Tuesday, April 23, 2013

St George

Today is the festival of George, martyr, patron of England. The story goes that George was a knight (or at least, a soldier) who fought a dragon (or possibly a crocodile; or may have stood up to a human tyrant, and therefore defeated a work of the devil, that serpent of old: anyway, it’s complicated...). Without question, he had nothing to do with England, but was adopted by English knights on the Crusades.

Patron saints are strange creatures, and the stories we tell about them take on a life of their own, shaping us in turn, long after the stories are lost and the ‘saint’ stands as a hyper-real sign that represents something that does not exist but is presented, and indeed consumed, as real: in this case, ‘Englishness.’

Here are some competing Georges and dragons, some competing Englishnesses, for St George’s Day:

George the ‘immigrant’ who represents the inclusion of other peoples and cultures within Englishness;

George the soldier who sets out on his travels, setting other people free from that which tyrannises them, whatever form it might take;

George the superior military might who inflates crocodiles into dragons and personifies mortal men as evil incarnate in order to perpetuate a status as liberator;

George the dragon;

George the symbol of racism;

George the deeply ironic symbol of racism, exposing the vulnerable belly of the beast and cutting it open with its own sword;

George the...

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