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Thursday, September 23, 2021

The False Reality Of Hard Fact–Why Fantasy Was So Appealing To The Senator

A lot has been made of fact recently.  Politicians are routinely called out for their distortions, fabrications, misstatements, and downright lies.  Why this is necessary when everyone knows that the stock-in-trade of politicians is duplicity and self-serving invention is always a surprise.  One recent Senator claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was actually in New Orleans with his octoroon lover – in a seedy hotel in the seediest ward of the city all to evade scrutiny and to live out his Faulknerian fantasy.  He was Thomas Sutpen, powerful landlord of a hundred square miles of rich bottom land cleared by a hundred wild Negroes brought from Haiti, sexually ambitious, and powerful.  Sutpen bedded a beautiful octoroon; and their son years later returned to Mississippi to exact his mother’s vengeance  on the man who left her.

Image result for images beautiful new orleans octoroons

The Senator at least had a good reason for his untruths.  Many other politicians simply want to cover their tracks, divert attention from their financial indiscretions, iffy investments, or unlawful hedging.  Not so the Senator who when in Washington was a model of rectitude and propriety.  He had been elected on moral principle and right behavior, and his constituents knew they could rely on him for the truth and for the facts. The Senator could simply not admit to his socially conservative base that he was not only having an affair, but one with a Haitian dark-eyed beauty whom he kept in luxury on Bayou Lafourche. 

The Senator was a married man and had been for over thirty years to a woman of means and social prominence.  She was the perfect complement to the Senator, as appropriately modest, temperate, and principled but with a certain patrician elegance that came from generations of prosperous, influential, cultured Virginians.  The Senator might not have deliberately gone on the hunt for the right political mate; and he certainly never admitted the possibility to himself or anyone else; but there she was in tailored suits, pearls, and impeccable skin, beautiful and stunning by his side on the campaign trail.

Image result for images dior classic suits

Over the years, however, the Senator did indeed admit that he had married the wrong woman.  As correct and proper as she was for political ends, she was an emotional cipher, a woman without sexual calling or interest.   Life with her had become irrevocably dull; and as much as tried to tamp down his sexual ego, he could not; and the first tryst with his mulatto beauty, long planned and awaited, became real.

The story of their meeting is one of marvelous fantasy.  It was no mirage that the Senator felt himself Thomas Sutpen’s doppelganger.  Every page of Absalom, Absalom resonated with particular relevance.  Sutpen was everything that the Senator was not – virile, confident, single-minded, and determined.  Sutpen had left rural West Virginia poverty behind and made his way south to seek fortune and reputation.  He was indomitable, commanding, and possessed of a particular, singular vision.  His sexual appetites were unchecked, and color was no bar.  Sutpen loved women, wanted them, and wanted their children.  The poor Senator’s life was flimsy and shameful by comparison.

Image result for images beautiful mixed race women

In most people fantasy remains closeted, aired only on occasions; but for the Senator his imagined machismo a la Thomas Sutpen was real.  His behind-the-scenes arrangement of his mistress to be was no different than Sutpen’s must have been.  Beautiful high class octoroons in Sutpen’s day were desirable concubines who escaped the prejudice against former slaves or dark, black women from newly-liberated Haiti.  The Senator, in a deft hopscotch, kept his desires and his search a secret. 

The marvelous thing about fantasy is that once it is firmly in place as the reality, no flaws, imperfections, or things not exactly right could tarnish it; and so it was with Marguerite, as beautiful, sultry, and sensual as advertised, and so alluring and enticing that the Senator overlooked her Ninth Ward upbringing and cheap tastes.   To him she was as cultured and elegant as the highest toned, most sophisticated New Orleans consort of 1850.  He could take her to the finest restaurants, the opera, balls, and vernissages with pride.

Of course he did not take her anywhere for fear of discovery and had to do with thin towels and torn sheets at the La Doucette, room service champagne, foie gras, and étouffée.  However, it all was better than he had ever expected – more than he imagined, an idyll of magnificent proportions. What to others might have seemed a seamy, squalid affair, to the Senator it was a perfect Lawrentian sexual epiphany, a perfect match, and the final ridding of long frustrated dreams.

Image result for Images DH Lawrence. Size: 143 x 204. Source: www.britannica.com

Politically speaking the Senator’s story had no good ending.  He was found out, trailed by paparazzi to La Doucette, called out for sexual impropriety, adultery, and barefaced lying and forced to resign.  His wife left him and already penurious because of his lavish attentions to his octoroon, he had to give her up. 

His world had come precipitously down and he a cropper, left with no employment, no wife, no mistress, and no prospects.  It had to end this way, and even he knew what he had been in for; but he never regretted one moment of his affair and his glorious, fantastic, mighty love for his New Orleans consort.

The Senator was not alone among men with obsessive fantasies.  In fact that breed is as common as spaniels; but few men ever act on their desires.  The Senator,although reduced to shame in the eyes of others, was an existential hero, a man who cared little for ordinariness and fact, who saw little value in received wisdom, and who followed his own beacon.  Life might be meaningless, but as Sartre admonished, “Do something with it!”.

I once knew a woman who told tall tales about her past – unbelievably embellished stories of impossible successes, love affairs, and acclaim.  Yet despite this intricately woven fabric of untruths, she was a delightful, intelligent, and competent woman.  She had enough observable success and recorded accomplishments to satisfy any suitor; but chose to create her own summits. As one fantastic story was overlaid on an even more implausible one, I became annoyed.  How could she not see how transparent her inventions were? And yet I was reluctant to call her out. 

She was the Sarah Bernhardt of the Carpathians, theatrical, operatic, and as talented at spinning melodrama as any daytime television actress.  Why interrupt those marvelous fanciful reveries?  They were as much a part of her as her radio stations, her investments, and her villa.  Without them she would be reduced to a simple, respectable no one. 

Fact and truth are sorely overrated; and fantasy, confabulation, and invention just as sorely undervalued.  Those who are impatient with fairy tales are life’s slugs.

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