Reading for the week: alternate histories and real history

I wanted to at least mention Farthing and Ha’penny, because I read them this week. Rook read Ha’penny and was up late feeling very perturbed and upset and was still ranting about it days later. When I read it, my own readerly expectations were set up by the dozens and dozens of British detective novels I’ve read over the years. Walton’s Scotland Yard dectective is just that same sort of decent man with ideals about justice, clomping around in his inspectorly boots feeling a bit out of place among the nobility in their country houses. The real point of the books for me was political resistance and then, for Ha’penny, political violence. At what point do people – especially privileged people – decide to go against the government or the status quo? To engage in civil disobedience, to flee from the justice system, to go into hiding? When do you know they’re about to “come for you”? And with Ha’penny the question pushed further into – When do you, or should you, become involved in violent revolution? When do you become that bomb-throwing terrorist, if ever? Is there a time when you should?

The same two questions also leaped out at me from the Harry Potter books, obviously.

Rook was disturbed in part because he felt Walton was implying strongly – was buying into – the idea that assassination was or is a solution. I disagree with him and think Walton was playing with it but not buying into it at all. The characters do — or actually… one character who intends to assassinate doubts the “Great Man” theory of history or the idea that you can change history by going back in time and killing one person. But the person who intends to stop the assassination believes it (more). It’s deliberately complicated and made ambiguous and I think the story’s setup undermines violent response. The bomb making assassin is romanticized heavily but I think we are meant to see that for what it is (rather than identifying with it) as the romanticizing character (ugh trying not to do any real spoilers!) goes deeper into confusion. I think Rook would say that their decisions are framed as unequivocally good and bad. But I’m not so sure about that. In any case, the book made me think about myself and my response to injustice. I’ve always wondered if there’d be a point where I would be pushed over the edge and join the montoneros or whatever… I think I might have as a teenager. But now I’d like to think that I’d be non-violent even in the most extreme political situation. I might not be personally non-violent if attacked though on some levels I also like to think I would be. But as political action I think that inspiring people to mass non-violent resistance is right. Also you could argue that it’s more effective in the long run.

I have spent more time thinking about just or unjust causes for war, but not really much time thinking out the ethics of non-state-sponsored violence. They are much the same in some ways; I don’t see that being a state gives any more legitimacy to killing people. So if you accept war then you have to accept “terrorism” as equally ethical. Just my two cents.

Zond-7 and I were talking about it this morning and he was saying that setting yourself on fire is probably much more effective than assassination. And also mentioned the fascinating idea from eco-extremist movement that the most ecologically useful thing we could do is to kill ourselves… i.e. nothing I do in my life as we in the U.S. are living, even if I were a super duper eco-activist, would be as effective in reducing my ecological footprint as if I just offed myself.

Anyway, I loved Farthing and Ha’penny and would recommend them to anyone — especially if you’d like to see the detective novel turned on its head a little bit & made super awesome and political. Or if you’ve ever imagined actually going back in time and killing Hitler… Then you will enjoy this.

I think Iris might be super annoyed by it as she might be with Rook on hating the romanticized bomb-maker and it will spark her off into writing me a 20 page email about how much she hates the IRA… But I told her to read it anyway.

Meanwhile, Zond-7 read me a bit out of Kevin Kelly Out of Control and I fell asleep to more about ants and bees and hive minds and the internet. Last night I read to him from Durant’s Rome book, Caesar and Christ, a bit about Tiberius Gracchus and Caius Gracchus and the Agrarian Revolts. I was falling asleep as I was reading, but kept going anyway. I hear that I fell asleep grinning. I wonder why?

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