Shameless GOP at it Again

Many will say that the narcotic of violence, through games and movies, is doing the worst damage to the American body politic. Maybe so.  But for my money, shamelessness comes a close second.  What ever happened to it?

We’ve all seen what a natural part of human development shame is as our young ones grow.  How did it get decided that it was an unnecessary restraint on human activity, especially in the advanced western countries?  Not only has it been buried beyond sight by public exhibitionism of every kind, by soft-core copulation in almost all Hollywood movies, it is completely absent from political discourse.

People, mostly Republicans, will say any crazy thing that pops into their minds (or perhaps it hasn’t popped, but festered for a long time) and then, when called on it, double down.

Really!  Virginia Republicans sneak through a re-districting plan while a Dem is at the Inauguration.   A GOP legislator in New Mexico wants abortion to be banned on the basis that ‘it would destroy the evidence of a possible rape.’  Paul Ryan says that ‘no one’ would suggest that earned entitlements, like Social Security, would put someone in his ‘taker’ class — even though, he of course, has said so.

And then there is Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) who didn’t even attend a classified briefing on Benghazi heatedly criticizing Secretary of State Clinton about matters he knew nothing about. Here’s Juan Cole on Top Ten Republican Myths on Benghazi that Justify Hillary Clinton’s Anger

for example: 1. Republican senators keep saying that it should have been “easy” to find out what happened on September 11, 2012, by simply debriefing US personnel who had been there. John McCain, Ron Johnson and the others who make this charge are the most cynical and manipulative people in the world. The Benghazi US mission was very clearly an operation of the Central Intelligence Agency, and that is the reason that the Obama administration officials have never been able to speak frankly and publicly about it. McCain and the others know this very well, and they know that their public carping cannot be “simply” answered because the answers would endanger sources and methods. The consulate was amazingly well-guarded by some 40 CIA operatives, many of them ex-special forces, in a nearby safe house

Then there’s this: The More Republicans Know About Politics, the More They Believe Conspiracy Theories

excerpt: …the idea that everybody is equally biased, but in different directions, continues to have a key weakness—namely, the data. And if these results—and they’re not the only ones of this ilk, see for instance here and here—are really true, then it may not be a good thing for democracy to perpetuate this idea that everyone has equal biases. As Obama begins a second term after four years of implacable resistance, that’s something to ponder.

Anatomy of a Disappearance: A Novel by Hisham Matar

Hisham Matar’s second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance,  easily matches the promise of his first, In The Country of Men, [reviewed here] and is lovelier in image and language, though less obviously of Libya, the country of his origins.  In both the memories which compromise the story are of  a young boy.  In both the boys have exceptionally strong relationships to their mothers, both mothers are often sick — with intimations of depression, while their fathers are often away.  In both, their lives are shaped, in different degrees by political terror.

In the Country of Men, the young boy, Suleiman,  is in the country — Libya– of the terror.  His father disappears.  He and his mother wait and pray for his return; she tries to make deals with the security man across the street; she tells him to destroy all his father’s books.  The normalcy of childhood is metamorphosed into something most of us can not imagine.  Finally, the father is returned:

His eyes were closed, full of air or water or blood, like split rotten tomatoes, and his lower lip was as fat and purple as a baby eggplant.”  

Suleiman is sent to Cairo to be out of  danger and to finish his education; the story has come to an end.

In Anatomy of a Disappearance, Nuri, the narrator, is a young man in his twenties at the time of the story’s telling.   Though born in Paris of an English mother and Arabic — probably Libyan, though never said–father, he has returned to Cairo, where he had spent his younger life, and to the love of the family servants.  Most of the narrative, and by far the most powerful, is of his adolescent years — from age 10, the death of his mother, to 22 when he finishes University.  Though the father disappears when Nuri is 14, there is none of the close violence of the earlier book.  Perhaps some moments of tension as we wonder whether Nuri, or his father’s new wife, Mona, might be abducted by the same mysterious forces but these are minor in the lush exploration of memory, loss, desire and growth,  maturing away from the early love and into a knowledge of his father he might otherwise never have had.

Without knowing Matar’s origins and background one would read Anatomy, unlike In the Country,  as simply a fine European novel,  playing out in Geneva, upper middle class Cairo and London, but without any sense of reading an “Arabic” novel.  Reference to the father’s background, and earlier life are confined to mention of “our country,” or that he was the “most trusted adviser to our king.”  Cairo and Alexandria figure strongly in the story but this has been true of  fine British novels and don’t necessarily “mark” them as Arabic.  Although I came across Matar in a search for Libyan writers, he is not an “Arabic” writer in the pure sense of that notion.  We are not reading a translation.  He writes in English. He was born in New York City and lived in Libya with his parents from age 3 to 9, when the family fled to Cairo from Gaddafi’s violent persecutions.  His education has been almost entirely in English. He is one of a new breed of internationalist writers — as Ahdaf Soueif [and here, here] — comfortable in two or more countries, life lived and families still living in different cultures from which to draw upon; emotional, linguistic, imagistic ties to many parts.   Perhaps he could be called Anglo-Libyan, or Anglo-Arabic, or the reverse.  In any case he is a fine writer,  about whose allegiances there should be no quarrel: to men and women, to children, in their varieties.

The disappearance of the father is the event around which the telling revolves, but the novel is not an investigatory piece, or a mystery in the usual sense.  It is less an anatomy of the disappearance, than of the life and lives interrupted by it.  In the end it is the story of the young man discovering home, and himself, not in the country his father and mother fled but in Egypt, where they put their deepest roots, and with the Cairene maid/mother who brought him up.

Matar evokes nostalgia and memory with a fine sense of description and detail — the glow of a bathing suit strap across the arched ripples of a backbone, the imprint of a foot in the creamy instep of a shoe, the misted outline of a woman’s body behind a shower curtain.  The first awakening of sexual desire in the 13 year old Nuri, and jealousy of his father, is so palpable we are at times uncomfortable.  A sort of Death in Venice in reverse as a young man is obsessed with an older woman, who leads him on, disturbs us, both by the separation of their ages and the sense of kind of incest  setting in.  Our caution alarms ring in our throats..

In both books we are treated to such evocative and unexpected images we have to pause and let them seep inside.  We want to return to them, to gaze as on jewels against the ordinary dross of language.

In The Country of Men we have such marvelous images as

I couldn’t leave her side, wondering if, like one of those hand puppets that play dead, she would bounce up again, light another cigarette,


in the faint glow I saw him on top of her, moving back and forth the same short sad distance, like one of those old ladies mourning the dead.

Anatomy opens with

“There are times when my father’s absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest.”

Later, describing the hotel in Alexandria where Nuri and his father meet Mona, he says

You could hear the waves lapping lazily against the shore like a snoring guard dog

After extracting a speck of brown thorn “from the soft pink flesh” of her toe, in an act of self-assurance he has never again felt, Nuri looks at her:

I watched her without restraint. I wanted to wear her, as you would a piece of fold into her ribs, be a stone in her mouth…

These are both marvelous books, connected in their conception and execution but siblings who are completely their own persons.  Don’t waste a minute in getting acquainted with their author. Anatomy may be a more compelling entry point for many, with its familiar themes of adolescent love, and the mystery of the man, whose disappearance is never solved even as hidden years of his life are discovered and  Nuri finds himself becoming more and more like the man he had been searching for.