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Friday, August 3, 2012

The Pleasure of Political Pseudo-Alignment

I have a few bigger thoughts on the back burner right now that I'm ruminating on, sketching out, and trying to organize into a somewhat cohesive and comprehensible whole (Spoiler Alert: Idols and Ideals in Love: Gatsby, Brideshead, The Moviegoer, An Ideal Husband). Something about that much-discussed Common Man, too, coming from Coriolanus and, yes, The Moviegoer. But, I don't want to leave you hanging any longer with no new posts, and I know it's been a shamefully long while since I've put up anything new for you, so here's a less thought out, um, thought.

I recently spent a few weeks job hunting in DC, and hopefully will land before long as an editorial assistant in that area (shameless plug: hire me!). Of course, when people heard I was looking for work, they'd politely inquire as to what I'm interested in, and my response would always conclude with "and not politics." A little unusual, I'll grant you, to move to DC with a staunch resolve not to get on the political bandwagon, but we're allowed to have our personal preferences, right? Which is why, though I do have certain political view points, I'm not going to make a job out of them. I will say, though, that I at least hold myself to higher standards of claiming political identity than does Binx Bolling, the hero (?) of Percy's The Moviegoer. It took me a while to get through that book for some reason; I'm not sure why. I love the way he writes. But he is rather bleakly honest and unflinchingly accurate in his descriptions of essential and common human flaws. 
Ernest Hemingway
Virginia Woolf
I've been listening to other 20th century lit during the long hours in the car, and even I, who had an extended and desperate affair with Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, can only take so much of the "life is hopeless, man is lost, love is twisted, and all happiness is staged" viewpoint before my spirit cries out in painful protest. But before I scare you away from Percy, let me assure you that somehow he wrote a good ending, and I was far happier and relieved by it than I had any expectation of being. I've got a lot to share with you from it, and will in my next few posts, but for now, let's look at Binx's ambivalent relationship with politics.
After the lunch conference I run into my cousin Nell Lovell on the steps of the library -- where I go occasionally to read liberal and conservative periodicals. Whenever I feel bad, I go to the library and read controversial periodicals. Though I do not know whether I am a liberal or a conservative, I am nevertheless enlivened by the hatred which one bears the other. In fact, this hatred strikes me as one of the few signs of life remaining in the world. This is another thing about the world which is upsidedown: all the friendly and likable people seem dead to me; only the haters seem alive.
Hugo Scheiber's "Man Reading a Newspaper"
Down I plunk myself with a liberal weekly at one of the massive tables, read it from cover to cover, nodding to myself whenever the writer scores a point. Damn right, old son, I say, jerking my chair in approval. Pour it on them. Then up and over to the rack for a conservative monthly and down in a fresh cool chair to join the counterattack. Oh ho, say I, and hold fast to the arm chair: that one did it: eviscerated! And then out and away into the sunlight, my neck prickling with satisfaction.
I had to laugh the first few times I read this passage. But gosh, it's sad isn't it? It's a little scary how easy it is to convince people of one view point or another, how quickly they change their "beliefs", and how shiftless they are. His point about "the haters" being the only ones who are alive is, I think, one of those moments where he is uncannily clear in his unhappy portrayal of modern man. No, actually, forget about "modern" man. Man period. And yet there is part of me that is glad of this fact, and approves of it. After all, if everything is really happy and smooth and there's actually no reason to stand in defense of a just cause or a noble ideal, or a vulnerable person, well, then sure, let all those friendly and likable people keep on being friendly and likable. But last time I checked, the world hadn't quite reached Utopia. I hope there are people fighting; once they stop, then you know the causes really will be lost. This is, I suspect, why Binx is such a mess for most of the book. He's a lovable mess, and I'm a little alarmed at how easily I'm able to look past his significant failings and think he's a pretty nice guy (Yes, nice. I said it.). But, lovable or not, he is flawed because he doesn't, when push comes to shove, identify himself with a cause worth fighting for, and goes on being an on-the-surface fairly friendly and happy guy even though he so clearly knows better. He derives temporary satisfaction out of mimicking what is a necessary and primal human need to be not only a part of society, but a participating and well-informed contributor. He mentally throws himself in first with one cause, then another, choosing and switching sides with no real deliberation or reflection, and only for the pleasure it gives him of feeling like he belongs and is justified in getting outraged about... well, something, anyway. Anything. And that prickle on his neck feels good, too.

Starting to sound familiar? Fads and fashions, diet crazes, Occupiers, crocs, skinny jeans, mocking Clinton, mocking Bush, barefoot running... well, hell, let's align ourselves with SOMEthing. Because it would scare the crap out of us, and, let's face it, be just too much work to actually figure out what the real causes are and lay down our lives for them.


  1. It is, I suppose, a good thing to know what cause one is willing to die for. If only this did not, for many people, automatically translate into a cause worth killing for.