The President and Soul
Though many have long suspected that George W. Bush is heartless, it took a hurricane to reveal his deficiency in something equally fundamental: soul. That which the Romans called "anima" also refers, according to Jung, to the often-suppressed feminine side of a man.
How fitting, then, for a hurricane named Katrina to expose it. How fitting for the wrath of mother earth to suddenly confront this six-pack, six-gun-toting administration, mirroring, of a sudden, Cindy Sheehanother mother demanding answers to her shockingly naïve, mother of all questions: for what did my son die? And now Katrina inundating New Orleans, the soul city of America, demands something similar: Mr. President, what of thy soul?
Strange concept, soul. Though commonly referred to, soul is not a given for humans. As Gurdjieff once wrote: "What they call soul does really exist, but not everybody necessarily has one." Soul has to be developed somehow, made somehow. And what makes soul possible seems to be suffering. The poet John Keats pointed this out in a letter. "How then are Souls to be made?" asked Keats. "How, but by the medium of a world like this? Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school Intelligence and make it a soul?"
Which is to say that the world is a vale of soul-making. And now the deprivation of Black America in general and New Orleans in particular can be seen to constitute one of the great American "vales of soul-making." This is reflected in the designations, so common, of soul music and soul food, whose meanings reverberate with precisely the forge in which an enslaved people created the signature music and traditional food of America. A music and a food forged in suffering. And through which comes a mutual realization of the communion of this specific suffering with the related suffering of all humanity. Which is what soul also means. Soul means to understand at somelevel that you, as a human being, as an element of life dependent on all other life, are vulnerable. Are one with suffering humanity unable to control the world.
Lapel-flag America tries to deny this. America is the place where suffering is supposed to end because the material world is controlled; for the first time in history, the world's disasters are able to be controlled by the personal efforts of brave settlers. And for George Bush and his upperclass, original-settler first family, what proceeds from the resulting sense of privilege is that coldness, that blank look in the face of human suffering that Saul Landau, citing "Bush on the Couch," has recently referred to:
"Suffering and death confound him. Perhaps Barbara traumatized the seven year old W when little sister died of leukemia? The day after the funeral, the Bushes played a round of golf --the proper set dealing with death. Barbara, according to Dr. Justin Frank, had trouble connecting emotionally with her son."
More broadly, the fundamentalist Christianity to which the President claims to adhere, and which makes much of the soul and its salvation, displays a similar lack of true soul. Promoting biblical literalism, which his to say, exceptionalism, it suggests mainly the salvation of a divinely chosen people, a people whose choice uniquely privileges them to survive fire and flood and thrive. All others are condemned to drown in the waters or be incinerated in the great coming conflagration. Beneath this eschatology, of course, and not very far beneath, lies the American fear of darkness, the wilderness, pleasure, the body, and all those things signifying raw life, and matter, and vulnerability, and thereby soul. And thereby, most emphatically, that embodied slave population brought to the promised land to make invulnerability possible, to make salvation possible for their white masters, but which had the unfortunate collateral effect of dumping in the promised land this unruly and uncontrollable and decidedlynot-invulnerable population of bodies. Dark bodies. Excessively physical and lust-inciting bodies.
The President is a fundamentalist in precisely this sense. Now that he's recovered from alcoholism, or more likely is simply "white knuckling" it (denying and suppressing the scream of his body to partake in alcohol), he takes to denying also the vulnerability, the common humanity of his disease. At least in public. And for this president, everything is public, is political performance. Projection. Projecting all the inner evil and weakness he feels in himself onto others. Arabs. The dark-skinned others. The, in his determinedly ahistorical mind, uncivilized others who are toblame for 9/11 and all other world problems. The evil ones. Who form thebody of the world, the vulnerable, enslaved body of the world.
With Katrina, all of this, all the repressed body of the world, has returned to attack him. With Katrina and the destruction of the soul city, the bottom city, the below-sea-level-city, the city of voodoo and slavery and prostitution and music emanating from whorehouses played in by black musicians who had only the music, the blues, to make life soulful, to turn that suffering into art, has come the exposure of America's underside. Its insides. The demand to come to terms with it. With true soul and true gospel. But which America under this President will continue attempting to repress, will continue, desperately, trying to convert, once again, into an "opportunity zone"--a finally all white New Orleans that will cleanse and displace and silence the embodied souls of New Orleans and America once and for all. For that is the lesson they will try to take from the flood, from what it has exposed to all the world:
"Get rid of that embodied soul, that soul we thought to have bleached for good. For soul is what we have most to fear. Soul and its natural expression, love. Soul and its natural city, New Orleans. Extraneous and dangerous and expendable, all three." That is the lesson. And it will surely fail. To be succeeded, as it already has, by the real revelation: when it comes to soul, this little President and his pale little notion of America, has none.