By macabre coincidence, my reading of Paul Auster’s Blood Country essay was interrupted, at the end of January, by two killings in California.
Eleven people were killed in a ballroom in the Los Angeles-area town of Monterey Park on a Saturday night. Then, the following Monday, carnage on farms near San Francisco. Seven dead.
These large-scale shootings always give rise, explains the novelist in his book, to a sinister “ritual”.
They produce “a bloodbath of such magnitude and horror that all of American society comes to a halt as cameras race to the scene capturing images of devastated people shaking with tears, journalists explore the circumstances of the crime in detail […] and writers in op-eds and TV commentators inundate their audiences with their opinions.”
In fact, in January, this ritual unfolded exactly as Paul Auster described it.
If he was able to predict what was going to happen, it is because the same causes produce the same effects. And because they do not change, these causes.
His quest begins in a very personal way. He tells us about his own relationship to firearms, among other things by recounting the death of his paternal grandfather.
He also explains that his father could have encouraged him “to practice shooting as one of the fundamental imperatives of manhood”. Because firearms are part of the DNA of his country.
Thus, Paul Auster quickly passes from the intimate to the universal.
Weapons (and cars) are pillars of American national mythology, the writer points out, who says he is convinced that “the country’s colonial prehistory”, which took place “in a climate of incessant armed conflict”, sheds light on the present about it.
It evokes the bloody war aimed at preserving slavery, but also that waged against the natives.
Paul Auster then explores the role played by the propaganda machine that instrumentalized the Second Amendment to the American Constitution, which protects the right of citizens to own a firearm.
He of course cites the National Rifle Association, which in the 1970s and 1980s became a lobby group based on “the founding belief that guns are primarily an instrument of self-defense.”
He finally agrees that any truly substantive change to gun control, under the current political circumstances, would be blocked by Republicans in Congress.
These sites, often forgotten, photographer Spencer Ostrander transforms them into “tombstones of our collective grief”, writes Paul Auster.
This kind of work is necessary, of course. He makes the correct diagnosis and does so convincingly. And it reads in one go, Paul Auster being after all one of the most brilliant American writers of his generation.
Blood Country is therefore illuminating and useful… but it is also terribly depressing.
American novelist born in 1947 in Newark, New Jersey, he began publishing novels in the 1980s and several of his works were very successful, especially in French. He is the author of the New York Trilogy (City of Glass, Ghosts and The Hidden Chamber) and, more recently, of 4 3 2 1. A few days ago, we learned that he had cancer.