Friday, January 9, 2015

Chamois strokes

Writing in The New York Review
of Books in 1983, just as the
elder of my acquaintances from
the university down the road
began hitting the ground, Gore
Vidal cited Alexander Herzen's
"terrible truth," the end of
each generation is itself, to
recommend a rescue of American
education from Reaganite indif-
ference to fact. Only the oth-
er day, the internal newspaper
of that same university print-
ed an ad for its school of bus-
iness administration, on the
basis of an alumna's boast of
acquiring fabulous networks.
Vidal would have understood:
we have always had networks.
They used to bear content.

Recommending the curiosity of
William Dean Howells, the great
late-Century editor of The At-
lantic and a novelist of such
power that he could appeal, as
almost no one else ever would,
to both Twain and James, he wel-
comed The Library of America's
issuing of Howells' later works
in the first of what became two
volumes. But Vidal was always a
connoisseur of the vigor in what
is fine.

         The average educated American has been made to be-
         lieve that, somehow, the United States must lead 
         the world even though hardly anyone has any infor-
         mation at all about those countries we are meant 
         to lead. Worse, we have very little information a-
         bout our own country and its past. That is why it 
         is not really possible to compare a writer like
         Howells with any living American writer because 
         Howells thought that it was a good thing to know 
         as much as possible about his own country as well 
         as other countries while our writers today, in com-
         mon with the presidents and paint manufacturers, 
         live in a present without past among signs whose 
         meanings are uninterpretable.

The weight of a misspent legacy
is infinitely greater than that
of the shell that frittered it
away; this is simply a famil-
iar response to any acquaintance
with something fine. But now, he
asks, what of the shell exempted
from its acquisition, whether on
some theory of security, or of
fashion, or religion? I don't be-
lieve we can say of Vidal, that
he fretted his extinguishment,
but that he pulled his weight.
We know we can say, that as the
only kind of Tory worth his salt,
he asserted constantly and truly,
to become cultivated was nothing
more or less than playing fair.
How synchronous that stroke is -
and besides, there are lats.

There will be politics for this
reason, as there must be. Let's

On Friday morning, this week,
in Jeddah - today - a subject 
of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 
is to be flogged in public,
outside the mosque after mor-
ning prayers. The State will
lash him 50 times in that sun-
ny dawn, as a fragment of a
sentence he must endure from
those councils of absolutism,
for blogging ill of their es-
chatological codpiece, Islam
as they demand it to be known.

Sound familiar?

Within 20 lashes - tops, we
are promised - the Saudi pub-
lic will be able to cherish
the revelation of his ribs.
Is this in poor taste: to re-
count the justice we plunge
hundreds of thousands of our
"boys," and untold trillions
of our unsheltered taxpayers'
priceless earnings, into caul-
drons of prefigured dross, to
protect in that desert? Does
it seem, ill-bred to notice?
Well. Shucks.

This is to be repeated each
Friday of the next 20 weeks,
until he has absorbed a thou-
sand lashes, over 5 months.
There remains, of course, an
extensive incarceration for
his prose. But by any stan-
dard this sadism is meant to
scar him forever, to deliver
him permanently to pain, and 
crush the spirit. A tolerance
for savagery in the custodial
class is as anathema to civ-
ilisation as a tolerance for
any other terror. Geneva got
that right. Yet, 

                 we hold no

I have not noticed any pom-
pom megaphoning of hysteria
such as led us to depose one
dictator of Iraq, for tortur-
ing "his own people." But now
we have the benefit of clari-
fication. We don't care what
they do, who toe our line, as
we warp ours to fit theirs. We
trot out our Dr Strangeloves,
to mesmerise us to finesse
our humanity; and there are
always among the vulnerable,
those who leap to do it.

So, we educate, and we hope.
This is true retaliation, the
leveraging of an indomitable

Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres
Lord Grantham
Collection J.P. Getty, Malibu

Urs Stooss
  work on chamois, 1998©

Hugo Mayhew 
  work shirt, undated

Gore Vidal
The Peculiar American Stamp
The New York Review of Books
October 27, 1983©
Jay Parini
The Selected Essays
  of Gore Vidal
Doubleday, 2008©

NB: In the United States,
National Public Radio re-
ported at 2:00pm EST
on this date, that this 
act was committed.

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