A Certain Candidate

Classics professor writes political satire

In Bush Almighty! An Extraterrestrial Critique, Jim Tyler has created something that, if not sui generis (in a class by itself), is certainly the most unusual book in a campaign season saturated with books.

His argument in the form of a dialogue owes something to literary works of the past. But in taking a leaf from one here and another there, he has written a Swiftian satire on 20th-century politics.

“From time to time, all sorts of books have had someone from Mars look at the human race,” says Jim, a quiet fellow who teaches Latin and Greek as an adjunct instructor and oversees the College Archives in the basement of Reeves Library. He is the son of two Moravian professors, the late George and Dorothy Tyler, who taught classics and French.

The conversation about the life and times of George W. Bush is between Beth, a journalist, and Gog, a Martian, and may have some ancestry in Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos series. Its immediate models, however, are George Bernard Shaw’s novella The Advantures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God (1932), a critique of the world’s religions; and Montesquieu’s Lettres persanes (Persian Letters) (1721), “by” a Persian visitor to France.

By using a Persian, the French essayist allows for a total stranger, the ultimate objective observer, to confront every aspect of society. So does Shaw’s fable. His innocent heroine sees through every pretender to the throne of God. To a scientist, who dissects dogs to discover human truths, she answers that she could have told him the answer in half a minute, without hurting any dogs.

There’s a bit of Jim, no fan of the President, in both Beth, the questioner, and Gog, the omniscient Martian who has catalogued Bush’s every utterance. These he cites to answer Beth’s questions about Bush’s Texas background, religious faith, military experience, and 11 other subjects that collectively answer the question “Who is George W. Bush?”

Suspiciously enough, Gog’s trove of New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and Wall Street Journal articles, his notes from National Public Radio stories, can be foundin a pile in Jim’s house. “I put a lot of time into collecting the evidence,” he says. “I started writing before I had a clear idea of what all the parts would be.”

He opted for a dialogue because this permitted argument, discussion, and conjecture. Engaging two points of view allowed for a fairness that he would have found difficult to sustain if the book had been, for instance, a personal essay, he says.

Jim has no problem with the book’s being somewhat unclassifiable. “I just enjoy writing stories to spark discussion,” he says. “And this was an idea worth writing a book about.”

Bush Almighty! can be purchased at the Moravian Book Shop and the Moravian College Bookstore; or from the author,
jim-tyler@fast.net or Ext. 1594; or from the publisher at www.lulu.com.

October 26, 2004

A Certain Candidate:
Classics professor Jim Tyler writes a political satire.

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