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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pomp, under the Circumstances

There seem to be two basic views about the Royal Wedding (now why did I capitalize that?).

1. Relax and enjoy the fairy tale (royalty, Englishness, empire, national unity, the promise of social mobility for commoners like Kate)! Times have been tough--let's party!

2. How can we afford this when we can't afford education, health care, job training, public transport, etc., etc.? Roll on the Republic!

The first counsels brief happiness at the expense of engagement with truth of things as they are; the second counsels righteous anger at the expense of a good knees up which everyone clearly seems to need.

Princess Beatrice obligingly came dressed as a Yak. Or a Georgian architectural folly--I'm not entirely sure.

I see both points, I really do, though I have always been a staunch republican (not the GOP, you understand). I also like a bit of fantastical escapism, me.

But I'm getting old, and the echoes of Cassandra-like warnings from the recent past about the present we now live in were brought back to me by the whole affair.

I used to teach English Lit. and an interesting task was always to get students to compare the twin pillars of 20th century dystopian novels--Orwell's 1984, and Huxley's Brave New World. Both were written mid-last-century. Both predict a politico-social order to come (about now, actually). Both predict a dystopia in which individuals will lose what is taken to be their humanity--their emotions, uniqueness, will, inner life.

BUT--in Orwell's book, social control is achieved by force and coercion--what the Frankfurt school philosophers call RSA's (Repressive State Apparatuses). A security state using violence, torture, informants. To a degree, and in some places more than others, this has come true. Ask a Syrian.

Thankfully, this didn't come to pass for us. Or did it?

However I think it is Huxley's opus that gets it right for the Anglosphere--Britain, America, Australia, etc. In this book, control is achieved by narcotics, elaborate diversions, sensuality (or its promise), in short by escape from a reality in which the individual person is effectively powerless to do anything other than indulge and distract him/herself. Plus the ideologies at work in the public sphere that make these practices seem normal, natural, and right.

This one did come true.
A bottle of cheap  Prosecco, a fantasy on a flat screen (on credit), a public holiday, and cake--is all we need to carry on for a while longer in a country that is over-crowded, bankrupt, and paradoxically increasingly squalid and hideously expensive for the overwhelming majority of its 'subjects' (I use the word advisedly).

'Soma' was the name Huxley gave to the cheap, easily acquired narcotic that kept the helpless souls of his dystopian idyll happy and complaint.

"There's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears-that's what soma is."

- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Ch. 17

Soma...somnolent...somnolence....all drawn from the same root word meaning sleep......zzzzzzzzzz.

"Whassat Kate Middleton goth that I aint got...?"

Go back to bed, Britain. Your nation is great and splendorous again.

Go back to sleep, Britain. We are one happy nation in the sun, building the new Jerusalem, a shining model for the world.

Go back to sleep, Britain and let nothing wake you from pleasant Blytonesque dreams of picnics and lashings of cream.

Meanwhile, libraries shut. Home care services are cut. NHS officials are finding ways not to treat people to keep costs down. And a railway ticket between major cities costs a week's wage.

First slum of Europe: a role
It won't be hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts*. (*Author's note: take a good look at the guest list)

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.

There'll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.
--Philip Larkin: "Going, going"

So why not open the Prosecco, look adoringly on the Lords and Ladies, and dream again of the past? I can think of no reason why not.

"God bless us...every one."

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