Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Brotherhood of Mourning?

Yesterday I accused the President of using his visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for political purposes and reflected on whether this could be considered chutzpah, since we have to assume that politicians do everything "for political purposes." Today, to invoke the terminology of Kenneth Burke, the act is the same but the agent and scene have changed. This time the agent is Rudy Giuliani, and the scene is the gathering in Oklahoma City on the occasion of the 12th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. I was struck by one particular sentence quoted by Associated Press Writer Tim Talley:

We mourn and hurt and will never forget, but we don't live under fear.

Because it is hard for me to view Giuliani as anything but a politician (and one trying to become the Republican candidate for the next presidential election at that), his use of the first person plural just stuck in my craw. It was as if he wanted to gather the Oklahoma City bombing under the same tent as 9/11 in the formation of a "brotherhood" of mourning and personal pain, then alluding to Virginia Tech for adding new members to this brotherhood. I am really chilled by this kind of political maneuver, possibly because I fear that it may actually work. Sartre had conceived of such a "brotherhood of mourning" in The Flies. This was his version of Aeschylus' Oresteia; and the brotherhood concept was invented by Aegisthus in memory of Agamemnon, who had been murdered by his wife Clytemnestra with the assistance of, you guessed it, Aegisthus. Sartre saw this as manipulation of the worst kind; and, for better or worse, my own world-view was informed by seeing a performance of this play back in my student days. The San Francisco Chronicle recently observed that, in time of war, it is very easy to find theatre companies mounting productions of Lysistrata. Perhaps some of those companies should also think about reviving The Flies to remind us of how the political mind can actually work.

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