Is Martha's Vineyard a Chinatown?

In preparation for the latest from Roman Polański, I am reading “The Ghost” by Robert Harris, set largely in Martha's Vineyard.

The diagnosis of our world as it appears in this page turner of an airport novel is grim: nothing in our lives is fresh, original or spontaneous. We are hollow, without our own true emotions or a sense of the inner. In order to become “somebody” we have to get help from “the outside”, nowadays that’s media. It is the external culture that tells us who we are, what we think, what we remember, who we are. The novel shows it via ghost writers who have to put human emotions into the memories of their clients, who without them would be shallow, would “not exist”.

It’s not only the media that lie to us. We do it to ourselves. Gladly. Our own lives are so pathetically dull that memory serves as a mechanism to space them up (post fact, but who cares):

“Most of us tend to embroider our memories to suit the picture of ourselves that we would like the world to see." — Ghostwriting, by Andrew Crofts (Each chapter of "The Ghost" opens with a quote from this book)

We are like fish in a tank never being able to touch the reality. Or worst, we could touch it but it would be less real than watching it professionally presented by the media. Specifically: television offers a better way of experiencing reality than the reality itself. Here the Ghost Writer watches the exit of his high power client from a mansion where they both hide:

“I COULD HAVE GONE down to see them off. Instead I watched them leave on television. I always say you can't beat sitting in front of a TV screen if you're after that authentic, firsthand experience. For example, it's curious how helicopter news shots impart to even the most innocent activity the dangerous whiff of criminality."

We are weak, lying, inauthentic and that's just scratching the surface. The more conscious of us don't even think of going any further:

“I have no opinion on the human condition, except perhaps that it's best not examined too closely.”

Even if we sense that something is not right, even if we feel the need to speak in a true, new, revealing voice, the resistance of the mater, of the reality is overwhelming. Our steps drag in a mud. Be it the mud of immoral (the thesis of the novel), be it the mud of the limitations of our talents:

“A book unwritten is a delightful universe of infinite possibilities. Set down one word, however, and immediately it becomes earthbound. Set down one sentence and it's halfway to being just like every other bloody book that's ever been written.”

The world is overcast, gloomy, gray. People are not who we think they are. The motifs for their behaviors are low. The naive ones who try to fight the way things are end up dead. The rest buy into the system or live their lives in quiet despair and frustration. The world of the novel strangely resembles some of Polanski’s films. Even the Asian gardener is there, with the almost “bad for the grass” line:

‘Duc kept his eyes on the ground. "Soil bad. Wind bad. Rain bad. Salt bad. Shit."

In short, it all smells like Chinatown.

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