Good Friends, Associates
by Jessica Sequeira
by Harold Abramowitz,
Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016
The brain, marvelous thing that it is, can usually process the bits and bobs of everyday experience, sequencing units of data to form an internal narrative. This seems necessary for a coherent understanding of personal and universal history. So what does it mean when the arrangement goes haywire? In Blind Spot, his novel in three parts (I — Hotel, II — Funeral, Postscript — Night), Harold Abramowitz has a go at this scenario, using self-deprecating obliqueness as his modus operandi. In his book, the ‘event’ itself, whatever this may be, is occluded, but the nervy ‘before’ and driftless ‘after’ continue to hover, transforming actions into a confusedly iterative and constantly rewritten cycle of cause and effect.
The main personage of Blind Spot is staying at a giant crumbling hotel with decor à la européenne, Los Angeles meets Magic Mountain. An omniscient narrator recounts how the man spends his days, wandering the premises through a cemetery, a garden, a series of meeting rooms. He is there for reasons that he himself cannot quite fathom, although each minor detail takes on significance, just as it would in a thriller. Is the destination a rest cure, hideout, psychological treatment centre, location for impending political assassination?
None of these things, and all of them, perhaps. Vagueness permeates the minimalist narrative. Elliptical structures and syntactic loops stagger through again and again, with minor variations. There is a certain musicality to the phrasings, even if their significance remains opaque. The death of a woman is alluded to, but stays forever an allusion. A mysterious General appears and smokes a cigar: his last? A popular song plays on the radio and is whistled by a guest. A sentimental memory, a cue. Or maybe it means nothing.
Blind Spot smashes multiple genres into a single space, blending and fusing romance, thriller and existentialist novel into a hybrid entity. Its form tests the notion that there is a singular aspect to the world:
Once it was not like this. At one time it was different. Once mountains were greater than people. There was a certain respect. He was sure about a lot of things, then. He knew where he was going when he left home. He knew who he was. There were clowns in the circus and magicians in the theaters up and down the boulevard, and street life, and characters he knew well, but that was only one dimension of his existence. A single dimension. A singular aspect. And if it had been what it was supposed to have been, what he’d supposed it had been, then even the surprises, the unexpected occurrences, would not have hurt him. But this being what it was. This being exactly what it was, and what it was, exactly, in spite of itself.
All the echoes, cut-ups, reverbs, delays and loops have an effect on the narrator. It’s possible he is made to live out simpler stories than the ones in which he finds himself, and would prefer to seek a purer truth. But in the impersonal no-place where language masses and ebbs away without ever fully arriving, he is left only with ‘could have been’ and ‘as such’. Where there’s a will, there’s a way; where there’s no will, there are infinite qualifiers. Half-dissolved dream, the habitat sees everything stripped from it but language. If you take out local detail, what is left? Style? Abstraction? Hallucination? Wishful thinking? Are Abramowitz’s elliptical worlds escapes or productive reinventions?
At the hotel the narrator fantasizes about strangers coming to help. He repeatedly mentions ‘good friends, associates’. This might be addition (good friends as well as associates), clarification (good friends who are associates) or correction (good friends or rather associates). Are we in the world of amusement or enterprise? Here the ambiguities of ‘good friends, associates’ map in uncomfortable and systemic ways onto ‘pleasure, business’. What’s more, peppered throughout the text, falsely clarifying connector phrases (i.e. in fact) and meaningless corrections (i.e. different, or, perhaps, unique) create a semblance of logic. A false veneer of readability conceals a seppuku of self-sabotage. Such filler expressions introduce themselves almost apologetically, as the cozy linkages necessary to make life glide on its way, nestling the inexplicable or random into an explanatory arc.
If one were capricious enough, one might read this novel side-by-side with Hotel by Arthur Hailey, a thriller and ‘bestseller’. Hotel and Blind Spot are not so different in tone, location, or even, perhaps, certain goings-on they relate. I am convinced that Mr Abramowitz could write quite a good bestselling novel, were this his objective. As such, here we have a jigsaw with a few pieces missing, a byzantine whodunit with murderer and murder hidden, a pace suitable to zippy entertainment that lacks a climax. The tone is urbane, almost a parody of world-weariness, even as nothing happens to merit such resignation. Yes, good friend; yes, associate. Yes, reader: nothing happens. In fact, even if we were to proceed into an empty room, in which a colleague does you in with a pistol, or not, as the case may be, nothing, still, would happen.
And yet. What if start to read this a different way? What if the event we are really watching is the creation of the book by itself? Though Blind Spot may not explicitly talk about its own processes, between its prose and the blurbs written on the back cover and promo page, we find ourselves in webs of text that lead everywhere and nowhere. Does this discourse aid in understanding? Or does it parallel the thought-leaps of conspiracy theory? The language about and around the work comes to infiltrate the work, in a way that can make the ‘real story’ seem superfluous. In the same way, the activities before, after and during the interrogations surrounding an event can make the event itself — criminal, personal — seem secondary or null, or even begin (illusion though it may be) to change the very nature of the incident.
Propagandists know the secret to an effective smear campaign is not evidence, but insinuation. Can you deny that you two-timed your girl? Defenders of free speech face ambiguities when the line between talk and action blurs. I’ve always thought he looked suspicious with those shifty eyes, the kind to do someone in. The focus in Blind Spot is on lead-up and fall-out, rather than the moment of the event, which begins to diminish in importance. Expectations and repercussions start to matter more than what ‘truly’ happened. Abramowitz’s novelistic vagueness probes how complexities can be drawn from chaos, ones that do not clarify the truth but ramify its possibilities.
There is something terrifying and bewildering about this; there’s also something very modern. We exist in a world where ‘fake news’ has real impact, where spin doctors deliberately circulate information about non-events knowing the impact would be the same if events ‘really’ took place, where humiliation and inflammatory rhetoric have become an accepted norm, since tomorrow the audience can be counted on to experience collective amnesia.
After reading, I had to pick up a few real, physical things. This is a Bic pen. That is a glass of water. A reversion to the comfort of childhood naming. Absorbed in full, this book has an effect on the reader too. Its complacency is deliberate; its red herrings come in shoals. In many ways Blind Spot is frustrating, futile and seemingly detached from a recognizable sense of reality. As such, it is very timely. Abramowitz’s character does not appear to enjoy his fracturing of reality and memory. Is a viable alternative possible, one in which event and representation are united?
About the Author:
Jessica Sequeira lives and writes in Buenos Aires.