Purity in a Pandemic – Hypocrisy (End of Part Two)

In the span of what appears to be 100 pages, Wolf commits a murder, buries a body, and witnesses the collapse of the Soviet Union first hand.

After he murders Horst and subsequently buries him, the events after are eerily calm. For two years he hides out and waits to be arrested, but it never comes. At one point the Vicar who is Wolf’s ward answers questions from two agents, but there is no follow up. Suddenly Wolf’s mother arrives, and now Andreas needs a favor: as is typical in a command and control economy, they have files on everyone, and he fears that he is no different. Having known that there must have been some investigation that, once the presiding government collapses, a new one will come in and do the methodical police work that could get Wolf arrested. He asks his mother to convince his father to grab the file.

A lot of plot happens very quickly: we see a transformed Annagret (based on a spiky haircut and edgy earrings, lol Franzen), we see a reunification between Andreas and his father, where we get a confirmation that he is not his biological father (a thing that she has denied multiple times), and we hear that his mother used his idea on his father to get her file instead, which was “lengthy” according to him. Andreas comes clean to his father on why he wants his file, and his father therefore convinces him to go in himself, whereby either through dumb luck or through a planned twist, he is able to grab his files from the archive and make a run for the front door, just in time to be in front of cameras. Before they can grab Wolf, he announces his “true” motivations for being there, as an undercover observing agent of the Committee of Normannenstra├če. He leaves his files in the church under a mattress, rather than burning them, and meets what will likely be a new main character named Tom Aberrant.

The word to use here is hypocrisy. The leader of the Sunlight Project made efforts to conceal a past action, in order to protect himself and Annagret. He states that he is more like his father, a legalist, than he is like his mother, but in truth he reverses the label in his mind. Like his mother, he would much rather strive for fitness than for truth. Which means that this is much more an issue of power and control than it is about transparency and knowledge.

We’ll have to see just exactly when this Chekhov Gun in the form of hidden files comes back up later in the novel. Similar to the goldfinch painting in Donna Tartt’s pulitzer winning novel, it is the absurdity that binds Theo, and clearly this information will be something that eventually binds Wolf as well.

Privacy is a very interesting concept. On the one hand, Slavoj Zizek seems to not care, because as he claims the information they have on him is of him watching boring movies and buying coffee and saying obscenities and wiping his nose with his hand. To contrast him, Noah Yuval Harrari is very concerned about the state of surveillance, particularly in Israel, where now with coronavirus scare, many countries are taking the opportunity to gobble up gaps in information and sequester them firmly in control of leading powers. In Homo Deus, he worries that the capacity for algorithms to prepare pleasant sounds and sights for each human may intensify echo chambers and render critical thinking among the masses more difficult than ever.

So…who is right?

Well on the one hand, a long time ago, privacy was not really a concept at all. Can we really imagine hunter-gatherer societies embracing not only private ownership, but privacy at large? Similar to The Scarlet Letter, to be private was to be exiled. It was not a compliment.

On the other hand, the amount of norms that a citizen in a globalized world must navigate in order to be privy to the benefits of in-group bias are never-ending. There’s the workplace group, with its categories and cliques. There’s relationship and family life, where a person is either totally free to be themselves (in a modern loving and emotional sense) or be once again made to put on another mask (in traditional, hierarchical marriages). There’s the changing and shaving away of personal opinions in the political environment of red and blue states, of filial piety when speaking to parents, and the conversations in religious centers of church, mosque, or synagogue. Not only that, but there is a larger social media that has digitized citizenship and curated our expression. Who hasn’t heard of a company not checking social media for signs of weakness in an applicant? Who hasn’t been Googled after a successful first date on OkCupid?

Privacy is not a demand for more power, it is a survival technique. In one context, what Wolf did could be seen as just: to imagine Annagret being forced on Horst sexually for two more years before the fall of the Berlin Wall would have been unthinkable. All we have now are the vigilante actions taken to render more horrible atrocities invisible. But now they are just that, invisible. No one will be able to see just how much Horst could have continued to be a bad person. All they see are the bad actions of Wolf.

Now, years later and totally out of context for what the Soviet Union was like back then, the agency of the information damning Wolf is much larger. Wolf’s father advocates for transparency. If he went in and confessed now, knowing full well that he could have ignored prison, and knowing that the power of the government to execute an arrest, would go much farther in his favor.

Wolf’s success in getting out is a typical youthful mistake, so excited with getting his file that he doesn’t follow through with the plan.

The following part, “Too Much Information,” seems to be a change of perspective yet again, setting up pieces before a great chess game is played.

I must say that, while I had a great amount of feeling and affective emotion towards Pip growing up in a difficult age for a young adult, I had much more of an intuitive and brain-y take on Andreas’s past. How far are we willing to go to defend transparency and privacy, and how can context be hijacked years after an event?

One of my first disappointments of the book concerns the lack of a resolution between Wolf and his mother, though I suspect for me to have that feeling was entirely intentional. It wasn’t as if she was willing to express that openly, and it wasn’t as if Wolf was trusting enough to receive it. Perhaps they will have some kind of ending in the future. Perhaps not.

All interactions with parents are done in medias res.

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