Tonight George W. Bush will regain his presidency. At first I thought to write of something else, something completely different. But what I wrote in my stupid way became a lament for hope, for the end of hope.
My boss speaks of the chasm between the ‘generation of hope’ to which he says he belongs, and the ‘generation of shit’ to which he says I belong (and he means this not unkindly – he knows from what I have said what the absence of political hope must mean). Another friend, a man who died too young, used to tell me of the monks who taught him, of their brilliance and their inspiring example. I said: didn’t they try and grope you? weren’t they sadistic? remembering of my own encounters with mediocre, bullying teachers, with figures of authority from one could expect nothing but massive stupidity. This was unthinkable for him: they were his teachers, his guides, they demanded a great deal, but they gave a great deal to their pupils.
He told me stories of his enchanted childhood, of the full student grant, sufficient in those days to eat out every night, to develop a taste for fine wine and port, to assemble collections of the complete works of this or that author, to buy a gramophone and records, to entertain. He remembered the 60s when he grew his hair long and wore rings on each of his fingers. He spoke of seminars which lasted all afternoon and then all evening; he would take his students home and talk with them into the night and then, next morning, would take back to university. The 60s: you can't imagine it, everything was possible, he said. It got silly, he said. He spoke of houses of friends where everyone would have sex according to a strict rota. You can’t imagine it, he said.
As he spoke, I thought to myself: you are secure in a town you never had to leave. You rose to prominence here, restauranters greet you with delight when you walked through their doors, taxi drivers vie for your custom, streams of visitors come to your door. You live on the outskirts of the city in what you call the earthly paradise. You are a man of hope, hope was always there for you. You always had a future because you had a past, a chance to begin.
And compared to you? We are the generation of shit; we are pallid, transparent; you can see through us. You can see our guts and our heart; we barely exist. Our past? Nothing happened. Our present? We are dispersed across the world. Our future? We will be dispersed across the sky. We are the ones without substance, one of the transparent creatures through whom shines the light of the long afternoon of the 1980s and 90s – those terrible decades in which political hope evaporated.
You remember (but it didn't touch you): new housing estates spread everywhere. House prices rose; every home became a fortress closed against the world and the suburbs a wall closed against the poor (and you were never poor). Jobs were casualised; temporary workers serviced the great corporate machines. Incomes rose for a few; for the rest, they withered. The utilities were sold off. Workers closed their eyes in the workplace and opened them when they got home. A thin film formed over our eyes and our ears. You know this, but you were protected from it; it never touched you.
The 80s, the 90s, and now the 00s. You survived, entertaining everyone in your great house. You were alive, still alive, hope was alive in you. You could retire; you lived on the sidelines. And for the rest of us? We'll spend a life on the dole and on the sick. We'll live on the sick till the end of our lives. A life to lie sick from the new ennui, the great consensus, the crushing awareness that nothing is possible, that there is no foothold from which we could begin. Sick and alone, each of us, fallen to nothing. With only a dim hatred for those who had risen above us like scum. For the scum that had floated to the top and seethes there.
In my boss, in you, the world says: you came too late, you missed the party, now the final adjustment has been made and we'll march in lockstep to the end. It says: you haven't a chance. You are braced against the future because of you past. But this means, too, you cannot understand what will happen. You said you had never experienced boredom; I thought: you will understand nothing. You had the past, the richness of the past. Was that why I was drawn into the orbit of your house? Why, in the end I had to admit that all I wanted was security, continuity: a corner in which to curl up, a room with a table and a chair, some hours in which to read and write.
You gave me a room; I was grateful. I was indebted, but you never reminded me of my debts. We disagreed on everything, but we spoke for hours every day. And every night I ate with others at your table; I was in from the cold. You said grace and I closed my eyes. You took in those I thought were beyond hope; I warned you against them; you were right. The house was full, day and night.
In your attic room, I read, I wrote; it was dark, always dark; in a pool of light, I finished my dissertation; I began my first articles; I received my first rejection letters. Eventually, I left; I took a job, I moved further north; I went to another city and you, who phoned no one, who despised the phone, rang only once. And then you died, not long ago. You died a few days after I had tried, for the last time, to phone you.
Tonight, Kerry admitted defeat; George W. Bush has retaken the presidency. Tonight, I remembered the days we stuck Socialist Alliance stickers on the door and the window. That was 2001. When I left in 2002, the stickers were still there. And when I visited in 2003, they were there still. You hated Bush; you hated Blair. You spoke of other leaders, of different times. You spoke of the past, which gave you strength to endure the future. I thought: but they are politicians like the others, all the scum who have ruled us. You spoke from your hope; I answered from a resignation beneath resignation. I said: they are scum.