“ they exert every variety of talent on a lower ground…and may be said to live and act in a submind”……
VS Naipaul “The Air Conditioned Bubble”
Writing in 1984 about the republican convention of 1984 (the triumphant beginning of Ronald Regans second term), V S Naipaul wrote of the language used at the convention as ‘computerlike’. He wrote of his sense of a ‘hollowness’ at its core and he quotes a number of speeches by delegates to the convention. Naipaul then goes on to write about English as a living language, one growing and deepening by internal references, allusive, full of references to itself – Shakespeare, the bible, popular culture etc; a language capable of making statements about itself , language capable of awareness of, being aware. The language of the speakers at the convention by contrast had, to quote Naipaul: “the same tone, the same personality (or absence of it), the same language unallusive, cleansed sterile, nerveless and dead, computer language”: a language incapable of ironic awareness: mindless and empty.
At the end of the essay Naipaul returns to and reflects upon his sense of a vacancy and inertness at the heart of the convention. Reflecting on the “imaginative poverty” he sensed at the centre of the great occasion he quotes Emerson’s reflections on visiting Britain at the height of its imperial power, in the mid 19th century. For Emerson it was, “as if inspiration had ceased, as if no vast hope, no religion, no song of joy, no wisdom, no analogy, existed anymore”. Emerson felt that English intellectual life was being choked by its consciousness of enormous power, wealth, rightness (inevitability). He wrote, “ they exert every variety of talent on a lower ground…and may be said to live and act in a submind”. Naipaul’s essay concludes thus: “like Emerson in England, I seemed in the convention hall of Dallas ”to walk on a marble floor, where nothing will grow.” ”
The unease I feel is that we too, are walking on a “floor where nothing will grow”. Emerson was writing about a society much like our own, dominated by technique and by instrumental reason. The unease is that, “as if inspiration had ceased, as if no vast hope, no religion, no song of joy, no wisdom, no analogy, existed anymore”, has come true, and that all we have to look forward to is is a endless:
“denying of the past, fearful of the future”..”endless present of endless panic.”