“It’s in your interests that your neighbor should be in your debt….”

Deza interprets people for a living, at least when he’s working for the group, and today I’ll do some interpreting of Deza. I may even make some progress toward answering the question of why Deza and his wife cannot live together.

Deza lives his life in a strange position during much of the trilogy. He frequently notes that the reality of his life seems muted because he’s living in a different country than his own. In Spain, he could probably not have held a job like he has with MI6—not because it wouldn’t exist, or because he couldn’t get hired, but because he wouldn’t want to perform the duties or think so much about his patria—because, in short, of his discomfort with the state.

He’s not alone in this discomfort. Sir Peter Wheeler seems to share it to a large extent. In “Fever,” while he’s discussing the Spanish Civil War with Deza, Sir Peter tells him that:

‘They’re all oppressors, its amazing that people don’t realize this ab ovo, it makes little difference what cause they’re fighting for, what public cause, of what their propaganda motives are. Frauds and transcendental innocents alike all describe these motives as historical or ideological, I would never call them that, it’s too ridiculous. It’s amazing that some people still believe there are exceptions, because there aren’t any, not in the long run, and there never have been. Well, can you think of any? The Left as the exception, how absurd. What a waste.’

Later in “Fever,” Sir Peter makes two key points against the state: that those in power wield an authority frightening beyond imagination, and that the general public—those who allegedly legitimate the power of the first group—is too hopelessly stupid to protect you from them.

‘[Y]ou have no idea how frightening it is when someone with power and influence decides to deny you, or when many people band together in agreement, although agreement isn’t always necessary, all that’s needed is a malicious deed or word that takes and spreads like fire, and convinces others, it’s like an epidemic. You don’t know how dangerous persuasive people can be, never pit yourself against such people unless you are prepared to become even more despicable than they are and unless you’re sure that your imagination, no, your capacity for invention is even greater than theirs, and that your outbreak of cholera will spread faster and in the right direction. You have to bear in mind that most people are stupid. Stupid and frivolous and credulous, you have no idea just how stupid, frivolous and credulous they are, they’re a permanently blank sheet without a mark on it….’

Deza dutifully reports these disquisitions from Sir Peter, but for now at least keeps himself a bit to himself. He clearly feels sympathy, especially where the subject is the Spanish Civil War, as he was affected personally by much of what happened there in the name of, or in pursuit of, the state.

For his own part Sir Peter, participant that he was, must have believed his imagination and capacity for invention were top-notch, that his outbreaks of cholera would spread fast and far and wide. He also seems like he may simply have been willing to run that risk. Tupra, though, is always so sure of himself—partly because we see him really acting, not just recalling events from decades earlier, and his arrogance is unmistakable.

For example, Deza expresses misgivings about Tupra’s collection of poison, the videos that include some people doing truly immoral and even evil things, and many people doing simply embarrassing or perhaps illegal things, which exist only so that someone like Tupra can take advantage of the fact “that people should be weak or base or greedy or cowardly, that they should fall into temptation and drop the occasional very large gaffe, or even be party to or commit misdemeanors.” Tupra recognizes the reality completely, admits it, but has no compunction whatsoever.

‘[I]t’s the bedrock of the State. The State needs treachery, venality, deceit, crime, illegal acts, conspiracy, dirty tricks (on the other hand, it needs very few acts of heroism, or only now and then, to provide a contrast). If those things didn’t exist, or not enough, the State would have to invent them. It already does. Why do you think new offenses are constantly being created? What wasn’t an offense becomes one, so that no one is ever entirely clean. Why do you think we intervene in and regulate everything, even where it’s unnecessary or where it doesn’t concern us? We need laws to be violated and broken. What would be the point of having laws if everyone obeyed them? We’d never get anywhere. We couldn’t exist. The State needs infractions, even children know that, although they don’t know that they know. They’re the first to commit them. We’re brought up to join in the game and to collaborate right from the start, and we keep playing the game until the very last, even when we’re dead. The debt is never settled.’

Deza internalizes this argument somewhat, later mulling the poisonous tapes and the “boring or sordid” episodes from them, as opposed to the violent ones, noting that “drugs really provide a lot of material, perhaps that’s why no government wants to legalize them, it would mean reducing the number of possible offenses.” And while he only judges Tupra on these holdings in the most oblique of ways, he’s not comfortable with what all this power means, just as he’s not comfortable when he finds De la Garza is viscerally afraid of him after his beating.

Before that beating, Deza is searching the ladies’ room at the disco for De la Garza or at least his companion, Mrs. Manoia. He pretends to be a security guard and questions the line of women who are sitting in their stalls to make sure they are alone and not his prey. He notes the submissiveness of most of the voices, along with just one angry one. “[G]iven that people now meekly allow themselves to be frisked at any airport or public building, and obediently take off their shoes or even get undressed at the orders of some grim-faced customs officer,” he comments in the narrative, “it is little wonder that they should accept importunate demand and interruptions and impertinent questions even while engaged in the most private of occupations.” Government workers making importunate demands—people like himself and Tupra, that is—are “grim-faced” in his mind, and “impertinent,” and invaders of privacy and dignity. In the previous volume, Sir Peter planted this specific seed, complaining about “these pusillanimous, authoritarian fools” in control after September 11, 2001. “We didn’t fight those who wanted to control each and every aspect of our lives only to see our grandchildren come along and slyly but very precisely fulfil the crazed fantasies of the very enemies we vanquished,” he says—but to some extent, at least, he’s passing Deza on to just one such grandchild.

But what does any of this have to do with Luisa? Deza’s ultimate discomfort, expressed sometimes as a discomfort with the state, is really with people, or other people. All those faces he didn’t want to become yesterday? They weren’t all bad. But Deza doesn’t want anyone else’s face. All the talk about not talking—Deza doesn’t want to share anything with other people, because they simply aren’t to be trusted. Distance must be maintained for one’s own protection. And his frustration is especially apparent when “other people” work themselves up into a society (just the kind of thing that created the state). He narrates his own former stream of consciousness in “Dance”:

‘Perhaps I should simply say straight out: “What makes you think you have the right to ask me a favour, any favour at all? Because you don’t, when you think about it, no one has the right to ask anyone, even the return of a thousand favours received is entirely voluntary, there’s no law that demands it, at least no written law.” But we never dare say such things, not even to the stranger who approaches us and whom we do not like and who makes us feel uneasy.’

This is what Deza wishes he could say. He wants to avoid entanglements. He can see very well they are unavoidable. And he blames himself—he is his own fever, his own spear (He never was the marrying type, and yet somehow…). If only he could have been more like De la Garza:

That is the good fortune of the arrogant, they never feel responsible or have a bad conscience because they have no conscience and are totally irresponsible, they are bewildered and taken aback by any punishment or slight, even one they have determinedly brought on themselves, they are never at fault, and often convince others, as if by contagion, of that spontaneous conviction of theirs and end up getting off scot-free.

Note the quote in the post title. This is something Tupra tells Deza as well, during their conversation about the health of the state. But Deza sees himself, as in the quote about favors, as the potential debtor. He’s not so sure as Tupra that he will always be on the more imaginative, inventive side, with the stronger plague and the better dirt.

2 comments to “It’s in your interests that your neighbor should be in your debt….”

  • I was not thinking in this direction at all, not thinking of anything so complex. It makes sense to put everything back on Deza, onto his – whatever it is – existential anxiety, his ideology of isolation. The marriage then becomes, to some deep part of him, at least, an unrecoverable mistake.

  • An unrecoverable mistake, yes, but I think a meaningful one. Deza is not isolated from everyone; he has an inner circle of intimate relationships with family and a few friends. His love for his children is taken completely for granted. For his father too. And Luisa is still firmly within that circle. Deza may claim not to know why he always specifies that they’re separated, not divorced, but he does it an awful lot doesn’t he? The marriage tie means something real for him.