Self Flagellation

In the dark old days of Mao’s China, erring party disciples would, if they were exceptionally lucky, be made to write self-criticisms.  In these documents, the straying member of the flock would abase themselves, detail their crimes against the collective and swear to be a better and truer comrade in the future.  For all I know, this sort of thing still goes on.

In the short life of this blog, I find I have urinated copiously from the lofty internet heights on Robert Frost, Inga Clendinnen, Nick Hornby, Francis Collins, Emma Beare, Don DeLillo, Ron Rash, Madeleine St John, Andrew Porter, Bret Easton Ellis, Margaret Atwood, Norman McGreevy, Michael Leunig, Colleen McCullough, J D Salinger (the day after he died), Bryce Courtenay and Tim Winton.  Well over twenty per cent of my posts, in other words, have been more or less slavering attacks.

The tables must turn, however.  In the interests of fairness, I’m going to have a go at me.  Ladies and gentlemen, the scorpion is about to sting himself.  Let the Mao-style self-criticism begin.  I direct this not to Mao, but to George Orwell, whose Politics and the English Language is and shall always be my final guide to writing.  The idea of taking up a totalitarian epistolary notion and directing it at Orwell is grievously inappropriate, but I can’t resist.

Here goes.

Dear beloved teacher and leader:

Two years ago I wrote an essay.  Here is its first sentence.

‘For the purposes of this essay I shall hold that the notion of a Good Life must consist of two parts, each of which may be alloyed only by moderate infringement of the other: first an existence which limits as much as is possible both the experience of suffering in ourselves, and the suffering experienced by other sentient beings and second the creation and continuation of an environment in which each sentient being is given the opportunity to reach its fullest possible potential.’

The only things I have to say in mitigation are that the subject was philosophy and that I was showing off.  You see, you don’t get extra marks for being tersely illiterate in philosophy essays.  That only happens in sociology.

Still.  Eighty-three words is too long for one sentence.  The first colon should have been a full stop.  I wasn’t just showing off, I was being a large economy size wanker.  I see that now.  Most humbly do I supplicate myself before you and swear I’ll never do this again (unless I happen to take another philosophy subject).

On the subject of wankerisms, upper-case letters for the words ‘Good Life’ is well up there, don’t you think?

And then there’s the phrase ‘alloyed only by moderate infringement’.  Is an alloying element infringing, properly speaking?  Almost certainly not.  ‘Dilution’ would perhaps have been better, but in reality I should have written, in one sentence: ‘The two key elements of the good life must not infringe significantly upon each other’.

I find that I repeated the word ‘possible’ also.  This was a bad lapse.  In eighty-three words that kind of repetition smacks of carelessness.  And what did I even mean by ‘fullest possible potential’?  That’s a vacuous notion if ever I saw one.  It signifies nothing.

I will, in all my thoughts and actions from this day forth, most sincerely and consciously attempt to better myself, and be more worthy.

Humbly and shamefully yours,

Misha Adair.


4 responses to “Self Flagellation

  1. Apology accepted!

  2. I was the one who voted “get even more vicious.” Whenever I read your marvellous blog I feel like I’m dancing with the devil – a shrewd, cunning, erudite devil. It’s like every post should begin with “please allow me to introduce myself…”

    I like that because it makes me feel morally superior. I am, of course, half joking.
    I don’t think anybody worth a dime would actually mean it if they told you to change your opinion. You are a man/writer who calls it as he sees it; who doesn’t sugar coat the pill; who doesn’t pull any punches. These are usually considered virtues.

    In your case, they may come across as vices. I’m not sure how you can counter that but perhaps let me suggest you branch out in your reviews and write favourably about books that impress you, the ones written by authors don’t belong to the stable of familiar names all lit snobs touch themselves over: Shakespeare, Wilde, Orwell, etc. All great but I’d love to read more reviews of recent popular/semi popular books you really enjoyed – i.e. what about Carter Beats the Devil? The danger with being so “malicious” is that you risk leaving readers with the overall impression that you hate pretty much everything except the safe choices, or that you’re more passionate about your own writing than the writing of others, or that you’re simply too mean. But I know you love books – so let us feel it, baby. Touch us in strange places. Figuratively speaking.

  3. Pity about that last adverb in an otherwise implacable comment!

  4. PS: Not a bad bit of academic deconstruction either from our most positive of sometimes negative writers!

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