Wednesday, February 12, 2003
At the same moment as the world staggers toward some
kind of apocalyptic future, certain items from the menus of
the past are being recycled and offered for consumption.
Yesterday in these pages Raven took us on a brief flight
back to the times of—let’s see—Chaucer, in “The Pardoner’s
Tale”? Or maybe Luther, poised to nail his indignations to a
church door? Simony—or the selling of blessings and pardons—
and Luther’s reaction to that crass mercantilism were major
factors that led not only to the Protestant Reformation, but also,
eventually, to the Enlightenment. Suddenly, the rector of the Basilica
of Our Lady of Guadalupe has slapped the Mexican Catholic Church
back to the Dark Ages. That means centuries before the Virgin
may, or may not, have printed her image on Juan Diego’s “ayate”.
(Perhaps that percursor of tee shirts printed with everything from
beer logos to...you name it...caused the rector to feel legitimized in
his plan to splash his blessing on cigarettes lighters bearing the
Another blast from the (literary) past was detonated last week by
The Usual Suspect—aka Saddam Hussein. In Paris it isn’t necessary
to wear a gas mask nor wolf down handfuls of cipro capsules in order
to read “Zabiba et le roi”, a love story on the order of “The Thousand
and One Nights”. It took a couple of years to get permission to publish
the book in French translation, but when it first came out in Iraq the CIA
and Mossad hired translators and code specialists right and left to root out
any secret messages as well as elements which could reveal more of
By means of the dialog between Zabiba and the king, Hussein presents
his ideas about the loneliness of the absolute monarch, the contribution
of women to social and national development, and the struggle against
enemy conspiracies, at the same time as he reiterates the inescapable
character of the power of the people and examines the question of sexuality
in arab societies. Interesting—too bad the book’s chances of coming out in
English are so low....
The model for Hussein’s bestseller—the perennially compelling Thousand
and One Nights—showed Scheherezade spinning a new and fascinating tale
every night in order to prevent being beheaded by the scimtar of King Shahriyar.
(Are Shahriyar’s descendants still receiving due payment for his contribution to
the conceptual prototype of The Big Hook of vaudeville usage, and the gong
from the show of the same name?) The general consensus appears to be
that Hussein’s characters are not intended to be “real”, that the king is just a
mouthpiece for the author. Maybe—but another possibility occurs to me.
My question, and maybe it’s not a fair one since I have not read the book, is:
couldn’t the book itself be an analogy—or in literary language, a metaphor—for
Hussein’s own situation? Maybe Hussein is Scheherazade, spinning the story
of the book in an effort to forestall the entry of a new “intelligent weapon” (the site
underdark.netdemons gives scimtars only a 25% chance of having intelligence)
through the window of his bedroom in Bagdad?
Raven isn’t buying any of that. The image of Saddam Hussein in a belly dancer’s
costume has him rolling on the floor. (Raven isn’t known to subscribe to
The Tragic Sense of Life.)