The Unexpectedly Literary Unabom Thing
It's a curious world, and it may turn out that the Unabomber is indeed what the FBI and the media have made him out to be Ñ- a disgruntled engineer, a tree-loving computer guy and self-declared "anarchist" with a thing against universities and airplanes and government, someone who has trouble forming interpersonal relationships, especially since he lost his job due to technology. But you know, I don't think so. Just looking at the publicly available evidence, I've seen one major riff on Joyce, an absolutely spectacular coded reference to Van Gogh's ear, and substantial evidence that the guy's whole campaign, beneath his variety of appearances (airline hater here, anti-academic there, faux Luddite all over the place), is all about making a bizarre play on the Middle English sense of the word "wood." For the sake of this argument, forget every thought currently circulated about the Unabom case. Forget the idea that he's an eco-terrorist, forget that he's supposed to be a Luddite, abused as a child, etc. The only constant and universal element in the Unabomber case for 16 years -Ñ and, I contend, the Unabomber's only literalism, though a complex one in an antique language -Ñ is wood. There is always wood involved in a "Unabom" bomb. That's how they know it's the Unabomber. Wood as a substance, in the components and casings and disguising of bombs; and wood as a key semantical element in the choice of targets. In the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary there's a fine page on the uses of wood in Middle English and later. One use has the sense of out of one's mind, insane, lunatic: They bee bitten of the wood dog the devil, & bee fallen wood themselves. There is a connection in this sense to rabidity; thus Fletcher, in The Faithful Shepherd, has: Bitten by a wood-Dog's venom'd tooth. Another one: There has been some wood dogs going through he town. There's a sense of wood being used inaccurately to render the Latin furialis. From 1607 there's a citation from Carpenter's Plaine Mans Plough that goes: To execute...against them (in his woode furie) whatsoever he listeth. In some districts, wood in the sense of "mad" was used nearly till the modern age. Scott used it as an archaism in 1816: Some folk say that pride and anger hae driven him plain wud. Most people come across it where I did: reading Chaucer in college. In Chaucer, when people go wood, they generally do so because they've been tricked. They behave as though they were wood -Ñ like Curly going wood or waxing wode wroth before Larry gets the cheese. The word "wood" is almost inevitable when someone is flummoxed, tricked by an intellectual superior. In "The Miller's Tale," the hero, the cuckolder who gets the Carpenter up on top of the house in a boat rigged for the Apocalypse, is a poor scholar, Hende ("handy," as in "clever") Nicholas. Like a satirist (or a bomb-satirist), he plays fast and loose with the credibility of the simple Carpenter, for sexual advantage with the Carpenter's wife, but also for entertainment, to see the Carpenter up on the roof, waiting for the rains, all the neighbors looking at him as though he were wood. Hende Nicholas ends up with a red-hot poker shoved up his ass, by way of a moral Ñ- and then he goes wood, but differently from the way he went wood for the Carpenter's wife. The word wood is funny in itself, triple entendre even in Chaucer's day, with a sexual connotation that has been the basis for half-assed undergraduate witticisms for at least 600 years. A friend of mine used to fill out all sorts of forms in the name of Lou Woody. This Chaucerian "wood" is an old joke, not esoteric, an English department standard. I don't know that disgruntled engineers or FBI criminologists go around smiling to themselves for three reasons when someone says the word, but almost anyone who reads Chaucer, gets the jokes, and has too much time on their hands in a university might. Just like, in my scenario, the Wood Bomber, who is the Wood Bomber because wood means mad and makes for a really explosive pun. Of course, you can say that this guy uses wood in his bombs because it's light, readily available and easy to work. That's valid. But you can use oil paint to do the door of your kitchen, or you can use it to do Guernica. It matters in the context of what you are, and I think what the Unabomber is is a writer. We're looking at a cut-and-dried case of Shem the Penman, with bombs. We're dealing with a literary maniac here, a sort of defective Joyce, Joyce with gelignite. It's all about words: logos, right in the beginning. Look at the references to wood in the names and/or addresses of his targets. There was the bomb in Ann Arbor. The one that got Percy Wood in Lake Forest. The one that got timber lobbyist Gilbert Murray. I think Thomas Mosser got his head blown off in his kitchen on Aspen Street in North Caldwell, NJ, for no other reason than to say Moss, Tree, North. And the multiple pun of the name he used on a letter sent to the San Francisco Chronicle: Frederick Benjamin Isaac (FBI) Wood. According to the materials I've read, when Mosser was killed there was a return address on the bomb, evidently saved by the F.B.I. The ensuing investigation discovered that no person of the return addressee's name lived at the San Francisco address. In the article I'm using, the return addressee's name is given as "H.C. Wickel." I'm going to go on the assumption that this is a misprint, or that the terminal letter was disfigured in the blast. That "H.C. Wickel" Ñ- close enough for government work, which is probably an unfortunate phrase in the circumstances -Ñ is really "H.C. Wicker." And in this there are several levels of wordplay and significance. The first is obvious: wicker is wood. The second significance is that the dreamer in Finnegan's Wake is H.C. (Humphrey Chimpden) Earwicker. Also known as HCE, or Here Comes Everybody, or Haveth Childers Everywhere, which is not a bad touch for a solitary lunatic pretending to be an anarchist movement. From The Skeleton Key to Finnegan's Wake: "H.C. Earwicker is a citizen of Dublin, a stuttering tavern keeper with a bull-like hump on the back of his neck...Joyce refers to him under various names...[as] indications of his universality and his role as the great progenitor. The hero has wandered vastly, leaving families (that is, deposits of civilization) at every pause along the way." He has been a number of gods and people: Woden, Thor, Manannan Mac Lir, St. Patrick, Strongbow, Cromwell. He is also a guy who's been accused of some vague sexual crime, probably exposing himself, and hounded and martyred for it. He has two sons, Shaun and Shem. Shaun is bourgeois, practical, philistine. Shem is the Joyce figure, Shem the Penman, whose writings cause instant revulsion and expulsion from society into the Joycean terrain (and, obviously, a bomber's terrain) of exile. And there's this: if you subtract "H.C. Wicker" from "H.C. Earwicker," what you've got left over is a missing ear, of all things. Which, you may recollect, also once got mailed, rather famously, in a box, by the primary madman who madmen seize upon when they want to justify their madness as artistic furia. This is bombing gone esthetically self-aware. Ceci n'est pas une bombe. Set the Wayback Machine for 1978, the year the so-called Unabomber first appeared. Imagine that you're a relatively harmless, spotty young psycho with a high I.Q., and you're into fringe-geek hobbyist things like making your own beer and having a great stereo nobody ever comes over to listen to. You have persnickety, pointless enthusiasms for gadgets. You're also literary -Ñ a writer. If you had any actual talent, you might be on your way to joining the Next Generation of American writers. But something accidental happens, takes you away from the page; almost superfluously, owing to your solitary enthusiasms and friendless hobbyism, you make a bomb. Not because you have an agenda, but basically because...well, you like the idea of bombs. It would be fun to see if you can make one. You're only a couple of years down the road from cherry-bombing toilets and mailboxes. So you make a weak little bomb, following the instructions from one of those The Poor Man's James Bond sort of publications on the shelves of all geeks and loners. There it is: it's a bomb. Maybe as you were building it, or even before you were building it, because you are associative, clever and verbal, you've already thought, Wood bomber. Mad Bomber. What about a bomb made of wood? And there you are with a bomb, for no particular reason than that the idea of a bomb is mad. The bomb itself is superfluous. You never had a clear idea of what to do with it. You know it's illegal, and you're scared. What the fuck do you do with it that doesn't lead investigators to you? The answer lies in context. It's 1978. Bombs going off on campuses are still vaguely contextual; the Weather Underground is a thing of the not too distant past, still regarded as saints in some circles. Who do campus bombers target? Engineering departments. Not your department, the Humanities one, but the other one -Ñ the Inhumanities one. Technology, computers. It's perfect, really: a pretense of motive. What better way to throw a false lead? You make a parcel of your bomb and address this parcel to an engineering professor, one you've never met, put down the return address of another professor you've never met, and you head to the mailbox to post it, get rid of it. It explodes weakly in the face of a campus security guard, and you're the "UNiversity Bomber" suddenly -Ñ only you're not. You don't give a shit about the Engineering department, but they all take this false motive at face value. You're scared shitless for a while, a year, and then you make a second bomb. This one is also weak, with components of wood. It goes off, but no one gets the pun. The FBI and ATF are all over the place, saying shocking things about you, painting a rather insulting picture of your personal problems, etc. Ñ- a lot of it probably true. That's intolerable. They're saying you're not only psychotic but stupid; you'll make a mistake, get caught, bombers always do. Now you're pissed off. They're the stupid ones, and you're going to prove it. You make a third bomb, a parcel bomb, and put in an ordinary mailbox. The authorities will say it had an altimeter switch, but in this scenario it doesn't. In this scenario, you don't know if it's going to be carried by air or truck or camel caravan. You've simply put it into a mailbox in the Chicago area. When it detonates in the hold of an airliner, you're more surprised than anyone. And you're infinitely pissed off when you now become "the UNABOMBER" -Ñ the UNiversity Airline bomber. Because anyone who ever sat in a Chaucer class should know the pun you've pulled. That you're the Mad Bomber, a very clever fellow who's doing something Pop Art these thick fucks at the FBI just don't get. So you cast about for a target who has something to do with wood, wood, wood, and you find Percy Wood close to home in Lake Forest. And there's this amazing, amusing coincidence: he's the fucking president of United Airlines. The ambiguity is irresistible. You can be the Unabomber they say you are, and the Wood Bomber you really are. So Percy Wood opens an explosive package, the FBI thinks it's all about airlines, and the duplicity begins. From there on it's all about wood, wood, wood, up through Mosser and the timber lobbyist who recently got dusted in Sacramento, with a few off-throwing variations. I think I know how Mosser was targeted: from Who's Who, the 1994 edition. The bomber was patrolling through it, looking for names that had to do with wood, with trees, and if possible, to keep up the cover story, a connection with technology. With Mosser, on Aspen Drive in North Caldwell, he hit such a semantical jackpot that the cover became irrelevant -Ñ Mosser was an executive at the ad agency Young & Rubicam, nothing directly to do with technology -Ñ so he dispensed with it. This may have been his big mistake; it's certainly how I got onto him. Mosser's in Who's Who, but another target, David Gelernter, isn't. And admittedly he doesn't seem to fit the wood pattern. A professor of computer science, he may have been hit as a straight-out duplicitous computer-cover thing; but it may also have been a cover-blowing hit on a fellow Ñ- and successful -Ñ writer. Charles Epstein, another target, is in Who's Who, a geneticist listed as living on Noche Vista Lane. What does "Noche Vista" -Ñ or "Night View" -Ñ signify? I bet it signifies something: it's all words with this guy. He's the bomber as a hundred-letter word for thunder. The bombings, beneath layers of seeming, are meaningless. The guy's doing Duchamp's urinal with bombs. He's Hende Nicholas, talking about the Apocalypse and getting The New York Times into a little boat on the roof just this past July 4th weekend, knickers in a twist over whether or not it's ethical to negotiate with a terrorist like this. He's doing entrapment satire -Ñ what the Elizabethans call coney-catching. Or, in another phrase -Ñ I'll bet the Unabomber knows it, too -Ñ making springes to catch woodcocks. That is, mad birds, simpletons who walk into traps. That is, unless he's two guys: one Shem, one Shaun. Possibly lovers. Think about that. One left-brained, one right-brained; one thinks of the Delphic wordplay, and the other makes the bombs. I've never met a guy who could write who could make a bomb without blowing his head off -Ñ or a person who made a bomb when he could write. Why would you make a bomb if you can write? Why would you need to? Writing can be explosive enough.I could be wrong about all this. It could be that the FBI has known full well for years that they were dealing with a cracked and whimsical semanticist doing a Foucault's Pendulum-by-way-of-The Prisoner punster with homemade explosives in wooden boxes. I have a feeling in my bones about this guy; every ounce of scholarship and every ounce of instinct I have for what's possible in the culture and in the mind points toward the mad bomber as deadpan satirist, a conceptual entrapment-artist. He's no product of Freudian pathology (at least not where it counts, if it counts); he's a dead-solid ironist, working in the High Style. There may be more motive in that ear missing from Earwicker than in "FC," the acronym for his supposed anarchist movement, commonly said to stand for "Freedom Club" or "Fuck Computers." Van Gogh did what he did for a woman; there is a wood reference -Ñ with a streak of bawdiness -Ñ in Midsummer Night's Dream: Heere I am, and wood within this wood, because I cannot meet my Hermia. Is FC a woman? Is it from Finnegan's Wake? In numeric code FC works out as "63"Ñthe year John Kennedy was shot and the Beatles came in. Which may be relevant: Lennon in A Spaniard in the Works is not far from Joyce as a trickster and punster, and he certainly accumulated cultists, imitators, loonies, got martyred, became god for the bent, and let us not forget those Fluxus manipulations, the bed-ins, the acorns mailed to heads of state, Yoko in a bag for peaceÉ What else happened in '63? It may seem irrelevant, but you have to look at everything: it's that sort of gamesmanship, that sort of guy. It's got this 60s flavor. I have a mental picture of him right now, wearing Plimsolls and rosette in his mind, and imagining that the world is basically The Prisoner's Village, to be blown up at will because it is an enemy of the self, a fair, dehumanized target for the wode wroth. I get it, I think. Either that or I'm playing slapjack in hell with Coleridge's Hamlet. You look at it all, and you decide -Ñ after you realize you're dealing with a madman who doesn't actually care about airplanes or technology. With this madman, the question why may not be soluble; you have to look for the how>, and the how is semantical.