Saucers of Mud

April 24, 2008

Purgatory: Usage Note

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 12:45 pm

Charlie Cook writes:

As long as Clinton is winning, she can’t quit. But even in victory, she isn’t getting any closer to securing the nomination. This political purgatory will continue if she manages to win Indiana but loses North Carolina—hard to drop out but harder to see winning the nomination.

The use of “purgatory” is interesting here. I know what he means — but when I read the Purgatorio it struck me that Purgatory was an essentially happy place. Everyone is suffering in the moment, but they all know that they will get to heaven in the end. And even if my interpretation/memory is eccentric about how happy Purgatory is, it still is the case that souls in Purgatory are bound for heaven.

And that’s the opposite of Clinton’s situation. Things are going well for her now, but she has very little chance at a happy ending to the nomination contest. Her situation is more like that of Sisyphus, striving for a goal he won’t achieve, or maybe of the souls in Limbo, who are denied heaven even though they haven’t done anything wrong. If anyone’s in political purgatory now, it would seem to be Obama, who has been undergoing something of a (ridiculous) trial by fire about Jeremiah Wright and the “bitter” comments, but who will almost certainly wind up the nominee — perhaps strengthened by his trials.

Anyway, I’m curious how “purgatory” came to mean what Cook uses it to mean; did it just shift over from Limbo? Is it that it’s an in-between place? Or is that it’s come to mean any place of suffering, whether or not you attain heaven in the end? But it strikes me that what Cook means to say in a way is that Clinton is stuck in a loop, and that’s not what Purgatory is about; the thing about Purgatory is that it comes to an end.


1 Comment »

  1. I think “purgatory” has been used as a euphemism for “hell,” at least in the past. Maybe that’s what he means. In Hamlet, the elder Hamlet is suffering greatly in purgatory.

    Comment by Matt's mom — April 28, 2008 @ 4:46 pm

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