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The Burden of Proof: Prophecy and Ontology in Paul Austers Oracle Night

A thesis submitted to the faculty of

San Francisco State University
In partial fulfillment of
The requirements for
The degree

Master of Arts
English: Literature

Maximilian Rankenburg
San Francisco, California
May, 2005

The Burden of Proof: Prophecy and Ontology in Paul Austers Oracle Night

Maximilian Rankenburg
San Francisco State University

The Burden of Proof: Prophecy and Ontology in Paul Austers Oracle Night is a
structuralist reading of Auster's text. By examining the relationship between the
structures of the text, and of its protagonist-narrator, I reveal, primarily and
specifically, the complex narrative surrounding the question of identity, and formally,
the strange border between structuralist and post-structuralist approaches to literature.
The essay is in three parts. I begin my investigation with analysis of the concept of an
oracle. What does the idea of prophecy do to a normal definition of narrative? I use
throughout my essay, more as a heuristic and test-site for my investigation than
analogy, the figure from Delphi in Oedipus the King. The second theme, rising from
Oedipus's difference with Jocasta meaning is ab extra; meaning is ab intra
concerns structuralism, or the reassemblage of narrative-parts in an effort at revealing
the intelligible function of the whole. The third theme concerns the shortfall of a
structuralist view. I do not go so far as to compare my approach to a post-structuralist
one; but I make it clear that Sidney Orr's project at memoir, and Oracle Night, indict a
form of structuralism.



Gneli Gn



List of Appendices. v

Prologue 1-9

Part One: Lexemes 1-12 10-51

Part Two: Lexemes 13-24 . 52-93

Part Three: Lexemes 25-30 ... 94-110

Epilogue 111-114

Appendices 115-120

Notes .. 121-134

Works Cited and Consulted 135-137



Appendix Page

1. Dramatis Personae 115-117

2. Lexemes and References ..... 118-119

3. The Narrative Line . 120



vaticinor: tr. to foretell, prophesy; to keep harping on intr to prophesy; to rant and rave,
talk wildly

This essay is about a conflicted character, and has a conflicted character. The
bipartite foundation will first become apparent in descriptions of my intent, and my act.

P.i The Intent

To describe my intent, I quote the prospectus I wrote for this essay five months
In this essay I intend to examine the lies perpetrated by Sidney Orr,
the protagonist of Paul Austers Oracle Night, to examine the illusion of
reality these lies create, and, in revealing the emptiness at the core of his
character, to examine the consequences of his condition.
Why does Sidney Orr since Oracle Night is the story of his
rehabilitation lie to, and delude, himself?
To answer this question I will concentrate on narrative structures.
The novel itself a description Orrs transition from a question, a
perplexed, estranged point of view, to a state of unparalleled happiness
exposes a large facet of the protagonists character. So, beginning with the

macrocosm, or (1) an overview of the structure of the novel, I will then
sharpen my focus and consider particular elements of the narrative.
I will examine (2) the narrative structure of an oracle. What form
of order does this character impose? In what ways does Oedipus the King
illuminate Orrs problem?
I will examine (3) the narrative structure of Hammetts Flitcraft
episode, and examine how it is used by Orr. What form of order does this
character suggest? How is chance defined by, and woven into, the
narrative? More specifically, how do intertextuality, and peripeteia,
complicate Orrs narrative?
Concluding that Orr is not a detective of the Dupin-order that is,
not a semiotician I will argue for (4) the hermeneutics of Oracle Night.
Are the illusions of Oracle Night only aspects of an interpreter-centered
narrative? Is intertextuality a consequence of such a structure? And,
returning to the initial problem, is there a place for ethics in this

P.ii The Act

I can assert with confidence that number one, above, I more than accomplish in
this essay. Numbers two and three are also accomplished, but I anticipate not, for
differences of perspective, to everyones satisfaction. I can safely say that number four,

above, is not a part of this essay. While the questions I raise therein remain pertinent, and
are indirectly considered, I never focus my attention on hermeneutics per se. The
problem, intrigue, and allure of the oracles narrative, I contend, is essentially a problem
of hermeneutics; but I do not examine this relationship to any depth in this essay.
The act itself is a structural one. In Barthess terminology, I dissect and
I collate lexemes and analytically compare, in a restructuring (articulation) of
the protagonist and of the novel, repeated signifiers of structure.
That is not to say that
my paradigm is structuralist. I keep too respectful (i.e. fearful) an eye on the themes of
chaos, cognitive dissonance, the indeterminacy of meaning, paradox, and the like, to fall
into that category. More specifically, my paradigm is not structuralist for two reasons:
first, I do not presume or suggest an historical context to the lexemes apart from the
fictional history of their evolution;
and second, I am not de-coding the text into a
general, poly-textual or cultural, form. My primary concern, as an unfortunate
redundancy will soon make clear, is a question of character, of the protagonists hidden,
and possibly criminal, characteristics. That said, I do build, or rebuild, a text. I do pay
special attention to symmetry, and objectivity. But these apparent acts are done under a
kind of duress, in a kind of dream whose end is imminent and in which I desire
something that I know I will never find, that I know is just out of reach, around the next
A more precise description of the form of the essay is this: the three parts roughly
reflect three distinct sections of Oracle Night.
I begin my investigation with analysis of
the concept of an oracle. What kind of narrative does she inhabit? What does the idea of

prophecy do to a normal definition of narrative? I use throughout my essay, more as a
heuristic and test-site for my investigation than analogy, the figure from Delphi in
Oedipus the King. The second theme I consider, rising from Oedipus's difference with
Jocasta meaning is ab extra; meaning is ab intra concerns structuralism, or the
reassemblage of narrative-parts in an effort at revealing the intelligible function of the
whole. The third theme concerns the shortfall of a structuralist view. I do not go so far as
to identify my approach as a post-structuralist one, but I make it clear that Sidney Orr's
project at memoir, and Oracle Night, indict a form of structuralism.
The disparity, then, with which I conclude the antagonism between structure
and de-structure, and the clear difference between my intent and my act I would now
like to introduce.

P.iii Spelling it Out: The Oracles Narrative

I made the following analysis in October of 2003, for a presentation on the novel
Cane by Jean Toomer. The phenomenon of reflexivity is dazzling: my words on
prophecy, in 2003, return to me two years later, in a more revealing, powerful, and useful
way. That is, I act, by necessity, as if today, and these words, were my last; but I know
Consider the Latin word oraculum, for the English oracle, or
prophesy. And further: ora- for the English boundary, edge, coastline, or
region. And culum, denoting a place, or tool-instrument-device. Does

this dissection lend a clear definition of oraculum in English? I suppose
the boundary place is close to my idea of prophecy; it beats instrument of
the coast. But it is obvious that the boundary place or the edge is not
exactly what we mean in English by oracle.
Consider the word prophesy. Its Latin cousin is vaticinor, to
foretell, to play the harp, to rant and rave. Little did I know that the strange
word oracle had a strange lineage. The strangeness lies beneath a veneer
of contrasted ideas: the boundary place, the edge, and to rant and rave.
Boundaries are clear; in fact, in order for the word to function, the
boundary must be clear. You can walk toward the beach, for instance, and
see from a long distance off where land ends and water begins. And in a
facile sense of defining the word, an oracle, or prophecy, is the
establishment of a boundary for some aspect of the future. Prophesy, that
is, clarifies a distant point in time; it is a story that corrals understanding
of the future, and in doing so determines the point beyond which
knowledge is forbidden.
Rant and rave is not as co-operative. One thinks of teenagers, or
senile geriatrics; of anger and madness. Question: how does rant and rave
fit with the boundary place to make prophesy?
The how is not important in this case. What is important to
consider is the strident contrast of ideas inside of the word oracle. To rant

and rave and, simultaneously, to define a boundary, is part of the
performance of an oracle.
Because of this ungainly requirement, the oracle say the woman
at Delphi, chosen and touched by the Gods requires a translator. Called a
priest, this man carefully listens to the nonsense of his charge, and then
interprets the sounds for the inquisitor, who often is a young prince caught
in what has come to be known as the crisis of identity.
Oracular cane. This benediction can not be ignored: when Cane
speaks, it tells the truth, but in an incomprehensible tongue. One relies on
the priest, an intermediary; but who is he?
oracular, our primary experience with Cane, is an electrical
shock, a ritual, the choreographic structure encompassing the narrative: a
prince, with the leisure to be introspective, leaves home and pays a visit to
the oracle. Who am I? What will I become? he asks. The oracle takes a
deep breath, and begins; the prince, confused by her babble, turns to a
priest, who stands at hand; the priest listens, and reflects, and then speaks
in the princes tongue; and the prince returns home with this knowledge
What is the nature of the oracle? What kind of power does she

P.iv Spelling it Out


This essay has a conflicted character due in part to the character it investigates. I
discuss the relationships between intention and action, the past and the present and the
future, fiction and non-fiction, all under the rubric of narrative; I discuss these systems
with the implicit aim of drawing lines, of distinguishing one element from another. That
this abstract endeavor is probably impossible to accomplish like the dreamer who
knows he dreams, but still desires is more than a little frustrating. Then why continue
along this vein? As it will become clear, this vein is first, of the text, Oracle Night, and
second, of my interpretative approach. That is to say, mine is not, for the sensation of
experiment, a contrived position; it is, I think, a necessary one.
Finally, I want to warn you about idiosyncrasies of the essay, and provide a word
of explanation.
Spelling it out: I do not always explain beforehand my direction, my course, my
reason for selecting one lexeme over another. I have thought of two reasons to
warm this reticence. First, I often do not know where the text is taking me; you
are not alone in the disoriented experience. Second, I have made many
assumptions, a few of which are these: a) You have read the text; b) You have
read related, supplementary, etc., texts; c) You can foresee the end of a query
before its arrival, fill in the gaps of my implications, and are basically astute
enough a reader to converse with me about the problems I raise. Does not all of
this go without saying?
The First Person Singular: The generic plural, We, and the archaic One, in
expression of the authors position, are conventions, kinds of fiction, and in my

view, noisome. My I, which is no less fictional than We but closer to the
truth, designates in this essay several things: a) myself, the author of this text; b)
myself, the reader of the text, Oracle Night; c) my vicarious self, the double of the
protagonist. Occasionally I forget myself, and a generic We comes through (I
cant catch all of them), and occasionally a We is used, as anybody who takes
reading seriously will understand, to express my alliance or complicity with a
character in the text.
I appreciate clarity. This essay is a concerted effort at reconstruction, an
architectural act. To succeed it requires transparency. However, words are
ambiguous things; and ambiguity has a rhetorical purpose. For these reasons I
have not liquidated all of the related problems, i.e., unanswered questions,
analytical dead-ends, innuendos, etc.: either I can not achieve this, for the nature
of a word, or I do not, for the nature of my argument.
Continuity: Related to ambiguity is the question of formal continuity. This essay
is literally broken. Figuratively, there is unity, a continuous thread, a sound
structure. But this structure is a figure of speech, or more specifically, a figure of
my narrative. It demands your participation, your insight. If the structure were
delineated and contained within safe limits, then its function, I think, would be

P.v Dramatis Personae


Oracle Night is a novel about identity, the identity of a convalescent, the identity
of his work, I call it a memoir, but it is also a fiction; the identity of a moment in time,
and even more abstract, the identity of the reader. There are countless pieces of this
puzzle to sort through,
and often the investigation seems endless, and I feel like the
wizened cracked detective who will not let a certain unsolved case go, poring over the
evidence for decades. But things happen, and a trace appears, heres a fissure we didnt
notice before, and light, and clarity where the dust hasnt settled. With renewed vigor and
determination (madness la Ahab, Sutpen, Orr) we press on.
I act, by necessity, as if today, and these words, were my last. I know otherwise.
In the pleasure of reading Oracle Night and of composing this essay, I glimpse myself,
who I am, and what I will become. The phenomenon is dazzling. But not, I suspect, to my
eyes alone. I would be nothing without the loyal friendship and assistance, intellectually
and realistically, of my colleague, Matt Montgomery; or without the encouragement and
guidance of you, my readers, Professor Geoffrey Green and Professor Beverly Voloshin.
I hope your experience with this essay is as rewarding to you as the last two years of
reading and writing in your acquaintanceship have been for me.


Part One

The trope my structural activity is most concerned with is synecdoche. As I said
above, an understanding of the structure of the text will contribute to an understanding of
the structure of its protagonist; and vice versa. There are numerous kinds of synecdoche
in Oracle Night, each of which I will describe in time, in turn.
In this part of the essay, I analyze the first twelve sections of the text. Since the
results of my labor appear unpolished and disparate, I make this note as a reminder: at the
center of this part is a narrative structure built with the figures of a supplicant, an oracle,
and a destiny. What I only suggest in this part, but what will become clear, is the
coupling of Orrs memoir with Orrs fiction. In other words, here is the foundation of a
larger structure; here is the description of a trajectory between a real present and an
imaginary future.

1. Sickness

The admission of illness imposes certain conditions. I read, I was sick. For a
time, I was not myself. Now Im better. Now Im healed, back to normal. And also,
While I was sick, time almost stopped. Or how can one explain the unpredictable
occasion of treachery in the body I have no recollection of the passing of time during
that time. In either case, the admission, the opening sentence, establishes a boundary, a
limit to the story that is about to unfold; it creates an ambiguous moment in the past, and

the intention, now, to clarify this ambiguity. I had been sick for a long time (1). The
statement connotes introspection, reconsideration, a search for differences and deviations
in the self.
I, the recipient of this claim, sympathize. I understand sickness. I understand a
breach of trust. Which is to pose the question, should I now trust a convalescing man?
What exactly is an unambiguous moment, an unambiguous state of health?
The sickness, in this case, is also a kind of citation. The opening is not itself; the
text, in its resemblance to the opening of Poes story The Man of the Crowd, is sick:

For some months I had been ill in health, but was now convalescent, and,
with returning strength, found myself in one of those happy moods which
are so precisely the converse of ennui moods of the keenest appetency,
when the film from the intellect, electrified, surpasses as greatly its
everyday condition Merely to breathe was enjoyment; and I derived
positive pleasure even from many of the legitimate sources of pain.

Metaphysically, for my protagonist, the sickness persists: in the present, he is seen
as a miracle, a freak, almost like the walking-dead, a man who breaks natural law and
gets away (1). This strain, however, attacks the ally, Poe, whose protagonist rises and
surpasses normality; our narrator descends. He is alienated from his own body; he
recalls himself as a phantom, as half of who he thinks he was, as if to say, Was I that

Alienated from time, from his body, from his words, our narrator, it would seem,
can shirk some responsibility for what follows. He speaks a kind of hearsay, from a
contrived position of innocence.

2. The Morning in Question

Here is the beginning, a second beginning, a second, specific ambiguity. I reread
what precedes this morning as a prologue, as a song encapsulating the essence of the
narrative I presently enter. I am now, or will soon, drift along like a spectator in
someone elses dream (2). And time will merely pass (3).
The narrative, however, is not a dream-vision. The narrator does not describe or
imply the illogical, magical, or absurd, any of the characteristics of a dream. Indeed, his
tone resists ambiguity; he pays close attention to detail.
I shall pay close attention to detail.
The estrangement I described above is repeated, in variations, in what follows.
The narrator stands apart from his experience, in reminiscence.
What does he see in his
review? Ill gloss the obvious.
Names. On the morning in question (3) our narrator is on, and in, Court Street
(3). He enters a stationery shop, a palace (4), before which is a paper simulacrum of New
York, the city he inhabits. Inside the shop he confuses the initials of the proprietors
name, M.R. Chang, for mister (8); in exchange, M.R. Chang confuses the narrators
name, Orr Sidney Orr, for the conjunction or (10).

Number, measurement, space and time. Approximately three and a half months
separate the morning in question from Orrs release from the hospital (4); twenty years
separate the morning in question from Orrs present, the moment in which he writes
(9). The model of the city consists of stationary towers (3); Changs ledger is made up
of columns (4); my narrator, who, this morning decided to go the other way, turning right
instead of left, heading south (3), makes horizontal peregrinations in one plane, and
vertical (descending) in another; the footnote (9), in its spatial position, is a diminished
text, a subtext, and also, in its temporal position, a metatext, an afterthought, a review and
overview of the text.
Universals. Space and time compel me to skip over a few particulars the
Hammett episode, modeled on Hawthornes story Wakefield; the allusion, in the word
lid and its context, to Poes story The Premature Burial in order to color in one of the
predominant themes of the narrative. The world is governed by chance. Randomness
stalks us every day of our lives, and those lives can be taken from us at any moment for
no reason at all (14).
This thesis immediately pertains to the Hammett episode, the
story of a man named Flitcraft (13); simultaneously, Orr is a man who was supposed to
die, who surprised everyone, including himself, in living. The overlap, the semblance of
characteristics the authors experience predicting the experience of his character; and to
further complicate this relation, the character of Flitcraft, Hammetts invention, was
handed-over to Orr by John Trause (12), another author suggests a complex relation
between what is called the fiction and its environment of invention, ostensibly a non-
fiction. But this inquiry is impatient, slightly beside the point. The problem of chance is

what I want illumined. The sentence, The world is governed by chance, in the context
of a man with a questionable past, for whom unidentified trauma occurred, and whose
name, Sidney, evokes without artifice the homophones cede and n, calls to Jocasta,
wife of Oedipus:

What should a man fear? Its all chance,
chance rules our lives. Not a man on earth
can see a day ahead, groping through the dark. (1069-1071)

Here, then, is the twilight of the day in question. Is the answer to the question
randomness or order? What are the consequences of choosing one over the other?
The list of questions and narrative-points I here provide has a twofold purpose.
First, I must reveal the tone of jurisprudence. Sidney Orr begins his narrative with an
unstated question, a questionable question, and begins in the proximity of law, on Court
Street, inside an edifice that shows to the world its universality and order, wherein the
definition of commonplace words, names, is closely scrutinized. Second, I want revealed
Orrs attention to structure, the microcosm and its constituency, and also the structure of
the macrocosm, of which Orr is not entirely aware. While he amends his narrative,
providing details in the form of footnotes, he alludes, primarily in the text,
to countless
other narratives, one of which concerns Oedipus, who, on the approach to his destruction,
blithely amends the story of his life.


3. Oracle Night I

The first entry into Orrs notebook is a microcosm, a novel-within-a-novel. Nick
Bowen is the protagonist of the embryonic novel. The mature novel is the one in Bowens
possession: Oracle Night, by Sylvia Maxwell.
I want to highlight the insignificant detail of the order of entries in Orrs
notebook. I suspect that the inner-notebook synecdochically reflects the outer-notebook,
Orrs primary text. Of course, this suspicion can only fully develop from the end of the
narrative; by the same token, here is a case in point of the reader-as-detective.
Details become significant in retrospect. Reading is actually rereading. An
argument against a theory of present-tense reader-response might go as follows: the total
significance, the full meaning of any aspect of a narrative is necessarily constructed from
a point beyond the end of the narrative, when the fullness of the narrative has been
The reading-moment is incomplete in itself. The reading-moment is a
prophetic moment, in how it draws pieces of meaning from the future, from what will
happen. Until this future is realized, nothing can be said conclusively.

the sentence does not consist solely of a statement which after all,
would be absurd, as one can only make statements about things that exist
but aims at something beyond what it actually says. This is true of all
sentences in literary works, and it is through the interaction of these
sentences that their common aim is fulfilled. This is what gives them their

own special quality in literary texts. In their capacity as statements they
are always indications of something that is to come, the structure of which
is foreshadowed by their specific content.

The meaning of any particular word or phrase involves the leap of information
through time, over the textual terrain. Be patient.
I will describe this phenomenon in more detail. Envision a map of the book, over
which, like the descriptions of airplane routes from city to city, lines are drawn,
originating and terminating in hubs, loci of meaning, or more precisely loci of authorship
(origin) and readership (destination). What do these lines communicate?

3.i A Novel

Oracle Night begins with a war, in the theater of chance; it also begins with the
imminent conclusion of this war.
Oracle Night is a memoir, a return, in the mind of the narrator, to a catastrophic
Oracle Night begins with a bifurcated question, a selfish question: it is both the
question itself, and also the question of the questions existence.
The juxtaposition of multiple narratives requires some explication. Bowen (Orrs
fiction) is reading Maxwells fiction (Orrs sub-fiction, and metafiction) when Rosa
Leightman (Orrs fiction) enters (16). Since Leightman is related to Maxwell, Bowen

senses the uncanny: the woman before him is a variation, by blood, of the woman above
him, his employer, the author of the book on his desk, who is also a woman behind him,
temporally, and beneath him, ontologically, in the sense that Maxwell creates fiction, is
connected to fiction, and is herself a kind of fiction.
But are these designations of Oracle Nights and narrators necessary? The
conflation of novels and narrators could be a point of the narrative that denies natural
categorization, i.e., denies my designations, the winnowing. In which case Oracle Night
begins with something like a war, something like a question of knowledge, and also
something like a sickness, and something like an investigation. A piece of the narrative
reflects the complete narrative: my Oracle Night does not begin with the imminent end of
a war, but since Orrs Oracle Night does begin in such a way, it is possible to read the
second beginning, Orrs, in its precursor. And vice versa. A part of our beginning is in a
part of his, this beginning.
The beginning of the story, then, is unclear. Of this I am sure. Is it here, or there?
Is there one beginning, two, three, more?
However, this playful ambiguity comes as no surprise. The conflation of
narratives is only a facet of the puzzle. The narrative is also indefinite, adrift, about
levitation, and with levity. Eva Bowen can have any of three possible jobs (23); Nick is
suspended in midair (26).
The footnotes grow, invading the space of the text. Which is the text, now; which
the story, which the commentary on the story?

The eerie indefiniteness manifests in de Koonings sketch, Self-portrait with
Imaginary Brother (17). Here is a true self, a testament to the real life of the painter,
beside a fictional figure, who is not, as in Drer, mythical. The other figure is not Venus,
not Death. The figure is an abstraction of the painter as a younger boy; he is the image of
de Koonings memory of himself as a child; or, stranger, he is the image he might have
had of himself as a child as a child.
The question to which I will return many times is this:
Where is the origin? (Who is the child?) What is original in or
about the text? Can everything in Oracle Night find its analogy
in the de Kooning sketch?
The question of the origin introduces the oracles
theme: if nothing is original, then everything, to some degree,
is predictable. If everything is a kind of copy (and the notion of originality only a result of
scattered copies and forgetfulness), then there is a way by device, by algorithm, by
inference of predicting, for a given scenario, what will occur next. In other words,
unoriginality permits, in the destruction of a unique thing and of an atomistic view,
meaningful resemblance, the relationship one thing (de Kooning) has to its predecessor
(the child) without which understanding of the thing would be impossible.

3.ii An Ethics of Ambiguity


One problem unoriginality poses is an ethical one. I will restate the problem
When Orr interrupts the Bowen narrative, and reveals himself as its author, as its
sketcher (22), figuratively lifting the lid off his fiction to permit a view of the works, he
undermines all ethical trajectories suggested by the narrative. If there is any moral weight
to the story, then revealing how it is structured saps its strength. The moral of the story, I
would like to show, necessitates a pure, untouchable form. A moral is singular and
unequivocal; it is self-evident, as the form of such a story is self-evident. There is no
inside to a such a form: the form is transparent. To see the works, all of this is to say,
indicts morality: if the works differ in any way from the form of the moral, or the form of
the story, then the story is amoral.

The relationship between the inside and the outside (form) of a narrative is a
variation on a theme I have still to introduce.
Young Oedipus, for the impugnment of his birthright, goes before the Oracle at
Two questions: first, does Delphis pronouncement reveal the works, the
mechanism inside of Oedipus, of his narrative? Then, what is ethical about the princes
problem, and how is the pronouncement related to this? I ask these questions to introduce
a turn on the dichotomy I stated above. In a sense, Delphis pronouncement is the
mechanism inside of the narrative, and it does differ from the eventual form of the
narrative; in fact, young Oedipus conscientiously makes this difference, by running away
from Corinth, and toward Thebes. But clearly Oedipus the King is not an amoral
narrative. Any amorality, then, about Oedipus he is a murderer, he commits incest

must have its root elsewhere, in a sub- or metanarrative, in a narrative in any case
different from the one read by Delphi.
In this regard, the difference between the inner narrative and the superficial one,
or the form that narrative presents, does not necessarily imply amorality. I will return to
this problem.

3.iii Order of the Night

Bowens logic attributes intention and significance to phenomena of the cosmos.
Furthermore, he is egocentric, believing that occurrences in the world happen for him,
with him in mind.
His evasion of the falling gargoyle is his escape from what is planned for him,
against him. It is also an escape from himself, from his fate. For a moment he is not in the
place where someone (himself included) expects him to be. He is, like Wakefield, out of
Still, by a peripheral view, the gargoyle strikes: it kills Bowen, and the man who
walks away from the accident is somebody else. On the other hand the gist of Bowens
paradox it is Bowen saying to himself, Dont think about the past, its not your past
(65). A vestige of the other man exists inside of Bowen; or Bowen himself is the vestige
inside of somebody else. The separation is not clean.
It is not a clean universe. Accidents happen all the time. Bowen, for unclear
reasons, sees the universe as an ordered, meaningful system. And his life is meaningful

because of this system; meaning is bequeathed to him. In himself, Bowen suspects, he is
nothing more than a cog in a cosmic machine, an automaton.
The implications of this view are numerous and somewhat banal. I will only cite a
few. There are two types of meaning implied by the scheme: theocentric and
anthrocentric. That is, meaning comes to Bowen from an omniscient being; or meaning is
wrested and derived, by interpretation, from the workings of the universe. (The latter
does not necessarily dismiss the omniscient being; it only makes him stingy.)

it is by the regular return of the units and of the associations of units
that the work appears constructed, i.e., endowed with meaning; linguistics
calls these rules of combination forms, and it would be advantageous to
retain this rigorous sense of an overtaxed word: form, it has been said, is
what keeps the contiguity of units from appearing as a pure effect of
chance: the work of art is what man wrests from chance.

4. John Trause I

Orrs walk follows a path between perspectives. He is positioned between one
present [2002] and another [1982]; between a present and a past; between numerous
selves the writer, the character of his memoir, the husband, the friend; between grades
of objectivity, subjectivity, imagination, and fiction.

His entrance into imaginary space (29) has a vertiginous effect. In the way the
mystery of a murder seeks resolution (in narrative-magnetism, the fulfillment of
expectation and law), Orrs recollection wants to identify itself with fact.
The detective, before a corpse and clue, in anticipating his adversarys next move,
splits himself into two imaginary characters: the adversary (perpetrator of murder) and
the detective. He walks backwards. Figuratively, he choreographs the murder;
objectively, he correlates clues in time and space. He will recreate the moments prior to
the murder, recreate the actions of the murderer and victim. He will play the role of the
murderer, will persuade the chief investigator that his rendition of the crime, while only a
rendition, is logical, consistent, plausible, and possible. To what end? The anticipation of
the next crime; the detective wants to lead, to precede the murderer by a step. This is a
dangerous game, for two reasons. The first is obvious. With his back turned, as the faux
murderer, the detective is vulnerable to the real murderer. The second reason is more
subtle. The detective stands, he believes, for the law; he may act like a murderer, to the
letter, but the consummating act is beyond his ability, against his character. He will
reveal himself in his diffidence, in his eventual reluctance, to move forward.
The moment of the detectives hesitation is an opening, a gamble, an opportunity,
and paradox. In the crucial second, he must turn, jump out of character, and confront the
narrative. For if the detective does not consummate his act with the act, namely murder,
then he will fail in anticipating the next crime: a second murder is committed. And
clearly, if the detective forgets himself and upstages his adversary by committing the next

murder, then a second murder objectively, to his protg, by the original murderer is
Sidney Orrs story, the approach to a solution, the answer to the question of a day,
is a form of detective work, necessarily investigative, necessarily incomplete.
The murder will occur.
My structural activity, too, compelled by a desire to maintain law and order, to
capture the adversary before he kills again, is the enactment, the articulation of the
narrative, of his narrative.
I follow. I lead. I mimic my adversary (an author),
anticipating his moves, words.
On the one hand, I describe the quotidian. Imitation is a source of pleasure.
Imitation offers a form of order and rhythm; I learn by it.
But consider the question
such imitation poses for reality, my present, the moment I write these words. The real,
and tactile, come into conflict with the imaginary.
Orr projects himself in multiple, contrary directions. He moves through the rooms
in Trauses apartment; he writes of this movement in 82, in 2002. The room he describes
is simultaneously a real place, once visited by him; and also a literary place, a description
on a page, in the ink of his recollection. The object of reminiscence is at once the afterlife
of the object, and also the moment of remembering, or if it is our means, of writing.

4.i Richard Ostrow


In this microcosm, Richard Ostrow renders Sidney Orr, a man transfixed by a
moment in the distant past. By means of a machine, Ostrow becomes oracular. He knows
the future, in the perspective of the second, artificial present, of the projected company,
his family. He looks upon himself rather, from the point of view of himself at fourteen,
in the other present and upon his sister, mother, father: it is 1953.
And now,
mechanically and magically, Ostrow knows the future, knows the fate of each person.
Time is delible. Ostrow returns to the narrative to ponder an ambiguous moment;
a moment prelude to disaster. He wants to revise. He wants, possibly, another machine, a
device that, via image or sound, will undermine his present, fold the present in half and
thrust it backward, into the past. The present, he imagines, like the oracle, is not singular,
not a monad, but a multifarious phenomenon. With it comes the vertiginous sense that I
have been here before, done this before, and for this reason I should know what will
happen next; vertiginous because my orientation is such that I do not (think that I) know
the future. The sudden gift of this knowledge is like a blow to the face.
Communing with the dead exposes my subjectivity to its limit, its extinction. I
will eventually learn, in this dialogue, of my end.
Consider the paradigm of the oracle. Oedipus visits Delphi to learn of his future.
The oracle is mortal. Still, knowing some of the future the death of the supplicant; her
own death, too Delphi is not as mortal as Oedipus. Her unlimited vision makes her like
a god, somewhat immortal. From her perspective the supplicant is a ghost; from her
perspective his death has already occurred.

My point is this: communicating with the past is an oracular activity. The
communicator knows the future; he will then establish a future perspective in the context
of a moment in the past. The present, it follows, becomes like something past;
immediacy, the presence of the communicator, is now exchangeable for what is dead.

5. Grace I

The sound of Orrs voice retains his wife, anchors her to him. His words are
sounds alone, mesmerizing.
In the shadow of a lie Orr reacts by expressing his need to draw Grace close, to
prevent her drifting away. He associates the presence of untruth with loneliness, the
removal of his wife, the distance she creates between them.
How close am I to Sidney Orr?
When proximity and mesmerism are accomplices to a word, skepticism must
inform my understanding of that word. The space between the word and its meaning is no
longer a secret. What happens herein, between utterance and understanding, between use
and the thing itself?
Green, says Orr, is innocence.
Envy, Grace replies (49).
Here is a possible resolution to this odd chord. Orr says innocence when he thinks
envy; he cannot bear to utter the word. Grace says envy because she reads Orr, she

deciphers him; Grace knows his word connotes an opposition. She also knows that Orr
could justifiably envy John Trause.
This coding troubles Orr. When the meaning of green drifts, it vivifies Graces
exteriority, her antagonism. It is a minute example of Orrs inability to control the
meaning of his own story.
Orr, author of this account (and example), cannot thereafter put the characteristic
of Graces into words. Possibly because he is not fully aware of Graces character;
possibly because this element is ineffable, closely resembling the quality of his (Orrs)
language that lets Bowen insult Eva with words from across the boundary of their
relationship: Shes the kind of woman who could turn a man inside out, he says, of
Rosa, whos seated across the room (24).
The uncharacteristic word, behavior, motif reveal a facet of verity. It is a grisly
clue. Orrs remark might be, Ill recount everything exactly as it happened. Although I
would like to change the words, I cant. It is against my constitution to meddle with the
truth. And mine is a true account. This innuendo, of course, throws verity itself into
question. It throws Grace, too, into the light.
Bowen is Orrs invention, a real character. Any uncharacteristic behavior of his
can be chalked up to Orrs artifice, his fiction.
The same cannot be said of Grace. And while the question of her
uncharacteristicness is interesting, I do not think it is as puzzling as the primary question
of her character. When Grace is in character, whos character is she?

Grace is half a character. As previously, with the rooms of Trauses apartment,
the woman is real, and literal; of history, but also of Orrs reminiscence, his imagination.
The conflict Orr experiences is not so much dramatized, or of the narrative, than it is one
of ontology. Who is Orr? Where are the boundaries between his states of authorness,
memoirist, character, and husband? In other words, Orr may want to record the true
account of a conversation he has with his wife; but the closer he moves to what he
perceives as the truth, the closer he also moves to his status as the author, the interpreter
of his memory of the experience.
Truth is transparent. Its inside and outside are one and the same. It does not
require interpretation.
What results from Orrs problem is a form of silence, silence between Orr and
Grace, and silence in Orr himself. He does not question Grace. He defers responsibility
for the answer to Grace, naively assuming that the problem is not his; which defers his
own character. From another tack, ask, how else could Orr respond to Grace? He could
be passive and think nothing of her behavior; he could be assertive and address the
strangeness, confront her with What is the cause of your silence, disquiet, anger? Or
more specifically, What did I do to make you this way?
Orr calls Graces act uncharacteristic (54). He recounts, actually, in good faith,
her silence, he recreates the mystery in the heart of his wife. Simultaneously he turns his
back on the chasm of his own character. By not taking, or at least assuming,
responsibility for the unnamable between them, Orr becomes uncharacteristic of Orr. He
is divided, like Bowen, like Ostrow, like Dupin.
The other man whom Orr assumes to

be the cause of Graces silence, and to whom Orr leaves responsibility is an imaginary
projection of himself. He is the marble-player; he is the detective with questionable
By not confronting Grace, and asking her why she is upset, Orr perpetuates the
presence of his imaginary other; moreover, he suggests an illicit intimacy with this figure.
Now, does Orr want this criminal unity? Does he want to be a man with a fractured
consciousness, who looks at his wife and sees an imaginary woman (Eva), who goes to
his friends apartment and feels that hes inside one of his own stories?
The delusion is unlawful. Orr will trap Grace inside of a fictional idealism: Grace
is a superwoman and a sphinx, all that a man desires, but also inscrutable, unfathomable,
even dangerous.

Grace, clearly, is not a sphinx, or superwoman. Grace is pleasing, eloquent, free;
words illegible to Orr.

6. Nick Bowen I

The other man is allied with chance. It is chance, Orr wonders, that governs the
universe, and attacks his will to live, attacks his intention to write a true account. His
narrative gives order to the universe.
The other man the inscrutable (criminal) man of the crowd will not turn and
reveal his face, not speak for himself.
He requires Orrs presence, Orrs voice. Thus a
confusion of pronouns, a ubiquity and obscurity of Orrs I. How far into his fiction
(Bowen) will Orr trespass? The I in this case sounds like the I of a narrator; but Orr

is not the narrator of Bowens story. He is the author. In any case, Bowens narrative is
barely a story, and more of a sketch (22). Do these qualities the storys unstoriness; the
misplacement of its narrator necessitate Orrs presence, guidance, interference?
The writer, I wonder, does not ask himself, in the moment of invention, whether a
characters action is right or wrong; that is, right or wrong in itself, apart from the
scheme of the narrative. The author is like the oracle, in that he has a view of the entire
drama, he knows the end in the beginning and middle. Even when he denies this, as Orr
suggests; Bowens end ultimately comes from (by indictment, prediction) the hand of his
Orr, again, would defer responsibility for his characters action, since the action
merely mimes the action of a different authors (Hammetts) character. This begs the
question: Is there a unique, original action in fiction? Is the author ever responsible for
what his character does; for what his book does?
The question of responsibility has a far reach. In the arena of unoriginal literature,
the author has little or no responsibility for his character, reader, or himself. This fiction
however, which is also a memoir, is purposeful, it has transformative potential for its
writer. In this case the narrative seeks, not exclusively, to answer a question, to locate a
missing day. Orr is responsible to himself, to the success or failure of his project.
Precisely, either he recovers the day, and that crucial aspect of himself, or he lets it


This man you know him? ever see him there?
Confused, glancing from the
Messenger to the King.
Doing what? what man do you mean?
Pointing to the Messenger.
This one here ever have dealing with him?
Not so I could say, but give me a chance,
my memorys bad (1237-41)

Unoriginality has pernicious results. As above, with Orrs removal from Grace,
the ontological mystery about his position in his narrative the embedding of multiple
narratives, the stories-within-stories reveals a principle of construction. Orr is
cataloguing, forming a pastiche. One may carp and say the stories of the catalogue are
each original pieces; and this might be true. The problem is in the form, the implication,
in the precedent of a pastiche: this story shows how stories depend on other stories. This
is a story that cannot stand on its own. As a result, the origin of the story is lost. The story
that depends on (and from) another story opens the possibility of dependence on further,
more microscopic stories. Originality, a theoretical but malcontent ghost, is shoved off,
back, deferring to another narrative, another author.

Orrs words are sounds alone, mesmerizing. The meaning of the story relies more
on form than it does content. Scheherazade, for example, contrives open endings to her
stories, in order to continue the story the following evening; in order, as the story goes, to
keep her head. Death, unoriginality would imply, is the real end, the only end to the story.
The pastiche sends a spotlight, a straight beam for the reader onto Thanatos, the
undisputable conclusion.
But my gentle interpretation of the pastiche is also a story, another story, a figure
of speech. Hammetts Spades Flitcraft, Flaggs visions (which I approach), and
Delphi: the story is an indicator, a test (like Hamlets play) of the future. Its purpose is
metaphorical. The experience of the future occurrence expressed in narrative interludes
is actually an interpretation of the occurrence, an interpretation that wants to effect the
present, to adjust our awareness of what is happening. Of course if the future occurrence
is real, i.e., will we believe in the oracle, then it necessarily takes into account its own
At this point, I only anticipate the complexity of this problem.

7. Oracle Night II

Oracle Night begins with a war, an explosion, blindness, like Hamlet, with a
staggering figure, the enemy, the question of identity. What does the pronoun I, here,
designate? Whos there?
Who am I? It is the distillation of every question for the oracle.

Who is the author of the text? Is it Sidney Orr? Maxwell? Trause? Someone else?
Our narrator, Orr, contains this slight ambiguity; he owns it. Any time the question of a
name occurs, I turn to Sidney, returning to the moment in the Paper Palace when M.R.
Chang confused Orr for, first, or, and then, oar (10). Is the narrator part of a conjunction,
a connector of alternatives; can he unify what is disjunctive; will he correct or rephrase
what was stated previously?
Orr is reason to pause, to wait, expectantly, for the conclusion. In his company, I
cannot repress a sense of imminence.
Or is he more tangible than that; a suffix to abstract verbs, a transformer that
makes them more like me, an agent, a projector, a sensor, an inventor? Or is he even
more tangible, like gold, like the change in my pocket, like the block of iron holding my
papers down?
Or may I introduce alien homophones the letters dont care about borders and
suggest that our narrator describes the difference between hors, a French word for
outside and exception, and or, a French word for now and therefore; a
description of the rope in a game of tug-of-war, where one side stands for immediacy,
presence, action, lucidity, and the other side for misfits, anomaly, deferment, or even as
my Mexican aunt invariably says about, for example, the dishes in the sink, maana?
And also I cannot neglect its (relevant) permutations, the ora in oracle, which, as
a verb, speaks, supplicates, prays; and also, as a noun, defines a boundary.
Thus oracy, the ability to express oneself in and understand spoken language.

And, genetically unrelated, but not irrelevant, orrery: a machine that represents
the solar system, the position of the planets at any given time.
Orr is part of a machine that makes us privy to all states of the cosmos.
And, no surprise, his given name, Sidney, contains, among many things, the stars.
I would like to stop there. Clearly, more can be said; more must be said. I wonder
if Ill return to this, concentrating an investigation to and on Orr. At the same time, the
puzzle is omnipresent, owned by the narrator, referred to in every word of his account. In
a sense, there is no return for there is no turn, no leaving this man. The question of the
day is, what can we do with Sidney Orr? Who is he?

Lungs gasping for air, my skin perpetually awash in sweat, I drifted along
like a spectator in someone elses dream, watching the world as it chugged
through its paces and marveling at how I had once been like the people
around me: always rushing, always on the way from here to there, always
late, always scrambling to pack in nine more things before the sun went
down. (2-3)

Exiled from the world, Orr and his narrative present forms of blindness, amnesia,
the despair in knowing that the mind contains what is known and unapproachable,


Is or, here, one word or several words? The linguist and the philosopher
will perhaps say that each time, since the meaning and function change,
we should read a different word. And yet this diversity crosses itself and
goes back to an appearance of identity which has to be taken into account.
If what circulates in this way is not a family of synonyms, is it the simple
mask of a homonymy? But there is no noun: the thing itself is (that which
is) absent, nothing is simply named, the noun is also a conjunction or an
adverb. No more word: the efficacy often comes from one syllable which
scatters the word. There is, therefore, neither homonymy nor synonymy.

7.i In the Dark of Night

The exiles view of the world presents itself in other figures. Everyone gazes into
murky time. Genevive looks back in the way Orr looks back, manifest in her memoir,
Oracle Night (61). Richard Ostrow looks back; John Trause looks back. Nick Bowen and
Lemuel Flagg look forward, abandoning their prior selves. I am reminded, again, of
Benjamins angel of history, a synthesis of the two figures I am describing.
backward into the future, the angel watches helplessly as the singular event, the
catastrophe, history, piles upward at her feet.
The observer of history the direction of the gaze, forward or backward, does not
matter cannot choose what he sees. The observation itself, it would seem, excludes will
and judgment: the painful as well as the pleasurable will appear. That is, to gaze is to

expose myself, my vulnerabilities. The alternative is to close the eyes, to choose not to
look. But is this plausible? Can Flagg, for example, make this choice? (He does: he kills
himself.) Does Ostrow make this choice? (He does: he decides to not look anymore. He
buries the dead for a second time.) Does Orr make this choice? It is unclear. In his
resistance to chance lies an attenuation of his will, the air of determinism. Orr is not
inquisitive; he is disengaged with the world, ambivalent to, specifically, Grace. He
presumes that the direction of his course, and the compelling force behind him, is out of
his control.
Are these valid points? Or do I address one of the infinite tacit fictions rooted in
Oracle Night?
Flagg, who prevails over his destiny, could answer Yes, and No. His suicide
demonstrates that the pull of fate (at least, at most, in his case) is escapable; or that there
exist for one trajectory (of Being) two destinies. Fates, or Flaggs, his Will, a destiny
that may only be suicide, the destruction of will; as if Will were a slave to Fate, the
intermediary between Fates Regime of the Future, and the present ego.
However, Flaggs suicide is his fate. Flaggs interpretation of his vision, of
Knotts infidelity as the doom of his marriage and as his end, may only be the
penultimate act disguised as the ultimate. Fate plays with us, with our notion of, and
fixation with, uniqueness. Fate plays with Flaggs assumption that infidelity can mean
one and only one thing, namely, his end.

You are fated to couple with your mother, you will bring

a breed of children into the light no man can bear to see
you will kill your father, the one who gave you life! (Oedipus 873-875)

The end is a concept on the margin of our language. It sits on the fence, useful,
but not fully trusted, incorporated, or understood. Flagg, Orr, Oedipus, myself, we cannot
define this term. With our attention, it moves out of reach.

8. Nick Bowen II

Technically, Bowen is not struck by anything more than an impulse. His story to
Ed Victory Ive already been struck by lightning once today (63) is idiomatic,
banter, and also unique, with a kernel of truth.
Lightning is a gargoyle and Rosa Leightman. Lightning encodes Flitcraft, the idea
of levitation, the man who flies, changing places and identities in an instant. The
gargoyle/Leightman/lightning is Bowens transformer and fable, like Hammetts Spades
OShaughnessy, here is the potential of weightlessness, lawlessness, an opportunity to
In the fable, Bowen imagines that the gargoyle connects with him, imagines,
moreover, that the gargoyle is intended for him. He goes so far as to imagine, by the
phrase (63), that the gargoyle is meant to destroy him. But he escapes, he survives.
One aspect of the aura of this tale suggests that Bowen disappears in order to find
the cause behind the gargoyle, his assassin. He disappears in order to exact revenge.

Thats another story, only the beginning of which is suggested here. Bowen will write his
own story; he will fictionalize, abstract a drama from an accidental event. This does not
simplify the drama; I am not saying that Bowen was lucky in avoiding the accident. The
accident itself is less meaningful than Bowens response to it. Bowen might have left his
wife, and gone to Kansas City, regardless of a falling gargoyle.
On the other hand, Bowen simply fictionalizes. Bowen knows that what he says is
not true. But hes a man on the run. Hes covering himself with stock lies. There is an
aura to the performance. It is the American Dream gone sour; the American Dream that
lets anybody become anybody. Here is the place where everythings for sale, in a land of
limitless opportunity.
The lie, or is it merely fiction, is thrown into the light by its contrast to an overt
semblance of truth. The verity of Orrs addendum (63) can be tested; I can check Kansas
City archives, for July of 1981. But to what end? Is it unheard of for an author to
historicize fiction? No. Should I make a catalogue, parallel lists, of true events and false
events in Oracle Night? The assay would do nothing for the novel; the truth and untruth
of material is not important. No, not exactly that: the truth/untruth of material in relation
to my world, the environment of this interpretation, in the context of this reader, is not
important. The relation of truth/untruth is only important in the context of the novel. In
this regard, it would be informative to find out when Orr lies.

8.i His Parole


Bowen, in a place strange and flat (68), is in a revealing position. If my
structuralist activity of Oracle Night begins with the four hundred and ninety five pieces,
exhibits, evidence of Orrs acts, then it should end with a description of rules, some rules,
a langue not of Orr but in which Orr lives.
Another way of describing my scheme is this: the langue, a language system, is a
murderer. I, a linguist, am a detective. The parole I define as a series of corpses. It is my
job to study the corpses and infer the murderers M.O.

One corpse is Nick Bowen. He speaks in terms of height. To understand his life
up to this point requires an understanding of verticality, of diminished horizons; an
understanding of New York, of the relation between an absent horizon and contingency.
Another corpse is the book in his possession, Oracle Night, which he reads four
times in a row (65). I conjecture that Bowen transforms himself into Lemuel Flagg, the
man who turns his gaze forward, blindly. Or, by further inference, conclude that a look
backward, in reminiscence, is a look upon oneself; and since Bowen disowns himself,
when he looks back, he looks onto nothing.
It is the book. This is our talisman, our safe passage to the murderer. (Revisit
Oracle Night.)
Does Bowen see his future therein? Will he be betrayed, as Flagg is betrayed?
Will he commit suicide, as Flagg commits suicide? It may be the case that the text of
Oracle Night is never the same text twice, for different readers. Each reader finds a
unique future. Question: If that is the case, and since I know the end, what in Oracle
Night describes Bowens destiny?

Another corpse, less obvious, is the word, any word, the minute aspect of the text.
My reading (and yours) creates immediacy, a presence. I may turn back in the book, to
review what Ive already read. This is significant in that the act of rereading is not
analogous to the act of remembering. The past, unlike the text, possesses an illegible
quality; the text is always legible. The reader has a diachronic and oracular view; there is
no past, present, and future, in the textual context. These states are self-contained, unified
in the whole, and in this view, closed text. I become, in the reader, a rendition of Flitcraft.
My present can be abandoned. I can after Orrs guidance, cutting through the time and
space of his narrative switchback, spiral, zigzag over the terrain,
return to a prior
position, old ground, and trace again, in search of the spot, the mark, an M, or O.

8.ii The Measuring Bandit

The end is imminent. Move on, the text says: move! The review reading
backward is only figurative. The fact is that the narrative is a one-way street, and Orr,
in his oracular mode, has a teleology in mind: he envisions, momentarily, the collision of
three lines, Bowen, Rosa, and Eva. For unclear reasons, he postpones this collision. He
wont complete the story. The cause is perhaps fatidic despair: the constriction of destiny
around a moment of anagnorisis. Orr traps himself in a character who is enlightened (by
Rosa), and buried (by Victory), in a character who only looks forward, but who works for
a man (Victory) at reviewing, revising, and restructuring the past, in a character who
abandons memory, but who works for a man whose raison detre is memory.

The trap is a coil, like a spring: linearity in one plane, circularity in another.
The trap is a braid: one strand is time, another space, and the third matter. Victory
wants to disassemble his spatially (geographically) ordered library, and reassemble it
chronologically (74), which he claims to be the superior system.
Whatever the final organization looks like, it will not be entirely chronological.
The geography will only be dispersed. From a particular angle, a glance, a spatial-order
will endure. For this reason, Victorys project is short-sighted, forcibly without horizons,
ironically self-aggrandizing.

Yes, said Dupin. The measures adopted were not only the best of their
kind, but carried out to absolute perfection. Had the letter been deposited
within the range of their search, these fellows would, beyond a question,
have found it. The measures then were good in their kind, and well
executed; their defect lay in their being inapplicable to the case, and to the
man. A certain set of highly ingenious resources are, with the Prefect, a
sort of Procrustean bed, to which he forcibly adapts his designs

9. Grace II: Intermission

Grace suggests a moral, karmic order in the universe. When she asserts that her
sickness is caused by, and in exchange for, her behavior toward Orr the prior evening, she
is half right. Her sickness is caused by her secret (which I approach); by her complicity

with Trause, in his quip at Orrs embarrassing affliction, At least you know youre not
pregnant (41).

10. Eva & Rosa

The story of the missing husband is popular. Every husband goes missing some
time. Without evidence of a crime, there is nothing inherently criminal about Evas
absent husband.
The response of the police to Evas request ricochets the problem, and forces the
inquirer to internalize it, to realize that the problem is her (quasi-) problem alone. There
is nothing the Law will do for her. Such a response puts the inquirer in an un-lawful
position, in how her view differs from that of the Law. It compels her to take the law into
her own hands; if she is to solve the problem, or at least discover if it is a real problem
(lawful) or her fantasy (unlawful), then she will need to take action outside of the
jurisdiction of the law. She will temporarily invent her own laws.
Consequently, Eva lies. She pretends, in relation to the world, that her life is
normal, that her husband is home, sick. The lie gestates in incredulity. It is possible, Eva
considers, that Bowen is not missing but only a philanderer. And one step closer to reality
(or is it one step away?) is the idea of Bowens kidnapping: that Bowen remains her
husband but has fallen into a trap, and is held captive. In any case, Eva is terrified of
revealing one of two possibilities: either she has been abandoned, un-wifed; or she is
crazy, in believing that Bowen has been kidnapped.

Her condition is exacerbated by her actions. She cancels Bowens credit cards;
what choice does she have? Soon she will pay his delinquent fees (83), pay, she thinks,
for her husbands (a third scenario) dementia. If Bowen wanted to hide from her, if he
had a secret, he would have covered his trail. Payment of the fee annuls the secret: the
man is out of his mind, or kidnapped, taken, in both cases, against his will. Still, without
him, Eva cannot confirm one suspicion or the other. And she realizes that her decision to
cancel the credit cards assuming theyd been stolen; her action makes sense; what
choice does she have? forces her husband into a form of delinquency, and has possibly
widened a rift between them. She must fear her own sense of obsession, of unduly
maternity, of wanting to be too close to her husband. This is why she breaks down: Eva is
in an impossible position. Any action is the wrong action. If she does not cancel the credit
card, then the thieves who kidnapped her husband will use them (Bowen is either out of
his mind, or kidnapped); if she cancels the credit card, then the thieves cannot use them;
but if there are no thieves, and Bowen is not out of his mind, and absent by his own
volition, then he will need the credit card, and her decision to cancel the card attacks
Bowen, something Eva, who hopes to recover him, can not do.
The best scenarios delinquent fees suggest to Eva are these: Bowen is out of his
mind; or Bowen is kidnapped.
The paradox I brush against is this: silence is the word that dies in being born.
The thread binding Bowen, Eva, and Rosa, is their relation to silence, an inexpressible
word. In the way Bowen appeals to Rosa (via her answering machine), Eva would appeal
to Bowen: At least tell me that you dont want to talk to me. The silence creates a

secret, the potential of a secret. And that the secret is speech itself, turns the content of
this secret into its form: refusal to give the secret is also, in appearance, a refusal to
speak. However, the inquirer does not know this. Her (and his) language differs from that
of the secretor. At least tell me that you wont tell me they might ask, not knowing that
silence un-speech is also spoken, also a signifier.

11. Ed Victory

The balance of qualities between technological device (Flitcraft, pills, telephone)
and character (Orr, Bowen, Rosa) is the anthropomorphism of the device.

Those notebooks are very friendly, but they can also be cruel (45)

I am not as piqued by this phenomenon as I am by the opposite transformation,
the techno-morphism of character. I mean by this term the proximity the character has to
the metonymic devices of its creation, namely, paper, pencil, pen.
The entrance to The Bureau of Historical Preservation is through a door in the
ground, in a derelict train yard. The land is hatched with parallel and intersecting lines.
Apart from the figures Victory and Bowen cut into the horizon, this is two-dimensional
space, a plane. The desuetude of the yard is accentuated by the vast sky, the immediacy
of open space, of freedom of movement, of irony and reminiscence. It is a wasteland.
Where are the trains? They have been replaced by planes. Travel is now primarily by

flight, by rising up, by entering other dimensions. The middle of the country, once a
center of commerce, due to its position on the line, is now forgotten. Commerce,
monetary transactions, information: these aspects of culture transcend the plane, are now
metaphysical, poised against the attractive force of the earth.
Victory and Bowen momentarily iterate Orrs position in relation to his fiction:
above it, in scrutiny, skeptical of its reality. Nothing remains but to open the door and
enter, to find the cause of artifice in the works.

Bowen, who is a sketch (22), who already wants dimension, now immerses
himself in flatness, penetrates the hatched plane and descends (like a gargoyle) into the
earth. The descent is unnatural: gargoyles should not break their footing; and only miners
and the deceased enter the earth. Breaking the plane, inventing a different line, trajectory,
and dimension, breaks the perimeters of the narrative.
With the disruption of linearity, the cause of any moment is obscured.
But what linearity? Orr is inside his Flitcraft, touring disjunctive space and time.
His narrative is full of holes, loops, mirrors, passage ways. (Bowen, for instance, in
entering The Bureau of Historical Preservation, trespasses in the domain of the author by
entering a metaphorical footnote, a subtext and metatext, the site of explication.) If I am
to define linearity I will need to include these qualities.
Or should I abandon the word? Am I, in talking about linearity, standing in a
wasteland, in the heartland?
That is, linearity is obsolete. What I mean by this word is something it fails to
describe. Something, I admit, that I fail to fully grasp.

What linearity? What is transgressive about Bowens penetration of the plane?
The question does not have an answer. I am describing, I hope, the real vertigo I
occasionally experience when reading having climbed higher in the book than I meant
to, and looking back, looking down and also the vertigo (no, its inverse,
claustrophobia; he climbs down, in, and looks up) of our protagonist, Bowen.
Two shadows, then, rise and fall upon us: the first, from the house of memory; the
second, from a shrine to the present (91). We might live in memory; but we worship in
the present. I can relax, let myself be, eat, sleep, make love inside of memory; but when
inside the present, I stand back, I lower my eyes, venerate, I look actually, spiritually
at a hole in the ground, at an idea of my own presence, an idea of my love for the Law, in
abeyance and good faith.

11.i The End of Mankind I

Victorys end of mankind (92) is the beginning of Oracle Night. The novel is a
collection of short stories, satellites around the planet Mars.
The novel is the story of an oracle, and orrery, and of everything they contain.
Return to the beginning. Orr has poor vision. His eyes do not focus properly. He
wonders if he is a stranger in someone elses dream.
Is Orr Flagg, a blind oracle? Is Orr Flaggs vision, the avatar of destruction?
I am contemplating, in notes such as these, a structure for an essay that will use as
its foundation every story included in Oracle Night. Over this foundation will be a two-

part, maybe three-, superstructure Bowen, and post-Bowen; or Hammett, and Wells
with periodic interruptions of present circumstances, Orrs excursions, say, to the
stationary store, and diner.
Return to the beginning. It is not clear whether Orr recovers from his condition of
drifting along like a spectator in someone elses dream. The transitional phrase,
connecting then to now, the introduction of his story to the story, or the present of Orrs
reflection, is Time passed (3).

11.ii Work

Bowen persists in the delusion of the existence of fate. He is rigid, unwilling to
the break the rules (and contact Eva). The rules, he believes, define him. Like Flitcraft,
Bowen adjusts his life to falling objects, and then when objects stop falling, he adjusts his
life to their suspension. The order of the day orders Nick Bowen.
His reasoning is tautological. What does his refusal to accept what happens as if
something else could happen; as if he has a choice in the matter suggest of the structure
of his universe? What kind of man does not accept what happens? Fate supercedes
choice; acceptance is of fantasy. In other words, Bowen acts like a slave to structure
(Fate) who rebels by retaining his will (his name). Secretly he knows that Fate is his
delusion; and is not that knowledge what makes a delusion a delusion? That is the
unsettling problem of Bowens (and Orrs) character. Ultimately the self-centeredness,

the reflexivity of his narrative corrodes the narrative. The fiction, in calling attention to
its fictionality (i.e., being delusional), works against itself.
Bowens reasoning is tautological not only in its circularity, but in its apparent
uselessness. His project, the puzzle forget the past; start over as someone else like
Orrs, is unsolvable as long as he continues to examine the structure and purpose of the
project itself. A meaningful conclusion, and non-tautological solution, will use sources
and references outside of the terms of the problem. The solution requires a selfless
gesture. The other conclusion, fictionally speaking, the one within the self, is a kind of
suicide. This is Bowens flawed demonstration, his willing denial of the past, and his (of
which I will not yet speak) destiny.
Victory offers Bowen parodies of this project. Victorys wives, he recounts,
abandon him or die young. There is, Victory might suggest to Bowen, no permanent
erasure of anything. Victory can always marry again; and what will interfere with that
choice is out of his control. It would seem Victorys notion of nothingness contains more
of an idea of permanence than does his notion of somethingness. The things of and in the
world remind him, and me, of their disappearance, absence, loss, movement toward
nothingness; the no-things of the world, should they appear, remind us not of their
presence, but of their determination to remain no-things, their formidable endurance.
Disappearance, then, is a phenomenon of the realm of the living, and is only an aspect of
transience. Bowen, in this case, of something, only pretends to erase himself; he really
has no idea, Victory is suggesting, of permanence.

Despite this insight, and my rendering of him, Victory is not dialogically
philosophical. When he speaks, he speaks out, telling, not asking. Inadvertently, then, a
tenuous equality is established between the two men over secrets, words that cannot be
said. It is the trust shared by crooks of different gangs: the enemy of my enemy is my

12. Catastrophe I

Bowen fails to see Victory as someone different from himself, as anything more
than a small-time crook. Victorys warning goes unheeded, and a trap is sprung. Trause
(97), the test and bait, infiltrates the narrative; the double-agent of Victorys story marks
Bowen, and the unfortunate man is locked inside an underground bomb shelter.
How is the room structured? What are the circumstances of Bowens demise?

Ed has installed a self-locking door, and once a person enters that room,
he cant get out again unless he uses a key to unlock the door from the
This is a hydrogen-bomb shelter, not an ordinary room, and the
double-insulated walls are four feet thick, the concrete floor extends
thirty-six inches below him, and even the ceiling, which Bowen thinks
will be the most vulnerable spot, is constructed of a plaster and cement
combination so solid as to be impregnable. There are air vents running

along the tops of all four walls, but after Bowen manages to detach one of
the grates from its tight metal housing, he understands that the opening is
too narrow for a man to crawl through, even a smallish man like himself.

The room is a sibling to a jail. In order to exit, the person on the inside must be in
possession of the key. The person on the outside does not need the key to go in. Without
the key, that is, this partition is a one-way passage. Bowens dream of disappearance, the
destruction of his past, is fulfilled.

The prisoner will pass the moments before his expiration reading Oracle Night
and a 1938 Warsaw telephone book. The only way this activity can be interrupted is by
his discovery; by the action of someone on the outside; someone, ironically, above, who
will penetrate his impregnable ceiling. Bowen is helpless; nothing more, at this point,
than a reader.
With his premature burial (immersion in a strange flat land), Bowens two-
dimensional likeness is disseminated in the streets of Kansas City, appearing on walls and
lampposts. Have you seen this man? (105). Will the viewer of the image consider looking
down, looking up? The missing man, it is assumed, is among them, on their plane, in their
market, or bar, at their gas station; not beneath the ground. Furthermore a further
distortion of Bowen the missing man has attributed to him a signifier of guilt. The
innocent do not disappear; the innocent do not have their image disseminated. Bowen is a
narrative anomaly, a kind of criminal. He is outside of the Law, which will not recognize

his disappearance, since the so-called (by Eva) disappearance possesses no criminal
evidence. Simultaneously, Bowen is also de-criminalized, in that there is nothing
contextually criminal about his condition (so what if youre accidentally locked in a room
it happens all the time). A suiting description of Bowens state would be narrative
purgatory: like Wakefield, Bowen momentarily risks falling out of step with the universal
His condition is neither disorderly nor orderly; he is on the edge of, and between,
paradigms of understanding, risking his character, risking my ability to read him and talk
about him.
I will clarify this condition in another way, by contextual analogy.
Bowen will pass the moments before his expiration reading Oracle Night. The
manuscript of the novel is therefore inside the locked room, the site of Bowens death.
Any ontology I associate with this characters situation, I can logically associate with his
possessions. (His things will meet his doom.) When the lightbulb is extinguished, and
replaced by the orange coil of the space-heater, Bowen is clearly in his penultimate
moment. The problem is this: Oracle Night, or something we must call Oracle Night, is
not in the same moment. It is here, in my hands; it is the subject of this essay. And if the
novel is salvaged, how and why is Bowen not?
The paradox is presently in this form: the manuscript titled Oracle Night is lost
and unreadable, but also extant and readable. The ontological status of the manuscript is
ambivalent. It demands of its reader the momentary suspension of understanding, of a
complete categorical description. Like Wakefield (another ambivalent figure), Oracle
Night forces its reader into a tenuous position, into the cleft in the states of order/disorder,

and movement/stasis. There is no telling on which side we might rise. Worse, Oracle
Night does not offer a choice.

Im afraid that from this silence
something monstrous may come bursting forth. (Oedipus 1181-82)

The moment prior to revelation, prior to an understanding of the structure,
destiny, is horrific. Reading Oracle Night elevates the reader to such a point of eminence
that I become like a king, a riddle-master, a man of action, who will very soon learn the
ignominious truth: who I think am is a fiction, and one with cruel consequences.
In the silence of this novel it is ubiquitous; I am complicit I permit the
gestation of a monster.


Part Two

The strange demise of Nick Bowen marks the end of Orrs story. The nature of
the death-sentence startles Orr, in how it reminds him of the vicissitudes of fiction, and of
the exigencies, in the same stroke, of reality. He reconsiders his condition. He reminds
me of the beginning, of a hospital.
In this part of the essay, I analyze the next twelve sections of the text. Orrs
reference to the beginning (106) suggests a backward-fold in the narrative; coupled with
the fact that Orr creates an oracle, what follows is a prophetic fulfillment of the first part.
The foundation I have delineated is now built upon and developed.

13. Silence I

Orr, playing a god-like author, adumbrates a system of ethics. He considers
saving Nick Bowen; as if he, Orr, were not solely responsible for what befalls his
Still, Orr rereads. I had put Bowen into the room (108). He is not only the
author; he is, like me, an analyst, a reflector, and a player in the fictional experience.
Like me, he reads deconstructively, resisting the flow of time, causality, and
expectation. We look beneath the hood, at the works: the engine, the texts, the cosmos.
The Aleph.
Bowen, at this pause and juncture, should be given a choice contra
Hammetts episode.
Bowen, unlike Flitcraft, needs a way to evade destiny, a way to

create his own destiny, to write his own conclusion. Orr will invent a form of
independence, of self-reliance; he will abdicate his position, and make Bowen the author
of Bowens narrative. The universe, Orr wants to believe (or wants Bowen to believe) is
as Jocasta envisions: Its all chance, chance rules our lives (1070). The chancy
universe, I wonder, is the universe in which the individual may realize his Will, may
impose his order. But there is a quiet paradox about this vision. If I take the chance-
ordered (chaotic) universe to mean that there is no discernible, meaningful order in the
universe, and also that there is so-called free will, and that individuals, aware of their
freedom, construct for themselves meaningful lives, then will not such meaningful lives
appear orderly? Furthermore, for the aware (i.e., enlightened) and ambitious of society,
will not his freedom of will impinge on the will of someone who is less aware and less
ambitious; and will not the inferior end up depending on the superior; and will not this
relationship have structure, and through this structure to accomplish the end of the
superior will predictability, and order? The universe aside, free will implies, and
necessitates, societal order. Meaning is a communal phenomenon.
That is an optimistic and unrealistic reading of chaos. The truth is tyranny, at its
best, intends to batter the inferior will into animalistic submission, ignorance. The
inferiors life deteriorates toward the meaningless; success, failure, and the brutality of
his superior, these fall on him at random. Only in myth can I build wings to save myself
from the oppressor, flying over the walls of my prison.

Simultaneously ask, with what are these walls built? To think of myself as a
prisoner, as the peon for another, does not this imply a system, an order, even justice, and

Oedipus: Did you give him that child? Hes asking.
Shepherd: I did I wish to god Id died that day.
Oedipus: Youve got your wish if you dont tell the truth.
Shepherd: The more I tell, the worse the death Ill die.
Oedipus: Our friend here wants to stretch things out, does he?
Motioning to his men for torture. (1271-1275)

The microcosm (of the fiction, of Bowen) is the structure of one mans vision of
another mans life, it is the model of life that is so close to reality that the pain of the
character, by its invention, recurs, is re-experienced by the inventor. Bowens fate is his
authors fate.
Orr, to evade this end, wants to believe that he did not create Bowens problem.
Still, a moral man, Orr must try to solve it; try and reach down and pluck Bowen, deus ex
machina, from his prison.
The fiction, in an old fashioned sense amazing stories! delivered an obvious
artifice. There was never the question for this fiction Is this real? Am I like the hero?
Simultaneously the question was posed. The vicarious experience the Quixote
syndrome is fundamental to fiction, to the romance. So what is the problem, what is the

difference between the old fashioned and newfangled? In this case there is obnoxious
gravitas, the sense of a moral imperative: Orr must save Bowen. Such imperatives only
pertain to the real, non-fictional, readers world; not the textual world. That is, the
presence of the imperative draws the fiction closer to the reader; or, conversely, the
reader deeper into the fiction. The imperative, our law, this immersion implies, is simply
another narrative.
Nothing, Orr begins to suspect, is secure, unified. The supremacy of narrative
comes at the cost of the truth. Orr wants Grace to open, to reveal herself, to give up her
secret. But if all expression is molded into a communicable packet i.e., a signifier does
not always signify the same thing twice then the expression of truth is suspect, apriori
contrived, an imitation of the truth. The truth itself is relegated to a realm of inexpression.
As with Bowens call to Leightman: Please call, even if its only to tell me you dont
want to talk (86), the query at the truth is a visit to silence, the want of an explanation.

13.i Infanticide

The query regards Graces secret. Orr presents it from an askant view.
Orr is without ancestry. He describes the immediate families of Trause and Grace
(12, 32), but of his own family he only suggests with uncertainty, and with a name
differing from his his grandparents (112). Orr is a kind of orphan. He is the end of a
lineage; he may be the beginning of something new. But without Grace, and while she
possesses her secret, Orr approaches his genetic end.

This condition colors his interpretation of Victorys story, and also of its
corollary, the story of Kisha White.
The death of the infant signifies, to Victory and Orr, the end of mankind. What is
this end? How can I describe it?
The end of mankind is impossible to describe, and impossible to signify. The
essence of the end, of this end, I may only hypothesize, is the extinguishment of
consciousness. Everything afterward is a fantasy of what is meaningless,
incomprehensible, unutterable; this end is the end of language.
What Orr imagines as the end of mankind is actually the approach to the end.
There is no there there, at the end of mankind. Like death, this there, the occurrence, is
the penultimate moment, after which there is nothing, not a word, not a sense, nothing,
not even nothing. Orr is on the edge of the realm of the liars paradox. This sentence is a
lie. The end of mankind, the apocalypse, day of judgment, is a metaphor, a phrase
nodding at both the limits of language and reality, and the vast terrain outside of reality
that I may only, with fear and longing, observe.
The article Orr keeps in his pocket inspires him to turn to the emptiness at the end
of his notebook. He will write backwards; moving from the space of conclusions, and
effect, into the space of cause. The cause of his state, his act metaphorically
demonstrates, wants silence; it is the day, twenty years ago, in question. It is also
Bowens silence, his hopeless condition, his burial in a wasteland, the heartland. Orr will
approach Bowen from the last page, an artificial, structured end; perhaps with the
assumption that Kisha White represents the only conclusion to Bowens story. Orr will

now find the connection, pick up the thread, walk backwards like a detective from the
corpse to the perpetrators first step.
The end of Bowens story is clarified. The end of Oracle Night is implicated. But
do I mean by this title Bowens manuscript, Maxwells novel, or Orrs project? For all
cases, the middle of the narrative always remains to be told. Like Flagg, Orr, Oedipus, the
end-state comes in a flash, and now draws us into the middle-ground by an irresistible
Everything is prophetic in the realm of the authors work. He has the first and last
word, he pulls all the strings.
Real prophecy, on the other hand Orrs tacit question implies that the author
(supplicant to the oracle in his text) does not know what will happen in his work. That is,
his knowledge, structure, and intention are artificial, merely methods. The narrative is
prophetic when its end surprises its author, when the end corresponds in an uncanny,
consummating way with the beginning, and when the end threatens the authority of its
Or, prophecy is only meaningful in retrospect. A prophecy is not a prophecy
before it is fulfilled.

14. The Time Machine


Oracle Night is an old book, a forgotten novel. Like an order to a special-agent:
Destroy this message after reading it, the book wants to negate itself, to heighten and
preserve the value of its content.
Orr is investigating the vestige of a book. Something of the content is lost. The
function of the oracle is corrupt. Orr must extrapolate. Instead of visiting the future, he, in
the position of Flagg, visits the past, to know the dead before they were dead (121). But
clearly this is more than extrapolation; it is exactly what Orr does. He is unaware of his
proximity to Oracle Night. What he considers a thought experiment, his activity, is an
unconscious movement; Orr is, to a degree, removed from himself.
Directions become confused. Flagg previews; Orr reviews. Can this distinction,
for Orrs disorientation, be clearly drawn? In the oracular sense, is there a significant
difference between looking back and looking forward?
To the oracle the past, present,
and future are unified, a singular moment. The supplicant is, in her view, both alive and
dead, a body and its ghost. I may fear knowing the moment of my death, but not the
moment when others die: this exception is implicit in Orrs preference. To visit the dead,
to know them as living beings, implicates the visitor (Ostrow, Orr), by his knowledge and
silence, in the others death. Orr, despite his move in the opposite temporal direction,
remains an oracle. He abandons his position as supplicant; he endeavors to tell, in the
oracle and Victory tell, and not ask. He wants to know the future, to have the power of
changing the course of the past, of controlling the life of the ignorant supplicant.

14.i Orr on Wells

A stringent reading of history works against free will, the independence of
character, and the destiny, specifically, of Orr.
Such a view describes, for a time-travel
paradigm, the problem of interference with the past. The change, for example, of a word
on page (or in the year) 61 would, in a stringent reading, effect phrases on page (or in the
year) 181. That is, the independence I experience in the present, which allows me to
travel back in time, depends on the uniformity of the past. There is destiny: the past (and
present, which is a nascent past) exists in one, unified form; it is against the law to alter
this form, since such an interference will change the future, will change, more
problematically, the present in which I decide to visit the past.
What I perceive, then, as independence is actually a form of destiny, since it
comes out of the structural soundness, the unity and conformity, of the past. One past
leads to one future.
This, obviously, is a questionable position. The paradox of Orrs narrative lies in
this declaration: you alone are responsible for making yourself who you are (124). If
this were true, then there would not be laws forbidding interaction with the past (a
present); since the idea is that being is created by, and depends solely upon, itself, an
internal source of the same being. The Law, on the other hand, implies that the external
world, and other beings, influence the internal being; since you are punished for
interfering with the external (past-state) world. The Law implies that the past, and its
constituents, other beings, is partly responsible for making the present. Therefore you
alone are not responsible for making yourself who you are.

You see yourself as part of something greater than yourself. (124)

One way to reconcile this inconsistency I am alone; I am part of a group is to
break the Law. The Law seeks to be unfathomable. Its power of maintaining order is
proportional to the faith its followers place in it. In this light, the Law is a common story,
a unifying narrative. And in this light, since it evades scrutiny, the Law is not entirely,
necessarily, the Truth.
The Law, in Jills time, forbidding interference with the past, may be a hoax, a
myth, a source of understanding to a culture that cannot prevent time travel. The
government assimilates the trend; only to stay a step ahead of culture, and postpone, or
prevent, what it perceives as a possible source, and site, of rebellion.
The individual, finally, is solely responsible for her destiny. Interfering with the
lives of others, in the past or present, creates no external force on the individuals
destiny; such interference is a part of destiny, it becomes the destiny itself.

15. Grace III: The Child

Graces lie is this: I think Im pregnant, Sid (128). Orr discovers that Grace
already knows that she is pregnant; the test returns positive.
Where, however, lies the lie in her claim? What about her words can be said to be

Her I think is untrue, since she does not think, she knows.
A sophisticated argument against this assertion follows this line: Is not I know
included in I think, i.e., can one know without thinking? No. There are some things I think
about but do not know; that is why I think about them. But there are other things I know,
and still think about; in fact, I must think about these things before I know that I know
That Grace knows does not prevent her, truthfully, from also thinking. So how
does she lie? (I am not convinced that she does.)
Orr responds in turn, with a lie of his own (130). He claims, knowing otherwise,
that he will find a job teaching creative writing, or history, if this will convince Grace to
keep the baby.
Is this a lie? What about his statement is untrue?

Orr can find a teaching job. It is not what he wants to do, but it is not an
These lies are not precisely deceitful. In fact, in both cases, the statements may be
interpreted as benign, even beneficent: Orr and Grace are trying to help each other. The
question is as Orr raises in the following sentence, Why does the deceit, however
minute, assuming all lies contain some, rest in the liars motive (cause), or in the liars
product (effect, the actualization of the lie)? Is the liar lying to himself?
Orr knows when he lies. He knows, for example, that the child will not prevent
Grace from decamping (131). On the contrary, Orr, in Trause and his son Jacob, has
evidence suggesting otherwise. The child does not necessarily secure a marriage.

His anxiety, however, over losing Grace, is not a lie; or at least not a lie to
himself. Graces intention conflates two characters: the child, and Orr. Orr equates an
abortion with his loss of Grace; the abortion, from this tack, aborts a relationship, aborts
both Orr and Grace. In a recess of his character, Orr, a kind of orphan,
hears in the
abortion the second destruction of his mother, his second abandonment. Orr is,
convalescent, and previously entirely dependent upon Grace, from this tack, her child.

15.i Her Dream

In one context, Graces dream is strange because it is serendipitous, uncanny. It
happens to reflect Orrs own preoccupation. In another context the dream is strange
because Orr realizes how somebody might see the story (135) he is writing. Somebody
may lift the lid and discover his thoughts; an act that would disperse the story, put the
story into two (or more) places, mouths, minds; which threatens, obviously, the integrity
of its author. Orr knows it is his story, but I have reason to believe that he doubts its
uniqueness. This clue, however, the sense of leakage, reminds Orr of his anxiety: the
movement, a gesture, the turn of the story away from him, toward somebody else.
Furthermore, the dispersion of the story, and the threat against Orrs authorhood,

implies that he is not a creator, but a copier, a copy of the creator, and that everything he
does, and every thought that he thinks is his own, may be the imitation of a thought of the
creator. That is, Orr, in the Platonic factory of imitation, removed from the cause, is like a
puppet, like a character in another authors notebook.

I drifted along like a spectator in someone elses dream (2)

16. Chang

What is disturbing about Orrs compulsive attention to Bowen is the sense (it is a
fact) that Orr intentionally locked Bowen underground, and intentionally, in a feat of
cognitive dissonance, forgot that he did this.
Implicit in the compulsion appears the possibility that Orr must save Bowen if he
will save himself.
This ontological reflection flashes in his mind: if Orr, an author, locks his
protagonist underground, why cannot Orr (another protagonist) meet the same fate, and
be locked underground by another author, by the sardonic anti-author to whom it occurs
This fiction is a real possibility. And real possibilities are so much like fiction?
The folded narrative (about ontological reflection) is an integral element to Orrs
reminiscence. His memoir is under constant threat by the presence of an anti-author.
Nothing, he suspects, is unique, is his alone. Every moment has happened before; only
forgetfulness creates the illusion of immediacy.

To further complicate the problem of dj vu Orrs real present is in the year
2002. He recounts a time when he sat in the White Horse (140), in 1982, recounting the
possible time he sat in the White Horse, observing the back of a man at the counter.
When does the present occur? If this cannot be determined, where, and when, does that

indeterminacy leave the speaker, the protagonist, the subject? Recollection, imitation of
the self is, as Plato suggests, a suspicious, infectious, and invisible agent.

16.i M.R. Chang

Changs rendering of Orrs color wars (50) is an inversion of its predecessor.
While Orrs blue team is defined by kinds of virtue, Changs teams are defined (coarsely,
by imposition) by vice, in violence, each team on the brink of destruction (142). All
elements of fantasy and pleasure in Orrs color war, which was primarily a game; and
in Graces dream are here absent. Chang tells a story about the destruction of books and
children, about the end of playfulness, fantasy, and precocity.
The contrast of stories reveals a complexity of the oracles narrative. Before
visiting the oracle, the supplicant has ideas of his life and his place in the world. Some of
these ideas are more realistic and practicable than others. After visiting the oracle, all
ideas are compressed into one, and this unit is less an idea, in comparison to what the
supplicant previously had in mind, than an actuality, a reality, a futurity, destiny.
Before a visit to the oracle, the supplicant is a child; afterward he is an old man,
all curiosity, innocence, fantasy, and playfulness extinguished.
In this reading, Chang is a kind of oracle. Orr says to his wife, Are you familiar
with the term color war? (50) Chang would respond to the query along this line: Color
war? Let me tell you what color wars really are. And thereafter Orrs fantasy, his
reminiscence, is practically meaningless. The loss of innocence is an irreversible act.

Once I know something, it is impossible short of physical harm, a blow to the brain to
unknow it.

16.ii Martine I

What is in a name? Martine, the African Princess, is in Flushing, Chinatown
Number Two (146). The place, in its nominal categorization of space, recalls Victorys
project, and the locale of Changs story, Beijing Number Eleven Middle School (142).
Everything can be categorized. There is no such thing as essence; only names
exist. And if there were essence, could I not categorize it too? No, since no two essences
would be the same; if there were, they would not be essential.

The categorization of a neighborhood Chinatown Number Two, Chinatown
Number Three implies that the neighborhood has nothing fundamentally distinctive
about it, nothing unique enough to be called a name. Categorization finds names in
superficial qualities, and in proximity, in the positional relation of two things. I.e., in a
sequence of three things, two of which, the first and last, are known, the middle thing,
unknown, can be facilely known because of its position. This is the purpose of
categorization: to group (family, genus, species) like with like; to resolve the problematic
relationship between essence and knowledge.
The oracle utilizes this scheme in this way: she knows the end position. The
supplicant asks, Who am I? The oracle replies, , in so many words, but always in
relation to what the supplicant ultimately becomes.

Destiny, I would like to show, is a form of categorization.
But is not destiny unique for the destined?
Not exactly. When we speak of destiny, we generalize, we tell a story. There are
heroes, there are damned, there is happiness, and death at a good ripe age, old and

Destiny in a unique sense is the story of quotidian, intricate events.

16.iii Martine II

Orrs disgraceful indifference to Martines request is a kind of lie. She will act in
a questionable way; he remains silent, failing to ask the question; he condones the action.
Does knowledge of the action morally compel Orr to act? Is knowledge of an
action an action itself? Is inaction (abstinence) an action?
Orr later regrets his passivity. This is not regret for inactivity; he acted, in
condoning Martines act, in remaining silent.
He regrets his decision because he loves Grace, or thinks he loves Grace. Now he
will need to hide his transgression. Can he? I have reason to think not: for his sense of
balance, equity. Grace does not have it in her to steal (107), not because it is against her
ethics, but because the line is absent from her constitution. Theft is something that will
never occur to her. Orr suspects that her knowledge of his act will harm that constitution,
and cast their relationship into a dangerous imbalance: he, by this, his secret, has stolen.


16.iv Grace IV

Their reunion is perfectly incongruous with the prior scene. The about-face both
of them conduct is disorienting, even perverse.

She gripped my hand tightly and said: We trust each other, dont we
Sid? (154)

The comment is duplicitous. Grace suspects Orrs act of the prior day, but cannot the
words are not within her, not of her constitution voice it directly. She wants him to
confess. On the other hand, as Orr suspects, Grace conceals something of her own; but
again, she cannot voice it directly (and what, now, of her constitution?
Done simultaneously, their about-faces dispel all suspicion. There is a moment of
blindness in the turn. Orr and Grace think they fool the other; not for their careful
schemes, but for the fact that the other is too preoccupied with his and her own scheme to
I can hear Orr in his closet: Have I been so distracted that I inadvertently gave
her opportunity to fool me, to get even?
Orr will not consider the possibility of Graces innocence, the candidness of her
words. He is a writer, contriver, an illusionist. Candidness is not a part of his constitution.
His view always imposes depth, dimension, concealment. He suspects that she intends to
dupe him, by a compelling performance of innocence, into a confession.

Caught in the looped logic of paranoia, Orr is speechless. He watches, confused,
as Grace descends (154), falling into the earth.
He wants to follow her.

17. Trause II: The Child

Trause responds to the revelation of Graces pregnancy as if to its contrary, as if
Thanatos were present.

But John didnt make a sound. For a moment he looked stricken, as if hed
just been told about the death of someone he loved, and then he turned his
face away from me, abruptly swiveling his head on the pillow and looking
straight into the back of the sofa.
Poor Grace, he muttered. (162)

How do these men communicate? Intention and interpretation describe opposing
Previously Trause asked Orr for advice on fathering his son, Jacob. He would
have Orr compare the kids he has known to Jacob; and Orr responds that the problems his
kids endured are incomparable to Jacobs.
The exchange frames two puzzles. First, the father is asking the teacher (who is
also a non-father) for advice on fathering. Trause is under the impression that the

problem he faces is pedagogical, or at least similar to a pedagogical one. Orr sees the
problem as paternal, and familial. All my students (161) Orr says, and situates his
perspective, and implies to Trause that the Trause-Jacob relationship is not precisely a
teacher-pupil one, implies that Trause does not understand the nature of Jacobs, or his
own, problem. The second frame contains a rich man and a poor man. Trause assumes
that work with kids provides insights to fathering. While this assumption is not
necessarily false, Orr circumspectively replies that the insight Trause needs has nothing
to do with what he, Orr, does: All my students were poor. Black teenagers from
tumbledown neighborhoods and broken families (161). Trauses son is a rich, white
young man. Trauses problem is on a different spectrum. It cannot be removed, Orr
implies, from this fact: Trause is affluent. Moreover, Orr who can mulct five thousand
dollars out of a Hollywood producer
has reason to be confounded by Trauses
grievances. Indeed, Orr tacitly sympathizes with Jacob, for they have much in common:
the need for a father, and patron, and money.
How, in this light, does Orr take Trauses Poor Grace?
It is unlikely that the comment is a banal lament of the womans fall from grace. I
have good reason to believe Grace is not innocent, and has not been for a long time. So
her poverty must have a different source. Here are two possibilities. Inferring from the
conversation they just concluded, Trause is sorry to hear that Grace and Orr will soon
enter the realm of parenthood, of the possibility of wayward children and divorce. On the
other hand, his comment may have nothing to do with the child, per se. It is Graces state

of pregnancy that is problematic. She is poor, in Trauses view, because he feels Grace is
not completely responsible for her condition; it is not her decision to become pregnant.
In the same light, it is not his decision either. Trause Graces surrogate father,
who is uninformed about the decision, and who exerts a certain amount of influential
force upon the woman hears in the pregnancy a form of betrayal, a conspiracy (of at
least herself and her child) against him. Her own childishness

They shouldnt be allowed to grow any taller than that (162)

is repudiated.
Still, Trauses response (Poor Grace, Grace is my business (163)) is not as
condemning of Grace as it is of Orr. Orr is unstable, convalescent, hardly graceful, hardly
suited to be a father. Trause can reasonably resent, first, that Orr should take Grace away
from him, and second, that Orr would have a child with her. Graces child the figure of
this entire exchange, and also a figure of exchange Trause may fantasize, should be his
child (or grandchild), the replacement of his prodigal, absent son. Or more insidious, the
child is the price of Orr: if Trause loves Grace more than a surrogate father should love
his surrogate daughter, and he promises her everything, and she refuses this gift, his love,
not because she cannot love him in return, but for the law, for her real father (a judge
(12)), then Trause puts a price on this freedom, and that is the child. You can have this
Orr, he might say, but I get your first born.


18. An Exchange of Words

Events happen outside of Orrs attention span; others may notice these, but he
does not. This blindness is particularly important to Orr, since a quality of his
convalescence is his recovery of memory. He is returning, in his mind, by his words, to
the present, from a day in question, a day that is not entirely a day; he is returning from a
space, or lapse, in his memory. For this reason, Graces testament to his absences, when
he claims to be working, disturb him: he wants above all, presences, immediacy,
Orr is half aware of this mystery, his absence-in-work. Paradoxically he writes
(works) because he thinks the activity will replace him in the world, into his old role.
Writing is the one activity he feels he must do in order to recover himself, to be himself;
exactly, to find an answer to the day in question.
The remedy is also the poison. His construction conceals within itself a
destruction. As in Borgess Death and the Compass, the construction of the narrative
the solution to the crime, in this case is also the destruction of the constructor, the
protagonist, the detective.
The solution to the crime, it turns out, is the murder (the dissolvent) of the

The detective (the writer) believes that he closes in on the killer (the story). The
reality is that the killer (story) closes in on the detective (writer).

By a trick of his own fiction the writer abdicates his writer-ness. He cannot be
aware of this trick, since the destruction of the author is the destruction of the story and
the beginning of the story. That is, if awareness of the trick led to his elusion of the killer,
then the story would cease to exist.
If this is not the case if I am not in the very unique labyrinth of Borgess
narrative; if the detective survives then it could be that the author came upon, or
stepped into, a story that preceded him, an apriori narrative; and when he thinks of
himself (at gunpoint) as the author, he means (desperately, effusively) like an author, a
mimic of the author of the story.
All the same, imposter or not, this problem remains: Who is the author in an
ouroboros narrative?
I am faced with this problem in Trauses The Empire of Bones, a branch of
Orrs Time Machine. The abundance of embeddings, overlaps, and similarities with Orrs
narrative cause me to pause. Time-travel, to begin with figuratively, in the form of
historical fiction is an aspect of allegory. The device transfers a character, the
embodiment of my time and world, to a superficially different, and usually simplistic
world; it is a place nonetheless of symbolic edification, as if its simplicity were the
essential characteristics of the time I left behind. The concept itself, in the shadow of
Wellss novel (1895), is an allegory of allegory: it appears in a historical moment when
industry changes the texture of consciousness, when story-telling, for example, is
subsumed by news, factories of realism.
Time-travel is the extrapolation and
assimilation of the narrative of technological evolution; it uses the tropes of an adventure

story, but in the context of a contemporary ethos. The time-travelers narrative is forward
looking in tone, but formally nostalgic: Remember what adventures we had before
modernization? Do you see how see things have changed? This message is not exactly
that of science-fiction, since all sci-fi does not involve travel. Traveling, the comparison
of different places and times, necessitates a symbolic, reductive language; in order to
understand the other (the Dutch mountain-men, the Eloi) we define him by a common-to-
us denominator, and when we tell about, and reflect upon, the adventure, we define
ourselves by the same denominator.
The oracle knows this paradigm well. Hers is a simple story of the future. What
confuses the supplicant is the absence of the adventurer in the story; the oracle herself,
prisoner to her purpose, a little crazed, symbolically takes the position of the returned
adventurer. The supplicant, now interpreter, has no choice but to unfold what hes been
told in allegorical terms. The story is unfettered by the present, by objectivity; it is
strange, its cause and point of origin are unclear. Only, this allegory our Flitcraft, a
time-machine differs from its predecessor in its urgency, in the imminence it implies. It
is the allegory of tomorrow, of the perpetration of a crime. Like Changs story, and
Borgess, the oracle reveals the last story, the end of fantasy and imagination, the end of
The supplicant, perhaps, would be wise to ignore the oracle. But he cannot; he
came, a question burning in his mind. The question, the journey, her utterance: iacta alea


18.i The Empire of Bones I

The conspirator, an officer in a fake army, absconds with the wife of the
journalist, the narrator of the story.
The journalist, captured and charged with treason (169), is innocent, in the sense
that he is not a conspirator.
Oracle Night is the story of a war. Its protagonist, in a vision, sees the
disentanglement of the knot, the solution to the differences between the enemies. He is
arrested before he can tell his story.
Is The Empire of Bones a solution to Oracle Night? Trause is the officer; Orr is
the journalist; Grace is the journalists wife, and officers lover.
What stands for the government? Who are the conspirators, what is the
conspiracy? Who writes the story of borders and barbarians?
A sharper question: If the fiction reflects, in any way, the non-fictional arena of its
invention, and Trause writes the story in response to (or in an effort to change) a real
experience, then why would he share this with Orr?
Another transposition of the exchange looks like this: Bowen, in possession of
Oracle Night, leaves his wife Eva, ostensibly to be with Leightman, the granddaughter of
the author of the manuscript in his possession. Orr is now also in possession of a
manuscript. To maintain the integrity of this comparison (or fulfill a prophecy), Orr will
leave his wife Grace, to be with another woman, a woman who is also the granddaughter
of (or, loosely at least, in relation to) the author of the manuscript in his possession;

which is not inconceivable, since Grace, the woman he wants, is the surrogate daughter
of Trause. I mean to suggest that the Orr/Grace relationship is, from this awkward tack,
the (oracular) fulfillment of Bowens fantasy.
And it is most awkward, since Grace is the woman Orr will both abandon and
Is Grace two different people?
(She wont steal. But she can keep a secret)
What does this rendering of The Empire of Bones suggest of Oracle Night? It
places Orr in the position of the cuckolded narrator and also in the position of Eva, both
figures without the manuscript, if the conspiracy can be read as a manuscript.

Along this line of sex and script-possession, other triangulations become apparent.
The primary one is the authors, Sylvia Maxwells, with Jeremy Scott (15), in 1927,
which, coincidentally, is the present of her narrator, Genevive (61). The second is that
affair foreseen by Flagg of his fiance, Bettina Knott, with an unnamed man. In the first
case, Maxwell leaves the manuscript (Oracle Night) with Scott, who retains it for the rest
of his life (1895-1982, he expires at eighty-seven, a few months prior to the beginning of
Orrs narrative (16)), after which the manuscript is bequeathed to Maxwells
granddaughter, Rosa Leightman. Can the second case (Knotts) be reconciled with the
first? What would represent the manuscript? Oracle Night, again, still. The linchpin in
the story of Flaggs demise Genevives memoir; it is her voice I hear is the prophecy
of Knotts affair with another man, an affair which, I aver, is the beginning (with
Maxwell, et alia) of Oracle Night.


18.ii A Failed Transfer

Trauses story is stolen or lost. Maybe Orr drops it; it might slip from his pocket,
like change, like a key; it might be plucked by a thief (the train is crowded, I was
crammed in among so many people that my arms were pinned to my sides (170)), the
envelope being mistook for the kind that contain cash, not manuscripts. I cant blame,
however, the thief for his mistake; an envelope of case is not an entirely wrong
assumption. To Orr, the story is a form of currency, a potential solvent to, and escape
from, his debts.
The Empire of Bones becomes, like Bowens Oracle Night, a lost manuscript. It is
trapped on the F Train, destined for Coney Island (171). The loss, however, is an
adjustment to Bowens situation, a confusion of boundaries. Contrary to the key
metonym, by way of the pocket: Bowen holds the manuscript, but not the key, which is
outside of the locked room; Orr, outside, has nothing but space, the liberty to return
home, or not return, to leave town, to abandon Grace and Trause. His key, and
manuscript, is in an envelope, on the F, in failure, in flight, in effability. The escape of
the F Train coincides with Orrs loss of the effable; his condition is now unspeakable.

19. The Robbery


The incident on the F (for fortune) foretells the burglary of Orrs apartment.
Sympathetic forces are at work. In retribution for Orrs negligence, for losing his friends
manuscript, a thief breaks into his apartment and steals his manuscripts.
The force is overwhelming. Having lost the key, Orr will need to break something
a door, his pride, a friendship in order to escape. The penetration of his apartment
reflects an aspect of his own psychological state: someone else has broken the door for
him. I discovered that the door was open not simply ajar, but flung back on its
hinges and standing flush against the wall (172). His violent double precedes him.
With the manuscript (key) lost, Orr (Bowen) is locked inside (himself/a bomb
shelter); no option remains but to destroy the door. The opening of his apartment, in this
way, is not only a sign of penetration, what Orr first assumes; it is also an extension of
the loss of Trauses manuscript, it is the flight, and escape since the thief, having
entered through a back window (174), breaks out of the apartment of (Bowen) a
I want to dwell at this partition for a moment, and keep an eye on Orr, on his
What is missing? Anything valuable?
Certain books. The thief is literate.
Or the thief has heard of certain authors; or the thief knows something about
turning around used-books, and doesnt give a Flying F** for the content of his wares,
for whats inside.

The perpetrator is a structuralist for whom there is no profound truth greater than
the exaction of revenge.

Ten days later I learned from the Yiddische Zeitung that you were trying
to find the key to Yarmolinskys death among Yarmolinskys writings. I
read A History of Hasidim; I learned that the reverent fear of speaking the
Name of God had been the origin of the doctrine that that Name is
omnipotent and occult. I learned that some Hasidim, in the quest for that
secret Name, had gone so far as to commit human sacrifice I realized
that you would conjecture that the Hasidim had sacrificed the rabbi; I set
about justifying that conjecture.

Likewise, our selective thief may know how his mark will react, and that reaction
is what he most desires. He is malicious. He desecrates art, destroys sentimental
gewgaws, polaroid pictures. He does not want wealth as much as he wants the emotional
toll, respect and fear, of his victim. He is not interested in things, especially in their
essential value; he wants the value put in the thing by its owner, which equals the story of
the thing.

20. Disappearance


Grace disappears. Orr is in the position of Eva and Mrs. Wakefield. He wants to
understand the sudden, inexplicable absence of his partner.
Where is she? She is a) away, by her own volition; b) captured, away against her
will; c) present, but unseen, i.e., right in front of him, but unnoticed for his (work)
distractions; d) dead.
As Orr speculates about possible states of being, he walks backward in his
memory, to the last moment of Graces presence, to see if he might uncover the cause of,
a clue to, her disappearance.
Did she act unusual this morning? Did she say anything out of the ordinary? Did
you fight? Did she not say something, was she evasive?
I find myself, strange, like Orr, returning to prior scenes, last moments, as if in
that brief span of time when everything was significant, everything was a clue to what
would happen next. Strange how I do this only after the fact of the disappearance, in a
traumatized condition. When things are in order I do not pay attention. It is disorder that
draws my eye; but then, obviously, attention to the details is complicated, obscured by
the plenitude of detail. Disorder is disorder because of its resistance to comprehension, to
my attention; suggesting attention an awareness to unidentified details only perceives
disorder. Superficially, attention is rhythmic, nodding at continuity; but beneath the lid it
is disturbed, hung-up on asymmetry, disparity, difference.

Orrs attention is on the dissemination of his narrative, of Bowens story. Orr
thought he was an author. Now he senses that his experience is dramatized, that his
present experience is very much like a story, even one of his own stories. Now he senses

the presence of a designer, a schemer, someone responsible for what has happened, for
the theft of his wife, and the theft of his positions as husband and author. He senses in
himself, concrete for the first time, characterness; and if he can lock his protagonist into a
room and let him perish, why can not (why should not) the Other Author lock him, Orr,
another protagonist, into a room, to die?
His attention is on the hidden presence of death. Grace is dead; the child is dead;
their future is dead. The fear of death is like a death, it immobilizes Orr, destroys his will,
en-characters him. The fear of death is the fear of (The Empire of Bones) the barbarian at
the gate (168), his nemesis, the destroyer of language.
Flagg, the end of the game, a form of resignation, approaches. Orr needs the
oracle: with Graces disappearance, Orr is not what he thought he was. For the moment,
he is not a husband. Hes entangled, in a knot, the pernicious rhizome around his ankles.
[She is a) with another man; b) in trouble (and a husband would save her!) c) dead. What
can he do? Only her reappearance will revivify his husbandness.] He will become, like
Bowen, and Eva, someone else. He will break the Law (of being, of character), since the
Law will not recognize an un-criminal disappearance.

20.i Trust

Graces trust is an argument for the justification of the means, by the end.
Unpredictable behavior, conditions-of-being that cannot (or will not) be explained, are, in
her trust, justified by a teleology.

Orrs trust is a playful concept, of the domain of games. In the reality of marriage,
of love, trust does not apply. For trust, like faith, implies the irrational, the unreasonable.
It is an impediment to the hidden self, the essence of a person that is fundamental to
communication, and understanding. Orr would have Grace see the world in the way he
sees the world, the attraction of the ineffable into the realm of the effable.
Trust me, he hears as, Im concealing something.
He will pry the secret from her, conquer her reason, her pride.

Someone, in any case, will be hurt. So why, with the stakes rising, does Grace
keep the secret?

What are you holding back from me?
Nothing. I just needed to be alone yesterday, thats all. I needed
time to think It was like I had to pretend I didnt know you anymore.

If her nothing is true, then Grace disarms the secret Orr accuses her of holding;
for he accuses a different woman. Like Bowen, Grace is in a pretended state of ignorance,
a context in which she is not-Grace, a woman who is not married to Orr.
Reconsider Evas condition (83-4). Eva first suspects Bowen of infidelity.
Searching for her husband, her suspicion is quickly discredited, and she decides that
something has happened to him, to cause his disappearance. She feels, at this realization,
like his wife again (84).

Orr suspects Grace of infidelity. If he calls the hotel, he may or may not have his
suspicion confirmed. He may or may not recover his husbandness. Grace, meanwhile,
reappears. That is, had Grace remained absent (as Bowen does) and not created the
presence of a secret between them then Orr would become Eva, and his prospect of
being or not-being a husband would be more realizable. It is the secret that confounds
Orrs drama. In fact, the secret binds him, destroys every good escape: if he calls the
hotel, regardless of the outcome, he assaults Graces notion of trust, which is also her
trust in him; if he does not call the hotel, then he complies with her notion of trust, which
he finds suspect, a corrupt definition.
Grace has reappeared, but she is no more tangible for this fact. First, Orr thinks,
she hid her pregnancy; the fetus was the secret. Now, since her unusual behavior persists,
he suspects another secret; or maybe more to the first secret, or the first secret entirely, in
the possibility that his conclusion was wrong. Orr suspects that Grace knows something
pertinent to his life that he does not know. Is not this the poison in the tip of any secret?
That one person knows something about another person, something essential to that
person, of which that person is not aware? In Orrs convalescent condition, the presence
of the secret is all the more injurious: Orr is already aware of the fact that he is not
completely himself, not completely aware of everything that happens around him. Hence
the proximity of paranoia. Graces secret is a manifestation of Orrs secret, a reminder of
how Orr cannot recover (or uncover) what he conceals from himself.
What is immediately concealed from Grace is the fact that the apartment has been
gutted. (One turn of the screw deserves another.) The subject of the secret appears to be

dropped; it is only shifted, turned to be viewed from a different angle. Orr has a secret.
Many of their possessions are gone. Grace, distracted by the argument, has not noticed
the paucity; sometimes the answer, the solution to the crime, lies directly before us. But
for our logic, our method of approach, we pursue what is invisible, obscure, what we
hope to be most meaningful for complexity.

A certain set of highly ingenious resources are, with the Prefect, a sort of
Procrustean bed, to which he forcibly adapts his designs. But he
perpetually errs by being too deep or too shallow, for the matter at

The quiet irony of the scene is that Grace never turns on Orr, never interrogates
him regarding his various disappearances: twice in his office, and the unmentioned
afternoon with Chang.
Her refrain from this act is possibly an aspect of her secret, in which case the
irony dissolves.

21. Sylvia, Sylvia

Orr wants Oracle Night to fall from the sky into his hands. His research leads him
to believe that the manuscript is sui generis, with no connections to Hammett or Wells.

He means by Oracle Night, in this case, the manuscript kept by Bowen. Bowens
unnamed narrative, on the other hand, is Orrs rendering of Hammetts Spades Flitcraft
It is Flaggs story (and Maxwells, and Genevives), then, that is sui generis.
But can Bowens Oracle Night be wholly extracted from Bowens narrative? If
Oracle Night only exists in Bowens universe, then it must have a tenuous connection to
Hammetts episode. Rosa Leightman is the key. She, the messenger and deliverer of the
manuscript (a job) to Bowen (an editor (15)), is Spades OShaughnessy: she threatens to
change the course of Bowens life. She is a partition between one life and another;
between life and a kind of death. And Oracle Night is her mark, her handkerchief, the
clue Bowen has of her existence. The manuscript is his key to Rosa.

The content of Oracle Night, in this regard, does not constitute Oracle Night. The
environment in which the manuscript lives, and the numerous moments of references to
the manuscript, are each parts of the manuscript itself.
Its name, not essence, is its
being. For this reason the manuscript obviously does not exist only for Bowen, in his
narrative. Rosa knows the code; Maxwell and Scott know the code; Orr knows the code,
and in fact writes it out in his notebook; and there is, I would be remiss to not mention,
the book I possess on which the code is inscribed.

22. Intermissions

Orr will salvage something from the novel it is rumored he is writing (188).

His notes are in a ruinous state. He might write a thousand pages, and from this
preordained wreckage salvage something, his novel-in-a-novel.
The implication is that the other novel the progenitor of the novel-in-a-novel
is the ruin, a broken and obsolete machine.

22.i Trause and Jacob

The plot of Oracle Night, Aristotle would say, is ruined. Anagnorisis, in which
Orr would learn of his mistakes, find understanding, discover the secret, never follows
peripeteia, the interruption of, and turn against, events.
Turns follow turns, interruption
Trause calls. Orr expects him to inquire about The Empire of Bones. Instead, the
subject is Jacob; the boy has been found and installed in a rehabilitation center, a drug
clinic (188).
The Empire of Bones intended as a jump-start, a gift to Orr with a pragmatic
is transformed into the missing (and now found) son.
Orr is surprised by this news. He had, clearly, the other story in mind. That is, his
secret, that he has lost The Empire of Bones, is made more threatening in the light of
Trauses shift from bad fortune to good, in the elevation of his hopes. Now Orrs
announcement to Trause that he has lost the manuscript will attack what little relief
Trause might have found in the return of his son.

Orrs dilemma is exacerbated when Trause asks him to visit Jacob at the rehab
center. In the way Trause would have Orr work on his adolescent manuscript giving Orr
his name he will now have him go in his stead, to work with his adolescent boy. But
since Orr failed to receive the first gesture failed to simply open the envelope and look
at the manuscript how can he now accept a second offer, a responsibility much greater
than the first?
He can refuse because the offer (an exchange, a friendly gesture, a request
between friends) does not entirely offer: What is Trause giving Orr? His name, again?
Orr risks becoming Trauses character, a character, that is, of the successful
novelist, a character of Trauses fictional idealism. Orrs reconstruction of himself, and
his reluctance to go as Trauses surrogate to Jacob, can here be read as a revolution
against the authority of Trause, the father, the benefactor.

22.ii Grace in Portugal

Grace is forbidden from seeing Jacob. The event, Trause says, could be
cataclysmic (192). That explains, thinks Orr, the scar on her knee (191).
There is a
secret between Grace and Trauses son; there was a battle, a rivalry in the past, beneath,
around, for Trause.
Orr realizes that he, like Jacob-the-toddler, an irrational creature (191), the
younger and less experienced writer, may use means other than words since he wants

this ability to speak to both his idol (Grace) and his skillful antagonist (Trause). Once
again, Orr sees himself in Jacob; and smells, to his dismay, Grace in Trause.
Is it chance that puts Jacob in Portugal when Grace happens to be there with his
father? This would mean that Eleanor, who sent Jacob over (191), did not know that
Grace was already there. When Trause found out that Grace would visit him Ill give
him the benefit of my doubt, and say the news was a surprise to him he did not tell his
ex-wife, with whom he was in communication, regarding their son, about the imminent
arrival of a guest. This is a plausible inference. It becomes a very likely possibility if
Trause had designs on Grace.
Orr sees the thread. His enmity toward Jacob is too sudden and out of focus. Orr
is angry, but he does not know whom to blame: Grace, for secreting her relationship to
Trause; or Jacob, for offending his (Orrs) honor, his Grace? And, naturally, the most
tacit question: In Portugal, what caused Jacobs animus for Grace?

23. Jacob Trause I

There are two kinds of lies in Oracle Night. Some are deceptive; others are
To deceive is to give a message that directs the recipient away from the truth
behind the message. In this way the liar accomplishes his end outside of the attention of
the recipient, his opponent.

To protect is to give a message that immobilizes the recipient. The liar freezes the
recipient (an other, rather than opponent) in a state of ignorance, while he undertakes a
necessary, and possibly immoral, task.
In either case the liar must do something apart from the attention of the other.
The lie is a message intended to draw attention away from its content, either by
misdirection or suspense.
Why the attention on attention? Because the liar knows, or suspects, that the other
will either know immorality when she sees it, and will catch the liar in his act; or, the
other is susceptible to immorality, and has still to experience this specific kind.
Grace never tells Orr about her relationship to Jacob. Orr reciprocates this silence
with silence of his own: he will not tell Grace, first, that he knows about her relationship
to Jacob, and second, that he visits Jacob at Smithers (188, 193).
Jacob is a ghost between the husband and wife: he is the precocious child who
knows more than his parents think he knows.
What does Jacob know? He knows what hes doing (197). He claims to
understand his circumstances. (Contrary to what Orr, his surrogate father, perceives:
Jacob is confused, Jacob is scamming the people who are trying to help him.)
Jacob reveals an awareness of the fiction, of a kind of fiction. He speaks as if the
authorities (higher power (198)) at Smithers conspire against him, as if they speak in
code (baby-talk religion (198)) to conceal the real meaning, the content of their
message. In the other hand, the paranoid with a hammer only sees nails; Jacobs
discerning of a fiction foments the fiction. This is the paranoids universe.

It is difficult for Orr to listen to Jacob. The boys cynicism is an enervating force;
since, perhaps, Orr understands the boys complaints. Moreover, Orr, who needs to
reconstruct himself, to answer the question of an obscure day, must believe that he, his
former, true self exists concealed in the wreck of his memory. He does not want to
discover, at the end of the trail, someone else (a higher power) in his place, does not
want to discover that his present self is the child of a stranger, the figure he once was and
can never be again.
Orr sees himself in Jacob. He understands Jacobs fascination with a character
like Father Freddy (200). The public is so easily duped. They are all creatures of habit.

The quotidian smothers detail, analysis, Being; it pursues categories, fluid clockwork.
Moreover, the quotidian, and unoriginal, smothers Orr, who has heard Jacobs story,
whether he realizes it or not, before.

Now for a scene! Amid the throng of a London street, we
distinguish a man, now waxing elderly, with few characteristics to attract
careless observers, yet bearing, in his whole aspect, the hand-writing of no
common fate, for such as have the skill to read it. He is meagre; his low
and narrow forehead is deeply wrinkled; his eyes, small and lustreless,
sometimes wander apprehensively about him, but oftener seem to look
inward. He bends his head, but moves with an indescribable obliquity of
gait, as if unwilling to display his full front to the world. Watch him, long
enough to see what we have described, and you will allow, that

circumstances which often produce remarkable men from natures
ordinary handiwork have produced one such here. Next, leaving him to
sidle along the foot-walk, cast your eyes in the opposite direction, where a
portly female, considerably in the wane of life, with a prayer-book in
hand, is proceeding to yonder church Just as the lean man and well
conditioned woman are passing, a slight obstruction occurs, and brings
these two figures directly in contact. Their hands touch; the pressure of the
crowd forces her bosom against his shoulder; they stand, face to face,
staring into each others eyes. After a ten years separation, thus
Wakefield meets his wife!
The throng eddies away, and carries them asunder. The sober
widow, resuming her former pace, proceeds to church, but pauses in the
portal, and throws a perplexed glance along the street And the man?
With so wild a face, that busy and selfish London stands to gaze after him,
he hurries to his lodgings, bolts the door, and throws himself upon the

At first my observations took an abstract and generalizing turn. I
looked at the passengers in masses, and thought of them in their aggregate
relations. Soon, however, I descended to details, and regarded with minute
interest the innumerable varieties of figures, dress, air, gait, visage, and
expression of countenance

With my brow to the glass, I was thus occupied in scrutinizing the
mob, when suddenly there came into view a countenance (that of a
decrepit old man, some sixty-five or seventy years of age,) a
countenance which at once arrested and absorbed my whole attention, on
account of the absolute idiosyncrasy of its expression. Any thing even
remotely resembling that expression I have never seen before. I well
remember that my first thought, upon beholding it, was that Retszch, had
he viewed it, would have greatly preferred it to his own pictural
incarnations of the fiend.

Jacob, a clown (195), is aware of his habits, his costumes. Likewise, he knows, to
some degree, that his appearance is not his essence, his true self; he knows that he too,
like Father Freddy, plays a role. The mystery is whether or not he knows who he is when
he is not playing. That is, Jacob knows that he conceals what he thinks of as his true self,
but he does not necessarily know who the true self is. At his heart reflecting Orr there
is an impenetrable shadow, a faceless figure.

24. Fighting Chang

M.R. Chang exists in a slower time, relative to Orrs reality. One minute in
Chang-Space is ten minutes in Orr-Space. Hence Changs (relative to Orr) accelerated
motion (203).

Change, to Orr, occurs faster than he anticipates. From his perspective the
elements of reality are moving faster than what is possible. Change is magical, a
phenomenon dazzling his senses, confusing him; he cannot perceive phases of transition.
Physical and temporal connections are obscured.
Is it Smithers in his eye, tainting his perception?
Turning around, for an obstruction (202), Changs store magically appears before
him. The model in the front window is more imaginative than its predecessor (203).
The homunculus therein, Charles Dickens, reminds Orr of Jacobs paranoia, a higher
power. He, Orr, is the author looking down on a puppet of an author-at-work, looking
over the puppets shoulder.

The puppet of one author is the puppet of all authors.
Orr is piqued. He wants another notebook. He wants to know, for the synecdoche
in the window, what Chang knows about him.
The merchant rises into view (204). His castigation of Orr (in place of Orrs
conscience) over his unexplained disappearance is not only about hypocrisy and
selfishness (205), since Chang, once more inside the American Dream, has decided to
play ball (141). Rather, Chang is an agent of change, of Fortune. He succeeds and fails
by ways out of his control; within his control, however, are what he calls his friends, and
he a stranger in the land, assimilator of values (They shoot you dead if you dont play
ball) knows of no other way to treat people than by Fortunes method. As he rises and
falls, so will he treat his friends.

Orr, a reconstructionist, does not understand. Chance is not an element of his
langue. He wants continuity, wants this Paper Palace to be the Paper Palace missing from
Brooklyn; he wants this Chang to be the M.R. Chang he met on the previous Saturday. In
fact, Orr wants, essentially, against capricious Fortune, to be who he was prior to his
Has the Smithers-Gang infiltrated the Upper East Side? Chang is not who he was,
not who he appears to be. He will not sell the notebook to Orr. Orr perseverates. An
objective reality cannot contain such contradictions. In the way he told Jacob to quit the
scam (197), he now insists on buying the notebook for a realistic price (207). Chang will
not negotiate. He kicks Orr out of his store.
A shift in the plot draws my attention back to this scene, and to its precursor. The
conclusion is imminent. One reading will associate Orrs fight with Chang, and Orrs
inability to acquire the notebook, with the end of his story. Simultaneously, a repetition
of the opening sequence suggests that Orrs relation to Chang the merchant is the
source of the notebook for the writer must endure for the story to continue. In other
words, had this fight occurred in the beginning, the story would have ended; fighting
Chang is tantamount to losing the notebook, which, to Orr, is tantamount to the end of his


Part Three

In this part of the essay, I analyze the remaining six sections of the text.
Prohibited from recovering or replacing the expended pages of his notebook, Orr
foresees the limit of his structuralist activity. This limitation is not only an end. There is a
remainder for this quotient. The structuralist is left looking upon what he cannot
incorporate. Specifically, this is diachrony and dynamics. Reality, contra Orrs
description of it, is protean. It eludes his inquiry.
Still, is this a reason, as Orr demonstrates, to resign?

25. Silence II

Fifty-six empty pages remain in the notebook.
Orr begins his third and last sortie on a fresh page about halfway in (210), at
approximately page forty-eight. I infer that empty pages live somewhere in the book,
since I know Orr wrote in the front of the book (Flitcraft), and in the back (The End of

The article had churned up so much in me, I felt I had to write some kind
of response to it I kept at it for about an hour, writing backward in the
notebook, beginning with page ninety-six, then turning to page ninety-
five, and so on. (116)

And if the total number of pages used is forty, then both the Flitcraft and End of Mankind
stories are each less than forty pages in length. An educated guess at their lengths is
twenty-six (FC) and fourteen (EMK). If Orr begins about halfway in, he begins on or
around page forty-eight; plus or minus a few, there may be as many as twenty-two empty
pages between the end of FC and the beginning of this, his last (temporally; spatially it
is positioned in the middle of the notebook) entry. If this final episode becomes
contiguous with EMK; that is, if Orr puts twenty-two empty pages between the end of FC
and the beginning of his last entry; then his final episode will be about thirty-four pages
in length.
Orr, in 1982, is thirty-four years old.
If the fifty-six empty pages signify the years of the life of Trause, who is also
fifty-six, then Orr is about to structurally mime at least by the significance of the
number the life of his friend. This life occurs between Orrs Flitcraft and The End of
This life will also skip over space, possibly consuming only thirty-four pages, or
the span of Orrs own life. Moreover, twenty-two years separate Trause and Orr (30);
twenty-two empty pages will account for these absent years, making, as I conjecture
above, the final entry contiguous with The End of Mankind.
The notebook is a microcosm of the drama. The synecdochical transformer
suggests that this aspect of the narrative namely, Orrs notebook represents the entire

25.i The Works

Peripeteia without anagnorisis is the essence of intertextuality. The intertext is a
text of perpetual interruption, perpetual inconclusiveness.
This narrative starts and stops in the middle.
To Orr, this stop, an end, fails (210). Still, here is an end, just not the end Orr
intends. The middle of the story, by this logic, is a zone of incompleteness; the place
where the trajectory of intention has not arrived at its goal.
Contrary to this implication, Orr associates himself with Bram van Velde (My
case is that van Velde is the first to admit that to be an artist is to fail (180)),
recalling, simultaneously, the letter Trause sent to Grace. This reflection places Orr in a
different narrative; he compares himself to the artist who is highly regarded by Beckett,
an author who is highly regarded by Trause, who is calling to Grace.
Orr, by this scheme, at once abdicates and elevates his position, calling to Grace
in Trauses words.
Orr shadows the successful writer, penetrates his defense. Where is the breach? In
the end, in Orrs glimpse of the end state, which he associates with Trause; he wants now
to see how the state evolved, to take the lid off life and look at the works (13).
As with, and before, the oracle, it becomes my onus, my burden of proof to
discover the beginning and the middle of the narrative, to find a way to my determined

Trause is the key, an illegible, inaccessible character. There is a missing piece to
him, a hole at his center, a space and time that Orr, whose story terminates in the middle,
will fill.
Trause possesses the end, the success, the secret.
So Orrs effort, here, to fill the middle fifty-six pages and years, finally a
description of the real Trause is also his effort to wrest the end away from his

26. Orr on Trause

The present contains the encoded future.
The secret of Grace is the secret of the oracle: Orr knows that she knows
something about him; only he does not know how, or what, to ask her.
He is more than afraid to verify, with certainty, what he suspects.
Orr does not know who his mother and father are. He regards Trause as an
imaginary father; but only through the lens of Graces relationship to the older man.
Trauses surrogate-fatherhood to Grace makes Orr a surrogate son, and figurative brother
to Grace. Orrs relationship to Grace then becomes, like the one he imagines between her
and Trause, quasi-incestuous. He becomes an accomplice in the crime. Can he wash his
hands? Back and forth he moves, between the past and present and imaginary future,
between the Law (the Real) and the Taboo (the Fantasy). Parallel structures of
transgression abound. If the present is an aspect of the Real; and the past is enfigured in

Taboo; then Orrs project, his return to the day in question is an illicit excursion, an
assignation. That moment is his fantastic-figure, his seducer, the cause of his
Orr will hang. He is caught in the paradoxical space between the Law and the
Unlawful, not quite alive, not quite dead. He defines and justifies Graces behavior by his
condition. Im a dead man now (217).
This is the end state. Orr writes about the moment when he could not write, when
he was a dead author. So Trause prevails: with the death of his son, he regains Grace, his
Daughter-Mother, recapturing her power.
Orrs fiction creates an ending in the reunion of Trause and Grace. Only the
antidote of an anti-fiction is this reality, a meta-fiction, a monstrous child? will undo
the end, marching from the shadows to throw (quote) shackles around Orrs feigned
Who is the father?
He is a form of ignorance; he is death, the destroyer, another monster.
It is Orrs fantasy that Grace does not know who the father of her child is. This
(fantasy, ignorance) leaves an opening for him, his redemption as a husband. Without this
ambiguity i.e., Grace knows Orr is sunk.
Still, Orrs position remains a subordinate one. If he is the father, then there is
another reason for Graces misbehavior; the secret remains; and he, Orr, does not
understand his wife. If he is not the father, and Trause is, then he is impotent.

How does Orr undo this bind? He turns away from the child, turns away from the
past, turns away even from himself. He puts his destiny in Graces action: staying with
Orr is Graces key, how she secrets away her story. Orr will remain silent about his doubt
as long as Grace remains with him. The moment she disappears, he expresses himself.
This formula is inherently flawed. Orr, in secret, doubts Graces fidelity; and his
secret will remain a secret remain armed as long as Grace stays, appears faithful, and
acts in a way that negates (as a palliative, an anesthetic) Orrs doubt. But if she confirms
his doubt, and leaves him, then Orr can release his secret, can open the book and bring his
story to life. But then, of course, Orr will be too late: Grace, his reader, will be gone.
Orrs secret, and the story, exist in a suppressed condition. The realization of the
story will always arrive too late, in the moment when its content no longer matters. Orr
may have Grace, or the meaningful story, but not both.

27. Destroying the Book

The story I am reading cannot be the story in the notebook, since the notebook is
What I have read, and discussed with you, of Orrs account of the contents of his
notebook, is actually Orrs revision, his approximation of what the notebook contained.
His story of the notebook is therefore incomplete: the original notebook said more,
contained something more than what I know and what I have here discussed.


However, there is an element to Orrs narrative in excess of what the notebook
contains. I know details of the last nine days of Orrs life that are not (were not,
precisely) included in the notebook. That is, while I can not know all of the fantasy, his
fiction, I can know the contextual non-fiction a meta-fiction that contains the fiction.
Abort the child if you dont know the father: Can I abort the fiction, the secret, in a
leap of faith, in the confidence that I will not need the fiction, in the confidence that the
fiction is merely a fiction, a speculation about things I cannot possibly know for certain?
Is there a realistic chance that (Bowens) Oracle Night will survive, in the
detectives sense of the realistic, of plausibility? Survive, by chance, in Orrs account?
This book, too, exists in two modes: the first is the fiction, of Nick Bowen, and
the second is the non-fiction, Orrs documentary of the creation of his fiction.
And what, clearly, with the destruction of the notebook, is the ontological state of
Oracle Night?
I (and Orr) will play the same trick, until at least its mechanism is revealed:
Oracle Night has at least three modes of existence. In the way it also lives in Orrs non-
fiction, it now lives in Orrs non-fictional account of the account, the other non-fiction.
He destroys that notebook; but I must assume that he did not destroy the notebook he
currently uses.
This extrapolation, a wave of similitude connecting one frame of reference to
another, its superior and inferior, has implications. Possibly every aspect of the fiction is a
reflection of the same element of a non-fiction. When, and if, this non-fiction is

interpreted as another fiction, the same epistemological transposition occurs: the element
reflects its superior, its precursor in the domain of the new non-fiction.

More than the conflation the real-thing with its imitation, I secretly believe it is all
a real-thing, secretly believe that the fantasy is real.

Shepherd: I did I wish to god Id died that day.
Oedipus: Youve got your wish if you dont tell the truth.
Shepherd: The more I tell, the worse the death Ill die. (1272-74)

28. Trause III: Chance, Orr, Truth

What should a man fear? Its all chance,
chance rules our lives. Not a man on earth
can see a day ahead, groping through the dark.
Better to live at random, best we can. (1068-1072)

The strangeness of destiny in Orrs idea of the power of the random (221) is
this: my destiny, which comes from the Latin word destinare, to establish, to determine;
which is derived from stare, to stand; connotes completion, a fixed position. Randomness
connotes the opposite; unpredictability, imprecision, transition, movement. What does

Orr mean by this: randomness molding destiny? He wants to believe, like Jocasta, in a
system, a structure of chance. But is not the nature of chance unstructurable? (Predictably
Rereading rewards some, but apparently not all. Spade:

I dont think he even knew he had settled back naturally into the same
groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But thats the part of it I always
liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell,
and he adjusted himself to them not falling.

Adjustment, a consequence of chance, of the incomprehensible: I perceive, consider, and
define. Flitcraft thinks the universe is governed by chance, so he changes accordingly;
when the world begins to appear governed by order, he again accordingly changes. All
the while, his mutability suggests a universe governed by chance; but he (like Orr) fails to
consider himself, consider his actions as universal signals.
Orr pretends to know the future,

The future was already inside me, and I was preparing myself (223)

but it is likely that inside me is not knowledge at all. As with the child, the thing inside is
an undecidable. All that is known is that it (the child, the future, the truth) comes,
approaches. This is important because knowledge of the future destroys aspects of the

present. How would knowledge of the future be distinguished from an awareness of the
present? Knowing the future is an awareness of what everything becomes; presence, then,
I must show, is a form of ignorance; the awareness of something, in a moment, includes
the awareness of not-knowing what happens, of what that thing becomes. There is not a
good transition from the present to the future. There is no transition at all: the present into
the future is a continuum, never a closed moment, never disjunct. And knowing the future
suggests otherwise.

29. Death

Gerald Fuchs, shot into an unknown future, is estranged from his author, his time,
his space, and his reader.
The quality of estrangement adheres to destiny: the word connotes a structured
temporal system; the word connotes an impossibility of knowledge, the incomprehensible
terrain of the future. The future lives, in a sense, in its unknowable state. That is, I
wonder, to speak about the future is also to speak about destiny. Destiny is simply the
edge of the future, the edge of understanding. In this way, all destiny is strange. A
familiar destiny is an oxymoron.
Trauses The Strange Destiny of Gerald Fuchs spans the scope, in its years of
formation, of Orrs paranoia. It is begun shortly after Grace leaves Portugal; and
completed days prior to the death of its author. Being posthumous aligns The Strange
Destiny with the paradoxical ontology of Orrs notebook: it must include doubles of

itself, reflections of the room of its creation. The end of this novel, it is possible to infer,
corresponds with an end, some end, in the life of its author.

29.i The Empire of Bones II

How does Orr know the content of Trauses The Empire of Bones?
(A copy was sent to him; he read it after the conclusion of his narrative, and fails
to mention this.)
All Orr knows about the story is what Trause told him; this complicates the
matter. For all Orr knows, there is no Empire of Bones; the tale is simply a coded
message from his nemesis. If this is the case, then The Empire of Bones, which is not
written (technically speaking, and figuratively as well, since Orr never sees the text), is
not premonitory. The story is, in itself, a description of the present. That it takes Orr a
few days and more than a few pages of his own to realize this, and that the message (the
myth of the empire: its secrecy, concealment, and gift-ness to Orr) becomes clear to him
only in retrospect, is Orrs own fault, due to his obtuseness. Orr, again, in these
penultimate pages, makes the mistake of assuming that an event in the recent past, that he
now comes to understand, was predictive of the future. This is solipsistic and tautological
If I talk about the past in a meaningful way then I talk about it as the evolution of
a condition in the present. In other words, events in the present only predict the future in
the ways I interpret these events in retrospect.

Rereading rewards: How does Orr know the content of Trauses The Empire of
Bones? He never reads it. The Empire of Bones is Orrs invention.
The text of this story whispers from an envelope; its face is never revealed. Like
all of the other ghosts in Orrs life, The Empire of Bones exists only in a fluttering, in the
wings of his narrative. Orr knows the figure is there, but cannot see it, cannot look on it
directly. Ontologically the story half-exists; it lives in the limbo Orr has created between
fiction and non-fiction, between Fantasy and the Law.
Orr finds significance in the destruction of The Empire. He wants the fact that
Trause did not give him the story (228) to confirm his suspicion of what the story was
intended to mean. The Empire of Bones becomes meaningful to Orr in the fact that it was
never realized, never read. Like a zombie, a body without a soul, the undead, since he is
neither dead nor alive, Empire is an un-story, or more precisely, a ghost-story: a soul, in
this case, without a body.

29.ii The Last Word

September 27
is ten days after the 18
, counting the 18
as day one, which is not
unreasonable, since Orr himself calls the 18
the day in question. The 18
counts. Then, ten days after Trause flies to Paris for a funeral, his accident occurs; and
ten days after Orrs day in question his friend, patron, and surrogate-father dies. If
nothing else an irrefutable parallel appears around Orrs visit to the Paper Palace, his
purchase of a notebook, his exchange with one M.R. Chang, and the inception of his

Flitcraft rendering, with Trauses journey to Paris, for the funeral of one Philippe
Orr sees a kind of detective in James Gillespie (223). It is Gillespies account of
the last moments of Trauses life that should resolve Orrs question of infidelity. The
other author reports where Trause actually went and what he actually did in the moments
before his death. Gillespie will recount every moment (including the last) of Trauses life,
and he will do so in such a lucid way that his story should reflect what really happened,
should be such a flawless portrayal that the reality cannot be distinguished from it.

30. Catastrophe II

Not hear it? yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long long long
many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it yet I dared not
oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am! I dared not I dared not
speak! We have put her living in the tomb! Said I not that my senses were
acute? I now tell you that I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow
coffin. I heard them many, many days ago yet I dared not I dared not
speak! And now to-night Ethelred! ha! ha! the breaking of the
hermits door, and the death-cry of the dragon, and the clangour of the
shield! say, rather, the rending of her coffin, and the grating of the iron
hinges of her prison, and her struggles within the coppered archway of the
vault! O whither shall I fly? Will she not be here anon? Is she not hurrying

to upbraid me for my haste? Have I not heard her footstep on the stair? Do
I not distinguish that heavy and horrible beating of her heart?
As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there had been
found the potency of a spell the huge antique panels to which the
speaker pointed, threw slowly back, upon the instant, their ponderous and
ebony jaws. It was the work of the rushing gust but then without those
doors there DID stand the lofty and enshrouded figure of the Lady
Madeline of Usher. There was blood upon her white robes

The door is simply opened (232). The simplest action invites catastrophic change.
(Never ever open the door when prophecy is concerned. I heard the toilet flush down the
hall (233; 115).) Here is the partition between worlds: the present and future, reality,
fiction, old age, youth, death, life.
Orr faces (I dared not speak!) his nightmare. The agent of the future, the son of
Trause bears a striking resemblance to what grows inside of Grace.
The undertaker (233) is at once a working-stiff, and also an underminer, a fifth
column, the insider who is near enough to the mastermind to set the bomb, to drop the
poison; Jacob takes-from-under, Jacob lifts the lid and reaches into the ruins for a dead
infant (112).

Orr is nave in many ways. I will only cite a couple. He persists in the belief that
language occurs in a space protected from the exigencies of reality; words, to him, are
tools of a hermetic logic, parts of a system. The Empire of Bones, for instance, is the only
way he understands the possible infidelity of his wife. He cannot address her, cannot put
the question to her. The domain of words does not overlap with the domain of action.
Like Oedipus, Orr exists in an introspective limbo: heed the prophecy, and
legitimate determinism; or they are merely words, it is simply a story for our pleasure; or
Ill do both, privately heed, publicly laugh.
That the action now occurring is chaotic is all the more incomprehensible to Orr,
since words intrinsically structured, signs of order are in the foundation of the action
(235). Furthermore, Jacob attacks Orrs view of language, abusing language by the
paradoxical, and parodic (217), phrase Now Im a dead man (237). The scandalous
phrase mocks Orr, mocks expression.
Death prevents expression. The phrase
metaphorically claims, Now I have nothing more to say, it is impossible for me to
express myself, and possibly Now, wanting to express myself, I cant, I am caught, a
prisoner of myself.
The now with the dead: as with Orrs trapped Oracle Night, and the lost Empire of
Bones, Jacobs prophetic utterance expresses something from the inside of the
inexpressive. His phrase is the faceless figure.

30.i Death, or The Letter


Orr will always manage to justify his own silence. He believes in the control, and
manipulation, of information. And he does this for self-centered reasons. How else to
approach his navet? Orr will adjust his experiences in the world when sharing them,
when putting them before others; but he expects the experiences of others, when before
him, to be truthful testament. It is a monarchical fallacy of omniscience: King Oedipus
wants to believe that his subjects always tell him the truth. He alone is the master of
riddles, he alone can contain without a strain of conscience, without cognitive
dissonance the secret to his destruction: namely, that he is the murderer.

Oh, Ohh
the agony! I am agony
where am I going? where on earth?
where does all this agony hurl me?
wheres my voice?
winging, swept away on a dark tide
My destiny, my dark power, what a leap you made! (1442-48)

Trauses peroration, leaping through space from its origin, from the hands of
Bowen (25), Joubert, and Orr (as if Orr could say Go through my text several times,
crack the mysteries of my illegible curls and scratches); from the other side of death,

from the other side of nowhere (242),
lands, finds its way across a field of
discontinuities to its intended destination.
What will Orr conclude from this? What is his destiny, his dark power?
Hes solvent, for the time being. Thirty-six thousand dollars returns him to a prior
position, to a familiar beginning.
And Grace should, someday soon, come home from the hospital.



The Lost Text

While the notebooks in which this essay evolved remain extant, there is a great
deal of writing therein that I excised in the transfer, and so remains unseen. The
phenomenon of excess in the act of writing is perhaps an unavoidable truth about the
work. Or perhaps not. Maybe there lives an essayist who, with ingenious economy, uses
every word, incorporates into the text, like the doomed Ireneo Funes, every idea brought
to light in the drafts.

This hypothesis reminds me of the beginning, of the dichotomy with which I
started. There is a difference between my intention and my act.
In conclusion, I want to reconsider the conflicted character of this essay. In
conclusion, I realize, I must reassess my act in regards to what remains unsaid, that is, in
regards to how the act fails, and in doing so pushes forward the most important last word,
of the plethora of such things, that I may leave with you.
Reassessment transforms my act into an intent; since now I will tell you, first,
what I have done, and then what I meant to do.
I dissected the text, analyzed the parts, selected a few of these, gave them words
and ideas, reassembled them, and read the story of the new structure, read a story
differing from, but constructively and insightfully about, its progenitor. The story is not
an interpretation in the radically subjective sense, not merely Thats what it means to

me. There is, I hope it is clear, a quality of prophecy to the story, in the way the story I
articulate is an interpretation resembling the utterance of the oracle, resembling the plain
phrase uniting the supplicant, the oracle, and the future. And in that way, the
interpretation is what it means to you, too.
I describe a destiny of Oracle Night. I foresee its eventual disappearance.
I could go into further detail about what I think I have done, but Im too excited to
mention what I have not done to risk, at this faint point, further redundancy.
Return for a moment to the adjective I carelessly used above, in the plain phrase;
careless, and ironic, since the oracles phrase, by its elevated perspective, is
fundamentally un-plain. And this irony, as I glossed in the prologue (P.iii), is at the heart
of the matter. Prophecy is plain in form and complex in content. And here is a good
juncture to begin a description of the shortfall.
Among minor things, I fail (1) to diagnose Orrs disorder. I list the obvious
symptoms, but I never synthesize this material into a comprehensive definition. I fail (2)
to discuss the relationship of the oracles narrative with hermeneutics. I think this is an
intriguing question, the parts of which involve: a) The players, namely, the oracle
(speaker, writer, site of truth), the priest (interpreter, messenger), and the supplicant
(reader, inquirer, actor). b) The nature of a prophetic word, or how the meaning of a word
or phrase depends on the future appearance of a complementary word; that is, a gentle
determinism lives inside the reading-process. c) The dissolution, in the imposing
presence of the future-sense on the moment of interpretation, of a putative understanding
of the subject-object relationship; as in b, above, I suggest here that I do not interpret the

word or sign as much as the sign, in this new paradigm, interprets me, and determines
who I am meant to be.
And finally, while I introduce many strangers to this text, I think
(3) I have been a poor host to its old, loyal company. I barely spoke to Hawthorne; and
made only superficial gestures to Poe, and Wells, and even less to Hammett. And they are
the celebrities in this text, in the limelight. Other distinguished guests remain in the
shadows. The question, though, is this: what would recognition of the plenary novel
accomplish? What would a catalogue of allusions, meanings, histories, lineages, etc., do
for the text?
All of what I suggest here, in a description of my shortfall, is that my text is
incomplete. Much remains to be said and done. Objectively, in retrospect, this is obvious.
For instance, I need to clearly delineate the problem of the origin: Who are the Father,
Mother, and Child in, and of, Oracle Night? For instance, what is the relationship
between Orrs sickness and the oracles (mantic power) madness?
What is more subtle about the shortfall, I realize only now, is that in missing my
mark, in missing the ideal state of this text, I discover that my effort has been in itself
wanting something, discover that it possesses a kind of sickness, inherent incompleteness.
This text is an effort at recognition of, and an approach to, the plenary novel; it is also an
approach to its own idea of completeness. As I demonstrate, however, in the perpetual
divergence of my intention and act, the approach to the end is the end itself; completion,
consummation of the act, is almost impossible to achieve.

To end, then, I defer to another author. His rendering of the betimes lamentable
condition of anticlimax captures the mystery of what I want to express, and in doing so
reveals the limit of my ability. I could not put it, or do it, any better.

History adds that before or after he died, he discovered himself standing
before God, and said to Him: I, who have been so many men in vain, wish
to be one, to be myself. Gods voice answered him out of a whirlwind: I,
too, am not I; I dreamed the world as you, Shakespeare, dreamed your
own work, and among the forms of my dream are you, who like me are
many, yet no one.


Appendix 1. Dramatis personae (in order of appearance)

M.R. Chang (8): proprietor of Paper Palace.
Sidney Orr (10 fn): b. 1948; narrator and protagonist of Paul Austers Oracle Night; author.
? Orlovsky (10 fn): grandfather of protagonist.
Grace (Tebbetts (17 fn)) (Orr) (10): b. 1952; wife of protagonist; a.k.a. Gracie (28), Miss
Virginia (185).
John Trause (12): b. 1926 d. September 27, 1982; friend of S. Orr; author.
Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Hammett (12): authors.
Jacob Trause (13 fn): b. 1962 d. October ? 1982; son of J. Trause.
Flitcraft (13): protagonist of Sam Spades story [ch 7. of The Maltese Falcon].
Sam Spade, Brigid OShaughnessy (13): protagonist and lead female character of Hammetts The
Maltese Falcon [1930].
Nick Bowen (15): b. 1946 d. (May ?) 1982; protagonist of Orrs story; modeled on Flitcraft.
Eva (Bowen) (15): wife of Nick Bowen.
Sylvia Maxwell (15): b. 1899; author of, The Burning House, Redemption [both prior to 27],
Oracle Night [1927], and Landscape with Trees [after 27] (20).
Jeremy Scott (15): b. 1895 d. (early) 1982; lover of S. Maxwell; artist.
Rosa Leightman (16): b. 1954; granddaughter of S. Maxwell; modeled on Grace Orr (17); female
lead of Orrs story.
Betty Stolowitz (17 fn): editor of S. Orr.
Stuart Leightman (21): theater director; second husband to S. Maxwell; grandfather of Rosa.
Alice Lazarre (21)
: author; edited by Nick Bowen.
Richard Nixon (30): 37
president of the U.S., 1969-74 (resigned).
Madame Dumas (21): servant to J. Trause.
Tina Ostrow (32 fn): b. 1938 d. 1974; second wife of J. Trause [1966-1974].
Richard Ostrow (32): b. 1939; brother of Tina.
Eleanor (32 fn): first wife of J. Trause [1954-1964].
Mr. Ostrow (38): d. 1964; father of Tina and Richard.
Mrs. Ostrow (38): d. 1972; mother of Tina and Richard.
Arlene (Ostrow) (40): wife of Richard Ostrow.
Boris Stepanovich (48): taxi driver.
Bruce Adler (51): re-creator of The Blue Team; second year student in Columbia Law School.
Willem de Kooning (57 fn): artist; creator of Self-Portrait with Imaginary Brother [1938].
Pearl (58 fn): Graces doll.
Lemuel Flagg (61): protagonist of Maxwells Oracle Night; British lieutenant.
Franoise (61): b.1907; boy who discovers Flagg; brother of Genevive.
Genevive (61): b.1904; girl who discovers Flagg; sister of Francoise; narrator of Maxwells
Oracle Night.
Bettina Knott (62): fiance to L. Flagg.
Edward M. Victory (64): taxi driver; owner of The Bureau of Historical Preservation (74).
Henry David Thoreau (72): author of Walden.
Lily (75): Graces cousin; a second year student of architecture at Yale.
Lloyd Sharkey (83): manager of the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City.

Leroy Washington (83): room-service waiter at the Hyatt in Kansas City.
Lightning Man, Mr. Good Shoes, New York (91, 92, 96): Nick Bowen.
Wilhamena (97): first wife of Ed Victory; disappeared with lover in 1953.
Rochelle (97): d. 1969; second wife of Ed Victory.
Edward M. Johnson (100): Ed Victory.
Ramn (111): the Sunday guy at the Court Street bodega next door to Mr. Changs first Paper
Patrick Gorden-Walker (112 fn): author of The Lid Lifts [1945].
Douglas Botting (112 fn): author of From the Ruins of the Reich: Germany 1945-1949 [1985].
Janina and Stefan Orlowscy (112 fn): possible grandparents of S. Orr.
Sergeant Michael Ryan (115): police officer who reports on a 1982 infanticide.
Kisha White (115): prostitute; murderer.
Mary Sklarr (117): agent of S. Orr.
Vincent Frank (117 fn): movie director.
H.G. Wells (119): author of The Time Machine [1895].
Bobby Hunter (119): movie director.
Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux (121): actors.
Jack (123): male lead of Orrs film treatment of The Time Machine.
Jill (123): female lead of Orrs treatment.
John F. Kennedy (125): b. 1917 d. November 22, 1963; 35
president of the U.S., 1961-63.
Lee Harvey Oswald (125): d. November 24, 1963; Kennedys assassin.
Jack Ruby (125): Oswalds assassin.
James Garfield (125): b. 1831 d. 1881; 20
president of the U.S., 1881.
Angela (137): Mary Sklarrs assistant.
Liu Yan (143 fn): character in one of the books Orr reads on Chinas Cultural Revolution; student
at Beijing Number Eleven Middle School.
Yu Changjiang (143 fn): language teacher at Beijing #11 Middle School.
Michael Schoenhals (143 fn): editor of Chinas Cultural Revolution, 1966-1969 [1996].
African Princess (150): a.k.a. Martine (151); employee at Changs club.
Rgine Dumas (157): daughter of Madame Dumas; servant to J. Trause.
Charles Rothstein (159): professor of English, SUNY Buffalo; author of a critical study of J.
Trauses novels.
Ralph Singleton (160): art dealer; second husband to Eleanor [1966- ]
Don (161): husband of Eleanor in 1982.
Sylvia Monroe (166): author of Night in Madrid and Autumn Ceremony (183).
Bram van Velde (173): artist.
Mr. and Mrs. Caramello (173): superintendents of the apartment building in which S. Orr lives.
Greg Fitzgerald (175): head of the art department at Holst & McDermott.
Samuel Beckett, Georges Dethuit (180 fn): correspondents.
Miss Virginia (185): pet name for Grace.
Goldie Orr (186): the Orr child, if shes a girl.
Ira Orr (186): the Orr child, if hes a boy.
Bill Tebbetts (190): father of Grace Tebbetts; federal district court judge in Charlottesville,
Virginia (12 fn, 235).
Billy Rose (194): Broadway producer.
Punchinello (195): 19
century commedia dellarte picaresque character.
Freddy (199): friend of Jacob Trause, at Smithers; kleptomaniac.
Jerome (200): excon; acquaintance of Jacobs.

Sally (200): senators daughter; prostitute; acquaintance of Jacobs.
Alfonso (200): rapist; acquaintance of Jacobs.
Flo Tebbetts (211): younger sister of Grace.
Dr. Justin Berg (216): emergency surgeon who attends to S. Orr.
James Gillespie (223): author of The Labyrinth of Dreams: a Life of John Trause [1994].
Gerald Fuchs (224): protagonist of Trauses posthumous novel, The Strange Destiny of Gerald
Fuchs [1982].
Francis W. Byrd (224): lawyer to John Trause.
Gilbert Trause (225): brother of J. Trause; professor of musicology at UM Ann Arbor.
Willard Dunmore (226): vascular surgeon; doctor of J. Trause.
Alice Lazarre (226): literary agent of J. Trause.
Philippe Joubert (229): translator; friend of J. Trause.
Dr. Vitale (231): obstetrician for Grace.
Richie and Phil (233): thugs after Jacob for five thousand dollars.
Sally Tebbetts (238): mother of Grace.
Darcy Tebbetts (239): younger sister of Grace.


Appendix 2. Lexemes and References

Here are a few things to keep in mind while reading the following list:
The Lexeme Title is my invention, a designator of a compilation of lexemes.
The Text Reference refers to Oracle Night.
The Lexeme Compilation refers to the lexemes in their original order. The essay uses
only a fraction of these.
The italicized references, for sub-sections, are approximations. In articulating the
lexemes I frequently move against the natural sequence of the text, i.e., I skip pages and
glue together disjunct ideas.
Unlike Barthess project in S/Z, my slices are not arbitrary. The Part, and its
constituents, reflect the structure of the text.

Lexeme Title Text Reference Lexeme Compilation

(Part I)

1. Sickness 1-3 1-6
2. The Morning in Question 3-14 7-25
3. Oracle Night I 15-27 26-42
3.i A Novel 16-21 29-34
3.ii An Ethics of Ambiguity 21-25 35-39
3.iii Order of the Night 25-27 40-41
4. John Trause I 28-45 43-61
4.i Richard Ostrow 32-40 52-57
5. Grace I 47-59 62-81
6. Nick Bowen I 59-61 82-86
7. Oracle Night II 61-62 87-92
7.i In the Dark of Night 61-62 89-92
8. Nick Bowen II 63-74 93-119
8.i His Parole 65-68 100-105
8.ii The Measuring Bandit 74 118-119
9. Grace II: Intermission 75-79 120-123
10. Eva & Rosa 79-87 124-142
11. Ed Victory 88-99 143-174
11.i The End of Mankind I 91-93 153-157
11.ii Work 93-99 158-174
12. Catastrophe I 100-106 175-193

(Part II)

13. Silence I 106-119 194-227
13.i Feticide 111-115 210-215
14. The Time Machine 120-127 228-252
14.i Orr on Wells 123-126 236-251
15. Grace III: The Child 127-136 253-269
15.i Her Dream 133-136 262-269

16. Chang 136-155 270-306
16.i M.R. Chang 142-145 282-286
16.ii Martine I 146-150 287-295
16.iii Martine II 150-153 296-298
16.iv Grace IV 153-155 299-306
17. Trause II: The Child 157-164 307-323
18. An Exchange of Words 165-171 324-338
18.i The Empire of Bones I 167-169 330-334
18.ii A Failed Transfer 169-171 335-338
19. The Robbery 172-174 339-344
20. Disappearance 175-180 345-358
20.i Trust 177-179 352-356
21. Sylvia, Sylvia 181-186 359-366
22. Intermissions 188-193 367-376
22.i Trause & Jacob 188-190 368-371
22.ii Grace in Portugal 191-193 372-376
23. Jacob Trause I 193-202 377-391
24. Fighting Chang 202-210 392-408

(Part III)

25. Silence II 210-212 409-416
25.i The Works 210-212 410-415
26. Orr on Trause 213-219 417-438
27. Destroying the Book 219-220 439-440
28. Trause III: Chance, Orr, Truth 220-223 441-451
29. Death 224-231 452-467
29.i The Empire of Bones II 227-228 457-460
29.ii The Last Word 230-231 465-466
30. Catastrophe II 231-243 468-495
30.i Death, or The Letter 241-243 487-495


Appendix 3. The Narrative Line (not to scale)

(Part I) Sickness

The Morning in Question

Oracle Night I
John Trause I

Grace I
Nick Bowen I
Oracle Night II (61)
(60) Eva Bowen

Ed Victory
1/3---- (80)
Catastrophe I
----------(108) (The end of the first half of the notebook)------------------
(Part II) Silence I

The Time Machine (123)

Graces dream
Changs story
2/3----- (160)
Trause II
The Empire of Bones
The Robbery
(182) Disappearance
Sylvia, Sylvia

Grace in Portugal
Jacob Trause I
Fighting Chang
---------(219) (The end of the second half of the notebook; the end of Oracle Night (65))---
(Part III) Orr on Trause
Destroying the Book
Trause III, Death
Catastrophe II



Vaticinor. The Bantam New College Latin & English Dictionary. 2
ed. 1995.
Max Rankenburg, The Burden of Proof: Prophecy and Ontology in Austers Oracle Night 1-2.
Roland Barthes, The Structuralist Activity, trans. Richard Howard, Critical Essays (Evanston:
Northwestern, 1972) 216.
Lexias is the word Barthes uses is S/Z to describe units of reading (13). I opt for lexeme for
two reasons: it is in my dictionary, and I am not precisely engaging in Barthess structuralist
activity. My lexemes are not arbitrarily cut (13); my aim is not to reveal plurality, or the openness
of the text. I selectively take lexemes with the intention of explicating the protagonist, Sidney
Orr; whether I succeed at this endeavor or not is beside the point; my intent is always to close
Orr, to describe him, to sentence him.
John Carlos Rowe, Structure, Critical Terms for Literary Study, eds. Frank Lentricchia and
Thomas McLaughlin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995) 25.
I describe the dissection in Appendices 2 (Lexemes and References) and 3 (The Narrative Line).
Rankenburg, The Oracle at Sempter, 1-2.
In fact there are 495. See Appendix 2.
Sickness designates the title of my lexeme. The method of dissection is clarified in Appendix 2.
Edgar Allan Poe, The Man of the Crowd The Portable Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Philip Van
Doren Stern (New York: Penguin, 1973) 107.
Estrangement versus alienation: I think the former word connotes a movement directed
outward from the center; the latter word connotes the opposite movement, an external force
acting upon the subject.

The predominant theme: Obviously I speak here in retrospect, from a point beyond the end of
the narrative. This might be problematic. Still, the nature of chance is evoked in the first
paragraph: I confounded their predictions and mysteriously failed to die (1).
Sophocles, Oedipus the King, The Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus
at Colonus, tr. Robert Fagles (New York: Penguin, 1984) 215.
Unless otherwise stated, text will always refer to Orrs primary narrative. Footnotes I will
refer to as such; or as The text of the footnotes, etc..
In one way, the fullness is the narratives gestalt. However, gestalt, and the concept (fullness),
should not imply the summation or totality of the parts of the text; indeed, as Barthes describes in
S/Z (6, 11, 13-14), totality is inconceivable, the parts innumerable.
Wolfgang Iser, The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach, Modern Criticism and
Theory, eds. David Lodge and Nigel Wood (Harlow, England: Longman, 2000) 191.
If the word moral, and its derivatives, seems problematic, then consider instead law. I say this
because I am less interested in the ethics of fiction, per se, than I am in the figurative presence of
a system of ethics, the order and orderliness about the relationships between authors and their
characters, between characters, between so-called fictions and non-fictions. Law denotes such a
Delphi will designate the oracle in Oedipus the King.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Wakefield, Selected Tales and Sketches, (New York: Penguin, 1987),
Barthes, The Structuralist Activity 217.
Articulation: Barthes, The Structuralist Activity 216.
Aristotle, Poetics, section 4, The Critical Tradition, ed. David H. Richter (New York: St.
Martins, 1989) 44.

Afterlife: The metaphor is Walter Benjamins. Regretfully, I cannot find the reference.
Benjamin, Convolute N, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, The Arcades Project
(Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2002) 463, 475 is a place to start.
Or 1952. There is an inconsistency in information provided by Trause.
At such times I could not help remarking and admiring (although from his rich ideality I had
been prepared to expect it) a peculiar analytic ability in Dupin. He seemed, too, to take an eager
delight in its exercise if not exactly in its display and did not hesitate to confess the pleasure
thus derived. He boasted to me, with a low chuckling laugh, that most men, in respect to himself,
wore windows in their bosoms, and was wont to follow up such assertions by direct and very
startling proofs of his intimate knowledge of my own. His manner at these moments was frigid
and abstract; his eyes were vacant in expression; while his voice, usually a rich tenor, rose into a
treble which would have sounded petulantly but for the deliberateness and entire distinctness of
the enunciation. Observing him in these moods, I often dwelt meditatively upon the old
philosophy of the Bi-Part Soul, and amused myself with the fancy of a double Dupin the
creative and the resolvent (Poe, The Murders in the Rue Morgue 338-39).
The Marble-Player: This is Dupins allegory. Poe, The Purloined Letter 451.
My oversight is the juxtaposition of his desire with her inscrutability. Professor Voloshin
brings to my attention that what Orr finds inscrutable about Grace is a part of, rather apart from,
his fictional idealism. It is precisely being inscrutable, unfathomable, and dangerous that makes
Grace the object of Orrs desire.
Poe, The Man of the Crowd 118.
Jacques Derrida, Mallarm, trans. Christine Roulston, Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge
(New York: Routledge, 1992) 125.

Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History, section 9, trans. Harry Zohn, The Selected
Writings, eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2003) 392.
Modus operandi. Langue and parole: Richter, 848.
Zigzag: of Victorys langue, as suggested by his telephone number (68): 765-4321.
Poe, Purloined 450.
The Works: the whole schmear, the mechanism, the engine, the literature, the texts inside and
behind the text.
In a contrary stroke, since Bowen realizes his fantasy, Victory transforms into his true self,
Johnson, and dies, and with him dies his dream of a chronologically ordered library.
Hawthorne 158.
The bauble contains everything. Borges, resurfacing from his friends cellar, following the
experience, says: Out on the street, on the steps of the Constitucin Station, in the subway, all
the faces seemed familiar. I feared there was nothing that had the power to surprise or astonish
me anymore, I feared that I would never again be without a sense of dj vu. Fortunately, after a
few unsleeping nights, forgetfulness began to work in me again (Jorge Luis Borges, The
Aleph, trans. Andrew Hurley, Collected Fictions (New York: Penguin, 1998) 284).
Orr takes liberties with Hammett. Orr: Flitcraft winds up in Spokane and marries a woman
who is nearly the double of his first wife (109). Hammetts Spade: His second wife didnt look
like the first, but they were more alike than they were different (Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese
Falcon (New York: Vintage, 1992) 64). Orrs reference to Hammett is finally merely an
interpretation; the grain of truth in his fiction is no non-fiction.
Conversely, again, the narrative in the words of the old Shepherd, The more I tell, the worse
the death Ill die (1274), and shortly thereafter, If you are the man he says you are, believe me,

you were born for pain (1304-05) is a source of justice. The storyteller must be accountable for
what he does.
rereading draws the text out of its internal chronology (this happens before or after that)
and recaptures a mythic time (without before or after); it contests the claim which would have us
believe that the first reading is a primary, nave, phenomenal reading which we will only,
afterwards, have to explicate, to intellectualize (as if there were a beginning to reading, as if
everything were not already read (Barthes, S/Z 16).
Oracle Night is a fugue, with a subject, answer, countersubject, free counterpoint, the return of
the subject Here, half way through Oracle Night (122), Orr begins a rendering of Wellss The
Time Machine. Halfway back, or one quarter of the way into Oracle Night, Orr rendered Oracle
Night (61). If the first half of the novel was the introduction and exposition of Oracle Night; then
it is a valid assumption, from the evidence at hand, that says the second half of this novel will
consist of the introduction and exposition of The Time Machine.
Orrs considerations, at this point, reflect his initial considerations of the relationship
between Oracle Night and Hammetts Flitcraft. I envision, then, in response to the rendering of
Oracle Night on page 61 (the mark of Oracle Night), a rendering of Wellss work around page
181 (the mark). Fortunately, this stringent reading practically fails. The only hope of redeeming
the reading occurs on 184, when Orr juxtaposes the two Sylvias, Maxwell (fictional) and Monroe
(a disciple of Christie). I felt increasingly disappointed, angry with myself for having assumed
there could be a similarity between the two Sylvia M.s (184). The redemption is seen in this
symmetry: half way through the notebook narrative, on page 105 (the 43/100 mark of Oracle
Night) Eva posed: Have you seen this man? On page 61 (the mark), Flagg envisions Knotts
betrayal. In all three cases Maxwell, Bowen, Knott there is a missing person, and triangular
relationship. To Flagg, Knott is not who she appears to be: she loves another. Eva suspects, for a

moment, that Bowen is with another woman. And finally, Maxwell not only betrays her husband,
she betrays Orr, on 184, in not being who she appears to be. So, can Knott, in her figurative
repetition of Maxwell, be reviewed as an author? Or, apropos, is Sylvia M. a Knott to Orr? Is
Sylvia M. the woman he loves, the woman for whom he will die?
To add to the complexity of repeated tropes, and symmetry, Orrs rendering of Wells is
not included in the notebook. The treatment (136) is typed; it lives in a different universe.
My oversight is in using the putative sense of a lie: a lie is an untrue statement. With only a
moments consideration I realize that his definition works for some lies, but lets many go. Indeed,
the best lies, in my experience, are true statements.
The only reference to Orrs family is this: At the bottom of page 220, I found a married couple
whose address was given as Wejnerta 19 Janina and Stefan Orlowsky. That was the Polish
spelling of my familys name, and although I wasnt sure if these people were related to me or
not, I felt there was a good chance that they were (112).
This threat is embodied, for instance, in Trause, whos successful, generous with his ideas, and
who writes in a notebook that looks exactly like Orrs.
The two faces of this problem, one furious, the other benign, should be described: first, the
memoir is literally a repetition of the event; uniqueness is necessarily dismissed. That is, the good
memoir is a good portrayal of the event. Second, the memoir, in this case, is a constructive and
regenerating device; its success depends on its accuracy, and uniqueness, in the sense that it must
convey the primary experience of the writer, to the writer as the experience itself. Anything short
of this is a failed construction, a scar in the tissue.
But who said reading, or writing, or remembering, was easy? With regard to the plural
text, forgetting a meaning cannot therefore be seen as a fault. Forgetting in relation to what? What
is the sum of the text? Meanings can indeed be forgotten, but only if we have chosen to bring to

bear upon the text a singular scrutiny. Yet reading does not consist in stopping the chain of
systems, in establishing a truth, a legality of the text, and consequently in leading its reader into
errors; it consists in coupling these systems, not according to their finite quantity, but according
to their plurality (which is a being, not a discounting): I pass, I intersect, I articulate, I release, I
do not count. Forgetting meanings is not a matter for excuses, an unfortunate defect in
performance; it is an affirmative value, a way of asserting the irresponsibility of the text, the
pluralism of systems (if I closed their list, I would inevitably reconstitute a singular, theological
meaning): it is precisely because I forget that I read (Barthes, S/Z 11).
And still he will go on imitating without knowing what makes a thing good or bad, and may
be expected therefore to imitate only that which appears to be good to the ignorant multitude?
(Plato, The Republic, book 10, The Critical Tradition, ed. David H. Richter (New York: St.
Martins, 1989) 25). Few persons ever reflect, as I should imagine, that the contagion must pass
from others to themselves. For the pity which has been nourished and strengthened in the
misfortunes of others is with difficulty repressed in our own (28).
The polemist will argue that essence does not mean uniqueness. After all, the word essence
describes a generic quality. My essence and your essence, while inherently different, of different
contents, are formally the same.
Genesis 25.8.
The oracles utterance is categorical, and in this way, symbolic. It is the counterplot to a
detective story. The detective endeavors to be as objective as possible. While he accepts the role
of symbolism in clues, he must scour the clue down to its purely objective function. In the end,
the symbol is reduced to a thing; and if not, reduced to the ineffectual, background, necessary
aura of an emotion, a story, a possession.

The oracle is the anti-detective in this sense: she gives the solution to the crime in purely
symbolic terms, since she does not have an objective reality. What is confounding about her gift
is that many realities will fit the same symbolic scheme; i.e., father signifies, for old Oedipus,
two different people.
Grace cannot steal, but secrets are in her domain.
It wasnt prostitution so much as a financial arrangement, and I didnt have any second
thoughts about working for hire to scare up a pot of some much-needed cash (127).
Trauses fantasy evokes the Eloi of Wellss The Time Machine. Then I heard voices
approaching me. Coming through the bushes by the White Sphinx were the heads and shoulders
of men running. One of these emerged in a pathway leading straight to the little lawn upon which
I stood with my machine. He was a slight creature perhaps four feet high clad in a purple
tunic, girdled at the waist with a leather belt (23).
The homunculus and time-traveler are not strangers in literature. Turning our dial to the
signifier 20 years, which is the range of Orrs project, an obvious landmark is Washington
Irvings Rip Van Winkle (1820): On nearer approach he was still more surprised at the
singularity of the strangers appearance. He was a short, square-built old fellow, with thick, bushy
hair and a grizzled beard. His dress was of the antique Dutch fashion a cloth jerkin strapped
around the waist and several pairs of breeches, the outer one of ample volume, decorated with
rows of buttons down the sides and bunches at the knees (43-44). Shortly thereafter our hero,
Rip, over merry with drink, passes out, to arise twenty years later.
The signifier alone is a potent one. This is the subject of a different essay; so I will limit
myself to two further references. Hawthornes Wakefield (1835) is the story of a husbands
twenty-year absence from his wife; and Homers The Odyssey, which has, besides Odysseuss

twenty-year absence from Penelope, much in common with Rip Van Winkle, i.e., a fantastic
adventure, a war, the unseen maturation of a son, and the transformation of political structures.
It was I who sent the equilateral triangle to Treviranus. I knew you would add the missing
point, the point that makes a perfect rhombus, the point that fixes the place where a precise death
awaits you. I have done all this, Erik Lnnrot, planned all this, in order to draw you to the
solitudes of Triste-le-Roy (Borges, Death and the Compass, 156).
Every morning brings us the news of the globe, and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories.
This is because no event any longer comes to us without already being shot through with
explanation. In other words, by now almost nothing that happens benefits storytelling; almost
everything benefits information (Walter Benjamin, The Story Teller, trans. Harry Zohn,
Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken, 1969) 89). Orrs story, and especially
the one told in the footnotes, benefits from this phenomenon.
What about the manuscript, The Empire of Bones, in Orrs possession? It is a decoy, a fake. In
fact, Orr never sees the manuscript. What he possesses is a manila envelope (169).
I am suggesting a passageway between the fiction and its non-fictional arena of invention. I do
not think this concept needs much explication. In its simplest form, the mimesis is transparent, the
fiction exposes its non-fictional predecessor, its historical foundation.
If Orrs fiction is a map to his real context, and vice versa, then Maxwells real context
maps her fictional one. Reading backwards, I infer the qualities of Maxwells experience from her
fiction. Oracle Night, then, is a tale of unrequited love, or of how Orr, Bowen, Maxwell, Flagg,
and Genevive exchanged love for a mysterious book called Oracle Night, a kind of unrequited
The measures, then, he continued, were good in their kind, and well executed; their defect
lay in their being inapplicable to the case, and to the man (Poe, Purloined 450). Is my

estimation good in its kind, and well executed? An equally sound assumption here, regarding
doubles, is that Orr shadows his violent counterpart. That is, shifting the innocence-spectrum
away from Orr, I wonder: Who is aware of whom?
Borges, Death and the Compass 155.
The pupil will Pay attention! when shes interested in the subject, and also when the subject
is complex. The irony is that when she fails to understand the subject, the teacher accuses her of
not paying attention.
If the subject is easily digested, then there is no need for attention; but the pupil is bored,
sleepy; nonetheless, come exam time, she appears to have paid attention.
Still, I pry only if I assume the secret has nothing to do with me. It is devastating a ricochet of
malice when the secret has everything to do with me.
Poe, Purloined 450.
The obvious elision here is the dingus (Hammett 160). If Leightman is to OShaughnessy as
the manuscript is to Spades initial job, then what, of Oracle Night, stands for the dingus? In
The Maltese Falcon the job Miss Wonderly (OShaughnessy) hires Spade to do is at least two-
fold. Ostensibly it is to retrieve Wonderlys sister Corinne from her nefarious suitor Floyd
Thursby (5,6). Actually it is to obtain, for OShaughnessy, the so-called Maltese Falcon.
His fingers tore the wad apart and then he had the foot-high figure of a bird, black as
coal and shiny where its polish was not dulled by wood-dust and fragments of excelsior.
Spade laughed. He put a hand down on the bird. His wide-spread fingers had ownership
in their curving. He put his other arm around Effie Perine and crushed her body against his.
Weve got the damned thing, angel, he said.
Ouch! she said, youre hurting me (Hammett 159).

Anyone who buys from catalogues must have flair in addition to the qualities I have
mentioned. Dates, place names, formats, previous owners, bindings, and the like: all these details
must tell him something not as dry, isolated facts, but as a harmonious whole; from the quality
and intensity of this harmony he must be able to recognize whether a book is for him or not To
the reader of a catalogue the book itself must speak, or possibly its previous ownership if the
provenance of the copy has been established (Benjamin, Unpacking My Library, Illuminations
Aristotle 47, 50.
Orr wants solvency (167). Trause offers to help.
A couple of weeks ago, I found a box with some of my old stuff in it. Early stories, a
half-finished novel, two or three plays. Ancient material, written when I was still in my teens and
twenties. None of it was ever published. Thankfully, I should add, but in reading over the stories,
I found one that wasnt half terrible. I still wouldnt want to publish it, but if I gave it to you, you
might be able to rethink it as a film. Maybe my name will help. If you tell a film producer youre
adapting an unpublished story by John Trause, it might have some appeal (167).
Odysseuss scar, Oedipuss scars, Trauses phlebitis: the mark in the leg is the prelude to, the
signifier of, death, and the overthrow of political structure.
The lie versus, as I learned as a child, the white lie. The latter is intended to preserve the
innocence of the recipient. A father, believing it is the right thing to do, might tell his son a white
lie in order to protect him from certain knowledge.
Habit for he is a man of habits takes him by the hand, and guides him, wholly unaware, to
his own door, where, just at the critical moment, he is aroused by the scraping of his foot upon the
step (Hawthorne 153). The habit: the costume, the fabric of a contrived appearance; and also an
unconscious, repeated behavior, behavior of which I am unaware of performing. That is, habit

connotes this opposition: my habit is both how I consciously make myself appear, and also how
others, observing my behavior, can, apart from my attention, identify me.
Hawthorne 155-56.
Poe, The Man 108, 112.
History adds that before or after he died, he discovered himself standing before God, and said
to Him: I, who have been so many men in vain, wish to be one, to be myself. Gods voice
answered him out of a whirlwind: I, too, am not I; I dreamed the world as you, Shakespeare,
dreamed your own work, and among the forms of my dream are you, who like me are many, yet
no one (Borges, Everything and Nothing 320).
I didnt model him on anyone I knew (not consciously, at any rate), but once I had finished
putting him together in my mind, he became astonishingly vivid to me almost as if I could see
him, almost as if he had entered the room and were standing next to me, looking down at the desk
with his hand on my shoulder and reading the words I was writing watching me bring him to
life with my pen (18).
A reminder: Orrs treatment of Wellss The Time Machine was not included in the notebook. It
was typed up (136).
In a small room at the back, impeccably clean as all the other rooms were, the red
notebook was lying on the floor. Auster picked it up, looked through it briefly, and said that it
was Quinns. Then he handed it to me and said that I should keep it. The whole business had
upset him so much that he was afraid to keep it himself. I said that I would hold on to it until he
was ready to read it, but he shook his head and told me that he never wanted to see it again. Then
we left and walked out into the snow. The city was entirely white now, and the snow kept falling,
as though it would never end.

As for Quinn, it is impossible for me to say where he is now. I have followed the red
notebook as closely as I could, and any inaccuracies in the story should be blamed on me. There
were moments when the text was difficult to decipher, but I have done my best with it and have
refrained from any interpretation. The red notebook, of course, is only half the story, as any
sensitive reader will understand (Paul Auster, City of Glass, The New York Trilogy (New York:
Penguin, 1990) 158).
everything Ive written so far is little more than a prelude to the horrors Im about to relate
now (222). A notebook exists, and it contains the two preludes to this brief fugue.
Orr believes that his prior actions predict what follows. This is a true and false
assumption: the notebook itself is a false story, an illusion; with its destruction, the real story, a
non-fiction, begins. Once again, I face a paradoxical existence. The notebook is destroyed; what I
know of its contents (a false story, I begin to suspect) is only an approximation. But what of the
prelude, referred to above, which is not-the-notebook, and only an account of it, an
approximation of its contents? The prelude is complicit with the untruth, the illusion, but is not
entirely untrue: it is the account of the notebook, not its untrue-content.
Hammett 64; Orr 109.
Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher 266-67.
But here the action of the dead man is a purely linguistic action; and, to crown all, this
language serves no purpose, it does not appear with a view to acting on the living, it says nothing
but itself, it designates itself tautologically. Before saying I am dead, the voice says simply I
am speaking; a little like a grammatical example which refers to nothing but language; the
uselessness of what is proffered is part of the scandal: it is a matter of affirming an essence which
is not in its place (the displaced is the very form of the symbolic).

There is also a scandal at the level of language (and no longer at the level of
discourse). In the ideal sum of all the possible utterances of language, the link of the first person
(I) and the attribute dead is precisely the one which is radically impossible: it is this empty
point, this blind spot of language which the story comes, very exactly, to occupy (Barthes,
Textual Analysis: Poes Valdemar, Modern Criticism and Theory 167).
Speaking of the dead: embedded in the cause of Trauses demise a trip to Paris, a memorial
speech is the effect, the death itself (229).
He had effortlessly learned English, French, Portuguese, Latin. I suspect, nevertheless, that he
was not very good at thinking. To think is to ignore (or forget) differences, to generalize, to
abstract. In the teeming world of Ireneo Funes there was nothing but particulars and they were
virtually immediate particulars (Borges, Funes, His Memory 137).
More playfully, and less turgid, than my description of this phenomenon, is Trauses.
Thoughts are real, he said. Words are real. Everything human is real, and sometimes we know
things before they happen, even if we arent aware of it. We live in the present, but the future is
inside of us at every moment. Maybe thats what writing is all about, Sid. Not recording events
from the past, but making things happen in the future (222).
Almost: I qualify this possibility for the cases of Oedipus and, in Borgess Death and the
Compass, Erik Lnnrot. Still, does destiny leave room for choice, for possibility? Or are some
people doomed?
Borges, Everything and Nothing 320.
The second Alice Lazarre (226) is Trauses literary agent.


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