May 29, 1996

Article at Jordan on Authory

Robert Peters and J. Edgar

Robert Peters is among America’s most accomplished writers of poetic monologues, ranking with the likes of Frank Bidart. Peters is best known for his portayals of personages offbeat (Shaker Light, about Ann Lee, the American religious leader), mad (Ludwig of Bavaria), and downright diabolical (The Blood Countess). To this list we must add his controversial novel Snapshots for a Serial Killer, a perceptive and chilling book about the inner workings of a psychopath. A similar fascination for the insane and the macabre can be found in Bidart’s work, which portrays a mass murderer (“Herbert White”), a tortured homosexual artist (“The War of Vaslav Nijinski”), and an anorexic (“Ellen West”).

But what motivates a Peters or a Bidart to plumb the mad depths to which the human soul may descend? I would suggest that this psycho-mimetic art derives from the realization that people only fully reveal their complex natures at the far end of the tether. A Peters character is, like a Diane Arbus photographic subject, somehow beyond the realm of normal life. Instead, these people live in the intensity of their psychotic or inspired moment, far from the deceptions of everyday life. Peters' characters tell the truth about themselves — whether they want to or not — because their tormented lives have bubbled to the surface.

Which brings us to the subject of the monomaniac J. Edgar Hoover, Peters’ subject in his satirical gem Mengele's Uterus. This monologue, presented here in its entirety, is Peters' poetic realization of the mind of America’s most famous homophobic homosexual. Drawing on sources such as Anthony Summers’ The Secret Sex Life of J. Edgar Hoover and his own boyhood memories of the days of Dillinger vs. the G-men in rural Wisconsin (see also Peters’ What Dillinger Meant To Me), Peters has crafted a raucous, bilious portrait of Hoover. The piece goes over the top, revealing in Swiftian satire Hoover's central contradictions, and attacking a “democracy” run for decades by a sick man who seemingly had the dirt on everyone. The Hoover of Peters’ satire is not only an individual, he is a symptom of America's pathological love affair with Puritanism. And what is the cure? Who knows. But Peters seems to suggest that one of the worst depravities is the hypocrisy of the immoral Puritan, the one who would impose a morality on others that he cannot live up to himself. This person must be revealed and lampooned, so that Puritanism itself can be shown for the tyranny that it is.

Citation: Jordan Jones, “Robert Peters and J. Edgar.” Authory online at https://authory.com/JordanJones/Robert-Peters-and-J-Edgar/; citing Bakunin, Vol. 6 (Tustin, California: Spring 1996), p. ?.