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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Thursday, November 23, 2006

breakdowns large and small

All kinds of ideas swirl in my head of things I'd like to write about as I go about my day(s), but now that I open up the text box here at Blogger.com--nada, or near-nada.

I'm underslept, that's one thing. Today I feel it. And the heavy cold rain has returned, falling from a featureless sky of thick watery cloud. The tapwater will continue to run yellow-green, the bathtub will fill with a brownish liquid like pond-water. The "boil water" advisory is still in effect.

These past two mornings I've spent time reading, on what has become my favorite source of online news or political commentary, a preview of an essay by Mark Danner called "Iraq: The War of the Imagination", which will be published in the December 21 edition of The New York Review of Books. In some ways it's like a compressed recap of Thomas Ricks's book Fiasco. And fiasco it is, lest there be any remaining doubters out there.

I'd read once that the word fiasco was someone's name--some Italian naval officer who'd screwed up in an exemplary way. But according to my Dictionary of Word Origins, it is simply Italian for "bottle", from an Italian phrase far fiasco, "make a bottle", theatrical slang for "suffer a complete breakdown in performance."

Performance breakdown. There are many ways for one's "performance" to break down. It's no doubt best done in the privacy and comfort of one's own home, rather than being writ large on the world stage, engulfing millions of lives and billions of dollars. So I've got that to be thankful for.

Another post I recently read at the Tomdispatch site was a piece on NASCAR racing and its political overtones. It gets me thinking about car-racing--seemingly a field rife with breakdowns. And yet, in some sense, I reckon they probably don't see mechanical failures that way. I'm assuming that in NASCAR they have pit stops as they do in Formula 1 racing--places where the cars pull in for quick servicing during the race. The key point is that they expect these--they're part of the race. You don't go out there without having a pit crew ready. The car is complex, expensive, and you're driving it hard, at the limits of its performance envelope. Things are going to go foo-foo here and there.

I suppose I'm driving toward the idea that "breakdowns" (which my Webster's defines as "a failure to function"--I love Webster's!) can be reframed as "pit stops": not (necessarily) disasters, but an inevitable part of pushing one's performance to the limits. Your car's pulled off to the side, the wheels are all off, you're not moving anywhere--but you're still in the race. Your stressed parts are just getting a little TLC.

I'm in the pit stop, and the wheels are definitely off. C'mon guys--put 'em back on!


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