them" get way with "it," they have as well a kind of built-in mechanism to defend this tendency.  The tendency is variously called entitlement, privilege, and power.

Down these mean streets, Raymond Chandler wrote, a man must go...thus the step forth from the primordial ooze of entitlement and corruption to a working class hero, a kind of secular dybbuk, someone who stands against the mashed potato dam of entitlement, poke at it, incurs great risk and precious little reward for doing so except for a kind of inner satisfaction that resonates within you each time you complete the reading of a well-crafted mystery novel.

The mystery novel is primal, you believe; it is the basic myth of any individual who has any thought about someone else.

In recent days, you have just completed reading Dennis Lehane's excellent, engrossing mystery, Moonlight Mile, in which the male protagonist--for there is also his counterpart, Angie--hopeful of a job with an old line Boston investigations firm, is told in so many words that although he is an excellent investigator (and we see numerous examples of how true this assessment is), he is also afflicted with class rage.  As this behavior is described to our protagonist (because we have taken to him immediately, heart and soul), we understand how accurate the charge is, how understandable his class rage is, and how we discharge segments of our own class rage by buying into the basic construction pattern of the mystery novel.  You, as a writer, are particularly willing and able to ante up in this game.  Your own cards relate to your own status and your upward and downward visions, those you see and are thus aware of, those you act out rather than act upon.

You are fond of the mystery because it allows you a vicarious sense of having a chance at a favorable outcome; you've attempted mysteries of your own in the past without allowing yourself to see the implications, leading you--yawn--down the same old path of thinking to chose some aspect of the mystery formula without any true investment in the causes inherent in the formula.

At last you are embarked on a mystery with a broader scope of emotional vision.  Your enemy is every bit the personification of entitlement as the entitlement specter upstaging all the characters in Alan Sillitoe's short story, "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner," wherein the winner of the race is entitlement when it should have been pure, raw ability.

It takes years of pounding words in and crossing the less evocative ones out to present the merest sense of technique.  It takes years of pounding at the shell of class myths that have formed about you in the manner of plaque forming on teeth, calcifying, becoming in fact calculus.  You needed and still need to scale away at the protective coatings that were passed out to you from about youth onward, much the way cigarette samples were passed out at the schools you attended as a student.  You had already reached the degree of snobbery where, unless you were broke and desperate, you shunned the Camels and Chesterfields and Lucky Strike samples for English cigarettes, Players and Craven A's, or the Turkish Murads and Fatimas.  You need to see beyond the shell, into the belly of the dragon, which in this case is the dragon of snobbery.

This is not a recasting of yourself or your beliefs in the sense of self-improvement.  There is so much improvement necessary that you could not hope to undertake it; the key instead is to see what these class myths have led you to believe or not believe, how they have led you to behave, how different and how similar the you of today is to the you who would not be seen smoking a Camel or least of all a Lucky Strike unless he were truly desperate, and how he rationalized not the desperation but the snobbery.

Your way of avoiding the mystery, after five or six of them, was to confess to having no plausible motive to kill of another person, not even a character.  You are still there, which is where some lesson awaits you, pawing at you like a puppy eager to be recognized.

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