My TS Eliot Spring Break

illustration by Wesley Moore

illustration by Wesley Moore

Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc’d.

TS Eliot, “The Waste Land”

Although Yeats gets quoted a lot in these traumatic days – things fall apart, the center cannot hold, etc. – TS Eliot was no slouch himself when it came to apocalyptic naysaying. For example, dig this ditty from “The Waste Land”:

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London

Because most of us Americans are consumed with the 24/7 Jerry Springer extravaganza that is the current presidential campaign, I doubt if your casual consumer of the news is aware that Europe’s political turmoil makes ours seem rather bland by comparison.

For example, on New Years Eve in Cologne, Germany, gangs of young males assaulted scores of females celebrating the holiday. Some blame newly arrived Muslim immigrants for the outrages while others suggest caution before jumping to conclusions.

Here’s a snippet from the conservative British paper the Spectator:

The German police made a similar point: they are used to handling drunks. But gangs of young men encircling and then groping women at large public gatherings: who has ever heard of such a thing?

In the Arab world, it’s something of a phenomenon. It has a name: ‘Taharrush gamea’. Sometimes the girls are teased and have their veils torn off by gangs of young men; sometimes it escalates into rape. Five years ago, this form of attack was the subject of an award-winning Egyptian film, 678. Instances of young men surrounding and attacking girls were reported throughout the Arab Spring protests in Cairo in 2011 and 2012. Lara Logan, a CNN journalist covering the fall of Hosni Mubarak, was raped in Tahrir Square. Taharrush gamea is a modern evil, and it’s being imported into Europe. Our authorities ought to be aware of it

On the other hand, here is Ishaan Tharoor from the Washington Post:

To be sure, there are legitimate security concerns posed both by the surge in new arrivals as well as the continuing instability and conflicts in the Middle East. The attacks in Cologne, writes the Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud, were a reminder to the West of the Muslim world’s “sick relationship with women” — a product both of patriarchal and religious norms as well as the stifling legacy of authoritarian rule.

But perverse, misogynist behavior is not the province of just one culture or society. And much of Europe’s anti-refugee hysteria, as my colleague Adam Taylor charted this week, has been overblown and fueled by often misleading innuendo and rumor circulating on social media.

Very few of the identified culprits in the Cologne attacks were themselves refugees. And countries like Poland and Hungary, while leading the conservative charge against E.U. policies that would allow in desperate Middle Eastern asylum seekers, still have minuscule Muslim populations of their own. The risk of a cultural invasion somehow contaminating their societies is, frankly, a phantasm conjured by fear-mongers.

Of course, this week, we Americans were treated to some man-on-woman physicality when police charged Donald Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski with battery after an encounter with “former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields.”

In this case, we have video, so you can make up your mind yourself.*

*My personal view is that by the standards of Summerville High School that encounter doesn’t approach “battery.”

The bottom line is that the big blinding, buzzing cacophony of computerized existence obliterates contemplation. The blitzkrieg of information, much of it contradictory, is harmful for a species who has spent most of its existence sitting in small groups on a savannah among birdsong and rustling leaves.

The ruling class – the Koch Bros, etc. – should know that oligarchies lead to revolutions, that the Occupy Movement was a Shakespearian comet of foreboding, but who has time to contemplate history or to think beyond tomorrow’s Dow Jones closing averages?

Then there’s Hillary trying to thread the needle between big business and young debt-ridden would-be socialists as she attempts to be all things to all people.

Meanwhile, followers of Bernard Sanders engage in magical thinking imaging 30+ redneck gerrymandered districts somehow going blue so that he’ll be able to break up the banks, overhaul our healthcare system, make college free while by creating the largest middle class tax hike in the history of our republic.

What we see here in the Republican Party – factionalism – is also playing out in Europe. Things are falling apart – perhaps most alarmingly, glaciers!

Oh, by the way, it’s my spring break, and we all know that April is the cruelest month, so I’ve been having a sort of TS Eliot holiday, riding around with the radio/cd player off, popping Ativans like M&Ms, reciting poetry out loud to myself:

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or is still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.

As the Lone Ranger used to say, “Adios!”


2 thoughts on “My TS Eliot Spring Break

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