Monday, October 09, 2006

I'm Asking You To Tell Me To Stop Doing It

I don't find class hatred, in the abstract, hard. I find its moral critique, as a series of necessarily individualp-smudging generalisations, reasonably accurate: the effortless self-possession of the upper classes, the blithe arrogance, the endless sense of entitlement, the privilege that does not even know itself, let alone its absence, is repugnant. This, for example, drips with precisely the kind of contempt that I have for them: I hated 'Brideshead Revisited' when it was repeated sometime in the mid nineties, not for any particular technical failings, but because of the kind of life it portrayed, the idle whimsy striving for elevation to some cod-Nietzschean oh-so-troubled nihilism, blind to the genuine tragedies of the world it glided through. Even 'Wilde' began to provoke the same kinds of sentiments, and 'Jeeves and Wooster' struggled in the same kind of way.

I think the thing that really gets to me, the thing that I can't forgive, is, ironically given that I am writing this to be read by anyone with an internet connection, their braying: there's no sense that there's a public made up of people most of whom aren't like them, who don't share their in their exceptionally good fortune. There's a carelessness to them, in the literal sense of the term, a depthless and endless patronising. Other people only exist as mirrors to them, things to faithfully reflect back to them their ineffable greatness. Like I say, I don't find class hatred hard. For me, it's just as Justin puts it:

[That he is a football man] is the only thing I'll say for him. Other than that he must be one of the most arrogant and self-centred men I've ever met. If he told me the date, I'd check the calendar: if he told me my name I'd check my birth certificate. If he told me he was interested in anybody other than himself I'd laugh out loud.

I've found some Americans to be similar, but then, I've mentioned before the scene in 'The Straight Story' which is a kind of paean to restraint. Two elderly American men, both of whom fought in World War II, sit in a bar in the middle of the day, very slowly drinking a single beer, discussing - except without discussing - how some of their comrades drank too much when they came back. As I remember it, it is a single, quite long, very still, shot. One of them says to the other, 'a lot of them men who came back drank a lot' - or something like that, similarly emptily factual - and that's it. It's done: basta. It's perfect. There's none of the poverella, publicly distraught, all show, totally externalised and so totally hollowed-out, just a minimal acknowledgement, a mutual, self-aware, understanding. Everything is said without being said, and so the costs of it being said don't have to be borne. Equally, I've mentioned before my mother's relative who died almost a year ago now: a man who "had a near-perfect sense of... exactly why you shouldn't be standing on a bed, paralytically drunk, throwing stumbling face-high kicks at imaginary enemies".

Nothing is totally without its costs though. The point is that sense of restraint, that sense of what you're doing to people when you do things in front of them, has its costs, just like anything else. Either you don't say what you feel should be said, or you train yourself to feel that nothing that you're not happy saying to the relevant public should be said. Growing resentment and eventual, inevitably unreasonable, outburst or quiescence, a withdrawn conformity. Most often perhaps some strained combination of the two. Even the arrogance of this makes me uneasy, the presumption that anyone else cares, that they should care. All I really wanted to say was that there have been some things I have put here that I'm sorry I did, the products of those eventual outbursts. They're too personal, too vindictive, not properly matters of public concern, not made general, not made universal enough. This, and this, for example. For a theorist of public reason, I think I could do better. They made the personal into the political, drew the particular far too far into the general. Apologies to those who they were really addressed to.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is it really wise to link (and thereby draw attention) to posts that shouldn't be here?