Monday, April 04, 2005


I would like to confess something. For several years now I have harbored the dream of owning an old Mercedes Benz. The aesthetic of the car - its lines and deliberation -appeal to me in a romantic, nostalgic sense, evoking the vague feeling of an older, more civilized world (hold your breath). Most tempting, I have a friend who could help me convert it to run primarily on vegetable oil (easy to do, apparently, with a deisel engine). But the fact remains that I would then be driving a Nazi car. Or in any case, one that had been built by labor at the camps, or shortly thereafter (with Prescott Bush's funding, it might be added). Of course in one sense the disctinction is fundamental. And to confuse a car with an (old) ideology, or with the singular lives of the laborors, is verging on pathetic fallacy. But I am also of the rather firm believe that the sign of fascism is one under which we live still, and that this just may require a certain, very serious, vigilance. While I do not confuse this vigilance with the mere decision of whether or not to purchase a car, I'm still not entirely sure how this will make me feel, day after day, driving a Nazi car. Bear in mind I am an American-born-and-raised male, lucky enough to have travelled a bit but susceptible to the 50's "personal freedom" ("Wild at Heart") myths as the next fellow in my demographic.

In any event, trying to come up with punchy blurbs for the bookstore's shelves, I have been reading Ellis Sharp's review of Ian McEwan's Saturday:
Equivocation – having your cake and eating it – is a noticeable narrative strategy in ‘Saturday’. Perowne owns a Mercedes (as does, or did, McEwan – I have a hazy memory of reading some years ago a profile of the novelist which referred to his Mercedes parked in the drive of his Oxford home). Perowne has a memory of seeing his parked car “a hundred yards away, parked at an angle on a rise of the track, picked out in soft light against a backdrop of birch, flowering heather and thunderous black sky” – then adds: “the realisation of an ad man’s vision”. But though the description is lightly mocked, it is not seriously challenged. Seeing his car like this, Perowne experiences “a gentle, swooning joy of possession” (p. 76).

Boyd Tonkin complains that books as a cultural form don’t get enough attention from TV (Independent, 4 February 2005), but he adds:

“On the credit side, an item about Ian McEwan’s ‘Saturday’ made the principal BBC evening news this Monday. This was not because it grabbed a gong or stirred a quarrel or triggered a fatwa, but simply because a world-ranking novelist had brought out a landmark work.”

But I can’t think of anything more characteristic of the news values of the BBC than that it should choose to privilege the publication of ‘Saturday’ as deserving of respectful attention as ‘news’. ‘Saturday’ is ideologically kin to those values. It’s a novel which adopts a reverent attitude to affluence. A Mercedes is a lovely car. Squash is a splendid game. It’s nice to have a big house in central London. A war on Iraq will get rid of a disgusting torture regime.

‘Saturday’ is a novel for liberals who didn’t go on the march (and I have yet to read a review of the novel or hear or watch a discussion of it that engages with the question of whether or not the critic participated in that march. My guess is that probably not a single one of them did.) It’s a bourgeois novel in the sense that it celebrates a bourgeois life style and worries about the threats to that way of life.

(More on McEwan here)

Liberal purism is a funny thing. I had a long discussion with a friend the other day who said she wished not to be buried but simply left in the woods somewhere, for animals to feast upon. I mentioned this might be traumatic for her parents re: the work of mourning, or for the five-year-old farmer's child who's dog brings him a femur. Similar discussions about turning the heat up ("just put on some pants!" "But you're not paying for the heat yourself"), etc. "Better to accept one's complicity, sometimes, and move on from there," I tell her, and I think she knows what I mean.
As for the review, I'm sure it's accurate, but probably not exactly what the owner's looking for...

Ironically (but in more ways than they mean it), McEwan seems to be having trouble entering the United States (via Arts Journal). Only marginally related, but see also this post.

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