Ideology with cod and chips

Thursday 10 April 2008 16:30

I recently expressed the opinion that the poet Brian Turner, famous for his poems about his experiences as an infantryman in Iraq, needed to move on from the curiously boyish poems that he has so far written about the war. The person to whom I made the remark retorted that ‘Turner could adopt an ideological position, but he’d be much more interested in seeing if he could write poems about something else.’ Now I was a guest and I had already disagreed with the young man on another subject, so I didn’t say what was on my mind.

But what I was thinking was that when people use the word ‘ideological’ like that, I always feel like asking them a few questions.

In this case, for example, how would one define a ‘non-ideological’ position on the Iraq war?

Isn’t the use of ‘ideological’ as a pejorative term ideological in its own right?

Is there something wrong with ideology?

Does ‘ideology’ always refer to ideologies of the left?

Does non-ideological simply mean ‘liberal’?

The latter is usually the case. the ideology of liberalism is so transparent that people of that persuasion think their opinions are simply common sense, the kind of ideas that everyone would believe in if they were intelligent enough, or thought long enough about them. People from the USA are particularly adept at characterising other people’s opinions as ‘ideology’ and therefore not exactly rational, so perhaps that’s where the young man picked it up.

Anyway, I returned to the contemplation of my cod and chips and held my tongue.

Of course, I too am interested to see whether Turner can write about something besides war, but I am far more interested to see whether he can dare to adopt a political stance other than that of the victim. Turner is an MFA graduate, and if that process is useful at all, it must surely be to alert poets to the dangers of becoming file aon phort (Gaelic: poet of one song), so I have no doubt that he will go on to write fine poems on all those things that poets in the USA write about (animals, nervous breakdowns, meaningful remarks, etc. much the same material, actually, as Irish writers), but will he be political?

If the experience of an illegal war and the destruction of an ancient society merely results in more poems about what one soldier said to the other, then we won’t have moved much beyond Siegfried Sassoon.

And, of course, any excuse is better than none, so here’s a good one from that quarter, a sharp attack on the officer class, WWI vintage, as well as a clever poem in its own right – of course Sassoon was a bit ‘ideological’ too, a bit socialist, actually, if you can believe it of a gentleman.

"Good morning, good morning!" the General said,
When we met him last week on the way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ''em dead,
And we''re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
"He''s a cheery old card" grunted Harry to Jack,
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
But he did for them both with his plan of attack.