Between 1980 and 1990, one colossus bestrode the world like… like a verminous scarecrow over a dying field of corn. Or something like that. I’m talking, of course, about his senility, Ronald Reagan. During those years, I protested against Reagan, and my friends uniformly found him to be a joke, a turd, and a fascist.
However, I do not think of Reagan when I think of those years. Not really. One reason may be that I did not own a television in that decade. Reagan, to me, was pre-eminently a beast of print. In a sense, I did not have that false, trans-haptic sense of knowing him which one gets from watching tv or movies and seeing, constantly, the same faces and bodies. The stars.
I’ve never been within pissing distance of a single powerful figure in my life. I’ve never been at arms end – I’ve never seen the skins and smelled the smells of Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, or Obama.
Yet they move, definitely, as images through my life. In the eighties and the nineties, even, it was possible to keep them at arm’s length, so to speak – to coldly judge them without getting them up one’s nose. So I could pretty clearly say that I knew only the parade balloon that I saw photographed in newspapers and magazines, really, and the words that were written for them by other people. They were, in a sense, “middle spirits”. Itake the phrase from Empson, who uses it in a review of Francis Yates bookabout Renaissance Hermeticism:
“C.S. Lewis, in the first chapter of his survey of English 16th-century literature (1954), said that earlier writers had treated magic as fanciful and remote, but in this period they felt it might be going on in the next street; and one reason was a thing they surprisingly called ‘Platonism’: ‘the doctrine that the region between the earth and the moon is crowded with airy creatures who are capable of fertile union with our own species.’ Another reason for feeling at home with the spirits was the doctrine ‘that the invisible population of the universe includes a whole crowd of beings who might also be called theologically neutral’. That is, they die like the beasts, and never come before the Judgment Seat; they are ‘far from Heaven, and safe from Hell’. They are not neutral, being a mixture of good and bad like ourselves: but they are not angels or devils, permanently engaged in a Manichean battle, wearing the uniform either of God or Satan. Clearly, this makes them likely to be useful to us, perhaps even to tell the secrets of Nature, if we have something to offer in return. It is an important change. But Dame Frances will have none of it, and so she does not mention the names of Puck or Ariel.
Lewis used his dubious phrase about neutrality to introduce the idea, I think, because the full doctrine is seldom stated. It would be considered heretical, and would anyhow be shocking: but the feeling of it, or an approach to it, is widespread in the period. One of the chief reasons for wanting some kind of belief in Middle Spirits was the reverence felt for the newly recovered classics, together with the belief, often expressed, that it would be impudent to deny experiences which had once been generally attested. Apollo could not have been nothing, and it was very disagreeable to believe him a devil. It was clear that he had lasted a long time, say two thousand years, and pretty certain that he was now dead; to believe he had been a Middle Spirit fitted very well. It would be unfitting if he were summoned to the Day of Judgment, so the educated tended to assume that this would not happen.”
I would call such creatures ontologically neutral, and I would list in this category the stars and celebs who, while “capable of fertile union” with the likes of us, definitely carry with them the hint of the faery realm in which they are most engaged.
The Middle Spirits have, I think, come crashing down because the audio-visual media of the twentieth century that supported them have crashed into the internet. In 1980, if someone sent personal letters to some other person, a Middle Spirit, a star, this act of fandom seemed a bit eccentric; after all, there was no way to ‘know’ the person on the other end. Now, of course, on facebook and twitter, and on blogs, we are in communication with people we don’t “know” all the time. One of the happier things about keeping up a blog for fourteen years is that I “know” a lot of the people who comment on it or send me emails.
In this transformation of the confederacy of Middle spirits, my feeling about politicians has changed. It has become much more personal. When George Bush was elected, I frankly didn’t care. Bush and Gore were, to me, much like two version of the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow man in Ghostbusters: comically exaggerated dangerous monsters. But Bush’s coup came at the same time that my interaction with the computer intensified dramatically. I started a blog, a zine, and went around looking for writing jobs on the internet. 9/11 marked the beginning of my actual dislike of George Bush – and it was a change of dislikes. It was not distant, but very close. It was as if I knew the fuck up.
I knew that this was not a good thing for my mental health, but I also knew, and know, that it signaled a good thing in general. It used to be that this kind of knowing – a mook’s knowing, a sort of entrance into a faux-haptic space – was a reality for the elite alone. Now, they’ve been stripped of this perogative. The press still can’t get over that. HRC ran, curiously, as if this never happened – while Obama was hyperconscious of it. He was the candidate of these new circs. Trump, who has grabbed us by the pussy like untreatable case of clap, is, oddly, also aware of it. Probably this is due to pornography. Trump has always been a camp follower of soft-core, and probably hard-core, porn. Porn was, in the seventies and eighties, something like the parody zone of the Middle Spirits. It cashed out on faux-haptic knowing big time. Look but don’t touch turing into look but touch yourself – the cardinal rule, except for the big Mooks, like Trump. But porn, famously, made the jump to the internet and never looked back, even as the whole industry that had grown up in the seventies and eighties collapsed. Trump, of course, has kept faith with the golden era porn creed, but as well, he followed the industry in its transmorgified form into the net. We are supposed to think of Trump’s appeal to white nationalists as the core of his success. I think the appeal to the older wanker set was just as important. There was a very good reason that the Republican primary consisted of a mudfight over the cock sizes of the candidates: because this was a real issue. It was the issue of knowing the candidate, and knowing where he’d put his organ. Into whose pixeled angelic hands.
I am going to have a harder time ignoring Trump than I had ignoring Reagan. But I think I can make it. I’ll blast his fuckedupness whenever I get a chance, but I am not letting him under my skin like I let Bush. I’m too tired and wary to go all the way with yesterday’s Wanker.