July 15, 2012

Lèse-irony

Filed under: Thailand — Kim @ 9:01 am

Watching a George Steiner interview t’other day, I was struck by a peculiar usage of “Lèse-majesté”. Speaking of his time in America he commented “I couldn’t accept the lack of irony…America is a land committed to things being better next Monday than they are this Monday. Irony is the enemy. Irony subverts. Irony is being rather nasty about hope. In America being nasty about hope is ‘Lèse-majesté ‘”.

The phrase these days calls to mind the recent cases in Thailand and – whatever your views may be on that – if you have talked to Thais about their King you will surely have realised the practically universal reverence in which he is held by his people. The vast majority of Thais would brook no criticism of their King and (as a consequence) most would support the Lèse-majesté law.

It seems clear that the Lèse-majesté law is being overused in Thailand and used as a political tool, but that’s not the point I wish to make. I’d like to link back to the point Steiner made about the “lack of irony” and the link is that, for Thais, to criticise the King is not just to be negative about a man or an institution…the way things stand at the moment it is “being nasty about hope”. To utter Lèse-majesté is a locutionary act that subverts confidence in present and future hopes for Thailand and in the moral rectitude of the entire Thai nation – as embodied in that living symbol, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The Thais love their King for a reason; he clearly cares for his country and is deservedly loved. But wouldn’t a sense of irony help? Is the King a man or a God? I know how an ironist would answer that question…

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