Chris Gisonny on the rhythms of language in Peter Dimock’s George Anderson: Notes for a Love Song in Imperial Time.
Do Americans lack a language adequate to the history they are living? Peter Dimock believes so, and he explores this issue in his strange and remarkable novel George Anderson: Notes for a Love Song in Imperial Time, published by Dalkey Archive Press. “Empire and democracy are not compatible,” Dimock writes. “By what narrative logic do we reconcile them?” The more specific question the novel poses is: What is it in our language that has fostered the American public’s complicity with their government’s use of torture despite its violation of international and domestic laws?
Dimock’s novel asserts that Empire’s delusions infuse the very rhythms of our language, which is to say our collective imagination. The US continually demonstrates an eagerness to defend its lofty principles via policies that negate those very principles. But this seems difficult for many Americans to grasp or confront in any meaningful way. In a broad sense this is probably due to what Dimock in his “Author’s Note” deems a “subjective internalization of [a] historical narrative of national triumph”—in other words, a pervasively accepted exceptionalism has crippled the critical thinking capacities of many Americans. The spurious pieties regurgitated endlessly by our pundits and demagogues do not help the situation; forging a collective sense of clarity in this purported democracy appears to be nothing more than the flimsiest of utopian fantasies.
But hold on, put down those cyanide capsules—we may not be completely fucked. Not just yet. The torture, the drones, the secret prisons, the assassinations of American citizens, the reduction of habeas corpus to some quaint, anachronistic custom—this is deplorable, yes, but as George Anderson argues, a true confrontation with Empire first requires us to confront Empire’s contamination of our own minds.