Letters from Spain
We're off to Spain later today, and will be there till the end of the month. Next blog entry will probably be from an Internet café in Malagá or possibly the humble, always active little computer center in Carboneras, Provincia de Almería, on the Costa del Sol. It may be a day or so before I get a chance to put anything new here. Among the things I want to write about (but am too busy packing right now to do so): Can you have "good" politics presented in "bad" art? And what about politics itself as (performance) art? Last night we saw part one (nearly three hours) of La Commune (Paris, 1871). (We were too exhausted to stay for part II, which is almost as long.) I have a lot I want to say about that movie, and about the Commune, which has been a passionate interest of mine for a long time. And of course, there will be a lot about Spain.

Meanwhile, for a sample of how I would dramatize the Commune, I invite you to take a look at my screenplay, Courbet and the Red Virgin.


“Flirting with Fascism”

A friend just sent me this article (see link below) by John Laughland, on Michael Ledeen's enthusiasm for what he describes as the revolutionary Fascist "movement" in Italy, as distinct from Mussolini's authoritiarian "regime."

I found it fascinating. I had read and reviewed (for some obscure leftish academic journal edited by Alvin Gouldner) the interview of Renzo de Felice (mentioned in the article) when it came out. I think Ledeen is right about many things, especially the revolutionary character of the Italian Fascist movement in its early days. Quite similar to the romantic revolutionary ideas of the early Falange in Spain -- Primo de Rivera and his followers. There were also revolutionaries among the early Nazis (the Strasser brothers, notably).

"Revolution" here does not imply anything like equal justice and opportunity, which is what socialists usually have in mind. Fascist, Falangist and National Socialist revolutions were allied with romantic notions of nation and "race." Fascist, etc. "revolution" does share with Marx's, Lenin's and other "left" concepts of revolution a faith in creative destruction to be achieved by mobilization of the masses.

The fatal flaw in Ledeen's argument, I think, is the fantasy that "movement" can be separated from "regime" in actual practice. As soon as D'Annunzio actually had to govern Fiume, he had to stop mobilizing people -- because people in motion are likely to turn you out of power. And as soon as Franco or Mussolini or Hitler were able to consolidate power, each rapidly eliminated (or in the case of Franco, marginalized) the "revolutionaries" in his ranks.

And the fatal flaw in the revolutionary fascists' thinking and practice is the love of chaos for its own sake, which leads to such aberrations as the Falangist slogan "¡Viva la muerte!" There is no thought, or even tolerance, of a plan to mobilize the masses to create new institutions where their participation can become regularized. That is, they are not tearing down autocracy in order to build social democracy (which is what I think Hugo Chávez believes he is doing). Chaos is the antithesis of government, so whoever ends up as the strongest in the chaotic war of all against all will have to impose some kind of order. If routinized democracy is not permissible, then it has to be authoritarian and top-down from the boss. In Italy the slogan was "Credere, obedere, pugnare". In Germany, "das Führerprinzip".

Flirting with Fascism, by John Laughland
Roque Dalton - ¡ayayayay!
A few nights ago, when an anxiety attack (something to do with money, and Bush's war on democracy, and so on) was keeping me awake, I reached for my Virtual Prozac. I keep it in many varieties and flavors on the poetry shelf above my desk. It usually works. But on this occasion, I made the stupid error -- I should have known better, but was too groggy to keep some devil from guiding my hand -- of pulling out Poesía escogida of Roque Dalton.

For those of you who never knew -- which has been most of the world, even when he was alive -- and for those who have forgotten -- which is almost everybody else -- Roque Dalton (b. 1935) was a Salvadoran law student driven by the crude lawlessness of his country to commit poetry. He committed quite a lot of it, and survived two firing squads, gangs of murderous thugs, torture, animal attacks and outraged husbands while scrambling from one revolutionary posture to the next, in Central America and then Eastern Europe and back to Central America. Ultimately he was executed on May 17, 1975 by his supposed comrades in El Salvador's Frente Farabundo Martí de Liberación Nacional, acting out the roles that Bertolt Brecht decades earlier had assigned to Chinese revolutionaries in "The Measures Taken" (Die Massnahme).

He's sometimes funny, in a sick kind of way. Mainly the poetry is painful. And it brings back memories of the horrible torment of those years in Central America. Not the sort of thing to calm your anxieties.

But worst of all: He was a terrible poet. Irritating, complaining, unmusical. Maybe that was why they shot him (the story has always been murky -- some of those involved rose to be powerful figures in the FMLN, and didn't want to talk about it). Still, he fascinates me. I think that Roque Dalton's poetry was not in his poetry, but in his life. One could use that life as the thread to draw through the bright-colored, tear-stained tejidos of a whole era of Central America.

For a photo and links to his poetry and biography (if you read Spanish), go to La página de Roque Dalton.


Becoming Kate Hepburn
I was going to say something about Katherine Hepburn, but Verlyn Klinkenborg has said it better: "...a perfectly selfless egotism, a person so ravished with self-confidence that she had the capacity to illuminate everyone around her." Anthony Hopkins recalled, in an interview on All Things Considered yesterday, that when as a very young actor he was playing her son in "The Lion in Winter," Hepburn told him, "Don't act." Meaning, I suppose, Just do the part as yourself, without trying to be anybody else. That was the thing about Hepburn: she didn't act. Even when she was playing Eleanor of Aquitaine, she was always Hepburn.

Hopkins of course does act; his "Titus Andronicus" is nothing like his "Hannibal Lecter." But he comes from a different tradition. Anyway, I was planning to spend the rest of the morning being Kate Hepburn, practicing self-confidence -- but wait, that's a contradiction! I think instead I should just try to take her advice: Don't act. So if you run into me today, you'll just find me.


A historical note

I just came across this old file -- written in January 1991.
Gulf War I, Bush I

by Geoffrey Fox

America loves a bad guy, the tougher the better. A guy who knows how to keep cool until the moment to unleash his deadly violence. A guy who betrays no fear when surrounded by vastly superior forces, and who combines shrewdness, courage and malice to damage his enemies even when it appears that all is lost. "Hombre," by Elmore Leonard, besieged by Mexicans. Butch Cassidy in Bolivia, John Wayne in the Alamo, Eddie Murphy in Korea, Rambo in Southeast Asia. Even non-whites may apply: the half-breed Billy Jack against the forces of law and order in the southwestern desert. Or Jimmy Cagney. Whose haberdashery gets more publicity than John Gotti's? Whose smirks, mumbles and rampages than the many movie "Godfathers'"? The American paragon is insolent, intransigent, and dangerous.

Maybe we've been misreading Saddam Hussein. Maybe he isn't so all-fired hot on Islam. Maybe he doesn't give a damn (to be polite) about the Palestinians, or even about Iraqi sovereignty in Kuwait. Maybe he's just seen too many American movies. Or maybe--and this too is possible--the values he learned scrapping on the dusty streets of Tikrit weren't too different from our own. Which means that to prevail, you've got to act tough, whatever the consequences. And prevailing is the only game worth the candle.

So, if this is the script, where does that leave our guys? All those airmen and sailors and soldiers and marines, from 28 nations, with tons of bombs to drop and thousands of missiles and many times more airplanes than Saddam ever had--if this is the script, then our guys are the cops, or the federales, the hordes of lawmen fought off by the heroic renegade.

Some people have been comparing him to Hitler. But that was a different movie, more like the evil Ming against Flash Gordon. This guy may be evil, a scourge of society--his own and those of his neighbors. The poison gas against his citizens, the horridly costly war against Iran, the invasion and pillage of Kuwait, and probably lots more crimes we're only dimly aware of. But as any American movie-goer knows, what counts is coolness under fire. He'll probably go down in flames at the end, and people in this country aren't likely to forgive him, and hardly anybody outside of Iraq loves him, but everybody, from our president on down, respects him.

And if Arabs have been as deeply influenced as we have by American movies, long after he is gone, his exploits will be sung in the souks and coffehouses as the people wait for the rise of a new Scuds Saddam.

Geoffrey Fox has no special knowledge of the Middle East, but he's seen a lot of movies.