Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Improbable Imposter Tom Castro

This is another one from A Universal History of Infamy (1935). Tom Castro, under the tutelage of Ebenezer Bogle, imitates Roger Charles Tichborne, beloved son of a wealthy family, who was drowned when the naval vessel on which he served sank. Tichborne’s mother refused to accept his death and ran advertisements all over the world asking for information about her son. Tichborne was a handsome, dark-haired man who grew up in Paris and spoke perfect English with a French accent. Castro was an uneducated country bumpkin, barely literated, chubby, light-haired, and freckled. Bogle’s genius was that he knew any overt imitation of Tichborne would be instantly sussed out—but a claimant who in no way resembled Tichborne must be authentic because such a claimant is obviously not trying to fool anyone! (This reminds me of the Saturday Night Live skit about the Smucker’s jelly slogan, which included the immortal quip, “With a name like painful rectal itch, it has to be good!”)

After Tichborne’s mother dies, Castro receives a large part of the estate, but finds the will contested by other family members who can see the obvious. But Bogle fairly successfully convinces the court and public opinion (including fomenting an entirely fictitious Jesuit plot against Castro to sway the public in Castro’s favor). But Bogle dies in a carriage accident before the conclusion of the trial, and the doltish Castro, without his brilliant coach, collapses and is sent to jail.

Here is a curious line from the story, describing Bogle (who was black):

Bogle had another quality, as well—though some textbooks in anthropology deny this attribute to his race: he was possessed of genius.

One wonders what Borges thought of blacks. I think he held opinions more or less common of men of his generation, and he was a politically conservative person in many ways. But weirdly ambiguous statements like the one above occasionally pop up in his work.

(A note to readers: I am reading the translations by Andrew Hurley that appear in Collected Fictions, which I highly recommend.)

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1 Comments:

Blogger Young said...

Perhaps the genius of a black man ought to be of a mysterius sort, as perceived by the white Europeans in old times (and even now?). Something unfathomable and entirely alien, as in the case of this, where the entire unlikeliness can be a invincible merit for impersonalisation, only with an entirely differeny type of logic, as it were. Exertion and working of such alternative truths were only held through the genius of the black man. And without his "skull", the world gets back to the Christian/ European normalcy (morality) of "imposter" being jailed for punishment.

To me the main idea about this story seems to be the Time and its working :memories, forgetfulness, and susceptibility of human beings to desires, greed and what so ever. Thus the "god" of the balck man teaches us other kind of truths than the Christian god of identity, impernanence and sylogism.

Ambivalence of Tom Catro (the author's questioning of identity issue is also revealed his shifting identiry and ambivalence of his characteristics sailing across the seas) after the deah of the black man and hid castration indicates he is still the "poor spectre" of the black genius, claiming his innocence at one time and guilt at another. Living in split two worlds alternately and eventually dying that way, without a hope of returning back to the origin he had defied since he left behind to see the seas. Impossbility of being identical and of knowing what we really are permanently.

1:41 AM  

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