Now, You Understand Me BetterPosted by artnoose
As I said in my introductory entry, years ago I told someone I was somewhat envious that he was about to read this last section for the first time, that the ending was that good. While Sophia’s half of the story had its climax in her ninth letter, Yarostan’s story peaks here, specifically during and directly after the engagement party/spectacle that Mirna orchestrates for Jasna and Titus. The mystery is solved, and friendships that have lasted for years begin to unravel.
The real strength in this section, however – and one of the main themes of the book in general – is how it isn’t too late for Yarostan, or Mirna, or Jasna, or anybody else for that matter. Perspectives can take decades to develop, and that’s okay. Yarostan ends his story apologizing for “twenty years of ignorance” but somehow when I see the person he has become, it doesn’t seem to matter.
Mirna and Yara team up to con former comrades of the carton plant to attend Jasna’s dinner party: Adrian, Vera, and Marc, and also Adrian’s wife (and Vera’s secretary) Irena, whose name we learn for the first time in this chapter. Throughout the long and dramatic discussion we learn what Titus knew about Sophia’s original letters, where George Alberts and Titus encountered Nachalo on the front, and how sexuality had so much to do with Vera’s use of people over the years.
The main revelation of this scene is the role Titus played in the imprisonments of several of the people from the carton plant. “Individualism is a disease!” he says at the heart of one of the arguments, continuing that just like diseased growths on a living being, the diseased personalities of a society need to be cut out. Although he never says that he himself advocates what tools are used for the cutting, it becomes clear that his pedagogy can have no other instrument than prisons or the firing squads. The truth of the matter is that Titus is responsible for the prison sentences of his former comrades, of which Jan never survived. Jasna is devastated, as is Yarostan. They both had been defending Titus, and while Mirna and Yara go into the streets to begin resisting the coming influx of tanks, it is Yarostan and Jasna who find Titus’s dead body, the record in the record player still playing.
The tanks are invading, and some characters I have come to love are going out to greet them, and I’ll never know what happens to them definitively. It’s one of those moments in which I’m a little sad but I’m smiling at the same time.
. . . . . . .
Sophia describes her experience reading headlines about the tanks in Yarostan’s country, in the letter that she later admits never reached him. Her final part in this story is definitely a denouement, more or less tying up loose ends of the story. Tissie pieces together several plot holes with her confession in the mental ward. She says that Seth admitted to her that he had killed Jose, thinking he had snitched. Tissie says, however, that it was she who called the cops on the bar, causing it and the garage to be raided. This happened to coincide with Alec and Carmen going to the bar to kill Seth because Alec saw him as a dope-dealing rat. Tissie heard gunshots which she assumed had been Seth being killed, but of course it was Alec.
Sophia and Minnie visit Hugh in his fancy house in the suburbs. He represents one kind of young activist – the one who after a few years of poverty and hard living realizes that a middle-class lifestyle affords many comforts. Sophia pukes on Hugh’s porch and leaves.
Tina and Pat return with their political group to face Ted, asking him to give up his political incoherency. I remember that at one time the print shop that Fredy and Lorraine were involved with also had this question come up: whether to require that everyone involved in a project have the same political philosophy. Ted (and I believe Fredy felt the same way) is of the opinion that good printing is the only prerequisite, as far as he is concerned. Tina and her gang differ, and this reflects a large tension within the anarchist milieu: that of exclusivity. Anarchist soccer, for example, is never comprised entirely of anarchists. I do take seriously the question of whether everyone involved in a print shop needs to be an anarchist or not, mostly because I want to have one myself, and I might want to start figuring this out now.
In the course of this argument between Tina and Pat on one side and Ted and Sophia on the other, Pat insists that there can be no friendship without political coherence. (Pat is someday going to find himself with few friends.) Tina’s transformation from free-spirited youth who has never attended compulsory education into a councilist tool represents for me the politically precocious young people I have met, people who got their political analysis down pat as teens. These people don’t all become tools, but it is often interesting to watch them age from anarchist prodigy into adulthood with all of its baggage and responsibilities.
Oh, and a few weeks ago, I got a text one night from an out-of-town friend. I might be misrepresenting the LOLspeak, but it went something like, “omg look on pg 808 – ted isn’t white!” Luckily I was at a collective house with a copy of the book so I was able to look it up. My friend and I had a meaningful text message exchange about it, and I went back to my date. I remember being surprised the first time I read that page, which I think is the point. Many people will assume whiteness if a clue to racial background isn’t made. And then 800 pages later – “omg :0″ – Ted isn’t white. Sophia’s shock at Art’s subtle racism seemed a little unbelievable, or else I’ve had a markedly different experience that Sophia’s. Really, Sophia? Never met a racist activist? Ever? Gee.
This book ends with Sophia’s somewhat ambivalent declaration of love for Ted. She understands that all her life she has desired unions with people who have projects already planned out. I guess this is what she feels ambivalent about, not so much her love for Ted. This is where I’m not sure I agree with Sophia’s self-analysis. Even though Ted is the one spearheading the idea of rebuilding the print shop, it is Sophia’s enthusiasm and support which makes it possible. Not everybody has to have the bright ideas all the time.
. . . . . . .
There’s a similarity between how Yarostan’s and Sophia’s halves of the book end. In Yarostan’s tale, we see a character, although flawed, transformed and somewhat redeemed. Sophia is a less dramatic version of this, what with no tanks invading her city, but after experiences that have turned many of her former friends into tools, she along with Ted and Sabina are embarking on another new project. They could have given up but they didn’t, and they are better friends because of it.
This reading enlightened me to a new bit of self-reflection. I used to see myself as pretty much 100% Sophia, but this time I realize how much I’m like Ted. I know, we’re both printers, but it’s not just that – so is Tina but I don’t feel like she and I are alike. I have always been struck by Sabina’s (and later Sophia’s) description of Ted knowing the difference between people and things. Although he is mechanically competent, I don’t see him as someone who knows the difference and prefers things. I think that Ted likes people so much that he hates to see them reduced to things. You use a tool; you do not use a person as a tool. It might be some vestige of humanist morality, but Ted has that outlook, and so do I. I’ll tell you, it makes it hard to be an egoist, where people are slated specifically to use one another as it suits them. I can’t say that I have never used anyone, but I always try my best to remember that people are in fact people and not things.
In the course of this summer project, I took 77 pages of notes and wrote thousands of words in response. Although this book does tend to tear down all the constructs and illusions that we have built for our own comfort, ultimately I take from it an acceptance of living a life as an imperfect person. Yarostan defended murderers for decades, and even he can run to the barricades. Sophia allowed her choices to be made by others her whole life, and even she can start a collectively run print shop with people with whom she has meaningful friendships.
I can’t imagine that anyone reading this right now has not read the book yet. If so, you made the wrong choice with your order of operations, I’m afraid. Although I sometimes feel like an evangelist trying to convince people to read this book, I remember that all it took was for one friend to recommend it, and my life was the better for it. Therefore, I encourage all my friends, lovers, and comrades to read this book without delay. It’s why I offer handmade merit patches to anyone who finishes. I think it’s that important.