July 9, 2007

Down Among the Dead

R.A. Lafferty wrote once (I quote from memory, but I'm pretty sure I have the essential gist): "People will tell you words are opposites when they are not even related. Listen to me: the opposite of radical is superficial; the opposite of liberal is stingy; the opposite of conservative is destructive. Therefore I am a radical liberal conservative." Which is a pretty tall order to fill, but at least a coherent political philosophy. Segment them and what do you get? Conservatives so in love with destruction they have nightly wet dreams of world-immolating Armaggedon; Liberals who with the Heinz fortune or McCartney's billion at their disposal, will pinch a penny 'til the copper melts and streams at their feet; Radicals who lose their train of thought completely in the middle of an ordinary sentence,only to save the day by a quick cry of "Right on!" "Fight the power!" or "Whatever." And damned if the lot of them won't squeal like stuck pigs if you try to deny them the medal, educational distinction or merit badge they prefer. Divorce words from their meanings that thoroughly and a functional illiterate can call himself an education president; an actor can fly, at the brink of war, on a mission of his own devising and give a more credible performance than most professional diplomats, because he's a better actor, and the professionals have no diplomatic skills; sincerity become the irony of the new millenium; democracy, theocracy, plutocracy and secret government become interchangeable synonyms (not to mention technocracy, consumerism, warcraft and social vision); voices rise to swell grand auditoria, perfectly satisfying every hearer except those few troubled by not being able to make out a single word of what is said; the lies people tell become particular badges of honour; they substitute second-rate t-shirt slogans for philosophies of thought and action (which take far too long to test and compile); the real world becomes a billboard campaign, with colours bled and tonal values values randomly transposed, sometimes for fiscal, sometimes for artistic reasons; gibberish replaces gold as universal coin of the realm; flames leap from window to window while overeager commentators zealously interview the laid-out rows of smouldering corpses (you'd think they'd notice at least the briquet colouring and toasty condition--steam rising from the charred mouth instead of words? I'd call that a dead giveaway but I guarantee: learned theses will emerge from transliterations of the steam).

C 2007 Martin Heavisides


Chancelucky said...

I'll have to take a look at Lafferty.
When it comes to this stuff, the first person I think of is Orwell and the way he used self-contradictory labels to such great effect in 1984.

Martin Heavisides said...

I recommend Lafferty very highly. I'd believe in the Nobel Prize if I were to hear a rumour he'd ever been seriously considered. He won't be findable in bookstores, but a good deal of his work is available online, and you can probably track a book or two in the library. (Sci-Fi and general fiction sections. His monumental novel on the Choctaw--monumental in scope, just over two hundred pages in length--is likely to turn up somewhere in your local library system. The book I was quoting from is an historical novel set in the 19th century called The Flame is Green.)