March 14, 2007

It Must Be Syphilis: "Mother, give me the sun"

In the mainstream columnists' Championship for Supreme and Unsurpassable Inanity, Richard Cohen may finally have provided a winner. I came across this thought-obliterating blob of sentimental twaddle via the otherwise highly estimable Justin McCarthy, who has provided all the commentary necessary. In very different circumstances, I might thank Justin. As it is, I have begun my program of serious self-medication earlier than usual.

The column is titled, "Please Don't Take My Sunshine Away." It concerns what is indisputably the most urgent issue of our time: the advance of daylight savings time by three weeks. Cohen offers us cherishable prose of a sublimity to which the rest of us plodders can merely aspire, and even that only on the rare occasion:
I look forward to the arrival of spring when the sun wakes me. It's a better way to get up. No jarring alarm. Just the sun sort of caressing my face. It is nature's alarm clock. What was intended.
"Just the sun sort of caressing my face." I do like that "sort of." We're so stupid that, had Cohen omitted those words, we might have thought the sun actually caressed his face. We are just that dumb.
Sometimes I'd sleep in a bit and let the sun do its work, but even if I arose in the dark, by the time I made coffee . . . there it was! Such a beauty! My friend. My pal.


My sun, my sun -- you've taken my sun.
This is all inexpressibly charming and touching, but the following is my favorite passage:
I know the government has regulated daylight saving time (on and off) since the First World War, but this latest modification strikes me as unnecessary and somewhat -- I know no better word -- socialistic. Here's the government, the government for crying out loud, deciding on its own when the sun should come up. I mean, it's bad enough that the feds tap our phones and keep changing the definition of torture so that even the rack would not apply, but now they just come in (without a warrant or anything) and take away an hour of morning sunlight. It's enough to make a conservative out of a person. I'm thinking of subscribing to the Weekly Standard (How's the war going, boys?) or joining one of those right-wing Christian groups that hate the government, evolution and, I suppose, me. On second thought, maybe not.
I like this, because oppressive government surveillance, torture and war (and the very war for which Cohen himself endlessly pimped) are always so funny. But, Richard, I very seriously doubt that anyone hates you. There isn't any you there deserving of such a strong emotion, or of any other that comes to mind.

Since this is Cohen we're discussing, and given his willingness to be a propaganda dupe for the criminal Bush gang in the runup to the Iraq invasion, what we ought to be talking about is the terrible price exacted by an intricate web of public lies, and by the strictures of conventional "morality" (which only maintains its grip by means of those same lies). That, in turn, reminded me of a genuinely excellent, taboo-breaking play, Ibsen's Ghosts. It also made me realize that the original version of Cohen's column is infinitely superior, especially, when it is well-acted, in the play's shattering conclusion:
OSWALD. [Sits in the arm-chair with his back towards the landscape,without moving. Suddenly he says:] Mother, give me the sun.

MRS. ALVING. [By the table, starts and looks at him.] What do you say?

OSWALD. [Repeats, in a dull, toneless voice.] The sun. The sun.

MRS. ALVING. [Goes to him.] Oswald, what is the matter with you?

OSWALD. [Seems to shrink together to the chair; all his muscles relax; his face is expressionless, his eyes have a glassy stare.]

MRS. ALVING. [Quivering with terror.] What is this? [Shrieks.] Oswald! what is the matter with you? [Falls on her knees beside him and shakes him.] Oswald! Oswald! look at me! Don't you know me?

OSWALD. [Tonelessly as before.] The sun.--The sun.

MRS. ALVING. [Springs up in despair, entwines her hands in her hair and shrieks.] I cannot bear it! [Whispers, as though petrified]; I cannot bear it! Never! [Suddenly.] Where has he got them? [Fumbles hastily in his breast.] Here! [Shrinks back a few steps and screams:] No. no; no!--Yes!--No; no!

[She stands a few steps away from him with her hands twisted in her hair, and stares at him in speechless horror.]

OSWALD. [Sits motionless as before and says.] The sun.--The sun.

"The End." If only we could say the same about your op-ed columns, Mr. Cohen.