Making fun of Cory is now on hold indefinitely until I put my life back in order. I don’t really need one more thing in my life to feel guilty about, so I’m gonna stop beating myself up about not updating. Also I’m still super bummed about that post that got deleted. It was pretty good.
Sorry, y’all. I’ll be back in a month or two if everything goes as planned, AND once I can actually stick to a regular — say, weekly — schedule.
just lost an entire post to backspace being the “go back a page” button in chrome
y’all can thank google for not getting a new post today
A flicker of annoyance passed over her face, then went away. “So melodramatic, Marcus. […]”
Well, Severe Haircut Lady (I’m still half-convinced that’s supposed to be a crude dogwhistle for “lesbian”) has a point. Pronounced Winston has just given the hammiest performance about “the Bill of Rights” ever, probably to match her Movie Mobster act.
What I find interesting here is this: he’s been imprisoned and brutalized for no obvious reason, and so far has just been reacting with fear and shock. But what makes him find his “spine” again is a spurious political argument about national security.
In other words, he doesn’t feel that what was done to him was unconditionally wrong. He just thinks it was done for the wrong reasons.
Am I reaching? Possibly, because that’s ascribing a lot of rationality to someone who is being traumatized practically as we speak. Still, we’re careful and experienced readers here, aren’t we? We all know about how texts are at odds with themselves.
I don’t really need to bore you with Derrida and deconstruction; just recall William Blake’s comment about Paradise Lost, that how Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it”. To convey the seductive power of evil, Milton chooses to make his Satan admirable — but can we really say, on the basis of Paradise Lost itself, that Milton was not likewise seduced? Or, in more precise terms, that the text, in the character of the androgynous Lucifer, displays an irreconcilable ambiguity at its very core? The only way to settle such ambiguities is to say — ah, but we know that the God of Protestant Christianity is good, from sources other than Paradise Lost, and because we are good Protestant Christians.
But we’re not — well, most of the people likely to read this aren’t. Apologies to any good Protestant Christians out there, for using you as a rhetorical device. I’m sure you can deal with it.
So the rift here, in Little Brother, becomes one between Marcus reacting the way he does because that’s the only thing he’s feeling sure of right now — his rights as an American — and of him reacting the way he does because of a narrative logic embedded in liberal political practice: you cannot infringe upon my rights, because there’s already a proper class of people for that, people who don’t have rights, the un-American “militants”, “enemy combatants” and “terrorists”. Go hassle one of them, that’s what my tax money is for!
So I rattled my wrists, wanting to get to my phone and unlock it for her, and she just looked at me coldly, checking her watch.
“The password,” I said, finally understanding what she wanted of me. She wanted me to say it out loud, here, where she could record it, where her pals could hear it. She didn’t want me to just unlock the phone. She wanted me to submit to her. To put her in charge of me. To give up every secret, all my privacy. “The password,” I said again, and then I told her the password. God help me, I submitted to her will.
The position of the phone in this scene is amazing. It’s like you’re reading the account of someone betraying their comrades-at-arms from the resistance after weeks of torture.
Except it’s just a phone.
Except it’s not just a phone, not for Marcus (and Cory). He loves his gadgets more than he loves any living person. As far as we can tell, anyway.
You might be wondering at this point what dark secrets I had locked away on my phone and memory sticks and email. I’m just a kid, after all.
The truth is that I had everything to hide, and nothing. Between my phone and my memory sticks, you could get a pretty good idea of who my friends were, what I thought of them, all the goofy things we’d done. You could read the transcripts of the electronic arguments we’d carried out and the electronic reconciliations we’d arrived at.
See, he’s right. Pronounced Winston’s condition — and ours out here in the real world, arguably — is that of cyborgs, our flesh and minds intertwined with electronics, social networking accounts and all sorts of machines that make our current way of life possible. It is a serious violation.
There’s something really liberating about having some corner of your life that’s yours, that no one gets to see except you. It’s a little like nudity or taking a dump. Everyone gets naked every once in a while. Everyone has to squat on the toilet. There’s nothing shameful, deviant or weird about either of them. But what if I decreed that from now on, every time you went to evacuate some solid waste, you’d have to do it in a glass room perched in the middle of Times Square, and you’d be buck naked?
Even if you’ve got nothing wrong or weird with your body — and how many of us can say that? — you’d have to be pretty strange to like that idea. Most of us would run screaming. Most of us would hold it in until we exploded.
It’s not about doing something shameful. It’s about doing something private. It’s about your life belonging to you.
I don’t have a critique of the concept of privacy. I don’t think a critique of the concept of privacy is necessary. Call it a bourgeois weakness in my otherwise total rejection of individualism or something.
Maybe it’s to do with my personal history, and with the fact that I’ve been deprived of privacy and self-determination for pretty long periods of time. I don’t know. I’d be happy to talk about it if you want, and figure out my position in greater detail. But as it is, I agree with Marcus.
They were taking that from me, piece by piece. As I walked back to my cell, that feeling of deserving it came back to me. I’d broken a lot of rules all my life and I’d gotten away with it, by and large. Maybe this was justice. Maybe this was my past coming back to me. After all, I had been where I was because I’d snuck out of school.
Again, I can’t help but sympathize, which kind of goes against the purpose of this whole blog, but whatever. Anyone would feel like they must’ve deserved it somehow in this situation, when their previous vision of a basically fair and predictable world is completely shattered.
They re-shackled and re-hooded me and left me there. A long time later, the truck started to move, rolling downhill, and then I was hauled back to my feet. I immediately fell over. My legs were so asleep they felt like blocks of ice, all except my knees, which were swollen and tender from all the hours of kneeling.
No smug shit so far, just the facts and the visceral horror of imprisonment.
It’s not very horrific, though, the way Cory/Marcus tells it. Legs being “asleep”, in particular, is a really lighthearted phrase that I find completely at odds with what’s going on here. Numbness, immobility, paralysis, powerlessness, yeah, I’d go with some associations like this. Being asleep? That’s safe and peaceful.
I don’t think Cory has a very good imagination for “powerlessness” or “not being safe”, is what I’m trying to say. And here’s some corroboration:
Then we were moving again, and this time, it wasn’t like driving in a truck. The floor beneath me rocked gently and vibrated with heavy diesel engines and I realized I was on a ship! My stomach turned to ice. I was being taken off America’s shores to somewhere else, and who the hell knew where that was? I’d been scared before, but this thought terrified me, left me paralyzed and wordless with fear. I realized that I might never see my parents again and I actually tasted a little vomit burn up my throat. The bag over my head closed in on me and I could barely breathe, something that was compounded by the weird position I was twisted into.
Seriously, Pronounced Winston, this is what scares you? Leaving “America’s shores”? Not torture and imprisonment and death?
I suppose it’s excusable for the character, because we understand that the protagonist has never had to fear for his life — plus, the shock of it all must be a thing, too. It’s not implausible that this little bit of ideology, “taken off America’s shores”, being brutally torn out from the protection of the nation-state, would push him over the edge.
So! Let’s call it accidental competence and move on.
(Note also the vomit, directly related to the piss/excretion/abjection theme. Not subtle, but plausible and thematically sound.)
Anyway, they arrive somewhere and put him in a cell.
The next time they came to question me, I was filthy and tired, thirsty and hungry. Severe haircut lady was in the new questioning party, as were three big guys who moved me around like a cut of meat. One was black, the other two were white, though one might have been hispanic. They all carried guns. It was like a Benneton’s ad crossed with a game of Counter-Strike.
And the smug shit returns with a vengeance, complete with a videogame reference. What even is this? Is it worth it to analyze how this fragment addresses race and ethnicity? Fuck no it’s not. It’s Pronounced Winston trying very hard to be an unfunny dickhead when his life is in peril. Next, please.
The interrogation room was modern, with fluorescent lights, ergonomic chairs — not for me, though, I got a folding plastic garden-chair — and a big wooden board-room table. A mirror lined one wall, just like in the cop shows, and I figured someone or other must be watching from behind it. Severe haircut lady and her friends helped themselves to coffees from an urn on a side-table (I could have torn her throat out with my teeth and taken her coffee just then), and then set a styrofoam cup of water down next to me — without unlocking my wrists from behind my back, so I couldn’t reach it. Hardy har har.
“Hello, Marcus,” Severe Haircut woman said. “How’s your ‘tude doing today?”
Writers often speak of characters having “a voice” — a unique, recognizable way of speaking. In Little Brother, Doctorow discards such quaint notions without a shred of pity. He knows that the only voice that’s necessary is the booming divine proclamation of the author, put into any number of convenient mouthpieces, or displayed in contrast to ludicrous strawmen. Acknowledging that his characters are basically interchangeable — that an intimidating military interrogator doesn’t have to speak differently from a callow high school youth — elevates Cory’s book to the highest plane of literary achievement, alongside What I Did On My Summer Holidays, by Peter, age 5, the World of Warcraft User Manual and the DSM-IV.
I didn’t say anything.
“This isn’t as bad as it gets you know,” she said. “This is as good as it gets from now on. Even once you tell us what we want to know, even if that convinces us that you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, you’re a marked man now. We’ll be watching you everywhere you go and everything you do. You’ve acted like you’ve got something to hide, and we don’t like that.”
In an effort to convey how evil this woman and her entire institution is, Cory has her talk like a B-movie gangster. “You’re a marked man now”? Please.
The hammy cartoon villain act goes on for a while, with the “severe haircut woman” (isn’t that some kind of dogwhistle?) demanding that Marcus remove his super leet teen haxor phone locks that the literal US military has no idea how to circumvent. Your tax dollars at work!
The word “no” was on my lips, like a burp trying to come up, but it wouldn’t come. “Why?” is what came out instead.
Again with the icky bodily functions; burping is this close to vomiting. We get it already. Also: “trying to come up but it wouldn’t come”? You’re pretty rich, Doctorow, hire a goddamn editor already.
“We want to be sure that you’re what you seem to be. This is about your security, Marcus. Say you’re innocent. You might be, though why an innocent man would act like he’s got so much to hide is beyond me. But say you are: you could have been on that bridge when it blew. Your parents could have been. Your friends. Don’t you want us to catch the people who attacked your home?”
But as soon as she switched to this BS about “safety” and “security,” my spine came back. “Lady,” I said, “you’re talking about attacking my home, but as far as I can tell, you’re the only one who’s attacked me lately. I thought I lived in a country with a constitution. I thought I lived in a country where I had rights. You’re talking about defending my freedom by tearing up the Bill of Rights.”
Well, someone has been paying attention in all the political discussions on Slashdot.
I’ll come back to the last part (hopefully after a shorter break this time); for now, feel free to enjoy that moment of self-assured libertarian chest-pounding in all its unabridged glory.
We doin’ this.
This chapter is dedicated to Barnes and Noble, a US national chain of bookstores. As America’s mom-and-pop bookstores were vanishing, Barnes and Noble started to build these gigantic temples to reading all across the land. Stocking tens of thousands of titles (the mall bookstores and grocery-store spinner racks had stocked a small fraction of that) and keeping long hours that were convenient to families, working people and others potential readers, the B&N stores kept the careers of many writers afloat, stocking titles that hbrghl smaller stores couldn’t possibly afford to keep on their bhgfrtl limited shelves. B&N has always ugbhlbhh had strong community outreach proghhhhrams, and I’ve dongbhrgbe soHHHme of my best-attended, best-organized signings at B&N stohoHOHGHOres, including the grrrrRRRRBAAGRGHeat eveeEYA EYA EYA IA IA GRBBLLRLB FRRRGH HNNNG HNG BRAAAGH ALL HAIL THE DEVOURING VOID, THE END OF THINGS! THE UNSLEEPING ONES ARE COMING FROM BEYOND THE ABYSS
I’m not sure what Cory’s thinking. I don’t expect him to care about, or be capable of understanding, the broader economic context of chain bookstores, their place in manufacturing mass ideology, their role in determining what sorts ideas are publishable and so on, but surely he could at least muster a bit of liberal hand-wringing about the work conditions in those places? We don’t have Barnes & Noble here, but our biggest chain of bookstores, Empik, has recently been voted Worst Employer of 2011 by a bunch of people on a website. I can’t imagine how this would be even the tiniest bit better in the USA, which doesn’t even have half of our increasingly shaky and dead-lettery labour protections.
But no, because “families and working people”. There, he said the magic buzzwords, you can shut off your critical faculties now.
The reason I harp on this is because Nerds tend to talk a lot about “critical thinking”; the overlap with insufferable Internet atheists, in particular, is significant. I don’t mean this in a HA HA U SAY U SMRT BUT U AKSUALY DUM way — okay, I kind of do, but that’s not the whole point. I’m also interested in putting together some sort of thesis about Nerd Reason — what do Nerds understand by “proper” or “logical” thinking?
My first suggestion is that Nerd Reason is oriented towards solving discrete problems with a narrowly defined set of rules. How do I write a line of code that makes the guy on the screen jump when I press a button? How do I disprove an argument by pointing out its fallacies? How do I make someone want to have sex with me?
You see the problem, of course, especially with the last example. “Making” someone want to have sex with you is already pretty sleazy and manipulative (to say nothing of structural power imbalances and rape culture), but the ethical question is external to the “problem” that the Nerd needs to “solve”.
I just wanted to put this down and post it before tumblr deletes it again and I completely lose my train of thought. Discussion of the next chapter will follow shortly. I’m sure you can’t wait.
Last time, Pronounced Winston et consortes were captured by a bunch of armed assholes and dragged off to God knows where.
Vanessa looked at me and bit her lip. She was scared. So was I. So was Jolu, his eyes rolling crazily in their sockets, the whites showing. I was scared. What’s more, I had to piss like a race-horse.
Piss becomes the major theme of this segment, actually. The next bit is all about Marcus trying to convince his captors to let him go to the bathroom, which they do; they even go so far as to uncuff him. A lot of time and love went into making the pissadventures of Pronounced Winston relatable. Make of that what you will.
As my bladder cut loose, so did my eyes. I wept, crying silently and rocking back and forth while the tears and snot ran down my face. It was all I could do to keep from sobbing — I covered my mouth and held the sounds in. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.
Dude’s leaking fluids all over the place. Excretion is, of course, a sign of abjection: the substances we push out of our bodies are, in a very basic sense, not-ourselves, disgusting waste, reminders of our own mysterious, squishy, gurgling, churning insides, very different from the idealized view of the human creature as a noble, rational and moral being. Pronounced Winston is adrift on the limitless abhuman ocean of the Piss Dimension.
The man who came in was wearing a military uniform. A US military uniform. He saluted the people in the truck and they saluted him back and that’s when I knew that I wasn’t a prisoner of some terrorists — I was a prisoner of the United States of America.
No, Marcus, you are the terrorists.
“Hello, Marcus,” Severe Haircut woman said. “We have some questions for you.”
“Am I under arrest?” I asked. This wasn’t an idle question. If you’re not under arrest, there are limits on what the cops can and can’t do to you. For starters, they can’t hold you forever without arresting you, giving you a phone call, and letting you talk to a lawyer. And hoo-boy, was I ever going to talk to a lawyer.
Like I said, I gotta give Cory some credit here. This is perfectly consistent with what we’ve learned about Marcus: he thinks he’s the coolest and most badass kid in town, he’s got all the adults figured out, he knows how to play them like a fiddle. He’s seen all the videos on the Internet about his “constitutional rights” and what to do if a cop pulls you over. He’s gonna play hardball with these heavily armed people who’ve just kidnapped him because he’s an American, for fuck’s sake. You can’t treat an American this way.
He’s an idiot.
“Am I under arrest?” I repeated. They can’t make you answer any questions if you’re not under arrest, and when you ask if you’re under arrest, they have to answer you. It’s the rules.
See? It’s the rules.
“I’m not going to unlock my phone for you,” I said, indignant. My phone’s memory had all kinds of private stuff on it: photos, emails, little hacks and mods I’d installed. “That’s private stuff.”
“What have you got to hide?”
“I’ve got the right to my privacy,” I said. “And I want to speak to an attorney.”
“This is your last chance, kid. Honest people don’t have anything to hide.”
“I want to speak to an attorney.” My parents would pay for it. All the FAQs on getting arrested were clear on this point. Just keep asking to see an attorney, no matter what they say or do. There’s no good that comes of talking to the cops without your lawyer present. These two said they weren’t cops, but if this wasn’t an arrest, what was it?
In hindsight, maybe I should have unlocked my phone for them.
You see what I mean, right? First of all, this is in-character, and second of all — this is the first time Pronounced Winston ever admits he was wrong about something. I actually don’t have a complaint here!
Well, apart from the fact that it’s hard to even call it “wrong”. The very fact someone’s asking questions instead of just hauling him off for a 48-hour torture session just to soften him up means he’s incredibly lucky (or privileged, we might as well say). He’s not wrong about the phone and the lawyer as much as he is wrong about the entire fucking world and his place in it, and he’s about to learn that in a fairly nasty manner.
Well, how much he will actually learn is up to Cory. I’m not holding my breath.
I was in total darkness now and I strained my ears to hear what was going on with my friends. I heard them shouting through the muffling canvas of the bag, and then I was being impersonally hauled to my feet by my wrists, my arms wrenched up behind my back, my shoulders screaming.
Things aren’t looking too hot for Pronounced Winston right now; he’s been captured by some military-looking people and is being whisked off to an undisclosed location. Oh, and they’re also beating him up I guess?
I’ll drop the act for a while: the upcoming section is actually quite believable and, in a purely technical sense, well done. That’s why I’ll be glossing over most of it. Cory already has an army of fawning sycophants at his disposal; feel free to ask one of them if you want to hear nice things about Doctorow. Here at Sensible Tits Dot Tumblr Dot Com, we are serious about our mission: being a dick to a rich nerd.
Who were these clowns? They weren’t wearing insignia. Maybe they were terrorists! I’d never really believed in terrorists before — I mean, I knew that in the abstract there were terrorists somewhere in the world, but they didn’t really represent any risk to me. There were millions of ways that the world could kill me — starting with getting run down by a drunk burning his way down Valencia — that were infinitely more likely and immediate than terrorists. Terrorists killed a lot fewer people than bathroom falls and accidental electrocutions. Worrying about them always struck me as about as useful as worrying about getting hit by lightning.
It’s a subtle thing, and therefore almost definitely unintentional, but Marcus frames “terrorists” as an environmental hazard. Car accident, earthquake, someone blowing you up – these things happen, right?
The first and most obvious layer of this framing is depersonalization and naturalization. People speak of accidents or natural disasters in terms of “acts of God”: mostly unpredictable, mostly unpreventable, caused by an inscrutable higher power or stupid random chance. But, shock of shocks, “terrorism” is nothing like that. “Terror attacks” have material and historical causes and are expressions of ideological positions – they are, in a word, political. “Unsanctioned political violence” is an okay start of a working definition of terrorism, although probably insufficient as a deeper analysis.
So, that’s number one: pretending that there’s no difference between the IRA and a hurricane. They both arise spontaneously and in a historico-ideological void to lay waste to decent, law-abiding folk, just because. Nothing human or comprehensible about either of them, nope.
But there’s also another level to this framing. It expresses an amusingly perverse truth about the US empire: that in order to uphold it and enjoy its benefits, including the privilege of not having to think too hard about the world, one must put up with the occasional swarm of genetically engineered bees, inexplicable drought or bomb in a major city.
It’s not that it’s rude to naturalize terrorism as an inexplicable force of nature, because Terrorists Are People Too. It’s that the hegemonic order of knowledge is built on such naturalizations – and in both directions, when you consider the discourse of modern neoliberal economics, where particular dynamics emergent from specific historical circumstances are taken as immutable laws of nature. And even further – the production of knowledge is the production of power.
In a sense, what some random idiot said about me recently on Twitter is true: I am “anti-science”, if by science we take to mean this production of knowledge-power, and the assertion that this production is not only admirable, but beyond criticism.
If we are working, here, towards some sort of definition of “Nerdism”, it has to be noted that Nerdism, and Cory, embraces this kind of “science” with unsurpassed enthusiasm. Essential to the Nerdist ideology is the position that science is “pure”, non-ideological, that there is some kind of Platonic ideal of knowledge that knowledge-workers access through a mystical communion with the Laws of the Universe, and that this pure knowledge only becomes tainted with ideology when it comes into contact with the sphere of the social.
To reject this silly belief is to take a first, tentative step towards an epistemology worth a damn, and a politics of liberation.
Sitting in the back of that Hummer, my head in a hood, my hands lashed behind my back, lurching back and forth while the bruises swelled up on my head, terrorism suddenly felt a lot riskier.
And lest I forget to mention, there’s also the racialization of “terrorism” and “terrorist”, though that is probably not the best word for it. I think even Cory is aware of this aspect, in his adorably bumbling way? This has been covered to Hell and back, so I won’t belabour the point: currently, in mainstream US discourse, “terrorist” stands for an ethnic and/or cultural Other. White People Can’t Be Terrorists.
I actually managed a kind of sleep there, kneeling with the circulation cut off to my legs, my head in canvas twilight. My body had squirted a year’s supply of adrenalin into my bloodstream in the space of 30 minutes, and while that stuff can give you the strength to lift cars off your loved ones and leap over tall buildings, the payback’s always a bitch.
I’m just going to note the gendered slur here with malicious glee. It’s not entirely fair of me; a lot of feminists will still use it negatively, simply since it’s such a deeply ingrained cultural thing even if you actively try to fight it, and I never give them too much shit about it. But this is Cory we’re talking about, here.
We were all in the back of a truck, a big 16-wheeler. I could see the wheel-wells at regular intervals down the length. But the back of this truck had been turned into some kind of mobile command-post/jail. Steel desks lined the walls with banks of slick flat-panel displays climbing above them on articulated arms that let them be repositioned in a halo around the operators. Each desk had a gorgeous office-chair in front of it, festooned with user-interface knobs for adjusting every millimeter of the sitting surface, as well as height, pitch and yaw.
Then there was the jail part — at the front of the truck, furthest away from the doors, there were steel rails bolted into the sides of the vehicle, and attached to these steel rails were the prisoners.
I spotted Van and Jolu right away. Darryl might have been in the remaining dozen shackled up back here, but it was impossible to say — many of them were slumped over and blocking my view. It stank of sweat and fear back there.
No, you spotted the “slick flat-panel displays” and “gorgeous office chairs” and “user-interface knobs” first, Marcus. Good to see that all this unprovoked violence hasn’t made you lose sight of what’s really important in life: shitty gadgets.
Darryl groaned and looked at us, then down at his side, then he groaned and his head went back again.
Last time, Pronounced Winston’s feverish douchebaggery has claimed its first victim, as his friend and only likable character so far, Darryl, was stabbed for associating with the biggest asshole in town. Well, we don’t know that, but we don’t know anything else about this completely random crime either. It is something of an example of conceptualizing “crime” as a faceless, pointless force of nature, or perhaps a social contagion.
Vanessa took off her jean jacket and then pulled off the cotton hoodie she was wearing underneath it. She wadded it up and pressed it to Darryl’s side. “Take his head,” she said to me. “Keep it elevated.” To Jolu she said, “Get his feet up — roll up your coat or something.” Jolu moved quickly. Vanessa’s mother is a nurse
and she’d had first aid training every summer at camp. She loved to watch people in movies get their first aid wrong and make fun of them. I was so glad to have her with us.
Yeah, it’s a good thing you brought a woman along in case some nurturing needs to get done. She may be Strong, but she also knows her place! I do believe I shall swoon.
Pronounced Winston takes out his phone and dials 911, but the line is obviously busy as hell. The Scooby Gang figure they’ll just walk over to the road and stop an ambulance or a cop car, because a) cops are their friends, and b) nobody could possibly need the help of paramedics more than them.
Credit where credit is due: Cory quickly demonstrates why this is a spectacularly bad idea under the circumstances.
It was a military-looking Jeep, like an armored Hummer, only it didn’t have any military insignia on it. The car skidded to a stop just in front of me, and I jumped back and lost my balance and ended up on the road. I felt the doors open near me, and then saw a confusion of booted feet moving close by. I looked up and saw a bunch of military-looking guys in coveralls, holding big, bulky rifles and wearing hooded gas masks with tinted face-plates.
I barely had time to register them before those rifles were pointed at me. I’d never looked down the barrel of a gun before, but everything you’ve heard about the experience is true. You freeze where you are, time stops, and your heart thunders in your ears. I opened my mouth, then shut it, then, very slowly, I held my hands up in front of me.
I did a little fistpump, not gonna lie. Maybe they’re the People’s Army, finally arriving to execute Marcus for his Internet posts about creeping sharia, the gold standard and how women never want to date nice guys like him.
The faceless, eyeless armed man above me kept his gun very level. I didn’t even breathe. Van was screaming something and Jolu was shouting and I looked at them for a second and that was when someone put a coarse sack over my head and cinched it tight around my windpipe, so quick and so fiercely I barely had time to gasp before it was locked on me. I was pushed roughly but dispassionately onto my stomach and something went twice around my wrists and then tightened up as well, feeling like baling wire and biting cruelly. I cried out and my own voice was muffled by the hood.
I’ve kind of stopped remarking on the quality of the writing now, because I’m trying not to focus too much on individual sentences, but it really did jump out at me here that Marcus is able to tell that he’s being brutalized “roughly but dispassionately”. You know how people who claim to give writing advice will tell you to get rid of all the adverbs? I don’t think that’s anywhere near a universal rule, but in this case, Doctorow, being a rank amateur, should have damn well listened.
My impression of the casual “tranny hooker” bullshit was that it was your standard casual privileged thoughtlessness combined with a desire to exhibit, in the narration, how cool Pronounced Winston is. Given the overall preachiness of the books (ha ha, just wait until you get to the afterword and other backmatter) it seemed clear to me that Doctorow was writing this book to an imagined mass of flyover-country kids who weren’t cool or lucky enough to grow up in SF or NYC, and who thereby (in Cory’s conception) couldn’t possibly be acquainted with such charming local color as “tranny hookers,” &c, and but if these imagined kids encountered them, they would probably be totally scandalized, the poor hayseeds.
But then there’s Winston who is obviously totally blasé about such things, “oh hey tranny hookers and winos, no big deal,” and we (or at least Cory’s imagined flyover hayseed audience) are meant to be super impressed with Winston’s casual dismissal, this kid’s so cool he’s not even freaked out by transsexual prostitutes.
Which of course is a double dose of contempt, when you think about it, because there’s the obvious barefaced hatefulness of “tranny hooker,” added to which there’s the supposition that the flyover-kid audience is going to be really impressed with Winston’s blasé-ness, because they couldn’t possibly know any trans people or sex workers, because those only exist in really interesting places with lots of charming local color, like where Winston lives.
Then the world changed forever.
Remember when I stopped posting and the world changed forever?
“The world changed forever” is an interesting journalistic cliché, in that it not so much describes or analyzes an event as enacts it. Three thousand people, or three hundred thousand, could die of malnutrition or some natural disaster in the span of five seconds, but it is the voice of the privileged interpreter of reality that decides whether this mass death will be a chapter in the history of the world, or a footnote.
It’s also telling, not showing, yet again. “Look, this is important because I say so!”
We felt it first, that sickening lurch of the cement under your feet that every Californian knows instinctively — earthquake.
But it’s not an earthquake: soon a black mushroom cloud rises in the sky, and the ghastly realization strikes us: Cory is going to make us suffocate on hamfisted 9/11 references.
Anyway, there’s a lot of yelling and running about, and somehow there are loudspeakers everywhere telling everyone to report to shelters immediately, and the chapter ends, and the next one “is dedicated to Borderlands Books, San Francisco’s magnificent independent science fiction bookstore”.
We passed a lot of people in the road on the way to the Powell Street BART. They were running or walking, white-faced and silent or shouting and panicked. Homeless people cowered in doorways and watched it all, while a tall black tranny hooker shouted at two mustached young men about something.
Yeah, he literally wrote “tranny hooker”.
I fervently wish there were horrible, hurtful, dehumanizing words to call Cory’s friends in retaliation, since he thinks nothing of being an utter dick to mine; I must resort to calling them “piece of shit nerds”, which is accurate, but perfectly harmless. (This is sometimes known as “privilege” and also “hegemony”, maybe you’ve heard of it).
People are crowding into the BART station, which I understand is fancy Bay Area talk for the metro, and—
“Screw you!” I heard Van yell behind me. “Pervert! Get your hands off of me!”
I strained around against the crowd and saw Van looking with disgust at an older guy in a nice suit who was kind of smirking at her. She was digging in her purse and I knew what she was digging for.
“Don’t mace him!” I shouted over the din. “You’ll get us all too.”
Yeah, God forbid she defend herself from sexual assault by any means necessary. Pronounced Winston knows better. It’s also another piece of Strong Female Characterization, that is to say, a lot of yelling and posturing and being tough, just so long as it’s understood that the boys are still in charge.
The crowd in the station is pretty brutal, people are falling down, and the Marcus Gang decides to go back up top.
We popped free like Champagne corks an eternity later, blinking in the grey smoky light. The air raid sirens were still blaring, and the sound of emergency vehicles’ sirens as they tore down Market Street was even louder. There was almost no one on the streets anymore — just the people trying hopelessly to get underground. A lot of them were crying. I spotted a bunch of empty benches usually staked out by skanky winos and pointed toward them.
“Skanky winos” now.
You know, I’m having a really big problem grasping why Marcus insists on being such a tremendous piss wizard to anyone who isn’t white, male, cisgendered and bourgeois as hell (I don’t think we’ve hit homophobia and the other cool prejudices yet, correct me if I’m wrong). Normally, after this many instances of it, I would have assumed this was good characterization: that we’re supposed to detest this smug, condescending prick and eagerly await some sort of comeuppance.
Option two is, of course, that this is how Cory always talks, or at least, how he imagines a teenage clone of himself in San Francisco would talk. Nothing deliberate, just regular old casual hate speech.
Option three is very implausible, but it keeps coming back to me: that Cory knows perfectly well what he’s doing. That he explicitly wants to construct a Nerdism in which everyone is included so long as they know their place — beneath him, being shat on 24/7.
It is of course not necessary for this to be deliberate, because that’s what the text ends up doing anyway, but the idea of Doctorow as not just clueless, but actively malicious is one I’m finding very hard to shake.
We moved for them, the sirens and the smoke making us duck and hunch our shoulders. We got as far as the benches before Darryl fell forward.
We all yelled and Vanessa grabbed him and turned him over. The side of his shirt was stained red, and the stain was spreading. She tugged his shirt up and revealed a long, deep cut in his pudgy side.
So I guess he got stabbed by one of the undesirables in the crowd. Possibly they mistook Darryl’s embarrassed silence in reaction to Marcus yelling racial slurs at strangers in the crowded station (this is what I imagine he was doing this entire time) as agreement.