Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Imaginary Gardens With Real Toads

After seven years of using the rumored whims of al-Qaeda as the de facto basis for American governance, the Bush administration has decided that Osama bin Laden is irrelevant:

The White House on Wednesday declined to authenticate a purported audio message from Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden but said it appeared to be an effort to stay relevant and raise money.

"It appears this tape demonstrates his isolation and continued attempts to remain relevant at a time when Al-Qaeda's ideology, mission, and agenda are being questioned and challenged throughout the world," said spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
In other words, we preferred Osama's earlier, funnier material. There's nothing left for him now but to join Marilyn Manson and Dennis Miller on the new season of Celebrity Big Brother.

Osama's schtick may be played out, but this doesn't mean Islamofascism is passé. The always levelheaded Candace de Russy is very concerned about the small number of Guantanamo prisoners who've dared to write poetry, and the smaller number of law professors who've dared to promote their work.
Seton Hall Law School, for example, favors teach-ins highlighting the poetry of these men, one of whom killed more than a dozen people in a suicide attack in Iraq after his release.
Accursed who brings to light of day the writings Candace de Russy has cast away!

You could be forgiven for concluding that a Guantanamo detainee who wrote poetry that's taught at Seton Hall Law School killed more than a dozen people after his release. In reality, de Russy is using the case of Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi to imply that all Guantanamo's votaries of the Muse are at least prospective murderers. Had al-Ajmi actually written any poetry, it's very possible that it would've been marred by that "stylistic coarseness and insularity of sentiment" that Jacob Laksin has expertly detected in the work of fellow detainees. But as far as I can tell, al-Ajmi's crimes were against people, not Art.

Still, you have to admire the underlying logic. A man suspected of being a terrorist becomes one on his release from indefinite detention. The lesson? We never should have let him out. Things being as they are, an innocent detainee is just as dangerous as a guilty one. Or more dangerous, really, because he or she may take the injustice of the situation to heart, and perhaps even win sympathizers, instead of pursuing evil for its own sweet sake. In this sense, innocence is the terrorist's most diabolical disguise.

As for poetry...well, we all know that Rimbaud became a proto-Islamofascist gunrunner after reading the Koran, and yet American professors routinely impose his mountebank babblings on impressionable minds. Given that "nineties liberal education" led to an epidemic of bi-curiosity, why shouldn't it lead to a more obviously deadly form of deviance? As Marianne Moore noted, we must beware of "imaginary gardens with real toads in them."

While some might argue that our schools should restrict themselves to discussing patriotic epics like "The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley," I propose a sort of indefinite detention for works of art: only when a poet or painter or musician is safely dead and buried can we be quite certain that he or she won't decide to detonate bombs in a crowded shopping district, or have sex with children, or agitate for socialized medicine. At that point, it should be safe to release work of a sufficiently elevated moral character to whatever portion of the electorate has the leisure to concern itself with such fripperies.

(Photo: Arthur Rimbaud in Harar, Ethiopia, 1883.)

No comments: