It was upon a second reading of Mark Merlis American Studies that it struck me that a key chapter is built upon a structure of “naming names” which is of course in keeping with the theme of the book which looks back to the years of witch hunting during the McCarthy era. The exquisite pain of the inquisition is heightened by the mock gentility offered by the academic setting: the disclosure is orchestrated in the office of the president. He asks the informant, a professor reporting on the dalliance of another faculty member with a student:
“Of course these are unusual times. As we were saying. Maybe the most important thing, just now, is finding someone who’ll put the interests of the university ahead of anything else.” He lets that sink in a moment. “This student, I suppose you could find out his name if you wanted to.”
Fuzzy swallows. “I suppose I could.”
And so the curtain is drawn on that interrogation only to be followed later in the chapter by the revelation of the name of the student when a recording is played back to the subject of presidential scrutiny. This concludes in good tragic fashion the chapter:
“I think you had better start by saying your name.”
“Do we really need to —” Tom cannot identify the voice. Which member of the study group is it? He just cannot place the voice squawking out of that primitive machine.
“What is your name, please.”
So oddly formal since previous to this the readers knew him as “Jimmy” sans surname. There is more detail about the creation of the recording and the reaction to the betrayal elsewhere in the novel but this naming moment starkly stands out.
And so for day 1179