Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Asma al-Assad

The Channel 4 documentary The Real Mr and Mrs Assad was fascinating because of what it left as a central enigma - that is, what their marriage is 'really' like, which, of course, it could never answer - only novelists can go into those inner workings, and even in novels the reality remains moot. Asma Assad was blamed for lending legitimacy to the regime through her Englishness and her beauty, and there have been calls upon her by the wives of the German and British ambassadors to the United Nations, asking her to stand up for peace and urge her husband to end the bloodshed in her country. In the program there was a moment that struck me as misogynistic when she was said to have shopped online for Parisian fashion while a massacre was taking place. Very big questions are raised here about the role that individuals can play in a terrible situation like that currently in Syria, and what was damagingly lacking from the program was the terror that the Assad family must feel from its vulnerability in composing a regime out of minority factions (including Christians) in the face of the Sunni majority. The atrocities which Assad and his brother and his cousins are committing are clearly in response to that vulnerability, and so, when you imagine marital discussions by the Assads you have to imagine the husband describing that situation. On Channel 4 they interviewed an old schoolfriend who said that 'Emma' (as she was known at school) must surely now be appalled. Maybe she is - she, herself, is Sunni and her family came originally from Homs - and it's very puzzling to imagine a former London schoolgirl, then computer scientist then investment banker sitting in the midst of these horrors shopping online for Chanel.It's impossible to know what she might have said to her husband in private, but what you do know is that if she tried to act against him and his family of monsters she'd be in terrible danger. 

Friday, 18 May 2012


'It's like marmite - you either love it or hate it,' is a current cliche in the making. I don't think it will acquire the momentum of the 'rollercoaster' menace because it's not even accurate. I mean it's true that rollercoasters go up and down, but I, for one, neither love nor hate marmite - I just quite like it. Mind you, accuracy isn't stopping the momentum of the 'in their DNA' idiom currently used obsessively by sports commentators in contexts that have nothing to do with genetics:

producing bowlers who can deliver a ball which dips suddenly in its flight and then scoots straight and low across the ground, by generating topspin through squirting the ball off the middle finger...-

is in the Sri Lankan DNA

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

contemporary allegories

I’ve been writing a sequence of poems that explores what I’m convinced is the prevalence of allegorical forms in contemporary culture, especially in advertising, celebrity culture and, to some extent, sport. It’s the opposite of symbolism whose depth is about unearthing essential truths. This new allegory is about surfaces and the arbitrary, as in those meerkats on TV ads where small furry animals with Russian accents are arbitrarily made to represent insurance – gratuitousness and randomness are a major part of the point. These representations, like others now, resemble the Baroque in their elaborate self-consciousness and self-referentiality, but they now also reflect the loss of religion in their self-reflexive lack of depth. And certain celebrities, especially minor ones, have acquired the status of personifications – Jordan, for example, arouses interest because of the stark simplicity of what she represents, and the intense focus on her chest. Here's the start of 'The Breasts':

Her breasts had secretly acquired
an agent, knowing they were better
than their owner – when she tired
and sagged, they only perked up perter,
climbing above her.  She had made it
only because they stood up for her,
who always denied them credit
for parting the way before her.
Now they needed to expand
their contract:  they’d get bigger
only if they could command
a much more generous figure.
Oh my God I’m falling apart
she cried, awaking in the cold dawn: