|Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email|
Forget for a moment your emotions over Bill Clinton's impeachment and the criminal and legal issues. Consider only this aspect of the entire mess: the debasement of the language. Think of the sheer volume of words that were expended over the course of the scandal--by the accused, by co-conspirators, by defenders, by pundits--which were intended not to get to the truth of the matter, but to get through another day with Bill Clinton in office. This abuse of language did not merely demean the speakers and undermine the process, it was an insult to the listener and a fundamental attack on the meaning of the language itself. For this book, Tom Simon has taken the testimony of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton, their own words before the Independent Counsel, and has turned choice bits into found poetry. The effects are devastating.
For those of you who, like me until recently, don't know what found poetry is, you may be familiar with the old Village Voice feature where they ran snippets of Phil Rizzuto's Yankee game dialogue in the form of free verse poems. [These were collected in the very funny book, O Holy Cow! : The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto (see a sample)] Similarly, I once found a book of poems collected by Annie Dillard (see Orrin's review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek) called, Mornings Like This : Found Poems. She lifted verses from things like old catalogues or boys magazines and turned them into poems. This technique has a really weird effect; it somehow transmutes the mundane into the profound or the mythic. We are so immersed in language, particularly in today's media culture, that words become cheap. But putting them into the form of poems makes us pause and consider them seriously.
Here are just a few of Mr. Simon's found poems:
From the Testimony of William Jefferson Clinton:
'In the Context of Her Desire'
She raised the issue with me
Which I certainly understood
Not only because there were
That were inappropriate
But also because a whole lot
Yes, that's correct
She was the only person there
'There Are No Curtains'
There are no curtains on the oval office
The naval aides come and go at will.
After I went through a presidential campaign
I had a high level of paranoia
'The Correct Answer'
Let me begin with
I don't know for sure
But if you would like me
But I do not know for sure
'For Example, Kissing'
I thought the definition
The Word 'Is'
It depends on what
that is one thing
If it means
'What I Said'
I don't know
I don't remember
And I don't remember
'A Friend of Betty'
She had worked
She was a friend of Betty
No . . .
It's certainly not the truth
. . . I have never
I've never had
From the Testimony of Monica S. Lewinsky:
'He Was Just Angry'
And he was just angry with me
Aside from his family
I didn't know exactly which
'Little Tiny Spot'
I told him
And he told me
Little tiny spot
And at that point
It needs to get cleaned
And then I remembered
And I believe it was
Our meeting ended up
He told me
That he wouldn't
'A Crime in Washington'
I'm a friendly person
For people - for you
And so I was friendly
And I guess
We live in age that wallows in irony and cynicism. We trust no one and nothing. We are always alert for hidden meanings and secret motives. We assume hypocrisy and are suspicious of genuine belief. None of this is healthy for a society. It has given our culture a coarseness which almost all of us feel has gone to far. We must act to reverse this course, to begin to reclaim language, so that we can once again put some faith in words and those who speak them. Leaders--be they politicians, academics, journalists, clergy or whoever--must enforce certain standards of intellectual honesty if we are to restore meaning to words and returm their power to coommunicate universally.
But to read these poems, based on the words of a president and his consort, is to be bombarded by double entendres and obfuscations and outright lies. They are supreme examples of the use of language, not to communicate with others, but to confuse others and to serve political ends. One of the little noticed crusades of the past century was the effort of conservative critics like George Orwell, CS Lewis, EB White, Jacques Barzun, and others to defend the English Language from those who would corrupt it for their own purposes. This little book is an excellent example of what they were fighting against, and a useful reminder that the fight goes on and that they (we) are losing.
-UNDER OATH: A Political Cantata for Tenor, Mezzo-Soprano and Independent Counsel Music by Steve Hilton Texts* from the sworn testimony of William Jefferson Clinton and Monica Lewinsky *Edited by Tom Simon
-William J. Clinton Forty-Second President 1993- (Whithouse.org)
-AMERICAN PRESIDENTS LIFE PORTRAITS (CSPAN)
-ETEXTS: IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON (Government Documents in the News, U of Michigan)
-The Impeachment of President Clinton (North Texas Libraries)
-Full Coverage : Clinton Accused (Washington Post)
-Clinton: Impeaching the President (CBC)
-Clinton in Crisis (Guardian Unlimited)
-The History Place - Impeachment: Bill Clinton
-The Committee to Impeach the President
-CLINTON SCANDAL SUMMARY (Harold Kahl)
-ARCHIVES: "Lewinsky" (NY Review of Books)
-ESSAY: Mar 5, 1998 Lawrence E. Walsh: Kenneth Starr and the Independent Counsel Act (NY Review of Books)
-ESSAY: Apr 23, 1998 William A. Edmundson: CLINTON & THE JONES CASE (NY Review of Books)
-REVIEW: of Poetry Under Oath Book reveals the poetry in Monicagate (Linda Quigley, The Nashville Tennessean)
-REVIEW: Elizabeth Hardwick: Head Over Heels, NY Review of Books
Monica's Story by Andrew Morton
-REVIEW: Anthony Lewis: Nearly a Coup, NY Review of Books
A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly
Brought Down a President by Jeffrey Toobin
The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill
and Hillary Clinton by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons
-REVIEW: Ronald Dworkin: Philosophy & Monica Lewinsky, NY Review of Books
An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of
President Clinton by Richard A. Posner
The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory by Richard A. Posner
-REVIEW: Joan Didion: Uncovered Washington, NY Review of Books
Uncovering Clinton: A Reporter's Story by Michael Isikoff
Active Faith: How ChristiansAre Changing the Soul of American Politics
by Ralph Reed
Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline
by Robert H. Bork
-REVIEW: Lars-Erik Nelson: The Republicans' War, NY Review of Books
The Freshmen: What Happened to the Republican Revolution? by Linda
Conservative Reformers: The Republican Freshmen and the Lessons of the
104th Congress by Nicol C. Rae
Lessons Learned the Hard Way: A Personal Report by Newt Gingrich
Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr, and the Emerging Constitutional
Crisis by Alan M. Dershowitz
-REVIEW: Lars-Erik Nelson: The Not Very Grand Inquisitor, NY Review of Books
Communication from the Office of the Independent Counsel, Kenneth W.
Starr: Appendices to the Referral to the United States House of
Representatives pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, §595(c), Parts 1
and 2 Submitted by the Office of the Independent Counsel
...And the Horse He Rode In On: The People v. Kenneth Starr by James
The Clinton Enigma: A Four-and-a-Half-Minute Speech Reveals This
President's Entire Life by David Maraniss
-REVIEW: Joan Didion: Clinton Agonistes, NY Review of Books
Referral to the United States House of Representatives pursuant to Title
28, United States Code, §595(c) Submitted by the Office of the
-REVIEW: Lars-Erik Nelson: Whatever Happened to Whitewater?, NY Review of Books
Arkansas Mischief: The Birth of a National Scandal by Jim McDougal
and Curtis Wilkie
Friends in High Places: Our Journey from Little Rock to Washington,
D.C. by Webb Hubbell