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Authors: Don Delillo

Libra

Table of Contents
 
 
 
PENGUIN BOOKS
LIBRA
Don DeLillo published his first short story when he was twenty-three years old. He has since written thirteen novels, including
White Noise
(1985), which won the National Book Award. It was followed by
Libra
(1988), his bestselling novel about the assassination of President Kennedy;
Mao II
(1991), which won the PEN/ Faulkner Award for Fiction; and the bestselling
Underworld
(1997), which in 2000 won the Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the most distinguished work of fiction published in the prior five years. Other novels include
Americana, End Zone,
and
Great Jones Street,
all available from Penguin. His most recent novel is
Cosmopolis.
In 1999, DeLillo was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, given to a writer whose work expresses the theme of freedom of the individual in society; he was the first American author to receive it.
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First published in the United States ,of America by Viking Penguin Inc., 1988
Published in a NAL / Penguin edition 1989
Published in Penguin Books 1991
This edition with a new introduction by the author published in
Penguin Books 2006
 
Copyright © Don DeLillo, 1988, 2006
All rights reserved
Portions of this book were published in
Esquire
magazine.
Publisher’s Note:
This is a work of fiction. It draws on the historical events surrounding the
assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and many of the real-life persons associ
ated with those events appear in this work as characters. However, insofar as this work
expresses any opinions or theories about the assassination or the persons involved,
those opinions and theories are solely the product of the author’s imagination.
eISBN : 978-1-101-04217-5
 
 
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To the boys at 607: Tony, Dick and Ron
Introduction: Assassination Aura
-1-
Some stories never end. Even in our time, in the sightlines of living history, in the retrieved instancy of film and videotape, there are stories waiting to be finished, open to the thrust of reasoned analysis and haunted speculation. These stories, some of them, also undergo a kind of condensation, seeping into the texture of everyday life, barely separable from the ten thousand little excitations that define a routine day of visual and aural static processed by the case-hardened consumer brain.
There is a video game you can play in which you assume the position and vantage
point
of Lee Harvey Oswald looking out on Dealey Plaza as the presidential motorcade rolls by. The game was released on the forty-first anniversary of the assassination by a company based in Scotland. It challenges you to recreate the three shots fired at the president’s car from the sixth-floor window of the book warehouse where Oswald worked. If you can do this more accurately than anyone else, in terms of trajectory and timing, you can win one hundred thousand dollars. Shoot the first lady by mistake and see points deducted from your score.
There is a T-shirt you can wear that bears the photographic image of Oswald, mortally wounded by Jack Ruby, eyes shut, mouth twisted open, an icon of man in pain, except that the pain in this case is pure rock ’n’ roll. Ruby is brandishing a guitar, not a revolver, and the detective at the other end of the frame, in his pale suit and matching Stetson, is strapped into a guitar as well, and there at center stage is the mythic figure of Oswald, barking his sad and ragged love into a hand mike.
-2-
Through the years many themes have developed around the assassination of President Kennedy. They involve plot twists, complex motives, nitwit theories, foreign countries, domestic intelligence agencies, criminal organizations, law-enforcement bureaus and a sense of the secret manipulation of history.
Is there something else poised at the edge of revelation, some hard clear provable reality, one that points either to Oswald as the lone gunman or to the presence of a second shooter in DealeyPlaza that day, as the motorcade moved down Elm Street?
This question suggests the final theme, which is modem technology.
Technology tends to represent a thrust toward the future, an accelerated promise of microrefined systems and networks, deeper probes into the way we live and think. Technology claims the future on our behalf. It also has the capacity to reclaim the past—specifically, in this case, a single elusive moment trapped in the grooves of an old dictaphone belt.
There have been decades of photoanalysis, ballistics tests and other forms of forensic investigation. There is today, in the works, a digital scanning apparatus that may finally answer a central question still hovering over the blood-spattered limousine. This device will map the sounds recorded, accidentally, through an open microphone on a police motorcycle, supposedly when the shots were fired. These sounds were transmitted, instantaneously, to a control room at Dallas police headquarters, where all radio traffic was routinely recorded.
This is the only known audio recording made in those crucial moments. Years went by before the tape was discovered and then analyzed by acoustics experts. Two investigations yielded conflicting results. But these findings were issued in 1979 and 1982. There are new technologies now, higher expectations. When the scanning apparatus is operational, scientists believe they will be able to render a clear digital image of the sounds captured on the old recording. They will isolate the gunshots from extraneous noise and remote voices. Then, perhaps, there will be an answer. Three gunshots, Oswald acted alone. Four gunshots, there was another shooter.
In
Libra
there he is, the second shooter, a man with a name, a face and a nationality. This is how lost history becomes the free weave of fiction. He stands behind the stockade fence on the grassy knoll, weapon in hand, watching the limousine approach. He is not the answer to the question that investigators, scientists, historians, government officials and countless others have been asking through the decades. He is simply the man who stands in the blank space.
-3-
Some years ago I received a letter from a newspaper editor asking whether I might be interested in writing an essay about American assassins. Oswald’s name was included in the letter, his first name spelled L-e-i-g-h. I stared down at the page for a moment, absorbing the impact. The error changed everything. I imagined this fellow, Leigh Oswald, slim and fit—sprays his hair for lasting shine and all-day control. He wants to be an actor or a model. He moves to New York and enrolls in acting class, waiting on tables to pay the rent and to allow an occasional small binge at Bloomingdale’s. History turns on a misspelled name.
It also repeats itself as performance art. Ant Farm, a coun terculture collective, re-enacted the spectacle of the presidential motorcade in Dallas on a summer day in 1975. Two members of the group played the Kennedys, both men, one in drag. Tourists began to gather in increasingly large numbers as the limousine ride down Elm Street was repeated twenty times in the course of the day. The collective had its own film and video crew and the tourists had their own Instamatics. There were no simulated gunshots, there was no one in the role of Oswald. But some people, watching, wept as the performance-president lurched suddenly in the rear seat, suffering an image death. Ant Farm was recreating a media event, not a shooting. They were, in effect, restag ing the Zapruder film, the original home movie of the shooting. Their version, called
The Eternal Frame,
is an act of eerie deadpan surrealism, with meanings collecting by the minute in an enormous plastic baggie of assassination aura.
-4-
The tremendous bruising force of history, sometimes random, often without logic or resolution, may produce a work of fiction that leans for its effectiveness on structure and pattern, on a detailed unraveling of some old perplexity or anxiety, some lingering confusion out there, in three dimensions, where the blood is thick and real but the gunshots can go uncounted.
One day, after this piece is written but perhaps before it appears, particle physicists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will finish work on their digital scanner and prepare to extract a signal from the asymmetric grooves of the object known as Dictabelt No. 10.
Then, maybe, there will be a number to attach to the flurry of gunshots.
Three or four—or will it be five? This latest number was advanced as a result of an acoustical study made in 2001.
Can any number be definitive?
Technology by nature, in its brilliant futurity, incorporates a will to surpass the advances of the year, the week, the minute before. Waveform analysis, confocal microscopes, digital replicas. How soon before one technology yields to another? And where, finally, is the truth in this matter? Can some scattered noises in a crowded outdoor setting on a day in 1963 be recovered from an old damaged dictaphone belt, its grooves 75 microns wide, five microns deep? Recovered, copied, deciphered. We want to believe they can. A character in the novel maintains that facts are brittle things. He maintains that the past is changing even as he sits and thinks about it. But we want to believe we are dealing with science, not metaphysics. We are also dealing with human beings, of course, people in the shadow of an epic event that has generated strong controversy, conflicting scientific findings and the endless disputations of proponents for this or that version of the truth.

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