Friday, April 22, 2005

Tis nothing, my lord.

The court jester mocks the King and the divine right he claims to stand on, and is the only one whose symbolic space is so inscribed as to allow him to. Let the truth be told, it seems, as if it were a lie, mere fooling. The Fool in King Lear, aftering teaching the King a frivolous speech, is rebuked:

KENT
This is nothing, fool.

Fool
Then 'tis like the breath of an unfee'd lawyer; you
gave me nothing for't. Can you make no use of
nothing, nuncle?

KING LEAR
Why, no, boy; nothing can be made out of nothing.

Fool
[To KENT] Prithee, tell him, so much the rent of
his land comes to: he will not believe a fool.


The idea that nothing can come from nothing is firmly embedded in capitalist ideology. Ask a capitalist or one of his trained monkeys who happens to be called 'economist', "from where do profits come?" You'll be told that it is a reward for abstinence, something that accrues to the capitalist (or the landlord) in return for them foregoing consumption in order to invest. "Yes, but where does it come from?" Well, you see, the capitalist puts his money to work, buying machinery, labour, experts, analysts and so on, and if he invests well he is rewarded. "By whom?" The purchasers of his products, no less. "So, the capitalist is rewarded by consumers for abstaining on his own consumption?" Quite so. "Very generous, these consumers. Do they never think of rewarding the workers too?"

But that's all by the by. The main point is that the Fool in traditional ideology, through pun, metaphor, synonymy and homonymy, reflected like a funhouse mirror the lie of the Big Other. The Kings are "histrios not heroes", imbeciles not avatars of Godly wisdom. As well he's only joking, or the wise King would have his head on a spike.

There's a different tradition, of course, and that is the one drawn on by Dario Fo in his plays - the clown as anarchist, or revolutionary. The Fool in Accidental Death of An Anarchist updates the medieval peasant rabble-rouser in Mistero Buffo, plants him in 1970s Italy, and sets him loose on the corrupt, fascist-loving cops. A master of disguise, he places himself in all manner of social roles, from police inspector to judge, exposing their hollowness, using their symbolic power to interrogate the policemen who finally admit to having defenestrated the poor anarchist after having arrested him on bogus charges. (The play, by the way, used the facts of a real case for its plot - an anarchist railway named Giuseppi Pinelli was arrested for a bombing in Milan, after a fascist group distributed leaflets blaming it on the commies and anarchists. Some years later, after Pinelli had already disappeared out the window of the police interrogation room, three fascists were arrested and convicted of the crime. One of them was a paid informer of the Italian police).

But neither of these traditions is quite apt to capture the role of New Labour's court jester, Mr John O'Farrell . A repentant leftie, he uses his wit to charm and pacify his audience into sullenly voting Labour. E-mails from Labour HQ purporting to be from John O'Farrell do indeed bear his trademark of whimsy, routine 'topical' reference and glibness. Absurdity, for him, is by no manner of means a way of revealing the truth - we already know the truth, but are asked to behave as if we do not. New Labour is indeed a lie, he seems to say, but it remains The Best A Man Can Get. He knows the minds of would-be deserters, and says so:

Inside the brain of every thoughtful voter are hundreds of competing concerns and counter arguments: "I was against the war in Iraq but I'm in favour of Labour's big increases in overseas aid."


As another repentant leftist once said, "anyone who can suck like that need never dine alone". It isn't a joke, by the way. O'Farrell genuinely is suggesting that these two, placed adjacent, cancel one another out. But you may as well treat his entire routine as if it were an elaborate satire on New Labour and its willingness to coopt any celebrity, any facade of faux-leftism, any cocaine socialist who can turn a good line or a charming smile. O'Farrell's feeble rib-tickling has a wheedling quality. "Come on", he coaxes, with a devilish little grin while his fingers jiggle in your sides, "who's the best? Who's the number one? You're going to vote Labour, arentcha? Arentcha? Ooh, who's a good boy? You are!" Bite that fucker's hand off.