Archive for the ‘the law’ Category

Dear Chuck Grassley And Joni Ernst:

September 22, 2017

Please vote no on the Graham Cassidy health care bill. It will have a cruel and inhumane impact on the Iowans who will be deprived of health care. It is also incompetently drafted and its outcomes as described by its supporters are outright lies. Its only reason for existing is to tarnish President Obama’s legacy and placate big money donors. Please grow a conscience and do the right thing by voting no on Graham Cassidy.


Haiku Quartet, Iowa Got On The Crazy Train

September 18, 2017

“When Republicans – drive the train it most always – ends up in a wreck”

“Real estate is not – the only yardstick for wealth; – tax unreal assets”

“All Republicans – ever do is fuck up our – quality of life”

“Republican tax – cuts always take from the poor – and give to the rich”

Haiku, A Tale Of Two Americas

September 16, 2017

“The Courts refuse to – hold white cops accountable – for snuffing black lives”

Haiku Quartet, Justice For Justine

July 18, 2017

1. “Woman calls nine one – one; reports a crime; gets shot – by responding cops”

2. “Unarmed woman in – jammies gets shot by cops in clean – well lighted alley”

3. “Minnesota’s cops – are still trigger happy and – way outta control”

4. “The ugly truth: we – are a gun culture where cops – are licensed to kill”

Haiku Duet, Did You Win Or Did Everybody Lose?

May 5, 2017

“Healthy rich people – are winners; disabled poor – people are losers”

“Oh, and the bastards – also just did away with – healthy school lunches”

Haiku Duet, GOP Inflicts Cruel And Unusual Punishment

May 4, 2017

“Republicans claim – to follow Christ but love to – make people suffer”

“We must mobilize – opposition to DC’s – unholy madness”

Haiku, Pay Now Or Pay Later

April 11, 2017

“Lawyers should be on – United and O’Hare like – june bugs on dog shit”

Bartleby is the role model for how to survive a cubicle job; an office is just a large cubicle

February 27, 2008

Melville and Bartleby: Facing the End of an Audienceby Jon Thompson
Posted: February 18, 2008

Everything is again set in motion–called into question–by writing.

-Edmond Jabès

§ What can we face? The face as mystery, sign, image. “Bartleby” stages the terrible unworkability of faces, the equally terrible unknowability of our own. Facing it, face offs, to turn one’s face to the wall, to lose face, to gain it. The tragedy of each is the tragedy of all…

§ The worker consents or faces death. This is Bartleby’s recognition. But in consenting, ironically, he also faces death, the death of the self. It doesn’t matter that the self is a fiction. In fact, the murder of the fictive self, the self that finds a place within society, that has basked in social approval, is more tortuous and painful than the death of any actual self. This is what it means to “lose face.”

§ Becoming a pariah is one thing; becoming exiled from who you thought you once were is another. Or is Bartleby’s slow, deliberate journey of self-exile a journey to freedom? So: Heaven has levels, degrees. In reality, it is only an idea.

§ The slow, sad spectacle of the self, staging its own death for an audience that doesn’t exist.

§ The audience that has not yet found the means to look about and see that the drama is in the clapping, not in the performance, the one loud roar of approval that sweeps aside both the past and the future.

§ Freedom from external restraint, unto death. “Freedom-from” versus “freedom-in”: in this most free of nations, there is no freedom-in being. Your freedom is guaranteed by the right to die by yourself, with whatever self you can covet unencumbered by love or relation. No one would dream of curtailing that freedom. Bartleby: the nineteenth-century ancestor to every homeless person wandering aimlessly on America’s streets, each one the sovereign of all he surveys.

§ Bartleby never argued with anyone; he never tried to prove a point, win converts, vanquish foes. What does this lack of rhetorical aggression signify? The fruitlessness of conversion via argumentation? The failure of rhetoric? The contamination of rhetoric by a culture in which most “disinterested” expressions cloak naked self-interest? Bartleby’s “I prefer not to” exists as an assertion of will–but not will-to-truth.

§ The most destructive of all faces: benign tolerance. This is the face of Bartleby’s employer. It disguises its own intolerance within a mask of benevolence. Worse: because that intolerance cannot be admitted, it does not exist. And because it does not exist, it is free to become pitiless.

§ Behind the narrator’s courteousness, theatrical benevolence, and good manners lurks the threat of violence. Without these rhetorical forms, manners, forms of self-presentation, capitalist society would be undressed, its violence made manifest. With them, it is dressed up as civilized, moral, benevolent. Bartleby forces it to undress; he forces it to endure the shame of exposure, the danger of self-recognition. Therefore society takes its revenge upon Bartleby.

§ About Bartleby, the narrator says, “No materials exist, for a full and satisfactory biography of this man.” In being unknown and unknowable, Bartleby exists as a threat to society’s will-to-know, to narrative itself. That which is un-narratable must be narrated, must be known.

§ Everyone, everything must be faced, categorized, reported upon. To be unknown and unknowable is to incur the wrath of custom and law that demands a modest amount of submission.

§ Those about “whom nothing is ascertainable” defy the order of things, which rests on the ability to recognize, ascertain, assess. One death meets another.

§ “What my own astonished eyes saw of Bartleby, that is all I know of him.” Astonishment polices reality: it turns it into heaven or hell. Hell is what is unrecognizable; heaven is only a name for what can be recognized.

§ The voice of doxa is the voice of comfort and reassurance. It speaks–not in terms of certainties, but givens. It refuses its own name.

§ To trade in “bonds,” “mortgages” and “title deeds” is to trade in articles of possession. Within this world, language–writing–becomes the guarantor of ownership. The language of the law attempts to contain the irreducible play of meaning in language, its fundamentally mercurial dynamic nature, by means of complete discrimination, complete description. Through exactitude and precision it attempts to forestall all contingency, all unforeseen contexts. Bartleby’s refusal to yield his soul defies a social order possessed by the desire to possess everything and to translate its own imperial ambition into an idiom of benevolence and generosity.

§ The soul is what is withheld; the soul is that which is proffered without being acknowledged as such. It is then material and invisible. The achievement of Bartleby is that he maintains, in large part, the invisibility of his soul. This, too, is his tragedy; it is also the tragedy of the society that demands it.

§ What is safety in a world made “safe” by money? The mansion becomes the mausoleum.

§ “Poetic enthusiasm” will always be an embarrassment in the face of prudence and method. Prudence–thou knows not what thou art!

§ In a society in which the lack of “poetic enthusiasm” is judged to be good, any evidence of it will be seen as a weakness, a failure of restraint.

§ Wall Street. Even the name is mythological: destiny materialized within the flux of numbers rising or falling on the stock exchange. The market depends upon fluctuation, but fluctuation within limits. Wall Street creates walls, as well as the need for them. It also creates a demand for a limit to tolerance. In a market society, tolerance must be limited else there will be no profit. To be infinitely tolerant, that is, to be meaningfully tolerant, would require unending expenditure. Thus in market societies, tolerance becomes a most precious commodity; its value is dependent upon it being “cashed in” only rarely.

§ In 1653, Wall Street was named for a “barricade built by Peter Stuyveysant to protect the early Dutch settlers from the local Indians,” writes Peter Geisst in Wall Street: A History. Wall Street has always been then a place of barricades, an instrument of separation, a means to distance “entrepreneurial” settlers from the locals, a place of appropriation and exploitation. Indeed, it marks a border, a boundary, a space designed to produce both wealth and alienation. It marks a frontier; a defensive establishment already prepared against the backlash of the people beyond it. It thus exists as a predatory commercial site, though so “normalized” it virtually ceases to look or feel like one. Necessarily, it is a place of self-righteousness; wealth must be a sign of God’s favor. Yet there is uneasiness here too, rooted in the partially repressed recognition of the illegitimacy that comes from appropriation, which must always be legitimized. The aggressor must always be the victim.

§ Through his unorthodoxy, Bartleby challenges the liberal definition of benevolence. His employer, however, writes to convince us of his unsullied liberalism. The reader too is called upon to confirm the narrator’s own skewed self-image. In doing so, Melville shows the insecurity of the liberal mind–and its monstrosity. The entire world exists to confirm it in its essential benevolence. But since at some level it knows that it is not benevolent, the world exists to prop up a tattered fiction. Everything is sacrificed. The liberal mind: pitiless, egotistical, endlessly benign, endlessly serene.

§ Wall Street is presented to us as dialectic of “industry and life” by day an “emptiness” and “vacancy” by night. Bartleby shows, by contrast, the emptiness and vacancy of industry itself. Even to the narrator, Wall Street is a “Petra” and a ruined “Carthage.”

§ To blot a document for a scrivener is a mortal sin, for it reminds the reader that the law is not a distant, Olympian arbiter of right and wrong, but a frail, imperfect human institution… lawyers, not surprisingly, want to exorcise blots form their records. As if the law could be unblemished.

§ The impertinence of Bartleby: he does not negotiate the terms of his employment; he decides and acts off his own bat. Despite his mildness, his is the grossest kind of insubordination. Subordinates who take their own preferences in hand and follow them up challenge the legitimacy of authority. Thus the latent, nearly extinguished utopianism of “Bartleby”: what would be if all the wretched of the earth declared, “I prefer not to”?

§ Bartleby alone appears to be self-conscious, undeceived. This degree of self-awareness renders him unfit for labor which depends, to varying degrees, upon a dimming of self-knowledge, self-consciousness. Within American capitalism, self-knowledge brings the individual to a state of unfreedom. Its price: exile. To be self-conscious in America is to become an exile, a social outcast. Individualism becomes the compensatory myth for a society intolerant of it.

§ What is the black wall that Bartleby sees through his windowpanes? It is nothing but sheer blankness, Necessity, the limitation that he endures, the sum of limitations upon individual desire by the rule of law and social custom. It is the pitilessness of all laws, written and unwritten, that demand conformity and obedience. It is the primal scene of socialization in which the implacable order of things confronts human desire with its inhuman face.

§ To write the law over and over again, to copy it repeatedly, is to perform the individual’s subjection to the law: he is embodying it within language, enabling it to take material form; he is giving it his life force. The scrivener is not writing the law; it is writing itself through him. It is impervious to death and decay; the scrivener, by contrast, is mortal, temporal, frail, corruptible. The scrivener embodies the fate of the subject: to be subjected to the law is to be its subject. Which is synonymous with being subject-less. The irony of Melville’s parable: fleeing the death of the subject only hastens it.

§ The labor of the scrivener: writing without thinking, writing that faithfully and mindlessly duplicates the signifier, writing that has as its sole object the reproduction of the word of law–is this not a symbol of the co-opted labor of the intellectual working under the aegis of a reifying capitalism?

§ Bartleby arrives at his employer’s premises as an adult, but an adult without a history. It is this emptiness, this lack of a knowable past, the silence of his past, his solitude and lack of connection that distinguishes him, paradoxically, as history’s subject. His silence about his past only amplifies that untold drama. That past, that history, becomes too monumental to be written. It is unrepresentable, but in becoming unrepresentable, it acquires a ghostly presence. History haunts Bartleby. It is unseen but everywhere it makes itself felt with its uncanny presence. (Bartleby, too, becomes a wraith.)

§ Bartleby is stricken with life, with the burden of living.

§ Why does Bartleby begin his employment with an orgy of productivity? To obliterate the past? To identify himself with social expectation in a failed attempt to conform? The reasons are unknowable, perhaps to himself as well as Melville. That is respect for fiction.

§ Alternatively: Bartleby’s orgy of productivity at the beginning of his employment is the sign of the unconsciousness responding to the demands of everyday life. Bartleby’s frenzy mimics the law of productivity, becoming a grotesque parody of it. To live as a conformist is to live as a parody, to live as a mimic man. Bartleby prefers to live as a grotesque.

§ For Bartleby’s employer as for most representatives of the law, civil disobedience–“I prefer not to”–is a species of madness. In Paradise, refusal has always been a form of heresy, of madness. “What right do you have to reject Eden, my Eden”? (Even Ginger Nut thinks Bartleby is “luny.”)

§ For Bartleby, “reason” is unreason. Its tyranny is met by mildness, mildness that exists as reproach, gentle condemnation, a refusal to enter into the ugly economy of compulsion. Bartleby’s mildness, then, is utopian–or at least a faint sign of the utopian in a world degraded by imperatives. By contrast, Turkey affirms his employer’s rules “with submission.”

§ Bartleby is regarded by his employer as unreasonable, the very embodiment of unreason. What Bartleby forces us to see is that reason is a fiction authored by certain interests (the legal profession, the middle class, etc.) in order to legitimize themselves. Reason, of course, is always what you have but the other person does not. Since the Enlightenment, reason has been deified as Truth, but in so doing it betrays its own idealization. That which cannot be proven wrong becomes, by definition, an article of faith. We should speak of reasons rather than Reason. In actual practice, Reason has little to do with itself.

§ “Come forth and do your duty ” declares Bartleby’s employer to Bartleby. Duty: every society induces it to ensure its own reproduction. Duty is needed to overcome the inevitable revulsion toward the menial, the abhorrent, as well as the mundane. Doing one’s duty always involves an annihilation of the self–as well as a fulfillment of it.

§ Without irony, the master looks to the slave for confirmation of his essential benevolence; similarly, the employer demands of his employee that he confirm his employer’s sense of tolerance and benevolence. The annoyance Bartleby’s employer feels toward Bartleby is, if anything, exceeded by the irritation the other scriveners feel toward Bartleby for “shirking” his work. Turkey and Nipper’s inflamed response to Bartleby’s non serviam–“Shall I go and black out his eyes”–expresses the narrator’s own rage against Bartleby, a rage he cannot express himself inasmuch as it would give the lie to his own magnanimity. But it also allows him to act the role of the liberal, long-suffering employer (which in truth he is). “Bartleby” thus explores the psychic organization of labor under capitalism in which the wage earner expresses the anger and frustrations of his boss, which also become his. Melville reveals a system in which one class not only exploits another, but it also expects the exploited class to voice the angers, the frustrations, and the point of view of the dominant class, that is, the middle class. For Melville, this system is essentially two-faced. The question of voice or expression (the representation of what is internal) then becomes immensely fraught, caught up in the unconscious social imperative to speak for interests that are not one’s own. In part this explains Bartleby’s linguistic miserliness: to speak more would be to invite his speech to be infected by the speech and interests of another class. Bartleby’s linguistic minimalism resists this enforced class-based ventriloquism.

§ Failing to reform Bartleby, his employer takes it upon himself to read Bartleby’s protest as an opportunity to exercise his own moral improvement. That he fails is not a sign of his moral turpitude but a sign that moral improvement in a Puritan society is impossible.

§ Bartleby repossesses his employer’s premises. He has a fine indifference for property. Is it any wonder he must die?

§ “Immediately then the thought came sweeping across me, what miserable friendlessness and loneliness are here revealed.” To have his life interpreted for us by one with such suspect motives: this is Bartleby’s fate and that of all the dispossessed. He cannot narrate his own life, tell his own story in his own words. In Melville’s America, identity is not something you have or own; it is instead something conferred upon you by others. Identity is a function of how you are seen. In a society possessed by the drama of individualism, the social rears its ugly head by silently and efficiently forging an identity for every American, an identity that is never wholly available for inspection and understanding by the individual. The American self: one who thinks he knows himself utterly.

§ Spectre, spectator, specimen: Bartleby cannot escape the imprisonment of categories, more carceral than mortar.

§ The narrator says he feels a “bond of a common humanity” with Bartleby, yet his actions do not acknowledge the sanctity of any such bond. This then is the fate of the liberal mind: to feel one thing, but to have that feeling, that liberal sentiment, overborne by the “more practical” demands of class and the conformities a market society exacts.

§ “Pallid,” “miserable,” “silent,” “pale” “cadaverously gentlemanly”: Bartleby is not only deathly in appearance; he is death. Death to social convention, death to social custom, to normative expectation, to social behavior. Negating social expectation, Bartleby is negated. That is, he becomes more like who he is. He approaches the horizon of his identity, which is paradoxically nothing as well as being the unspeakable form of his resistance to social law. This is why the narrator pities him, hates him, loves him. As an object of pity, Bartleby’s unspoken critique of everything that narrator stands for (professionalism, class, respectability, tolerance, etc.) does not have to be engaged. Indeed, once made an object of pity his unspoken condemnation can be dismissed as eccentricity or lunacy.

§ The laws of property permit all kinds of plunder, invasion, appropriation. Because the narrator observes that Bartleby’s desk “is mine,” it, too, can be penetrated by him. He has in law, if not in ethics, a right to rifle Bartleby’s desk. The narrator possesses a will-to-truth vis-à-vis Bartleby: his mysteriousness, his reserve, his enigmatic taciturn character must be made explicable. That it is not defies the narrator’s complacently bourgeois worldview, which demands attribution, causal hermeneutics, simplicity, clarity. Bartleby gives this will-to-truth, which is also a will-to-power, no relief. What knowledge cannot know it must dismiss, pity or deligitimize as contemptible or a mere object of curiosity.

§ Bartleby: the exemplary American. He tries–and fails–to make a home for himself within the ever-mutating, ever-the-same precincts of capitalism and ends up being imprisoned by it.

§ “… standing in one of those deadwall reveries of his”: the reverie, long the ally of American self-invention, self-fashioning, can also be its undoing, especially when reverie becomes a substitute for doing. Bartleby is Benjamin Franklin’s nemesis, the presence of a horrific unproductivity in American culture that Franklin sought to annihilate or at least shame out of existence. The narrator (Benjamin Franklin’s alter ego in the story) initially feels pity for Bartleby, a pity that transmogrifies into repulsion. It is not only that Bartleby represents an entirely different principle of living; it is that he cannot be changed to be in alignment with the narrator’s complacent establishment values (“What I saw that morning persuaded me that the scrivener was the victim of an innate and incurable disorder.”) Hence Bartleby must be cast out.

§ The initial test of Bartleby’s excommunication will be whether he will divulge the particulars of his deliberately veiled history. If he refuses to do so, the narrator is determined to fine him. Significantly, he is not first asked to become more efficient. He is asked to reveal his soul, to become transparent before the gaze of his employer, to lose his identity as a separate, equal, and distinctive life, indeed to lose his private history. He is asked, in short, to become a case, an aggregate of facts, an object of narration, a known story, an employee instead of an individual. To the question, “Will you tell me anything about yourself?” Bartleby responds “I would prefer not to.”

§ Bartleby’s presence, his example, is a contagion that must be contained. Within the highly conventionalized world of employer-employee relations, preference cannot be allowed to have much more than a rhetorical significance. Preference speaks to individual will, which in Melville’s America, exists only ideologically, or at the level of enunciation. Individual will haunts America, its brick and mortar, its devil-deal with Wall Street, its boom times and its bust ones; it is dead, but its uneasy spirit is everywhere, a reminder of what has been lost, or perhaps what once was envisioned but never realized.

§ In the face of society’s “thou must,” Bartleby heroically maintains his own sense of will. He cannot be bribed to conform; he will not acknowledge the coercion of politeness, the ascendancy of manners. Yet he is not free. Obedience to social law and defiance of it are seen by Melville to be equally constraining. Defying social law defines Bartleby, almost absolutely. Wherever he turns there are walls. Bartleby is an individual who cannot free himself from his narrator, even from his author. Melvillean tragedy: narration itself as a form of subjection, unless the reader rewrites the story…

§ Self-interest, too, dictates the ultimate removal of Bartleby from the narrator’s law offices; the narrator decides he cannot afford generosity beyond the recognized border of conventional liberalism: the silent uncooperative presence of Bartleby has begun to affect his “professional reputation.” In a society actuated in the main by the profit motive, self-interest will always be the cardinal value; other pretenders exist, but none command the same degree of allegiance.

§ “What earthly right do you have to stay here? Do you pay any rent? Do you pay my taxes? Or is this property yours?” In nineteenth-century America, as now, rights are, in practice, guaranteed by money and property, not by “higher” ethical, legal, or constitutional principles. Melville’s postmortem on the body politic reveals not so much a divide between ethical and political life but a conquest of ethical principles by capitalist premises such that thinking beyond them requires an immense act of the imagination. By 1854, the “cash-payment nexus” had thoroughly colonized America; the only space outside it was the space of the imagination. The great achievement of capitalism is that it forces its dissidents and critics into exile, it forces us to inhabit the territory of the imagination, which it then delegitimizes as unreal, as mythical, a place of childish fantasy, a land of improbability. From whence will come the beast, slouching toward Bethlehem.

§ Horror–that Bartleby should dispossess his employer. He worries that “…in the end [he might] perhaps outlive me, and claim possession of my office by right of his perpetual occupancy.” Fear of dispossession leads to dispossession. Fear the devil! Possession, the devil! Legitimacy, the devil!

§ From valued employee to recalcitrant employee to enigma to apparition: by the end of the story Bartleby is made to metaphorse again: in a final incarnation he is seen to be an “intolerable incubus.” This is no exaggeration; he is an incubus. He haunts the living by his mere being. Merely being in a nonconformist fashion becomes an affront to bourgeois propriety, to professional decorum, to normativity itself. Bartleby becomes burdened with the socially unsaid in America, particularly the gap between our idealistic image of the American body politic and the harsher reality. Bartleby is–the worst sin of all–an embarrassment. He embarrasses the narrator’s notion of himself as a generous individual; he embarrasses society’s pretense to be a society in which action is grounded in principle. His mere presence mocks the American claim to have established a uniquely free polity.

§ “Bartleby” is about the magical power, the horrific power, of representation to transform lives. The narrator defines Bartleby’s life; his definition of Bartleby as an outsider, an “intolerable incubus,” becomes material, actual, in the body of Bartleby, wraithlike in prison, by the wall, awaiting death. In representing others as inhuman, supernatural, mythical, fantastic, they are metamorphosed into fiends, spirits, ghosts, devils, diseases, witches. Via this magic they can be annihilated, burned, slaughtered, converted, exorcised, chained, imprisoned, starved and mocked–made to gabble, made to flee, made to fly.

§ Once Bartleby’s employer deserts his law offices, he is finally able to separate himself from any sense of responsibility to Bartleby. But his departure does not signify a new disavowal of Bartleby, only the acting out of a disavowal that has already taken place. The disavowal merely becomes visible, public, as he makes clear to the new occupant of his former premises on Wall Street: “‘I am very sorry, sir,’ said I, with assured tranquillity, but an inward tremor, ‘”but really the man you allude to is nothing to me–he is no relation or apprentice of mine, that you should hold me responsible for him.'” What fear there is here:–fear of a social contract that would bind one individual to another, make one responsible to another, or merely genuinely responsive to another. Bartleby’s employer is desperate that he not be made “responsible for him.” He expresses a horror toward social responsibility. “Bartleby” is in this sense a dramatization of the American horror toward the notion of the social as the environment in which individual destiny receives completion. It ironizes–despairingly!–the narrator’s desire for the social to be replaced by an environment in which individuals pursue their ambitions limited only by the pressures of economic necessity, class, and a legal system firmly rooted in the prerogatives of wealth and property.

§ Within this vision, the social makes no demands on individuals vis-à-vis other ones, and should not. It is a space populated only by a single individual and his solipsistic ambitions. Yet the emptiness of this social space demands the most rigorous policing. It must not be filled up, certainly not by a vision of the social as fulfilling. The social is defined by Melville as the space of the prison yard, demarcated by “the surrounding walls, of amazing thickness.”

§ Ironically, in so privatizing the dream of the social as a source of support and enrichment, the social domain actually is reduced to becoming barren, coercive and exploitative. Melville’s irony: horror at the horror we have allowed the social to become.

§ “As I afterwards learned, the poor scrivener, when told that he must be conducted to the Tombs, offered not the slightest obstacle, but, in his pale, unmoving way, silently acquiesced.” The shameless of false pity, false piety! Bartleby acquiesces in the face of death. Pity is death too–in this sense, Bartleby’s removal to the Tombs is merely the actualization of the living death that he has already endured. Bartleby faces this fate without flinching. He acquiesces not only because he knows his end is inevitable, but because it is the ineluctable fulfillment of the social law, of social life. (To say that the social does not exist in “Bartleby” would be to simplify and to miss a finer irony. The social exists–but it exists in its purest form only negatively, punitively; it exists as a coercive power applied to those who violate the law of unfettered individualism or the law that sanctifies existence as a process of accumulation.)

§ Bartleby is imprisoned with other social discontents as a way punishing him for resisting the dictates of individualism. The strongest social taboo in Melville’s America is a taboo against thinking beyond the narrow confines of individualism. If you cannot live as an individual conforming to a liberal worldview, then you will die as something unrecognized: a true individual. Whether or not you want to conform then becomes a superannuated consideration.

§ In refusing to become an object of his employer’s gaze, Bartleby becomes an object of the gaze of murderers and thieves. His dissident behavior is lower than that of the lowest of criminals. How ironic that this most private of individuals should suffer the indignity of having his privacy stripped away, made an object of curiosity, a spectacle for the amusement of society’s outcasts (who only violated the letter, not the spirit of the law). Glassed in, he lives under the gaze of society’s condemned; his unrecorded sentence is to suffer the loss of privacy endlessly. Having defied the imperatives of materialistic individualism, he is made to endure a degraded and grotesque sociality. This is his “freedom.” And in giving him the run of the prison, society can be persuaded of its own generosity. “Being under no disgraceful charge, and quite serene and harmless in all his ways, they had permitted him freely to wander about the prison, and especially, in the inclosed grass-platted yards thereof. And so I found him there, standing all alone in the quietest of the yards, his face towards a high wall, while all around, from the narrow slits of the jail windows, I thought I saw peering out upon him the eyes of murderers and thieves.”

§ Bartleby is never charged with any crime; to charge him with one would be to face the unacknowledgeable, the brutality of the unwritten law of individualism. He is, indeed, “under no disgraceful charge.”

§ Bartleby’s face is “toward a high wall,” the wall of Necessity, the wall of repression, the wall of the law that condemns Bartleby. Bartleby can see it; he knows what it is. Likewise when saluted by his former employer who visits him in the Tombs, Bartleby replies “‘I know you,’ he said, without looking around–‘and I want nothing to say to you.'”

§ And the meretriciousness of his former employer’s response! “‘It was not I that brought you here, Bartleby,’ said I, keenly pained at his implied suspicion. ‘And to you, this should not be so vile a place. Nothing reproachful attaches to you by being here. And see, it is not so sad a place as one might think. Look, there is the sky, and here is the grass.'” The narrative voice smoothly defines reality. There is no presumption in this–for he belongs to that class that has defined reality. For those who do not have to live with the falseness of representation, hell can be a form of heaven.

§ But there is meretriciousness here, meretriciousness based on an invincible form of self-deceit. While the narrator did not technically remove Bartleby from his premises, his own behavior made that all but inevitable. The narrator will not face his complicity in bringing Bartleby to this end. He will not accept responsibility for it, or for his own actions; his is the voice of individualism: not thou but I! His rhetoric transforms himself into a martyr to Bartleby’s unwarranted and unjust suspicion; likewise, it makes a heaven of hell.

§ In the narrator’s last attempt to convert Bartleby to accept the world as it is, he encourages Bartleby to accept the “grub-man” in the Tombs as his servant. Bartleby rejects the role of master just as he rejected the role of servant.

§ His emaciated, wraith-like body symbolizes his lack of visibility, his social invisibility. Bartleby is out of bounds, beyond the narrator’s ability to recognize him. Why then eat? What is there to eat? Eating is a form of hopefulness. It expresses a hope about the future, or at least the belief that the future will be responsive to individual human desire. What is there to sustain Bartleby? His frail body records the cost of defying the social law, which enshrines mastery and slavery as society’s modus vivendi. He becomes–another–invisible man.

§ “‘Deranged? Deranged is it? Well, now, upon my word, I thought that friend of yourn was a gentleman forger; they are always pale and genteel-like, them forgers. I can’t help pity ’em–can’t help it, sir.'” This, the grub man to the narrator, about Bartleby at the story’s end. Forgers pass off fake documents as manufactured ones, as “authentic” originals. Forgers thus exist as the doppelganger to scriveners. Scriveners produce copies, but copies recognized as copies. Their copies do not destabilize this economy of authenticity; indeed they affirm it. Bartleby’s refusal to work is also a refusal to work as a scrivener, as a worker who supports this economy of authenticity. Has not the law forged itself? Has it not declared itself authentic–indeed the source of authentic behavior for the body politic? Doesn’t the law’s excessively punitive stance toward forgery betray its own anxiety about its own “authenticity,” its own insecurity about its status as the embodiment of transcendent truths about justice? Doesn’t Bartleby’s wasted body declare the inauthenticity of the law, and the inauthenticity of the lawyer-narrator who presumes to narrate Bartleby’s life?

§ “Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men? Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than by continually handling these dead letters, and assorting them for the flames. For by the cart-load they are annually burned. Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring–the finger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the grave; a bank note sent in swiftest charity–he whom it would relieve, nor eats nor hungers any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities. On errands of life, these letters speed to death. Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!”

§ The fact that the narrator–the agent of Bartleby’s destruction–is also his elegist is a sign of the text’s veiled outlook: he signifies either the first shoots of change, or the final cruelty of the dream of a New Jerusalem in the New World.

§ “Bartleby the Scrivener” is composed of dead letters: the dead letter of the law; the dead letters of a constitutional democracy; the death of individualism; the death of narrative’s power to transform social failure; the death of authenticity and benevolence; the death of humanity. Just as dead letters are letters sent too late to those who were despairing, and now are dead, so too “Bartleby” is a dead letter sent to a reading public, which by accepting, indeed internalizing, compromised versions of freedom and community, is also dead.

§ But the letter itself, like the letters Bartleby consigned to the flames, is also charged with redemptive energy, with the desire to redeem loss and failure. The irony is ineluctable: redemption for those who are beyond it. The imperative is to look at the death-face of the American body politic face on, to see it in all of its ghastly pallor. Seeing–recognition–is the necessary prerequisite for social transformation. Melville’s text is haunted by loss, by almost-extinguished hopes. Hauntings terrorize, but they may also be quests for redemption. Just as it awaits a general resurrection of all dead letters, Melville’s text awaits, still, its audience.

All references to “Bartleby the Scrivener” are from Herman Melville’s Billy Budd and Other Stories, edited and introduced by Frederick Busch (New York: Penguin Classics, 1986).


Jon Thompson teaches at North Carolina State University where he edits the online journal Free Verse: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry & Poetics and the new poetry series, Free Verse Editions. His first collection, The Book of the Floating World, has just been reissued in an expanded edition. Thompson’s essay on “Bartleby” is part of a book-length manuscript entitled After Paradise: Essays on the Fate of American Writing.

Good intentions; unintended consequences

February 27, 2008

N Y Times, February 26, 2008

Transplant Surgeon Charged in Patient’s Death

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — On a winter night in 2006, a disabled and brain damaged man named Ruben Navarro was wheeled into an operating room at a hospital here. By most accounts, Mr. Navarro, 25, was very near death, and doctors hoped that he might sustain other lives by donating his kidneys and liver.

But what happened to Mr. Navarro quickly went from the potentially life-saving to what law enforcement officials say was criminal. In what is believed to be the first such case in the country, prosecutors have charged the transplant surgeon, Dr. Hootan C. Roozrokh, with trying to hasten Mr. Navarro’s death to retrieve his organs sooner.

A preliminary hearing begins here on Wednesday, with Dr. Roozrokh facing three felony counts relating to Mr. Navarro’s treatment as a donor. At the heart of the case is the question of whether Dr. Roozrokh, who studied at a transplant fellowship program at the prestigiousStanford University School of Medicine, was pursuing organs at any cost or had become entangled in a web of misunderstanding about a lesser-used harvesting technique known as “donation after cardiac death.”

Dr. Roozrokh has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer said the charges were the result of overzealous prosecutors. But the case has already sent a shudder through the tight-knit field of transplant surgeons, because if convicted on all counts, Dr. Roozrokh could face eight years in prison. The case is also worrying donation advocacy groups that organ donors could be frightened away.

“If you think a malpractice lawsuit is scaring surgeons off,” said Dr. Goran Klintmalm, the president of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, “wait to see what happens when people see a surgeon being charged criminally and going to jail.”

David Fleming, the executive director of Donate Life America, a nonprofit group that promotes donations, said the case had “given some support to the myths and misperceptions we spend an inordinate amount of time telling people won’t happen.”

Mr. Fleming said about 18 people a day die in the United States waiting for transplants. That has created a tremendous demand for donor organs and over the years the medical community has established strict protocols to govern organ harvesting.

Cardiac-death donations began to go out of vogue in the late 1960s and early 1970s after medical advances like life support and subsequent changes in the legal definition of death made brain-death donations more appealing. But the procedure has been encouraged by health officials in recent years.

There were a decade-high 670 cardiac-death donations through the first nine months of 2007, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees organ allocation. In all, there were 13,223 organ donations over the same period, the vast majority with brain-dead donors

In brain-death donations, the donor is legally dead, but the organs are kept viable by machines.

In cardiac-death procedures, after the patient’s respirator is removed, the heart slows. Once the heart stops, the brain function ceases. Most donor protocols also call for a five-minute delay before the patient is declared dead. Transplant teams are not allowed in the room of the potential donor before that.

Cardiac-death donations can make some doctors and nurses skittish if they have not previously witnessed one, said Dr. Robert Sade, the former chairman of the American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs.

“It all works exactly the same, the cuts and the procedure,” Dr. Sade said. “But the circumstances are quite different.”

Several days after Mr. Navarro was hospitalized at the Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center here, a decision was made to remove his respirator. According to the criminal complaint, Dr. Roozrokh ordered excessive doses of morphine and Ativan, an anti-anxiety medicine, both of which are commonly used as comfort medicines for dying patients. He also ordered the introduction of Betadine, an antiseptic usually used after death to clean organs for transplantation, the criminal complaint says.

Mr. Navarro died about eight hours later of what the coroner would later rule as natural causes. In the end, because the death was not more immediate, his organs had deteriorated so much that they were unusable for a transplant.

Prosecutors have charged Dr. Roozrokh with felony counts of dependent adult abuse, mingling a harmful substance and unlawful controlled substance prescription. The doctor’s lawyer, M. Gerald Schwartzbach, said Dr. Roozrokh, a 34-year-old Iranian émigré and academic All-American swimmer who grew up in Wisconsin, did “nothing that adversely affected the quality or length” of Mr. Navarro’s life.

“Dr. Roozrokh is a brilliant young surgeon, who has dedicated his life to saving lives,” Mr. Schwartzbach said. Neither the police nor prosecutors would comment on the case.

Mr. Navarro was diagnosed with adrenal leukodystrophy, or A.D.L., a debilitating nerve disease, when he was 9. “He would walk like he was drunk,” said his mother, Rosa, a Guatemalan immigrant. “And when he would play, he would fall like Bambi.”

By his early 20s, however, Mr. Navarro’s mental and physical condition had deteriorated to a point where he was placed in an assisted-care facility.

On Jan. 29, 2006, Ms. Navarro received a call from the facility that her son had been found unconscious, in cardiac and respiratory arrest, but that he had been revived and transported to Sierra Vista. His brain had been damaged from lack of oxygen.

Several days later, with no sign of improvement, Ms. Navarro says she was told by a doctor at the hospital, whose name she did not know, that her son would never recover and that he would be disconnected from life support.

Ms. Navarro, a disabled machinist from Oxnard, Calif., said she did not have enough money to stay another night near her son. She said that

shortly after leaving the hospital, she received a call from the California Transplant Donor Network, a nonprofit organ procurement organization. On a tape recording made by the transplant network, Ms. Navarro agreed to donate her son’s organs, saying she did not want her “boy to suffer too long.”

Late on Feb. 3, a transplant team including Dr. Roozrokh arrived at the hospital. .

According to a police interview with Jennifer Endsley, a nurse, Dr. Roozrokh stayed in the room during the removal of the respirator and gave orders for medication, something that would violate donation protocol. Ms. Endsley, who stayed to watch because she had never seen the procedure, also told the police that Dr. Roozrokh also asked an emergency room nurse to find and administer more “candy” — meaning drugs — after Mr. Navarro did not die after the removal of his respirator.

Mr. Schwartzbach, the lawyer for Dr. Roozrokh, said he would address the allegations in court. “I think a great many people, — lay and medical, — will realize they have been significantly misinformed,” he said.

Several months after the incident, , federal health officials cited the hospital for a series of lapses, including allowing a person without clinical privileges, Dr. Roozrokh, to prescribe controlled substances. Last February, the United Network for Organ Sharing reprimanded the California Transplant Donor Network, for breaking “established protocol” in the case. The donor network declined to comment.

Ms. Navarro has filed a civil suit against Dr. Roozrokh, the donor network and other doctors in the operating room and has settled a lawsuit against the hospital. A spokesman for the hospital, Ron Yukelson, said it was correcting the problems raised by the case.

Ms. Navarro said she remained angry about the way her son’s life ended.

“He didn’t deserve to be like that, to go that way,” she said. “He died without dignity and sympathy and without respect.”

Melanie Carroll contributed reporting from San Luis Obispo.

If the races had been reversed; i.e. white home owner & carloads of black teenagers, do you have any doubt that the charge would have been dismissed?

February 27, 2008



Race, memory, and a killing in the suburbs.

by Calvin TrillinMARCH 3, 2008

John White’s trial made two fathers the focus of Suffolk County’s racial divide.

John White’s trial made two fathers the focus of Suffolk County’s racial divide.

hat happened at the foot of the driveway at 40 Independence Way that hot August night in 2006 took less than three minutes. The police later managed to time it precisely, using a surveillance camera that points directly at the street from a house a couple of doors to the north. The readout on the surveillance tape said that it was 23:06:11 when two cars whizzed by going south, toward the cul-de-sac at the end of the street. At 23:09:06, the first car passed back in front of the camera, going north. A minute later, a second car passed in the same direction. In the back seat of that second car—a black Mustang Cobra convertible—was a seventeen-year-old boy named Daniel Cicciaro, Jr., known to his friends as Dano. He was unconscious and bleeding profusely. He had been shot through the cheek. A .32-calibre bullet was lodged in his head.

Normally, at that time of night, not many cars are seen on Independence Way, a quiet street in a town called Miller Place. Just east of Port Jefferson, on the North Shore of Long Island, Miller Place is in the part of Suffolk County where the commuters have begun to thin out. To the east is a large swatch of the county that doesn’t seem strongly connected to the huge city in one direction or to the high-priced summer resorts and North Fork wineries in the other. The house at 40 Independence Way is part of a development, Talmadge Woods, that five or six years ago was a peach orchard; it’s now a collection of substantial two-story, four-bedroom houses that the developer started offering in 2003 for about half a million dollars each. The houses vary in design, but they all have an arched front door topped by the arched glass transom known in the trade as a Palladian window—a way to bring light into the double-height entry hall. When people are asked to describe the neighborhood, they tend to say “upper middle class.” The homeowner with the surveillance system is an orthodontist.

Miller Place could also be described as overwhelmingly white. According to a study released a few years ago, Long Island is the single most segregated suburban area in the United States. The residents of 40 Independence Way—John and Sonia White and their youngest son, Aaron—are African-American and so are their next-door neighbors, but the black population of Miller Place is less than one-half of one per cent. The Whites, who began married life in Brooklyn in the early seventies, had moved to Miller Place after ten years in North Babylon, which is forty minutes or so closer to the city. “You want to raise your family in a safe environment,” John White, a tall, very thin man in his early fifties, has said, explaining why he was willing to spend three hours a day in his car commuting. “The educational standards are higher. You want to live a comfortable life, which is the American dream.” One of the Whites’ sons is married, with children of his own, and a second is in college in the South. But Aaron was able to spend his senior year at Miller Place High School, which takes pride in such statistics as how many of its students are in Advanced Placement history courses. Aaron, an erect young man who is likely to say “sir” when addressing one of his elders, graduated in June of 2005. He was one of four black students in the class.

In an area where home maintenance is a priority, 40 Independence Way could hold its own. John White is a serious gardener—a nurturer of daylilies and clematis, a planter of peel-bark birch trees—and someone who had always been proud, maybe even touchy, about his property. People who have been neighbors of the Whites tend to use the word “meticulous” in describing John White; so do people who have worked with him. He has described himself as “a doer”—someone too restless to sit around reading a book or watching television. He says that he’s fished from Nova Scotia to the Bahamas. He’s done a lot of hunting—a pastime he was taught by his grandfather Napoleon White, whose family’s migration from Alabama apparently took place after a murderous attack by the Ku Klux Klan. At the Faith Baptist Church, in Coram, Long Island, John White sang in both the men’s choir and the mixed Celebration Choir. A couple of polished-wood tables in the Whites’ house were made by him. He’s a broadly accomplished man, and proud of it. His wife, who was born in Panama, works as a manager in a department store and has that Caribbean accent which, maybe because it’s close to the accent of West Indian nurses, conveys both competence and the firm intention to brook no nonsense. The Whites’ furniture tastes lean toward Stickley, Audi. Their sons dress in a style that’s preppy. Sitting in his well-appointed family room, John White could be taken for middle management.

But he doesn’t have the sort of education or occupation that would seem to go along with the house he lives in. After graduating from a technical program at Samuel Gompers High School, he worked as an electrician for seven or eight years and then, during a slow time for electricians, he began working in the paving industry. For the past twenty-five years, he has worked for an asphalt company in Queens, patching the potholes left by utility repair crews. He is often described as a foreman, which he once was, but he says that, partly because of an aversion to paperwork, he didn’t try to reclaim that job after it evaporated during a reduction in the workforce. (“I’m actually a laborer.”) On August 9, 2006, a Wednesday, he had, as usual, awakened at three-thirty in the morning for the drive to Queens, spent the day at work, and, after a stop to pick up some bargain peony plants, returned to what he calls his “dream house” or his “castle.” He retired early, so that he could do the same thing the next day. A couple of hours later, according to his testimony, he was awakened by Aaron, who, with a level of terror John White had never heard in his son’s voice, shouted, “Dad, these guys are coming here to kill me!” Instead, as it turned out, John White killed Daniel Cicciaro, Jr.

here had been a birthday party that evening for Craig Martin, Jr., a recent Miller Place High School graduate. Craig lives with his parents and his younger sister, Jennifer, in Sound Beach—a town just to the east that grew into a year-round neighborhood from what had begun as beach lots purchased in the twenties as part of a Daily Mirrorcirculation-promotion scheme. The party was mostly in the Martins’ back yard, where there was an aboveground pool, a lot of cold beer, and a succession of beer-pong games. This was not the A.P.-history crowd. Craig was connected to a number of the boys at the party through an interest in cars. Some of them were members of the Blackout car club, a loose organization of teen-agers who, in good weather, gather in the parking lot of the Stop & Shop mall in Miller Place on Thursday nights for an informal car show—displaying cars whose lights and windows are likely to have been tinted in pursuit of sleekness. Dano Cicciaro (pronounced Danno Cicero) was a regular at Stop & Shop, driving a white Mustang Mach 1 with two black stripes. Dano had grown up in Selden, a blue-collar town to the south, and finished at Newfield High School there after his family moved in his senior year to one of a half-dozen houses clustered around a cul-de-sac called Old Town Estates, in Port Jefferson Station.

His father, Daniel Cicciaro, Sr., runs an automobile-repair shop in Port Jeff Station called Dano’s Auto Clinic—a two-bay operation that also has some used cars parked in its lot, their prices marked on the windshields. Dano’s Auto Clinic is where Dano, Jr., spent a lot of his spare time. As a boy, he had the usual range of interests, his father has recalled, but “as he turned into a teen-ager it was all cars.” Even as a teen-ager, he ran a car-detailing business out of the shop, and he’d planned to keep that up when he started at Suffolk County Community College in the fall. Dano, Jr.,’s long-term plan was to take over Dano’s Auto Clinic someday and expand its services. “He did exactly as I did, in that he set goals for himself and conquered them, never sitting idle,” a Newsday reporter was told by Daniel Cicciaro, Sr., a father who’d felt the validation of having a son who was eager to follow his calling and work by his side.

Aaron White, who had finished his first year at Suffolk County Community College, was having dinner that evening in Port Jefferson with Michael Longo, his best friend from Miller Place High School. From having attended a few of the Stop & Shop gatherings, Aaron knew some of the car crowd, and, while phoning around for something to do, he learned about the birthday party at the Martins’. Craig greeted Aaron cheerfully enough, but a few minutes later Jennifer, who was then fifteen, told her brother that, because of a past incident, she felt frightened in Aaron’s presence. Dano Cicciaro was assigned to ask Aaron to leave. It isn’t clear why he was given that task. It couldn’t have been his size: Dano was five feet four and weighed a hundred and twenty-nine pounds. It certainly wasn’t his sobriety. Dano was drunk. When his blood-alcohol content was checked later at the hospital, it was almost twice the level required to prove intoxication. Still, Dano, who thought of himself as a protective older brother to Jennifer, handled the situation smoothly, saying to Aaron something like “It’s nothing personal, but you’ll have to leave.” Aaron later said that he was puzzled (“I never get kicked out of parties”), but he got into his car and drove back to Miller Place.

When Dano learned exactly why Jennifer felt uncomfortable around Aaron, she later testified, “he freaked out.” While in an Internet chat room with a couple of other boys, Jennifer told Dano, Aaron had posted a message saying that he wanted to rape her. Obtaining Aaron’s cell-phone number from Michael Longo, Dano touched off what became a series of heated calls involving several people at the party. Dano wanted to confront Aaron immediately. It didn’t matter that Aaron denied having posted the message. It didn’t matter that the posting had taken place nine months before and that Jennifer’s real older brother, Craig, had actually forgotten about it. In court many months later, Jennifer Martin was asked if she’d eventually learned that the offending message had not, in fact, been sent by Aaron—it had grown out of something said on a MySpace account set up in Aaron’s name as a prank—and she answered in the affirmative. That didn’t matter, either, because by then it was much too late. On the evening of August 9th, when Jennifer told Dano about the rape posting, there were other elements involved. A lot of beer had been consumed. It was late in the evening, a time when the teen-age penchant for melodrama tends to be in full flower. Dano was filled with what Paul Gianelli, one of John White’s defense attorneys, called “a warped sense of chivalry” and Dano’s godfather, Gregg Sarra, preferred to characterize as “valor, protecting a woman, honor.” For whatever reason, Dano Cicciaro and four of his friends were soon heading toward the Whites’ house in two beautifully painted and carefully polished cars that passed the orthodontist’s surveillance camera when its readout said 23:06:11.

What happened when they got there remains a matter of sharp dispute. There is no doubt that the boys were displaying no weapons when they got out of their cars, although one of them, Joseph Serrano, had brought along a baseball bat that remained in the back seat of the Mustang. There is no doubt that John White emerged from his garage carrying a pre-Second World War Beretta pistol that he kept there—part of an inheritance from his grandfather that had also included, White later said, “rifles and shotguns and a lot of advice.” Aaron was a few steps behind him, carrying a 20-gauge shotgun. There is no doubt that Dano “slapped” or “whacked” or “grabbed” the Beretta. There is no doubt that, before the shot was fired, there had been shouting and foul language from both sides. The tenor of the conversation, the defense team eventually maintained, could be surmised from the tape of a 911 line that the boys did not realize was open as they rushed their friend to a Port Jefferson hospital in the black Mustang Cobra. The 911 operator can be heard saying, “Sir . . . hello . . . hello . . . sir, pick up the phone.” The boys, their muffled voices almost hysterical, can be heard shouting directions to one another and giving assurances that Dano is still breathing. The operator keeps saying, “Hello . . . sir.” Then the voice of Joseph Serrano, sitting in the back seat with his bleeding friend and his baseball bat, comes through clearly: “Fucking niggers! Dano, I’ll get ’em for you, Dano.”

Back at 40 Independence Way, John White and his son were sitting in front of their house, hugging. Sonia White was screaming, “What happened? What happened?” In the trial testimony and police reports and newspaper accounts and grand-jury minutes dealing with what occurred in the meticulous front yard of 40 Independence Way after the cars had sped away, three statements attributed to John White stand out. One was in the testimony of Officer David Murray, the first Suffolk County policeman to reach the scene, who said that John White approached him with his arms extended, saying, “I did what I had to do. You might as well put the cuffs on me.” Another is what Officer Murray said he heard John White say to his son: “I told you those friends of yours would turn on you.” The third is what Sonia White testified that her husband said to her as he walked back into their castle: “We lost the house. We lost it all.”

week after the death of Daniel Cicciaro, Jr., several hundred people turned out for his funeral, held at St. Sylvester’s Roman Catholic Church, in Medford, Long Island. The gathering was heavy with symbolism. Some of the younger mourners displayed “Dano Jr.” tattoos. Dano, Jr.,’s main car was there—the white Mustang that was familiar from Stop & Shop and had won Best Mach 1 Mustang in a competition at McCarville Ford. Gregg Sarra, a boyhood friend of Daniel Cicciaro, Sr., and a local-sports columnist for Newsday, gave the eulogy, praising his godson’s loyalty and his diligence and his gift for friendship. After the burial, some of Dano, Jr.,’s car-club friends revved their engines and chanted, “Dan-o, Dan-o, Dan-o.” As a tribute to his son, Daniel Cicciaro, Sr., attended the service in a Dano’s Auto Clinic tank top. The Stop & Shop car show that Thursday, according to a Newsday piece, turned into a sort of vigil for Dano, Jr., with Jennifer Martin helping to light a ring of candles—red and white candles, for the colors of Newfield High—around his Mustang and his first car, a Mercedes E55 AMG.

The sadness was accompanied by a good deal of anger. John White found that understandable. “I know how I would feel if someone hurt my kid,” he said in a Times interview some weeks later. “There wouldn’t be a rock left to crawl under.” Speaking to one reporter, Daniel Cicciaro, Sr., had referred to White as an “animal.” For a while after the shooting, Michael Longo—the friend who had accompanied Aaron White to the birthday party and had, as it turned out, telephoned to warn him that there were plans to jump him if he returned—slept with a baseball bat next to his bed. Sonia White later testified that after some particularly menacing instant messages (“i need ur adreass you dumb nigger”), to which Aaron replied in what sounded like a suburban teenager’s notion of gangster talk (“u da bitch tlaking big n bad like u gonna come down to my crib n do sumthin”), the Whites decided that he was no longer safe in the house, and they sent him to live outside the area.

The mourners who talked to reporters after the service rejected the notion, brought up by a lawyer for the White family shortly after the shooting, that Dano Cicciaro and his friends had used racial epithets during the argument in front of 40 Independence Way. Daniel Cicciaro, Sr.—a short man with a shaved head and a Fu Manchu mustache and an assertive manner and a lifelong involvement in martial arts—had called any connection of his son with racism “absurd.” But by the time a grand jury met, a month or so after the shooting, even the prosecutor, who would presumably need the boys as witnesses against John White, was saying that racial epithets had indeed been used. The district attorney said, though, that if John White had simply remained in his house and dialled 911, he wouldn’t be in any trouble and Daniel Cicciaro, Jr., would still be alive. The grand jury was asked to indict White for murder. Grand juries ordinarily go along with district attorneys, but this one didn’t. When the trial finally began, in Riverhead, fifteen months after the shooting, the charge was second-degree manslaughter.

The grand-jury decision may have reflected public opinion in Suffolk County, where there are strong feelings about a homeowner’s right to protect his property and his family. Suffolk County is a place where a good number of residents are active or retired law-enforcement officers, and where even a lot of residents who aren’t own guns—a place where it is not surprising to come across a plaque that bears the picture of a pistol and the phrase “We Don’t Dial 911.” James Chalifoux, the assistant district attorney who was assigned to try the case against John White, apparently had that in mind when, during jury selection, he asked jurors if they would be able to distinguish between what might be considered morally right—what could cause you to say, “I might have done the same thing”—and what was permissible under the law. He asked jurors if they could put aside sympathy when they were considering the case—meaning sympathy for John White. Judging by comments posted online in response to Newsday articles, public opinion seemed muddled by the conflict between two underpinnings of life in Suffolk County—a devotion to the sanctity of private property, particularly one’s home, and an assumption that the owner of the property is white.

Dano’s mother—Joanne Cicciaro, a primary-school E.S.L. teacher who had grown up in Suffolk County—said she was extremely disappointed that the grand jury had declined to indict John White for murder. Daniel Cicciaro, Sr., told a reporter, “Here this man points his gun at the boys and says, ‘I’m going to shoot.’ He says it three times. Then he shoots my son. To me, that’s intentional murder.” On the other hand, some of White’s strongest supporters—people like Lucius Ware, the president of the Eastern Long Island branch of the N.A.A.C.P., and Marie Michel, a black attorney who joined the defense team—believed that if a white homeowner in Miller Place had been confronted late at night by five hostile black teen-agers there would have been, in Marie Michel’s words, “no arrests, no indictment, and no trial.” The homeowner would have been judged to have had “a well-founded fear,” they thought, and if the justice system dealt with the incident in any way it would have been to charge the boys with something like breach of the peace or aggravated harassment (“What were they doing in that neighborhood at that time of night?”). For that matter, these supporters would argue, would Dano have “freaked out” if the male accused of wanting to rape Jenny Martin hadn’t been black? Wouldn’t teen-agers spoiling for a fight have dispersed if a white father walked out of the house, with or without a gun, and told them in no uncertain terms to go home? In other words, before a word of testimony had been heard, some people attending the trial of John White believed that in a just world he would have been on trial for murder instead of only manslaughter, and some believed that in a just world he wouldn’t have been on trial at all.

he Arthur M. Cromarty Court Complex is set apart from Riverhead, the seat of Suffolk County, on a campus that seems to be mostly parking lots—a judicial version of Long Island shopping malls. Those who were there to attend John White’s trial, which began just after Thanksgiving, seemed to be roughly separated by race, on opposite sides of the aisle that ran down the center of the courtroom’s spectator section. That may have been partly because the room was small and on many days the prosecution’s supporters, mostly Cicciaro relatives and young friends of Dano’s, nearly filled half of it. Dano, Jr.,’s parents did not sit next to each other—they had separated before their son’s death—but they came together as a family in hallway huddles of supporters and in speaking to the press. The people who stood out on their side of the courtroom were a couple of friends of Daniel Cicciaro, Sr., who also had shaved heads, but with modifications that included a scalp tattoo saying “Dano Jr.” Although they looked menacing, both of them could be described as designers: one is a detailer, specializing in the fancy painting of motorcycles; the other does graphic design, specializing in sports uniforms.

People on the Cicciaro side might have felt some menace emanating from the phalanx of black men, all of them in suits and ties and many of them offensive-tackle size, who escorted Aaron White (wearing a bulletproof vest) through the courthouse on the first day of his testimony and then took seats across the aisle, near some women from John White’s church choir. The escorts were from an organization called 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. On that first day, their ranks were augmented by members of the Fruit of Islam, wearing their trademark bow ties, although the black leader called to mind by John White’s life would probably be Booker T. Washington rather than Louis Farrakhan. As it turned out, there was no overt hostility between those on either side of the courtroom aisle, and, at the end of testimony, the Cicciaros made it clear that they would accept any decision the jury brought in—none of which, Joanne Cicciaro pointed out, would bring their son back. Talking to a Newsday reporter after the trial about prejudice, Daniel Cicciaro, Sr., maintained that bias existed toward what some people called skinheads. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” he said.

The four boys who accompanied Dano Cicciaro to Aaron White’s house that night are all car enthusiasts who now hold jobs that echo their high-school hobby. Alex Delgado does maintenance on race cars. Joseph Serrano is a motorcycle mechanic. Tom Maloney, who drove the Mustang Cobra, sells Volkswagens. Anthony Simeone works for his father’s auto-salvage business. Among those who testified that they’d tried to prevent Dano from going to the Whites’ house were Alex Delgado, who drove him there, and Joseph Serrano, who brought along a baseball bat. (“He’s stubborn,” Anthony Simeone had explained to the grand jury. “When he wants to do something, he wants to do it.”) Although there had been testimony that Dano Cicciaro used the word “nigger” once or twice in the cell-phone exchange with Aaron White, his friends denied using racial slurs at 40 Independence Way. (With the jury out of the courtroom, Paul Gianelli brought up an incident that had been investigated by the police but not included in the notes and reports that they are required to turn over to the defense: according to two or three witnesses, Daniel Cicciaro had gone to Sayville Ford with a complaint a few weeks before he was shot and, when approached by a black salesman, had said, “I don’t talk to niggers.” The judge wouldn’t admit that into evidence, but the headline of the next day’s Newsday story was “ATTORNEY: COPS HID MILLER PLACE VICTIM’S RACISM.”) The friends who’d gone with Dano, Jr., to the Whites’ house that night testified that after John White’s gun was slapped away, he raised it again and shot Dano in the face. As they described how Dano Cicciaro fell and how he’d been lifted from the street by Tom Maloney and rushed to the hospital, there were occasional sobs from both Joanne and Daniel Cicciaro.

Dano’s friends had said that both of their cars were in the street facing north, but the Whites testified that one was in their driveway, with the lights shining up into the house—a contention that the defense bolstered by analyzing the headlight reflections on the orthodontist’s mailbox in the surveillance tape. The boys testified that they’d never set foot on the Whites’ property—that contention was bolstered by pictures showing Dano’s blood and his cell phone in the street rather than in the driveway—but the Whites claimed that the boys had been advancing toward the house. “They came to my home as if they owned it,” Sonia White said on the stand. “What gall!”

John White testified that, believing the young men had come to harm his family, he backed them off his property with Napoleon White’s old pistol. In the frenzy that followed his abrupt awakening, he said, he had yelled, “Call the cops!” to his wife as he raced into the garage, but she hadn’t heard him. He described Dano Cicciaro and his friends as a lynch mob shouting, among other things, “We could take that skinny nigger motherfucker.” Recalling that evening, White said, “In my family history, that’s how the Klan comes. They pull up to your house, blind you with their lights, burn your house down. That’s how they come.” In White’s telling, the confrontation had seemed over and he was turning to go back into the house when Dano Cicciaro grabbed the gun, causing it to fire. “I didn’t mean to shoot this young man,” John White said. “This young man was another child of God.” This time, it was John White who broke down, and the court had to take a recess. One of the jurors was also wiping away tears.

o convict someone of second-degree manslaughter in the state of New York, the prosecution has to prove that he recklessly caused the death of the victim—“recklessly” being defined as creating a risk so substantial that disregarding it constitutes “a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe”—and that he had no justification. In its decision in the case of Bernard Goetz, the white man who in 1984 shot four young black men who had approached him on the subway demanding money, the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, ruled that justification could have a subjective as well as an objective component—fears raised by the defendant’s past experiences, for instance. By bringing up the history that White’s family had with the Klan, the defense team raised a subjective component of justification, along with the objective component of home protection. “We are all products of our past,” Paul Gianelli said of his client during one of the breaks in the trial. “He brought to that particular evening who he is.” The defense was making a case for, among other things, the power of race memory.

The racial divide is obviously less overt in John White’s Long Island than it was in Napoleon White’s Alabama. Tom Maloney, who’d also graduated from Miller Place High School, had apparently thought of Aaron White as a friend. Alex Delgado, who drove Dano Cicciaro to Aaron’s house on August 9th, had been there before as a guest. In John White’s testimony, Delgado was described as Hispanic. Joanne Cicciaro, who by name and appearance and accent might be assumed to have come from one of the many Italian-American families that moved to Suffolk County in recent decades from the boroughs, is actually Puerto Rican—a fact brought up to reporters by the Cicciaros in countering any implications of racism in Dano’s upbringing. (“Our family is multicultural.”) Even without those complications, the case for race memory would be harder to make to white people than to black people. White people are likely to say that times have changed: these days, after all, a real-estate agent who tried to steer John White away from buying a house in an overwhelmingly white Long Island neighborhood would be risking her license.

If times have changed, black people might ask in response, how come Long Island is still so segregated? In his summation, the prosecutor asked a series of questions as a way to illustrate how White’s behavior had deviated from the behavior of a reasonable person. Two of the huge black men who had been part of Aaron White’s escort were sitting in the courtroom at the time, and when the D.A. asked whether a reasonable person would really be guided partly by the memory of a Ku Klux Klan attack that happened years before he was born, they both began to nod their heads.

In that closing statement, James Chalifoux said that it wasn’t until the trial began that John White started talking about a lynch mob. (It’s true that in a newspaper interview in September of 2006 White seemed to downplay race, but it’s also true that in his grand-jury testimony, less than a month after the shooting, he spoke about a “lynch mob.”) Race, Chalifoux said, was being used to distract the jurors from the simple fact that by walking down the driveway with a loaded pistol John White, a man intimately familiar with firearms, had engaged in conduct that had recklessly caused the death of Dano Cicciaro. Matching up testimony with cell-phone logs, Chalifoux argued that the Whites had more time before the arrival of the cars than their story of a panicky few minutes implied. Chalifoux acknowledged that Dano and his friends were wrong to go to the Whites’ that night, that Dano was wrong to use a racial epithet when he phoned Aaron White, and that John White had found himself “in a very bad situation that night and a situation that was not his fault.” But how White responded to that situation, Chalifoux said, was his fault.

Chalifoux’s summation followed that of Frederick K. Brewington, a black attorney, active in black causes on Long Island, who was Paul Gianelli’s co-counsel. “Race has so much to do with this case, ladies and gentlemen, that it’s painful,” Brewington told the jury: Dano Cicciaro and his friends thought they had a right to go to John White’s house and “terrorize his family with impunity and arrogance” because of “the false racial privilege they felt empowered by.” In Brewington’s argument, John White thought, “ ‘Once they see I have a gun they’ll back off’ . . . but they did not take ‘the skinny old nigger’ seriously.” While Chalifoux presented Joseph Serrano’s slur on the 911 tape as, however deplorable, an indication that the argument at the foot of the driveway didn’t include the barrage of insults that the Whites had testified to—if it had, he said, “you would have heard racial epithet after racial epithet after racial epithet”—Brewington saw it as a mirror of the boys’ true feelings. “What we do under cover of darkness sometimes comes to light,” he said.

Shortly after the beginning of deliberations, ten jurors, including the sole African-American, were prepared to convict John White of having recklessly caused Dano Cicciaro’s death. Two jurors resisted that verdict for four days. Then they capitulated. They later told reporters that they felt bullied and pressured by jurors who were impatient to be liberated as Christmas approached. In a courtroom crowded with court officers, the jury reported that it had found John White guilty of manslaughter and a weapons charge. The Cicciaros and their supporters were ecstatic. Dano’s parents seemed to take John White’s conviction principally as proof that the accusations of racism against their son had been shown to be false. “My son is finally vindicated,” a tearful Joanne Cicciaro said, outside the courtroom. Daniel Cicciaro, Sr., said, “Maybe now they’ll stop slinging my son’s name and accusing him of all this racism.” Outside the courthouse, friends of Dano, Jr., honked their horns and revved their engines and chanted, “Dan-o, Dan-o, Dan-o.” The next day, Sunday, the celebration continued with a sort of open house at Dano’s Auto Clinic, which bore a sign saying “Thank You Jurors. Thank God. Dano Jr. Rest in Peace.” In Miller Place, John White briefly spoke to the reporters who were waiting in front of his house. “I’m not inhuman,” he said. “I have very deep feelings for this young man.” But before that he went to the Faith Baptist Church, in Coram, and sang in the choir.

hn White is a hero,” Frederick Brewington said two weeks later, addressing a crowd of several hundred people, almost all of them black, who had gathered on a cold Saturday afternoon in front of the criminal-court building in Riverhead. He repeated, “John White is a hero.” The guilty verdict had made White the sort of hero all too familiar in the race memory of African-Americans—someone held up as an example of the unjustly treated black man. On the podium were black officeholders, speakers from the spectrum of black organizations on Long Island, and two people who had come from Manhattan—Kevin Muhammad, of Muhammad Mosque No. 7, and Al Sharpton. A lot of N.A.A.C.P. people were in the audience, and so were a lot of people from Faith Baptist Church. Various speakers demanded a retrial, or called for the resignation of the district attorney, or pointed out the difference in how white homeowners in similar situations have been treated, or called for the young white men involved to be indicted. (“We will raise this to a level of national attention until these young men are brought to justice,” Sharpton said.) There were chants like “No Justice—No Peace” and, loudest of all, “Free John White.”

That chant was not meant literally. For the time being, John White is free—he addressed the rally briefly, mainly to thank his supporters—and his attorneys hope that, while an appeal is pending, he will be allowed to remain free after his sentencing, scheduled for March 19th. (“I think he should get as much time as possible,” a Post reporter was told by Jennifer Martin, whose response to Aaron White’s arrival at her house set the events of August 9th in motion. “I really do.”) Until the sentencing, White is back to rising at three-thirty every morning to go into the city and patch utility holes. Everything he was quoted as saying in the aftermath of the shooting that night turned out to be true. The fatalism reflected in his statement to Officer Murray as he held out his hands to be cuffed was well founded. Aaron White accepted the fact that those friends of his had indeed turned on him. In his testimony, he said, “They have no respect for me or my family or my mother or my father. . . . They have no respect for life whatsoever. They’re scum.” And, of course, John White had understood the situation well when he told his wife that they had lost their dream house—a comment that, as it turned out, particularly incensed Joanne Cicciaro. (His sorrow, she said to reporters after testimony had ended, “was all for themselves—sorrow about losing their house, about their life changing. He never said, ‘Oh, my God! What did I do to that boy? Oh, my God. This kid is bleeding on the driveway. What did I do to him?’ He had no sympathy, no sorrow for shooting a child.”) Even before the trial, 40 Independence Way was listed with a real-estate broker. Its description began, “Stately 2 year young post-modern colonial in prestigious neighborhood.”