Tuesday, August 02, 2011

What of Lazarus?

A few beers (Irish) and a number of conversations with much cherished, profoundly missed imaginary friends and I am filled with the yearning to offer in gratitude a redacted version of an old post:

And "Nous sommes tous Americaines", no?

But that is the saddest part about being Iranian you see. Our obscene expectations and our maximalist bubble only mask our minimalism and our tendency always in settling for the grotesque.

All this brings us back to conspiracies and to conspiracy theories. In one sense no escaping them ever either in democracies or autocracies. But the fundamental problem for me with those who peddle them is that they enable avoidance of responsibility and accountability.

If indeed there is that invisible omnipresent hand of the British and others behind every one of the many significant historical events and our misfortunes, then naturally there'll be no sense wanting to examine the concrete policies, their exact scope or their consequences. More generally, no sense either determining the real causes or the actual forces in action in order to better deal with or to counter them.

Obviously too, it'll be a moot point trying to find the identity of the ones who list these very same consequences as accomplishments on their CVs.

The very same ones, mind you, who go on to teach, consult or ultimately work on some board or other while reminiscing fondly about the good "old days of adventure" over drinks at some bar or a country club. Or those who, as fashionable of late, make a killing on royalties from the sales of memoirs about their masterstrokes some years down the road.

But once we've gotten to this point in discussion, the context makes things notoriously difficult to navigate further. Even the most banal aspects of what constitute East-West encounters become thorny.

In thinking through these encounters, a signpost for me has always been Homer's Odyssey --particularly the confrontation between our wily Odysseus and the Cyclops.

Odysseus is considered by some as the archetypal Western man. Think about his curious nature; his craftiness and his disposition that accounts for his wanderings and wonder and naturally also his expectations of gifts--all very admirable, I suppose, but also quite problematic.

Doesn't he go on to blind and torment another being-- no matter how little sympathy any of us might actually feel for creatures such as Cyclops Polyphemus, pretending to be "Noman." (Nobody)

The following excerpts from a translation of Book IX:

when I saw that the wine had got into his head, I said to him as plausibly as I could: 'Cyclops, you ask my name and I will tell it you; give me, therefore, the present you promised me; my name is Noman; this is what my father and mother and my friends have always called me.' […]

We drove the sharp end of the beam into the monster's eye, and bearing upon it with all my weight I kept turning it round and round as though I were boring a hole in a ship's plank with an auger, which two men with a wheel and strap can keep on turning as long as they choose.

We ran away in a fright, but he plucked the beam all besmirched with gore from his eye, and hurled it from him in a frenzy of rage and pain, shouting as he did so to the other Cyclopes who lived on the bleak headlands near him; so they gathered from all quarters round his cave when they heard him crying, and asked what was the matter with him.

"'What ails you, Polyphemus,' said they, 'that you make such a noise, breaking the stillness of the night, and preventing us from being able to sleep? Surely no man is carrying off your sheep? Surely no man is trying to kill you either by fraud or by force?

"But Polyphemus shouted to them from inside the cave, 'Noman is killing me by fraud! Noman is killing me by force!' "'Then,' said they, 'if no man is attacking you, you must be ill; when Jove makes people ill, there is no help[wise] for it, and you had better pray to your father Neptune.'
When we had got twice as far as we were before, I was for jeering at the Cyclops again, but the men begged and prayed of me to hold my tongue. "'Do not,' they exclaimed, 'be mad enough to provoke this savage creature further;

[…] "But I would not listen to them, and shouted out to him in my rage, 'Cyclops, if any one asks you who it was that put your eye out and spoiled your beauty, say it was the valiant warrior Ulysses, son of Laertes, who lives in Ithaca.'

My Greek tutor directed my attention some years ago to the word play in the original Greek text between Outis (Nobody, Noman), outis (no one, nobody), and Metis/me tis (no anyone, anything, someone, something) also faculty of (particular kind of) wisdom, craft or cunning.

It all becomes so contemporary when you consider all the other words such as ODIS: travails, pain; NOSOS: sickness, disease, and OIOS, lonely. Over the past many centuries “Nobodies” have blinded countless people. But a few things have changed as well since.

For one, a more sophisticated band of Cyclops has composed the perfect repartee to Odysseus. The nebulous “Great Satan,” and "Elderly Dragon," (Britain) is the omnipresent absence that serves to counter the absent presence of the elusive Nobodies.

These bands of Cyclops kill, maim, torture, and gorge on the young while sadly they are not even as gentle or competent shepherds as the originals.

And those who think themselves entitled to stake claim to the legacy of the Odysseus too are suffering from their own regression. Or is it that they've learned a lesson?

Some have become too much the weasel, as far as I am concerned, to publicly sing of their own "valiance." They hide behind their tribe or the entirety of their cities in order to avoid reckoning. This incidentally is what annoys me most about those who cloak behind the prophylactic of "visceral anti Americanism."

Simply put, I doubt anyone would ever say in a job interview that "Yes, yes, give me this post because America gradated from high school in 1948, and then America went onto get his PhD at Harvard; America thus came to focus all his steep learning which translated into the recommendations of the team that originally crafted the policy of sending guns and cakes to the Ayatollahs at the same time as subsidizing to the tune of billions Saddam's chemical warfare against the Iranians while also financing and arming the Salafists and other Islamist killers like Usama."

And as a corollary, I simply don't understand either the rational behind that sense of entitlement manifest in the gibberish (again) so fashionable in certain circles.

Bluntly put, if some happen to have developed a certain craft or skill, how is it exactly that they come to feel they can claim the household too? If some have mastered the craft of plumbing, why is it exactly that they feel entitled to direct everyone's affairs and also own the faucets and the wells? And why is it exactly that they feel the urge to determine who is to be in charge of anything?

If some come with the skills of an Archeologist, why should they feel entitled to leave with most of the artifacts? And if some come with medical skills and penicillin, why should they feel entitled to canoodle on the posterior?

And why is it exactly that a "No" to any of these propositions comes to warrant accusations of "ingratitude?"

Frankly, even if there is disgust for the Cyclops, the shenanigans of the diciples of Odessues are just way too predictable nowadays and mostly a yawner. Not much of a surprise then when we the sheep no longer feel compelled to offer free rides to certain caliber of men