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Friday, October 11, 2002

Sword of the Red Sheik

This post contains cheap character analysis, careless and sweeping generalizations, embarrassing secrets of the female sex, and trace amounts of whining.

Tim Blair unearths a simply breathtaking specimen of idiot, in the person of John Carroll, a sociologist at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Said idiot has written a book, which Tim is breaking into its constituent moron atoms, rendering it safe for the environment. The above link is to Chapter 1; Tim also has an update and a go at Chapter 2. He promises more chapters to come. I hope he's more successful at this than at his "Lie on Every Page" series on John Pilger, where he only got through about the first half dozen pages.

Tim contents himself with mocking Carroll; I'd rather he attempt a more serious rebuttal or analysis, but if he did, there wouldn't be anything for me to do.

Let's begin:

It had all been brought about by one man, alone on horseback, riding through the wastes of Afghanistan, stealing America's own myth, its hero, its projection of valour. He is tall and handsome, with clear skin and full lips, sun tempered, looking the West and all its might nonchalantly, with a mocking smile, straight in the eye. He wears a fine, longish black beard streaked with grey, a cross between desert nomad and Confucian scholar, yet his bearing is elegant.

This little scrap reminds me of two things. The first brings back a wave of nostalgia, along with the nausea. When I was a teenager my literary diet was based on science fiction, fantasy, and books on the occult. My best friend and her mother, however, had a different menu, which consisted of stacks and stacks of romance novels:

The man known as El Jefe stalked into the room and swept the faces of the crowd with one flinty glance. "I have taken this town," he announced, "and now you live or die at my sufferance." There was a chorus of swiftly stifled gasps. "You of the gentility"---he spat the word---"have lived off the sweat and blood of the peons long enough. Now it will be your turn to sweat, your turn to bleed..."

"You bastard!"

"Reynaldo, no!" Consuelo cried as Reynaldo launched himself at El Jefe. The bandit lord stood his ground until Reynaldo was nearly on him, then with one easy motion simultaneously whirled aside, drew his dagger, and stabbed Reynaldo through the heart.

Consuelo threw herself weeping upon Reynaldo's body. Just ten minutes ago, in this room, she had spurned his offer of marriage, calling him a tyrant, cruel and arrogant. Now he did not live long enough to see the tears she cried for him.

"He was your lover, eh?" Reynaldo's killer growled above her.

"He was her lover, senor, but she was not his. She turned him down. I saw it! She slapped his face!" That was Juan, her father's servant! Juan had betrayed them all to El Jefe!

Consuelo felt herself being lifted from Reynaldo's body. "Ah, a woman of spirit! Too good for these milk-fed patrician boys. You were saving yourself for me, eh?"

Consuelo spat at him. "Take your hands off of me! I'll never..." but she never said what she would never do. El Jefe kissed her, violently, the clean sharp kiss of steel. She felt his raw, masculine power, the power that had vanquished Reynaldo, defeated her father's armies. She felt herself melting almost---almost---against her will. And she knew she would, she would...

Ewwww. Do you have any idea how much it hurts to write like that. Pardon me while I collect myself...

Ahem. Yes. The other thing this brought to mind is this classic:

I don't think I've ever seen so much blood before. For a second, I caught a glimpse of something terrible, a nightmare face - my own - reflected in the window of the bus, streaked in blood, my hands drenched in the stuff like Lady Macbeth, slopping down my pullover and the collar of my shirt until my back was wet and my bag dripping with crimson and vague splashes suddenly appearing on my trousers.

This, of course, is from Robert Fisk's famous column on his beating by Afghan refugees, in which he concludes that it was OK for them to beat him up because, poor things, they had been psychically brutalized by the West for millenia. Fisk talks about his wounds for paragraphs, culminating in this lurid example. What I thought at the time---and still think---is that Fisk has a martyr complex: the emphasis on the rich blood spilling all down his face, his hands, his disconnected thought that he might die, neatly wrapped up at the end by the conclusion that he deserved all this, that the West deserved it, that he was standing in for the west. My blood will wash away the sins of the West...

This is the sort of thinking one expects from a bored, cloistered schoolgirl, fed on overheated tales of the martyrdom of the saints...NOT from grown men of the world, who have travelled and studied. My "analysis" of Fisk's writings is (well, somewhat) tongue in cheek. But Carroll's prose continues to be over-ripe, as well as fragmented (though this might be Tim mining for stupidity, where he has found high-grade ore) and---not quite sure of my word here---surreal. Here (as in so much of the airhead Left these days) muddy economic theory flows sluggishly into architectural criticism before plunging into a sunless sea of psycho-babble until finally gurgling up into a sewer of terrorist apologia.

[Come to Metaphor Manor, metaphors for all occasions. At Metaphor Manor, we never metaphor we didn't like.]

In Carroll's case, specifically, he seems to have a wee fixation on death:

When Usama bin Laden charges that his war is against 'the camp of unbelief', he targets an imbalance in this life, a restlessness and cowardice unleashed by fear of death.


One dimension of the September 11 reality check is for us to rediscover a right relationship to death.

This harks back to Fisk's schoolgirl crush on martyrdom, and Carroll's earlier, swooning description of Bin Laden on horseback.

There is a streak in the female psyche that longs for sacrifice, for martyrdom for some ideal, for a subsumption of identity in that of a cause, very frequently personified by a man. I will not try to claim that this is common to all women, as I have not surveyed all women; but it certainly has produced a rich literary vein. It will not have escaped the reader's attention that men, too, have sometimes been keen to sacrifice themselves, probably keener than women, but I don't know if those men conflate sex and death to the extent that women do. (Or maybe I should say "to the extent women are described as doing"; it's possible that a lot of the literature I'm thinking of has been written by men.)

What I'm saying here is that Fisk and Carroll are a pair of girly-men.

I have promised a splash of whine: Carroll is on the faculty of the Sociology Dept at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Now why is it that a man who writes and reasons so wretchedly is on the faculty of a university, whereas I am not?

Don't answer that. Part of the reason is that I foolishly majored in a hard science notorious for Known Facts and Right Answers, instead of sociology, where apparently thought has not progressed beyond personal omphaloskepsis wrapped in a Harlequin Romance.

BY THE WAY: You have Google Have-Not Natalie Solent to thank for the writhing pile of nonsense that is Consuelo and the Bad Man. I wrote that yesterday, and was going to post it, but thought maybe I'd re-write the drippy romance paragraphs. But no! Natalie also mis-spent her youth, and correctly identified Carroll's prose as belonging to the heaving and thrusting bosom genre. that means I had to post it without re-write. You see.