Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Libra - Don DeLillo

Don DeLilllo (1936-)

As Ayn Rand once said, "No country can be destroyed by a mere conspiracy, it can only be destroyed by ideas." 1  In Libra, Don DeLillo presents a moment in time when the country was primed with a sense of hostility, laying fallow, waiting for a sense of direction.  Rather than an organized conspiracy, a few disgruntled men light fire to the tinder of the emotionally unstable and desperate, those willing to do anything and give up everything for the chance of a better future.

After the Bay of Pigs fiasco there are many covert operative that feel that they were betrayed by Kennedy, some feel the loss of pride, others have made investments in Cuba that are now unprofitable, although most of these disgruntled covert operatives have their own reasons for the increasing hostility they feel toward the President, they all agree that the shame of losing to Castro when they were so close is unpardonable. But as the county's politics ebb and sway it looks like there will be no retaliation. The planning, the pain and the heartache of barely surviving in Cuban prisons...all of this will be for nothing unless the country can be persuaded to declare war on Cuba and the only way that can be accomplished is if the country sees Cuba's existence as a national threat...

Lee Harvey Oswald is presented as a emotionally unstable, dyslexic, revolutionary, obsessed with Trotsky, obsessed with freedom for the working class. As we are introduced to him, he picks up a pamphlet off the street that talks about the Rosenberg case...the seeds of conspiracy being planted. The government has become a capitalist monolith, it squeezes the life out of the working class, exploiting them for the maximum profit and then disposing of them when they reach the limit of their value. Even as a young man, Lee is frustrated by the limitations and impositions of the government, constraining him from what he knows he has the potential to become.

As he grows up, De Lillo imagines the circumstances that feed the flames of Lee's distrust and repulsion of the government, he becomes a marine, only to be abused by the hierarchy, he expatriots himself and flees to Russia, where he assumes he will be taken seriously and perhaps used to his potential, only to work a menial job in a factory which slowly feels more and more futile. He marries a Russian girl and decides he should return to the states, only to live a life of abject poverty, again, unappreciated by the country he has foolishly had so much hope for. He is erratic, sometimes abusive, a web of personalities and aliases, the perfect foil for a plot that has slowly been woven together by a cast of dissatisfied characters.

Finally, in one last attempt to survive, Lee tries to flee to Cuba, but Cuba won't have him and as he returns to the states he is met my a disgruntled agent, part foil / part plot instigator who tells Lee if only he could do something to show Castro how much of a patriot he was, how zealous he was for the cause, something like...take a shot at the president? The seed is planted and Lee needs to further prompting. And as the plot is revealed, there is no true leader or singular entity, but rather a vast array of people poised and ready to be used to their potential and advantage in a scheme that has gotten widely out of control.

Eventually another pawn is needed to remove Lee from the spotlight, and Jack Ruby, a casino/strip club owner is convinced that all it would take to become a national hero would be to shot walk up to Lee and shoot him, point blank. To show the country that he's had enough, to become the voice of public outcry. He does so, ending the vision Lee has had of living out his Trotskyesque dream of imprisonment, a life of study and writing and developing himself into the revolutionary he is destined to become. Ruby is imprisoned, and rather than becoming touted as a national hero is destined to a life of penile obscurity.

"Whatever you set your mind to, your personal total obsession, this is what kills you." 

Rather than a simple conspiracy theory, De Lillo presents a imaginative, plausible version of events where everyone seeks their own reward, acting on their own volition for their own separate agendas. As Nicholas Branch, the CIA operative, hired to makes sense of the overwhelming documentation and find a single thread, a single conspiracy, he is lost in the magnanimity of the details, the disparate agendas, the lack of coherence and as he spends his life, like Icarus following one lead after another only to have them lead to empty dead ends and more questions rather than answers, he searches for truth in a generation where everything is relative.

1. "The Atlas Society: The 'Lost' Parts of Ayn Rand's Playboy Interview.""

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