The attractions of paradox

November 3, 2012

Freckles is the most patient of my dogs (she never snapped at our beagle for putting notches in her ears when she was teething), though she seems to have decided she’s pulled her weight in the nanny department and is putting in for retirement from chew-toy status. She is slowing down, which is a relief since she was always best at catching fledglings.

Not to munch on, but to roll in their gore. Not holding that against her entails enjoying her less appalling enthusiasm for rolling in the remains of dead insects, which is perversely the one activity that brings the most innocent (uninhibited and goofball-gleeful) expression to her face.

Extreme violence makes us laugh when its direction of will is stupidly needless but splendidly executed – there is love of mischief in this laughter, but not necessarily the dread appetite for moral tragedy.

Darken Rahl, established in the story of The Legend of the Seeker as a thoroughly secure villain, far from the realm of morbid fixation on the paranoid consequences of successful grandiosity aspiring to the tyrant role, throws the rhythm of the whole story off when he experiments with life among the living at the last moment before an apocalypse runs its course, and only then appears to run a serious risk of death himself.


Before the bitter end is staring him in the face as a formidable probability, he can keep the Seeker and Confessor at bay so casually no one is surprised to hear that Craig Parker finds the extreme violence in the fantasy genre adventure “awful and funny at the same time.”

Actress Elizabeth Banks attacked her role in 30 Rock with a similar subliminal wink at the shark-in-a-pencil-skirt archetype. This trick gets more sophisticated in Hunger Games with a character like Effie whose adaptive depravity is weirdly romantic as a sentimental survival strategy, despite looking so much like facile pandering to the totalitarian regime.

From Walt Whitman’s Sparkles from the Wheel

“.. A knife-grinder works at his wheel sharpening a great knife,
.. he carefully holds it to the stone, by foot and knee,
With measur’d tread .. he presses with light but firm hand,
Forth issue then in copious golden jets,
Sparkles from the wheel.

Myself effusing and fluid, a phantom curiously floating, now here absorb’d and arrested,

.. the loud, proud, restive base of the streets,
.. hoarse purr of the whirling stone, the light-press’d blade,
Diffusing, dropping, sideways-darting, in tiny showers of gold ..”

The irony is more playful and evasive in The Legend of the Seeker, so that no matter how guilty you feel about warming to Darken Rahl, it’s useless to look for the “tell” when you’re on to the subtle wink. For one thing, it’s hard believe his cheek, because the “pesky” Seeker’s side of the story (trying to overthrow his evil tyrant) is almost always deadly earnest.

But then, the Goodkindian Darken Rahl does come back from the dead to terrorize Kahlan with a ghostly hickey, and few horror movies these days are at once so titillating and downright campy. Craig Parker protests on the commentary track that he would’ve given Kahlan gloves (to help keep her dangerous Confessor magic out of the equation) if he’d noticed the longing glances she and Richard exchange when the coast is clear.

Forbidden young love turns him into a wickedly sympathetic schemer. (“What if she just kept her hands out of the way?”) Of course, he has something else that would work.


Control takes balance, and casting involves knowing how to use slack on the line. Most of Darken Rahl’s career, assembling the boxes of Ordin or reclining in power when they’ve been put in play, feels like a battle to maintain composure.

Not losing perspective is the main thing, when the pace of events goes your way so consistently any real upset caused by this new Seeker of Truth could be mistaken for the equivalent of a routine inconvenience in policy implementation, given that not everyone in the chain of command you rely on to tell the difference is quite on the same page.

So if caution is warranted, a sense of urgency is wanted to make sure the attentional bias orients your way, even if only fear itself will keep the old guard from sleeping on its feet. But not too much fear.

The cyclical orbits that almanacs from astronomers warn farmers about are not random, but absent almanac many farmers will call their outcomes chance. And a cycle contrived in calendar time on Earth can use the impression of randomization to good effect, if resignation to Fate (or a self-serving bias taking credit for whatever just happened) is a predictable reaction on the part of those easily blindsided by the seasonal.

Apparently the companions of someone who exercises (and then loses) the power of Ordin over them can convince themselves not to take “the abuse of power” personally, if omnipotence produced behavior as indifferent in its cruelty as the landfall of a hurricane. They needn’t know the main thing is to be pitiless, at least about the luck of others who convenience your need to make examples.  Or they wouldn’t say, if they couldn’t bring themselves to condone the obvious.


If all acts of leadership are experimental, surviving your own experiments is the only real challenge in leadership, in politics or any other kind of innovation. Of course, your dominion is infested with preconceptions, and with them comes skepticism of new goals and all attempts to implement them that require the mob’s cooperation.

Hence perception war. Not to control the spread of information exhaustively, but to attack the rhythm of everyday life where it breathes information found free on the street, in the open air market for bad tips and dangerous rumors. To know how to get that attention and turn it at the opportune moment, how to control the timing of its favored vagaries in ways that seem to express “a momentum of its own” found in the life casually lived midstream in an engineered current.

How to exploit simultaneity in defiance of all preconceptions about what History implied in class, and exploit “indifference to distance” when illusions permeate and dominate the here and now, so that in the audience, ascertaining your own feelings is a virtual experience in which your errors are chosen for you.

If time is ever on your side, you’re often waiting on the mob to move through a few more levels of denial at the pace of administrative events, working to create a safer space on the other side of the social experiment’s duration, where life is more your own to live. Sometimes getting cognitive dissonance to resolve when the “banal” status of a given evil has been revoked involves taking the entire audience through tight corners at high speeds, so they can’t hold each other back so damn well.

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