By Stuart Mitchner
Had the trump of judgment blown, they could not have quivered more; yet still they felt no terror, rather pleasure.
—Herman Melville, from Moby-Dick.
The T-word again! I’ve been trying to think which great writer’s works are most evocative of the twilight zone we entered when Trump shut down the government rather than give up his fantasy of a border wall.
2019 being the 200th anniversary of Melville’s birth, I’ve just finished reading The Confidence Man (1857) and “Bartleby the Scrivener” (1853), both of which contain eerie intimations of the twilight zone. Not so nuanced are the closing walls pressing the victim of the Spanish Inquisition to the brink of the abyss in Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” with its last-second Hollywood ending as the French army enters Toledo. Given the ever-deepening menace of a foreign adversary, with twilight shadows verging on the depths of night, the present-day reality needs a writer who can suggest the subtle nightmare presence of powerful autocratic forces, like those, say, in Franz Kafka’s The Castle and The Trial, though what’s happening here begins to call for a variation on “The Metamorphosis” in which an entire country wakes up one morning to find itself transformed into a giant insect giving off an odor of kvass and speaking in a voice with a distinctly Russian accent. more