Tel Hits One Out of the Park

Update – I decided to move this one too, since the discussion is still going on. Chris M supplied this link and this one.

Oh, jeezis. I saw a reference to Terry Eagleton’s piece in the Guardian at Normblog earlier today, but didn’t read it. I saw another reference just now at Harry’s place, and this time I did read it. It was – very horrible. Way more horrible than I expected. I’m not sure why. There’s just something about the preening, lit-critty, self-admiring tone of it all, of the aesthetic approach to mass murder, that just made my gorge rise. It’s as if he’s, I don’t know, admiring his reflection in a pool of blood, or combing his hair with someone’s blown-off hand. He’s not really making a political argument, that’s what’s weird – he’s doing some sort of languid, semi-ironic literary criticism. Literary criticism of suicide bombing – just what the world needs. What can he think he’s playing at?

Like hunger strikers, suicide bombers are not necessarily in love with death. They kill themselves because they can see no other way of attaining justice; and the fact that they have to do so is part of the injustice…People like Rosa Luxemburg or Steve Biko give up what they see as precious (their lives) for an even more valuable cause. They die not because they see death as desirable in itself, but in the name of a more abundant life all round. Suicide bombers also die in the name of a better life for others; it is just that, unlike martyrs, they take others with them in the process. The martyr bets his life on a future of justice and freedom; the suicide bomber bets your life on it. But both believe that a life is only worth living if it contains something worth dying for. On this theory, what makes existence meaningful is what you are prepared to relinquish it for. This used to be known as God; in modern times it is mostly known as the nation. For Islamic radicals it is both inseparably.

How about that ‘just’ in ‘it is just that, unlike martyrs, they take others with them’? That’s quite a ‘just’! Oh is that all – well silly me then not to think of the suicide bombers as just like Steve Biko and Rosa Luxemburg. And then notice how quickly he forgets the thing about taking others – ‘But both believe that a life is only worth living if it contains something worth dying for.’ Not just dying for, Bub: killing for. Making other people die for. Imagine a fiery-eyed student popping into your office and locking the door and telling you he was about to give you the glory of dying along with him for something that makes life worth living. Would you take quite such an aesthetic view of the matter then? And he does it again – ‘what you are prepared to relinquish it for’. No! Pay attention, dammit. What you are prepared to make others relinquish it for. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Can’t you get that? Are you so caught up in this stupid dandyish word-spinning that you can’t hang on to such an obvious thought for two sentences?

See, this is what I’m saying about the ethical commitments thing, the identity thing. It’s not just about the damn ego, it’s about what you do to people.

And there are three more paragraphs of really disgusting verbal pirouetting, just as if he were droning about Henry James or Dostoevsky (oh yes, so he is), about the meaning of suicide bombing – ending up at this rich mess:

Blowing himself to pieces in a packed marketplace is likely to prove by far the most historic event of the bomber’s life. Nothing in his life, to quote Macbeth, becomes him like the leaving of it. This is both his triumph and his defeat. However miserable or impoverished, most men and women have one formidable power at their disposal: the power to die as devastatingly as possible. And not only devastatingly, but surreally. There is a smack of avant garde theatre about this horrific act. In a social order that seems progressively more depthless, transparent, rationalised and instantly communicable, the brutal slaughter of the innocent, like some Dadaist happening, warps the mind as well as the body. It is an assault on meaning as well as on the flesh – an ultimate act of defamiliarisation, which transforms the everyday into the monstrously unrecognisable.

Honest to fucking Christ. Is that cute or what? Can cultural theorists spin a metaphor or can they not. If that doesn’t make you sick, you have a stronger stomach than I do.

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