I really don’t think I’m cut out for fannishness. Quite apart from antisocial tendencies, I view reading a book – especially books – as a private conversation between myself and the author, with whom I may agree or disagree by turns, but whatever my conversation with them, I find it rude and infuriating when someone butts in. This realisation has led to a far less frequent sharing-of-thoughts on things which I am deeply fond of, in part because I don’t particularly need or want anyone else’s input and in part because I want, irrationally perhaps, to protect the thing from anyone else.
Sometimes this is achieved by slavishly acknowledging the criticisms that could be made to an extent that the positives are never outlined; this is hardly new, of course, and the mindset of “I will tell you everything horrible about myself so that you have nothing left to call me” has even been capitalised upon for a fucking advertising campaign for shoes. And people do not like having their opportunity to insult someone diminished, they do not like the notion that someone’s confidence or sense of self is unassailable, because it makes it so much harder to enact pack justice (without resorting to violence).
With what I’m cynically referring to as “cry-wanking over T.E.” I’m especially cautious as last time I evinced any admiration for him whatsoever I aroused the antipathy of some modern Oxford students who felt that their generation was appreciably better. Perhaps they are, but I don’t think they’ve been afforded quite the opportunity to demonstrate it. Liking T. E. is rather an unusual deviation for me personally since I’m not especially drawn to people who take the heroic role in history and even less so to those who do it self-consciously; I’m more a fan of rakes, idiots, bastards, and mental cases than I am of the noble maligned, the conscientious reformer, and the visionary. Having said that I am growing a space in my heart for gentlemen/lady engineers and the late great hygienic innovators of Victoria’s reign.
Largely what draws me to T.E. isn’t even the heroics and the endeavours but rather the compulsive relationship with self-abasement and glorification, and his apparently unavoidable attraction to his own suffering. One could say that his suffering is irrelevant because, well, it was hardly as if it was forced upon him and his entire culture and rather his was the culture doing a lot of the forcing, especially in the 20s after the British Government manifestly failed to honour its promises to the Hashim (and other members of the Arab Revolt). But the fact that it is voluntary, that all of his preceding miseries were sought out or as the result of dangerous things he sought out, his obsession with turning himself into something else, something “better” than what he began as, is of immediate interest.
It seems odd to have to defend one’s interest in or affection for someone, as if everyone’s measure for affection or interest runs to the same scale. There are perfectly lovely individuals mad obsessed with, for example, Pol Pot; denying the damage a person causes would be stupid and ignorant, but I’m not sure where requiring a moral credit rating for figures of interest or even affection comes from. Whether or not you approve of what Loz did and failed to do in the years of and after WW1, you can state without hesitation that he was a polymath from a generation of polymaths, and that he had some highly-held ideals and a great deal of guilt. And he had, as I said (even disregarding the flagellation business with the large Scotsman), a pain-seeking, sacrificial-longing nature, in addition to his skills as a persuader/manipulator of men.
And that, whether you attribute it to subliminated sexuality or to religious fervour, is fascinating. Whether martyrs looking to remove some fictitious sin through abasement or psychologically driven individuals trying to eradicate the self or those simply sexually drawn to it, the idea that there are people who seek out the very things that instinct, that nature would have us avoid is compelling. It is compelling precisely because it is contrarian and “unnatural”, and because even when it isn’t bundled up in the romantic package of endurance “heroism”, there is a sense of having conquered something very basic in ourselves, the seemingly impossible-to-beat desire to flee from suffering instead of toward it.
So that may well be the crux of my interest in T. E. – not his influence or intellect, not his ambition or his tactics, although all of them are fascinating – but his capacity for pain, both emotional and physical, and his apparent compulsion to seek them out. I don’t believe that requires a moral standing of any degree to validate it, but evidently my former acquaintances of Baliol disagreed (vociferously) on that front.
[The book, by the way, is A Prince of Our Disorder by John E Mack, which has been an expensive nuisance to acquire but is proving a delight and a thought-provacteur to read].