[ by Charles Cameron — continuing the series, with a choice gobbet of Updike ]
from Meet the Press, 10/21/2018
I continue to find the close reading of metaphors an invaluable analytic tool, and one that is also of interest to me personally, for writerly, poetic purposes. I’ve expanded my search from its original focus on games — specifically including sports, theater, war games &c as metaphors for politics — to cover something I’ll characterize as fine writing — giving me the ability to note and quote across a wider range of topics and usages.
My last post in the series ran to 18 comments, each one containing a couple of dozen or so instances of metaphor or fine writing, and I don’t expect my expanded search criteria to expand my actual collection — if anything I hope to cut back in favor of writing other things. But when MSNBC’s Meet the Press splashes a great End Game banner on my screen, as it did today, see above, I still won’t be able to resist.
On the subject of fine writing, though, how’s this?
Dorothy Dotto, thirty-eight, happily married for nineteen years, the mother of three, a member of the Methodist Church, the Grange, and the Ladies’ Auxiliary. She lives, and has lived all her life, in the town of Elm Corners, somewhere in the Corn Belt; as a child, she won seven consecutive pins for perfect Sunday school attendance, and she graduated with good grades from a public school where the remarkable truthfulness of George Washington and the durable axioms of Benjamin Franklin were often invoked. Her father, Jesse, who is retired but still alive (bless him), for forty years kept above his desk at the feed mill a sign declaring, “Honesty Is the Best Policy.”
That’s John Updike, describing “the unimaginably tactful and delicate process whereby the housewife next door was transmogrified into a paid cheat” in what in retrospect looks like a major turning point in the American psyche — the loss of innocence that occurred when it was revealed that many hundreds of Dorothy Dottos had been suborned into a grand cheating system in what’s now known as the 1950s quiz show scandals:
The American quiz show scandals of the 1950s were a series of revelations that contestants of several popular television quiz shows were secretly given assistance by the show’s producers to arrange the outcome of an ostensibly fair competition. The quiz show scandals were driven by a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons included the drive for financial gain, the willingness of contestants to “play along” with the assistance, and the lack of then-current regulations prohibiting the rigging of game shows.
Back to Updike:
Now, as we remember the flavor and ethos of that innocent era, we realize that the contestants, aside from their freakish passion for Hittite history or skeet-shooting statistics, were meant to be us — you and me and the bright boy next door. This was America answering. This was the mental wealth behind the faces you saw in a walk around the block.
Okay, game shows, in addition to Updike’s undoubtedly fine writing, that’s a game reference. But a loss of American innocence? That’s not nothing. That’s something worth pondering..
In fact, a loss of innocence is fundamentally a loss of the default assumption of trust — and isn’t it precisely the loss of trust that leads to all those conspiracist theories of a mysterious “They” who run “our” world, Skull and Bones, the Bohemian Club, No Such Agency, whoever — and the ensuing distrust of and between political paetiues, leading us eventually to today’s:
And how’s that for a delicious paradox? The United States are now Divided as to whether they’re divided or united — with divided in the majority..
Okay, loss of innocence, let alone loss of virginity, may be strong language to describe the impact of those 1950s quiz show scandals on the American psyche — but something broke, a ratchet slipped, and perhaps we haven’t been quite the same since.
In any case, I’ll be collecting my usual snippets and gobbets of this and that — often sports, politics, war or strategy related, but also just plain curious or fine stuff — here in the comments section. And oh, btw, I’ve been misspelling gobbet as gobbit for years hereabout: forgive me, it’s spelt (spelled?) with an e, and means a chunk, primarily of meat or writing — no Gandalfian echo intended.
Ad now, as my friend David Ronfeldt would say, Onwards!
[ by Charles Cameron — preliminary to a rave review, i suspect, with Helena Bonham Carter as Red Queen thrown in ]
There’s an old English saying, presumably about the martyred King Charles I:
The King walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off..
Young boys, getting acquainted with rules and grammar, and somewhat literal minded as a result, find this statement a paradox, which, however, can easily be resolved by the addition of a comma or perhaps better, a semicolon:
The King walked and talked; half an hour after his head was cut off..
Older boys quickly learn the (semicolon) reason of the riddle, and eagerly apply the first version to younger boys, the better to perplex and torment them. And thus both versions, the beauty of the paradox, the ease of its resolution, and the cruelty thus made available are transmitted across the generations..
In West Virginia, mountains do not have their summits chopped off but are granted “removal of overburden.”
His insatiable appetite for detail yields both irrelevant trivia (“Embarking on the Super Limited Hitachi Express, which was also known as the Super Hitachi 23 Limited Express”) and magisterial portraits of landscapes befouled by poking and prodding and, in the case of West Virginia’s mountains, decapitating.
Vollmann breathes a cool wind “whose degree of particulate contamination was of course unknown,” hears on a silent street at night the grunting of a radioactive wild boar, and walks on broken glass through an abandoned clothing store advertising a 50 percent–off sale and peopled by headless mannequins.
Headless mannequins and radioactive wild boars — vivid metaphors, no? — we the humans have been brain-dead, and in all likelihood will continue so.
We’re all too familiar with images of ISIS executioners with their orange jump-suited prisoners, just prior to and after solo and group beheadings — as a corrective to the “it’s all Islam” narrative, here’s a para from an article titled Inside the Minds of Cartel Hitmen: Hannibal Lecters for Hire (which includes an interview with Robert Bunker that I will be taking a more extended look at now my review of JM Berger‘s new book. Extremism, is in):
And the tactics employed in all that killing have become more and more gruesome over time. Maybe the rush felt by some murderers is like a drug itself, and they are junkies needing ever greater doses to get the same high. But how is it that ordinary people get hooked on activities like beheading, acid baths, and cannibalism?
[ by Charles Cameron — Thomas à Becket, Jim Comey, Vladimir Putin, Stormy Daniels ]
Okay, let’s start with the movie version of “Who will rid me..?” Here’s the set up, the breaking of the long and deep friendship between King Henry II, his will driven by the power of the State, and his Archbishop, Thomas à Becket, driven to opposition by the honor of Mother Church
When the King determines at last to have his Archbishop removed, he utters those words which ring down the centuries — “will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” — shown here in Anouilh‘s version of Becket at 3.32 in this clip or thereabouts:
Becket meanwhile offers his resignation unto death in surrender to the will of his God:
In Eliot‘s Murder in the Cathedral, a passage with which one must wrestle lays out the conflict and its resolution:
They know and do not know, what it is to act or suffer.
They know and do not know, that acting is suffering
And suffering is action. Neither does the actor suffer
Nor the patient act. But both are fixed
In an eternal action, an eternal patience
To which all must consent that it may be willed
And which all must suffer that they may will it,
That the pattern may subsist, for the pattern is the action
And the suffering, that the wheel may turn and still
Be forever still.
Becket was killed in his cathedral on 29 December 1170, by four knights acting on the spur of the moment utterance of their king, and their own certainty as to the wish their king intended to express.
Becket was canonized — named a saint and martyr — in 1173. And the King? Wiki summarizes:
The king performed a public act of penance on 12 July 1174 at Canterbury, when he publicly confessed his sins, and then allowed each bishop present, including Foliot, to give him five blows from a rod, then each of the 80 monks of Canterbury Cathedral gave the king three blows. The king then offered gifts to Becket’s shrine and spent a vigil at Becket’s tomb.
So much for Becket.
President Trump, who had somewhat reluctantly fired Flynn, suggests to Jim Comey, head of the FBI, that he might want to close down the further investigation of the Russia business:
I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.
Comey was later questioned by Sen. Angus King in an intelligence committee hearing:
KING: In terms of his comments to you — I think in response to Mr. Risch — to Senator Risch, you said he said, “I hope you will hold back on that.” But when you get a — when a president of the United States in the Oval Office says something like “I hope” or “I suggest” or — or “would you,” do you take that as a — as a — as a directive?
COMEY: Yes. Yes, it rings in my ear as kind of, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
KING: I was just going to quote that. In 1170, December 29, Henry II said, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” and then, the next day, he was killed — Thomas Becket. That’s exactly the same situation. You’re — we’re thinking along the same lines.
That’s the direct use of the Becket theme turned to a contemporary purpose. But there’s more..
Julia Ioffe on All In with Chris Hayes, speaking of Putin‘s plausible deniability using the oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin as a cut-out:
IOFFE:It`s a very, very close relationship. In Russia, he`s known as Putin`s chef. And this is very much in keeping with how the Russians do things, right? There`s never going to be or probably not going to be any finger – any of Putin`s fingerprints on this, right? Probably what it looked like was Putin essentially saying, you know, who will rid me of this you know troublesome Hillary and everybody else kind of gets what that means and swings into action.
You might think the Becket story was enough. You might take delight in its contemporary echo by Comey and King. Julia Ioffe using the same example of Vladimir Putin was an unexpected bonus — but there’s (sadly) more..
Doing conspicuous favors and fixing things is in the nature of this bizarrely public toady-chieftain relationship. Read through Cohen’s interviews. You’ll find it’s replete with mixes of mafia tough guy talk and zany levels of conspicuous self-abnegation. It’s all theater at some level. But I think to a great degree it’s genuine. It’s the guy’s identity, like the way a top captain thinks about the mob boss he serves. Who will rid me of this meddlesome Stormy? Did I mention that Cohen and Trump’s mafia business partner Felix Sater were childhood friends long before they both ended up as top Trump business partners right around the same time? Well, that’s true too. In the scale of money both Trump and Cohen operate at, covering the $130,000 payment himself seems entirely plausible as something Cohen would do as part of the larger relationship. He probably did get paid back some way or another. But I think it’s totally plausible he didn’t. He’d love to be that guy who made the problem go away. Doing Trump a solid like that would be something he’d happily do. It’s the basis of their relationship. He’d get paid back in other ways.”
When Donald Trump, in one of his furies, makes an offhand comment about Mueller, does that then become an order in the ears of one of his loyal subordinates?
I donm’t think in the long haul that Trump is very Shakespeare the playwright, though as a character he may be Shakespearean. But I’m very taken with the genius of Shakespeare’s Rosalind, “insult, exult, and all at once..” and Trump’s “never left, right? All of us..”
Audrey Stanley, who directed a superlative Greek-tragedy-influenced As You Like It at Ashland while I was an adjunct anthro professor there, instructed her actors to make of each word its own universe, before running them together with the natural rhythms of speech, focusing in on “insult, exult” — both of which are two syllable words of which the second syllable is “sult” — yet having diametrically opposed meanings, and thus “universes”.
The actor who can move his or her breath and rib-cage from the fullness of “insult” to the fullness of “exult” — spitting defiance to joyous exaltation, at opposite extremes of the verbal spectrum — has performed a “coniunction oppositorum” as Jung would say, a folding of the universe as I would put it, from two (opposites) into one — “and all at once”.
It’s a brilliant and potentially transformative utterance, given to the brilliant and potentially transformative character, Rosalind.
Is Trump “brilliant and potentially transformative” — eh?
Under Audrey’s inspiration, I have long admired that brief line of Rosalind’s, and have only found one line — in Dylan Thomas — to match it:
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.