The Real Story

Lying awake during the night I listened to a BBC broadcast in the series The Real Story. The feature was on hunger in Afghanistan. At some point the presenter gave a warning that a reporter’s live report from a local hospital might cause distress to the listener. Coming from a BBC presenter such warnings seem to reflect a genuine concern for the audience’s well-being. In most cases they are a way to keep the audience on their toes and interested. Sensation is ahead! I.e. such warnings are teasers (not unlike the title of this post). Anyway, I’m impervious to auditory, tactile and visual stimuli. In fact I am incapable of emotion. Well, no, I am extremely emotional and I cry easily. But I reject all emotion as spurious, inherently dishonest and self-centred, and devoid of sense, morality, value or any other deeper meaning. And so I lay listening attentively and unperturbed at the tears stinging my eyes.

Now I’m drinking my second cup of coffee made from freshly ground beans (fair trade and organic). I’m back from doing my groceries. The financial paper is beside my laptop. Bach is streaming over my smartphone which is bluetoothed to a Bose speaker device. A cat is contentedly purring nearby. The other cat is nibbling peacefully at the dry food in the dispenser. I’m wearing Ralph Lauren pants and a Michael Kors sweater. I’m typing this. In such circumstance, and enough money in the bank to sustain it for the rest of one’s days, one tends to forget that one’s life, summarized in the preceding sentences, may just as aptly be described in the unadorned words of the reporter in the BBC documentary: “In one corner of the intensive care unit is six months old Usman. His condition is distressing to see, the shape of his rib case clearly visible, as his tiny chest heaves up and down. His arms and legs are stick-like, a feeding tube inserted into his nose. At 6 months he’s less than half the weight he should be.

By which I mean that if one does not accept to be Usman, to be any of the least, the poorest, the ugliest, the sickest, the stupidest, the most despicable, the unhappiest, the worst malformed, the worst failed, the craziest, the worst hare-brained, the most repulsive, the worst criminal, the most hateful of one’s fellow human-beings, then one’s life does not count for anything. This is the categorical imperative: that our life only counts for that which we have in common with every other human-being in any circumstance. If you hate the imperative, then turn it around. The categorical imperative is that you shall bring everyone else into the position that you want to be in for yourself and your loved ones, and that you shall accept and endorse the lives of the people that you are incapable of bringing into that position (because they are incurably ill, irreparably ugly, dying, have a birth defect, have a different sexuality than yours, are too young or too old or too stupid, miss an arm or a leg or the organs to live for another minute after they were born, are being shot, or maimed, or are drowning trying to get to safety).

I’m absorbed in Patrick Modiano’s latest (2021) novel, Chevreuse. Those who have not read Modiano or fail to appreciate his greatness as a novelist, and a humanist, know nothing of literature and should stop talking or writing about it and restrict their reading to management books, self-help books, cookery and recipe books, books on architecture, automobile magazines, Harry Potter, biographies of royalty and sport heroes, and Ikea manuals. I will not know what to do with myself when Patrick Modiano dies.

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