The Symbionese Liberation Army immolated itself when I was a boy in Los Angeles, and I vividly remember watching the house in downtown explode in flames and ordinance pops as the police poured it on. I also recall the sad story of Patti Hearst, her taped pleas, her taped tirades, the food distributions, etc. But what I really recall, all too fondly, is the rhetoric. I know, I know. The SLA were a bunch of murderous, deluded nutcases. I have no sympathy for urban guerillas of this sort, robbing and shooting. But even then, I loved their talk, the sheer nonsensical, lyrical, hysterical sound of it.
To start with, there’s General Field Marshall Cinque. That’s Sin-Cue as they pronounced it on the news – was it supposed to be French? How’s that for wildly self-aggrandizing entitlement? The deadpan pronouncements of the need to “kill all the fascist insects.” That’s another good’un. And those long winded manifestos that were actually printed word for word in the L.A. Times! If you are interested, this film is a good place to start.
Yes, I have a weakness for inflated rhetoric, especially when it has an apocalyptic tinge, starting with the original Four Horses of course, moving through the communistic fulminations of the anarcho-apostolic rebels of the Hussite and Muenster peasant rebellions, through the Ranters, lovingly documented in Norman Cohn’s book, The Pursuit of the Millenium (learn all you need to know about flagellant sects there!), right up to Monsieur Guy Debord and his intoxicating, absurd, hyper-intellectual Situationist rants about our society as Spectacle. Here’s an example:
By being thrown into history, by having to participate in the labor and struggles which make up history, men find themselves obliged to view their relations in a clear manner. This history has no object distinct from what takes place within it, even though the last unconscious metaphysical vision of the historical epoch could look at the productive progression through which history has unfolded as the very object of history. The subject of history can be none other than the living producing himself, becoming master and possessor of his world which is history, and existing as consciousness of his game.
Of course, there’s some truth in many of them:
In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.
But like an oyster coating an irritating grain of sand, they ponder, and rant, rant and ponder, until they produce jewels of dangerous rhetoric.Did I leave out V.I. Lenin? He’s hard to beat for apocalyptic rants, but his tone is too cold and schoolmasterish, all the same. He fancied himself an intellectual, you see. Stalin knew better.