Friday, November 2, 2018

Marjorie Perloff on Trump and Howard Hughes

From Woody Haut's review:
But it's Perloff's forward that I find problematical. Not so much that it's awkward and truncated compared to her more elegant earlier intro, originally published in 1981. It's more what she's saying, or, often, not saying. My hackles were immediately on alert when she quoted her earlier introduction, that Dorn's portrayal of Howard Hughes in the poem "anticipates...the current 'legend' of Donald Trump and his empire." Thin ice, indeed. Though she admits her statement from all those years ago had nothing to do a sense of prescience, given that she knew very little about Trump at the time. As she acknowledges, back then Trump was simply a silver-spooned property developer, hotel and soon to be casino owner. Perloff then tries to bring it all up to date, only to throw oil on this would-be fire, writing, "From Hughes to Trump: it seems a clear-cut example of Marx's aphorism that great men always appear twice, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce." No matter that she's putting a slight spin on Marx's aphorism, which referred to history, not to great men. But the comparison is too easy. Saying that Trump is a farce, only to leave it at that, minimizes the danger he and his presidency represent. A farce, perhaps, but a tragedy for those who are bearing the brunt of his policies. And what about her statement that Hughes in Gunslinger begins as a figure of mystery and charisma and ends up a "Trumpian comic-book character, a mere cypher." While Hughes is certainly a comic-book figure in Gunslinger, the same can't be said for Trump, as he twiddles his fingers over the nuclear button. Saying he's a "mere cypher" is to belittle his responsibility in cultivating his repulsive brand of nativism. And, unlike Hughes in Gunslinger, Trump is not about to simply vanish from the scene.

The comparison, in any case, is, at best, superficial. At least Hughes refrained from doing the country a disservice by running for office. Moreover, Hughes actually produced things. Something Trump can never be accused of doing. Sure, Hughes was a right-wing narcissist, obsessed with Hollywood starlets. But he was hardly a danger to the world. Neither did he inculcate or exploit a social movement. Hughes's allure, as exemplified by his presence in Dorn's poem, derived from being a mega-wealthy one-off, someone with buying power, but without much concern for demographics, other than who flew his planes, bought his parts and watched his films. Trump might have begun as a "mere cypher" (think Gunslinger's "Talking Barrel"), but he quickly mutated into a brand. As president his presence is that of a fifth-rate stand-up comic, devoid of irony and humour.

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