Theory, theatricality and Thomson without the “p”
Professor Biff Bondarchuk writes:
Having been asked by joke news website Crikey and its fauxtrarian political typist “Bernard Keane” (note the sad attempt to purloin traditions of authentic Celtic transgressiveness) to cover the alleged Craig Thomson statement to Australia’s alleged parliament, I was ushered into the oddly-named “House of Representatives Press Gallery” today to witness what, by all accounts, would be the most dramatic day in federal politics since the Harvester decision established a fundamentally racist economic settlement.
Given the essentially theatrical nature of parliamentary democracy, in which men and women nominated by corporations are employed to give a pretence of democratic legitimacy to the maintenance of a capitalist kleptocracy, it was entirely apt that “Thomson” (and has anyone explored the telling absence of the plosive consonant from his name?) should offer an entertaining narrative scarcely distinguishable from the formulaic police procedurals that form the basis of what’s left of the mass media, one that heavily relied on a traditional “I’ve been framed” storyline. Conspiracy theories of course reveal an unspoken need for control in an essentially uncontrollable, arbitrary universe, creating the illusion of power where none exists. To the extent that all power is a construct, conspiracy theories of course are not a priori and epistemologically speaking, any less useful than narratives of arbritrary, indifferent reality (which, indeed, can themselves be turned to reinforcing status quo claims of power distribution) and indeed may often be true in a more important sense than merely corresponding with reality, a correspondence they may rarely obtain.
In this schema, Thomson’s basic text of an ordinary mortal beset by the plots of his enemies for doing good is one we have seen since classical times (bearing in mind Greece, Rome and Egypt were all patriarchal, slaveist societies). To raise this point is not merely to echo yet again the tired claim that there are no new stories — there are, in any event, always new stories, merely no new storytellers in a basic economic sense — but to note how the conspiracy theory prima facie heroicises the narrator even when it is undermined by so-called “objective” versions of “truth” (I note Mr Keane is an ethusiast for so-called “reality-based truth”, a laughable construct that privileges an élite-constructed social experience aimed entirely at perpetrating existing power structures rather than more authentic felt narratives that can empower those oppressed under existing social conditions).
For mine the real point of the “statement” was the small wooden stand deployed by Thomson in support of the notes from which he proceeded to read. Here, it seemed to me, was a key symbol of an otherwise meaningless series of events. Despite the meticulous construction of the theatre in which events were unfolding, there had been a serious oversight: the actors were unable to read their lines without a prop to service them having to be borne in for their use. Why were not the desks built higher so the performers could rest their notes on them better? Why is not some “automatic machinery” installed that would lift from the planar surface to an adjustable height in order to hold notes and other performance aids? That is a separate issue, perhaps one for sociologists to pursue.
But what might appear an otherwise trivial detail becomes in retrospect a potent demonstration of the artificiality of events. The wooden stand serves, in effect, as a figleaf for an overly embarrassing demonstration of the artificiality of proceedings — an elaborate figleaf, carved from a tree expressly felled for the purpose of providing such objects. A living thing has thus been destroyed in order to spare the blushes of actors in social democracy’s performance space (I won’t bother to labour [no pun intended] the obvious pun about a “theatre of the absurd”). The symbolism is so powerful it becomes, in effect, the thing itself, a transubstantiation-like alteration of functional art into artistic function. Ultimately, the wooden stand is the key statement made by Thomson, not his words.
Also, he said some other guy did some stuff, but I didn’t catch the name. It’s not important. Or, rather, “important”.
Biff Bondarchuk is Regius Professor of Psycho-anatomy at Greenwich University (Pacific Campus)