Blind Date (Magill's Literary Annual 1978)
Readers of Kosinski’s Blind Date will not be surprised to discover the same heights of stylistic achievement as well as the familiar depths of sexual perversion that critics have praised and damned since the appearance of his first work, The Painted Bird (1965). Steps (1968), Being There (1971), The Devil Tree (1973), and Cockpit (1975) all portray a terrifying vision of a world dominated by barbarism, sadomasochism, and violence; Kosinski’s art reveals itself not in his endless chapters of scenic cruelty but, in the manner in which he arranges, conveys, and describes these experiences to the reader to achieve maximum dramatic impact.
George Levanter, Blind Date’s protagonist, is a private investor whose business ventures take him from Russia to New York, from the Alps to Los Angeles; however, his East European heritage, especially the trauma of being a Russian Jew in Nazi Germany, constantly surfaces into his consciousness. Levanter has clearly descended from the ten-year-old boy of The Painted Bird (a victim of World War II Nazi atrocities), “Chance,” the main character of Being There, and Tarden, Cockpit’s antihero. All these heroes are individuals who learn quickly to survive in a world devoid of justice and morality. As a result, Levanter lives as a picaresque con-man whose good and evil acts are purely serendipitous. Early in the novel, he blackmails a despicable corporate chairman; shortly thereafter, he becomes victimized by the prosecutor of a divorce case. Chance, not justice, prevails.
Levanter is a picaro in both the traditional and modern sense. Like Gil Blas, he is a rogue, but unlike Le Sage’s protagonist, he does not come from a low social level. He deals with people from all classes and different locations and quickly learns their foibles and frailties. Kosinski’s picaro also bypasses the line between petty rascal and criminal which places him in the distinct American picaresque tradition initiated by Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man. Like Melville’s work, Blind Date often surpasses the satiric humor of the traditional picaresque rascal and progresses into pure vitriol and pessimism; the laughing is replaced by horror.
The picaresque hero defines the book’s structure: a loosely connected series of adventures, many quite impossible to conceive as happening in one man’s life, with a cumulative effect rather than a resolving conclusion. Levanter’s journeys have no goal. Yet, the novel’s episodes consist overwhelmingly of scenes of manipulation. As the dust cover (a man controlling a number of individuals as so many puppets bound by strings, yet his own movements are also controlled by attached strings) suggests, free will and dignity are rare commodities in a world shaped by whimsey. The central metaphor for the entire novel, the “blind date,” is what Oscar, a youthful rapist, calls his attacks upon helpless young women; since the victims never see their assailant who attacks them from behind with scientific proficiency, the brutal impersonality of the acts remains intact. When young Levanter finally brutalizes a young girl he calls “Nameless,” Oscar is jailed for the one crime he did not commit; the irony of injustice increases.
This metaphor of impersonality is reinforced by the numerous disguises and masquerades which Levanter perpetrates in the novel; at various times he charades as a Russian government official, a secret agent from the American Council for Global Security, and an Eskimo. He gains personal satisfaction or revenge through each of these ploys. For example, he double-crosses a Communist agent by posing as an agent; thus, he avenges the death of his friend, a fencing champion, by impaling the treacherous agent on a sabre. He also kills the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs from a kingdom which tortures intellectual dissidents. Afterward, Levanter feels elevated by executing such seldom-seen justice. Another attempt at mercy backfires, however, as his release of other political...
(The entire section is 1715 words.)
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