Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Genius of Eric Ambler

The best spy novelist of them all, more insightful than Fleming, LeCarre, Ludlum, and others, was Eric Ambler. His first masterpiece was A Coffin for Dimitrios (aka The Mask of Dimitrios)-- a masterpiece not simply of the genre but of literature. He later produced another masterpiece, Judgement on Deltchev. This is must reading for anyone who wants to understand the games and realities of politics. I don't know where you'll find a copy-- I discovered possibly the only one in Detroit, at John King Books-- but do so. Now.

Ambler's novel provides what we seek from literature: truth. Though it was written in 1951, it carries penumbras of meaning and prophecy outside itself, up to our own time, by revealing statecraft as stagecraft. I can't say much more without giving away the plot. Does it anticipate "The Parallax View," for instance?

Most interesting to me is the character of Yordan Deltchev, a politician on trial. Ambler looks away from him in the second half of the narrative-- looks elsewhere, behind the curtain-- yet in doing so, in not looking at him, but at behind-the-scenes machinations, reveals him, so that the final glimpse of the man shuffling off on black-and-white film tells all. Read the book and see if you know what I'm talking about.
Speaking of stagecraft and politics: What of Obama?

Even though a creation, four years ago, of Time, Newsweek, and the rest of the media machine, he had a street organizer background which I saw as a positive. I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

On Labor Day, I joined a million other Detroiters eager to check out the candidate. What a day! The largest Labor Day parade in decades. Thousands upon thousands of workers marched down Woodward Avenue, accompanied by marching bands with newfound purpose, energizing the town. Onward they marched!-- for over two hours, chanting in unison the fiery union songs--

"When they see us
people ask us,
who we are,
So we tell them,
We are the Union!
Mighty, mighty Union!"

--a plurality of the marchers white workers, Obama's most needed demographic. Still they came, stretching up Woodward, and more than a mile beyond, with no end to the march.

Close to a million hardcore workers and city folk packed Hart Plaza at the river, at the foot of Woodward, to hear the new man. He was introduced by labor leaders Ron Gettelfinger of the UAW and James Hoffa of the Teamsters-- pale reflections of past leaders, sure, but surviving reflections of a downtrod movement nonetheless, and this morning they spoke with rare vigor and emotion. The sun was as bright as the prospects. They, along with everyone else who was present on the plaza, wanted to see the candidate; to hear a speech of fire!-- here in the shattered, largely shuttered industrial heartland. Here amid a city of economic and real devastation.

Obama spoke for five minutes. Out of deference for a hurricane far away in Louisiana, he explained he didn't want to talk politics. (But people are hurting here also, I thought!) No politics. No fire. No labor issues at all. Within minutes the man disappeared in a helicopter. People quietly went home. A missed opportunity. The event was so stunningly anti-climactic it could've come from an Eric Ambler novel.


Anonymous said...

That's odd.
Search "Barack Obama" "Detroit" on Youtube and you get several speeches, one lasting thirty minutes.

King said...

Obama has spoken in Detroit at least three times in the past few months. His speech on Labor Day was in front of the largest crowd of the three, by far,
and the most working class of them. It did indeed go only five minutes, and he said nothing.
p.s. When you post, please do so under your identity. Thank you.