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Generating Illusions

by LINH DINH

No fan of public sexual molestation or gratuitous cancer-inducing radiation, I haven’t flown in four years, but tonight, I’ll have to board a plane to fly to London. If there was a transatlantic tube, rickshaw relay or galley slave jubilee special to Piccadilly, I’d be on it, but since there’s no way to dodge our eager TSA gropers, I might as well man up (or down) for some random intimacy.

Listen, punk, if there’s no penetration, it doesn’t count, it don’t matter, so if a priest, football coach, cop or airport employee vigorously strokes or feels you up a bit, you can still join the Virgin Foundation or the Tim Tebow Fan Club. Rest assured.

At least it’s same-sex molestation, some say, so America is not so adverse to homosexual cuddling, after all, which is good or bad according to your talk-show-host preference, anal retentiveness or upbringing, but this still doesn’t take into account the sexual preference or aversion of the gropee. I mean, a cage-fighting nun cannot possibly want to be fondled by the same type of person, or in the same way, as a crucifix-collecting lesbian.

With my luck, my partner will truss me up in a backroom, stab me with an ice pick, eat me—yeah, baby—then mail my body parts to divers public officials. Obama will get my left testicle, Romney my right, though both nuts are barely distinguishable from each other, and unsmiling Janet Napolitano will get a generous helping of my, uh, Second Amendment.

So why endure unsolicited frisson just to savor some mushy peas, an honest pint and a plastic cup of cold cockles, to be impaled by a toothpick? What’s England to me? What’s it to you? First of, I’m grunting these syllables in English, ain’t I? Thoroughly colonized, I gurgle most comfortably in a lingo not my own, just like all those Indian kids, with clearly alien names, no less, who can spell honorificabilitudinitatibus in

one second without flinching. Genetics can’t have that much to do with it. After a generation of acculturation, with its trillion hours of television, video games, online porn and pop music, these same Indian kids’ offspring will confuse “it’s” and “its,” “there” and “their,” “than” and “then,” or even “to” and “too.”

For you and I to share this lingua franca, much blood had to be spilled. Countless tons of bombs have been dropped to enable yours truly to pronounce “the” correctly. Without that nasty lucha libre tag-team of Nixon and Kissinger, I wouldn’t be able to tell an enjambment from an A-OK, no problema dosage of agent orange. So thanks to the Pentagon, honestly, I’m going to England to read my poems at the Sussex Poetry Festival.

Hey, I’m thrilled to be invited, but let’s not kid ourselves about how cool it is to be a contemporary American poet, since everything in this culture is aligned against using language sanely, much less towards an inspired exactitude. Postmodern totalitarianism is contemptuous of the poem and the mental habits that it inculcates and demands, such as sustained concentration, reflection and a reverence for shaded, dappled, backlit or scumbled meanings, or for silence. In short, your brain is battered and fried, by design, with a video of it circulating on YouTube.

Love and respect for a common language defines any nation, and, no, I don’t mean we should block or discourage the use of Spanish, Mandarin or whatever. English is less local victim than universal menace, so it’s not threatened from without, but within, by the same force that’s pushing a degraded lexicon onto the rest of the world. Look at what is done to “freedom,” “democracy” and “peace,” not to mention “love” or even “friend.” A government that uses loud music as torture certainly knows how to turn your brain cells into mashed potatoes.

Pounded incessantly with sound bites, slogans, corkscrewing tunes and play-by-play babbles, we’ve lost our minds, more or less, so please, my fellow star-and-striped zombies, do drop that remote control or yank out the earphones to regain your interior monologue!

Abutted by other languages, English does not wilt but flourish, and exposure to several tongues allows one to appreciate the weirdness and beauty of each. In any case, when fresh-of-the-dinghy barbarians care more for our shared speech or writing than walled-in natives, it’s obviously last call for this empire.

Insatiability is unsustainable, and so this buffet’s last trough has come into view. All gluttonous barf fests must end, and an empire is ravenous until there’s nothing left to ravish. Soon there will be no more all-you-can-eat Afghan stew or Iraqi beef, etc., at least not on credit. Translation: China cannot go on sending us goods for our funny paper, much of which they’ll have to lend back to us so we can threaten everyone, including China. It’s just not a long-term solution.

Meanwhile, biggest is still best, insist the empire, the fat man and all the schlong elongating proposals jamming my spam folder, and foreigners still try to squeeze in for a piece of this orgy. Since the empire’s tentacles wring this earth, it’s better to shuffle inside the manor than out, or drone instead of be droned.

Immigrants are those who want to tag along with a winner, even if this colt is on his last prosthetics leg, thanks to an imploding economy and too many kinetic military extravaganzas gone bad. Before most corpses are cold, their names are already forgotten, so what will finally linger from this American experiment?

Egypt left us the pyramids, and the Cambodian Empire, Angkor, but I will insist that the most lasting American monument to world civilization is a book of poems, Leaves of Grass. America is more ideal than fact, and no one has articulated this mirage or aspiration better than Walt Whitman. Centuries from now, when our skyscrapers are but giant decaying teeth, Whitman’s ecstatic hallucination will be remembered as the embodiment of an America that seemingly might have been.

Inspired by photography, Whitman strived to be as promiscuous as the camera, but it was precisely the mass-reproduced image’s relentless seduction that would make Whitman’s mode of perception, and his means of conveying it, increasingly irrelevant. Like any empire, the camera is the ultimate greed machine, since both insist on devouring everything. Emulating the camera, Whitman’s eyes were rich, but his hands poor, just as we are today, while our retinas are splashed with endless porn.

As America ceases to manufacture just about everything short of weapons, she’s more prodigious than ever at generating illusions, with none more desperately insistent than a return to 2007, 2000 or even 1950. Instead of seeing what’s ahead, we’re walking backward into the future.

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a  novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union. He’s a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press), now available in Kindle format.

 

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Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.

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