Monday, August 30, 2010

Note for the administration

Javert was born in prison. This I'd forgotten: I went back during his suicide chapter last week, to see what he did in his spare time (he read, "although he hated books") and there it was, again. His mother was a fortune-teller. As I've admitted many times, I've never read Les Misérables before, nor seen the show; beyond what I've absorbed through cultural osmosis of its contents (France, stealing bread, raggedy children, sewers) I didn't know what to expect. Spend any length of time tooling around the internet in search of useful stuff about the book, however, and questions you didn't want the answers to get answered too soon. If the teen Eponine fan sites don't tell you, something else will. Javert jumps.

Although not exactly. But first he writes a letter to his employer, the police. In criticism and reviews a phrase used to be common: "where a lesser writer would..." Has this phrase remained in circulation? This drastically Old School-sounding phrase: Where a lesser writer would have made Jean Valjean the subject of Javert's letter, the author of Les Misérables...leaps. The letter is a leap; something stratospheric is at hand, something unearthly it's so strange and fine. What can I compare it to? The final scene of Aida is close. Some Beatles songs, Norwegian Wood for instance. WWI G.I.s sending fan mail to Gertrude Stein from the trenches on account of Tender Buttons. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Albertine. Barbra Streisand. Michael Jackson's Motown Special Moonwalk: hearts everywhere leapt. Javert, himself, leaps--not into the Seine, but into his letter: each numbered point of ten a star to mark the outlines of a new constellation, The Leaping Police Spy.

This letter destroys me; I am in love with it. I weep at my desk as I read it again and again. All the observations of an all-observant life begun and passed in prisons and punishment, only: what he'd seen that still pained him; what rankled; what drove him crazy; what he'd needed, that one night, only, one of the saddest items of the ten: a fellow police spy to spell him. He'd been left too alone with Jean Valjean; he knows it. What he writes: "Thirdly: the mode of keeping track of a man with relays of police agents from distance to distance, is good, but, on important occasions, it is requisite that at least two agents should never lose sight of each other, so that, in case one agent should, for any cause, grow weak in his service, the other may supervise him and take his place." Because as it is, the police have lost both of them, Javert and Jean Valjean. One is free and the other one, having released his prey, is nothing but a dark form, there's nothing left inside this dark form that falls forward into about one o'clock in the morning, to disappear.

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