Ode to Gravity

Laurence Sterne    Dick Cheney


It was Laurence Sterne who wrote that gravity is a mysterious carriage of the body to conceal the defects of the mind. Contemporary Americans might doubtless read this to mean that the subject is physics, but of course we’re talking about an assumed mantle of seriousness especially in social or political situations. Do you see them? Do you see those people who have about them a look of high mindedness and probity? Do you see how they appear to have swallowed a pip?

It’s hard to imagine that a scowling face conceals a dearth of thought, a matter that’s significant certainly, but again nowhere as bad as true defects of the mind. Did you sense that the serious man or woman was concealing a dullness?

I used to feel this way about Dick Cheney whose moue of disgust was eternally marring his features. I used to think about Cheney’s mother, imagining she would say: “Now Dicky, stop that sneering and frowning, you look patently dishonest my dear!”

Of course no one ever said this to the former vice president and I guess he’s done alright for himself. The man’s exposed nature was all one big mistake and the acquired probity of his mouth hid nothing. One may think of Cheney as being projectively defective in a manner that is particular to Americans.

The human face is a language and as a means of communication its trickier than all the tricksters of old mythology. You see, Laurence Sterne didn’t understand Americans.

The assumption of gravity can indeed conceal the defects of the mind, but yes, in these United States the same gravity can forcefully drive home a thousand variants of idiocy that in turn the peanut cracking crowd will have paid good money to receive. Look at your average American televangelist. He, or in some cases, she, will look like someone squirming in the shadow of a cactus, so serious is the face, so grim the set of the jaws.

You see the average American thinks that people who scowl are really really smart. I like to think this is the result of the industrial revolution–the bosses grimaced and the working classes grimaced and after about fifty years of that kind of thing well, you don’t have to be Darwin to figure it out. Americans scowl as a means of protective coloration if you will. And since everyone is scowling (except fashion models and news anchors) it’s impossible to employ social gravitas as a yardstick for stupid thoughts. Another way to put this is that everybody in America has stupid ideas and the grimace is the true embodiment of the social lie that something deep is going on under the surface.

Yes we are living in a limitless sterile complex of bad social ideas but the frowners are getting away with the last of the loot.

My general view is that Barack Obama ought to scowl more. Certainly his press secretary should.

A scowling incomprehensibility is what it’s all about in this forsaken country.



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