Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Centre Is Perfectly Capable Of Hold, Thank You Very Much

Some time ago, my vague, irritated antagonism toward W. B. Yeats' work in general and The Second Coming in particular boiled over into the kind of impotent rage usually displayed online when DC Comics change the design of Superman's boots. Now, apart from the odd ill-tempered tweet, I don't like to hop on the internet and have a scream about what a monolithic corporate entity has done to a fictional character I have, in an embarrassing display of misplaced, short-circuiting human empathy, some affection for. I'm not knocking anyone else who wants to spend their energy that way, but half the time snarking leaves me with a vague feeling that, in protest against said monolith's actions, I've taken to punching myself in the cock.

But the most famous work of a long-dead poet? Oh, I am going to fucking do for you, sunshine.

Although, straight out of the gate, it's not Yeats that's the problem, though the pompous old bastard is there with his arms wrapped around the root of the matter, sneering at all of us plebs drowning in the horrible eschatological effluence of democracy's endgame. Much like Nietzsche's void, I am going to sneer right back at him, and probably flip him the vicky while I'm doing it.

That's the thing about Yeats. He thought the idea of people from the lower classes having influence over those who govern was apocalyptically abhorrent. Back when he wrote The Second Coming, he was predicting the end of the world, and the end of the world was triggered by revolution, unrest, and overthrow of hereditary monarchy in Europe. What's slouching towards Bethlehem? The concept of self-determination of the working class, and it's slouching with intent to shove democracy up your arse, William Butler!

Perhaps I overstate.

Anyway, I hate this attitude, one that's prevelant amongst a certain type of media and a certain kind of person, and it is not restricted to either end of the political spectrum. It's claimed we're living at the shitty end of civilisation, and that it's all going to collapse around our ears. Which is ridiculous. It's absolutely laughable, particularly here in the developed world. We've never had it so good. Our lives are amazing. Yet some people- the Yeatses of the world, the Statlers and Waldorfs of existence that fear their children, that fear the future, that hate, hate, hate, hate- would have us believe that we live in a time of ashes and decay and that things just used to be better.


How long have we had democracy? Do we count forward from universal sufferage? What about all the dirty tricks used to disenfranchise people at different points in recent history? Could we argue that refusing to allow prisoners the vote means we only have a pseudo-democracy? How about that fact that only a minority of eligible people actually vote? How about that fact that only a minority of people on planet Earth live in a society that could even reasonably be classified as democratic?

However we choose our definition, all of this can only be encouraging. However bloody the 20th century was, however much our leaders have chosen to repeat horrific mistakes in the first decade of the 21st, for millennia the major powers of Europe have been in constant warfare, right up until 66 or so years ago. 66 years is nothing on the scale of history, even human history. That's within the memory of a single generation. But look how far we have come.

Is it perfect? Hell no. We aren't far enough. We need to be further. We need to move faster. The fact that so much casual injustice remains in our society is damning, a terrible indication of how far we have to go. But look. How far. We've come. I flat out refuse to believe that Yeats was right, that his argument has any objective merit.

And it drives me round the fucking bend that science fiction and comic book writers throw his quotes round just to add a bit of ominous weight to their facile stories, to borrow imagery they barely understand above the most superficial level because they are incapable of generating any atmosphere of their own. That's the real problem, not Mussolini-admirin', Ezra Pound-befriendin', Blueshirt-supportin' W. B. Yeats (and what is it, by the way, with Fascists and their colour-coded wardrobes?)

I don't know, maybe Kevin Smith was perfectly aware of the authoritarian subtext of the work when he referenced it in Batman: The Widening Gyre, and fully intended to use metatextual nuance to comment on Bruce Wayne's fascistic overtones in the storyline warmly remembered today as the one where Batman piddled himself just a little bit. Smith's certainly not the only offender, if offender he is, but his miniseries was the place where I finally lost my rag with all of it. And he's in good company. Even The West Wing named an episode "Things Fall Apart" in reference to the poem.

So yeah. Poetry, man.

Someone remind me to do a post sometime on why R.S. Thomas would have beaten Dylan Bloody Thomas in a poetical fist-fight.


  1. Hah, you're a rowdy! And in my mind as I read this, obviously...

  2. You better believe I'm ready to go toe-to-toe with the long dead! It was either Yeats or Erik Larsen, frankly.