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Monday, 19 May 2014

A Book of Ugly People

all pictures by Christopher Anderson

I like it when connections jump out at you. That happened a few weeks back when I was looking at Christopher Anderson's Stump.

Stump is a book of faces; politician's faces, American politician's faces, Ugly inside-and-out faces.

So I looked at Stump and it reminded me of Oliver Sacks. This is what I wrote for a review in Photo-Eye.

There’s a section in Oliver Sacks’ book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, where the author visits of ward full of people with aphasia; a disorder where people have difficulty understanding the meaning of words. As he visits the ward Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States of America, appears on the TV. Suddenly the ward breaks into laughter. These people who cannot understand individual words or sentences are laughing at the speech that Reagan is giving? 

How so if they don’t understand the words that he is saying? Sacks points out that understanding spoken language does not consist of words alone. There is also the emotional delivery of the words. Reagan was full of that. He had his ‘rhetoric, his histrionisms, his emotional appeal.’ It was this that the patients were laughing at. Stripped of the deceptive power of the words they could see a ham actor delivering his ham lines in the most transparent way. It was literally laughable and for all their disability, this ward full of aphasics could see it better than most. Sacks sums up the experience with a quote from Nietzche; ‘One can lie with the mouth, but with the accompanying grimace, one nevertheless tells the truth.’ 

That pretty much somes up our political leaders and it pretty much sums up Stump. It's an angry book that lacks in decency and decorum. I like that.

They say tht politics is show business for the ugly. Anderson's hitting that note here. But the thing about ugliness is it's often been misunderstood. There used to be Ugly Laws in the US which were basically laws to keep the poor and disabled off the street (and they still exist but just not under that name).

Maybe there should be new Ugly Laws, Ugly-Inside-And-Out Laws, designed to keep the people featured in Anderson's book off the streets and out of politics. Now that would be progress.

Read the whole review here.

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