Sunday, April 08, 2007

Crawford, TX: How Born Agains Interpret the Resurrection

Here are a few thoughts for Easter and what it portends:

Braving Cindy Sheehan and other heretics, George Bush crawled into his tomb at Crawford this week. Next week he will re-emerge, purified, God-like in the press. He will be a new man, ready to confront the final years of his presidency:

Bush's getaway in central Texas is just about everything Washington is not. There may be no better way to explain why he loves it so much. Life is remarkably different here for a president struggling through his second term. He can slip out of sight for days, as he has since he arrived Wednesday. The White House press corps is still around, ready to cover the most innocuous visit to the coffee shop, but there haven't been any. Bush is tucked away in his home away from home. And it's a long way from his black-gated compound on Pennsylvania Avenue. "Sometimes, you just have to be by yourself," said Bill Johnson, owner of the Yellow Rose souvenir shop at the one-light crossroads in Crawford. "You've got to get out of the rat race, get some peace and quiet. He can just go and sit by the lake and hear the owls." Nature couldn't have come through more for Bush this week. He showed up to springtime breezes and entire pastures covered with bluebonnets in bloom. On Saturday, a rare April snow sneaked up on Crawford, giving the place an even more tranquil feel. Even in the summer, when the heat is scorching, Bush wants to be outside. After morning security briefings, he spends hours riding his bike, chopping cedar, clearing brush and chatting with family — all in privacy. The visits add up. Bush has spent part or all of 409 days of his presidency on the 1,600-acre ranch, according to CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller, who keeps meticulous records of Bush's travel... ("On the Ranch, Bush has perfect escape")

Bush's villégiature at Crawford always signals rebirth and restoration, and, as the AP implies, it is meant to bring comfort to the American people ("entire pastures covered with bluebonnets in bloom. On Saturday, a rare April snow sneaked up on Crawford, giving the place an even more tranquil feel"). The rural setting is portrayed as a temple, as a retreat, as a monastery (albeit a monastery made for non-reflective behaviour) in which the elements seem to welcome the President and harmonize with his spirit. Indeed, "Nature couldn't have come through more," as the AP stenographer, Ben Feller, writes.

Of course, the harmony is only a fleeting reflection of surface movement. Note the contradiction that nature welcomed Bush, but that he spends all summer cutting it down. It is alternately Bush's cathedral and his punching bag. Nature: ineffably pretty, and totally at Bush's mercy.

Such articles must reassure the masses. Bush, master of the territory, developer of the land, overcomer of weeds (read: Democrats), is always busy cutting nature down, yet always welcomed by nature's bounty.

All this seems like a contradiction, but it is actually a paradox, a dialectic of modernity in which incessant gestures of control hide our dependance on natural resources.

Mark Slouka lines out why this is such a vital image in our repertory of thoughts about who we are. In this wonderful Harper's article he writes:

Leisure is permissible, we understand, because it costs money; idleness is not, because it doesn't. Leisure is focused; whatever thinking it requires is absorbed by a certain task: sinking that putt, making that cast, watching that flat-screen TV. Idleness is unconstrained, anarchic. Leisure-particularly if it involves some kind of high-priced technology-is as American as a Fourth of July barbecue. Idleness, on the other hand, has a bad attitude. It doesn't shave; it's not a member of the team; it doesn't play well with others. It thinks too much, as my high school coach used to say. So it has to be ostracized. [...]

[In June of 1913], Marinetti explained that Futurism was about the "acceleration of life to today's swift pace." It was about the "dread of the old and the known ... of quiet living." The new age, he wrote, would require the "negation of distances and nostalgic solitudes." It would "ridicule ... the 'holy green silence' and the ineffable landscape." It would be, instead, an age enamored of "the passion, art, and idealism of Business." This shift from slowness to speed, from the solitary individual to the crowd excited by work, would in turn force other adjustments. The worship of speed and business would require a new patriotism, "a heroic idealization of the commercial, industrial, and artistic solidarity of a people"; it would require "a modification in the idea of war," in order to make it "the necessary and bloody test of a people's force." As if this weren't enough, as if the parallel were not yet sufficiently clear, there was this: The new man, Marinetti wrote...would communicate by "brutalty destroying the syntax of his speech. He wastes no time in building sentences. Punctuation and the right adjectives will mean nothing to him. He will despise subtleties and nuances of language." All of his thinking, moreover, would be marked by a "dread of slowness, pettiness, analysis, and detailed explanations. Love of speed, abbreviation, and the summary, 'Quick, give me the whole thing in two words!'" (Mark Slouka, in Harper's:

Man, as epitomized as George W. Bush, is reborn as pure individualism, pure action, pure machine. "Solidarity," is not communal, but a technical force of individuals acting in concert, in rythm, like the gears of a motor. The logical undergirding of the AP article says it all: nature may be pretty, but ultimately it should be subjugated by Man, and Man, as Slouka writes, is more and more a machine. As opposed to idleness, leisure and retreat are no longer walks in the wilderness, they are times to reconsolidate power and reaffirm dominion while embracing what George Bush would call human destiny, freedom, patriotism, war and a "business-friendly environment." Crawford is not a temple of nature, but a temple for Bush, for exploitation of the land. It is not the king's place to praise nature, but nature's place to praise the king. Such is the state of things in a simplistic born-again world.

And so George Bush will be reborn again, given the benefit of the doubt, a fresh start for springtime.

Meanwhile, what would Jesus do? Maybe nothing. Maybe he would be idle and sit and contemplate the wilderness.

Yet, as Bush well knows, this truth is hidden deep within the syntax, within the language (of nature, of speech) that he works so diligently to break down, clearing the brush, as it were.*


*Read Slouka's article. He makes the point much more elegantly than I.