Monday, May 11, 2009

Man in the Dark


The weird world rolls on- a statement from one of the works written by Rose Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s daughter. Miriam is writing a book on Rose Hawthorne. Miriam empathizes with the failed literary career of Rose. Perhaps, she too does not have the confidence as a writer. Miriam is the daughter of August Brill, a seventy two year old book reviewing expert.

In one hundred and eighty pages Paul Auster creates a different world and it is titled ‘Man in the Dark.’ This novel, which is magically real and really magical, tells the story of August Brill and Owen Brick, and all those people related to them.

August Brill, a widower, currently wheelchair bound after a car crash, is no longer active as a book reviewer. But his daughter Miriam, divorcee and her twenty three year old daughter, Katya want him to write about his life for the ‘posterity’. He would like to do it, but thanks to the unfortunate incidents in his life- the demise of his wife Sonia, the breakup between Miriam and her husband Richard, the beheading of Katya’s boyfriend, Titus Small by the Iraqi extremists etc- he is not able to do it. He, like his grand daughter is not able to sleep.

In his sleepless nights, he conjures up a new America, which is in arms against itself. The states are against the centre. Everything is in ruins. The twin towers still stand. There is no Iraq war. But the American states are against the Federal power. They demand freedom from the Federation. They call it the Liberated States of America.

Ownen Brick, a small time magician living with an Argentinean woman, Flora, one day finds himself in a pit, wearing a military uniform. Someone saves him from the pit and assigns him with a mission: to kill a man. He meets Virginia Blaine, his childhood love interest and she turns out to be one of the co-conspirators against the Federal state. The mission is to kill one man who has created this war- and he is none other than August Brill.

Going through a chain of events we come to know that the war is happening in Brill’s mind and that world really exists somewhere. Logic is simple- if this world could exist, then other worlds also could. There are parallel worlds and we do not know about them until we cross the borders by chance or by force.

Paul Auster makes us believe that the world where the American war is on, really exist. The narrative link between the world of August Brill, which is real as we too habit in the world of Brill, and that of Owen Brick, which we do not want to believe as we force ourselves to think about it as only as a phantom or a distant possibility, is created by mixing up two narratives happening in the minds of two people; Brill and Brick.

Like in our ‘real’ life, we too would like to control the lives of other people, but keeping ourselves out of the phantom world that we create for them to suffer. However, any narrative has an intrinsic tendency to include the narrator somewhere in it, either as a controller of the events or as one of the negligible victims, who has only one power, that of witnessing.

Brill is aware of the power of t/his narrative, which he is facilitating in his mind in order to ward off the evils of his times and also to control the torturous sleepless moments. One day he has to enter into the narrative, unwillingly and wait for Brick to come and execute him. However, Brick’s conscience does not allow him to commit a murder for no reason or a reason forced on him by Brill himself.

Finally, Brick pays for his reluctance. He is killed by the Frisk and Duke, who somehow want to end the war by killing the person who has created a world of war.

Paul Auster gives us the guilt of an American citizen, who lives in total conformity with the state and takes a lot of pride in such subjected life. One day, as the novelist prophesizes subtly, the conformed citizen would rebel against the powers that curb him down, at least by creating a parallel world of chaos and freedom.

There is something Baudrillard-ian about this novel. Baudrillard claimed that the Gulf War did not take place because all what had been broadcasted in television were the simulation of a war. In Man in the Dark, we see a world of simulation, but apparently real. The collusion between these two worlds happens in the narrative structures that we make in our imaginations, till we lose control on the worlds that we ourselves have created.

But soon we regain control over the ‘real’ world with families and familiarities around. That is the only safe way to make the ‘weird world’ roll on.