Gripped by the Passion
December 22, 2008
Several readers have steered me towards a recent, bewildering article by Jeanette Winterson that had somehow escaped my attention. It’s a strikingly unhinged piece and has been noted elsewhere, so I’m mortified to have missed it.
However, Ms Winterson’s descent into madness hasn’t entirely escaped my notice. Radio 4’s The Food Programme is usually relatively sober and free of the tacit leftist bias that informs so much else at the BBC. The broadcast I happened to hear featured a panel of guests choosing their food books of the year. This genteel routine was interrupted by several prolonged and incongruous tirades by Ms Winterson. The particulars of the tirades are difficult to recall due to their disarray, but each outburst relied heavily for its effect on loud repetition of the words “corporations” and “multinationals”. According to Winterson, these unspecified corporations and multinationals are controlling consumers’ dietary choices in ways that are intimate and fiendish though curiously vague. (Those of you familiar with South Park may recall an episode in which the children encounter a group of college hippies, whose boilerplate “insights” they immediately assimilate and repeat. It was much like that.) Such was the vehemence and incongruity of the outbursts, I half expected one of the other guests to throw a damp towel over Ms Winterson’s head in the hope she might calm down.
But back to the article. In it, a great many things are asserted in a dense rhetorical barrage. Among the gems on offer are:
We have created a society without values that believes in nothing. Reviving the god of the Philistines - Baal, the flesh-eater - human dignity has been eaten away by the relentless drive to make money at any cost and to spend money at any cost; especially money you don’t have.
We laugh at the primitive religious idea of human sacrifice - but whatever fancy words and theories you want to play with to describe this present spectacular collapse of global capitalism, it is human sacrifice on a scale undreamt of at the altars of idols.
These lurid claims have been addressed elsewhere, most notably by Norm, who observes:
Here is a woman enjoying every advantage vouchsafed by the rights and liberties of the country she lives in (the institutional expression, these, precisely of certain important moral values) lightmindedly opining that the society has no values.
Indeed. Ms Winterson is yet another well-heeled leftwing novelist and commentator – a member of the media elite - affecting to disdain the secular, capitalist society on which her livelihood and status depend. Regular readers will note how closely Winterson’s claims follow the rhetorical trajectory of that other Handmaiden of the Apocalypse, Madeleine Bunting, whose warnings of “hyper-frantic consumerism” entertained us so. I probably don’t need to point out how Winterson, like Bunting, is eerily sure that “we” share her anhedonic passion and tolerance of hyperbole. But I will, just in case. It’s important to remember how psychodrama works.