The conflict in Gaza has prompted a wave of shock resignations. But not just from members of Sir Keir Starmer’s front bench.
“I have resigned as poetry editor of The New York Times Magazine,” announced someone called Anne Boyer, in a dramatic public statement at the end of last week. The reason, she declared, was her revulsion at “the Israeli state’s US-backed war against the people of Gaza”.
She went on: “Because our status quo is self-expression, sometimes the most effective mode of protest for artists is to refuse. I can’t write about poetry amidst the ‘reasonable’ tones of those who aim to acclimatise us to this unreasonable suffering. No more ghoulish euphemisms. No more verbally sanitised hellscapes. No more warmongering lies.”
Given Ms Boyer’s distaste for “ghoulish euphemisms”, I was intrigued to note that, in the same statement, she praised “the people of Palestine” for the way that, during decades of Israeli “occupation”, “deprivation” etc, they have “resisted”. I wonder what she meant by “resisted”. Surely it can’t be some kind of euphemism.
The highlight of her statement, however, was its magnificently sonorous closing sentence.
“If this resignation leaves a hole in the news the size of poetry,” she wrote, “then that is the true shape of the present.”
What a wonderful line. Admittedly, I haven’t the first idea what it means. But then, that’s modern poetry for you. If you can’t understand it, it must be good.
At this stage, it’s not yet clear what effect Ms Boyer’s resignation as a magazine poetry editor will have on the conflict in Gaza. But no doubt the impact will be seismic. Perhaps The New York Times, and all other Western newspapers, will agree never again to publish comment pieces by anyone who thinks Israel has the right to defend itself from mass-murdering jihadi rapists. Perhaps Benjamin Netanyahu will promise never to attack Hamas again. Indeed perhaps, at this very moment, he is shamefacedly drafting his resignation.
If so, I hope that, in honour of Ms Boyer, he will do it in the form of a poem. I suggest a sestina, or possibly a villanelle.
Virtual sex will be the death of us all
We constantly speculate how our lives will be changed by artificial intelligence. But another form of technology may prove even more revolutionary. Because in just 10 years’ time, predicts an expert in VR (virtual reality), it will be possible to have “virtual” sex – without any need for an actual human partner.
“We can expect that multi-sensory VR will see sex in the metaverse become the norm for most people in technologically advanced areas,” claims Sam Hall, the managing director of a firm called Mixed Reality Rooms. “The metaverse has no limit and will enable people to live out all of their sexual fantasies.”
It sounds extraordinary. But also terrifying. Because, in no time at all, it will destroy civilisation as we know it.
It will certainly spell the death of art. Imagine, for example, that such technology had been available to a young Philip Larkin. Larkin was obsessed with sex – or rather, his inability to get it.
“Sex is so difficult,” he once grumbled to his publisher’s wife. “You ought to be able to get it and pay for it monthly, like the laundry bill.” After a typically disappointing date in 1946, at the age of 24, he wrote to his best friend, Kingsley Amis: “Don’t you think it’s ABSOLUTELY SHAMEFUL that men have to pay for women without BEING ALLOWED to s— the women afterwards AS A MATTER OF COURSE?”
Presumably, then, Larkin would have loved the idea of virtual sex. So much easier and more convenient. But if he’d been able to get it, he would never have written a word of poetry – because sexual frustration was not just a theme of his work, but the motivation for it. It motivated him to write – just as it has motivated so many novelists, comedians, songwriters and other artists. No young man forms a rock group simply because he loves music. Primarily, he does it because he’s spotty, socially inept, and desperate for a way to impress girls.
If the lonely and shy can have virtual sex any time they want, however, they won’t become artists in the first place. So that will be the end of art.
In fact, it will probably be the end of the Western world altogether. Our birth rate is already dangerously low. But once everyone is able to have mind-blowing sex without even having to bother chatting someone up, it will collapse completely. No more dating, no more marriage – and no more children.
In Annus Mirabilis, one of his most quoted poems, Larkin wrote: “Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixty-three.” If this VR expert is right, it’ll end in 2033.
Way of the World is a twice-weekly satirical look at the headlines aiming to mock the absurdities of the modern world. It is published at 7am every Tuesday and Saturday