Sometimes, writing about popular culture feels frivolous, as it did this weekend. I heard the news about the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and others over a late brunch with a friend. This being Washington, our waitress turned out to know a number of Giffords' DC-based staffers. The whole bar went quite, and we watched the subtitles on CNN.
But I woke up on Sunday morning and thought of Don DeLillo's Libra. It's not that I think the novel's narrative of CIA manipulation applies to Jared Lee Loughner. But I did find this passage emotionally true and resonant in this dark, confusing moment:
After Oswald, men in America are no longer required to lead lives of quiet desperation. You apply for a credit card, buy a handgun, travel through cities, suburbs and shopping malls, anonymous, anonymous, looking for a chance to take a shot at the first puffy empty famous face, just to let people know there is someone out there who reads the papers.
Branch is stuck all right. He has abandoned his life to understanding that moment in Dallas, the seven seconds that broke the back of the American century....Everything is here. Baptismal records, report cards, postcards, divorce petitions, canceled checks, daily timesheets, tax returns, property lists, postoperative x-rays, photos of knotted string, thousands of pages of testimony, of voices droning in hearing rooms in old courthouse buildings, an incredible haul of human utterance. It lies so flat on the page, hangs so still in the lazy air, lost to syntax and other arrangement, that it resembles a kind of mind-spatter, a poetry of lives muddied and dripping in language....This is the Joycean Book of America, remember—the novel in which nothing is left out.I don't think we'll ever truly understand what happened in Arizona. We'll come up with explanations that satisfy enough of our heartbreak and curiosity and fear and settle on them. And sometimes, literature will express better than politics that grief, and anger, and confusion.