Scalfari & the phantastiacal

In a dream, I was having an argument with Steve Bannon. He wasn’t listening to me, he was hectoring me instead, about this and that. I love the guy — he is quite the character — but he can be overbearing at times. I was making a point he should jolly well have understood, but he pretended to mistake it. I was telling him that I do not object to having an Establishment. Rather, I object to having an Establishment that is unworthy of its place in the social and economic order. Had we a more worthy Establishment, I argued, it would be easier for us to meekly obey, and constructively imitate our betters. Instead we have these malicious clowns.

Bannon and I have both read T. S. Eliot, and so he winked when I, recalling “Prufrock,” repeated, “That is not what I said at all.”

Good man, he changed the topic to Henry James. The last I remember of the dream was walking through Paris, crossing a bridge over the Seine, then along the immortal book kiosks, where we stumbled on some glorious Old French texts. Bannon was telling me that one cannot love a city that seems too fixed in present time; that one cannot walk through Paris without a sense of movement through time, and of the layers of history La Cité presents in constantly reassembling shape and order; that the present must seem fleeting itself, in order to be loved. I agreed with this, but when I turned to reply, Bannon had himself somehow reassembled as James Russell Lowell, en route to an ambassadorship in Spain.

Were it not for these dream interviews, I might seldom have met great men. But there is a prejudice against the journalists who publish them, and let me own it can be so withering that I hardly mention them, even in Idleposts.

My dreams are not always so evanescent. For instance, in late 1975, while according to the newspapers Francisco Franco lay dying, I had a fascinating conversation with this authoritarian and monarchist hidalgo. It continued night after night. Our talk fades in memory today, but he was explaining the principles on which he had ruled, and I was struck by their plausibility. Had I only published these dream interviews, my liberal friends of the time might have understood Franco better, and been more inclined to tolerate his occasional excesses. Instead they shed no tear on his demise.

There was Walter Savage Landor, of course (his Imaginary Conversations), and there is a journalist in Italy, Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica, who puts his interviews with our pope into print. An interesting man, Scalfari, he is getting through his nineties and still spry. As many Italians, he made the transition from strict Fascist to strict Socialist smoothly in the days after the last World War. He is a man who apparently never takes notes (I admire palle in a journalist), yet is able to transcribe his dialogues at great length and in exacting detail. His frequent interviews with our Holy Father have been Roman entertainment for several years. In those, it appears that Francis is an atheist, much like Scalfari; and his aspiration is to sabotage the Church, much as Scalfari’s.

Recently, for instance, Scalfari was able to report that, “Pope Francis has abolished all the places we were supposed to go after death: Hell, Purgatory, Heaven.” … Then in his L’Espresso column, Sandro Magister (the doyen of Vatican-watchers) quotes from one mechanically-recorded audience and homily after another, in which the Holy Father gently assumes not only the character but the lines that Scalfari has attributed to him.

This shows, to my mind, an invincible good humour. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was, after all, raised in the Buenos Aires of Jorge Luis Borges, whose phantastiacal tales were an inspiration to my youth. In the spirit of that gracious author, the currently incumbent Bishop of Rome seems happy to play along with phantastiacal reporting. … (Yes, I made that word up.)

I have myself interviewed the Holy Father in the course of at least one long night, however, and am tempted to emulate Scalfari, if only to provide a corrective to some of his more importunate assertions. For in my dreams Bergoglio is almost stridently conservative, a real enthusiast for the Old Mass, and an extremely well-educated Thomist, cautiously orthodox in every particular.