Lovely word, inchoate. Meaning incipient, barely begun, rudimentary, immature. Like Estelle Morris, who I'll come to anon. I introduce the word - inchoate, not Morris - without ceremony on the assumption that you've been reaching for it in recent weeks, or maybe months, or maybe years, to describe the quality our age values above all others.
I was in an argument recently as to whether we are acting the child or just acting dumb. Neither of your examples has anything to do with the child qua child, my interlocutors put in when I cited Channel 4 as the home of the moral infant and BBC2 as the home of the intellectual infant. What you're describing in both instances, they insisted, is simply brute, opportunistic inanity.
So here's what's so useful about the word inchoate - it bridges the two positions. And maybe tempers both with compassion, for that which is inchoate might be said to be struggling towards something better, like BBC2 with its use of words like "book". Look, mummy, book! All of it, of course, whether in politics or the media or art, is just a variation of nostalgie de la boue, the yearning of civilised man to return to the condition of being uncivilised. Which is another reason I favour inchoate. You can hear the mud in it.
I take it as read myself that the glorification of the suicide bomber by normally peaceable people, people who are appalled by the yobs who throw peanuts at an illusionist, is actually glorification of the inchoate made active. That a suicide bomber might have a degree in sociology or racial hatred does not make her, or him, a jot less rudimentary. For it is a rudimentary response to events, however you interpret those events, to turn yourself into human explosive and once and for all close down argument in the act of blowing away as many other people as you can. It is psychologically retarded, an introjection of a grievance and a projection of your selfish will. It is not just the end of life, it is the end of the idea of life.
Whenever I voice this conviction, peaceably, I am bombarded by letters in little envelopes from, I suspect, widowed ladies usually living in Leicestershire. What they have to tell me is invariably the same. Suicide bombing is a legitimate defense against the new Nazis, the Israelis. Now I know, because I have been told enough times, that it is not anti-Semitic to be critical of Israel, but the gratuitous use of the word Nazi always does seem anti-Semitic to me (since there are many other less emotionally loaded but equally brutal and militaristic nouns we might use), as does the frequent recourse, in such little letters, to the subject of Hebraic genes. Might I be entitled to accuse of anti-Semitism those who put all our misfortunes down to some kink in the Jewish genome?
Anti-Semitism, too, it has always seemed to me, is yet another branch of devotion to the inchoate. Sartre said that the anti-Semite wanted to make himself as stone; I think the anti-Semite wants to make himself as mud. What the hater of the Jew fears above all else is articulacy, the Jewish project of giving voice to the reasons of belief, to codification of the law, to social justice - that latter articulateness so much despised by the democracy-despising Nietszche - and, if you like, to the very basis on which we possess and refine our humanity.
There are those who believe we can be too refined. I feel it myself, sometimes. All Jews do. It is a natural recoil of the bodily man against the mental man. Which is why Jews make better anti-Semites than anyone. But in the end you resist the suck of the inchoate or you go under. To hate is to drown; but to hate the mind for its powers of clarity, to hate lucidity of expression, to hate the strivings of language to know itself - none of which, let me make clear, do I think of as uniquely Jewish preoccupations - is to drown in mud.
But I am distracted, against my intentions. Observe the seduction of inchoateness. It maroons you in the incipient. In fact the object of my attentions was meant to be Estelle Morris, Minister for whatever it is we call it now - Culture, Sport, Environment, Bingo, Popping Down to the Pub, Hymning Guns and Being Proud When Your Teenage Daughter Opes Her Maiden Treasure on the Telly.
Estelle Morris spoke to the nation via the Cheltenham Literature Festival last week, demonstrating her bona fides as an arts and creativity person ("a consumer, not a connoisseur," in her own words) with such exercises in bathos as, "Creativity is becoming acknowledged as a key driver for economic growth and public service improvement." Which is just the sort of sentence you go to a Literary Festival to hear.
The burden of Estelle Morris's talk - and I choose the word carefully (burden, that is, not talk) - was the artifical distinction between excellence and access, a distinction which she would like to see "our museums and our galleries", and no doubt our epics and our symphonies, remove. "Is there an unwritten rule of life that says the more excellent a piece of art, the fewer people will be able to appreciate it?" she asked, before triumphantly refuting her own question with the closely reasoned answer, "Of course there isn't."
That's the spirit of the inchoate speaking. Because actually there is such a rule, and it is determined by the fact that appreciation of a "piece" of art necessitates more often than not, unless it is itself inchoate, a sophistication of sensibility not to say an education of judgement which is not available to everybody. If we would have it otherwise, and I am one of those who would, then it is not for the art to stoop to the inchoate, but for the inchoate to rise to the art.
But it's warm in the mud. And the idea of rising has grown inimical to us.Reuse content