25 February 2011

Peace will Come

There is something troubling about the manner in which the political conflict now taking place in Wisconsin is being described. The governor keeps referring to the state as ‘ground zero.’ But I think that ‘ground zero’ refers to the point on the earth’s surface closest to the detonation. Ground zero refers to the place at which a violent explosion has or will take place. 
The language the governor employs confirms exactly the issue that I take with society today: our consciousness expressed in our language is a violent one. In fact, the language of ‘ground zero’ suggests that what transpires is not a civil dialogue about differences of opinion, nor a suggestion that in civil dialogue some reconciliation of opposing viewpoints may be effected. What language of ‘ground zero’ announces is that the actions now taking place are explosive, meant to destroy and to conquer. I keep thinking of Claudius’ words to Polonius after having heard Hamlet’s conversation with Ophelia: “Love, his affections do not that way tend.” Mr. Walker doesn’t seem to understand the first thing about democracy or a democratic way of life. Democracy, his affections do not that way tend.” Walker’s election was not by acclimation, and there are constituents to whom he must answer who disagree with his politics and even his personality. He is obliged to attend to them—even to us. 
I am saddened to consider the very tragic effects of Mr. Walker’s fascist inclinations will have on the school children of Wisconsin. Right now there are devastating events occurring in the school districts throughout the state. If the Republicans have their way, these explosions will damage the educational systems all over the United States. If the children are our future, we are crippling them; if they are our hope, we are quashing it; if they are out lights, we are extinguishing them. I despair for our children. I mourn for the future. I fear the politics of the Republican majority. It is deaf; it might even be stupid, but alas, it is not dumb.

20 February 2011

Know ye, now, Bulkington?

It was a lovely and warm week—the sun even shone daily. But as I look out of my window now the snow is falling heavily (though the flakes are quite small) and the forecast suggests that the storm will continue through at least tonight and even perhaps, into tomorrow. The clear paths I have walked over the past week are filling with new-fallen snow, and the boots and gloves that were made for shoveling have been regretfully, inevitably and reluctantly removed from their storage and put again to early use.
Every year I get fooled. I anticipate Spring weeks before I have any right to do so. I let down my guard. I relax my body, and I start looking up rather than down. And then an enormous storm descends and I must close myself up and again carefully watch my footing. And I begin to wonder of what this situation might be metaphor. And I think (always) of Dylan: Here I sit so patiently, waiting to find out what price/You have to pay to get out of/Going through all these things twice.” And I think there is not enough gold in the world!
     Know ye, now Bulkington? I am drawn to Chapter 23, in Melville’s Moby Dick. Bulkington can not stay ashore, but must continually put out to sea. His existence is endangered, by the Lee Shore. Now, the Lee Shore is the shore toward which the wind blows; it is dangerous because the winds will blow the craft towards the shore where the boat may run aground. I think Thoreau’s description of the shipwreck at Cape Cod offers some perspective regarding the dangers of the lee shore. And though there seems great comfort on the shore, though that shore seems to beckon welcome, it represents a deceptive safety.  And so the fascination with Bulkington for Ishmael:
Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land. The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that's kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship's direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights 'gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea's landlessness again; for refuge's sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!
Know ye, now, Bulkington? Glimpses do you seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?
But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God -- so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing -- straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!" (Chapter 23, "The Lee Shore")
Ishmael wonders if Bulkington has learned what Ishmael has learned: that though the shore offers "all that’s kind to our mortalities,” it is at sea alone where resides ‘the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God. ” The Lee Shore, that one touch of land, one approach to “safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, swarm blankets, friends,” would make the ship shudder through and through.” On shore, truth may not be found or even sought. No, “Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing--straight up, leaps thy apotheosis,” Ishmael cries. Only at sea can Bulkingtonah, and Ishmael and all of us, perhapsachieve our highest glory though the voyage end in tragedy.
     Life is a storm, and the winds that would blow us towards the shore threaten our safety. Though we would be in the comfort of our home and amidst all the warmth that there derives, if it is truth we seek then it must be found at sea, and we must beware of dangers attendant on the Lee Shore.  Better to perish at sea in search of truth then to die upon the lee shore seeking comfort and ease. Ah, Ishmael, what a glorious and tragic knowledge to which you arrive.
     How Bulkington might understand this late winter storm.
     I don my hat, my coat, gloves and boots, and head back out to sea.

17 February 2011

But fear itself

Anna Rose is studying World War II in her American history class. Last evening I was reading the “Scylla and Charybdis” chapter in Joyce’s Ulysses (how I wish I understood that better), struggling my way through the conversations and consciousness of the characters who attempted to grab me (Scylla) and suck me into the fiercely swirling eddies of absurd conversation (Charybdis), really trying to follow Stephen and understand his sense of lostness, when AR threw open the door and said, “What is fascism?” It was almost a relief to come out of the whirlpool and escape the eight-headed monster. “Well,” I said, “fascism is a system of government in which all of the rights of the individual are subsumed by the authority and welfare of the state.” I continued: “Under fascism, only the good of the state matters, and the state can do anything to ensure its success. Individuals are nothing.”  She nodded her head.

Wisconsin is governed now by leaders leaning towards fascism. The assault on individual and human rights by the governor’s fiat to decertify all public unions (except the police and the firefighters, the only public unions who supported the governor in the last election) without negotiation or compromise is the act of a megalomaniac. I am enraged by his disregard for the basic civil and human rights he is sworn to defend. Here is a man who spent millions to get himself elected now maneuvering to take from those with far, far less than he and his insidious cohorts to benefit those who already have more than they could ever spend. All in the service, he would say, of the state. Bourgeois, I say.

In the great emporium of dictators, the chief government official in Wisconsin is merely another flavor of the screaming and cruel monsters who terrorized Europe and Asia during at least the twentieth century. And he would take from the poor and give to the rich, of which he would count himself as one. And then he would castigate and punish  he poor for their rage.

Oh yes, this is a rant. But I recall Richard Nixon’s proud boast that while they marched in the streets against the Vietnam War he watched the football game. I remember where he finally ended up.

And now happily back to the whirlpools and monsters as an escape from this horror.

13 February 2011

Tearing passions to tatters

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it
offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who
for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would have such
a fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it
out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it. - III,ii,2

Of course, these are Hamlet’s well-known lines to the players who have come to Elsinore.
Shakespeare knew his theater and his acting.  And of late I believe that American actors should think again about Hamlet’s advice, for too many performances that I have seen of late on the American stage by American companies are too full of actors mouthing lines, declaiming in a torrent and a tempest and tearing a passion to tatters, to very rags to split the ears of the groundlings.
The new production of The Winter’s Tale suffers from this serious flaw. The actors lack subtlety in their performance: emotion is exhibited by an increase in volume and not by an intelligent and refined expressive reading of the script. Not emotion but declamation. The characters have two emotions, loud and soft, and the entire emotional range of human complexity is expressed by those two modulations of volume. Leontes and Polixenes, whatever one thinks of the characterization Shakespeare provides, are not simple characters, and to give this romance substance requires a sophisticated understanding of their potential depths. But in this production there is no temperance acquired in the whirlwind of their passion that gives the torrent and tempest a smoothness. As a romance, this tale for a winter’s night must transcend the diurnal world, but the acting was too full of noise and not magic. Autolycous, a Shakespearean clown, is characterized here as a crude comedian in a cheap night club whose failure to intrigue his audience leads him simply to speak louder and louder, as if the increase in volume signals the appearance of humor.
I wonder whether our acting styles have been influenced by the violence of our society epitomized especially in football and hockey, (but certainly evident in the social/political world) where the harder one hits he opponent the more successful one feels. The beauty of movement that might exist in the sport (alas, in football I have never understood and certainly never seen it), remains absent and all that is left is the dangerous sounds of bodies crashing against immoving and immovable obstacles. I suppose the skating in hockey might have some aesthetic value, but the checking and high sticking and other aggressively violent behaviours of the players too soon despoil the potential beauty in the activity.
Though I must say the The Winter’s Tale produced at Spring Green in 2009 was subtle and superb. Perhaps it is the Guthrie, I think, that prefers o’erdoing Termagant and out-heroding Herod. 

09 February 2011

Topless and clueless

On the one hand, shouldn’t a man be allowed to send a shirtless photo of himself to a woman? After all, that very photo is now on the front page of the on-line New York Times. Life doesn’t get more public than that, does it? Though I suspect this exposure appears not in the context for which it was intended and becomes available for a larger and unintended (even unsuspecting) audience. The currents have certainly turned awry.
I like to think that once I almost had a body that looked like that of Representative Chris Lee. I suppose I have a few fantasies yet that someoneanyonewould want to have in their possession a photo of me without my shirt. Not going to happen. And, given the contemporary dress codes (look at any tabloid advertising female appareland especially for the under twenty-set), what exactly is inappropriate of the image of a man sans chemise. Of course, Mr. Lee was married and though he was trying to be honest about his body he was dissembling about his social state. And what was she expecting?
On the other hand, how stupid do you have to be to send anything anywhere that has the remotest chance of being misconstrued in the slightest way? We have long given up our rights to most privacy, and so we should expect that whatever we send out anywhere could end up everywhere. What was he thinking? Of course, he wasn’t, was he. And he, and those like him, are the government!!
On the third hand, what is it these days with men in public life (and who isn’t in public life?) who have trouble keeping their zippers zipped? Have they no sense of propriety? Restraint? Dignity? Somehow I feel confident that Chris Lee and other unzipped officials have taken their shot at the teachers who must work in the schools with children with Chris Lee in the headlines without his shirt on seeking a woman who isn’t his wife!
If it weren’t so absurd, this would be funny!

05 February 2011

Rereading Ulysses

Rereading Joyce’s Ulysses I am struck (perhaps again) by how well he knows Stephen Daedalus and Leopold Bloom. I am, of course, only finished with Chapter Five, Lotus-Eaters, and so there is I know a great deal to be learned about these two characters. But Joyce’s ability to create their thoughts—and not just their thoughts but the very rhythm and logic of their thought processes—speaks to an intimacy between author and character that exceeds any such relationship (in books or elsewhere, even in life) than I know or have known. Unlike James, in say Portrait of a Lady or The Golden Bowl, who writes the consciousness of Isabel Archer or Maggie Verver, Joyce, in Ulysses, creates the character out of the writing of their consciousness. James’ Isabel Archer and Maggie Verver are complex and consistent; that is, their consciousness like a river runs deep and through and steady—but it runs unbroken. In Ulysses consciousness runs steadily but not steady, deep but also shallow, connected to the world but at times capable of rising above it. Consciousness in Ulysses cannot (and does not) block out awareness of the world, is not unconscious of the body’s situation in the world and the incessant flow of sensory experience for which consciousness accounts. Consciousness in Ulysses accounts for the body and bodies: in the thoughts of Stephen and Leopold there need be no sublimation. A cigar may be a phallic symbol, but the characters are fully aware—even give voice to—the association. I love when Bloom attempts to walk unself-consciously as he imagines the girl from the butcher shop might have walked had he been fortunate enough to follow her as she sauntered down the street with her sausages in hand. As difficult as Stephen’s thoughts are, it is fun to follow them. I love following the thoughts of Isabel Archer and Maggie Verver, as I am in love with the experience of following that of Nathan Zuckerman, but their thoughts, complex and winding as they are, still move steadily and uninterruptedly forward. I do not know that this is the way consciousness goes: for example, right now, even as I write, there is a package of Paul Newman Cream Filled Cookies laying just to my right and into my thoughts repeatedly comes the directive/question, “Have one!” I aspire to thought like Nathan Zuckerman and Isabel Archer and Maggie Verver, but I live with the patterns of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Daedalus. 
Joyce knew that the course of true thought does not run steady. And that he could characterize Stephen and Leopold by writing exactly how they think as well as what they think seems to me a remarkable achievement. “Nay, it is; I know not ‘seems.’” 
In art, perhaps, it is possible to mirror this process, but how to live with the awareness of this process. How much gets lost, sublimated, ignored? How much energy does it take to keep the trains on the track? When Stephen or Leopold talk to others, even then there consciousness stays not at all straight-on. 
What might I learn about myself if I were to attempt to make sense of the pattern of my thoughts—of my associations—if I were to try to follow the stream of conscioiusness that is not at all a stream.