Sunday, June 01, 2008

Indecent behaviour at a police station, TPCA 1847

This essay by Ian McEwan in the Guardian Review shows precisely why the Decent influence on British intellectual life is so damn depressing. You may think, and I would say the AaroWatch crew are guilty of this, that they are just a bunch of wankers left behind with their blogs after history moved on. But their unpopularity is not all that important - the whole Decent project is intended to be an elite/intellectual one, based on influence rather than numbers.

On those terms it's succeeding, what with the ramifications it's developed in the Conservative Party...and its effect on the literary establishment is pretty grim, too. McEwan will never be a core-group Decent, even though he wrote a whole book about how terribly civilised, self-controlled surgeons compared to those irresponsible scum protesting in the streets. He's too good for that, and style has a role to play as well - Martin Amis's epic self-dramatising fits in perfectly with a movement as queeny as Decency, but McEwan's literary protestantism doesn't quite fit. But they are having an effect on him.

Consider this essay. It's a good, solid piece of work; a well-researched reflection on the continuity of apocalyptic thought in human societies, and the way it projects the real horror of mortality - that the world goes on without us - onto precisely the society that will always outlive us. But then, but then; you read this:
It was inevitably a transition, the passing of an old age into the new - and who is to say now that Osama bin Laden did not disappoint, whether we mourned at the dawn of the new millennium with the bereaved among the ruins of lower Manhattan, or danced for joy, as some did, in the Gaza Strip.
They didn't, though, did they? The TV image in question turned out to be stock footage shot months before, and no-one remembers the BBC lead of that night from Palestine, Yasser Arafat giving blood for New York. There is something wrong here - after all, why would you want to involve Palestinians at this point? They didn't bloody do it, man. Why not say - in Afghanistan, where the orders for the attack were given? In Saudi Arabia, where the attackers came from and where, in all probability, the money came from? In Hamburg, where the terrorist cell actually prepared the attack? Why give a location at all - someone, after all, will have danced for joy somewhere?

And here we go. McEwan now devotes several hundred words to the revolutionary notion that Wahhabism, Nazism, and Stalinism are undesirable and would be best avoided, something no Guardian Review reader is likely to have thought before him. He cites Christopher Hitchens, raging about John F. Kennedy, but oddly doesn't seem aware that Richard Nixon nearly started a nuclear war in 1973 or Ronald Reagan in 1984 with the ABLE ARCHER crisis, one which was particularly perilous because it happened without any of the diplomatic crisis management Kennedy's cabinet wrapped the Cuban crisis in. There is a message here, no? And it's not about apocalyptic thinking, at least not that kind.

But McEwan, as I said, will never be a real Decent. American Christian Identity types come in for a lot of flak, as does the Israeli settler movement. The fox is struggling to hedgehog up. On the other hand, though, it's there - the creationists get given an explicit pass on the suggestion they don't really believe it, and we've dealt with Palestine further back. This is undoubtedly a Decent document, which is a great pity, because its indecent curves are stunning when shown.

Meanwhile, I was driving away from Windsor Great Park on the day of the Queen's Cup polo match when I saw, over a hedge, the top of a Routemaster! Given the bizarre significance of the things to the PolEx/Godson/Standpoint/CCO/Martin Bright club, I'm tempted to imagine it as the transport for the Decent assassination squad.


Anonymous said...

To be honest, even the non-Decent parts of the essay were a hodgepodge. that was actively painful to read.

Anonymous said...

And it starts with what has to be the very worst opening sentence to any piece of writing, ever. I couldn't get beyond it. Self-indulgent, tautological, confusing, overwrought... Actually, it's pretty much the straw that broke this camel's back when it comes to wanky elitist literati. It means I can never go to another literature festival again.

Anonymous said...

Why give a location at all - someone, after all, will have danced for joy somewhere?

Someone, of course, did; notoriously, five idiot Israeli students managed to get themselves arrested for dancing about and acting like cocks in Manhattan itself, and ended up playing all sorts of roles in the conspiracy literature everafter.

btw, it's not a bad essay, but awfully familiar from its first time round when it was written by John Gray and called "Black Mass".

Anonymous said...

After the Salman Rushdie fatwa McEwan wrote an incredibly pompous piece about, now that religion is dead, writers and novelists are the new high priests and pontiffs and grand muftis of civilization.

Quite oblivious to the irony.


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