Saturday, March 05, 2011

Reality TV

One of the effects of pervasive self-conscious self-consiousness and reflexivity in postmodern-period narrative is that passages like this:

[Rosa Luxemburg] had a sharp eye for incongruity. Announcing to Zetkin on 2 April 1911 that Lenin had visited for the fourth time, she declared: "I enjoy talking with him, he's clever and well educated, and has such an ugly mug, the kind I like to look at." Lenin, the consummate politician, paid court to Luxemburg's beloved cat, Mimi, declaring that "only in Siberia had he seen such a magnificent creature, that she was a barskii kot – a majestic cat". Mimi had "rolled on her back and behaved enticingly towards him, but when he tried to approach her she whacked him with a paw and snarled like a tiger".

striving openly to "humanize" towering historical figures, and charm with the reassuring revelation of their frail mortality, have the opposite effect - suggesting that the scene of Lenin playing with Luxemburg's cat, superimposed on the scene of Luxemburg writing of this scene to her friend, is worth recounting because marvellous, miraculous, the enchantment of everyday life by contact with divinity, that is, with lasting fame. The result is a pungency of contrivance and what feels like deliberate triviality. Rowbotham is merely following old rules for such pieces of light arts journalism, laying out fragments of fact chosen to give an impression of a vibrant and fascinating character sketched on the fly. But the environment has changed since these customs were developed, and she inescapably finds herself narrating Luxemburg and Lenin within an episode of celebrity Big Brother.

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