Pessimism: Tagore and World War One; Iain Banks’ Last Words

There is a Tagore Festival again this year at Dartington, but I will not go because it is being linked to commemorating the First World War, which is so inappropriate! Tagore was horrified at that war:

‘Lately I went to visit some battlefields of France which had been devastated by war. The awful calm of desolation, which still bore wrinkles of pain—death-struggles stiffened into ugly ridges—brought before my mind the vision of a huge demon, which had no shape, no meaning, yet had two arms that could strike and break and tear, a gaping mouth that could devour, and bulging brains that could conspire and plan. It was a purpose, which had a living body, but no complete humanity to temper it. Because it was passion—belonging to life, and yet not having the wholeness of life—it was the most terrible of life’s enemies.’ (‘East and West’, Creative Unity (1922), pp. 96-7.)

Edward Thompson remarked how the ‘European War was an agony’ to Tagore: ‘To him […] it was nothing but a volcano shattering itself with fearful convulsion, the robber-civilisation of Europe flaming to well-deserved ruin’. (Thompson (1921), p. 54.) Tagore rejected all the talk of glory and sacrifice which is what we’ve been subjected to this year. A ‘Peace’ sticking-plaster over the WWI commemoration/glorification at the Dartington Tagore Festival is just hypocritical.

C.F. Andrews wrote the following in What I Owe to Christ:

‘When I expressed the earnest hope that the war itself might be a purge, [Tagore] replied, with a look of pity that I can never forget, “I wish, Charlie, for your sake and ours, that this might happen. But if the root of the evil, which is greed, is not removed, then after the war there may be a still more feverish haste to recover economic losses by further exploitation of the weak. It is this inward disease of greed which needs remedy, not merely the outward symptoms.”’ (p. 280)

2014 being 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War has provided an excuse for militaristic and nationalistic propaganda, glorifying the supposed heroism and sacrifice. Tagore found it hard to be optimistic.

[I’m sure the Indian song and dance at Dartington’s Festival will be lovely, but Tagore is more than Rabindrasangeet.]

Iain Banks’ ‘last words’? – from The Quarry

Faced with terminal illness or old age it is tempting to get some satisfaction from the prospect of quitting a world that is beyond redemption. In his last novel, The Quarry, Iain Banks puts such thoughts into the words of Guy, dying of cancer:

‘I shall […] consider myself well rid of this island’s pathetic, grovelling population of celebrity-obsessed, superficiality-fixated wankers. I shall not miss the institutionalised servility that is the worship of the royals – that bunch of useless, vapid, anti-intellectual pillock – or the cringing respect accorded to the shitting out of value-bereft Ruritanian “honours” by the government of the fucking [292] day, or the hounding of the poor and disabled and the cosseting of the rich and privileged, or the imperially deluded belief that what we really need is a brace of aircraft-free aircraft carriers and upgraded nuclear weapons we’re never going to fucking use and which would condemn us for ever in the eyes of the world if we ever fucking did. Not that we can, anyway, because we can’t fire the fucking things unless the Americans let us. I shall not have to witness the drowning or the starvation through mass-migration of the destitute of Bangladesh or anywhere else low-lying and impoverished, or listen to another fuckwit climate-change denier claiming that it’s all just part of some natural cycle, or down to sunspots, or watch as our kleptocrat-captured governments find new excuses not to close down tax havens, or tax the rich such that the fuckers actually have to pay more than they themselves or their lickspittle bean-counters deem appropriate. […] And I shall not miss being part of a species lamentably ready to resort to torture, rape and mass-murder just because some other poor fucker or fuckers is or are slightly different from those intent upon doing such harm, be it because they happen to worship a very slightly different set of superstitious idiocies, possess skin occupying a non-identical position on a Pantone racial colour wheel, or had the fucking temerity to pop out of a womb on the other side of a river, ocean, mountain range, other major geographical feature, or, indeed, just a straight line drawn across the desert by some bored and ignorant bureaucrat umpteen thousand miles away and a century ago. [293] None of these things shall I miss. Frankly it’s a relief to be getting shot of the necessity of watching such bollocks play out. I would still rather have the choice, mark you, but, as this would appear to be being denied me, I am making the best of a bad job and looking on the bright side: I shall be free, at last, of that nagging, persistent sensation that I am, for the most part, surrounded by fucking idiots.’

(Iain Banks, The Quarry (London: Little, Brown, 2013), pp. 292-4.)

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