Posts Tagged ‘Alexander’

Villains

July 16, 2014

Here’s a mental experiment: look at whatever you have decided “constitutes evil” in more concrete instances as organic in the sense of self-sustaining and viable, but possibly still self-limiting in its appetites. Picture it as an attitude in the physicality of a stage villain, a breathing pattern and a gestural sensibility for violence that is reactive but not driven from without, an unease with one’s environment that’s impassive but untenable, a disturbing force that is autonomous and mortal.

Physicality and critical thinking go hand in hand – to let your body speak to you in metaphor about things that would seem more intellectual and are normally encountered in abstraction is a rare skill. Excellent stage combat in actors conveys this connectivity, and has dramatic intelligence, not just as an expression of violence but also a display of subtlety and pause. Heath Ledger’s performances were deeply informed by his study of modern dance, and profoundly expressive in gesture and poise.

There is an animalistic simplicity to stage villains – they struggle against all odds to survive the fragile worlds that they disrupt.

Kipling wrote in The Bull That Thought, that in the bull-ring he “raged enormously; he feigned defeat; he despaired in statuesque abandon, and thence flashed into fresh paroxysms of wrath – but always with the detachment of the true artist who knows that he is but the vessel of an emotion whence others, not he, must drink.”

They are performative caricatures of evil, more afraid of inconsequence than death. Death as a backing for mirrors is a sterile aesthetic theory, the apocalypse genre and its “human shadows bright as glass” is too morbid. Shadow catching frightens us into awe. The embodied image of a victim, or a villain, stirs mimetic imaginative forces in the audience – identification, sublimation, catharsis. Resistance to the final act in which “everyone who is marked for death, dies.” The rich vibrations of denial in the heart.

Fear is an experience of particular interest to Christian Bale, multidimensional and subversive. One can crouch in fear the better to revel in an intertwined discovery of courage, or smile in fear over an intellectually overwhelming irony, step towards fear in defiance of intimidation, or stumble in abject fear of indifferent consequence.

The scene in Alexander at night when he genuflects in honor of Fear highlights the importance of accepting vulnerability, respecting its capacity to overwhelm other forces, and studying the means to exploit its effect on oneself and others. Respect for fear is where courage and self-knowledge knit together. A villain is practiced in deploying fear, and a villain’s imposture is a consequence of living submersed in it.

Nikki_WTF

My favorite fandom is one in which ideas like fear and compassion loom over the plot like engines of disaster and little truths about the human condition ambush the characters like carnival masks in a Boschian dream.

The emotional logic of magic in The Legend of the Seeker gives rise to archetypal battles rather than convincing illusions, in a world of relationships that don’t have a legitimating context in a world without magic, thrusting into relief deep schisms in the stilted psychology of symbolic expressionism, foregrounding characters whose attributes are larger than life and whose lived experience is epic in scale.

Character moments sometimes register like an idea fixé held in place, a subtle mask contoured by the multidimensional pressures of cognitive dissonance against character and plot, symbolic action and empirical ghost. The articulate tensing of intrinsic freedom against psychosocial constraint.

tiepolo_excerpt1

Quoting Susan Sontag on dissonance and ethical experience:

“The incomparable early 20th century Portuguese poet and prose writer, Fernando Pessoa, wrote in his prose summum, The Book of Disquiet:

“I’ve discovered that I’m always attentive to, and always thinking about two things at the same time. I suppose everyone is a bit like that…. In my case the two realities that hold my attention are equally vivid. This is what constitutes my originality. This, perhaps, is what constitutes my tragedy, and what makes it comic.”

Yes, everyone is a bit like that, but the awareness of the doubleness of thinking is an uncomfortable position, very uncomfortable if held for long. It seems normal for people to reduce the complexity of what they are feeling and thinking and to close down the awareness of what lies outside their immediate experience.

Is this refusal of an extended awareness, which takes in more than is happening right now, right here, not at the heart of our ever-confused awareness of human evil and of the immense capacity of human beings to commit evil? Because there are, incontestably, zones of experience that are not distressing, which give joy, it remains a puzzle that there is so much misery and wickedness.”

On the suffering of others, she gives the example of an earthquake: “Lisbon lies in ruins,” Voltaire wrote, “and here in Paris we dance.”

tiepolo_excerpt2

Just as I wondered why Eckhart Tolle is more interested in enjoying the “now” without noticing his perspective on it is limited by the “here” Sontag asks, “Is it not part of the fundamental structure of experience that “now” refers to both “here” and “there”? … Perhaps it is our perennial fate to be surprised by the simultaneity of events, by the sheer extension of the world in time and space. That we are here, prosperous, safe, unlikely to go to bed hungry or be blown to pieces this evening, while elsewhere in the world, right now in Grozny, in Najaf, in the Sudan, in the Congo, in Gaza, in the favelas of Rio….

“To be a traveler – and novelists are often travelers – is to be constantly reminded of the simultaneity of what is going on in the world, your world and the very different world you have visited and from which you have returned home.”

Somewhere in the world, someone is warming to battle, saying, like Shakespeare in Coriolanus:

“Let me have a war, say I: It exceeds peace as far as day
Does night; it’s spritely, waking, audible, full of vent.
Peace is a very apoplexy, lethargy, mull’d, deaf, sleepy,
Insensible; a getter of more bastard children than war is a
Destroyer of men.”

Someone is stoking the appetites for violence with the rhetoric of victim-blaming and its subliminal narrative’s naive expressions of imposture, invoking free rider social anxiety, estrangement, latent attitudes towards shirking, instinctive exclusionary threat displays and the language of non-exclusionary vulgarity in posturing. Someone is reframing the rictus of a fear grimace as a mask of rage, calling in debts, condemning a deferred presumption of decency, channeling actual bystander attitudes towards other bystanders and reciprocity, harnessing the nameless confusion of social animals into the traces of war.

black-face_for_carnival

Someone is unleashing and amplifying the cruelty of micro-aggressions practiced in the informal policing of the frontiers of justice, tacit reminders of inequality given not without satisfaction, even if the aggressive nature of the behavior is unacknowledged out of social pressure to keep the peace.

Cruelty is easy to disown. At the frontiers of justice, passive gatekeepers without keys appear to be toying with the alternatives (assist or obstruct passage) every time they acknowledge someone on the other side. They are merely posturing to maintain position on the better end of the social contract’s Pareto optimal sum of political fair-mindedness.

Gloating, posturing, fear, uncertainty, depravity and imposture are a potential blemish on stardom, and the grimace is underrepresented in film apart from the stock villain. Such a villain is a favorite in contemporary criticism of the Iliad, in the very modern Thersites, tragically out of step with the epic love fantasies and military ethics of his time.

A holistic concept map of his foibles would link ugliness and thwarted aggression, soothing and patronizing gestures, imposture and irony, disgust and desire, initiating violence and defending self-efficacy, miscommunication and indifference to strangers, the attention economy and stop-go posturing, phrasebook conversation as the formulaic bent of high diction and indirection as an ambivalent or inattentive vagueness.

I would use the concepts of cognitive bias, working memory, compartmentalizing and strain on the attention economy to develop an abstract theory of ugliness fit to explain the antithesis of a charismatic hero. Errata, grudges, divided loyalties and excessive interests belie a villain’s imperfectible nature, making his virtues forgettable and his failures decisive. He will come to want revenge for being born.

Hooded_Mord_sith

The foibles of the villains in The Legend of the Seeker have overtones of BDSM sexual fantasy, ritualized and sardonic. Porn is a garish metaphor for the strained idea of inter-subjectivity in contemporary identity politics. The boundaries issues, the mutuality deficits, the resentment masking (forced irony as sublimated hatred), all devolve into rote penetrative violence governed by reactive interpersonal dynamics (push and push back w/o pull, ‘telling’ instead of using ‘indirection’, rape scripts instead of seduction). BDSM porn may be richer in symbolic language and relational innuendo, but is still preoccupied with power and its confrontation.

If mainstream film is governed by a market that parallels that for porn, the horror genre is the most emblematic of vulgarity. The banalization of violent pornography in horror films humanizes female protagonists with contemporary plots that take the objectified heroine off her pedestal and establish “she’s no victim, but that is distress.” The distress is guaranteed, exaggerated, inane. Horror films elicit, by repetition and predictability, a matter-of-fact sort of stage feeling about the universal experience of unrelenting vulnerability to interpersonal violence.

In 1944, Orwell wrote a column about what he called “a very dangerous fallacy, now very widespread in the countries where totalitarianism has not established itself. … The fallacy is to believe that under a dictatorial government you can be free inside …. The greatest mistake is to imagine that the human being is an autonomous individual. The secret freedom which you can supposedly enjoy under a despotic government is nonsense, because your thoughts are never entirely your own. Philosophers, writers, artists, even scientists, not only need encouragement and an audience, they need constant stimulation from other people .. Take away freedom of speech, and the creative faculties dry up.”

The subversive energies of violent pornography transgress the vulgar politics of Pareto stability and the impassive obscure with splashy narratives of overpowering force and indiscriminate disruption.

rebreaking_cara

Bertrand Russell speculated that there might be innocent pastimes that could restore the “zest” to indolent headhunters in conquered corners of the Amazon who had been forbidden their favorite sport and grown degenerate in the lassitude of postcolonial angst. Maybe not; the glory they missed had not been and could never be apolitical, without being trivialized.

Pornographic and Hollywood villainy is neither apolitical nor uncensored, a sphere for indulging the senses that embodies the political and dramatizes the radical within the permissive bounds of the trivial, a call of the wild “for entertainment only.” Rousing, provocative, peculiar, destructive, the rise of a villain worth contending with is a spectacle that evinces appetites outstripping the world’s patience in all of us. For the stage villain is the evil genius we choose to identify with, the one who can only be outdone in our estimation by a hero of unusual charisma and supernatural prowess.

“The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,”

– Yeats, The Hosting of the Sidhe

Such a villain is not defeated – he is undone. He must hide in his strengths the seed of their own destruction, overreach in the fatal direction, foresee his own doom and collapse into nihilism, succumb to a performative defiance of what the world holds possible.

“The trouble with reality is that it anticipates the hypotheses that deny it.” These are the same expectations that explain why “not only does reality offer no resistance to those who denounce it, but it escapes those who take its side. It may be a way to take revenge on those who claim to believe in it in order to transform it: sending the zealots back to their own desire. In the end, it might be more of a sphinx than a dog.” Baudrillard again.

Captain Smith’s coat of arms

February 23, 2013

Like the original Irish Don Juan, Colin Farrell has a reputation for knowing where the exits are when surrounded by strange women. So did the famous Captain Smith he played in The New World. As a travel writer, he kept his European contemporaries entertained with his strained insistence on having kept his innocence abroad.

The love affair with the colonized is a perennial theme in historical romance, grown stale enough for journalism since the “end of history” in globalization. Maybe this is how the intellectual who can get lost in his own library cuts what Richard Rorty describes as an “Alexandrian figure” – he’s “still trying to be a liberal” and a skeptic, “but unable to repress his excitement over the rumors about the barbarians.”

the_mummy

Rachel Weisz in The Mummy

His autobiography was part of a genre of travel writing: colonial lifestyle promotions. And Smith understood quite well that the secret to buzzworthy identity politics is innuendo.

One can see in Smith’s reputation among nay-sayers the flustered attitude of “Angel Preening,” a Sheila O’Hagan poem making comedy out of fastidiousness, when a bright little avenger of god’s settles on high to groom for a while in “that Delphinian blaze” above the bloody fray.

“Back from Earth, still thrusting itself
up to her in all its filth, she perches

On that cloud with a rosy tint
to the left, furiously preening,

One wing across a knee as she licks
the muck between her plumes, ..”

He was as defensive with his critics as an academic. Researchers, too, show a prurient artistic curiosity about cognitive dissonance and tricks to imposing poetic rhythms on the jargon of their trades. They have a knee jerk reflex for rejecting signs of domesticity as the universal experience, the mundane liking of things a certain way that is no superstition, warm and fussy privacy, vibrantly disagreeable in its willingness to be dull about anything it finds contentment in.

The stuffy anthropology that idolizes the most formal instances of ceremony (so amenable to description, photography, museum exhibits) and treats all conventional formalities as superstition sometimes makes qualitative analysis look like a way of reifying customary phrases for “subversive” preconceptions, as if all politic white lies and platitudes were magical archetypes corresponding to hidden meanings in Oedipus Rex.

flood_piles_of_bodies“Our life, Pythagoras used to say, is like the great and populous assembly at the Olympic games.” Again, Montaigne.

Never a one prefers practitioner use value to publication in the development of the data collection and analysis process – too many of them entering the academic life on the assumption that reforming contemporary practice is futile, that the Ivory Tower’s role is to object from above, and brighten the clouds with subtle dreams about a better world, conceivable in the subversive way that reason skips a step in the math to rush a sexual fantasy to its delightful conclusion.

His carrack taken in piracy, he was sheltered by a French chatelaine. His cuirass whispered in the marsh like a fingered bell. A federalist camarilla drafted the reform constitution. The measures were passed effectively in celation, unread.

Take it to the Peace Corps, and when the mendacity of cannibals rankles on a level you haven’t the wherewithal to find words for, take it to the overseas trade subsidies Beltway consultancy rackets and drown them with reservoirs absolved by scantily posted notices on trees if they live in trees to this miserable day. Or set the water at Port Harcourt on fire, it’s infested with 21st century gas pirates.

What we call “holy” is what consciousness cannot separate out of the continuity of experience yet cannot locate within solipsistic time either, the numinous image of what “transcends or eludes comprehension in rational or ethical terms,” an intractable excess of mystery, unlike all other materiality in “surpassing all that can be clearly understood and appraised,” that draws us forward to linger and wonder from a positive qualitative sense of what waits impassively beyond our ken, unlike that overpowering awe induced by fear of the demonic.

Kenneth Burke explains the purposed similarity in style and logic between Ovid and Machiavelli, with a brevity that seems impatient:

“It is neither ‘magical’ nor ‘scientific’ (neither ritualistic nor informational) for one person to ask help of another.”

The Prince is both Machiavelli’s most famous and most accessible book, but not a “systematic” picture of political affairs in the way contemporary scholars look for systematic properties in a theory at all. The little mercenary consulting professional who was better appreciated for his comedies than for his contributions to the security of Florence from the city’s political enemies was refused a commission for presenting The Prince as an unsolicited side dish to his resume, by statesmen who could tell it was just a book of aphorisms in the style of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, making much of the obvious. Burke puts the unifying principle this way:

“By the ‘principle of courtship’ in rhetoric we mean the use of the suasive devices for the transcending of social estrangement.”

One uses more than words to “make an impression” on an audience’s imagination, and the soldering of interests under threat of war is as intuitive a gesture as the place of touch in the principles of courtship, to have the difference between love-making and love poetry. For those of us picking up The Prince today, what was once obvious seems worth stating in enough iterative aphorisms to ensure it sinks in – against the full weight of compunction as it stands on verbal appearances when arguments come before the law.

Little fool, a sheep in fox colors, more destructively stupid than a cub is carnivorous. Bankers, like used car salesmen, rely very much on ultimatum games with tacit threats of imposed penury should their terms be refused, and penury in one’s hour of financial need when inquiries are first made is not a prospect without materially threatening dimensions, ready cold wind on a stormy night.

The muscular temerity and briskness of this essential thesis is easily lost in the contrary amusements Machiavelli favored in word play, mocked up as a reductionist manual in game theory with a pseudo-syllogistic structure.

Look at the similarity between combatant and civilian within a war zone. At most they can be distinguished by which are wearing cumbersome skirts and chasing chickens across the road during invasion maneuvers. Ignorance of the stalwart indifference civilians uphold against the internal traditions of military compunction is enough to make some foreigners arrived to overthrow one’s country look inanely innocent, to a female not normally much employed with her willingness to be a criminal.

The slow starving that scythed through survivors of the roll calls for shower gassing while the Nazi army was in retreat but the gates were kept padlocked on civilian death camps is a grim case study in what questions don’t come to mind “hypothetically speaking” in a services evaluations root cause analysis related to the all so conventional, instinctive boundaries of generosity and social consideration, “the frontiers of justice.”

paris

Hesitation is so natural and to see it on all sides at once is so surprising, it is a human element to withdraw support, out of precaution-laden intimate concern for a somewhat smaller circle of loved ones, one that excludes more than mere strangers. Little lockets you merely stopped short of regifting, diary lists of whose are the lives you would take risks for, when risks of the littlest kind prove to still count for something in the way of giving pause.

No objectivity or indifference is plausible in love or war. We ask help of magic and science regardless, but we are more likely to promptly cross over the magical intervals than dwell in the spaces for transcendence that hold off interpretation, like “a threshold into another way of being and seeing” that never gives way.

We are in denial about the mundane face of conflict, it lurks too close to home.

True, you entered Babylon
perfect and loved by all, crowned
king of the known world, roses
spread under your magnificent march
through the blue gates, Bucephalus
solemn, crowds in awe, cheering.

Inside, you accepted this, its cost,
chose not to shirk success.
You could want everything
and give away the great wealth
achieved, even to Persians

whose beauty in perfect
strangeness you knew could
reconcile Greek and Eastern ways,
not penance but duty, toward
mankind and accounting science.

This at all costs. You made yourself more
completely alone than a king dare be,
Hephaistion the only one,
could never survive without him.

I do not know how your dream
of him ended, but you reached
for death with a gift in hand:
the great ring, love the last thought.

The warm brick on the front of every happy home is as stark a statement about one’s willingness to stand up for the neighbors as barbed wire, in practice, and when push comes to shove, calling objectivity about the way things are “helpful” is expressed, matter of fact indifference.

It doesn’t always come forward more formally than a piece of deference, “you for me, right?”

We default into labeling the injuries done to us as “passive aggressive” so often for this reason. That’s how the civilian in skirts who can now vote somehow fails to come across as a citizen of the traditional sort, and when she also wants access to military careers with full promotions at whatever the ordinary procedural risks to self and others are, her loyalties are noncommittally mimetic in a world that has not persuaded her it’s a good idea to choose sides. Is it not important to party?

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Because the tacit parts of our conversations don’t seem binding, they seem harmless compared to signed contracts with Mephistopheles for wealth or education. There is pattern to the violence of indifference, there is a fearful symmetry to the fractal default path into a vanishing point of circularities that are arbitrary because one’s willingness to do harm to others for self-advantage isn’t that directional.

“Here we are, picking the first fern-shoot
And saying: When shall we get back to our country?
.. no one can let his friend return.
We grub the old fern-stalks.
We say: Will be let to go back in October?
There is no ease in royal affairs, we have no comfort.
..
Whose chariot? The General’s.
Horses, his horses even, are tired. They were strong.
We have no rest, three battles a month.
By heaven, his horses are tired.
The generals are on them, the soldiers are by them.
..
We come back in the snow,
We go slowly, we are hungry and thirsty,
Our mind is full of sorrow, who will know of our grief?”

– Shih-ching, trans. Ezra Pound

One’s notion of a just cause involves turning on the radio to find out what’s been decided for an official line. The physical features of habit “concerning the pervasive inadequate” drag every statement’s afterimage towards tells surrounding what you most urgently need to say, seeming to make it out a lie.

That is the fatal relaxation into vulnerability out of flared-out exhaustion after a rash passionate advancement of your own cause, leaving you exposed to snide “reading between the lines” that is only ostensibly subjective, that is outright lie, about “once compromised, twice a fool” for your having ever “found it necessary” to speak out, for having broken ranks by breaking silence as if silence were a sort of bread that nourished unbroken.

Next to the magic of the unstated, Machiavelli merely opens the book on sophistry in ethics before the law. These are the ugly bones of every expansion of legal detail revealed as additional minutiae, every nibble another caveat against the enforceability of simple assault law. The bland, final answer to the question “why am I a rebel without a cause? It’s not a question of refusing to settle for, they’re not trying to settle!”

Other humans make it look dangerous to lie down, yet your mind is made up of the experiences of a social animal and you don’t know how to extricate your presence as a knower in the world from the mistakes in which social life makes itself palpable: contact stunt emotional relatedness. What else would provoke you to learn, put opinions of how to live in your head?

All the while looking at your own choices and the way they impinge on the freedom and contentment of others and realizing when the fear is yours to bear but you can’t imagine where to turn for help, even when you look inward for an example,

“I can’t tell. I can’t tell.”

Poor friend of a scamp whose favorite jokes are in public diplomacy. As a war criminal she’s Imogen trying a pout on because Smith showed her a copy of King Lear and she has a sense of humor about Cordelia.

“After treating their prisoners well for a long time with all the hospitality they can think of, the captor of each one calls a great assembly of his acquaintances. He ties a rope to one of the prisoner’s arms, by the end of which he holds him, a few steps away, for fear of being hurt, and gives his dearest friend the other arm to hold in the same way; and these two, in the presence of the whole assembly, dispatch him with their swords.”

They eat him merely for revenge, Montaigne reports of the parrot hunting Americans (from Europe); “the proof of this is that having perceived that the Portuguese, who had joined forces with their adversaries, inflicted a different kind of death on them when they took them prisoner, which was to bury them up to the waist, shoot the rest of their bodies full of arrows, and afterwards hang them; .. they began to give up their old method and follow this one.”

vandelism_peru_oil_spill

Vandelism and larceny, flammable local refuse, here Peru.

Of course it’s quite believable that cannibals have been overestimated in every quality associated with stature by every contemporary of a traditional who hasn’t personally overthrown an entire tribe of them with a bad startle mistaken for bluster and a dour remark that incidentally put a trivial logic trap to work, one that somehow proved devastating against every witticism known to pidgin all at once – being repeated incredulously among the natives until its powers of surprise had been exhausted, so that the only survivors of the identity group were those that pointedly foreswore that tradition.

You need not actually know even one other person who looks like you, if your looks conform to an encyclopedia of ethnicities to which your actual peers have access and about which they do not know better, you must study that book to find the outward view from the circle that remains unbroken regardless of your will. 

Montaigne can explain why we use building cannibals and similar categories up to give anthropology employment: “We are nothing but ceremony; ceremony carries us away, and we leave the substance of things; we hang on to the branches and abandon the trunk and body.

“.. Ceremony forbids our expressing in words things that are permissible and natural, and we obey it; reason forbids our doing things that are illicit and wicked, and no one obeys it. I find myself here entangled in the laws of ceremony, for she does not allow a man either to speak well of himself, or to speak ill.

“.. it is not unbecoming to have characteristics and propensities so much our own and so incorporated into us that we have no way of sensing and recognizing them. And of such natural inclinations the body is likely to retain a certain bent, without our knowledge or consent. It was a certain affectation harmonious with his beauty that made Alexander lean his head a little to one side, and Alicibiades speak softly and with a lisp.”

To put it differently, in “real life” Americans who only speak English only use about as much phrasebook English as you find in a tourists’ primer on Swahili words and phrases. The rest is just brandishing whichever set of larger words came with your credentials in college, for show and tell.

gregarious_locusts

Talk is full of shortcuts and fumbles for words shaped by such habits, not just efforts to be courteous, just a vocabulary with an idiomatic imprint.

What the anthropologist’s voice can lay bare about the staged political catharsis chronicled in Smith’s account of how Pocahontas formally, vividly, theatrically, with her own body spared his life, except in delicate and popular revisions of his autobiography that retract the details about his captivity that reveal her gesture was in the script and so restore the full emotional force of political commitment to the ritual and valorize Powhatan’s use of perception war through his youngest daughter’s life, is the secular social psychology of religiosity about violence, its unimpeachable anchor against the tepid winds of frontier morality in a nascent, but looking likely to be prolonged, territorial war of phenomenal proportions.

Genocide is too pat a word for the outright clearing of a continent, for distinctions among natives appealed to their relentless enemies from the Old World, there was instant nostalgia about what variety of flowers of the human spirit stood to be cut down so efficiently.

Language after language extinguished like a pencil flame, purposely but without animosity towards rare idioms or varicolor dress codes specifically, rather with a tasting attitude – towards apprehending which was what while sighting for a kill. Circumstance so predictable on arrival that the military advantage was unarranged, a default position, a scattering of better-armed vagabonds across the wasteland of diminishing cultures until some order had to be called upon in the Territories because white women had taken to settling there, and absent government that proved intolerably embarrassing.

Now Smith was trusted as a captain by civilians abroad for his unmistakable fear of strange women dancing naked around fires. To be fair, among the Turks our Captain Smith was assaulted and tortured by the brother of the princess who fancied him.

An alleged hazing tradition for initiation into the Turkish nobility. He killed the brother, escaped, and added the severed heads of three Turkish bashirs to his coat of arms. It already sported an ostrich. The heads of the three slain bashirs are shown twice.

It seems possible the affair with that French princess who saved him from shipwreck or pirates (or was it a shipwrecked career in piracy?) was something like the romantic interlude between D’Artagnan and the Countess D’Winter in The Three Musketeers.

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Travel as slave to Constantinople

Of course with Pocahontas we tend to feel differently. She’s the real hero of the story of Jamestown. The Terrence Malick version of how their lives intersected hints that in her country, Smith was unreliable even as soldiers of fortune go.

He had, in fact, attempted mutiny before they reached Virginia, out of a personal preference for staying in the Bahamas. Was he also an unreliable narrator? In a manner of speaking, there were inconsistencies, but they look deliberate.

He put to page her last words to him that were politic, and very pointed, and that makes his narrative a charismatic one for First Encounters fairytales, her so pugnacious with charm and him fair in hindsight concerning what was done.

“The image as shock and the image as cliché are two aspects of the same presence. .. Photographs that everyone recognizes are now a constituent part of what a society chooses to think about, or declare that it has chosen to think about. It calls these ideas ‘memories,’ and that is, over the long run, a fiction. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as collective memory – part of the same family of spurious notions as collective guilt. But there is collective instruction. .. What is called collective memory is not a remembering but a stipulating: that this is important, and this is the story about how it happened”

 – Susan Sontag

As a diplomatic act of aggression using ritual violence, his famous anecdote is propaganda any way you slice it, so naturally the timely way to spin it was as inconstant as the status of the war between the Jamestown colony and the Powhatans.

But his are the authoritative, or at least most influential accounts about her life today. Was he true to her as a writer of her love stories? 

Painstaking elision was made in the different editions printed while she was a sort of guest dignitary, too much exiled to count as hostage any more and respectably married, versions of how they knew each other depending on how old she was and how married, not every version going to print while she was yet living – and he already published.

To which witness will the beautiful man be true?
The world must be at odds and he must choose.
How can love of beauty be wrong? It brings peace
to the soul like a reconciliation with the world.
Beauty in a man is unlike beauty in another,
men are strangers to the looks
of sudden apprehension beauty brings.

Who is this man among his peers,
handsome even in extremity?
In a strange land he is accepted as they are not,
but they find him impenetrable.
But if he is a leader of men in his heart,
his dreams must be more beautiful,
universal, an ideal form.
He could belong to them, and who could keep him?
Dreams change, but not for anyone.
They have their own reasons.
Though they answer to the world they do
not answer the dreamer.

A dream may take a man from what he loves.
And of those who love him, dreams will speak to him
as though they are still near no matter what has occurred.
The truth of beauty is an act of repetition.
Again and again and from every quarter it is acknowledged.

Does it matter? The story’s the thing – the journey that brings to life an image of each turning point in a person’s life.

Song is “Same Ground” by Kitchie Nadal

Christa Wolf has a clever way of exposing the political significance of little things – banal decisions you don’t think through that feel more private than their implications are – the interpretive attitudes you like to insist to yourself are private enough.

The ones you refuse to talk about in an accountable way. Talking about thinking for yourself would feel like an attempt to share one’s tastes in morality. Like the painterly modesty around rainbows that drives the narrator of The Horse’s Mouth to shamelessness, having failed and failed immodestly.

What looms near at home is not what you are quick to notice looms large. The local extravagances are ignored, the illusions of a built environment that casually monopolizes your perceptions exert a sort of violence on your understanding are only violently attacked from within the arts. Speaking to such choices with one’s private social circle would sound facetious, that’s why we are so content with pat remarks that are said to sound venal and conventional instead.

What is abundant too often feels like the floor of a barren environment, and looks obscene in darkness or bright light. It has robbed you of competing stimuli in your own imagination. Hence resort to the ingénue at hand, aurochs and angels each and every brat that the chaperone thinks good riddance of when the child’s temporarily mislaid. It has cute berets but I discovered its prurient interest in espionage, its precocious unimpressed face for imported taboo.

purple_wall_map

The everyday is the child picking wings of the flies found in the windowsills of waking life, playing up restricted movements to shame the makers of school room desks, exploiting his own wounds for shock, threatening to never return if he suddenly leaves, denying you privacy without taking an interest in your use of it, enforcing trivial demands with the most cruel timing possible to deny the sleepless rest in waking hours.

No tidy dressing room is immune from the tantrums of real boredom, the cunning refusal to act, the self-aggrandizing wish that is true cruelty, a willingness to kill anyone by denying everyone.

This is what makes one afraid to look on happiness in children, having some memory of those pretenses that would turn upon the everyday full of hot air and creative denial, and exhort against the ordinary with nothing but disdain. No! You don’t understand, you have too many alibis for me. Eventually I’ll confess and you’ll concede it’s all true, yet hold my confession undefiled evidence of not-knowing-betterness.

Mockery even for the artist’s instructions on depicting battles: “see that you make no level spot of ground that is not trampled over with blood.”

antonello_silveriniThen she put out her hand and began to feel gropingly
about; then said, “I cannot find it; blow ‘taps.’” It
was the end.
– Mark Twain, A Horse’s Tale

In Juvenal’s words, “Just one world is not enough for the Pellan youth, miserable, he rages against the narrow limits of the world as though confined on Gyara’s rocks or tiny Seriphos.” But the invader wants a prize for his treasure trove, as when Alexander raided the grave of Achilles to carry his legendary shield to war.

Deep in confidence, lowered voices ringing
with certainty we would eclipse the myths the next day,
we exchanged our promises like two lions,
rich in our sworn fates.

Here, when we remember all, crowns are pointless.
I am here for you in the quiet before
night dims and dawn softly collects your cities
under her long skirts.

Use my strength today, my one friend. Tomorrow
I may be beyond the cosmos, gone to you.
You can remind me now of childhood games, dreams,
future conquests, myths

We will be a part of, the captive distance
worked out reliably inside your mind – speak,
I am fading fast but can hear your voice rise
and fall, advancing

Quickly, knowing time draws down with a vengeance.
I would stand beside your unequalled brightness
for all time if I could live long enough – keep
me close when night falls.

Please, let me stand forever by your side where
you can hear my voice as well – don’t let my death
be a parting. We can complete the story,
history, myth, fate.

Achilles and Patroclus – transcendent friends,
tender, and true. Forgotten glory, lost where
Elysian asphodel shines too yellow
and poplar forests

Keep the eyes moving up, consumed in fierce light.
I will keep your counsel in darkness, before
dawn gives you your storied entrance, a lightning
bolt on a black horse –

I will see you raise a son. I will keep you
bright as pale September comes, burnished
like a helmet wrought in red gold, your youth with
you in your wild heart.

I alone can tease out your embarrassment,
tickle pride in you, set out to torment you
until you smile. We have a private life, two
made as one, perfect.

With a passion equaled by no one, peerless,
feared – but I would keep the men fearful, standing
firm, protecting their unloved king from their blows.
I, too, am fearless.

Worlds have remade their images for you, crowns
and gods greet you with solemn omens, oceans
bind your kingdom and the stars keep a place where
you will give no ground.

You alone know me in the East. Love knows no
stranger story. We are apart too, others
stand so near to you, in a circle, watching.
You can still find me.

We were right – we conquered the Persian Empire.
Achilles and Patroclus, or perhaps their
ghosts come back to feel the sun and the wind once
more, to exhale, free.

Most of what can be brought home is already broken, “a breastplate fixed as a trophy to a bare trunk, a cheek piece hanging from smashed helmet, a yoke broken off from a chariot’s shaft, a pennanted prow of a conquered trireme, a dispirited prisoner atop an arch – these are believed to be the greatest assets for mankind.”

tiepoloNo more wooden than Tiepolo’s hound

Colin talks up and visits Las Vegas often, a city advertising “lust, caution” from nearly any angle. When an actor who comes to Vegas and has experience ordering hookers “out of the phonebook like pizza” goes around saying he can’t remember most of his adult life, it implies he should’ve been punked by every hooker from here to L.A. by now.

But what do you do when on arrival the news is that you ate Hollywood? In adventure, taking for granted that you have a sense of direction (which way trouble) to work with is key, damsel or no damsel. Anyone who has gotten separated from their party on an adventure can relate to Young Indiana in The Last Crusade exclaiming, “Everybody’s lost but me!”

A few years before his breakout performance in Phonebooth, Richard Sennett had this to say about the “slick uptown kids” in New York: their success is hard to measure, but has little to do with performance. It goes to those “adept at walking away from disaster, leaving others to hold the bag,” with employers indifferent to a “past record of failures” as long as you have “contacts and networking skills.”

A bar could find its niche in Sennett’s New York “either by becoming hot or remaining lukewarm; the first means snagging the floating population of models, bored rich, and media honchos who pass for ‘style’ in our city, the second requires drawing in a sedentary local clientele,” the latter prepared to put up with greasy peanuts, Sennett says, to be left alone where they drink.

lucy_westerman

The kite’s s-shaped dash across the flag blue field an aliform, brings dragonettes to mind, salamander red and slight but this is a common brown kite in the city, it turns out early before the sky is fully blue.

Then a darker little series: annuent, apologue, arbor vitae, bagasse, atrabilius, appulse, armiger, arbalest.

A woman could serve for a map.

Concubines and Amazons

February 14, 2013

At one time, “when there was little contact with the outside world or with China, the Japanese people thought a leopard was a female tiger…”

breakfast_at_tiffanys

Is it the shape of the torso, the way hair is worn, voice timbre, muscular apportionment?

If you can’t have a concubine without hinting that an amazon is coiling to spring, that is an active metaphor, an engine of incomplete desires that practically writes its own poetry. Femininity is an impersonal juggernaut in that respect, one that can exploit the language of gender conventions to dance around the concept of masculinity.

The feminine seems radical in its relationship with the transformative, embodying inversions and attempting appropriations of the masculine as a way of recognizing, or stress testing, what is unique about men among women.

A Greek in Alexandria admired
this in a dervish, his sensuality.
More illicit than yours, nightly tired
in the arms of strangers,
“Pleasure itself enjoys his blood,” he wrote.

The green sea in our bay is a moral element.
Sailors know her dice are always loaded;
quick to judge and clear in ascertainment,
even handed and respectful of talent.
You headed into her paladin intrigues

among sleeping sharks and nesting eels, every
ordeal complete in turn. She did not blind you, fatigue
couldn’t catch you, trailing you by a league.
The workshop of the sea furnishes love
every breath, communion with the heady sky

above, busy with intentions toward the water,
fluency in the shapes of fish, their
movements and resting places, an
urge to sail over unmeasured
mysteries, touching just their surfaces.

Putting either gender on a pedestal at the expense of the other means asking for trouble. If system as defined by dualism were an organic mutation it would spit bile at birth until dead. But there is a sinusoidal boundary snaking between them in symbol and myth.

Philosophy’s childish little charmer Montaigne claims that stature is the only kind of beauty at hazard in the lottery of birthrights among men. Set a woman on high and she won’t be bothered to jeopardize her ankles, even if it was the heels that got your attention.

Virginia Woolf pegged the pessimistic critic of all domestic affairs “the angel in the house,” arguing the voice of negativity chooses a feminine persona. The angel looks to have fat miniature wings because schoolteachers and housekeeepers only flatter each other’s tacky jokes in subversive little forays of spite. But what can you do when your job is to dust the “negative space” of the built environment, the quiet parts kept cozy for rest and relaxation?

“When you love you have an indefinite lease of it. When you approve you only approve single acts,” warns Silvia Plath about mothering. Today’s mother has an unfunded mandate to talk about, for fulfilling her personal ambitions and desires, yet she is less often hysterically frustrated for all this self-absorption. She is not limited to being “unrelated instead of independent; compulsive instead of energetic .. hostile but not legitimately angry” any more.

black_marble_city_lights

Not by natural force, just by the ample embrace of a convenience lifestyle announced to her at an impressionable age by her built environment, and the complacency it inspires. Yet it is well put how Jane Wheelwright warns that a woman seems “objectionable instead of objecting” if she feels put up against a wall on every side for having an ego of her own, left no stamina for finishing a single thought.

No wonder the inherited (albeit invented) tradition of attributing to one’s gendered identity-group no apparent capability for cogency, a convincing “less than” among men familiar with the means of public discourse and curt about its innate limitations, rather than fascinated by the traction they give to a rhetorical skateboarding act. A know-nothing card for every occasion.

In literary adaptation, women who flee the domesticity-mongering of marriageable men for the company of wolves can hardly be distinguished from the furies in the poetry of sublimated jealousy – as if they cared when war would seek out havoc over rhetoric.

“O Earth, unhappy planet born to die,
What wonders must you not relate to me
.. you have not learned in all these years
To tell the leopard and the newt apart;”

“let him twist, and ape
.. – his adroit designs
Will strain to nothing ..
where, in pious rape
I hold his essence and amorphous shape,
.. I shall not even force him to confess;
..”

– Both Edna St. Vincent Millay

A very constant alibi, worn under the bra but not invisible exactly, the shirt is a bit displaced.

Her unmarried protégés “investigated; they disarranged” and called it breaking gendered glass ceilings and breaking taboos at the same time. Child, don’t. Advocating experimenting with the forbidden because it’s forbidden, violating contracts and secretly reneging on requests out of prurient interest in the pea, information hoarding is asymmetry and the social transition sits its little fence, catty and snide.

Sphinx, what are you hiding where? Blood is for writing in, as far as love poets are concerned with the spilling of it. Getting a scribble in while the blood was wet must have been enough for them.

One imagines the writers in social science somehow lost traction with the lived experience around their gendered assumptions. Their job in thinking through the group dynamics of everyday life was robbed of much gendered significance, working with a diminishing pool of rude metaphors in currency or palpable innuendo in contemporary expressions.

The gears let all slip through their teeth when it was down to “kind and very clean without ostentation .. has no imagination” as opposed to “feathers and torn taffeta .. but she is not kind.” Duller than a great thaw. Don’t play dumb, there’s a hidden meaning in that, be belligerently obtuse and try to get diagnosed on your day in court.

There would be an origin story about how “traditional” gender roles came to be entrenched. People peddling these stories as theory need to be reminded that taste applies in science as well as art. The art of governing unfolds in public in the good old-fashioned blur of theatricality without genre that lives among us.

Just So stories are either morality tales or comedies, and anything short of a dirty joke is likely to render the topic painfully political and irreverent. Politics, after all, is just the anecdotal style of tragedy and comedy.

natalie_dormer

A poet with a love of concretisms would warn against letting “love’s spaciousness” invade the nature of all manner of things, even petty garden pots.

There “love’s gibberelllic wish” would add monstrously ambitious means to the pitiful ends of “the great world’s flowering.” It is a trite comedy if potting soil marketing has come to this, eminently plausible, politic, very possible to read the nicest thing between the lines:

“.. if love goes leaking
outward, ..
Deliver us from its giant gardening, from walking
all over the earth with no rest from its disproportion.”

– Elizabeth Bishop

Some theorists speculate that in primitive human social groups, hierarchical culture defined men’s values, and a more egalitarian culture applied to women’s, that the first prizes egoistic achievements like military valor, the other trying to minimize pain while relying on agreements (such as trading) for comfort and convenience.

As if it were up to women to tempt men into noticing sensation, seeking out luxury, or liking pleasure.

If a mast could be a tree and
flower, if its boughs could bend with the wind
and sing a little with the birds, your hand
would be pursed leaves twinned
on either side of the fruit’s stem, bright skinned
and long limbed, perfectly symmetrical.
You were meant to shadow purple finned
porpoise and roseate pandora and pull
the secrets from the sea and its jewel caves.

Your body is not so many parts to me.
Biceps femoris, sternum, radius,
every outline in your flesh seems to be
drawn without lifting the pencil,
anxious to say something,
precious in the immediacy
of feeling and the completeness
of every conscious movement. Your smile
is felt in your curving shoulder’s cusp,
trapezius, tender, knowing.

Fear of pleasure, skepticism of beauty, and the conviction that work by definition entails steeling oneself to sacrificial pain are built into the Stoic tradition, into law and citizenship in ways that show to this day. There’s a reason.

For those who have no gentler sense of humor than to address cruelty to all the things that bore them or make them feel ignored, pleasure and affection aren’t that hard to weaponize themselves.

You can impose an artificial scarcity, manipulate someone’s locus of control by making them experience contrived futility from striving, tantalize them even as a punishment, trade on their trust to make them internalize negative self-evaluations and deepen their sense of exclusive dependency on you for emotional support, or use a non-reactive demeanor to make them feel ignored while you study them for other vulnerabilities to exploit.

There are alternatives, and if your fear of pleasure runs deep enough, you may be more conscientious about pursuing some of its more convincing substitutes. In this paper on the neuroscience of pleasure, Siri Leknes and Irene Tracey argue that because the pleasure and pain-relief circuitry in the brain runs roughly in parallel, the conceptual referents those neurochemicals address with enthusiasm are easily confused, enmeshed and contested at the same time.

One can become accustomed to substituting pleasure for the satisfactions of achievement, or vice versa, while calling them by one another’s names from not having noticed which is which, or in what ways they already mingle in ordinary experiences that don’t feel like premeditated indulgences (to gratify the ego, or the senses). 

If someone were socialized to pursue one and not the other, they might not really guess what they were missing. Even if they were habitually on the look out for newfangled pastimes out of “fear of missing out.”

Maybe repression only succeeds in sharpening the knife, and it becomes stupid not to try and beat cupid at sport. You liberate a woman and, suddenly free to take the use of soft power for granted, magic explodes with uncharacteristic disorder that makes little of its scope for enlightening fantasy. Maybe mustached hypnotists and sorcerers are an at large Greek chorus resorting to extreme measures, trying to fend off the neighbors with thinly veiled satire.

And all writers just like a turn of phrase, whichever way it take the sentiment to better strike a note. If Shakespeare’s lovers frighten the word out of its right sense, the poets of Sapphic tradition frighten Aphrodite, she gives pause in the bedroom:

“All the night sleep came not upon my eyelids,
Shed not dew, nor shook nor unclosed a feather,
Yet with lips shut close and with eyes of iron
Stood and beheld me” (Swinburne 1925).

Maybe it’s not all that strange for whole periods of the history of civilization to have tried anyone suspected of involvement, seduction. Go out the front door, see what happens, die in public, on the curb just there. Enough, that’s an easy one, you bluster now and with such little words, “I can imagine” that, too obvious.

(Inside you tremble to have homey, private denial interrupted, fact huddled upon fact.) So. Hello to madness, nevermind despair. There are no bystanders, my mind does not exist to those who supposedly “stand by” for they stand incuriously, this is make-believe. The ideal kept alive in rumor is preserved as one considered high and formidable.

whistlerAnd the Symphony in F? “F, F, F … Fool.” – Whistler

No sense of proportion, no respect for their own right to want to live, to enjoy elbow room. Everything has to be more drastic than that to come close.

At least some fear of consequence must inhabit the person to be feared. They are so afraid, of being enslaved by any touch less cold than the seat of a toilet. Afraid enough to be badly forgetful.

Concretization can flummox an effort to describe what’s in front of your face without belying the continuity of fluid dynamics in a world that suffers solids only as optical illusions and lived experiences in mentionable collision, incident.

Adaptive depravity

January 20, 2013

“The force that kills is summary and crude,” Weil writes of the Iliad. “How much more varied in operation, how much more stunning in effect is that other sort of force, that which does not kill, or rather does not kill just yet.”

This is the dire threat said to keep the prisoners of war awake, waiting for an axe to fall – as if it will should they resist their lot in slavery. To drive home the world-shattering force of a standing threat, Simone Weil discusses a passage of the Iliad in which the lamentations of slaves are described:

When one of those suffers or dies who have made him lose everything, who have sacked his town, massacred his people before his eyes, only then does the slave weep. Naturally, for only then are tears permitted him, even required of him. But in slavery, are not tears ready to flow as soon as they may do so with impunity? – ‘She spoke weeping, and the women wailed, taking Patroclus as pretext each for her own anguish.’

This is how Weil means the statement, “No one can lose more than the slave loses; he loses his entire inner life.”

Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

In the hands of Euripides, like the revenge play in which Herakles turns away from the ruin of his home in the hand of a friend who exhorts him still not to weep, Hekabe is a darker revenge play than Hamlet. It is the unfolding of the aftermath of victory at Troy, a spectacle of hypocrisies in which the captive queen mother finds an opening to take vengeance on a family friend who betrayed the last of her sons.

Robbed of real justice, now a slave among those who chose her daughter for a funeral sacrifice, Hekabe falls on a permissible target instead, and wins this permission by flattering her fallen city’s enemy. Adaptive depravity defines the play, an ugliness born of rage that robs the pity she is offered of its warmth, and makes this king’s final concession to her appetite for vengeance a hollow, unredeeming dispensation.

In the end, for her excesses, the impenitent queen is not to be punished – through Agamemnon’s bewilderment that she refuses what is for slaves, she is left to her own devices and later flings herself into the waves “like a dog” from the mast. Is this too little or too much for her crimes?

Too many writers describe death as the only or ultimate source of significance in literature and philosophy of language. To refer to dying and all other parts of life as “an experience ending in death” assigns false significance, as if a death sentence taught the condemned something better understood by it (once dead) than otherwise, when nothing is understood by the dead. It is best to learn not to torture a criminal by stopping short of trying, but there was at least a time when to be sentenced to ascend a cross meant to be helped down later, unharmed except by exposure and never left to die there.

Why bring grief to the judge the same as to a murderer, for having failed the victim in respect of fellowship, having brought only harm and in the name of teaching not to do harm?

flat_brush_hint

A sumi-e diagram with suggestions about faking a bird’s death

When the Greek commander is first confronted by Hekabe in this play, her crimes are only ambitions, a vague and terrible secret obsession with vindicating her own impunity to do harm at any opportunity. Agamemnon is unimpressed that she forgets who is king while wailing, but noticing the facts realizes her grief is profound and the news of the last son’s death fresh, and listens. At length he permits an act of vengeance, without curiosity.

He is distracted. Translator Anne Carson argues it is probably the wind he means when he remarks, “Somehow, I hope, it will all turn out well in the end. This is common to men and cities – to hope that evil will falter and decency win.” Thus he hopes for safe passage home to a wife secretly waiting to avenge his sacrifice of their daughter, again for winds, when ten years earlier there had been no wind to carry him to Troy.

Disgusted, Hekabe rails when Agamemnon hesitates to permit her revenge, merely wondering aloud whether his army would give him any trouble over humoring the mother of his newly bedded slave Kassandra:

Shit. No mortal exists who is free. Slaves to money or fortune or the city mob or the written laws –

There was the mistake. She, of all people, a queen before a slave herself, said that in surprise.

Agamemnon’s distraction is typical. He is a warlord, just like Alexander, who made great chase to Darius as if in honor of the forcing of a cup, though it cost Greece generations of poverty to coin the gold his army had to mint after he died. Alexander joked much at the Spartan city he passed traveling east for not joining his expedition, for it was the Spartans he fought in Asia, the best of mercenaries who guarded the Empire’s cities and fought in the ranks of the great king.

Darius III had been the last heir in the Persian kingdom, and was only invited to court after the last women and children in line had been assassinated by a court eunuch named Bagoas, whom Darius killed when offered a poisoned cup, in ceremony as if to be crowned, by the same usurper who had been a castrated slave.

Pushing it back on the poisoner until confirmed, he became king. Alexander pursued the assassins who acted against the king in the end to their deaths before turning away to Babylon himself, where gold had been kept in and never coined before in Persia’s empire. That it be allowed into coinage, and Alexander’s court hunted down until his mother lost an elephant siege in Macedonia, was comedy and left nothing but a recently troubled road behind the army for trade to travel experimentally as the money made chaos everywhere.

Generations later, the most fabled library of any Alexandria burned down in Egypt, not in the sack of a city but in a revolt raised by restless confusion among vagrants, beggars and slaves in a time when education began to include their number, tentatively.

Agora_Hypatia_of_Alexandria

Hypatia of Alexandria

Theirs was a time in which astronomy was politics, and controversy over geometry was enough to undermine the legitimacy of a regime.

As a later poet of the same Alexandria named Cavafy wrote of the spirit of those times,

He who wishes to strengthen his spirit,
must abandon reverence and submission.
.. he will stray from the accepted, inadequate straight path.
He will be taught much by sensual pleasures.
He will not fear the destructive act;
half the house must be torn down.
This way he will grow virtuously toward knowledge.

In the world outside these all devouring dreams, grace is found in the unexpected, not the achievement of things you promise yourself to pursue at all costs. The trick to escaping them may not be awakening to wanting out of the terrible pressure to succeed, but rather, finding yourself forced into a reality that will tolerate no more self-importance, no more ambition to work the fabled Archimedean lever.

After all, some things seem hard to let go when the hand remains empty. Once you feel a price has been paid, you get impatient to redeem the ticket. This is not actually possible, but it is how we try to interpret the nature of our access to hope.

Hobbes wrote that the understanding is “never enlightened, but dazzled” by the passions that set us in motion, give us our motives and thwarted desires, rob us of sleep and exhaust us, then fill us with dreams at wit’s end. Until the fever breaks, we relish the pressure from repressed emotions that refuse to die down, with boiling ambition to realize the dream so long deferred.

But all fevers do when those grown sick live on. The historical romance The Emperor’s New Clothes has a sweet take on the way out of these grand, seductive delusions. Ambitions often become justifications for short-changing mundane obligations with promises to pay it all back with dividends, someday. But in the end, all such plans only add insult to the injury of whatever common courtesy was shirked that day.

Emperor Napoleon liked to say, “Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.” But Pumpkin reprimands him (in the Ian Holm version), that this preoccupation with the inspirational is not out of favor because “talk is cheap.” He has proven his seriousness memorably. As she puts it, “In my experience, talk has been very expensive.” Of course, she spoke to him because she liked to pay fairly and wasn’t unkind after saying so, loved and fairly.

Some ghosts at peace still seek out the sun on living smiles, where it greets their memory warmly or to comfort those who should be unafraid for the living memory of their own loves, long since lived but much talked of to the very day they happen to be seen again. They would not want to be feared for, if they so died.

Who wouldn’t be surprised, confronting the sun that way? So there are some tragedies, but not every one.