Mar 13, 2009

Sartor Resartus

Thomas Carlyle wrote 'Sartor Resartus' in about 1831. It is a satire that forces the reader to confront the problem of where 'truth' is to be found. It postulates an imaginary "Philosophy of Clothes" and holds that meaning is to be derived from phenomena, continually shifting over history, as cultures reconstruct themselves in changing fashions, power-structures, and faith-systems. 'Truth' is an elusive quality in this land of shadows and whispers and knives in the dead of night, but there is a group of people now afoot on our roads who have clung to what has become an iconic truth, a truth that says that a great injustice has been done, other injustices have followed and the only way left now to right a multiplicity of wrongs is to take their case to the seat of government. The sartorial revolutionaries are getting into gear, and the men (and a good few women) in black suits are converging on the capital from across the land. After almost a year in the doldrums circumstances have once again brought to the fore the nation's lawyers, the body of men and women whose movement has waxed and waned but now assumes a position of crucial importance. Few would have guessed two years ago that we would have arrived at the position we find ourselves in today – under the boot of an elected dictatorship which is determined to quash all dissent beyond pious bleating and the wringing of hands in darkened rooms. Hundreds have been arrested across the country – perhaps thousands – and holding-tanks are created to accommodate them. Preparations are well advanced to completely seal both Rawalpindi and Islamabad, in itself a major undertaking that will consume vast amounts of material resources and manpower. The right of assembly has been curtailed by Section 144 and the president may or may not be in Dubai or Iran or even, possibly, in Islamabad. Indeed, he could be on a distant planet in a faraway galaxy - but he is most assuredly not appearing on the television screen to give comfort and leadership to the common man. The lawyers march and the politicians who oppose the government rally their own forces, with the two eventually to merge by next Monday. The road for all of us, whether we are marchers or merely interested bystanders, is going to be uncertain between then and now. There are rumours of compromise between the government and the Sharif brothers, and also rumours that their lives are at grave risk – but no confirmation as to who it is that presents such a threat that the Interior Ministry is sufficiently concerned to write a letter to them advising them to 'be alert'. The Philosophy of Clothes was the hook on which Carlyle hung his satire. The men and women in black and white seek a truth and a resolution that is no satire and we can but hope that their quest has a peaceful conclusion; though time and bitter experience perhaps tell us otherwise.

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