Aug 20 2010
by Alyssa Rosenberg
It's taken me a while, but I finally got around to reading
Underground, Mark Rudd's memoir of his time as a student activist at
Columbia and as a member of and fugitive with the Weather
Underground. I'd wanted to read it because fragments of the book are
the basis for the narration in The Weather Underground, the superb
documentary about the radical left-wing group that carried out a
series of bombings in the late 1960s' and early 1970s'.
Interestingly, Rudd's prose is narrated in a woman's voice, and it
has an elegiac quality in the movie, superimposed over a lot of
grainy footage. I'm not sure what that gender switch led me to expect
from the memoir itself, but it acts as a form of translation,
reinterpretation. That alter-ego, voicing his words, enhances the
role Rudd plays in person in the movie, as an expression of regret,
loss, and ongoing confusion.
The book is, unfortunately, a lot stiffer. Rudd's perspectivewhen
it's not juxtaposed against voices that are both more ideologically
rigid and more distanced from the events he feels responsible foris
less valuable as part of an overall portrait of an era. Understanding
Mark Rudd may be important to the man himself, but it's less
important to those of us who are trying to figure out an era.
I don't know that there's a larger, immutable point to be made here.
But the contrast between the excerpted material, spoken in a
different voice, and the material as a whole, in another voice
altogether, is a valuable reminder of the fickle nature of
adaptation, remix, and re-appropriation. Every work contains multiple
possibilities, and the ones it was originally intended for may not be
the best, or most effective. A single paragraph may be more valuable
on its own than in a chapter, a single chorus line may be immortal
removed from its context.