Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sickening words

I can't forget Ted Hughes' private comments about how he believed writing prose had weakened his immune system. No matter how nutty it seems when the connection is made so plain, I can't help but imagine language has a physical power. A friend once referred to my *visceral* response to novels, the way novels are written; on a sentence-by-sentence level and by the framing - or lack of it - of the narrative. Visceral seems right. It's why I tend to stop reading literary novels after a few lines. It's also why I'm suspicious of genre fiction, because it relies on conventional elisions to maintain itself rather than by undoing the elision.

It's also why I've stopped following the news, if I can help it. The other day, the morning news headline on BBC Radio 5 was that President Musharraf of Pakistan had gone on TV "to explain why he had introduced emergency rule". So the story is not about his latest assault on democracy but whether or not he is right or wrong; that is, whether there is an "emergency" or not. Compare the respect and calm on this with the hysteria displayed when a re-elected leader removed a seditious, coup-plotting TV station from terrestrial availability.

There are examples daily. This, again from the BBC: "Civilians have often been the victims of the violence in Afghanistan - not only in attacks by insurgents, but also in strikes by the foreign NATO and US forces in the country." Of course, there's a subtle difference between an "attack" and a "strike", but not one the victims can detect.


  1. Anonymous2:43 am

    Maybe the problem with Hughes' statement is that it is radically understated. In reality, language is so powerful, and of such a material force, that it can sufficiently destroy an immume system, among other physical temporalities. And so connected to thought, that it can cause brains to go haywire. The other problem with Hughe's, maybe, is that he is too serious; since this relationship between language, thought, and reality is nothing if not humorous--despite appearances, and insufferable poets.

  2. Note on the BBC report: that's why it is news, not editorial. You can't hate BBC for not doing what you hate Fox News for doing.

  3. Are you kidding Daniel? That report is editorial - that is why it cuts me. The BBC has long been admired for its thought control - by Stalin and Hitler in particular.

    We are responsible for killing a million dark-skinned people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Stockwell tube station yet still it's mitigated as "strikes" by "marksmen" rather than murder by trained killers.

  4. That the state propaganda machine is a state propaganda machine is sadly no surprise once we awaken from the comforting delusion of imagining state propaganda machines are not state propaganda machines.



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