What the Mirror Does

Hello Wesley,

Thanks for sending me that [“The Face of Seung-Hui Cho”]. I was mesmerized by it. It’s a scarily good piece of writing. Can’t think of when I read a piece about a mass murderer that was about identifying with him. You DO have a bad personality (so do I1)))). In fact, funnily, I actually wrote that (“I had a bad personality”) in the section of my autobio-in-progress that was recently published in the Brooklyn Rail.

I mean I identified with your piece in a way that was almost creepy, and was creeped out by it! There’s also a passage in my novel GO NOW about identifying with an unnamed serial killer (it was Ted Bundy). Forgive me for so crassly responding to your piece by finding myself in it. But somehow I feel invited to! I don’t mean to be flippant. It really is a great piece of writing, even if it left me with this strange emptiness inside. I can’t help myself!!! Somebody stop me!

—Richard Hell

Apocalypse Then

Dear Editors,

I have read none of the novels Chad Harbach reviews in “The End,” and am now happy not to need to be planning to. They interest him because of their content, because of the ways their imagined future is or isn’t plausible or like the past; Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is “the best” of them not because of its “novelistic means” but because those means are “in line with its vision of a radically impoverished world.” At the end of “The End” he asks, rhetorically, “Why bother dreaming up a devastated world when you live in one?”

It’s a good question, but one that cannot be addressed or even asked within the range of Harbach’s article. To say that “the bulky, unmemorizable novel” is “an oil-dependent technology” which requires the geopolitical system in which the present-day American economy is embedded is true only with an extraordinarily narrow definition of “the novel.” Cervantes wrote novels, as did ancient Greeks; novels are shorter than the Iliad memorized by Greek bards or the inordinately longer Tibetan Gesar epic still memorized today. Mary Shelley’s The Last Man of 1826 is not the first “post-catastrophic novel”—nor is Charles Brockden Brown’s Arthur Mervyn (1798–1800, about the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia), nor Robinson Crusoe, nor even The Decameron, in which “Florentines fell ill daily in their thousands, and since they had no one to assist them or attend to their needs, they inevitably perished almost without exception. . . . In the face of so much affliction and misery, all respect for the laws of God and man had virtually broken down and been extinguished in our city . . . everyone was free to behave as he pleased.”

  1. so do I (((ha ha 

More from Issue 7

Issue 7 Correction

This superb Medvedev poem, we later discovered, was written by Bertolt Brecht.

Issue 7 Correction

The america our new president inherits bears an uncanny resemblance to our old enemy, the Soviet Union—right before it went under.

Issue 7 Correction

The injunction had once been to marry Jews. Now it is merely to masturbate to them.

Issue 7 Correction

Foreign writers are like candidates for President: it helps to have been a prisoner of war or at least poor.

Issue 7 Correction
Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager (I)
Issue 7 Correction

I’ve never seen the financial system as a whole more distressed.

Issue 7 Correction

People at the financial institutions, I think, really did start to think that because you’d spread risk, you’d eliminated risk.

Issue 7 Correction

“Gosh, things are so bad, pretty soon it’s got to spread to the real economy.”

Issue 7 Correction

Fairness has nothing to do with it.

Issue 7 Correction

Easy to deride / The way he stayed alive inside / His women with his puffed-up pride. / The pharmacy supplied

Issue 7 Correction
On Food
Issue 7 Correction

Putting on a pair of pants is exhausting / putting on Shakespeare is exhausting in exactly the same way.

Issue 7 Correction

Only the very wealthy, she thought, can afford not to have burglar bars.

Issue 7 Correction

The web contains much of the record of that life, and in turn directs how that life is conducted.

Issue 7 Correction

Go to Uzbekistan now . . . or you will never get departmental funding ever again?

Issue 7 Correction

I’ve DJed in more than two dozen countries. What I do isn’t remotely popular in any of them.

Issue 7 Correction

These men had other aspects of their lives working; now they wanted to “solve” the woman problem.

Issue 7 Correction

Critiques of the welfare state have held a place of honor in Swedish literary fiction since the 1960s.

Issue 7 Correction

Faking adhd is a cakewalk, but the testing process is expensive.

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