Friend Gaius Publius,
I send you greetings from across the wine-dark web. As ever I welcomed the arrival of your epistle in CounterPunch, this time called “Candidate Dem and Citizen Green“. Because by now you’ve moved on to other pastures, I’ll remind you that in that chronicle, you spoke about the curious outcome of a poll conducted by Steve Perry, proconsul of the site Bush Wars, which you sought to understand through a rehearsal of not yet ancient history. I join you there, in spirit, across the vasty depths of time etc.
The scene you lay out is familiar from Chomsky and Vidal. I too agree with the drawing of its contours. Crudely, the U.S. consensus, broadly understood as the inertial sway of longstanding military, economic, and ideological commitments, render the person and even party of the president almost meaningless. It’s a structuralist view Foucault would approve of-the discourse speaks even the exceptional man.
I know. Chomsky and Vidal would say I misrepresent them, and rightly so, if for no other reason than the pessimism and passivity it implies. After all, if people make no difference, as in the dusty idea of historical inevitability that once caused oohs and ahhs on the runways of European Marxism, why bother? Yet both go on speaking as if their actions do matter. So let’s assume the choice we make isn’t wholly irrelevant. Then which will it be, discussion or disguise?
To answer that I need clarification, and to get it, let me characterize what you lay out by implicit tropes I think I perceive in the piece. Disguise entails a few victories amid defeats in a maddeningly drawn-out process, with mostly tacit acceptance of U.S. foreign policy and possibly even movement away from progressive domestic goals. Here, the world goes on, leadenly, dully, oppressively, beating down the dreams of significance.
Discussion, because of its extremism, more effectively brings out, as a character from Monty Python might say, the violence inherent in the system. Because of that, it may promise emotionally satisfying leaps through explosive movement rather than incremental adjustment. In this story the plot takes a decisive turn when the dormant conscience of a culture awakens when confronted with its own depravity. (Cut to Tiresias and Oedipus.)
No wonder discussion looks better. It’s dramatic, cataclysmic, big, whereas disguise is just one petty episode after another, with no hope of release. The question is, which is likelier?
The unconscious of language may lend us a figurative hand. The word “progressive” presumably comes from the idea of progress, advance toward a more perfect union, the realization of better standards of justice, peace, and pleasure. Also inescapable, like an uncanny overtone or the return of the repressed (if I may allow a nod to a properly repressed Freudian magic act), is the notion of the gradual, the shaded, the-progressive. To which the only sensible pomo American reaction is: quel drag! That’s not rock-and-roll. That’s work. That’s the daily grind. That’s accepting a limited capacity to affect the badness of a bad old world.
At this juncture, please imagine the tune with the lyric “Do you believe in miracles?” That’s because behind each so-called rational judgment a story lurks, with disguise and difference belonging to different genres, even centuries (diguise/18th/picaresque; difference/19th/romance), though we can leave that as a suggestive parallel rather than an academic’s deus ex verba. What we can say, as a would-be script doctor, is that disguise is all middle without an ending, while difference is boffo box office, especially with the right special effects, as long as we fade out before the hero must pull out the broom and shovel to clean up the tremendous mass of excrement left behind after all that excitement.
Either way, they’re stories, and sooner or later we’re back in the harsh sunlight, in a world that often as not serves shit for breakfast (though after a while it sort of tastes like chicken). Which would I pick? That would be telling. And like you, I decline to loosen that last veil occluding an august mystery. And then there are the vicissitudes: I’m awfully moody, and all literature is finally occasional, no? Plus my agent would never forgive me. The real money is in the sequels.
J. Alfred Don Quixote Rasselas Brown
J.A.D.Q.R. Brown can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org