- Things Are as They Are Not
132Pages; Print, $15.00
Harold Jaffe writes fiction. Harold Jaffe writes nonfiction. Harold Jaffe writes docufiction. Harold Jaffe writes. He writes, he documents, he “treats.” Jaffe is a collagist. Harold Jaffe does not write; indeed, he does not write at all. Harold Jaffe has 25 books to his name.
I finished Jaffe’s Goosestep the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration. Donald J. Trump was not inaugurated. Donald J. Trump is not President.
I am writing this piece the day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigations into Russian hacking during the 2016 Presidential Elections. I did not say “alleged hacking.”
So, over the past few days, I’ve re-read Goosestep, portions of Julia Kristeva’s St. Teresa novel (2015) (for the first time) and Raul Brandao’s, The Poor, which one of my daughters gave me for Christmas, and was originally published in 1906.
As the Trump presidency approached the 50-day mark, it become increasingly clear that, while the overt meanness and downright nastiness are new, much else remains the same. Goldman Sachs alum Steven Mnuchin is now Treasury Secretary; from 1995 to 1999, Robert Rubin was Secretary of the Treasury, after spending 26 years at Goldman Sachs, rising to the post of co-chairman just prior to his service in Bill Clinton’s cabinet. Rubin was the original architect of the contemporary spree of financial deregulation.
The point is that although Trump is doing a great deal of new harm, the phenomenon that the late political philosopher Sheldon Wolin called “totalitarian capitalism” (or “inverted totalitarianism”) did not begin in January 2017. The hegemony that Wolin describes is at the root of the many-headed Hydra of crises the world now faces —from climate change to constant war to record inequality.
For two decades now, Harold Jaffe has chronicled, primarily in docufictions (a form and a term he created), the abuses of official power that accumulate daily and threaten the planet.
In 2005, Jaffe’s book Terror-Dot-Gov questioned—in brief, powerful texts—the official outrage at illicit terrorism, alongside the easy acceptance of “official terrorism,” the violence of the powerful.
In subsequent collections, Jaffe has delineated the dangers of hidden power, and ideological assumptions. Jaffe seeks to undermine what Gramsci called “cultural (or: ideological) hegemony,” in other words, our collective blindness. With Goosestep, Jaffe both extolls the virtues of figures of resistance—B. B. King, Muddy Waters, among others—and excavates the lives of outsiders and fanatics, such as Antonin Artaud. (“Don’t call me a fanatic; I am a madman!”)
Jaffe devotes roughly a quarter of the book to a lengthy excerpt from his forthcoming novel, Brando Bleeds, a fictional treatment of a Jaffe hero—the iconoclastic, shamanistic Marlon Brando.
The Brando pieces are particularly affecting—an emotional jolt bookended by intellectual dives into notions of duality and the conjugal. They ooze the sensual—hair, sex, drugs, boxing, Marilyn Monroe. These vignettes—replete with sexual stalkers, Marilyn in the bedroom, and drug-addicted relatives—are true page-turners.
By contrast, Goosestep’s opening fiction, “Double,” poses a series of connubial, contrary realities in a purposefully flat, matter-of-fact tone:
I see the homeless huddled against the steel-glass
wall of the stick exchange.
You do not see the homeless huddled against the steel-glass wall of the stock exchange.
And, in closing,
The world as we know it perishes/humans take selfies.
The world as we know it does not perish, no one takes selfies.
In the first “couplet,” Jaffe moves from the first person pronoun to the second person. Do “we, the you” simply not see these huddled masses because they are invisible to us? Or, perhaps in an alternate universe, they simply are not.
In the second exchange, he uses no pronouns at all. It is simply, and not so simply, a different ending.
Jaffe has always been an epistemological writer; he plumbs what we know and how we think we know it. With Goosestep, he moves into a realm of meta-epistemology, as it were: The...