Monday, 14 February 2022

Dark Rivers Without End - Berserk and The Path to Power

 Two dark, unfinished rivers occupy me currently, Kentaro Miuras 'Berserk' and Robert Caro's 'The Path to Power'.

One, 'The Path to Power' is incomplete but may reach its end, the other, 'Berserk' never will. Miura died recently, his opus will never be completed, Caro is still kicking (!) but is currently "pulling a Martin". From Wikipedia;

"In November 2011, Caro announced that the full project had expanded to five volumes with the fifth requiring another two to three years to write.[15][16][17] It will cover Johnson and Vietnam, the Great Society and civil rights era, his decision not to run in 1968, and eventual retirement. As of January 2020, Caro had completed 600 typed manuscript pages and was working on a section relating to the passage of Medicare in 1965.[18] In a 2017 interview, Caro expressed his intent to embark shortly on a research trip to Vietnam.[19] In an interview with The New York Review of Books in January 2018, Caro indicated he did not know when the book would be finished, mentioning anywhere from two to ten years.[20]"

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Very different works. One is about a man who fights monsters and the other is about the monster.

What unifies them is the depth and darkness of the subject matter and the almost ridiculously classically-heroic scale of their relative achievements. Both creators combine skill and craft with an incredible, almost stupidly titanic amount of WORK.

"Fuck you, I spent thirty years on this. Seriously, just fuck off. Do *you* have thirty years to spend on one thing? No you do not, so fuck right off. Don't even look at me son I will kill you by blinking."

Caro's first _book_ on LBJ came out in 1982, but the research likely started god knows how long before then. It’s possible that by the time he is done Caro may have spent more time investigating, writing and thinking about Lyndon Baines Johnson than Lyndon Bains Johnson spent being Lyndon Baines Johnson. His book(s) are a simultaneous exultation and destruction of a mans reputation in a way that will *never* be amended; there is literally nothing anyone can say about LBJ after this - no-one can do this much work on him, the only meaningful history the could do is reading Caro’s notes and taking a different point of view.

Miura began in 1988/89 and, on and off, barring illness, has been going for 30 years. Many things are good about Berserk but to pick out one of the more obvious; the simple and staggering attention to beauty, intensity, terror and detail that goes into Miura’s images, which cascade through the story like impossible memories. Think I remember reading that Miura was producing linework so fine and so detailed that his publishers were worried because the printing process wouldn't be able to capture it. 

Miura has his unfinished masterpiece  bourne along by the sheer tumbling weight and black size of the story as a whole - for with a story that long, that coherent and that INTENSE, every single moment holds as a mirror a thousand referents of deep familiarly and meaning. 

Caro has done what few could do, and what perhaps could only BE done at this moment in history, and simply interviewed everyone that Lyndon Johnson ever spoke to or dealt with (who would talk and was alive), often multiple times - at the only historical point at which these people would be both, alive, and also long enough after the power structure of LBJ, and the terror of the man, has weakened enough that they might be willing to talk. 

There is more to art than skill and work but not necessarily a lot more.

Caro's telescope can't help but tell a history of America, of power and tragedy, at the same time. Such is the depth and detail with which he examines every particular moment that, like a great painting, every scene has it own cast, set and history, all of which are illuminated and described. One feels one could take any character who walks onto the scene and follow them off it, all the way home. What starts as an environmental history of the Texas hill country and a dynastic history of his family before his birth, turns into a social history and, as LBJ gains power and influence, becomes a political or 'Great Man' history. 

Because Caro has interviewed literally EVERYONE LBJ ever spoke to or dealt with who was willing, looked into every document, checked every box, he has uncovered every, or maybe many, individual lie and manipulation Lyndon Baines Johnson every engaged in. Of which there were not many, or a myriad, but lies beyond passing, beyond comprehension, almost a galaxy of lies, a shifting, nebulous stormy counterverse to which LBJ was the psychopomp and within which those who dealt too long with him were trapped.

To seize a brief fragment of these horrors for explanation and display; LBJ at college.

Being a mediocre student LBJ first glues himself to the faculty with almost palpably disgusting and visceral levels of dickriding obsequious brownosing. He whores his tongue out to whomever wields institutional power to an extent that we who read can hardly believe people fell for it. (It wounds the soul  to think too deeply on how utterly weak and morally worthless almost every institution proved itself to be before this mans vacant burning ambition.) Add lies. Constant, shifting, endlessly protean lies about this, about that, so much that LBJ gains the name 'Bull', because everyone (every Student, the faculty still love him), knows that most of what comes out of this mans mouth is bullshit.

Add secrecy, manipulation, domination. With campus politics ruled by a clique of star football types and their female antipodes, LBJ challenges them for control of the microscopic power wielded by these institutions. Not openly  of course, and no directly. He knows full well that everyone hates him. Instead he forms, or encourages the formation of a secret society, (the actual 'leaders' of this society either don't realise that they inevitably end up following his lead on all things or don't care), and with the aid of this invisible group, effectively steals the elections to every major college student institution. With the power of patronage control of these, along with his brown-nosing, get him, he builds a hidden network of obedient, subservient, fearful and craven scum who will obey his will.

With these he completes the destruction of the college elite, their political destruction, if they hold patronage posts he wants then their economic destruction and if he can get the details on them, their personal destruction.

One class star, the only person who can keep up with, and even beat LBJ in debates, is shocked to find out that due to a last minute rule change, an important newspaper post won't be going to him after all. He realises that someone is doing something to him, but doesn't realise that it’s a secret organisation, doesn't realise LBJ is in charge of it and doesn't realise that this man he had debated constantly, and who he thought respected him, that they respected each other, for isn't the strong cut and thrust of debate what college is all about, and they had always been friendly, that this man in fact absolutely and totally despised him, because he had beaten him, and had connived and plotted relentlessly for a year for goals which, though manifold, included his personal destruction.

The invisibility of the manipulations, the total surrender of the 'authorities' to simple flattery, the sheer and horrible malevolence, the sustainment of such hatred, quietly, imperceptibly, the ease with which groups are manipulated to goals they do not understand, the, almost eager terror and subservience of so many people, the craven manner in which people hide even their fear, for even decades later they won't spill it immediately, Caro has to go back and interview the same people multiple times till they will open up, so great and secret is their fear of the long-dead LBJ, his organisation and their own shame at what they had done and not done, all of this was something like a living nightmare for me. TRIGGERED BY THE DARK TRIAD PATRICK HAD TO LIE DOWN.

A dark, damned and frightening man.

(I have, at no point since adolescence, entertained seriously the idea that Kennedy might have been assassinated by elements inside the U.S. government. This has been very very slightly modified, not by any actual evidence, but simply by an increasing awareness of LBJ's character. I don't know if he did do such a thing, but I am certain that if someone made him the offer, and he thought he could get away with it, that he *would* do it. The man simply had no moral core whatsoever.)

What is Berserk "about?" A huge dude with a sword who fights monsters. A struggle to shape some kind of moral life in a reality in which absolutely no moral core exists. A search for meaning. The possibility for growth from one of the most damaged and wounded people imaginable.

Curious thing about Berserk is that Guts entire arc is also totally shaped by the effects of an insane, persuasive and ultimately empty narcissist who commands and unifies the lives of those around him, gives them purpose, meaning and a future and who ultimately betrays them all for power. The drive for revenge, justice, or simply to protect and heal what remains, makes up the 'motivation' of the rest of the story. Can you ever get justice against a narcissist? Against someone who simply cannot comprehend what they have done wrong?

That part of Guts' story will remain ever-open, the series incomplete and the final confrontation and resolution hanging in the air.

The moral part of the story is settled though, simply by the struggle for humanity. Its almost laughable how similar and different the two heroes are. What links them is overwhelming, almost insane, drive and will, far beyond that of ordinary men. In both cases the response to trauma and defining between them the arcs of on one hand, a shattered and impoverished soul, and on the other a complete personality.

What is this magnificent foolishness of great men? It kind of fits with Miura because the piece itself is so tragic, and because of its central themes of resistance and perseverance. In a way it’s a mercy because if it had gone on any more I doubt I would have had the space to collect the whole thing, certainly not in these deluxe volumes. It’s like a deep dark dream that you wake up from before it is resolved, or where particularly, the dream itself is deep, and the waking is both jarring and unexpected - woken in the early hours by a rattling on a door - a sudden jolt into wakefulness.

What the hell was he thinking, dying like that?

6 comments:

  1. "Can you ever get justice against a narcissist? Against someone who simply cannot comprehend what they have done wrong?" ... hmmm. hmmmmmmm. wonder if this question has any deeper resonance to you personally or to the ORS movement as a whole. hmmmm. lmao.

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  2. You get more of a nuanced sense of LBJ with the later volumes. He wasn't a nice man. But you come to have a grudging appreciation for him.

    Caro pulled the ultimate Martin by releasing a new, tangential book a couple of years ago despite the fact his legions of fans are waiting on tenterhooks for the final volume of the main series. Twat.

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    1. David he just stabbed Sam Raeburn in the back, I will never forgive him!

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  3. only you could think of juxtaposing caro's and miura's work. post of the week.

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