In the Land of Ago

A reading of 11.22.63 by Stephen King

3-front-quater-top-up-sunliner

 

How often do we think: “If only I could change this”, or, in whatever form, “if only I could have a second chance, go back, and do something different”? Going back, erasing, and changing the past is an old dream, the subject of countless tales and fiction works. Of course there is a second law of thermodynamics, to keep things simple, that says “no-can-do” – but still…

But imagine one could go back, reverse entropy, and travel back in time, would it be possible to change anything? Or, is the past resistant to change, obturate enough to stop, or at least oppose, a time-traveller interfering with what was, and, maybe, should be? And, even if the time traveller could change the past, what would be the cost? Perhaps more ominously: what would be the consequences?

Changing history is a special case. History, they say, is written by “the victors”, whoever they may be. It can also be rewritten, and this without, perhaps because of (not), going back to the past. There is the “official” version, and the “conspiracies”. A long-lasting, and still sinister, such story is that of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Jake Epping, not a crying man, is an English teacher at a high school in a small town in Maine. The year is 2011, and this is the end of term. Jake is, unique among his school colleagues, the customer of Al Templeton, the proud owner of the fat burgers diner. More than just a customer. He’s soon someone with whom Al is about to share a deadly secret. At the back of Al’s diner trailer is an anomaly: a fissure in time. Al has a mission, one he cannot complete, for he is dying of lung cancer. He wants Jake to take over, as he has identified Jake as someone who could, who will, bite at the bait. So Al teaches Jake, explains how this could work, and Jake listens. There is a first trial, then another. On the other side of the fissure it is Spring 1958, and America is young. Jake likes what he sees. He enjoys the fresh taste of root beer, the sweet air. Jake also has a personal objective: to prevent a domestic tragedy and help his friend Harry Dunning. The first leg of the story is there: the killing of Frank Dunning. Jake, armed with Al’s mission and notes, as well as dollars of the time, embarks on the journey.

Saving the Dunning family will take two attempts to get it “right”, or so Jake thinks. Then his personal odyssey will start , on the road to Dallas. For Al’s, now Jake’s, aim is to prevent the assassination of President John Kennedy, on November 22, 1963, nothing less. Jake has five years to adapt, plan, live, and, finally, execute Al’s mission.

Jake follows a route of nostalgia: an all-American Ford Sunliner, overnight stoppages in motels, drive-in cinemas, finally a small town, and an equally small school, in Texas. Later, much later, there will be Dallas and the horror. For a while it is (almost) paradise, his class, football, friends, a girl he falls in love with, America’s early 60’s: (almost) perfection.

Jake decides to stay, he won’t go back to 2011. But, in the end, he does. For fulfilling the mission has unpredictable consequences. When, on the threshold of his desperate return, Jake faces a dystopian 2011, he finally understand what Al had missed: that interfering with the strings of time has a price, and this is proportional to the change.

The novel concludes on a note of hope, an ending for which Stephen King credits his son, Joe Hill, at the end of the book.

11.22.63 is a great novel, to read, reread, and cherish. It is also a book to meditate on, seriously, listening carefully to the voice of its author.

Photo: Ford Sunliner 1958, via eclassicautos.com

 

#WritersWednesday: Blank Page, a reflection on Gustave #Flaubert

Albert CamusI read that Gustave Flaubert thought the “Communeux” – the revolutionaries who fought the losing battle of the Paris Commune in 1871, and got massacred – had wanted to “return to the Middle Ages”. Yet he was a discerning writer and observer of the French society…

This prompted some musing on the role of writers in our troubled times. But then, when was a time of real peace? The page stays blank, for if there is a lot to say, it would be pointless to write. This is what Flaubert avoided: he scored on impersonality, a detachment from associating himself with his characters, let alone exercising judgement on their actions or circumstances. He wrote that he was bored when writing Madame Bovary, so remote was he from his “ordinary” subject. His carthagenese rump – Salammbo – a story of a slave revolt against the ruler of Carthage (the super-power of the time), was high in colour, rich in gore, and outraged the bourgeois commentators of the mainstream press. Later his “Education Sentimentale” stripped the hypocrisy of the 2nd Empire’s society bare, all a few years before the catastrophe of 1870.

Maybe it takes a national defeat to reveal the true nature of contemporary literature: Remarque, Proust (who thought Germany’d have won the war), the French existentialists, the great Japanese novelists of the 50’s…

Image: Albert Camus laughing, from “Philosophers’ quotes & photos

#AtoZChallenge2015: Hegemony

For students of world history, and of world-historical thought, hegemony is one of the Sesame keys: from ancient Greece, to the Italian city-states of the early Renaissance, to the Netherlands of the 17th century, to imperial Great Britain, to todays’ United States of America, the presence of “great powers”, and among them that of a “hegemon”, one country or nation state for a while dominating the others, has been the backdrop of western history.

From Wikipedia: “Hegemony is the political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others.[1][2][3][4] In Ancient Greece (8th century BCE – 6th century CE), hegemony denoted the politico–military dominance of a city-state over other city-states.[5] The dominant state is known as the hegemon.[6]

In the 19th century, hegemony came to denote the “Social or cultural predominance or ascendancy; predominance by one group within a society or milieu”. Later, it could be used to mean “a group or regime which exerts undue influence within a society.”[7] Also, it could be used for the geopolitical and the cultural predominance of one country over others; from which was derived hegemonism, as in the idea that the Great Powers meant to establish European hegemony over Asia and Africa.[8]

The Marxist theory of cultural hegemony, associated particularly with Antonio Gramsci, is the idea that the ruling class can manipulate the value system and mores of a society, so that their view becomes the world view (Weltanschauung): in Terry Eagleton’s words, ‘Gramsci normally uses the word hegemony to mean the ways in which a governing power wins consent to its rule from those it subjugates’.[9]

Ancient Greece under the hegemony of Thebes, 371–362 BCE

In cultural imperialism, the leader state dictates the internal politics and the societal character of the subordinate states that constitute the hegemonic sphere of influence, either by an internal, sponsored government or by an external, installed government.”

From Giovanni Arrighi “The Long Twentieth Century”:

“A dominant state exercises a hegemonic function if it leads the system of states in a desired direction and, in so doing, is perceived as pursuing a general interest. It is this kind of leadership that makes the dominant state hegemonic. But a dominant state may lead also in the sense  that it draws other states onto its own path of development… This second kind of leadership can be designated as ‘leadership against one’s own will’ because, over time, it enhances competition for power rather than the power of the hegemon.”

From Christopher Layne (“The Peace of Illusions”):

“When World War II ended, the Soviet Union was the only obstacle to US global hegemony, and in the first postwar decade Washington’s principal grand strategic goal was to secure that hegemony by removing the Soviet Union as a peer competitor. The United States emerged from the war in a position of unparalleled geopolitical preeminence, and the scope of America’s interests expanded concomitantly, and indeed, had done so  while the war was still ongoing. Once the war ended, Washington’s perceptions of the Soviet threat to those interests began to grow. As a result, US and Soviet  interests collided… in Europe, the Middle East, and Northeast Asia, which contributed to the intensification of postwar Soviet-American tensions that culminated in the cold war… America’s main grand strategic aim was to secure its global hegemony by bringing these potential poles of power [Germany and Japan]  into its orbit and thereby prevent them from emerging as challengers  to US predominance.”

While reading through this post, I realised I had already written on the subject, for last year’s challenge! Which shows either (or both) my lack of imagination, or continued interest in the subject…