20 October 2011

Art thou there, trupenny?

So many ghosts in Philip Roth’s Exit Ghost. E. I. Lonoff. Amy Bellette. Anne Frank. Nathan Zuckerman himself. For some ghostly reason I have returned to the Zuckerman novels and am now completing this final volume. One source for Roth’s allusion is Hamlet. The ghost of Hamlet’s father, “doom’d for a certain term to walk the night/And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,” visits his son and commands him to revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. After charging Hamlet, the ghost exits with the command, “Remember me.” And when the ghost exits Hamlet remains and must act alone.  At novel’s end, Zuckerman departs.
I wonder how my actions are inspired by visitations from ghosts. Freud would refer to the visitations of my ghosts as the presence of my unconscious; as for Hamlet, Freud might say that the ghost gives physical presence to Hamlet’s unconscious. “My father, methinks I see my father,” Hamlet says just prior to seeing the ghost. “Oh, my prophetic soul,” Hamlet cries when he hears the ghost’s story. He had known, he exclaims, that which the ghost told him.
What would it mean to consider that I am visited by ghosts who direct my behavior. I think of Andrew Marvell: “But at my back I always hear, Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” Marvell is pursued by this ghost. And the directive in Torah to care for the widow, orphan and stranger in my midst. Aren’t these, too, ghosts? Levinas says that we stand before the other and command them to command us. We think of others as ghosts doom’d for a certain term to walk the night . . . What would it mean to say that everyone I meet everywhere are my ghosts demanding I do something. Art thou there, trupenny? I am always amidst company. And there is always time’s winged chariot.
I might also consider a ghost some mirrored presence in which I see that which I want to see. It is impossible to see the Other through any other lens but my own and there would always be about the Other my own expectancies. In that sense we are all ghosts to somebody.
Interesting is it that the ghost cautions Hamlet that “howsoever thou pursues this act/Taint not thy mind.” As if what the ghost demands could have any effect other than tainting Hamlet’s mind. There is, indeed, something rotten in the state of Denmark, and how could his charge to set it right not taint Hamlet’s mind? And if I am visited always by ghosts, how could I not end up with a tainted mind?
The ghost returns in Act III after the actors, at Hamlet’s urging, have performed The Murder of Gonzago, a play that mirrors the murder of Hamlet’s father by his brother, Claudius. His mother calls Hamlet to her chamber to reprimand him for offending the King. But Hamlet strongly rebukes his mother for her hasty remarriage that is to this hyperion to a satyr. The ghost had demanded that Hamlet not harm his mother and “returns to whet thy almost blunted purpose.” The ghost commands, “But look, amazement on they mother sits, O step between her and her fighting soul! Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works. Speak to her Hamlet.” And as Hamlet obeys, the stage directions say, “Exit Ghost.” But it is all too late: Hamlet’s rash deed takes control out of his hands. Exit ghost means that Hamlet is alone.


Post a Comment

<< Home