Last Sunday I listened to a "cultural" program on the BBC; or so its title said. As it went on, I grew more and more alarmed, eventually, as a sort of self-defense, I suppose, breaking out in loud, silly guffaws, and going into spasms -- which in turn ruined my breakfast.

The program went something like this.

Some East End gallery specializes in up and coming artists ("buy it for a penny, sell it for a pound"); some of these artists were then interviewed: one, a Pakistani, makes large installations of planes locked up in huge blocks of ice which then slowly melt under harsh lights (yeah, duuude! pass the sheesha!); the interviewer asks her: you wear a chador (‘conservative’) but you make such modern works! (She doesn’t have a damn clue, does she?)

Meanwhile at the White House the What's-their-names are assembling a collection of borrowed art; it’s all modern (i.e. post-1950) of course, and American (probably has to be), including someone’s mediation on the square (!); except a DAY-ga (American enough when you pronounce it that way); except this last is judged risque (hush: legs); but the former first lady was also cultured, we are told: she owned a de Koenig (along with hyper-realist representations of West Texas landscape). Ah, the uncultured me: who de hoeck was de Koenig?

(Ah... upon consideration, don't tell me, I don't want to know).

Then, we were told, an Algerian band in France plays an electric oud. (Lousily, as it happens). You play such a mix of traditional and modern! gushes the interviewer.



Sorry, I don’t understand this language, though everyone around me seems to.

Here, for instance, is Florian Zeller (who?) invited to speak at a kind of book fair in Egypt (probably because no one better would go), offering the humid fruit of his precious brain-tree:

if the Islamic world generally had difficulties with the novel, it was because it was living to a large extent in an era that belonged to the period before modern times, bogged down in archaisms that were by their essence incompatible with the foundations of the novel: freedom, fantasy, complexity, the ambiguity of all truths and the suspension of moral judgement. In this respect, the novel could easily become the battle ground between two civilisations.
(Er? Has Zeller ever read any archaic poetry, either Islamic or -- European? And if so, which part of his anatomy does he use to think (and speak) about it?)

The terrible thing: he thinks this drivel actually means something; and – oh, emperor’s new clothes! -- his Egyptian colleagues believe him! How's that for conversation: you issue forth a series of grunts, pretending that you're saying something; then, in turn, they do the same, pretending their grunts are a meaningful response. It's possible to keep this up for quite some time!

How do you explain to these... village people that the language they speak –which happily interchanges modern, western, good, inevitable, free, sexually liberated, and cultured is incoherent; that it is broken; that it means nothing; that it is impossible to say or think in it anything that makes any sense at all and that by speaking it they just bury themselves in some horrendous dark hole of the mind?

But then -- what could possibly be the point of explaining?


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