News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Found something in modern fiction to work with; something with humor plainly stated, with the required sadism not dodged. Note the constant will to power in the passage below. There's a constant dialogue which, when placed in a ruder vernacular for effect, more or less comes to: who's fucking with me? Are you fucking with me? Oh yeah? Well I'll fuck you back. Rather than the passive loser preferred by pious right-thinkers, what we have is the can-do paranoiac, the entrepreneurial hero of the success story.

This is from Paul Theroux's Picture Palace. The speaker is an elderly woman recovering from a recent heart attack:

Sadness is ramshackle, but mourning is formal, such a buttoned-up ritual of shuffling and whispers that I wished on arrival that I hadn't cabled Frank about my spot of bother at the Ritz. Wheeled from a little plane across the Hyannis runway looking towards the terminal with its silly WELCOME sign, I saw ten of the gloomiest creatures I had ever laid eyes on. I felt like a latecomer to my own funeral, and it struck me that at my advanced age every acquaintance is a prospective mourner. They're sticking around to bury you. That's their secret; but you're not supposed to know.

The irritating aspect of a mourner is the look of satisfaction. He is not ghoulish enough to be glad, just bursting with relief -- that weird self-congratulation over being spared. They had warned me that I might snuff it, but a warning is the cheapest form of abuse: it was still ringing in my ears. And their expressions proved it.
I told you so is one of the most gleeful expressions in the language, and yet no one actually says it in so many words. It is a cautioning wobble of the head, a suppressed smirk, the fish-lips of reproof and a hectoring silence.

Or look at Mark Twain in the following excerpt from Roughing It, his best book in my opinion. What we have here essentially is just a description of a power structure by another can-do paranoiac.

The right proportion of paranoia is enormously important. Too little makes a person complacent and a failure in modern society, though it goes a long way to enhancing one's understanding of the Third World and it's popular lunacies; too much makes a person devoted to conspiracy theories, craving them like an addict for excitement, like an attention-deficited cult devotee constantly on the wing for new sources of spiritual fulfilment. But just the right amount helps makes a person self-aware, well-mannered, ingratiating and eager to please, observant, penetrating, and knowing and in the end pushes one to be decisive, wise, experienced, a vocal connoisseur and potentially even a virtuoso of something or other. Pervasively infecting the modern proletariat, it's much of what's behind the workaday, workaholic ethos at the leading edge of the First World.

That's today's theory in a nutshell. Either way, this is Twain:

We jumped out in undress uniform. The driver tossed his gathered reins out on the ground, gaped and stretched complacently, drew off his heavy buckskin gloves with great deliberation and insufferable dignity -- taking not the slightest notice of a dozen solicitous inquires after his health, and humbly facetious and flattering accostings, and obsequious tenders of service, from five or six hairy and half-civilized station-keepers and hostlers who were nimbly unhitching our steeds and bringing the fresh team out of the stables -- for in the eyes of the stage-driver of that day, station-keepers and hostlers were a sort of good enough low creatures, useful in their place, and helping to make up a world, but not the kind of beings which a person of distinction could afford to concern himself with; while, on the contrary, in the eyes of the station-keeper and the hostler, the stage-driver was a hero -- a great and shining dignitary, the world's favorite son, the envy of the people, the observed of the nations. When they spoke to him they received his insolent silence meekly, and as being the natural and proper conduct of so great a man; when he opened his lips they all hung on his words with admiration (he never honored a particular individual with a remark, but addressed it with a broad generality to the horses, the stables, the surrounding country and the human underlings); when he discharged a facetious insulting personality at a hostler, that hostler was happy for the day; when he uttered his one jest -- old as the hills, coarse, profane, witless, and inflicted on the same audience, in the same language, every time his coach drove up there -- the varlets roared, and slapped their thighs, and swore it was the best thing they'd ever heard in all their lives. And how they would fly around when he wanted a basin of water, a gourd of the same, or a light for his pipe! -- but they would instantly insult a passenger if he so far forgot himself as to crave a favor at their hands. They could do that sort of insolence as well as the driver they copied it from -- for, let it be borne in mind, the overland driver had but little less contempt for his passengers than he had for his hostlers.

The hostlers and station-keepers treated the really powerful conductor of the coach merely with the best of what was their idea of civility, but the driver was the only being they bowed down to and worshipped. How admiringly they would gaze up at him in his high seat as he gloved himself with lingering deliberation, while some happy hostler held the bunch of reins aloft, and waited patiently for him to take it! And how they would bombard him with glorifying ejaculations as he cracked his long whip and went careering away.
Is this humor? Or is this just a plain statement of the facts from the mouth of a closet sadist? And what's the difference anyway? Damned if I know.
Back to work, I mean reading,
Biff Cappuccino...

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