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I say a word and I can't remember it. What did I say I can't remember?
Yes. That's why my head hurts. It's always now. That's what hurts. … There is no remembering. It's always now.
Are you crying?
Yes. Because it's always now.
In contrast, there is Calvin Harper, a photographer's assistant who takes over the mobile enterprise when his boss dies. He must constantly interrupt his progress to stop and make pictures of the threatened past. "Once he moved on, history would know of the city's disaster only what he had photographed." "It is fixing time in its moments and making memory for the future. … Nobody in history before now has ever been able to do that." The last sentence, with its curlicuing redundancies, is a characteristic Doctorow nudge, the kind of thing Manzoni thought would kill the novel, but that seems calibrated to keep our hovering attention precisely where it belongs.
Late in the novel, Harper is dramatically blinded by a muzzle flash. By the end, his sight is slowly returning, "like a photograph beginning to come out in the developing tray." The whole world, if it returns, will be a photograph for Harper, a simulacrum; but the flash isn't what matters. The critical term here is "developing," and it holds the novel together, linking representation and warfare, art and conflict. The cavalry is frequently off "developing" the Rebs, picking fights with them to learn their strength and tactics. Doctorow, we might say, develops history the same way. One novel after another.
TODAY IN SLATE
The Irritating Confidante
John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.
My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s
Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band
Can it be again?
The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee
The Simpsons World App Is Finally Here
I feel like a kid in some kind of store.
Driving in Circles
The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.