Sunday, June 11, 2006

 

Middle class guilt

"All that metaphysical shite" also gave the impression that I'm ridden with middle class guilt, which, again, is true.

Middle class guilt is an interesting category. Just as interesting is the derision it usually connotes - middle class guilt is usually seen as somewhat pathetic, isn't it? I'm not quite sure exactly what the implication is - presumably either a) the middle class are not unjustly privileged, or, if they are, ought not to worry too much about that, or b) the middle class are unjustly privileged but feeling guilty doesn't do anything to advance justice.

Well, instead of guilt let's talk about shame.

I was fascinated to learn recently that Marx had described shame as a revolutionary emotion. (Has anybody investigated whether Marx was driven by his own middle class guilt?) I learned this from Sartre's notorious/celebrated preface to Frantz Fanon's Les damn├ęs de la terre. Although the preface is in some respects rather rancid stuff, legitimising anti-European terrorism - since all Europeans were complicit in, or beneficiaries of, colonialism (and even those imprisoned for resisting their government's imperialism were "simply choosing to pull your irons out of the fire") - it works as a primal scream against injustice, born out of anger and, yes, shame. (I am reminded of Dylan's stunning 1963 song Masters of War).

Anger and shame - yes, that's precisely right. Or maybe: guilt, then shame, then anger. Sartre refers to Marx describing shame as a revolutionary sentiment. He must be refering to his 1843 letter to Arnold Ruge. Marx says that the despotic government of Germany ought to cause Germans

to hide our faces in shame. I can see you smile and say: what good will that do? Revolutions are not made by shame. And my answer is that shame is a revolution in itself; it really is the victory of the French Revolution over that German patriotism which defeated it in 1813. Shame is a kind of anger turned in on itself. And if a whole nation were to feel ashamed it would be like a lion recoiling in order to spring.

Shame: "an anger turned in on itself" and thus "a revolution in itself".

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