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not yet, not yet, picture mickey mantle, picture joe d…

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I’m not an Ian McEwan fan. Look, he writes very elegantly. And Saturday is an excellent teaching text (in large part because you get to show students something fairly subtle about the Iraq War, rationalization, and a particularly novelistic form of lying…) His politics are… not very good… And he is one very clear case where the bad politics make for aesthetic failure. You’re really not supposed to be able to label a properly written novel symptomatic this quickly, but there’s no other word for what Saturday is. But that’s another post.

But I am reading On Chesil Beach right now, for some reason or another. Might have something more substantive to say about it soon. But for now I wanted to share something quite excellent with you. The situation is, basically, that a young man and a young woman have just been married and are spending their honeymoon night at an inn on the Dorset coast. Both are virgins. He is tremendously excited to get laid for the first time; she is absolutely revolted by the thought of sex. They’re about to get it on for the first time, and he’s totally misreading her panic reaction as an erotic swoon:

He was thrilled by the light touch of her hands, not so very far from his groin, and by the compliance of her lovely body enfolded in his arms and the passionate sound of her breathing rapidly through her nostrils. It brought him to a point of unfamiliar ecstasy, cold and sharp and just below the ribs, the way her tongue gently enveloped his and he pushed against it. Perhaps he could persuade her one day soon – perhaps this evening, and she might need no persuading – to take his cock into her soft and beautiful mouth. But that was a thought he needed to scramble away from as fast as he could, for he was in real danger of arriving too soon. He could feel it already beginning, tipping him toward disgrace. Just in time, he thought of the news, of the face of the prime minister, Harold Macmillan, tall, stooping, walruslike, a war hero, an old buffer – he was everything that was not sex, and ideal for the purpose. Trade gap, pay pause, resale price maintenance. Some cursed him for giving away the empire, but there was no choice really, with these winds of change blowing through Africa. No one would have taken that same message from a Labour man. And he had just sacked a third of his cabinet in the “night of the long knives.” That took some nerve. Mac the Knife, was one headline, Macbeth! was another. Serious-minded people complained he was burying the nation in an avalanche of TVs, cars, supermarkets and other junk. He let the people have what they wanted. Bread and circuses. A new nation, and now he wanted us to join Europe, and who could say for sure that he was wrong?

Now if you’ve read your Barthes, maybe you know where I’m going with this. Always awkward to do the groundwork of social contextualization when you’re doing your histoire d’amour. But here, the relationship is literalized: the social detail, political factuality, the newspapery stuff is what the novel, like the novel’s protagonist here, tells itself so that it does not come too quickly.


(About the title of this post. Avert your eyes if you’d like to maintain an image of me as a sexless demiurge tapping away at posts morning noon and night. OK. In the USA, the shorthand version of this practice as delivered in popular culture usually takes the form of “thinking of a ballplayer.” Which is very, you know, heteronormative and homosocial and all. But that’s not my point. It went around as a mini-trope when I was an adolescent and was sensitive to such information. But when it went around tv and movies during my adolescence, it usually went around as a practice of middle-aged men, middle-aged men who could remember a different era of baseball than I could. Usually, they “thought about” Mickey Mantle. Every once in awhile, Joe DiMaggio if they were a bit older. And so, any time I’ve been tempted to, erm, try the technique out myself, my mind’s eye fills up with sepia toned portraits of players I never watched, Mantle, DiMaggio. The idea is, I guess, is that the practice take you back to the innocent b/w tv years of childhood, when matters like coming too quickly – or coming at all –  were not yet on the table. But when you get blocked this way, and are instead delivered to a strange screen-image nostalgia rut and rude citationality, everything gets all askew, you grow pensive and kind of meta, and, well, I won’t go into details, but you know. It’s not the best place to be when you really are where you want to be.

But it’s OK. Next time, for sure, I will think about Harold Macmillan, whoever he was. Sure to work, especially since no image, sepia or otherwise, erm, comes to mind….)

Written by adswithoutproducts

September 9, 2008 at 12:25 am

Posted in distraction, novel, sex

One Response

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  1. Snicker!

    just close your eyes and think of England indeed…


    September 9, 2008 at 4:54 am

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