Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Politics as Bad Poetry

It strikes me that the turpitude of our politicians might come into starker relief if we were to view them as bad poets: pathetic and desperate souls, free from restraints of harmony and good form, who must fill the world with their corrupt and ugly visions and endeavour to shape it to them.
.....Indeed we might view demotic politics itself as bad poetry, a great coarsening of symbols and ideas, extending into almost all spheres of life: into art, architecture, literature, philosophy and manners. Like bad poetry, however, it has one good aspect: its inadvertent comedy, though even this is far too weak to compensate for its corruption. Many a time I have nearly choked in astonished hilarity at what some politician has said in all seriousness, and yet, in the end, I am left disquieted, as if having laughed at a profane joke at the expense of everything sacred and worthwhile. So too I have seen many a stage comedian about whom I have thought half-way through his act: this man is here for therapy and we the audience are his collective psychiatrist — what a presumption! Is it too much to ask that such people redeem themselves quietly and without fuss, and not in front of an audience, and, if they really must go off in search of themselves, that they get lost? Aye, it is; for in search of redemption such people must become bad poets, bad comedians — and politicians. They must make the world a witness to their emptiness as if it could fill in the blanks. It no doubt makes for an amusing spectacle, but the amusement one takes from it is firmly on the cruel or unsympathetic side.
.....Anyway, the time has come to sully the page with a humble example of politics as bad poetry, and to have a little amusement at the expense of the Prime Blighter of Her Majesty’s Government:
So with the courage of our convictions,
With pride in our common purpose,
Let us go out with confidence to meet the world to come,
Let us embrace this new age of ambition,
and let us build the Britain of our dreams. [1]
Now, cynically speaking, I should say that a man prone to visions of leading his people into a new age sounds like a dangerous nutter to me, but really it is just the sort of cant that is expected of politicians nowadays, as we also see across the Great Pond, where presently the American people are being entertained to the great and ugly spectacle of political bellwethers each vying for the status of redeemer, each with his magic words and bad poetry.
The modern governor, owing to the fact that he addresses crowds, is compelled to be a moralist, and to present his acts as bound up with a system of morality, a metaphysics, a mysticism. [2]
No, it is all just too damned ugly for anyone with an aesthetic bone still left in his body. And as for the moral dimension, well, all I shall say is that, if Mr Brown indulges himself once again in mentioning his moral compass, I shall indulge myself once again in imagining a moral rifle with its scope set at three hundred yards.
[1] Gordon Brown, Speech to the Labour Party Spring Conference 2008, online at Labour.org.uk. (The faux-poetic layout is as it appears on the Labour Party website.)
[2] Julien Benda, The Treason of the Intellectuals (New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 2007), p.111. (I do not expect modern governors any time soon to acknowledge what they owe to that great master-poet of modern politics: Joseph Goebbels.)


Anonymous said...

Gordon Brown, the bodger, was a very bad man,
And to gainsay it there's nobody can,
Because for forty years he pursued a career of deceit,
And as a bodger few men with him could compete.

William Topaz McDearieme

Deogolwulf said...

Not bad at all.

Deogolwulf said...

Your ditty, I mean, not Mr Brown.

Sky Captain said...

The Britain of our dreams?
He means the Britain of New Labour's Dreams, a sad collection of slogans and intentions which cannot be redeemed in the achievement because they are fundamentally evil.

Anonymous said...

It's offered in the spirit of Modern Education, in that I copied a quatrain from the Great Man. I then showed my age by editing it slightly.

Sean Jeating said...

Banquo knew before

And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness* tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s
In deepest consequence.
Shakespeare, McBeth 1.,3

* newspeak: common purpose

Anonymous said...

"So too I have seen many a stage comedian"?

Don't ask me to explain, 'DGW', but somehow I find it difficult to reconcile my imaginary perception of you hunched over your leather-bound books in your private library, and the image of a rollicking punter in the front row of the stalls at the matinee in the theatre at the end of Blackpool pier.

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Politicians as poets? I guess that they couldn't endure being merely the acknowledged legislators of the world.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

G. M. Palmer said...

Well, the biggest difference between the political quotes and bad poetry that I can see is a complete readability in the politician stuff -- they write on too low a level to even reach today's "bad poetry" -- most of which is unintelligble to graduate students.


Deogolwulf said...

I'm not a complete miserable sod, Mr Duff, though any mention of Blackpool does put me in the blackest mood. Awful place.

Prof. Hodges: "I guess that they couldn't endure being merely the acknowledged legislators of the world." No, they have to uglify it too.

Mr Palmer: "the biggest difference between the political quotes and bad poetry that I can see is a complete readability in the politician stuff". True, but I suppose it has to be popular too.