Filed under: brave new world | Tags: america, greed, hobo, identity, money, myth, Native Indian, theft
In the following excerpt from an interview with author Luc Sante is a wonderful view of the relationship between being free and being a criminal. Very topical, don’t you think, with all the free criminals running around? — and also running things, come to think of it.
It describes a lonely American journey to – I’m not quite sure, fulfillment perhaps. The journey begins with an act of radical emancipation from the world and identity. The new blank slate allows the sojourner to establish a completely new and infinitely more desirable identity. In theory and lore it ends there with the traveler having left behind his ignominious past and realizing his dream of fantastic wealth and honor and bad taste.
But the journey rarely ends as the theory describes it – the dream of riches and happiness. Rather the journey that began in delusion ends in despair.
We all want a good life and some of us more than others. In all of us is a need to hide the ugly qualities and remake ourselves so we present well to the people we want to love us. For some of us the tendency to remake ourselves unnaturally is evident in small insignificant transparent correctable doses. For others the tendency is a cancer that grows large and overtakes the soul.
Here is the excerpt from the Believer interview with Luc Sante, the Belgian American author of Low Life and Kill All Your Darlings.
BLVR: Are you saying that going on the lam is consistent with an American ideal that we can constantly move, escape, get a fresh start, begin a new life somewhere else? Is there a romanticization of criminals that the culture embraces? That criminals may be the last truly free men?
LS: Well, think about it: the founding myth of this country involves pushing farther and farther out into terra incognita, cutting ties to family and background, maybe adopting a new name and a completely concocted new identity, and somehow making lots of money, the existence of which in sufficient quantity is enough to stifle any questions about its provenance. The land that formerly belonged to the Sioux, the copper that formerly belonged to the Navaho, the skins that formerly belonged to the beavers, the stake that formerly belonged to the miner who caught diphtheria—they’re yours now, pal. Call yourself “Colonel” and declare that your fortune was left to you by Dutch burghers from the seventeenth century. Now you’re a solid citizen, the embodiment of hard work and rugged individualism. You’re no criminal. The criminal is the guy who comes up short, who gets caught, who fails to adopt a respectable cover. But after a while the solid citizen gets to missing those wild years, even as he is ensconced in his forty-room Carrera-marble Beaux-Arts palace on upper Fifth Avenue. He thinks wistfully of how he used to hop freights, sleep in culverts, drink white lightning in hobo jungles, take a sash-weight to his competitors, go through the pockets of the recently dead. He envies those who live that life now denied him forevermore. It seems to him that he’s a prisoner of his own success and that those yeggs out there are truly free.
~Believer interview with Luc Sante
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: circus, city, crime, England, entertainers, London, mystics, scandal, sexually deviant, the poor, xenophobia
Here is a list of the kinds of people you should avoid. It’s from a travelogue written by Richard of Devizes warning about the dangers of 12th century London, but it reads a bit like a contemporary American political campaign.
Mr. Devizes says the people you should avoid mostly live in the city, no surprise there. To him, crime in the city is pervasive, a pastime that will let noone merely spectate. He thinks that the worst crooks are esteemed the highest, an idea that could catch on now – as our worldwide banks tip like dominoes – but probably won’t. He also says the evil company you keep will corrupt you – where have we heard this recently?
The corruptions of the city dwellers fall into several broad categories: entertainers, foreigners, the poor, mystics, the sexually deviant. In a sense the city described sounds like a circus – with its itinerant clowns, freaks and sideshows. Or like a tabloid version of the scandal of Hollywood.
Thankfully, we – you and I and the writer and the written to – are observers of these corruptions. We sit safely out of the ring and its bright lights and scandal, in our ring side seats. We can laugh at or judge them, depending on our predilections, and at the end, get up and leave to our normal outside lives.
I actually think the corrupt, in the circus or the city, could be laughing at us. Or maybe more likely shaking their heads at their judges, briefly, in disbelief, and returning to their lives.
Here is Devizes’ warning:
When you reach England, if you come to London, pass through it quickly, for I do not at all like that city. All sorts of men crowd together there from every country under the heavens. Each race brings its own vices and its own customs to the city. No-one lives in it without falling into some sort of crime. Every quarter of it abounds in grave obscenities. The greater a rascal a man is, the better a man he is accounted. I know whom I am instructing. You have a warmth of character beyond your years, and a coolness of memory; and from these contrary qualities arises a temperateness of reasoning. I fear nothing for you, unless you live with evil companions, for manners are formed by association.
Well, be that as it may! You will arrive in London. Behold, I prophesy to you: whatever evil or malicious thing that can be found in any part of the world, you will find in that one city. Do not associate with the crowds of pimps; do not mingle with the throngs in eating-houses; avoid dice and gambling, the theatre and the tavern. You will meet with more braggarts there than in all France; the number of parasites is infinite. Actors, jesters, smooth-skinned lads, Moors, flatterers, pretty boys, effeminates, pederasts, singing and dancing girls, quacks, belly-dancers, sorceresses, extortioners, night-wanderers, magicians, mimes, beggars, buffoons: all this tribe fill all the houses. Therefore, if you do not want to dwell with evildoers, do not live in London. I do not speak against learned or religious men, or against Jews: however, because of their living amidst evil people, I believe they are less perfect there than elsewhere.”