Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Against fucking

As I write, from my flat in Toronto’s Parkdale, my neighbour is criticizing his imaginary flatmate.  He, though sometimes she, is loudly, indeed explosively, accused of ruining his life. His vocabulary is mostly restricted to the word, “fuck,” but occasionally extended to the phrase, “leave me fucking alone.” Several times a day, and night, these declarations ring through my walls. An actual person who lives on the next floor, tells me he thinks the man could be dangerous. But I think he will remain physically harmless, so long as he has no encounter with another human being. If that happens, of course, all bets are off.

By coincidence, one of the many half-way house residents across the street is beating against a window, just short of smashing it. He, contrastingly, demands to be let in. The person he assumes is preventing him, is obsessively denounced, with variations on the word “fucking.”

A young derelict is also shouting this word, farther down the street, but apparently to no one except, perhaps, a dog that may be barking at him.

Earlier today, I heard several other instances of “fucking.” The word seems to indicate some (otherwise unspecified) tiresome behaviour. … And ho! Another person is now shouting “fuck,” and “fuck you,” somewhat rhythmically with the dog that is barking. That makes four, and the dog, five.

“In our age there is no such thing as keeping out of politics,” George Orwell says. “All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.”

To which I would add, fucking. Orwell noted the “gramophone mind,” that mechanically repeats the prevailing “smelly little orthodoxies,” in political life, generally using the same clichés. But this has become too challenging in these liberal, progressive, low-intelligence times, and now we just repeat the term “fucking.”

Inflammation & swelling

There is no future in big. I say this with my usual authority. It is a point I have been making in a desultory way, for the last fifty years or so, along with my increasingly violent opposition to progress, and revulsion for technological innovation.

I suppose this gestalt has become slightly more popular, as I discern from YouTube, where for instance Mary Harrington declares that she is a reactionary feminist, consciously opposed to progress; and the late Colombian aphorist, Nicolás Gómez Dávila, is more frequently mentioned in Facebook and Twitter. I do not count this as progress of the progressive sort; but rather as illustrious movement, backwards. For I don’t think history is like an automobile, that may be put into reverse by dancing with one’s toes. Like birds, instead, history moves persistently forward, merely turning this way and that; for like birds it is flighty. Even the victims of the birds of prey are nudged continually forward.

Death of course cannot be avoided — it seems that it is built into every finite model, and put at the end of every successful chase. All progress must end in extinction. This includes the progress that is tallied as expansion, whether of nations, businesses, or waistlines. How foolish to be a politician, or other “activist” or “patriot,” who extends his national frontiers or GNP or dining by his aggressive manoeuvres. He makes more room for other men to hate him, and will be despised wherever he impinges. He may find allies, too, but these will first consult their own interest and soon flee his clawing, imperial embrace.

Growth itself is an illusion, whether or not it is done at the expense of competitors, and indeed mere longevity is an empty accomplishment, in view of the subsequent everlasting death. Temporal infinity can be no friend to the living.

History offers brief fame to only a few, but not after consulting them, or for anything they designed. Indeed, a frank survey of the famous, beyond revealing that each ends in demise, reveals that in life it is an unattractive station: for the larger the reputation the more easily it is assailed. Reputations would better be preserved by hiding.

In each of these categories, bigness must prove a disaster, for the person who contrives to be big, as for the subjects on which he will confer bigness. For all those around, it is also a terrible inconvenience. For whether or not “small is beautiful,” it is always selected by the wise.

Burmese noodles

I swear — and whenever I use this phrase, I may be about to utter some truth — that I could have been the patriarch of instant noodles. Except, upon checking this claim within the Wicked Paedia, I see that “instant ramen” was (were?) launched in Japan in 1958; and my scheme for Burmese noodles was not even conceived until 1971. There was no Wicked Paedia in 1971, however, so my claim might have prevailed for a while.

This idea was one of several “get rich quick” schemes I entertained in those days, when I was still a child, but now of adult years. During my one and only visit to Rangoon (as it then was, and should be called in English) I was enchanted by the noodles of a street vendor, who was incidentally rather pretty. I had no idea of the recipe, and made no attempt to procure it, but it was a liquid variant of standard Burmese curry, with perhaps additional sesame oil; flooding rice noodles. One might be tempted to add a duck, but few were to be seen flying over Rangoon on that day.

The technology of “flash frying” was not yet clear to me, though I guessed that high heat would be involved. On the Thai streets, with which I was more familiar, I had already been impressed with the speed at which “prepped” raw materials could be transformed. I conceived of the idea of dried instant noodles, and powdered flavouring packages, and the ugly small plastic bags they could be sold in.

As my elder son demonstrated, a generation later, the dry pre-cooked noodles could also be sprinkled with the flavouring powder, and munched like potato crisps straight from the bag. Think of the potential.

Fortunately, I didn’t have the money to advance my scheme, on even a modest scale. And thank God, for if it had been successful, I might be rich today. Indeed, I am grateful for the “failure to launch” of all my get-rich-quick schemes before the age of twenty, and for my abandonment of such ambitions later. I’ve lived a charmed life.

My Luddite approach to technology developed in those days. The intention of “high tech” was subsumed in an apocalyptic vision: of the slavery into which men and women are thrust, when they surrender their crafts and cooking. They become “workers and consumers” — slaves, generally, without even religion to sustain them. For whether serving Capitalism, or Communism, they have joined a pyramid scheme, under an invariably unhappy pharaoh, and his team of whippers: cranking out pyramids, Burmese noodles, whatever.

Perfect object

All objects are perfect, as Zbigniew Herbert explained to me, whenas I was growing up. (Czezlaw Milosz translated.) They “cannot, unfortunately, be reproached with anything.” He had never seen a chair shift from one foot to another, a bed rear up, or a table (even when tired) dare to bend its knees. He suspected that they did (or rather didn’t do) this from “pedagogical considerations,” and were in fact reproving us. For we living subjects are a notoriously unstable lot.

This would be the beginning of my defence of corruption, growing again as I read (not for the first time) the biography of Lucrezia Borgia, by Ferdinand Gregorovius. I am at the point in her young life when she discovers who her father really is, and what opportunities in life this will present to her and to her siblings. For there are advantages to being a Borgia, especially when your father is the pope. (And one of my favourite popes: Alexander VI, a generous and competent administrator, who usefully divided the New World between Portugal and Spain. Though not the best example to later popes, on the point of personal morals.)

Even today, many children try to make the best of what they have to work with; and neglect their Latin and Greek studies, as Lucrezia is accused of doing. (Nevertheless, she was plenty smart.)

A femme fatale is the opposite of an object, as I would say in defiance of the old-school feminists. They shift from one foot to the other, bend their knees, and occasionally rear up. They do this because they are alive; and few are saints after all. But saints, too, are not objects, except when made into statuettes (which is not a criticism of art).

Byzantine and Mediaeval history are brimful of characters who were, to a superlative degree, not objects, and to understand them, centuries after each has performed his death, is a task beyond our reach. But as it is Sunday, I thought I should put my book aside. This is another thing an object would not do.

Posthumization

The writer Luis Rafael Sánchez, of whom I know nothing else, apparently coined the term “posthumization” — in Puerto Rican (a presumed variant of Spanish). But I would rather credit Ana Lydia Vega, who pronounced it during her “honoris causa” doctoral address in some university auditorium somewhere. She mentioned that the academic gown she was wearing, which she likened to a “burqa,” gave her a zombitic appearance — that of a gothic angel — so that she might float among the dead in the local cemetery. Around there she would find the men all in undertaker black, but the women wearing “revolutionary red” lipstick. Her fellow writers would be carrying protest signs, for one progressive cause or another, and even those arguably alive may be “posthumized” in official tributes, such as the one she was now enduring.

While I might not knowingly agree with any cause that Ms Vega supports — for I maintain complete innocence about developments in Puerto Rico — I do agree to the use of this novel expression. I am in favour of “posthumizing” all writer-activists, to which end, I would propose that we found a Society for the Posthumization of Activists, with the acronym, S.P.A. Its function would be to treat activists everywhere as if they were dead.

Coronation

His Majesty King Charles III has been crowned at Westminster. This is the sort of news for which we resort to the BBC, hoping it will take a break from its schedule of progressive, political ostentation. Verily, our own break will continue, indefinitely. The King, too, should consider such a recess from “new age” posturing, and in the finest tradition, “just do his job.”

It is glorious, and sometimes happy, to still have a Christian monarch in these disgraceful times; or at least a Protestant one. Only a few misbehaving dissentients displayed their objections, outside the Abbey. But that’s what the police are for: to meet capricious, “girlie” mischief with manly, authoritative force.

God save the King!