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Clouds
Century of poetry and war

PART 7: responsibility

 

The Voice of Authority: A Language Game by Kingsley Amis

Do this. Don't move. O'Grady says do this,
You get a move on, see, do what I say.
Look lively when I say O'Grady says.

Say this. Shut up. O'Grady says say this,
You talk fast without thinking what to say.
What goes is what I say O'Grady says.

Or rather let me put the point like this:
O'Grady says what goes is what I say
O'Grady says; that's what O'Grady says.

By substituting you can shorten this,
Since any god you like will do to say
The things you like, that's what O'Grady says.

The harm lies not in that, but in that this
Progression's first and last terms are I say
O'Grady says, not just O'Grady says.

Yet it's O'Grady must be out of this
Before what we say goes, not what we say
O'Grady says. Or so O'Grady says.
 

POETRY INDEX

  the first world war
  the 1930s
  the second world war
  crimes against humanity
  the nuclear age
  other wars
  responsibility
The hand that signed the paper GO
The Castle GO
The Responsibility GO
The Voice of Authority GO

  women's voice
s


INFORMATION
   
'O'Grady Says' (also known by other names, such as 'Simon Says') is a party or playground game for a group of players with enough space to spread out in. One player stands in front of the others and tells them what to do (and demonstrates the action]. If the leader says 'O'Grady says (e.g. wave your right hand), the other players obey. If the leader omits 'O'Grady says', then the rest should not obey. If they do, they are out. They are also out if they get an instruction wrong. The last player to go out takes the leader's place in the next round. The game is often used in teaching a foreign language.
'progression': sequence
'term': expression
   

IDEAS
   

The poet makes use of the game (and has fun with language himself) to convey ideas about authority and obedience to it. Even more, he raises the issue of how people respond to authority when behaving with authority themselves. Many back up their instructions by attributing them to that well-known source 'a higher authority'. Whose orders are they, really? If from another source, have they been passed on correctly? Should orders be obeyed simply because they come (or are said to come) from a particular source? Is what O'Grady says what goes? If we want what we say to be what goes, do we really need an O'Grady?

You can see why some people have admitted to having scrambled brains after reading this poem. There follows a slightly adapted version to make it a little more user-friendly. But has it been adapted correctly...?

Do this. Don't move. [Only when] O'Grady says 'do this',
You get a move on, see, do what I say.
Look lively when I say 'O'Grady says'....

Say this. Shut up. [Only when] O'Grady says 'say this',
You talk fast without thinking what to say.
What goes is what I say O'Grady says.

Or rather let me put the point like this:
O'Grady says 'what goes is what I say
O'Grady says'; that's what O'Grady says.

By substituting you can shorten this,
Since any god you like will do to say
The things you like - that's what O'Grady says.

The harm lies not in that, but in that this
Progression's first and last terms are 'I say
O'Grady says', not just 'O'Grady says'.

Yet it's O'Grady [who] must be [taken] out of this
Before what we say goes, not what we say
O'Grady says. Or so O'Grady says.


Whose is the last word? It's not the speaker's: he or she is stuck with O'Grady and O'Grady's paradox. Is it O'Grady's or the poet's? And how should we deal with O'Grady and O'Grady's mediators? Does it make a difference what kind of O'Grady we have in mind? - political? religious? military?

 

   
     

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