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Vol. 7, No. 6, 2008
 
     
 
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O. J. SIMPSON


by

ROBERT J. LEWIS

_____________________

'E'll be squattin' on the coals
Givin' drink to pore damned souls,
An' I'll get a swig in Hell from Gunga Din!
Rudyard Kipling


As I write this, O. J. Simpson has already been found guilty of 12 charges of armed robbery and kidnapping. Sentencing is scheduled for December 5th.[1] Now 61 years old, he’ll probably spend the rest of his life behind bars. Just desserts, chorus his accusers from every corner of our wired world. But as it concerns the all important accuser-satisfaction indices, the numbers will in all likelihood disappoint -- especially if O.J. finally secures the outcome he has always (if only subconsciously) desired: just punishment for his horrific crimes. Let me explain.

In all of Dostoyevsky’s remarkable novels -- The Idiot, The Possessed, Crime and Punishment and Brothers Karamazov -- we repeatedly encounter characters who suddenly, inexplicably do or say something that goes totally against their self-interest. Whether during courtship, a business affair, a wedding party or family reunion, for no apparent reason, a character will reveal an outrageously negative aspect of himself as it concerns pride, hatefulness, envy, jealousy, avarice, gluttony; and in a single, uncalculated stroke destroy an outcome he or she may have been patiently nurturing over a considerable period of time. Since we can’t account for the bizarre behaviour, we come to think of Dostoyevsky, through his characters, as crazy or possessed of the irrational. As readers, we excuse the behaviour (the madness) if it falls within the law or wish it institutionalized if society is endangered by it. But what about readers who suspect Dostoyevsky’s characters aren’t at all mad but are in fact the enlightened ones hiding among us, despite their self-precipitated fall into apparent ignominy?

©"Reuters"Dostoyevsky profoundly believed that all of us, regardless of culture and religious indoctrination, and prior to any imposition of morality and ethics, are activated by the primordial urge to confess. All the world’s major and minor religions have taken this into account by weaving into their fabric and operations the rites and redemptive properties of confession. If we’re to set store by Dostoyevsky’s characters (Prince Myshkin, Dimitri Karamazov), the need to confess is as insistent as a biological imperative, which means confession need not be restricted to a religious impulse.

Thus, in respect to the many of us outside the sway of conventional religion, who have embraced the secular option whose ethos conspires to deny or inhibit (via reward and punishment) confession, we have threaded into our way of life customs and institutions whose first purpose is to supply environments designed to bring into unconcealment our unedited selves.

How else do we account for the mega-events and on-going activities married to the consumption of alcohol and drugs if not for the fact they provide the excuse to reacquaint ourselves with those pathways, both inside and outside the mind, that lead us to confession? In the age of secularism, the bar or tavern replaced the Church, and now, in the age of the Internet, users operating under the protective umbrella of anonymity are confessing en masse their real selves, but without having to suffer the consequences. Which is why virtual confession will always pale in its effects and satisfactions compared to real confession.

Read the advice columns in newspapers and popular magazines for a first hand account of humanity refracted through the confessionals of jealousy, avarice, vindictiveness, sloth, pride and envy and there can be no doubt that confession, as catharsis, corresponds to a 20,000 league-deep need to reveal ourselves in the truth of who we are, which is why we are constantly engineering the means and excuses that allow for it.

Dostoyevsky (prior to Heidegger and the existentialists) was among the first to recognize the relationship between confession and the notion of authenticity (becoming one's authentic self), where the former, over the course of a lifetime, is the means to the latter -- consequences and approval ratings be damned.

Literature provides marvelous prototypes of authenticity seekers. From the first line in Camus’ The Stranger (L’Etranger), spoken by its infamous anti-hero, Mersault, we have one of the most remarkable confessions in all of literature: “Mother died yesterday, or was it the day before.” He could have just as easily said, “I think it’s going to rain today, then again, maybe not.” In uttering these words in a voice preternaturally devoid of emotion, Mersault reveals himself to be unconscionably indifferent to the passing of his mother. And yet despite the negative judgment his offhanded remark will elicit, he speaks his mind because more than anything he wants to be known as he is. Later on in the book, after he has committed a senseless murder, instead of intelligently defending himself, he argues the reflection of the sun in his eyes caused him to mortally knife someone, a defense that is tantamount to admitting his guilt. When his moment of execution arrives, he desires that the crowd greet him with "howls of execration," and not ready-made excuses for the honourable life he hasn’t led. If during Happy Hour the world’s great truths get spoken, the world’s great lies are told in funeral parlours and cemeteries.

In the novel Disgrace (1999) by Nobel recipient J. M. Coetzee, the protagonist, David Lurie, a distinguished university professor, has a ridiculously open sexual affair with one of his students. He begs to get caught, and does, losing everything in the bargain -- his position, his friends, his reputation -- and by novel’s end finds himself working as a lowly caretaker in a dog pound. Yet despite his dramatic fall, he discovers satisfaction in performing menial work. By Dostoyevsky’s accounting, David Lurie not only wanted to get caught (he’s been having affairs with students throughout his entire academic career), but wanted to get punished and wanted to publically fall in disgrace. The events that precipitate this downfall constitute his confession.

Which brings us to O.J.’s recent criminal undertaking and the mind-boggling details of a bungled crime for which there is no apparent explanation, unless it be provided by the unacknowledged artery of confession that runs through the race.

If we’re to believe O.J’s testimony, he wanted to retrieve memorabilia which he claimed belonged to him. So why didn’t he simply prevail on the authorities to retrieve it, which wouldn’t have entailed any risk? Instead, he hastily assembles a rag-tag platoon of unproven, petty criminals, thereby exponentially multiplying the opportunities for incompetence and betrayal, and quarterbacks a crime that could have been executed solo -- and without guns. Furthermore, we’re asked to believe that in this age of highly sophisticated affordable communication technology, he wouldn’t have considered the possibility of the heist being recorded. All of this from a man, who, for all intents and purposes, committed the perfect murder(s) of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. In fact, so perfect everybody on the planet knew he did it and he still got away with it.

I’m persuaded that O. J., now older and wiser, had arrived at a point in his life where he was no longer capable of living the lie that he had perpetuated for 13 years, and like David Lurie, embarked on a project that would assure his arrest and conviction so he could finally and fabulously fall into disgrace. When a brilliant murderer re-invents himself as a bungling thief, it’s because he wants to be known to the world in the truth of his being, and so much so, no price tag (cost of freedom) can equal the peace of mind and serenity that falling into international disgrace vouchsafes.

At this preliminary stage of O. J.’s rehabilitation, the impulse to confess himself to the world is in all likelihood subconscious, to which Freud would say, 'so what,' and suggest that the path upon which O. J. has set himself will become more explicit on December 5th, the day of his sentencing. O. J. skeptics should bear in mind that there is no plausible alternative explanation to the botched robbery other than the wish (need) to be caught and punished -- and rewarded for extending a hand to his authentic self. As such, O. J.’s confession is a story in progress.

Another related story in progress -- and a disconcerting one at that -- concerns the world’s journalists who, en masse, have failed to recognize O. J’s confession, and by extension, the onset of his rehabilitation. Vanity Fair writer, Dominick Dunne, in a lachrymose moment, writes: “There’s a loneliness, a sadness about O.J. that I never saw before. I think he understands how wrecked his life is.” In point of fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. O. J., who has been an avatar of inauthenticity until now, is finally on the cusp of getting his life back. It may have taken 13 lost years to finally find himself on the path to self-hood, but thanks to a crime that was guaranteed to fail, he has, if only subconsciously, confessed to the world that he is criminally responsible for the cold blooded murders of Brown and Goldman, and is fully and fulfillingly deserving of the punishment that awaits him.

If all of the above is approximately true, how are we, the world’s jury, to judge a man who is no longer the same person who butchered in cold blood? Who among us will come to designate as a work in progress our own deliberations and response to the thorny issues O. J’s life raises?

The challenge isn’t “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” but rather if you had fit into the same shoes what would you have done? Having pulled off a brilliantly executed double murder, how many of us would have the courage to trade in our priceless freedoms for the consolations of confession? I suspect very few, and for this reason alone, adducing lines written by a British poet of some distinction, I offer this to you O. J. – and to everyone following your long day’s journey to self-hood – for your beautifully botched crime which is your magnificent confession,

“Tho' I've belted you an' flayed you,
By the livin' Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am Gunga Din.”

 

[1]On December 5th, O. J. Simpson, who was found guilty of kidnapping, assault, robbery and assault with a deadly weapon, was sentenced to a maximum of 33 years in prison. He will be elligible for parole after nine years.

COMMENTS

user-submission@feedback.com
Now finished viewing the 5 part documentary on OJ Simpson. Disagree with comment that OJ was stupid. He was anything but stupid, but highly calculating, and consistently succeeding in every endeavor. Smart people do stupid things. Interesting perspective in your article but a very tough sell. But if you're right, OJ will never publically confess because he would regard it unfair to saddle his children with that knowledge, and this backs up your argument of subconscious confession via botched crime.

from aaro@rogers.com
Robert Lewis makes interesting connections between O.J.’s fall from grace (a modern-day morality tale that has taken on mythic proportions) and the crashing and burning of a number of literary characters who seemed to have it made. He also makes a convincing case for the purgative power of confession, both in literature and real life.
However, I think he's being too simplistic when he says "If during Happy Hour the world’s great truths get spoken, the world’s great lies are told in funeral parlours and cemeteries". People are complex and sometimes contradictory, and it might be better to say that to get atrue idea of a person we must both listen to the loose tongues of Happy Hour as well as to pious, reflective eulogies. I also don't think that we can claim either moral or immoral behaviour as exclusively "authentic".
It could be that O.J.’s recent botched kidnapping and robbery was motivated by a subconscious desire to be caught -- a "cry for help", to use one of the major clichés of this decade. Or it could be the product of confused thinking and the desire for revenge, both of which O.J. seems to have demonstrated in the past.
from steven.lewis@shaw.ca
I think you give OJ far too much credit - it strikes me that the evidence overwhelmingly supports the notion that he is a narcissistic, immature man whose boundless hubris led him to yet another mindless act. The way he has conducted his life since the travesty of the trial suggests no repentance - he could have tried to rehabilitate himself as a citizen without confessing. So contrarianism may be interesting but your whole case rests on the inanity of the second crime. Criminals are often stupid, and OJ is stupid (he never said an interesting thing on Monday Night Football).

 

 

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