I sense against the stupidity of my age such floods of hatred that they choke me. The shit mounts into my mouth, as from a tied off hernia. But I want to keep it, fix it, let it harden… - Flaubert, letter to Bouilhet.
Flaubert has a reputation for denouncing la bêtise. Sartre claimed that for Flaubert, betise was essentially identical with language itself. But if you read the language of the paroxysms of disgust which are provoked in Flaubert by the stupidity of his age, you’ll notice that the metaphors are about reversing speaking or eating. The body wants to come through the mouth. In another letter, speaking of researching one of his novels, Flaubert speaks of ‘swallowing volumes and taking notes” so that he can fulfill his one and only purpose: “to spew on his contemporaries the disgust that they inspire in me” (cracher sur mes contemporains le dégoût qu'ils m'inspirent).
This, of course, is the problem with indignation once it increases to a certain level. It wants to bypass language altogether, to play the tape of culture, and even of organic growth, backwards, to shit out of the mouth, to spew or spit one’s entire being. If the holy speech gone backwards is the royal road to the wolf and the devil, to get to the true underground gods, playing language itself backwards is just the spell. It is not a spell to used casually.
LI understands Flaubert’s problem: after all, we live in the age of Bush and Blair.
Which brings us to a commentary by one of the heroic liberal interventionists in the Independent. A man named John Rentoul, who has already received some notice for this wonderful sentence – a formula guaranteed to bring up the chunks: “ The Iraq war is a tragedy, above all, because of the damage it is inflicting on that cause of liberal interventionism…”
Ah, yes. One hopes that the Iraqis – who were given this wonderful, wonderful chance, as Rentoul points out, and yet somehow it “unleashed a new form of murderousness on the Iraqi people in place of the old" – are aware of this. We know that our President has long been disappointed in their ingratitude. But that a gorgeous war, all shimmery with hope, in which many a liberal interventionist could, vicariously, get their General Patton out – oh, so much better than paintball! – could temporarily dent our hopes for troop movements in Iran, liberated at last, or Sudan, or perhaps freeing the people of Venezuela from dire dictatorship – such things make Rentoul weep. Not that he’s a wet, mind you:
“The Iraq war is not an argument to be won or lost; it’s a tragedy.” In search of what posterity may make of Tony Blair’s record in foreign affairs, I was struck by these words in one of the better first drafts of history, The Assassins’ Gate, by the American journalist George Packer.
Not that the pro-war argument has been lost. As long as the Iraqis continue to say that their appalling suffering is worth it to get rid of Saddam Hussein, it cannot be.”
Well, said the cat, clicking its claws, I don’t think a single Iraqi thinks their appalling sufferings are in some equation with getting rid of Saddam Hussein. He is, after all, well and truly hung. There’s not a babe, old man, young man, young woman or other victim of car bomb, American firefight, mortar fire, militia kidnapping, etc., etc who considered that what was happening to them was dying for freedom. And seemingly those appalling sufferings – perhaps having to do with the wholesale looting of the country by American contractors, the arrogant and unbelievable criminal negligence of the American occupational ‘authority’ in completely denying 25 million people security for a year, the thousands dragged through prisons, the thousands whose homes have been ransacked, the completely demented double speak of democracy and the old imperialist fetch it, boy that discards Prime Ministers and rams oil laws down the Iraqi throat – perhaps all this is, well, deeply to be regretted. But let it not stop another good man, another noble Blair or Bush, from exercising that executive prerogative that will start it all up over again.
And at that thought, the shit does mount in my throat. Unfortunately, the shit mounts in the very throat of the times. The convergence between short term memory loss and warmongering in these here states is enough to top any of the mere bourgeois stupidities, the pablum of progress crowd, that revolted Flaubert. The bland and sleek beasts that have snacked on blood – but all at a safe distance, and through the appropriate proxies – over the last six of seven years have not, unfortunately, been felled by a single rhetorical thunderbolt. And this is where intelligence turns into shit, because intelligence knows this to be true. Intelligence knows that you can quote the Rentouls up and down – the sycophantic stupidity, the blind and beastial repetition of long exploded lies, the production of a Disney War world in which Bush never lied and Blair was motivated by honor.
“As soon as he has gone, a more balanced judgement of British foreign policy over the past decade may be possible. But one historian cannot wait, and has already offered a superb analysis that strips away many of the myths that have attached themselves to Blair’s conduct of Iraq policy. Professor Peter Hennessy may be surprised to find his work cited in defence of Blair, because he is one of the Prime Minister’s fiercest critics in these matters. Yet the chapter on Suez in his sparkling history of Britain in the 1950s, Having It So Good, should be required reading for anyone tempted to draw parallels between Iraq and Suez.
The two are so completely different as to be polar opposites. As Hennessy writes, Anthony Eden pursued his aims of taking back the canal and forcing the fall of President Nasser of Egypt “in the teeth of attempts to divert or warn him off by President Eisenhower, his two law officers, one Chief of Staff ... the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Treasury”. Blair’s Iraq policy, on the other hand, was pursued with the explicit support of all their 2003 equivalents.
The most damning feature of Eden’s conduct was his attempt to deceive his Cabinet and the US, and finally his uttering, twice, an unadorned lie to the House of Commons.
Blair was, of course, guilty of none of these crimes, and was cleared by four inquiries and one general election.”
He was cleared by one general election? General elections clear nobody, although it is interesting that this shoddy metaphor used to be used by Pinochet's supporters to talk about his wonders to behold in Chile. Even in terms of the metaphor, that election was, at best, a hung jury, since I believe he got the equivalent – since we are speaking in term of a trial metaphor - of two and a half votes for innocent, as opposed to the rest of the jury. As for the establishment cover-ups that constituted the four inquiries, well – we already know how inquiries go in the age of Blair that don’t bring in the non-guilty verdict. We saw Blair cut off the inquiry into the bribing of the Saudis by BAE.
Blair is retiring into some no doubt Murdoch contrived haze of comfort, and will do as much as is humanly possible to create the greatest amount of misery he can on his path towards death. He is one of the monsters. One of ours.