The literal American: rereading Graham Greene in an age of security.
Inspired by the events of September 11th, the US literary academy refrained its persistent and recurrent anxieties about reading "the other" with a new or newly revived attention to security. This essay outlines the post-9/11 security humanities by reading Graham Greene's 1955 novel 71k? Quiet American as a particularly useful engagement with the relationship between security and institutional reading practices. I show how the allegory of reading and insecurity in Greene's novel offers a crucial pedagogical response to the current reemergence of the role of security in the humanities, particularly with respect to the figure of the American reader in a global moment.
Americans must have always taken security more seriously than we did.
"Security in Room 51"
It has been nearly ten years since Margaret Talbot s column "Other Woes" appeared in the November 18, 2001 issue of Hie New York Times Magazine. Published for the series "The Way We Live Now," Talbot's essay appeared among the initial flurry of post-9/11 reflection and retrospection, and immediately laid blame. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Talbot took aim at the current state of the humanities in higher education. Characterizing its previous decades as a twenty-year-long "upbeat ethnic-festival" Talbot specifically named multiculturalism (once a "hot ticket at the Modern Language Association") as her target. The mark of the easy celebratory approach of a "flamboyantly RC. academy," multiculturalism had replaced die difficult and serious study of** other languages or other cultures lulling a generation of Americans into complacent ignorance about die real world. Talbot read the multicultural legacy as a callow, superficial, and, in the wake of 9/11, even dangerous lack of knowledge of'the other. 'Americans, she said, had had the idea they were getting a "resoundingly global education." when all they were really getting was a "little Arundhad Roy here, a little lorn Morrison there" (Talbot 2001).
It might seem sensible to dismiss Talbot's post-9/1 I critique as typical facetious opportunism, a mercenary's chance to rehearse familiar--and by then already dated--cudgels against the alleged vacuum left in literary studies by "the multiculti buzz" and the "overthrowing |of] the old canon" (Talbot 2001). But Talbot has not been so easy to shake. Indeed, if it comes as little surprise to US readers that the academy would somehow be faulted for 9/11, it "is probably even less surprising that literary studies would be ascribed a particular blame. Talbot's accusation of academic complicity in the events of 9/11 has maintained a certain resonance as higher education continues to increase its investments in what Mark McGurl has recently described as "the fervently globalizing US academy" (5) (2009. 333). Instead, the call for a "resoundingly global education" over the past decade no doubt continues to hold sway (Talbot 2001), yet the question of what would constitute a "global literary studies'remains.
In her 2001 article, Talbot, then serving as a fellow at the New America foundation, suggested that the US academy should draw on the profound national insecurity of 9/1 1. and renew all strategic commitments in its wake. 1 Ier approach was reminiscent of the Cold War programs prompted by Sputnik and the Vietnam War that had done their part for the academy by "spur[ring] the growth of language and area studies" and uencourag[ing] serious scholarship on East Asia" (Talbot 2001). More recently, a similar impulse ran be seen in the National Security Education Program (NSI'.P), established by the National Security Education Act of 1991 in part to award undergraduate and graduate fellowships to students whose work "focuses on geographic areas, languages, and fields of study deemed critical to US national security" (HE 2011). Talbot took 9/1 I as a fitting opportunity to propose a similarly rejuvenating program of security for the US academy today/That is, she suggested that we use 9/11 lor curriculum revision. "It might be pleasant to think that ideas and research agendas are independent of national-security concerns or war." she writes "[b]ut in the United States the latter have been much more important ... than high-minded commitment to the 'other' ever was" (Talbot 2011). On this view. US students would no longer suffer the incoherent and inconsequential whimsy of multicultural reading lists. Now 'reading the other' would become a mode of 'literal reading' focused on the important security business of cracking codes and smoking out terrorists.
Talbot thus positions 9/11 as a staging ground to return the American academy to the security ideology of the Cold War era, retrofitted for the current global moment. In explicitly linking a failure of national security to a failure of reading, she seeks to clear the field for a new mission: literary studies m an age of security. But then again, Talbot's instantiation of literary studies' political and ideological stakes via a rhetoric of security is not really so new. "In truth " as she admitted, "this is an old pattern" (Talbot 2001). Indeed, Talbot's own causal conflation of multicultural education in the US academy with political failure in the context of national security and globalization was symptomatic of a disturbing--and disturbingly familiar--pattern to those of us already in the field.1 Literary studies has always been ineluctably linked to security, either created by or transformed into "a field directly affecting national security," as Edward Said writes in Culture and Imperialism (1994,47). Much of the work of literary studies, before and after Talbot, attests precisely, if not always explicitly, to discerning the effects of that relation. This is what I think Predric Jameson meant by the title of his 1987 essay, "The State of the Subject," a phrase whose canny double valence refers at once to the 'state' of literary studies as a subject (its security in the institutional and disciplinary sense), and to the 'subject' of literary studies (how literature secures its subject). In feet Talbot's call to arms only re-launches a series of already uneasy concerns in literary studies about the security or insecurity of the relation between the nation-state and its literary subjects. In the field of American literary studies, for instance, where the disciplinary impetus of a national literature--to invent the idea of the nation, and to provide the means for training its subjects--looked about to diminish (or collapse) at a moment of imminent globalization, critics evinced a particular insecurity about the categorical possibility oP American literature' and the kind of reading subjects its literary canon would or should produce. As Wai Chee Dimock put the question only months before 9/1 l,"What does it mean to refer to a body of writing as American'? What assumptions enable us to take an adjective derived from a territorial unit--an America, a set of spatial coordinates on a map--and turn it into a mode of literary causality: a set of attributes based on the territorial determined by it, and subsumable under its jurisdiction?" (2001, 755). The problem of literary territoriality--that is, of securing the relation between the real and representation--can be seen in Annette Kolodny's call to American literary specialists to let go their "grand obsessions" with a thoroughly mythologized frontier and produce scholarship based otherwise than on the presumed unity of the United States (1992), or in Jose David Saldivar's call for an altogether new concept of "the Americas [for] our age of globalization as a cohesive but complexly differentiated space" (2003, 84). A new tradition of remapping the domain of American literature can be seen emerging: what was once constituted through reference to a national "strategy of containment" (Muthyala 2001, 9.2) is now a project to disturb the security propagated by that canonical tradition, to disturb even the "internal security of the classics themselves" (Jay I991.271). (2)
Talbot's diagnosis is thus reflected, albeit from an opposed stance, in current literary scholarship. Indeed, we might still note how the rhetorical force of the new global humanities inevitably seems to bear the same Cold War meaning of security and containment as in Talbot, as if the very urgency to supersede the territorial apparatus of the nation-state only recalls its prominence and fortifies its defenses. Dimock herself has recently pointed out that ''[n]owhere is the adjective 'American' more secure than when it is offered as American literature ... American literature is a self-evident field ... The disciplinary form of the humanities is'homeland defense'at its deepest and most unconscious" (2006, 223). Now that 'security' is re-emerging as the watchword of the US academy with a certain force, Talbot's diagnosis has proved at least to this extent prescient. As she cynically put it, "national-security needs free-up money in a way that celebration of difference just doesn't." Still, even a cynic hoping that security would restore US literary studies to its former disciplinary status (or at least garner better funding) should not ignore the irony of a strategy by which ghhal literacy is primarily concerned with shoring up national security'. In fact Talbot's sense of irony that the "conservative establishment may have done more to advance our understanding of what the other is saying--literally, anyway--than the P.C. academy ever did" was the crux of her argument (2001). Talbot, in short, was accusing Americans of not knowing how to read.
Using Talbot's thesis as a frame, then, the aim of this essay is to trace security as the impetus for heading the other' in the academy. What does it mean to invoke such a practice of'reading literally5? And is this really the kind of 'serious scholarship* that we in literary studies are after? Here 1 think we would do well to consider the figure of the literal reader in one of its most infamo&s incarnations--Alden Pyle, the eponymous subject of Graham Greenes 1955 novel The Quiet American--and it is a quintessentially serious and scholarly one. As an American agent abroad in Vietnam, steeped in Cold War ideology and with his arms full of books (literally armed with books), Pyle may well be Talbot's prototype for what I am seeing as a new 'security humanities.'Yet as we will see, Pyle is also a study in the failure of precisely the kind of literal reading that Talbot wants the academy to enlist. In this. I argue that Vie Quiet American stands as a crucial lesson on the security (or insecurity) of institutional reading practices in the US academy in our current, global moment.
Certainly The Quiet American bears rereading, now, on several fronts. Widely praised, sometimes condemned, and adapted for 11 oily wood twice, (3) the novel seems to be the exemplary fiction of US security policy The Quiet American has become associated in the American public imagination with the subject of security, and its author is renowned for his best-selling stories of international espionage, intrigue, and security throughout the Cold War era, This novel, with its intricate love triangle between the CIA agent Pyle, the British journalist and narrator Thomas Fowler, and their Vietnamese lover, Phuong, showcases Greene at his sardonic best. The Quiet American has been read as a particularly prescient and trenchant anti-American allegory of US security7 policy in East Asia; and since 9/11, it has headlined both sides of the debate about the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing 'war on terror.' (4)
However, I would like to trace another thread connecting Talbot and Greene--a critical thread on a specifically literary question of security. As it happens, both Talbot and Greene accuse the American of not knowing how to read. Or to put it more accurately, reading is all Greene s perpetual schoolboy does, and this is precisely the problem. As Fowler tells us, Pyle "had taken a good degree--well, in one of those subjects that Americans can take degrees in: perhaps public relations or theatrecraft, perhaps even Far Eastern Studies (he had read a lot of books)" (Greene 1977, 21). Indeed, Pyle's deliberate concentration on "serious writers" to the exclusion of "novelists, poets and dramatists," his preference for "the straight stuff" with "contemporary themes" and "profound titles" like "Vie Advance of Red ChimC or "The Role of the West" and his own speech patterns adopting and mimicking the very "phrases [and] styles of these texts," is precisely the kind of literal reading to which the novel insistently alerts us (23-5,28, 62). I lore is the American student par excellence: a reader earnest, serious, and well-intentioned, a reader fully indoctrinated by his studies--down to the very mannerisms and cadence of his speech--in his duty to effect the transformation and salvation of Vietnam. Pyle is "absorbed in the dilemmas of Democracy and the responsibilities of the West," Fowler famously says, "determined to do good, not to any individual person but to a country, a continent, a world" (18). That is, Pyle has come to Vietnam, having done his reading in advance, with "pronounced views on what the United States was doing" in the name of a "Third Way" Democracy that is signified by his highly satirized hero, the fictional American academic York I larding (12). When the British journalist Fowler goes as fir as to say that Pyle pronounces "Democracy and Honor without the m" (90). the diacritic marks the language of Pyle's reading as literally American; and when Pyle asks Fowler for his views on Vietnam, he says it is because he likes "to know what the man on the spot has to say," but admits later he will have to "check it with York" (24), Forced to "suffer" Pyle's favorite subjects of Democracy and the Far East, Fowler tells us that Fyle "had read it before he came out here. He talked about it his first week and he's learned nothing" (124). In fact Fowler realizes that Pyle was "already forming his phrases in the style he had learnt" from 1 larding even before arriving in Vietnam (62). Indeed, it is Pyle's very immersion in his books that leads to his utter failure of comprehension in Vietnam: he cannot stop insisting on preordained theories and books, even in the face of real horror and death. The moment Fowler hears the echo of York in Pyle's speech is the same moment that Fyle looks at his own shoe, covered in the blood of a civilian after a bombing he orchestrated, and remarks calmly that now he will need to get them shmed before he meets the Minister. It is as if Pyle's knowledge--that is, the very intelligence of the government agent--is exacted precisely as a cost of reading. "He had punted down into Phat Diem in a kind of schoolboy dream" (162) Fowler says, "sincere in his way: it was a coincidence that the sacrifices were all paid by others" (62). And certainly Fowler pays for Pyle's reading. Scanning Pyle's bookshelf, alongside US C Congressional Reports, aVietnamese phrasebook, and a history of the War in the Philippines, Fowler notes a paperback copy of "The Physiology of Marriage" and he mockingly imagines that "'perhaps [Pyle] was studying sex, as lie had studied the Fast, on paper. And the keyword was marriage" (28-29). If the figure of Phuong at least in some sense represents the country Vietnam, here fowler accuses die professedly ardent Pyle of having the same kind of knowledge of the woman as the country: an academic, literal kind of knowledge that comes in advance, and only in books.The keyword for Fowler is marriage, because he cannot marry Phuong (his wife refuses to grant him a divorce) while Pyle can. And as the security of his affair is threatened. Fowler can only impotently mock the interloper's knowledge by telling him that "if yon live in a place long enough you cease to read about it" (24).
In other words, Pyle is threatening precisely because he reads too much. Despite the cartoonish depiction of his "gangly legs and crew-cut and wide campus gaze" that makes him seem "incapable of harm" Pyle is not merely virginally ignorant and silly (Greene 1977, 17). As Terry 1-agleton writes "the effective humour reaped at his expense comes suspiciously easily" (1987, 111). Fowler laments his own belated suspicions of Pyle when he describes Pyle's response to Harding's books, and even the very sound of I larding s words and figures:"perhaps I should have seen that fanatic gleam, the quick response to a phrase, the magic sound of figures: Fifth Column, Third Force, Seventh Day" (Greene 1977, 25). He laughs at Pyle for devoting himself to reading York as he also "laugh[s] at anyone who spends so much time writing about what doesn't exist--mental concepts" (94). But Fowler also explicitly links the violence of Pyle's death to such reading, telling the police inspector Vigot that York Harding is the man the detective should be looking for, because he is the one who killed Pyle--if only "at long range" (167). Instead Fowler wants to imagine Pyle back in the United States "perhaps only ten days ago ... walking back across the Common in Boston, his arms full of the books he had been reading in advance on the Far East and the problems of China" (18). He insists Pyle should have remained there, "reading the Sunday supplements ... and following the baseball. I'd have liked to see him safe with a standardized American girl who subscribed to the Book Club" (32). In short, Fowler would have liked to see Pyle remain in relative security--that is, reading for fun.
But it is safe enough to say that reading is not for fun in this novel. Whereas Pyle reads too much, Fowler insists he is no reader at all. In keeping with Ford's and Conrad's famously unreliable or disengaged narrators, Greene's Fowler claims to be uninvolved in the affairs of Vietnam by arguing precisely that the very "article of his creed" is not to read at all (Greene 1977, 28). (5) When offered an editorial promotion at his newspaper he protests that as a reporter he thinks only "in headlines," cannot give "real opinions about anything," and writes only in the "stereotyped phrases" of telegrams (72). Yet the moment in front of Pyle's bookshelf is echoed numerous times throughout the novel. In fact Fowler takes great care to notice what others are reading, detailing their books (Vigot has "a volume of Pascal open on his desk" (16)), listing the contents of their bookstores (26), and speculating on the erotic literature collection its owner has locked in "glass-fronted bookcases" (158). A committed if reluctant bibliophile, Fowler is the kind of man who would "happen to know" a friend "was a student of Wordsworth," who would know even the kind of poems such a person would write (39). And he is the kind of man who takes Pyles own copy of York Harding's book off its shelf "as a keepsake" after Pyle is killed (29), a book that he will later see in his own apartment as a direct rebuke for his complicity in that death: "[o]pposite me in the bookcase Hie Role of the West stood out like a cabinet portrait [of Pyle himself]" (188). Certainly Fowlers reading precipitates the major narrative points of betrayal in the novel, despite his protestations. He pretends to read to Phuong a letter from his wife, falsely claiming his wife has agreed to divorce and that he is now free to remarry. When Phuong has the letter re-read to her by her sister ("[y]ou can't deceive her. She reads English" (132)), she realizes no divorce is imminent, and leaves Fowler for Pyle. Fowler is then involved in Pyles murder via another reading. Fowler's presence at his apartment window holding an open book is the signal that Pyle will be on the appointed bridge at the appointed time: the book becomes the set-up tor murder. In this, the novel hints at Fowler's confession of culpability--certainly someone killed Pyle uat long range." Like Pyle's bloody shoe, there's no doubt that Fowler is "thrust into it," too (186). And of course we cannot ignore that, as a journalist, it is Fowler, not Pyle, who trades in reading and writing for a living.
On the one hand, then, there is Pyle, the "very, very serious' (23) American literalist, who reads assiduously and profoundly in history and politics because he believes in being involved, but who overwrites eyewitness accounts with the words of Yorks textbooks. On the other hand, there is Fowler, the banal correspondent who writes only in cliches, but whose intimate reading of the figurative language of Enlightenment philosophy, Romantic poetry, and erotica belies his trade in detachment. In their pairing, the text raises a double problem of reading: as to what kind of reading one does, and as to what its consequences might be. After an early meeting. Fowler leaves Pyle with his "arid bones of background"--his books--for his daily walk among what he deems the "real background" ofVietnam. This real cannot be read but instead "held you as a smell does"--the "gold of the rice-fields." the "sight of silk-trousered figures" of the women, the excitement of war-zone days "punctuated by those quick reports that might be car-exhausts or might be grenades" (25). Pyle will have to learn all of this for himself. But Pyle never forgets his books and learns to read Vietnam through them, and for that Fowler offers his most damning condemnation. Pyle never had any "notion what the whole affair was about," Fowler says, except from his "books on the hast. I Ie never saw anything he hadn't heard in a lecture-hall, and his writers and lecturers made a fool of him" (32). "This Third Force," he tells Pyle "comes out of a book, that's all" (157). In the end. Fowler attributes his triumph in winning Phuong to Pyle's failure to understand how to read the 'real/ but it is never clear which real Pyle misreads--whether Vietnam, or the relation between Phuong, Fowler, and himself.
In her discussion of Paul de Man. allegory and the problem of reading in Stupidity, Avital Ronell sets out another pair of fictional readers, Melville's Billy Budd and Captain Claggart, as the prototypical de Manian "mutually destructive couple." For Ronell. Budd and Claggart represent "two types of reading--Budd's naive or literal tendencies are set against Claggarts ironic incursions, which assume that the relation between sign and meaning can be arbitrary. Together they demarcate the element of mutability that conditions any reading" (2001, 101). Similarly, the critical pairing of Pyle and Fowler in Tfte Quiet American underscores the fundamental textual problem facing every reader: the text s constant and even violent oscillation between the lit-eral and the figurative. When Ronell goes on to say that "reading and interpretation come to blows" in such pairings, exemplifying the allegorical irre-ducibility between the literal and figurative registers, we might say that such is the antagonistic insecurity of reading (in) The Quiet American itself (2001, 103). What Fowler marks as Pyle's stupidity--his failure to understand "the whole affair"--also marks the texts own problem of reading." The whole affair" functions as the text's "moment of bafflement" to take the de Manian idiom, and this is the bafflement Greene's reader must apprehend, too, the moment that signifies the text's fundamental insecurity between its literal or figurative reading, and the moment that implicates the security of all readers, both in and of the text (de Man 1986, 223; Spivak 1999, 99). After all, can the putative reader of The Quiet American know what "the whole affair" is about? It will be hard to say whether "the whole affair" refers to the colonial war, or to the love triangle, or to Fowler's and Pyle's complicity in both affairs; and still, what hinges on the double meaning of "the whole affair"--via Pyle, Fowler, Phuong, and the text's reader herself--is the decisive question of how to read the novel, of the primacy of its literal or its figurative interpretation. Ultimately reading in this text cannot be secured. "The whole affair" remains undecidable, at once marking and missing the texts relation to truth, and rendering all readings (either literal or figurative) suspect.
On the one hand, the nexus of possible readings in and of "the whole affair" points to a longstanding critical interest in allegory and security in the work of Graham Greene. Early on, W. H. Auclen credited Greene with inventing a "distinctive form," the allegorical thriller (1973, 93-4); Thomas Wendorf continued that tradition in noting that "Greene had a strong sense of the enduring allegorical potential of modern fiction" (2001, 658); and Edward Said traced the especially liable allegorical potential of The Quiet American. Said writes that, "apologists for overseas American interests have insisted on American innocence, doing good, fighting for freedom. Graham Greene's character Pyle ... embodies this cultural formation with merciless accuracy" (1994, 9).The novels allegory would extend across a number of its narrative scenarios. Most immediately, it involves the question of Pyle's "Economic Mission" in Hast Asia, which as fowler observes offers an image of US imperialism as a "clean hands" business venture (Greene 1977, 124). But it would also include the "old colonialist" model of British liberalism, in which a country is invaded and then abandoned to avoid "a bad conscience" before it is inevitably fractured by civil war (96). And it would extend to the Enlightenment idealism of the French, signified by Pascal-reading bureaucrats like Vigot, whose concepts of la liberte and the individual inevitably give way to colonial exploitation and conflict. This slippage is dramatized when Imvlers discussion of liberty with Pylc leads him to question a pair of frightened and bewildered colonial Vietnamese soldiers:
"[A]s for liberty. I don't know what it means. Ask them." I called across the floor in French to [the Vietnamese soldiers]. "La liberie --que c'est ce la liberte?" They sucked in the rice and stared back and said nothing. (Greene 1977, 97)
And finally, it would extend to Phuong,"indigenous like an herb" the exotic and silent colonial subject, Vietnam read under Western eyes (Greene 1977, 14). The ease of reading the novel as allegory is further bolstered by the tradition of reading howler as a stand-in for Greene. Indeed, the "overlap" between lowler and Greene appears to come so close in "the material Greene gathered in his visits to Vietnam" as a reporter for Life and The New Republic in the early 1950s (Weales 2003,490) that "Greenes proximity to his highly intelligent (if seedy) narrator was almost taken for granted" (Whitfield 1996, 70). And Greene himself has famously suggested in his memoirs that "[p]erhaps there is more direct reportage in The Quiet American than in any other novel 1 have written" (1980, 164-5). (6)
Yet the presentation of reportage in this novel dismantles any such viable allegory. Fowler insists, "I don't know what I am talking politics for. They don't interest me and Pin a reporter. I'm not engage"(Greene 1977, 96). He describes press conferences as "webs of evasion" where journalists are not allowed on the battlefield or to see combat losses, "for the papers must carry only victories" (64-6, 48). Reading fails through both the ignorance of the reporter and the farce of military press conferences. In fact the press conference in the novel is a scene of complete unintelligibility.The French colonel under interrogation knows "perfectly well the meaning of the questions" put to him by the F.nglish reporters, but will nevertheless wait for them to be interpreted before replying. He finally answers, but m French, and with a "patient ambiguity."That is, he answers with a non-answer, and his strategy of evasion works, at least until the reporters'demands to know about supply-lines, enemy positions, and military strategy cause him to erupt in anger. He answers "suddenly in Fnglish. good English"--but then immediately retracts the response, saying any information he has just given away is background and "not for printing" Meanwhile, the French correspondents find themselves "at a loss" altogether, for "they could speak very little Fnglish." And so the conference dissolves into non-sense, and we are left with the French captain Faced with the "unfamiliar task of translating from English [back] to French*5 and with the British reporters protesting at the colonel's censorship. Fowler himself complains that his telegraphed report from the conference will not take long to write, because under conditions of military censorship he cannot tell the truth even if he could discern it: "there was nothing I could write ... that the censors would pass" (64-7). As Fowler says later,"I was the only one to write that the bombs were a demonstration on the part of GeneralThe, and my account was altered at the office" (142). If the "job of the reporter is to expose and record," then "I had never in my career discovered the inexplicable" (88).
In this The Quiet American seeks to have it both ways, at once marking its truth-claim and refusing that claim. In any case, all claims are suspect, coming as they do from a narrator who gives opinions on everything while claiming none. In The Rhetoric of Romanticism, de Man encapsulates precisely this "relation between author-reader and reader-reader" as "antagonistic1': "Reading," he writes, "is comparable to a battle of wits in which both parties are fighting over the reality or fictionality of their discourse, over the ability to decide whether the text is a fiction or an (auto)biography narrative or history, playful or serious" (1984, 282). (7) In this text, such claims are altogether insecure; as are opinions, belief, interpretation itself. Greene's narrator writes, "perhaps if I wanted to be understood or understand I would bamboozle myself into belief, but I am only a reporter; God exists only for leader-writers" (Greene 1977, 60). Of course, if reporters are suspect narrators ("Stephen Crane could describe a war without seeing one. Why shouldn't I? It's only a damned colonial war anyway" (36)), so too are "leader-writers," who also produce their own fictions. Pyle is proud that he had named his dog after the Black Prince, until fowler reminds him of the prince's historical role in a prodigious massacre of women and children, a fact Pyle's reading might have missed because, as Fowler sarcastically notes, it was "glossed over" by the history books (74). In the end, perhaps it is better to say there is no such thing as either reportage or fiction in The Quiet American at all let alone an allegorical relation between them. Fowler admits as much when writing a letter to his wife asking for a divorce: he "hesitates" over certain words, apologizes for putting "a reply in fherj mouth," finds his choice of words wrong for his situation, and finally, still "didn't get it right" (81). Later, when Fowler writes to Pyle to thank him for rescuing him from enemy territory after their watchtower hideout collapses, this letter is also a lie. Fowler uses the thank-you note as a pretense to tell Pyle that his wife has agreed to a divorce and to restate his claim on Phuong. It was "a bread-and-butter letter of some importance," but "it differed from other bread-and-butter letters in containing a falsehood Writing it, Fowler s very pen gets stuck on a word until, "like an ant meeting an obstacle, [it] went round it by another route" (121).
We cannot get around the problem that Fowler, who makes his professional "bread and butter" from writing false or confusing reports, cannot write personal letters truthfully either. They are one and the same. Nor, at this point, can we get around the texts frame, framed as it is by what might be read as two letters, in which the text's signatory concern about its reading is, literally, signed. The novel opens with an odd dedication addressed to "Dear Rene [sic] and Phiuong," and celebrates the happy memory of evenings "spent with you in Saigon over the last five years" But the letter then goes to some lengths to claim that, while names and dates and locations are "quite shamelessly borrowed" from this time (for instance, "Phuong" is chosen because its "simple, beautiful and easy to pronounce"), "this is a story ami not a piece of history" about "a few imaginary characters" meant to pass. is evening entertainment "one hot Saigon evening." It is signed "Yours affectionately Graham Greene" (Greene 1977, n.p.).The novel then ends on an odd tragic break, Fowlers plaintive and futile apology for Pyle's death. Is he addressing the reader when he savsfcVhow I wished there existed someone to whom I could say that I was sorry"? But there is no response in the text, save a dated but anonymous signature: the last words of the novel signed "March 1952-June 1955" (189). Of course, these are the years Greene spent in Vietnam.
The fate of Fowlers thank-you letter is relevant here, bowler eventually finds it tucked into Pyle's copy of York Harding's book which he took as a keepsake, and which now stares back reproachfully at him from his bookshelf. He imagines that Pyle "must have been reading the book when my letter arrived. Perhaps he had used it as a bookmark and then not gone on reading" (Greene 1977, 120). If the very function of the bookmark is to mark the point beyond which reading does not go, we have come to a double aporia, because it is not clear which of these Pyle did or did not finish reading, the book or the letter. Indeed, the novel is full of such unfinished readings--letters drafted but never sent, passed around from reader to reader, lost, used as bookmarks, ripped up. or censored altogether.* Despite their seemingly opposite preferences for "straight language," Pyle and Fowler each must contend with the figuration and mediation of the letter as reportage and vice versa. When Pyle first broaches his interest in Phuong, Fowler is shocked to note his jealousy of the youthful Pyle, asking for advice in the terrible but comic situation of both loving the same woman. Fowler says his advice would not be trustworthy because 'Tin biased." to which Pyle protests."(Hi. but I know you're straight ... and we both have her interests at heart." It is to this notion of escaping "interests"--whether biased or straight--that Fowler most mockingly objects, noting that if Phuong has convinced Pyle she prefers him, it is because she thinks the American has "more money"--or at least a "favourable rate of exchange anyway" (58-59). Indeed. Pyle's serious sense of "playing straight" belongs precisely to the world of Democracy-and-I Ionor-without-the-u. where you mean what you say you mean:"you meant what your father meant by the same words" (90).Yet Fowler later considers the very possibility of such direct meaning:
After the passage of weeks ... that fantastic meeting in Phat Diem seemed hardly believable: even the details of the conversation were less clear. They were like the missing letters on a Roman tomb and I the archaeologist filling in the gaps according to the bias of my scholarship. It even occurred to me that ... the conversation had been an elaborate and humorous disguise for his real purpose, for it was already the gossip of Saigon that he was engaged in one of those services so ineptly called secret. (Greene 1977, 71)
As depicted in the metaphor of reading the hieroglyph, reading is fantastic, hardly believable, virtually impossible. One fills in the missing letters of the text by at best guessing at meaning; and the ostensible purpose of language--the successful exchange of meaning--is tdiscorted by the bias of exchange (money and memory, interests and scholarship). Fowler at one point wonders: "Is confidence based on a rate of exchange?"; and indeed, it seems the problem of the exchange of confidences (the truth) is at the heart of the matter in a text in which we can never have confidence in such truth (63). Here the availability of meaning in language is covered over by gossip or elaborate disguises, or negotiated by secrets; such linguistic mediation is compounded further by the idea of the "inept"--that is, ill-kept--secret. Speaking the secret (gossip) blurs the distinction between what is known and what is secret; the idea of the truth in language is suspect precisely because the secret's paradox-is its potential knowability. Fowler cannot understand the secrets of Saigon to begin with: "on my landing the old women burst into their twitter of the hedges which I could understand no more than the gossip of the birds" (145). Another time he recounts,"! came slowly up the stairs to the flat, pausing and resting on the first landing. The old women gossiped as they had always done ... They were silent as I passed and I wondered what they might have told me, if I had known their language, of what had passed while I had been away" (115). The novel in fact opens with Fowlers confusion: the Vietnamese women fall silent when Fowler and Phuong approach them on the landing, but "as soon as we had passed their voices rose and fell as though they were singing together." Fowler must ask Phuong to translate. It is also worth remarking that in the next moment he likens Phuong herself to a captured bird "twittering and singing" on his pillow (11-12).
Pyle has the same trouble with Phuong. When he comes to Fowler's apartment to propose and finds she has gone out, he refuses to leave a message, saying he doesn't "like discussing Phuong behind her back. I thought she would be here" (Greene 1973, 73). Yet Pyle's actual seduction remains obscure, virtually talking behind Phuong's back, as he is unable to speak directly to her, as he has neither her native tongue nor her colonial French. Fowler thus intervenes to "act as interpreter" and translate his seduction for him. Bui when Pyle asks Fowler to "tell her what I offer is security and respect." Fowler translates deliberately, "with meticulous care," 1 because "it sounded worse that way." Not only does howlers literal translation fail to convey intended meaning, but the marriage proposal and its promise of security becomes fully absurd. "Oh, just translate," Pyle says, "I don't want to sway her emotionally." Even the ever-literal and humorless Pyle has to admit the situation is a "bit odd"; Fowler laughs outright at how they have "made fools of each other" (76-79), much as York makes a fool of Pyle. Fowler then dismisses Pyle "to your 'Fhird Force and York I larding and the Role of Democracy. Go away and play with plastics" (7C)). Later he has "to admit that he had carried out my instructions to the letter' (134; emphasis added). But because the novel never makes clear if Pyle's interest in plastics is a cover for a plastic explosives factory or relates to a real toy factory, this produces a double story--of a spy pretending to be an innocent man in love, or a man innocently caught up in the forces of international espionage. Frying to follow this text to die letter is not possible; reading reveals only the perpetual duplicity of its subject. And how are wo to read "the whole affair" between Pyle, Fowler, and Phuong, precisely when that allegory of reading The Quiet American is itself complicated by an author, famous for his serious fiction and for his'entertainments,' who urges that this novel--one that critics insist is so clearly political--be read strictly for pleasure? How do we read allegory in a text whose very plot is mobilized by the allegorical betrayal of reading? Flow, in other words, can we secure a reading of a novel about the insecurity of reading?
All at once, reading seems more than an innocuous American Sunday pastime. It is not for nothing that Hie Quiet American should figure so prominently in an argument about the relation between reading and security in the United States at the present time. "Reading the novel again reinforced my fear of all the Pyles around the world" the British writer Zadie Smith recently declared (2004). And Greene's persistent concern with security has been noted by critics like Maria Couto, who writes that "the subject of Greened satire has always been Americas foreign policy which pretends to protect the 'free world' [but which) in fact often means only one objective: American interests, her security and trade" (1988, 167). Similarly Gates Baldridge notes that Greene's "angry impatience with the lives of safety and security lends the world of his fictions its most distinctive and disquieting tone" (2000, 2). In more recent re-readings, critics have analyzed both the novel's intensely textual and its intensely political concerns. Douglas Kerr traces a Bakhtinian "auto-criticism of discourse" in the contrast between the "intensely bookish" Pyle, the confessional skepticism of Fowlers writing, and "a woman who apparently does not read or write at all" (2006, 97, 95, 103). And William Spanos reads the novel "as an antidetective story and an antiallegory" a critique of Western or hegemonic forms of representation that is significant both "as a counter-history of the period of the Vietnam War and its immediate aftermath" and for its "uncanny relevance to the contemporary American occasion: 9/11 and Americas global war on terror" (2006, 13, 34). I am further suggesting that our particular attention to the allegory of reading operating within the text offers a cogent pedagogical response to the current state of literary security that Talbot stands for--to what Henry Giroux calls "the militarization of US higher education after 9/11" (2008, 56), or to what Samuel Weber designates in the subtitle to his Targets of Opportunity, "the militarization of thinking" itself (2005). (9)
In a recent essay, Righting Wrongs, Gayatn Spivak responds to the tendencies identified by Weber and Giroux by arguing precisely for an "uncoercive" style of reading, for a strategic pedagogy that can (re)make the American university "available for global social justice." We must work to "unmoor" the academy "from its elite safe [secure] harbors," Spivak says, and create instead "an expanded definition of a 'Humanities to Come' " (2004, 526). As she writes:
I will continue to insist that the problem with US education is that it teaches (corporatist) benevolence while trivializing the teaching of the Humanities. The result is, at best, cultural relativism as cultural absolutism ("American-style education will do the trick"). Its undoing is best produced by the training of reflexes that kick in at the time of urgency, of decision and policy. However unrealistic it may seem ... I would not remain a teacher of the Humanities if I did not believe that ... a teacher can try to rearrange desires uncoercively ... through an attempt to develop in the student a habit of literary reading, even "just" reading, suspending oneself into the text of the other--for which the first condition and effect is a suspension that I am necessarily better, I am necessarily indispensable, I am necessarily the one to right wrongs, I am necessarily the end product for which history happened ... A training in literary reading is a training to learn from the singular and unverifiable. (Spivak 2004, 532)
Thus Spivak proposes a kind of reading in contradistinction to the figure exemplified by Talbot and critiqued in Greenes novel. (10) In Spivak's schema, reading instead must be a practice "without guarantees," a paradoxical move whose strategy is precisely that it is mi strategic (532). (11) Thomas Keenan elaborates the point by explaining that reading "is what happens when we cannot apply the rules": it is "our exposure to the singularity of a text, something that cannot be organized in advance." In fact Keenan goes on to call for a practice of reading "without security"--and the first text he reads against in Fables of Responsibility is a CIA training manual (1997, 1, 3, 13-16). (12)
It is in light of Spivak's and Keenans conception of "reading without seciifity" that I propose to read The Quiet American's most famous lines, from an argument Fowler has with Pyle precisely over his operative training as an American agent of security:
"You and your like are trying to make a war with the help of people who just aren't interested" "They don't want Communism" "They want enough rice" I said. "They don't want to be shot at. They want one day to be much the same as another. They don't want our white skins around telling them what they want" "If lndo-China goes ..." "I know the record. Niani goes. Malaya goes. Indonesia goes. What does 'go' mean? If I believed in your God! and another life. I'd bet ... that in five hundred years there may be no New York or London, but they'll be growing paddy in these fields..." "They'll be forced to believe what they are told, they won't be allowed to think for themselves." "Thoughts a luxury. Do you think the peasant sits and thinks of God and Democracy when he gets inside his mud hut at night?" "You talk as if the whole country were peasant. What about the educated? Are they going to he happy?" "Oh no," I said. "We've brought them up in our ideas ... I've been in India, Pyle. and I know the harm liberals do..." "You stand for the importance of the individual as much as I do--or York." "Why have we just discovered it?" I said... "Our [individuality] wasn't threatened ... but who cared about the individuality of the man in the paddy-field--and who does now?... Don't go on in the East with that parrot cry about a threat to the individual soul. I lore you'd find yourself on the wrong side--its they who stand for the individual and we just stand for Private 23987, unit in the global strategy." (Greene 1977,95-7)
This is the conversation between Fowler and Fyle as they are trapped overnight in a watehtower hideout outside Saigon.The scene is commonly read as the novel s set piece. Terry hagleton argues that the scene encapsulates Greene's predominant concern, the tension between corrupt political ideology and overt liberal humanism (1987); and Maria Couto agrees that the problems of the novel "come to a head ... in the tiny space" of the watch-tower (1088, 160). The watehtower scene is also, in our terms, where "the whole affair" is explicitly staged.The scene should remind us most immediately of howler's quip to Vigot, that York Harding killed Pyle "at long range." Indeed, as the site of lookouts and scouts, spies and snipers, the watchtower is the quintessential emblem of security and surveillance.13 But here in the watchtower, reading as targeting becomes a source of insecurity. Fowler derides Pyles admiration of Harding s "courage" as merely academic: "with a return ticket courage becomes an intellectual exercise, like a monks flagellation" (Greene 1977, 95). Fowler decries Pyles mental concepts: against the schoolboys "isms and ocracies" he calls instead for "facts" (95). As Nurul Islam puts it, "Fowler puts faith in small essentials" against Pyles "items of global strategy" and its attendant "politics, ideologies, concepts and institutions" (1987, 185-6).Yet Fowler remains ambivalent about fully committing himself against the abstractions of Cold War ideology to which Pyle subscribes, and says he is only in it as an academic exercise, "for the sake of argument--to pass the bloody night. I'll still be reporting, whoever wins" (Greene 1977, 96-7). When Pyle accuses Fowler of not meaning half of what he says, he shoots back "Probably three quarters," thus reiterating his oft spoken "lack of politics" (97, 129). In fact Fowler later muses that "abstract subjects" oddly help "normalize the strangest surroundings," and claims he could have this argument anywhere, on the Rue Catinat, in a bar, even in a London apartment (98). But it is precisely as these abstract and academic subjects are raised that the argument fails. In de Mans terms, both Pyle and Fowler ufail to hit the mark" (1984, 282). Beyond even Fowlers dismissals and Pyles protestations, their very conversation deconstructs, and precisely on the subject of reading at that. Pyle says "I read a book once..." but the text breaks with an ellipsis, and in the next moment Fowler recalls "I never knew what book Pyle had read" (1977,105). But the tower is under siege, and Pyle never completes his sentence.
Two points are crucial here. First, that the allegory of reading "the whole affair" comes to a head in the watchtower, where the double stories of "War and Love" are inextricably linked, and in which Fowler must eventually admit "we all get involved" (Greene 1977, 152). Second, that we fail to learn anything about either story before the scene breaks off: as the very question of reading is raised, violence breaks out and insecurity obliterates it. Ultimately there is no one, as Fowler later observes, to apologize to. As Couto points out, the "long conversation here between the two outsiders about the fate of Vietnam is particularly poignant: the outsiders survive and the Vietminh guards get killed" (1988, 169). If on the one hand the logic of "targeting" is "inextricable from [Western] thinking itself"--"thinking is hitting the mark, making the point," says Weber (2005, viii-x)--on the other, the very "logic of targeting produces a consistent display of strikeouts and near-misses as concerns the possibility of understanding" (Ronell 2001, 102). In other words, the misfires in the watchtower perform the text's double dissolution of security: this is its moment of bafflement in which "the relay between sign and meaning is not securely established" (Ronell 2001, 106). Perhaps such narrative insecurity most explicitly recalls de Man, who writes that the reader cannot ever "just translate" and reveal the codes, because it is "not.i prion certain that literature is a reliable source of information about anything but its own language"; because "literature is not a transparent message in which it can be taken for granted that the distinction between the message and the means of communication is clearly established"; because "the grammatical decoding of a text leaves a residue of indetcrmination that ... cannot be resolved ... no such decoding could claim to reach the figural dimensions of the text" Such, de Man argues, is the "uncertainty of literariness" itself (de Man 1086, 1 1-15). Or as Fowler narrates, "The whole affair, as it turned out, was not worth more than a paragraph, and a humorous paragraph at that" (Greene 1(J77, 141).
It is ironic, then, to find that Fowler presumes to read Phuongs desires in terms of security. "Women love you for security," he tells Pyle, because he knows Pyle can promise things he cannot, like ua deep freeze and a car and a television set." and, most damningly children--"Bright young American citizens ready to testify" (Greene 1977. 104. 133). "She might prefer greater security and more kindness." Pyle agrees (104), and as Nurul Islam points out, Pyle stands "ready to marry Phuong with certificates of physical fitness. blood-group and bank balance" (1987. 191). Against Pylcs textual promises of security Fowler's interest is also seen to turn on the question of security in marriage: 'Tor an aging man " he tells Pyle, marriage is "very secure" (1977. 104).Yet security fails in both cases: fowlers wife finally agrees to sign divorce papers, but the novel ends before he marries Phuong; and Pyle is killed before his proposal can be made good.14
Does Phuong in any case want a guarantee of security as Fowler of Pyle imagine it? Our reading cannot stop here, at least on the terms of the text itself After all. there is another triad of readers and writers in "the whole affair": Phuong's sister. Miss I lei, the translator of the letter from Fowlers wife; 1 lelen. the writer of that letter: and Phuong herself Indeed, the very couple made by Pyle (the United States) and Fowler (Britain) is secured via their relation to Phuong (Vietnam), and if critics have largely ignored this third figure, reading Phuong as secondary to the important plot for which she stands, this only follows the very misreadings of Fowler and Pyle, 15 In an essay in the NeivYork Review of Books, for instance. Richard West crudely dismissed Phuong as a "birdbrain who reads nothing but magazine articles on the British royal family" (1991. 51).With typical critical disregard. West reads Phuong as nothing more than a stupid presence in an otherwise serious story. But even an offhand comment on the quality of Phuong as a reader--where her reading is the mark of critical disregard--will obviously be of interest to us. The novel opens with Phuong looking for Pyle at Fowler's apartment, after he has failed to return home. But Fowler knows Pyle is already dead, and as he climbs the stairs with Phuong, he thinks of "several unpleasant or ironic jests 1 might make, but neither her English nor her French would have been good enough to understand the irony" (Greene 1977, 11). Right away, what Phuong understands or does not understand is critical, made even more so because the question of understanding irony--of apprehending the play between literal and figurative language--is especially at stake. Phuong's apparent inability to understand comes up again soon enough, when she and Fowler meet with Vigot and hear the news of Pyle's murder. Fowler thinks that Phuong fails to understand the detective on any level: in Fowler's view, she "had not caught his tone, melancholy and final," which suggests to him she cannot read figurative language, "and her English was very bad," extending her misreading to literal language. He fears that he himself has "no technique for telling her slowly and gently" about Pyle, suggesting that in all the time working on a newspaper, he has not learned how7 to tell a story. Thinking in headlines means "one does not learn the way to break bad news" (21), and Fowlers own inability to find the right words is emphasized when the police inspector too "seemed to be looking for words on his desk with which to convey his meaning ... precisely" (17). But if from the outset communication fails on both the literal (telling the straight story) and the figurative (jokes or tone) registers, the text immediately reverses itself, and in the next moment, when the pair passes the gossiping women on the landing (the moment when Fowler asks Phuong to translate their "singing" for him), Phuong tells Fowler "They think I have come home" (12). Of course it's not clear that she has returned to him, even if he hopes she will (Mice she learns of Pyle's death. Without saying outright, literally, what she is doing or thinking. Phuong relates herself figuratively in terms of what the women are (supposedly) saying about her, but her translation--which Fowler cannot in any case know is true--marks the characteristic doubleness of language in this text: in other words, Phuong effectively puts the security of Fowlers reading at stake, too. Certainly he has no idea, here, what "the whole affair" is about. The pairing of Fowler and Phuong poses another couple at linguistic odds with each other. Fowler is desperate for Phuong to come home ("I was no longer on my dignity. Death takes away vanity--even the vanity of the cuckold who mustn't show his pain"), but she remains silent in the face of his desperation. When he does break the news of Pyle s death later that night, she does not respond, but just "put the [opium] needle clown and sat back on her heels, looking at me. 1 here was no scene, no tears, just thought--the long private thought of somebody who has to alter a whole course of life" (21-2). And when he suspects her involvement with Pyle, Fhuong's very alibis, the textual markers that Fowler can read, like cinema ticket stubs and groeery receipts, are suspect evidence anyway because they are produced in what Fowler characterizes as an "unnatural readiness to confirm her story" (140). Instead Fowler wants "to read her thoughts" but they remain private,"hidden away in a language I couldn't speak ... I didn't want to question her. 1 didn't want to make her lie [because] as long as no lie was spoken openly I could pretend that we were the same to each other as we always had been" (140).
Of course, the irony in all of this is that howler and Phuong me the same to each other: conversation between them has always been mediated, spoken in the language of diplomacy. They each speak a native language that is foreign to the other (English andVietnamese); they speak to each other in a language foreign to them both (French); and from the opening pages, each maintains a silence in the face of the other. And there is a certain violence or "com[ing] to blows," as Ronell says, in this history, too (2001, 103). Fowler remembers "it had been a long and frustrating courtship" (Greene 1977, 40) when he could not see Phuong alone for months, followed by "that first tor-men ting year when I had tried so passionately to understand her, when I had begged her to tell me what she thought and had scared her with my unreasoning anger at her silences. Even my desire had become a weapon, as though when one plunged one's sword toward the victims womb, she would lose control and speak" (134). So when Pyle not-so-innoccntly tells Fowler "I don't think you quite understand Phuong" (60), Fowler can only impotently wonder at what Pyle understands, and what Pyle (who speaks neither French nor Vietnamese) and Phuong (who speaks no English) might ever have talked about. I le imagines instead a scene of impotent conversation. But in effect, again, there is no scene: in the face of Pyle's lectures that Fowler himself has endured. Phuong also "was wonderfully ignorant; if I litler had come into the conversation she would have interrupted to ask who he was. The explanation would be all the more difficult because she had never met a German or a Pole and had only the vaguest knowledge of European geography, though about Princess Margaret of course she knew more than I" (12). Here of course we have Richard Wests interpretation of Phuong: if the woman reads only tabloid nonsense and nothing so important as, sav. Furopean geography or Western history, surely she must be dismissed. And the (Western) critic will read her as an idiot, her (Western) lovers as a guileless or tormenting wonder. As Xadie Smith writes:
In this emblematic love triangle Phuong is of course representing Vietham to sonic extent, but she is still everywhere her idiosyncratic self. She is the girl in white dancing better than Pyle, she is curled up in bed reading about Princess Anne. She keeps her counsel. One feels that where Greene did not know enough of her life, or could not imagine, he resolved not to describe. As a result Phuong floats free of her symbolic weights; she has her own inviolate life in the Rue Catinat--buying silk scarves, drinking milkshakes--outside the reach of Fowler's narrative eye, and thus denying the reader's base and natural request that she embody her entire country. (Smith 20(H)
It is precisely Phuong's inviolable elusiveness--unable to be subsumed or secured entirely by representation--that marks what Spivak has called a texts "connection between woman as reader and as model" (1999, 99). If the very challenge of reading, as Spivak continues, is to realize that "No possible reading is a Mis-reading," but a strategy to examine "if the protocols of the text contains a moment that can produce something that will generate a new and useful reading1' (98-99), then producing Phuongs singular status in this text becomes fundamental to the kind of strategic response that could call the basis of a security humanities into question. For his part, Fowler can only read Phuong at the same time that she eludes his narrative frame: "One always spoke of her like that in the third person as though she were not there. Sometimes she seemed invisible like peace" (Greene 1977, 45); "she was the hiss of steam, the clink of a cup, she was a certain hour of night and the promise of rest" (12); "I thought that if I smelt her skin it would have the faintest fragrance of opium, and her colour was that of the small flame" (14). Indeed, he admits "I was inventing a character just as much as Pyle was" (133). (16) As Julia Kristeva writes, "Strange indeed is the encounter with the other--whom we perceive by means of sight, hearing, smell, but do not 'frame1 within our consciousness. The other leaves us separate, incoherent ... we are not in touch with our own feelings--we feel 'stupid/ we have 'been had7" (1991, 187). Certainly Fowler feels the purported "strangeness" or otherness of Phuong: it is precisely kef story that seems "unnatural," precisely her textual proofs of innocence that mark her duplicity. And yet. the very alibis that Fowler considers suspect are themselves telling--if only in that an alibi tells that ones story is 'elsewhere.'The question Fowler repeatedly begs of Phuong and then angrily deposes--telling Pyle "I'd rather ruin her and sleep with her [than] look after her damned interests If it's only her interests you care about, for God's sake leave Phuong alone" (Greene 1977, 59)--remains at once essential, and essentially unanswerable, to the story. There is only uncertainty here. When Fowler climbs the stairs to his Hat and wonders if he'll find Phuong there, he says that "I had sent a message to Phuong, which she must have received, if she was still there. That 'if was the measure of my uncertainty" (115). The narrators story rests, finally on the measure of the "as if"--that is. on reading as chance, as a throw of the dice, on the uncertainty of the message.17 And still the story of "Phuong's interests"--her desire--remains uncoerced and unverihahle. outside the text.
Pluiong's story models, in other words, a way to think about how we might read and teach the Quiet American in a 'post-9/111 or "fervently global" academy. This is what "a training in literary reading" can produce in an age of security and coercion: a strategic attention to "reading the other" that cannot be organized in advance.
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Pendleton, Robert. 1993. "Arabesques of Influence: The Repressed Conradian Masterplot in the Novels of Graham Greene." Conradiana 25.2: 83-98.
Porter, Carolyn. 1994. "What We Know That We Don't Know: Remapping American Literary Studies" American Literary History 6.3: 467-526.
Pratt, John Clark. 1996. "Introduction." In Graham Greene, The Quiet American: 'Text and Criticism. New York: Viking.
Ronell, Avital. 2001. Stupidity. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Said, Edward, 1994. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage.
Saldivar, Jose David. 2003. "In Search of the 'Mexican Elvis': Border Matters, 'Americanity,' and Post-State-Centric Thinking" Modern Fiction Studies 49.1: 84-UH).
Smith, Zadie. 2004. "Shades of Greene." The Guardian (18 September), http//www.guardian.coAik/books/2004/sep/18/classics.grahamgreene.
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Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 2004. "Righting Wrongs" South Atlantic Quarterly 103.2/3:523-81.
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Whitfield, Stephen J. 1996. "Limited Engagement: The Quiet American as History." Journal of American Studies 30.1: 65-86.
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Portions of this essay were presented at the 2002 Red River Conference on World Literature, and the 2006 Louisville Conference on Literature & Culture since 1900. My thanks go Co Qadri Ismail, John Movvirt, Julia Musha, Rita Raley, Adam Sitze, and Ben Reder for their patient comments and suggestions.
(1.) I thank the anonymous reader for CoBeg? Literature for suggesting this connection.
(2.) The statc-of-the-field debate frames the decade leading to 9/1 1; see Porter (1994) and Adams (2001).
(3.) The first him, directed by Joseph Mankiewicz (1958) was vetted by the CIA to turn Pyle into a heroic crusader against Communism, much to Greene's distress. Philip Noyces version (2002) keeps closer to the novel in treating Fowler And Pyle with considerable nuance, but also had an odd fate: after successful early screenings, it was shelved after September 11 for what were perceived as its anti-American sentiments. William S. Bushneirs"Paying for the Damage: The Quiet American Revisited" (2006) provides an excellent history of the film adaptations; see also Pratt (1996), Weales (2003), and Whitfield (1996) for summaries of the novels historical context and reception.
(4.) Slavoj Zizeek. prominent critical theorist of the left, has deemed the novel "more relevant than ever" (2004,2005), while conversely George W. Bush took the Opportunity of a 2007 speech to the Veterans of Loreign Wars to warn against the "costly niisimpressiora" of the "Graham Greene argument" (Bush 2007). Some typical journalistic references to the novel during the Bush administration include Niall 1 erguson (2004), Saul Landau (2002), Laura Miller (2004), Nov Thrupkaew (2003), and George Will (2004). Andrew Bacevich recently revived Greene's novel in light of the current Obama administration's internationil concerns (2009).
(5.) A. A. DeVitis writes that "Fowler and Pyle are conceived as Conradian dou bles" (1986, 109). On Fowler's literary predecessors, see also Pendleton (1993) and Bergonzi (2006).
(6.) Conversely, Anthony Burgess writes that" the Quiet American is a work of fiction told m first-person narrative, and it was wrong for some commentators to identify the narrator with the author--a most implausible identification, anyway. With a first-person narrative there is no obligation on the authors part to be fair, just, dispassionate.... On the other hand, there is no doubt that the image of the American campaign in Vietnam accords pretty well with Greene's own American philosophy: the Americans may mean well, but they are naive, and in any case benevolence is dangerous if it is an expression of a twisted view of the desirable life" (1967, 96).
(7.) Writing about Our Man in Havana in "Fictions about Fictions," Urbashi Barat notes that Greenes novels "have always expressed a belief that creativity and vitality are more important than 'truth' ... [their] horizons widen far beyond the limitations of the strict and literal truth that hedges in everyday life" (1994, 25-6).
(8.) Two exemplary moments: Fowler receives a "congratulatory telegram for pro motion," which he reads as the Jamesian "turn of the screw" that could mark the end of the affair and Pyles victory (accepting the promotion means he will have to leave Saigon and Phuong to his rival). lie writes to his editor in London to decline the position, then destroys the letter, fearing his affair will go public and he will be ridiculed for it (Greene 1977, 67, 72). hater he and Phuong argue over the status of telegrams (read by censors) versus the privacy of letters (from his wife) (117).
(9.) Giroux warns that "while the collaboration between the national security state and higher education developed during the Cold War.... the post-9/11 resurgence of patriotic commitment and support on the part of faculty and administrators towards the increasing militarization of daily life runs the risk of situating academia within a larger project in which the militarized narratives, values, and pedagogical practices of the warfare state become commonplace" (2008, 58).
(10.) In very much the tone of the novel, Spivak derides the security work of "Professor Anthony Giddens"by calling him our current "academic spokesperson of the Third Way" (2004,536).
(11.) For Spivak, reading is "not so much a sense of being responsible for, but of being responsible to" (2004. 537).
(12.) Keenan s pedagogical practice ofjust reading/ reading justly is exemplified by Derrida's notion of a "democracy to come" (2004) and Derek Attridge's concept of the "singularity of literature" (2004).
(13.) The OLD defines "survey" as a way of looking and discerning value especially "as from a height or commanding position"--and gives its sense of compre hensive scrutiny, oversight and telescopic inspection particularly in the context of "exploring a country." Weber notes that "to survey" comes from skopos and thus carries a military sense of sighting ones mark, containing ones target, and taking aim. As relates to Dimock's institutional metaphor (the "spatial coordinates on a map" circumscribing American literature), the meaning of "survey" is especially interesting: it links the security of "American literature" precisely to the question of pedagogy. I thus include Greenes novel in my American literature survey course as a challenge to the scopic knowledge of the survey--that is, to the seemingly inherent and often unspoken "literary causality" of its pedagogical terrain.
(14.) According to Shoshana Felman, the promise of marriage "dramatizes ... a sort of internal cleavage" in language, a performative inconstancy or insecurity between word and deed (2003, 13).
(15.) Some counter-examples to this critical tradition include William Bonney, who attempts to discern the text's feminist politics through Fowler, but who leaves Phuong a figure without agency (1991); and Su/anne Kehde, who reads the homosocial plot between Fowler and Pyle as the basis for their chauvinism and misogyny, but who sees no avenue in the rext for reading Phuong otherwise: "Although Greene does suggest that the rivalry of imperial nations, specifically that of Britain and the United States, can be read through the lens of the family romance, there is no hint that he recognizes the way in which imperialism subsumes the colonized into already existent structures of gender relations" (1994, 253).
(16.) Matt Steinglass writes that "If The Quiet American ... feels a bit off", its Vietnamese seem strangely absent. Phuong is at the novels fulcrum: she stands tor a Vietnam in play between exhausted, colonial Europe (Fowler) and the rising American hegemon (Pyle)," bur she remains "a pliant cipher" Steinglass argues for Phuongs singularity by noting that the book "doesn't really claim to show us Phuong. It shows us P'owlers idea of Phuong, and his frustration at his inability to grasp her." But Steinglass also paradoxically subsumes her: "What's true of Greenes treatment ot Phuong is true of the book as a whole: it never really shows us Vietnam. What we get instead are the expats'and colonials' failed attempts to grasp Vietnam" (2005).
(17.) No doubt this is why Rascal is Fowler's philosopher and Qmtre Cent Vingt-et-un his dice game.
Karen Steigman is Assistant Professor of English at Otterhein University. She is currently working on a project tracing the role of security in literary studies.
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