Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Genies, liberals and Thunderstruck

I was listening to a Radio 4 play the other day while doing the dishes. It was written by someone from the Horn of Africa, Djibouti I think. The main character, a girl, was diagnosed by her village's witch doctor as being inhabited by a genie. This genie was thought to have special powers and so the villagers regarded this girl with particular reverence. As she grew up she came to occupy ever greater positions of power and the success of her village, and later the surrounding region, came to be regarded by her compatriots as a reflection of the benignattitude of this powerful genie. She, of course, believed as much as anyone else; plus she loved the glory and the power and was happy to take the credit.

It was a good story which I enjoyed listening to. But then I caught myself in one of those alarming subconscious acts of racism that infect all of us: How entertaining, I was thinking, that people should be taken in by such poppycock. Is this what it's like in that part of the world, then? Ugh, what a horrible response: patronising at best; at worst, well, just plain racist I guess.

In any case I gave myself a kick up the arse, continued with the washing up and fell to musing on the story and my reaction. At first I'd thought my sin to be ascribing an error to people in Djibouti that would not be made by folks in England. But then I thought: the Royals! Exactly the same error is made here on a national scale! The amount of utter claptrap that gets written about that family: as if they've got a genie inside them, something that turns an 80 year old woman from being your nan to being a queen. Or turns some awkward 29 year old into a dashing Prince.

The sooner we wake up from our spectacular collective delusions, the sooner we can put the genie back in the bottle.

* * *
I've been reading a bit of William Faulkner the last couple of weeks. The greatest writer in the English language and no mistake: forget Bill Shakespeare, Bill F is king.

I'm currently on The Mansion which is a collection of three novellas, all fitting together to make one masterful whole. Generally I just enjoy Faulkner for his phenomenal literary powers - the capacity to draw a character, create an atmosphere, draw the reader in, in, into his world... But he can be wise as well: I want to quote a little pearl that he threw in with the rest; perhaps the best and pithyest description of a `liberal' you could come across:

...the school- and music-teachers and the other white-collar innocents who learned by heart President Roosevelt's speeches, [and] could believe anew each time that honour and justice and decency would prevail just because they were honourable and just and decent,..
And again, later:
...the same unco-ordinated political illusionees innocent enough to believe still that demagoguery and bigotry and intolerance must not and cannot and will not endure simply because they are bigotry and demagoguery and intolerance,...

Hammer. Nail. HEAD!

* * *

And now, for your delectation, a very cool cover of ACDC's Thunderstruck. The original version happens to be my 3 year old boy's favourite song in the world.

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