Category Archives: banality

Inside the befuddled mind of Sadiq Khan

Dalrymple notes that after one of the regular Islamist atrocities, public figures

always manage somehow to say something that is either pusillanimous or does not need saying.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, found words that, says Dalrymple,

contrived to combine banality with error.

  • He said that the attacks were deliberate, as if anyone might otherwise have thought them accidental, or performed in a fit of absence of mind.
  • He said that they were cowardly, which is the one thing that they were not. True, the people that the perpetrators attacked were defenceless, but the perpetrators could hardly have been under any illusion about their fate. Even with the prospect of 72 virgins as a reward, it must have taken courage to do what they did.

Courage, Dalrymple points out,

is not in itself a virtue: it becomes a virtue only in pursuit of a virtuous aim. A man who is evil need not thereby be a coward, and frequently in fact is not. A timidly evil man is probably preferable to a bravely evil one, unless his timidity leads him to superior cunning.

Khan said that the victims were innocents. Dalrymple asks:

In what sense were they innocents? It was unlikely that they, of all humanity, were born without Original Sin. It could only be that they were innocents by comparison with the guilty. But who, in the context of being mown down by a driver or attacked by men with long knives, are the guilty?

In other words, there exists in Khan’s mind

a group of people whom it would have been less heinous for the terrorists to kill, whom it would not have been cowardly for them to have killed.

A patient of Dalrymple’s

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From fresco cycle, Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padua. Giotto, c. 1305

She was, writes Dalrymple,

a working-class woman of dignified mien. Her brother died in a submarine sunk during the war, and her sister-in-law was killed in an air raid, leaving her the task of bringing up their orphaned child. Her husband had died comparatively young, and her first son had died of a heart attack at 42. (‘He had just finished a game of football, doctor, and was in the changing rooms. He fell on the floor, and his mates thought he had slipped, and they told him to stop messing about. He just looked up at them—smiled—and he was gone.’)

The bitterest blow

was the death of another son, killed in an accident in which a truck, carelessly driven, crushed his car. He was 50. She brought me his photo, her hand trembling slightly as she gave it to me. He was a businessman who had devoted his spare time to raising money for the Children’s Hospital. ‘It doesn’t seem right, somehow,’ she said, ‘that he should have gone before me.’ Did she still cry? ‘Yes, doctor, but only when I’m on my own. It’s not right, is it, to let anyone see you. After all, life has to go on.’

Could anyone, says Dalrymple,

have doubted either the depth of her feeling or of her character? Could any decent person fail to have been moved by the self-mastery she had achieved, the foundation of her strength?

Yet such fortitude

is the virtue that the acolytes of the hug-and-confess culture wish to extirpate from the British national character as obsolete, in favour of a banal, self-pitying, witless, and shallow emotional incontinence.

From Germany, hope for insomniacs

The federal foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Zzz zzz zzz… Verbal anæsthesia: the federal foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, delivers an address that is well-timed (coming shortly after the British voted to leave the European Union), and in duration no longer than about an hour-and-a-half, concerning the glories of the European Union. Zzz zzz zzz…

Zzz zzz zzz zzz…

Picking up a copy of the Paris daily the Monde, which he describes as the French equivalent of the Times of New York, though

still rather more interesting,

Dalrymple comes across an article by the Bundesminister des Auswärtigen, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. To read it, Dalrymple says,

is to enter a world of grey thought, evasive cliché, Soviet-style slogans, verbal anæsthesia. I think you could put almost anyone to sleep by reading it aloud to him.

Steinmeier’s remarks are intended to be

a stirring call to readers, like de Gaulle’s radio broadcast from London.

There are passages such as this:

We are committed to making Europe better. This is the direction taken by the proposals put forward by Jean-Marc Ayrault [the Ministre des Affaires étrangères et du Développement international] and myself. We have ideas on improved internal and external security, an active migration policy and a policy for growth and employment. We look forward to receiving lots of constructive ideas. A better, more flexible EU will respect differing views on the further progress of Europe and will allow for different speeds, without excluding anyone or leaving anyone behind. Instead of arguing about what the ultimate goal of European integration should be, we should work towards tangible results. It is only by working together that we will make progress. That is why it is so important for us to consult each other in the group of 27, to listen carefully to each other, and then take joint action.

Hergestellt in Detmold, Deutschland

Hergestellt in Detmold, Deutschland

Zzzz zzz zzz zzz… Dalrymple comments:

I do not know Mr Steinmeier and have no animus against him. He is probably a perfectly decent man, as politicians go. What intrigues me is whether his article corresponds to any thoughts that actually ran through his head. If they did, one can only pity him: how boring it must be to be Mr Steinmeier.

But Dalrymple does not want to be accused of selective quotation, so he closes his eyes and lets his finger alight at random on part of the article. Here is the passage:

We are looking back on an unprecedented 70 years of peace and stability. More than 25 years have passed since we brought an end to the division of our continent. The process of European unification is an unparalleled success story. At its core is an agreed political framework under which the member states come to Brussels to manage their relations and settle their conflicts — and do not head off to the battlefield. This agreement has lost none of its utility or significance. The European peace project must be passed on intact to the generations who will follow us.

Zzz zzz zzz zzz… Dalrymple says that to combine, in such a way,

soporific banality with cunning evasiveness takes, I suppose, talent of a kind, the kind of talent required to rule without appearing to want to do so. It is a dull talent, and one that I cannot much admire.

Apotheosis of the exhibitionist

Dalrymple endures a little of the output of the popular singer David Bownie so we don’t have to, and concludes that its principal characteristic is

banality.

The appeal of the lyrics, he says, is to people

whose idea of human suffering is the natural consequence of their own self-indulgence. And this is now a mass phænomenon. We live in societies in which an unprecedented proportion of the total of suffering is self-inflicted.

I love Martina, Mama and Papa

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 09.44.23Dalrymple visits the Musée Guimet to view an exhibition of Korean painting and decorative arts. He writes:

I came out knowing much more than when I went in. I was moved by what I had seen and was full of resolution to read up on the subject.

As he leaves, Dalrymple glances at the visitors’ book, which contains comments such as these:

  • Necessary to clean the glass cases to protect the works. Too many fingerprints. Thank you.
  • [A note pointing to the need to make changes to the lighting and disposition of exhibits, concluding with the remark:] Ophthalmologists and osteopaths will thank the museum for its co-operation.
  • Your restaurant rather resembles that of a clinic or a hospital.
  • I love Martina, Mama and Papa. [Enclosed in a heart shape.]

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

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John Martin, 1852. Oil on canvas. Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Man, writes Dalrymple, is 
’the only species (as far as we know) that takes pleasure in contemplating its annihilation‘. Yet 
’the appetite for soothing banality is as great, and perhaps dialectically related to, the appetite for apocalyptic visions’.