Wednesday, February 22, 2012

If you sense no friction, there could still be turbulence

I am reading a smooth-
featured text, a novel
by a fellow I discov-
ered in California,
with his then-new The 
Last King of Scotland.
He is very subtle - in
case you happened to 
see the movie - and
attractively easygoing.

One could say, Turbulence,
this novel, takes its hon-
ourable place in that genre
of fiction on how Britain's
many secret services exploit
the genius of innocents in
times of crisis - to crack
codes, invent disinformation,
seduce others for St George, 
and so forth. In these res-
emblances to Philoctetes,
it is very good.

It's in its originality, 
on quirks of Nature under
the scrutiny of physics, 
of human nature under the
pressure of feeling, that
again one is tempted to wor-
ry if literature will ever
be read by adherents of
certainty. If you live in
the United States, you know
this to be a defining ques-
tion. If you do not live
in the United States, when
were you last undisturbed
by its certainties?

.. as we stood there under those yawning, whispering beeches, with weather balloons pulling in our hands, his pacifism struck me as hopelessly naïve, if not downright irresponsible .. Finding ourselves at an impasse of argument, we stood unspeaking, face to face, both listening to the wind as it passed through the trees, making them stretch out their melancholy limbs.. 

There was another sound - air moving over the rubber of the balloons. A whining rasp, and I could tell from his face that it had provoked thought in him as well as me.

'That, and it is to the point, my young friend, is the sound of friction.. Along with turbulence, friction is one of the  most important things in the universe. Perhaps they can be described as cousins, even brothers. Or actually the same person, appearing in different profile..

You see, Meadows, nothing can start without something to push off from. But good comes even when there's no positive action. Blocking, delaying, braking .. these things create value just as the mixing of turbulence does, enabling the birth of new systems and the death of old ones, the transfer of energy from one place and time to another.'

Over the weekend, it was widely reported that the foreign ministers of the United States and Great Britain had cautioned the Netanyahu government in Israel against a pre-emptive war upon Iran. Coming from a nation saturated in the bellicose indiscipline of its previous President, it was obvious that the American leadership (which may well have been dissimulating) would come under intense fire from his Party. And so, like clockwork, it has done. Here, in the precise rhetoric with which that Party castigates every restraint upon its petulance, is how Foden's Meadows responds to his balloon-flying colleague:

'But friction is mostly a negative force, socially speaking. It reduces efficiency.' 

'Yes, but that negativity prevents bad plans as much as good ones ..'

I do wonder if any hope can be
drawn from the distinction, that
Mr Bush did not extoll aggressive
war until he was safely in office,
while his wannabe successors don't
yet hold the White House. Surely,
I do wonder if efficient friction,
which he never faced in office,
if not the restoration of a pre-
apocalyptic culture as nearby as
right here.

Giles Foden
Knopf, 2010© 

iii, iv  Jeremy Young


  1. I'm sure he appreciates that very much, but you mustn't let him expect a biscuit after every outing.


  2. You bracket you tense and tight and good review with two of the most beautiful photo images . I shall read almost anything you recommend - as so far your blog and you have led me to some of life's most poignant moments for all my senses

  3. Borrowings, mon cher Lucien, people would say we scrape from billboards as a pastiche. I wonder if they know where billboards come from. You're very kind; but you are looking, and I am grateful for your sharing that restless discontent in your kind way.

  4. I do like your blog as well and will give it homemade blog-biscuits any time:)

  5. :)

    Very well, I shall accept your prescription!