Exhibit 1.2.10


(Yep, another post on books. If you don't care, you'll probably enjoy this hyper-literal video of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson's "Luckenbach, Texas." I know I did.


Charles Brockden Brown's novel makes two things clear: 1) the gothic is integral to American literature and 2) we should have seen M. Night Shyamalan coming. O, fine, a third thing: voice throwing is the world's deadliest talent.

Why America couldn't have produced compelling social novels is unclear to me, but her earliest books all seem to be obsessed with darkness and horror and the unsettling nature of life on the new continent. Without definitive social classes, nobody seems to know who to trust and so everyone is a rake or a murderer or some deviant ventriloquist. Wieland came out less than 15 years before Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, but they don't feel like they exist in the same world. And, I suppose, they don't.

Austen has her balls and parlors while Brockden Brown's America feels like a free for all. There is still a moral order, just not one that anybody feels comfortable asserting except when it's too late. At first the book even seems progressive. The titular Wieland is obsessed with reason and rationality rather than his father's odd, Puritanical religion. His sister lives alone without comment and serves as the book's narrator. Everyone, basically, feels like a free citizen in a land ruled by liberty rather than class or superstition.

O, then weird things start happening and then it all goes to hell. The brother no longer trusts his wife. The sister, too, is spurned by her suitor for being a hussy. One character believes God is telling him to kill everyone. It's only after these things start happening does the claustrophobia of the early pages seem suffocating. America, in a word, was a little boring.

The Shyamalan twist is that some and possibly all of this turmoil was caused by a passing "biloquist" who helpfully explains how through a series of very reasonable coincidences, he was forced to throw his voice, a power he laments and had sworn not to use (it being too powerful. Something _________ must have realized a long time ago [___________ being where I would put the name of a famous ventriloquist if there were any {O,shit, Jeff Dunham. Well, I'm still not giving him the satisfaction}]). In any case, this wizard stops short of confessing to causing Wieland to murder his family, but it doesn't really matter. The sister flees back to Europe where there's still evil but it's easier to recognize.

So what was wrong with America that this is where our imaginations immediately went? It's tough to say, though there seems to be some reaction not only to the wilderness surrounding the colonies but to the breakdown of social order caused by democracy. This breakdown, which was hardly as severe as it must have seemed, is a little ridiculous to a modern reader--as is the one moment of spontaneous combustion--but the young country seems to have experienced a lot of terror in the space between reason and freewill. O, we might be able to reason our way into explanation (it's usually ventriloquism) but that doesn't mean some of us won't fall back on superstition and violence and how will we know who those people are until they're approaching us with axes?

1 comment:

jimStock said...

I do enjoy that video. A bit bummed they didn't incorporate a clip from "Dwarf goes fishing"