European Diary

The Fig Leaf

All one can ever imagine of Eve is the fig leaf, but the whole issue is more universal, and at the same time somehow more prickly, than any isolated contretemps in the Legoland of the senses.  Say “glutton,” and in your mind’s eye you’ll see a mutton joint being brandished by some Rabelaisian hand; say “hunter,” and you’ll see a shotgun and the obligatory hat; say “courtesan,” and you’ll see a dressing table, a vase of bonbons, the lamp in the window.  Try saying “beloved,” then.  As in “my beloved.”  What is it that you see?  Wait, don’t tell me.  Just give me a minute, and I’ll try to imagine it for myself.

Imagination builds, it constructs, it designs and redesigns.  It is unstoppable as commerce, pervasive as advertising.  It is also dirty, like politics, and shady, like business.  In Lower Binfield, the Oxfordshire town where the protagonist of Orwell’s Coming Up for Air lives as a child, his father’s poultry-feed trade is ruined when a slick competitor, a big retail chain called Sarazins, sets up shop down the road.  It springs up like a figment of some baleful imagination, an alien and unappeasable phantom, claiming its share of reality as though by draconian right.  Before long the price of fodder is undercut, while the family’s psychological response—calling...

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