Friday, June 15, 2012

Introduction to "Fernando Po, U.S.A., America's post-literate retreat to Plato's Cave"


The word "Boobie," as used in the ever-unfolding verse essay, Fernando Po., U.S..A., refers to an epigram to Chapter One of The Meaning of Meaning (1925), by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, two pioneering British scholars in the field Semiotics, namely:

"Let us get nearer to the fire, so that we may see what we are saying" -- the Bubis of Fernando Po.

As a bit of history, it seems that ethnographers of the late nineteenth century had come across a small group of aborigines on an island off the coast of Africa called Fernando Po: a people so culturally devolved that they could no longer communicate with each other unless they could also see one another physically gesturing or striking poses. Joseph Campbell picked up on this history when he mentioned "The Boobies" in his book The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology (1959).

I began composing Fernando Po, U.S.A. after reading Ron Suskind's now-canonical article, "Without a Doubt," in the New York Times Magazine (October 17, 2004). Practically the entire world now knows of  the Bush administration official who boasted: 
"We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
But for me the money quote came from Mark McKinnon, the Bush media guru whom Suskind quotes saying of Bush loyalists:
And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!" In this instance, the final "you," of course, meant the entire reality-based community.
I tried to visualize the stumbling and bumbling AWOL Texas Air National Guardsman "walking" and "pointing" and "exuding" but I had no luck at it. But something else did occur to me. Something about Boobies. Something about Lewis Carroll's "the Walrus and the Carpenter". And so this happened: 
They like the way he "points," they say
They like the way he "walks,"
Despite the fact that no one can
Decipher how he talks.
Yet when he mimics "standing tall,"
The stupid Boobie gawks.
Everything just followed and flowed from there -- for years. I couldn't stop interpreting everything I saw and heard from America's corporate media as little more than flickering shadows on a cave wall aimed straight at a tribe of illiterate Boobie aborigines camped around their television fires striking poses, pulling grotesque faces, and uttering inchoate noises at each other -- the perfect paradigm explaining and exemplifying Fernando Po, U.S.A., America's post-literate retreat to Plato's cave.

Like many anti-war Vietnam Veterans, I recoiled immediately at the prospect of former President George "Deputy Dubya" Bush launching his stud-hamster vendetta against Saddam Hussein's Iraq (with Afghanistan as a mere warm-up) in an effort to expunge a deep-seated filial antagonism towards his father's more reasonable legacy. And as the predictable tragedy unfolded, I only grew more agitated at my helplessness. I couldn't stop any of it. The disaster would simply have to run its tortured course until sheer exhaustion and/or national bankruptcy brought it to a reluctant close. So to get through the impotent interim, I turned inward to creative therapy, as I had read of other Vietnam Veterans doing. I found that in composing verse, I could at least do something to dissipate the anger. I have since branched out into  many other verse formats, but Fernando Po, U.S.A. pretty much started it all off for me. And I can see no end to it ...

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