Double Life

Double Life

Double Life

Arts and arguments in the news.
July 17 2001 11:30 PM

Double Life

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Last week, Congressman Gary Condit passed a polygraph test, the full transcript of which hasn't been released, but it's the view of Condit's legal defenders that the examination proves him innocent of any involvement in the disappearance and possible murder of Chandra Levy. But passing a polygraph test does not bestow innocence any more than it proves guilt: It's more a guide to future action. Moreover, as we all know, individuals have defeated the lie detector, among them John Paul Vann, whose life was chartered by Neil Sheehan in A Bright Shining Lie. To deceive his interrogators, who wished to bring a charge of statutory rape against him, Vann went to considerable lengths to dull his senses, so that his physical reactions to the accusations and probing questioning would be minimal. Rep. Condit's preparations for his test are not known, but the results, far from quelling suspicions, appear to have heightened them. As Louis Menand says in a conversation posted by The New Yorker on its Web site, "Gary Condit's truth quotient is as yet unknown;" it's hard to gauge where the congressman's deceptions end and the honesty begins. In a review of two new books about lying, Menand refers to the cases of Bill Clinton and Clarence Thomas. With a dissembler, he writes "there is always a literal meaning, which no one takes completely seriously, and an implied meaning, which is what we respond to even when we pretend to be responding to the literal meaning. Language comes shrouded in an assumptive fog. People talk in code. When Clinton said, 'It depends on what the definition of "is" is,' no one could possibly have misunderstood him. He was saying, 'I had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, but I contest your right to make me admit it.' " With Condit, neither the fog nor the implied meanings of his statements show any sign of vanishing.

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