Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Another Victim of the Protestant Terror

 "This is a very, very defensible case..."  (Benjamin Brafman, DSK's lawyer, NYT 5/17, p. A10)


 "Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puritans, he might have seen in this beautiful woman, so picturesque in her attire and mien, and with the infant at her bosom, an object to remind him of the image of Divine Maternity, which so many illustrious painters have vied with one another to represent..." (Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, LoA edition, p. 166)

Readers impatient with my prose have perhaps already deduced that while I am writing I am frequently also doing something else, listening to music, or even NPR news reports, through the cunning i-Tunes feature of my i-Mac.  On Saturday, as I was trying to write about Enlightenment mysticism—and, yes, there was a lot of it—I became vaguely aware of something about Monsieur Dominique Strauss-Kahn, “head of the International Monetary Fund.”   This man is so famous that like JFK and LBJ or KSM he rates “initials treatment”: those in the know call him DSK.  Earlier that day detectives of the NYPD (likewise famous) had arrested him on an airplane on the tarmac at Kennedy Airport.  The plane was just about to take off for Paris, and DSK had apparently intended to go with it.  But the police, notorious spoil-sports that they are, said he must first answer accusations of rape or attempted rape brought forward by a house-maid at the Sofitel Hotel in the city, where DSK had just hurriedly vacated his “$3000-a-night suite”.

The Sofitel: understated, but not without a certain naive charm
 The news could not really compete with the weirdness of Emanuel Swedenborg or Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin.  In fact it was hardly weird at all, if you follow politics much.  It is true that Strauss-Kahn is a Socialist and the head of the IMF.  It is further true that Socialists preach social equality, and the IMF spends a certain amount of time lecturing the governments of the earth about how they must “tighten their belts” and “live within their means”.  Hence one might conceivably ponder the necessity of a “$3000-a-night suite” for the Socialist head of the IMF.  (Recall the powerful moral iconography of Matt Damon at the Motel Six in The Rainmaker?)  Yet even the hypocrisy quotient seems relatively mild when compared with that of one of our American good ole boy, born again, senatorial philanderers from our very own Family Values Party.
            So I never for a moment thought Strauss-Kahn’s situation the proper subject for a blog post, preferring instead to engage you about something comparatively consequential, such as Frederick the Great’s commerce with the Illuminati.  I changed my mind when I got to the gym on Monday morning, where to my amazement my good friend and fellow matutinal natator, the plasma physicist Dr. T. K. Chu, was talking about it.  To be more precise he was talking about the fact that “many” contributors to the Comments Section of the New York Times’s international news blog had already concluded that Strauss-Kahn was the victim of an obvious set-up.  He wuz framed.
            The alchemical transmutation of a drossy sexcapade to the glistering gold of political intrigue through the catalytic agent of a conspiracy theory changes matters entirely.  A really good conspiracy theory might indeed compete in wackiness with the eighteenth-century Rosicrucians.  One difference between an indifferent and an excellent conspiracy theory is that the latter can support incompatible, even contradictory explanations.  This one is excellent.  Think about it for a moment.  How beneficial might it not be for left-wing Barack Obama’s reëlection prospects were IMF types to cease scolding America for its fiscal profligacy?  Think further.  How much more beneficial might it not be for right-wing Nicholas Sarkozy’s prospects were the formidable Socialist front-runner suddenly eliminated?
            I know only what I read in the American papers—another way of saying that I know little.  So I now turned toward the French blogosphere.  So happy are my French memories that I had almost forgotten what it was that I most hated about French political anti-Americanism.  It is too simplistic to attribute it all to arrogance.  One must also factor in the ignorance.  I get a quick sobering reminder from Gilles Savary and his stimulating blog essay “Gibier de guet-apens” (roughly “Fresh Meat from the Trap.”)  Gilles Savary is a French Socialist buddy of DSK, a member of the European Parliament, and a prominent bloguiste.  His essay’s argument is so incoherent that a reader might at first miss the truly breath-taking quality of its chauvinism—both national and sexual.  Allowing the broad-minded theoretical possibility that there might actually be something in the rape charge, Savary is much more inclined to one or both of two alternative explanations: (1) feminine wiles, and/or (2) American Puritanism.
 Monsieur Gilles Savary: seldom known as GS

            “It is easy to entrap,” writes Savary “a person so little resistant to the attractions of the female tribe [gent féminine]” as DSK.  Everyone in the know knows that DSK is a “libertine”.  DSK differs from other libertines chiefly in not concealing the fact of his libertinism.  (Thus Savary).  Well, I don’t know DSK; so I’ll have to take Savary’s word for it.  But it’s hard to swallow what he serves up next.  It is this: Frenchmen wisely pay little attention to the libertinism of their public figures.  The vestigial Catholic mentality, you see, easily forgives sins so long as the sinner expresses regular contrition.  “In Puritan America, impregnated with an unbending Protestantism, they are infinitely more tolerant of money shenanigans than of the pleasures of the flesh.”  Yes, infinitely.  Bernie Madoff, take heart.
            A widely circulated photograph taken at the funeral of François Mitterand in 1996 shows the famous man’s wife and mistress standing in near proximity, grieving at the graveside.  This was slightly anterior to the breakout of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinski madness here.  Several French commentators—and a few American ones—invoked it to exemplify the sophistication and realism of French political mores as compared with the puerile Puritan hysteria of American boobs and Babbitts.

Autres pays, autres moeurs
            But that is unlikely to work this time, if it ever did.  I have no certain opinion concerning whether or not Mr. Strauss-Kahn did or did not do it, but I at least know what it is.  The prosecutors are not charging DSK with political virility, conducting politics while French, libertinism, or even vulgar indulgence of “the pleasures of the flesh”.  They have accused him of serious sexual assault.  Choosing its adverb carefully the New York Times points out that forcible rape is a crime “even in France”.  Somebody, preferably somebody French and of the gent féminine, might point that fact out to Mr. Savary.  The same newspaper identifies the complaintant as a thirty-two-year-old African immigrant, a mother who lives in the Bronx.  It seems unlikely that in turning to the NYPD such a person would be motivated by the protestantisme rigoriste of Cotton Mather or Jonathan Edwards, but I suppose it is possible.


Ad lectorem

Later this week your bloguiste flies to Spain, there to applaud his spouse as she crosses the finish line at the portal of the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, toward which she has been walking, in stages,  for roughly a thousand miles.  The regular posting schedule will resume in early June.  Until then, things are iffy, blogwise.