Tussles Of The Gods

I really can't tell if some of the observations I make here on this blog are trite, tedious and jejune, immensely ignorant, blissfully innocent, naive and charming, or wise and teeming with a wordly knowledge of any and all things I proclaim fall into my bailiwick for pontification. That is, am I fooling myself or you, or both, or neither? What would I know about anything? Who am I to tell you what I think, let alone what you should think? Who do I think I am, a rock-star? A famous cock-sucker heiress? Am I, in fact, full of shit?

I grew up around amongst people who were loathe to utter an opinion. They would prevaricate, hesitate and qualify, back-tracking, seeking ways out of tight corners which might never eventuate, except in matters of religion where the supremacy of Catholicism was tacit and sacrosanct or football, the Geelong Cats ditto. Latterly, in contrast, I have fallen in with a group of people who don't seem to have just ANY opinion on whatever topic happens to be under discussion - sacred or profane, exoteric or esoteric, popular or avant-garde, from torpedoes to tuxedoes - no no no not beans again, they have *THE* opinion about it.

This intimidates me. Not because I am an opinion-free zone, oh ho, but rather because their conviction threatens my authoritativeness on topics which I could ordinarily be happy to ride shotgun for with other less opinionated listeners. In other words, the shallowness of my knowledge and understanding could become tested, and who wants that, eh? I may not have lost yet (or maybe I have and am just not telling you) but the threat is looming. (One of my friends sits back after the other guests have left and wonders, just how I get away with it - how come no-one has successfully challenged any of my gin-soaked, round-table pronouncements... yet?)

When I was a knee high to bullfrog, one of my tutors in radiography, the mythical T, could range over any topic from pig-sticking to politics to the odontoid peg with such a fiery Leonine bluster and bombast that others, perhaps previously quite certain that their multiple PhDs would grant them a hearing, would back down in tremors of anxious insecurity. All except my boss (and T's), the allegorical G. Mr G, no mean opinionated bastard in his own right, was convinced that T's self-importance was 98% hot air and was fond of letting him know that his arrogance was cutting no ice with him.

It was odd for me, as I respected the knowledge and experience of both of these men, yet they were at odds over so many issues. Prone or supine for this view? How to find the intercondylar notch? Whether to up the kV or the MA for a big patient? Both claimed to be experts, both claimed to be right, both showed evidence that their techniques worked.

If ever there was a case of a small town hospital being not big enough for the two of 'em, this was it. Suffice to say that one of them left under duress and a cloud of expletives and instead became rich, famous and unchallenged in a new field of endeavour; the other, already a legend, stuck around for 10 more years with no-one game to attempt to usurp his tenure again.

In a similar, um, vein I was once greatly amused to read a series of letters and comments on a minor article on some obscure discussion about the uncertain relevance of some arcane measurement of some trivial venous problems in a very important International Medical Journal. (Small things amuse me.) Over several editions, two renowned professors of vascular surgery attempted to eviscerate each other with sharpened subliminal sarcasm and cutting-edge cross-references. Waiting for the next edition generated something like the anticipation of a new Harry Potter novel amongst us fans of quantitative venous return.

Then I happened to notice that both these respected duelists were from the same Scottish city, from rival hospitals and rival universities practically across the street from each other. I thought that this was even more immensely amusing. They couldn't just meet at dawn under the shadows of the castle for a showdown with pistols drawn, or even in an independent coffee-shop for a quiet discussion to mull over their differences. No, they were professional men: they had to involve the entire vascular world in their obviously personal and personality-based squabble, making both of them appear lesser men than perhaps they really were (or are).

I was reminded of these sorts of Tussle of The Gods yesterday whilst looking for a quote online from a book I don't have with me. It was from Milton Viorst's Storm From The East. A post on Skippy-san's blog reminded me of something he (Viorst) had said about the Arabs not being terrific at self-reflection or self-analysis or something. Obviously I was bored, or depressed about being sick...

Instead of finding what I wanted, I found what I needed to cheer me up! Another Titanic Tussle!

For we all need to be less convinced of the authority of experts, yar? A little bit of cynicism and doubt stops us from going a long way down the wrong road. But what if two supposed experts, nah two indubitably esteemed experts on Arab politics, allegedly on the same side (leftish liberals) can't even agree on the quality of leadership of a relatively unimportant Arab leader (unless you're Jordanian) like the late (as of 1999) King Hussein of Jordan, and throw into question each other's authority to be even commenting on any Arabian issues at all. Who can we turn to for reliable political interpretation of complex matters in this crucible of discontent if two of the supposed doyens of the East like Milton Viorst and the late Edward Said don't even seem to talking about the same person, such is the divergence of their opinions.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Said: "conventional laundered and reductive view", "betray deep Orientalist ignorance that normally wouldn't be tolerated in even average journalism", "This isn't just nonsensical generalization, it is also racist high-handedness", "Another howler", "appalling bilge", "lack of specific knowledge", "A pity that The Nation couldn't have found someone who knew what he was talking about..."

Viorst A: "an excellent musician", "expertise in modern European literature", "he ought to go back and read some ... history", "he might reexamine his values", "indignation exceeds his wisdom", "get real!"

Viorst B (less vehemently): "Said, a literature professor who moonlights as a Middle East expert", "If Said directed more of his indignation at correcting the problem rather than at me, he would surely serve the Arabs better."

Said: " he is as inaccurate and ill-informed a reader as he is a writer", "his response to me more or less rehearses [a] degraded argument", "I just want to draw attention to the fastidious way he announces that I am 'Palestinian-American.' If this is of serious relevance to the argument, perhaps Viorst should be more honest about his ethnic origin?"

[There was a controversial article published in 1999, oft rebuffed, which claimed Said was actually born in Cairo, not Jerusalem! Viorst, however, is - shudder - American... Ed.]

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Said goes on further about Hussain's death in this excellent [as in amusing] demolition of the CNN style of "news" - fly in Christine Amanpur for a 10 second video-bite and all of a sudden whatever it is becomes "real".

Now I don't know any more whether I trust Viorst or Said. I am at a loss to determine whether I am in Christopher Hitchens' pro-Said camp, in the revisionist anti-rock throwing camp or whether I still need to wait until Martin Amis reviews "A Storm From The East" to have any opinion whatsoever.

All I know is these experts are all full of shit. Trust me, after writing this post, I now qualify as an expert myself on these matters. And we all know what I am full of...


Anyway, there you go. I wonder if anyone I know cared to read this in its entirety. Except maybe a few die-hard fans. I was sick yesterday - totally emptied of shit in fact - and I was bored. It was fun to read and research and to rave on about...

I'm feeling much better now, thanks for your concern everyone, apart from every intercostal muscle I've ever had still aching like the bejesus two days later. Remind me never to vomit again. Or to get the runs...

"American Express: Never leave home without it"? Fuck that! A pint of Imodium is your only man!



Posted by: expat@large on Jul 20, 07 | 11:36 pm | Profile


yes, indeed, i did real it all...and not because i'm a die hard fan, sugar (ok, you know i adore you) but because i knew edward said. in another life/career he was the subject of an interview for which i did all the research. i think you would have held your own with him in a discussion, but he was a bit of a pompous prick at times ;) but open to conversation/discussion. i have no opinion on mr viorst...i did pick up a copy of hitchens book...we'll talk alter....btw, i think i really will send you my "what-to-pack" checklist

Posted by: savannah on Jul 21, 07 | 3:42 am

Wait for Martin Amis to pronounce judgment would be my advice. He hasn't let me down yet.

Posted by: Dick on Jul 21, 07 | 5:09 am

are we back to post modernism?

Posted by: savannah on Jul 21, 07 | 6:07 am

so Basically the Imodium did not do its job, the shit is still dribbling...and your friends don't have *THE* opinion they just have some different to yours and for the first time they have the confidence to support it instead of allowing you to pontificate over them all with your thesaurus type language.

When are you back lets get a beer, the gutter, or new places beckon?

Posted by: Indiana on Jul 21, 07 | 12:17 pm

Sav: quite the pompous rock-throwing anti-semite prick expert it would seem. Yes, I need The Mouse to come back do my packing for me.

Dick: It's a great joke and I'll keep plagiarising it until the the owner comes and claims it as his own.

Indy: that would the the *English* language. Look it up. In a lexicon.

Posted by: expat@large on Jul 21, 07 | 10:51 pm

he was far from an anti-semite, sugar. i think this obit written for the Guardian might give you a fuller background on him.

Posted by: savannah on Jul 21, 07 | 11:37 pm

Sav: I was teasing you by facetiously referring to his documented throwing of rocks --- at jews, as linked. But that may not be have an anti-semitic act, who am I to judge?

p.s. I have read Orientalism. Mostly.

Posted by: expat@large on Jul 21, 07 | 11:48 pm

*my bad* i'm overwhelmed by familial obligations and far too literal these days....*big kiss*

but it was a great obit, was it not?

(btw, tell me you're so impressed by my ability to do links now, sugar)

Posted by: savannah on Jul 22, 07 | 1:36 am

Hitchens's obit on him is also very good.

I taught you proper.

Posted by: expat@large on Jul 22, 07 | 1:57 pm

Funny you should mention experts. I've always disdained "experts" (I consider most journalists even less worthy of dain) and my views have cemented themselves still further over the past couple of weeks, if that were possible, because I'm reading Fooled by Randomness. Taleb can be pompous but at least he doesn't produce drivel.

Posted by: knobby on Jul 22, 07 | 9:04 pm


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