Posts Tagged ‘Craig Parker’

Mottos for adventure

February 23, 2013

Although Karen Blixen used the pseudonym Isak Dinesen mostly to publish short stories, my favorite piece of writing under that name is her essay “On Mottoes of My Life”, in the collection Daguerreotypes.

Here she reveals that she kept mottos in her heart that she had forgotten in the Latin original (like “still I am unconquered” and “often in difficulties, never afraid”), and she shares the legend behind Navigare necesse est, vivere non necesse est! (“This audacious order was flung from the lips of Pompey to his timid Sicilian crew when they refused to set out against the gale and the high seas to bring provisions of grain to Rome.”)


Montaigne was just as much of a fangirl about quotable Latin. He relates in a great hurry how Bias said to shipmates during a tempest while calling to the gods for help, in keeping with traditions that it is unlucky to go to sea with those who are “dissolute, blasphemous, or wicked” but humorously: “Be quiet, so they may not realize that you are here with me.”

She gives another nautical motto in the story of a French scientific expedition lost at sea. The boat “had gone down below Iceland with her flag flying. And the boat had been named Pourquoi pas? – ‘Why not?’”

The Endurance expedition to the Antarctic, an adventure chronicled in Craig Parker’s Shackleton’s Captain, named their ship by brave words and sent her to a similar fate. The ship rechristened in honor of Shackleton’s family motto, “by endurance we conquer” was abandoned in pack ice, but the journey earned its epithet. Through the courage to endure brutal conditions and much waiting on a distant thread of hope in their own rescue expedition on the last serviceable boat hauled over ice from where the ship was lost, all men survived.

The film has its own motto, from Napoleon’s memorable saying: “it takes more courage to live than to die.” Napoleon is said to have hoped, above all, that his own life would be remembered like a motto, as an inspirational story.

I used to think being blown away by Master and Commander at the Far Side of the World made me a Peter Weir fan. Then I saw his toilet repair man movie. It’s diabolically clever, but I’m definitely just another Russell Crowe fan, and a genre fan of epic adventure. You need a lead actor the whole cast can hook on to for an ensemble performance that strong. And at sea (beyond the cinema’s massive tank for ocean adventure staging), some of the same rules apply.

In an essay on tragic drama, Maxwell Anderson conveys this hope for the role of theater in the modern world: “The theater is much older than the doctrine of evolution, but its one faith … is a faith in evolution, in the reaching and the climb of man toward distant goals, glimpsed but never seen, perhaps never achieved, or achieved only to be passed impatiently on the way to a more distant horizon.”

“Thow of foaming seas, dost still the tumultuous outcries
thow their high swelling, dose coole with lowly residing”
(Pembroke, Psalm 89).

On winds, it is easy to dwell with unease on a thought that the weather has seemed to answer before you had finished the question as a thought itself. This is for actors to see, but not because the wind is not indifferent, all phenomena that make up spectacles of convergence are, they whisper deja vu and are no less unpredictable than if they had said nothing. What you read into it you know, but the world is resoundingly silent before you have spoken.

The weirdness was from finding yourself the only one present who seemed to notice what you just came to think, as if those all around you should have heard the same passage of wind through the nearby treetops tell them the same thing, because you fear it is urgent and yet obscure. It is obscure, but you’re an actor so you noticed.

Theater helps us risk a glimpse at ourselves at the very worst, distancing the specter of our darker nature from ourselves just far enough to make a bit more honesty about the way we live our lives feel palatable. Only after such a glimpse does serious thinking about making the world any better become possible.

Literature and history could do no better, though the one is easily distracted with experiments in style, and the other with experiments in politics. The Babylonians encountered by Herodotus began (and never completed) a tower of Babel, and the traveling historian climbed its scaffolding.

But for the Greek this anecdote was only one among many, and it shrinks in perspective, one of volumes of stories engagingly told. Any story with a motto transcends the distance and time.

In the first lines of “Australia”, a sonnet by Bernard O’Dowd, kingfishers misplace the large, habitable island and all its marsupials in another salt body of water:

Last sea-thing dredged by sailor Time from Space,
Are you a drift Sargasso, where the West
In halcyon calm rebuilds her fatal nest?

The halcyon myth is the kingfisher’s origin story, about a couple mercifully transformed into water birds, after a god tried to drown the husband at sea. The bride’s father, a god of winds, yearly gives the lovers seven cold days of calm at solstice to tend their floating seaweed nest. The root syllables in Greek mean ‘salt’ and ‘to conceive’.


Halcyon painted by Australia’s Sidney Nolan

The Euripides Hyppolytos quoted in The Spirit of Tragedy uses the same stranded-at-sea image, as a metaphor for the human condition:

I have a secret hope
of someone, a god, who is wise and plans;
but my hopes grow dim …
Unpiloted we’re helplessly adrift
upon a sea of legends, lies and fantasy.

Of course, to be forgiven and begin again may not prevent us from repeating our mistakes. But there is repetition of mistakes in any life of adventure. Isak Dinesen’s essay ends with lines from The Tempest better than the saying a great hardship “shall pass.”

Nothing of him that doth fade,
but doth suffer a sea-change
into something rich and strange.

She concludes, “We may make use of the words – even when we are speaking about ourselves – without vainglory. Each one amongst us will feel in his heart the inherent richness and strangeness of this one thing: his life.”

Being only about as seaworthy as a hobbit, I’ve never dared colder water than a glacier lake, and then only because I had to dive for binoculars dumped when I overturned a kayak at the pier, after a kite-drawn expedition manned by an intractable tinkerer who has likely still not finished building his own plane. But that was cold.

The captain played by Craig Parker (Frank Worsley) was an actor himself, in the sense that what seemed to have saved the crew (beyond not dropping the sextant in the choppy waters) was keeping up morale by example. This was in his nature, we are told, as if his spirit of adventure “keeps on the windy side of care” and had always been infectious and inexhaustible.

But then George Bernard Shaw would have us see Caesar as a comedian. They’re not the open books, they say.

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.