This review (below) was scheduled to appear in a journal last year, but the publication had to back out of the commitment, so I’m posting it now on my own.
The “o” in tolerate is one of those Emersonian circles suggesting infinity, or as Emerson has it “around every circle another can be drawn.” Emerson’s description is equally a synonym for rewriting, as in “rewriting history.” My suggestion is that toleration can be a form of rewriting history, making history an “o,” a nothingness, as if what happens is a big zero, even when the original “o” was a circle around a spot meant to be marked as the answer to a question.
John Banville’s Snow is a novel that seeks to undo the troubles of toleration, where toleration generates a world rewritten to erase something important, violent, and wrong, as if it didn’t happen. The Catholic Church plays a major role in this novel, so no need to identify the “it” that everyone in the novel rewrites, avoids, tolerates. “It” has been going on for hundreds of years. You already know.
The non-Catholic Irish detective in the narrative endures the continual rewriting of his own name. Detective Strafford cannot escape being called “Stafford.” Not hearing an “r” serves as a leitmotif for characters not hearing “it.” Strafford himself participates in erasing the truth for others: “He spared her the worst of it, more out of cowardice than consideration. He couldn’t bring himself to tell her what had been done to her brother as he lay dying. What would be the point of her knowing that detail? With luck, she would never hear of it [my emphasis] — no newspaper in the country would dare print such shocking facts.”
The newspapers wouldn’t dare, in part, due to the Catholic Church’s influence, a fact that emboldens a church official Strafford’s boss orders him to meet. The exchange underscores the rot disguised as good intentions that constitutes the air Banville’s characters breathe. The church official, an Archbishop, wants neither to see nor to hear the truth he already knows.
The Archbishop shook his head, letting his eyelids close lightly for a second. “Enough, enough,” he breathed. “I know, from Commissioner Phelan, what came next.” He paused for a moment, then moved a step closer to Strafford. “Do you think, Inspector, do you really think, that any good, any good at all, would result from the public disclosure of such lurid, such terrible, facts?” “Your Grace, as Shakespeare said, murder will out, and so will the truth, however terrible.” The Archbishop smiled. “Ah, yes. Life, though, is not a play, but all too real. And some aspects of reality are better — what was the word I used earlier? — are better withheld. I see you don’t agree. Well, you must do as you think best. You have your duties” — here, a hard glint came into his eyes — “as I have mine.”
Just as we’re spared regular images of morgues, ICUs, funerals and cemeteries during the pandemic, or forbidden by law to see military coffins coming back from war zones, the Catholic Church does its “duty” to prevent the terrible fact of the “it” from public discourse. They make financial settlements with victims, transfer priests to new parishes, or withhold information for decades, as in the recent case in Germany where nuns participated in “it.” Now, we have a former Pope involved in “it.”
Banville needs no help from me to gain readers and fame. He’s got his. Snow is Banville giving back, using the mystery genre to do his duty on behalf of truth. Banville won’t celebrate forgetting, won’t tolerate Emerson’s party for religion in “Circles,” the conclusion of which seeks to make a virtue of acting “without knowing how or why,” the fulfilment of “the desire to forget ourselves.”
As the number of deaths from the pandemic rises, we see the consequences of forgetting ourselves, behaving as if “it” doesn’t exist, won’t hurt us, might be a “hoax.” After all, you can’t see “it.” The concluding image of Banville’s tale is of disappearance. “It” is about other people. “It” cannot interfere with my wish to go on spring break, to party, to visit my friends and relatives, to travel, to keep my business open. “It” isn’t my responsibility. “It” gets bracketed.
Banville’s genius surfaces in a chapter that stands out from the rest, because it’s in the voice of the murderee and deep into the novel. The chapter rewrites “it” from the perspective of the perpetrator, who deems himself blameless.
I don’t think of myself as a great sinner … [t]he trouble was, Ginger, when you hit him, looked so – I don’t know. So vulnerable, so small – so fragile, you might say, though he was the size of a bull calf and was anything but delicate. All the same, anyone with half a heart would have had to take pity on him, and comfort him, after a beating. You see, a boy who has been hurt is so appealing, that’s the thing … [W]hen I hit him, the way he’d try to be brave, and manly – all that was, well, I can only say it was irresistible. And then of course I’d have to take him in my arms and put my hands on him, because I wanted to make the pain stop, wanted to make him feel better. I hope you see the point I’m trying to make here. It was an endless circle … – a circle I couldn’t break, I couldn’t. It wasn’t my fault. I know it wasn’t.
The circularity helps the perpetrator to rationalize the repetition. Round and round we go. It’s dizzying. No wonder people’s heads hurt trying to understand how “it” can continue, how others fulfill their desires at others’ expense, even unto others’ deaths. It’s not their fault. The perpetrators will be the first to say so, and that will be the case so as long as the rest of us tolerate it. Perhaps Banville is trying to teach us to be less tolerant, a goal worthy of a prize-winning novelist.
The administrators at the University of South Florida aren’t about to take responsibility for the fiasco, though they’re the ones who put the person in sole charge of issuing credit cards, and then didn’t do the “research” to watch what was happening. Probably not “best practice” among those familiar with accounting. However, the embezzler did stimulate Florida’s economy.
At least $11.5 million of the stolen funds went to the adult website — mygirlfund.com, which promises users the chance to connect “with sexy girls you won’t find anywhere else,” according to Protiviti’s investigative report.
Puglisi had about 22,000 interactions with the site, Protiviti’s investigators found. He frequented the profile of a woman based in Toronto and paid more than $22,400 to fly her and her friends to Orlando three times. He spent another $43,700 to put them up at Disney World resorts, according to the consulting firm’s report.
In Ohio, for instance, Justin Buckel took a plea deal in 2018 for several drug charges and an assault charge — the latter related to Officer Green’s supposed fentanyl overdose, which occurred after Buckel was arrested. This despite the fact that there is no scientific justification for thinking that brushing some fentanyl powder off one’s shirt could physically incapacitate anyone. (This year, Green was terminated by his department for an unrelated matter involving what an internal investigator called “a documented case of dishonesty.”)
“Our era constitutes a next step in the project of the aestheticization of politics. According to Benjamin’s 1935 definition of the term, aestheticization of politics means that the political sphere became a spectacle in which the masses could express their political rights in inconsequential ways—that is, without any effect on actually changing property relations.”
— A. Kiarina Kordela, Cultural Critique (Summer 2021)