The most astonishing book of the year to date around here is critic Wayne Koestenbaum's Humiliation, from 2011, a pained confessional essay about being brought low, about being crushed, about what the pain of embarrassment, shame, and mortification brings to a sufferer.
Tomorrow the media pillory that Koestenbaum describes so well will begin (it's already started, in fact, even before the race is run). But it's not all bad, Koestenbaum argues!
Here's the critic/poet on the deeper meaning, and worth, of humiiation:
I believe, with Jean Genet, and Jesus Christ, and Oscar Wilde, and a few other martyrs and mysters and troublemakers, that humiliation is a kiln through which the human soul passes, and where it receives burnishing, glazing, and consolidating. Humiliation cooks the spirit to a fine finish. (About the experience of servitude, the great Robert Walser wrote, in his 1907 novel The Tanners, "Strange, too, that you might nonetheless experience this state of affairs as a sort of refuge, a home.") Neither Walser nor I consider humiliation pleasant. But if it didn't contain a silver lining, I wouldn't be examining this dismal category of experience. If humilitation didn't hvae the the potential (sometimes, in certain circumstances) to transfigure the person over whom it casts a noxious cloud, then I'd drop the subject and write about something genuinely redemptive, like white wine. [in the chapter called "Five O'Clock Shadow, a reference to Nixon]
Nixon was the President most humiliated in our lifetimes until Bill Clinton came along, but Clinton,as Koestenbaum hinted, has been burnished by his trial by his passage through the kiln of media fire.
The American public never exactly apologized to Clinton for its orgy of shaming during the ill-fated and seemingly endless impeachment debacle, but it's surely not a stretch to say that Clinton's huge popularity today is in part a recognition on the part of the public that they/we/us went too far in blaming/shaming/humiliating the man.
When Bill Clinton's extramarital escapades hit the press, I quaked with vicarious shame and outrage that a mere blow job should rock the nation and that this forgivable president and his wife and daughter and Monica Lewinsky and everyone who knew and loved Monica Lewinsky hsould need to suffer in public and be seen by hypocritical viewers and pundits and senators as humiliated beasts…If this book has an ulterior aim, however disreputable, here it is: I want to stand up for those who are publicly shamed for [non-exploitative] sexual conduct.
The pillory will be virtual, but the pain will be real for Obama or Romney. If the incumbent President loses, for the rest of his life he will be derided, mocked, and scorned for losing an election he should have won. If, more likely, the challenge Romney loses, he will be torn down, sneered at, shunned. It will be his fate, just as in Greek tragedies it was the fate of Cassandra to prophesize murder of her family, and not to be heard by them, or anyone.
The pillory has already been erected, and Romney already has been splattered by commentators on the right such as Daniel Larison…although in a recent post Larison let up a little bit, in order to put the blame on George W. Bush:
The Bush administration truly was one of the three or four worst
presidential administrations of the last sixty years, and Bush’s party
still hasn’t come to grips with what that means for how the rest of the
country sees them. In the wake of such a huge failure, it would be
almost inexplicable that the public could entrust the Presidency to that
same party after just four years. Assuming that Romney loses next week,
the puzzle won’t be why he lost, but why he was ever within striking
distance in the first place.
“Obama has temporarily been a bipartisan figure this week. He has been the comforter-in-chief and that helps,” Rove said.
On the other side of the coin, our national Humiliator-in-Chief, Rush Limbaugh, has put the blame on Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, for being insufficiently partisan, and calling him "fat and a fool."
Is it possible to dislike a politician and not want to see him viciously attacked? Maybe not. Which maybe means that those of us who suffer must learn to love our humiliiations, if we hope to survive them.