“It was foul, and I loved it,” says Saint Augustine for stealing pears along with “some lewd young fellows” adding further “I loved to perish.” With the Roman Empire sacked by the Goths on the verge of collapse, it is hard to believe that Saint Augustine attributed such a strong motive as “perishing” to stealing pears – something that Mark Twain in the 19th century would’ve laughed at as a normal thing that boys do for lack of anything better. In fact most boys do worse than steal pears. Even the self-righteous judges at the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague whose faces are death-masks and who speak like the God of the Old Testament would not include stealing pears in the list of crimes against humanity. Yet Saint Augustine the Carthaginian, with the poignancy of a true convert and the poetry of the North African sun burning in his veins makes you want to feel with the pain of having stolen pears.
Augustine’s Confessions was meant to be a kind of a spiritual autobiography. Mine is a parody of other confessions. If I were my own biographer this would be the title of the book: Confessions of a Dystopian Marxist. A dystopian I always was. The Marxism came later. To be a dystopian is to have no expectations of the world. Marxism is the antidote to such a feeling because it invents expectations where seemingly there are none. Dystopias make you conscious of time. Marxism rejects time except as a man-made category and recognizes only one time: that of the revolution. Dystopias are about no-worlds or just about the whole universe. Marxism is the rest of the universe seen through the prism of this world. I’m writing about two people in the same book: one is the dystopian and another is the Marxist.
Judith Brown called her 1991 biography of Gandhi Prisoner of Hope. Romain Rolland called his 1924 biography of the Mahatma as Mohandas K. Gandhi: The man who became one with the universal being. To be hopeful in the way Gandhi was could only mean becoming “one with the universal being.” Gandhi was a utopian without being a Marxist. His autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth is not short of “sins” that might seem irrelevant to the modern reader such as Augustine’s guilt at stealing pears. The cow’s milk versus the goat’s milk is my favorite one. Gandhi of course finally gave in to the immediate need of fighting the British and thus goat’s milk won the day. The issue of course was whether he should take milk at all and more importantly diet control as a means to the ascetic life.
Interestingly, I’ve found “saintly” people to be much more obsessed with food and sex than less saintly ones. Their utopias are built on crushing nature within the human person. For someone like me who thinks that being riddled with contradictions is the only way one can come closest to being oneself the dystopian blends rather well with the Marxist. The dystopian in me is a private self and the Marxist a public persona. The former is a metaphor and the latter politics. Politics and metaphor do not go together either in art or in life. Politics – by which I mean a public life – even as metaphor is thankless. The metaphor opens one door of meaning to another. With biting irony, Yeats asks in his poem, “Politics,” “How can I, that girl standing there,/ My attention fix / On Roman or on Russian / Or on Spanish politics?” Yeats is responding to a line from Thomas Mann, “In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in political terms.” This poem of Yeats written less than a year before his death ends with the line: “But O that I were young again / And held her in my arms!” Behind the so-called “destiny of man” whose meanings are presented in “political terms” are emotional wants and the need for recognition. There is no politics outside a personal need concealed somewhere although most politically motivated people find this hard to accept. They would like to believe that their concerns transcend the personal. At least that’s what they want the rest of the world to think. This can only be a sign of dishonesty more than anything else.
Genet called his last book Prisoner of Love. Two of my favorite images are the one when he calls the young Jesus a “joker” and the other when he says that every time he thought of the Palestinians there was a hole in his heart. Love and politics go together with Genet who recounts the time he spent with the Palestinians and the Black Panthers. There’s not a line of nostalgia or sentimentalism in the entire book. All we see is the detached affection of a dying man. It reads like the confession of a prisoner but in this case the man locked himself in with the others and threw the keys away lest he would have to come out of the prison. Hence the adolescent title Prisoner of Love as if it were the story of a boy in love. Ironically it is.
Genet elsewhere says that a person leaves the world with a secret that is destined to perish with the person. There is something about “me” that “I” and no one else is supposed to know and I leave the world with the knowledge that I am the possessor of a dark secret – a fantasy of annihilation, a dream of conquest, a vision of the end of the world. My view is that the so-called secret that I plan to die with is an affected one. I’m like the actor in a Doris Lessing short story “An Unposted Love Letter:” all affectation and no reality.
I don’t like to think that a sentence such as, “The mango is the queen of fruits” is a sexist one. A male colleague of mine seems to think that my use of the phrase “queen of” is sexist. I said, what if I said “king of” instead of “queen.” He added: that would be chauvinistic. Political correctness is hard to deal with for a confessor and no writing is possible where there are no confessions. Yet, I will stick to the literary mode and no other. I refuse to call a spade a spade. That’s disgustingly prosaic. I’ll use a metaphor and call it the Queen of Spades. The unimaginative of the world need prose to justify their barren existence and their equally barren politics. I don’t. Neither did my hero Marx who figuratively states “force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.” This is the force that the marginal and downtrodden classes will exert to finally bring the new society into being.
I don’t think I could ever tell the truth about myself. To be conscious of lying is a form of truth-telling. I indulge in vain paradoxes to pass time. I wouldn’t mind eating pears from a neighbor’s tree without the neighbor’s knowledge along with a pint of cow’s or goat’s milk. At least that would give me something substantial to confess about.
Categories: Rethinking The World