May 31, 2004
The Last Great All-Nighter of the Semester
Wow. It took me a long time to get to this entry. Sorry 'bout that . . . I've been busy. Sort of busy. Relatively busy. Ummm . . . relative to, like, times when I'm usually not too busy to do a blogpost.
Well, that paragraph was a total loss.
I guess I'll start with the title of this post. See, Tuesday was the final day of Film class, where all we had to do was meet Dr. Watson at the theater at 3:15, watch "Troy," and go eat supper at The Butcher Shop while we discussed the movie. Oh yes, and also turn in all of our coursework. That too.
So Scholl and I are up at 8:00 in the morning, working like mad. See, I hadn't technically actually started doing the textbook chapter summaries at the time, because I was busy writing journals and a paper and attending class and whatnot. Chapter summaries seemed like the easy part.
To make a long story short, we weren't anywhere near being done when we had to leave for the movie, but Watson said it was fine so long as everything was in by the next morning. So as soon as we got back, we started plugging away again. Continuing to shorten a long story: Starting from 8:00 Tuesday morning, I spent 14 of the ensuing 24 hours working on those blasted chapter summaries, and finished them at 7:00 am, just in time to be e-mailed to Watson.
Then I stood up and fixed myself a few Pop Tarts and left for my first day of work. Because that started at 7:30, y'see.
Oh, yes. I hated myself for the whole day while I was pressure washing the outside of Speer Chapel and then sanding the inside of it.
I returned to the apartment at 4:00 and slept for the next fifteen hours before getting up to do it all over again.
Anyway, that was the big, mid-week adventure. If you've had your eye on the sidebar, you know what movies I've been watching and what books I'm reading. I am very happy about this whole three-day weekend thing. I've mostly been reading and sleeping . . . in fact, that is what I've been doing almost exclusively.
You'll notice that I finally finished Saki . . . bloody thing would not get done! Seemed like for awhile I just couldn't read more than five pages of it in a day, if that . . . I'll post on it at some point, I promise, but I have more reading to do before bed, y'see.
Wodehouse and Shakespeare both still rock, and Spider Robinson and my Forgotten Realms book are pretty good, but . . . This whole Shadowmancer thing . . . I suggest you look into this book yourself a bit. I'm about a third of the way through it, and for the life of me I can't figure out why it is so frigging popular. It sucks. I mean . . . really. Especially compared to the books it is being compared to (Harry Potter, mostly).
Anyway, it is time for me to finish enjoying the weekend . . . Farewell.
May 24, 2004
A Slipshod, Slapdash Freudian Analysis of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo
If you thought the last entry was a stretch . . . well, this one is just pure sleaze. I don't think that anyone will seriously deny that a lot of this is in the movie, though. Alfred Hitchcock was a big fan of Sigmund Freud. Consider yourself warned.
Oh, yes . . . and of course there will be some spoilers in here. I've tried to keep them to a minimum, but . . . You know.
Vertigo is basically the wild ride of a textbook cynic who gives in to sentimentalism and has two (technically three) relationships destroyed by his dysfunctional emotions and obsessions. And, of course, there is the title character, Scottie’s phobia, waiting in the wings to lend a hand if Scottie’s life looks like it might be stabilizing at any point in the movie. Anyway, I decided I wanted to take a closer look at some of the ideas we were playing around with after class with Watson and the Hitch Lady, so this is a look at the movie using what I understand of Freudian psychology, plus some entertaining input from the Vengeful Cynic. (We disagree about the way the movie ends, but I went with his view because Freud would disagree with me as well.)
At the very beginning of the movie, we see Scottie vaulting across rooftops, struggling to keep up with the policeman ahead of him as he realizes that he is afraid of heights. He is, of course, suffering from castration anxiety. The ability to chase down criminals is important to his work, which is tied directly to his role as a male, providing for himself (he is not married . . . I'm getting to that). If he is unable to perform adequately, it will signify that he is impotent. When he fails to save the life of the policeman who is trying to save him, he is effectively castrated.
There is, at this point, one woman in his life, and soon there will be a second. The first, Midge, threatens his already repressed sexuality, but her relationship with him also conflicts with that threat. She often attempts to operate as a mother figure (later in the movie she will come directly out and identify herself as such: "Mother is here."), but she is also very much the liberated woman in the story. She is self-sufficient, supporting herself from her own work and even, in many ways, more able to cope with life than Scottie. She was also the one to break off their engagement when they were in college (even though she wants to pick up the pieces now), and perhaps he has never gotten past the effects of that rejection. She doesn’t have any real “issues,” and even as I watched the movie I couldn’t help but think that she is the only well-adjusted character in the movie. Unless, of course, someone wants to make the usual case for penis envy. Personally, I'm leaving Freud's theories about women alone.
Then Madeleine enters the scene. Scottie is asked to follow her and protect her from the very beginning of the relationship, long before they ever meet face to face. Far from threatening his sexuality, Madeline gives him another chance to make up for his “castration” experience. An important part of the job is, at first, to maintain distance between them. This makes him feel safe. The availability of this second chance to perform his task becomes more and more apparent to him as he sees how much help she needs, culminating in her throwing herself into San Francisco Bay. Here is something that Scottie can deal with, and he does. He feels that he has taken a step towards redeeming himself and regaining his virility through the rescue of this lovely, helpless young woman. And now he has undressed her and placed her in his bed. Is it any wonder that his sexuality, and even his sanity, becomes tied directly to her very existence? Or that he becomes totally enamored of her?
But she isn’t safe yet, and he isn’t fully redeemed yet, either. He must continue to protect her as the attraction grows and he becomes more obsessed with finding out what is causing her madness. Then, disaster strikes. Before he is ready to confront the act of regaining the full measure of his sexuality, she dashes ahead of him, running up the bell tower. And, yes, the tower is tall and thin and otherwise generally phallic in nature. Duh. He is unable to follow her all the way to the top and she plummets to her death. He is now totally devastated, and the slimy guy presiding over the inquest into her death (or whatever it is) certainly doesn’t help his perceptions of himself.
And so, he finds himself in an asylum, shutting the entire world out. Midge certainly can’t break through the barrier and she sees that he is still "in love" with Madeleine. It takes an indeterminate amount of time for him to slowly come out of his depression. As he slowly revisits the places where he had previously encountered Madeline, he begins to strongly manifest the classic symptoms of a phallic fixation (some symbolically, some literally). Then he meets Judy, immediately notes the resemblance, and the fixation becomes dominant. He is so obsessed and desperate to work through his repression and regain his lost virility that he treats Judy like an object, ignoring her feelings in order to “do her up” like Madeleine.
And when he is shocked to discover that this actually is Madeleine, he firmly and instantly takes the initiative this time. He drives her out to the bell tower and roughly forces her to the top (against her will), where there is a brief but intense burst of passion between them. Then she is scared off of the pinnacle by the arrival of a nun (symbol of female chastity) and plummets to her death. He moves to the edge, now unafraid of the terrible height and not threatened by the presence of the chaste woman behind him, exhausted in every way, but satisfied as the bells toll behind him. As the movie ends he is finally able to stand triumphant high above his conquest.
Aw, crap. I'm never going to be able to watch a Hitchcock movie the same way again. That really bites . . .
The "Milk" of Orson Welles: Citizen Kane As Shakespearean Tragedy
That title is just for you, Gallagher. You're welcome.
I believe I may have mentioned this concept before, but it bears repeating. Never let it be said that I pulled nothing useful from Dr. Batts's Shakespeare class . . . and one of the many tidbits of Shakespeare-related trivia that I had beaten into me repeatedly was a list of five things that make a classic Shakespearean tragic hero.
As I watched Citizen Kane for my second time, I couldn’t help but notice how closely he conformed to the list. I also couldn't help but remember that Orson Welles was reading Shakespeare when he was, like, four years old or so. And he was producing Shakespeare plays in new and original ways with his troupe in the Mercury Theater as a young adult. So, I started running through the movie in my head later on and comparing it to the five characteristics on the Batts worksheet (which I went to all the trouble of climbing into the attic to retrieve from the box of textbooks and papers I didn't expect to use this summer). The following is what I came up with.
The first element is that the character has “noble status.” That is, that the character is ranked among the nobility. Kane, although he is born in humble surroundings, has indeed attained that status early in life. This, of course, is part of the “American Dream.” Anyone can “grow up to be president,” as it were. Or, in this case, anyone can grow up to be wealthy and important.
In this case, Kane’s achievement of noble status is even more traditional in nature, as he comes into that great sum of money through no personal merit or hard work of his own. Like Hamlet, Kane is thrust into his high position without really having any choice in the matter.
Second, the tragic hero will be cursed with a tragic flaw which will ultimately lead to their downfall. In looking for Kane’s tragic flaw, I was very much reminded of King Lear. Both Kane and Lear are men who desperately need to be loved, and to be shown that they are loved by tangible signs of affection, but both men are unable to show meaningful love in return. The only way they know how to return the visible signs of love are by showering their friends or lovers with material things. And the only way they can deal with a perceived lack of love is to completely shut out the person who “didn’t love them enough.”
The third characteristic is that the downfall of the hero is not entirely deserved. There are greater forces at work, whether those forces can be attributed to the workings of Fate, or merely the machinations of a villain. While I could cite Kane’s dysfunctional childhood, resulting in his inability to love, I will leave that to one side as the cause of his tragic flaw rather than the direct cause of his downfall. The more direct cause is Kane’s relationship with Susan Alexander, and Boss Gettys’s underhanded political tactics which lead to the publicizing of the fact.
I am reminded of how Mark Antony forgets his political and military duties as a triumvir in charge of the Roman Empire while he has an affair with Cleopatra, and how he eventually ignores a marriage made for political reasons in order to be with Cleopatra. It also brings to mind Iago’s manipulation of Othello’s love for Desdemona which leads to the Moor's downfall. (I was interested to see that Welles actually directed, produced and starred in a movie version of Othello later in his career. Yeah, we'll be watching that this summer.)
Fourth, the tragic hero gains an increase in awareness, a sort of epiphany, before the end, realizing where they went wrong, or learning an important lesson from the situation. When Kane is throwing his temper tantrum in Susan’s room after she has left him, his gaze falls on a snow globe with a little log cabin in it which sends his memory back to where his life went wrong in the first place. Ultimately, it is obvious that this is what has been the most prevalent thought in his mind when he uttered his final word, “Rosebud.” I’m not talking just about his ruined childhood, either. While his life wouldn’t have gone wrong in the same way if he had been able to stay and play his childhood games on his sled, I think he is remembering something else.
When he first meets Susan Alexander, he has been on his way to examine some things from his old home. Rosebud is no doubt among these things. When, instead of continuing down memory lane and coming to terms with his past in order to continue into the future, he abandons the original purpose of his errand and follows Susan back to her rooms, the seeds are sown for the ultimate disaster. Kane realizes this, and he dies knowing it.
Finally, the tragic hero always dies. Duh. Well, all right. So everyone always dies, but in the case of the tragic hero, the story or play or movie about them always ends with their death. We aren’t always shown other characters ending up dead. Now, Kane’s story begins with his death, which is certainly not the traditional way to go about things. But aside from a bit of creative work with the order in which the story is told, we still end up with a dead Kane when “The End” flashes up on the screen. The real difference here is that Kane’s death seems to be of natural causes, while most (if not all) tragic heroes are cut down (almost always violently, often by their own hand) before their time. Kane’s tragedy is not that he died before “his time,” but that he wasted any chance he might have had at happiness because he didn’t realize where he was wrong. In Citizen Kane it is not a life cut short, but a life badly misused that is the real tragedy.
In the end, it isn’t a perfect fit. But then, none of Shakespeare’s tragedies fully conformed to the traditional conventions either. It is possible, however, to see some very clear Shakespearean influences throughout the movie. Considering the background of the man who essentially was this movie, that is only to be expected.
May 22, 2004
Schindler, Goeth, and Stern: Individual vs. Community in Schindler's List
So, I watched Schindler's List again yesterday, and now I've got to talk about it. Wonderful. The first real question is, where do you even think about starting? It is, in my opinion, a very powerful movie. I'm glad I was able to see it twice, because I think I needed that second viewing before I could really start processing anything.
In spite of this, a comprehensive review is out. Now, when you read this, you'll think that that is just exactly what I tried to do . . . Trust me, it isn't. The movie is over three hours long . . . there's a ton that I left out.
What I tried to pay particular attention to the second time through was the development of Oskar Schindler himself. Who is he made out to be from the beginning? How are we shown this, over and over, in the opening hour or so? What key events lead him to a change of heart, and how do we see that manifesting itself? What is the real difference in his personality, if any, by the end of the movie?
In trying to catalogue this while I watched, a few other things intrigued me. First, there were the many parallels between Schindler and Amon Goeth . . . I wondered what it was that made them so different. Second, I was struck particularly by the character of Itzhak Stern. What is the key contrast between him and the other two?
This is going to be long . . . just so you know.
Oskar Schindler is a great lover of life, particularly his own. He loves money. He loves wine. He loves women. He loves parties. He loves being at the center of attention. With no head for business and more charm than anyone ought to be allotted, he was born to be one of the social elite. He is almost totally self-absorbed. In one of the opening scenes he enters a restaurant alone and sits down at a small table by himself, but by the end of the evening everyone in the restaurant has joined his impromptu party. And everyone is enjoying themselves immensely. But this isn't about them having a good time, it's about him being noticed and loved by everyone. We see this time and time again as his selfish nature is repeatedly illustrated during the first hour or so of the movie.
When all of the Jews are hustled out of their homes and herded into the ghetto, Schindler doesn't waste a second, moving into better lodgings immediately. There is the great contrast here of shots cutting back and forth between Schindler relaxing on a nice soft bed with lacy sheets, and the wealthy Jewish family that used to live there moving into a bare, cold, concrete room with a dozen other people they don't know.
When setting up his business, he just can't decide which gorgeous young lady should be his secretary ("They're all so . . . qualified!" he exclaims to Stern), so he chooses them all and wanders the factory floor with a gaggle of young women in tow. I don't know how many of them he then proceeds to sleep with, but there is clearly a steady flow of mistresses moving through his lodgings.
When his wife shows up on his doorstep and one of them answers the door, he is totally insensitive, not thinking about her feelings at all. "You know what? You'll like her," he tells his wife. When the two of them go out dancing, the doorman assumes that this woman is another of Schindler's lovers, calling her "miss." Schindler sheepishly corrects the man, shrugs, and moves on. As he dances, he trades significant glances with another woman while his wife isn't paying attention.
One day as he tries to eat his lunch, Stern shows in a one-armed man who wishes to express his gratitude to Schindler for saving his life and allowing him to work. Schindler, of course, knows nothing about it, and he is furious with Stern for interrupting his lunch.
Soon after this he is forced to rescue Stern from the train because he has forgotten his papers. But lest anyone in the audience be uncertain as to how Schindler feels about Stern, we have this line: "What if I had gotten here five minutes later? Then where would I be?" It is perhaps the single most revealing statement of Schindler's character during the first half of the movie. He is the epitome of absolute selfishness.
It isn't possible to point to one event or scene in the movie where you can say, "That right there is where Schindler has a change of heart." His transformation is a process with various steps. Among the first of these steps, as far as we can tell, is the random murder of his one-armed employee. Shortly after this, Schindler witnesses the brutal, senseless massacre which takes place during the liquidation of the ghetto, and is horrified from a distance.
We first notice that there is a chink in his armor when he meets with Stern, (who is now working for Goeth), and tries to get the important details of running the business from him. Some of us just don't have a head for business, but Schindler shrugs off his inability to retain what he is being told. After all, he can come by and talk to Stern every week. As Stern returns to the prison camp, we see an affectionate half-smile flicker across Schindler's face. Stern has become a human face among the mass of Jews and Schindler cannot help but open up now that this friendship has formed. As Schindler grows closer to Stern, he will be increasingly unable to distance himself from the horrors of the Holocaust as he was able to do when the ghetto was liquidated (merely turning his horse around and riding away).
It is here that he begins to supply bribes to get people out of the labor camp at the express request of Stern. He's doing it for his friend. It gives him pleasure to do this, and that is all. It is apparent that we are still dealing with the same old Schindler in most respects when a woman comes to beg him to help her parents. Schindler flies into a rage and scares her out of his office before storming over to yell at Stern. ("People die! That's life!")
Stern quietly relates a story of Goeth's barbaric homicidal tendencies. "What do you want me to do about it?!" asks Schindler. "Nothing, nothing. That's just talking," Stern calmly replies. Schindler, obviously affected by the story, silently hands his watch over as a bribe and leaves.
The following scene shows us a very different picture of Schindler than we have seen thus far. He descends into Goeth's wine cellar and finds Helen Hirsch, Goeth's maid. He is obviously attracted to her, and in typical Schindler fashion he begins to flirt with her. The next thing we know, she is sitting under a bright, swinging light bulb and he is pacing the floor in a circle around her as she talks. It looks suspiciously like an interrogation as she finally breaks down and allows herself to release some of the tension of living (literally) under Goeth's gun. Schindler kneels before her. He speaks softly to her. He comforts her. He leans in to kiss her, and for a brief second, her expression changes. The viewer immediately recognizes what he is doing . . . It is completely in character.
Then: "Don't worry," he says. "It's not that kind of kiss." And he moves up and softly kisses her forehead. It seems wrong somehow. This is Oskar Schindler, the supreme womanizer, alone with a beautiful woman. He has her isolated and vulnerable, right where he wants her, and he doesn't use his charm to take advantage of the situation? Something is different.
Lest there be any doubt in the viewer's mind, Schindler has not just suddenly shifted 180 degrees, as we soon find out. During his birthday celebration he takes advantage of an "opportunity," forcing a very long kiss on the pretty Jewish woman who brings him a cake "from the workers." This is, of course, quite thoughtless of him and will lead to his arrest. Only some fast talking from his friends in high places will save him from prison.
Before all of that, however, we see him stick his neck out and look more than a little ridiculous in front of Goeth and his underlings. At his request, Goeth allows fire hoses to be brought to hose down the railway cars full of Jewish prisoners as they sit out in the blazing sun. It may seem like a small gesture, but it is simply one more indication of an increasing sensitivity for the needs of others.
And then the order comes down that all of the Jews must be sent to Auschwitz. Obviously Schindler's first thought is something along the lines of, "Well, it's all over then. I'll try and see that they take care of my friend Stern, and then I'll go home with all of my hard-earned money." It is only as he paces his room late that night, (with yet another conquest lying in the bed), that he seems to be realizing that he might put that money to some other use. It's like a completely new idea to him, and it is no wonder that it didn’t occur right away.
And now, of course, he throws himself completely into the work of saving "his people." Schindler, it seems to me, is a man of extremes. He devotes his energies just as thoroughly to getting all of his money spent as he did in making the money in the first place. Clearly I don't need to spend much time on all the details of how this plays out as he composes his list, barters for Helen's life, journeys into the maw of death itself (Auschwitz) to get his people out, etc.
I will (finally) wrap up Schindler with a look at his two speeches at the end of the movie. First, his speech to the guards and factory workers at the end of the war:
After six long years of murder, victims are being mourned throughout the world. We've survived. Many of you have come up to me and thanked me. Thank yourselves. Thank your fearless Stern, and others among you who worried about you and faced death at every moment. I am a member of the Nazi Party. I'm a munitions manufacturer. I'm a profiteer of slave labor. I am . . . a criminal. At midnight, you'll be free and I'll be hunted. I shall remain with you until five minutes after midnight, after which time - and I hope you'll forgive me - I have to flee.
He actually doesn't sound completely selfish in this speech, a testament to his growth as a character. But naturally he is still a bit egocentric. Some things don't change . . . Note how much time in this speech is given to others and how much is spent on his own situation. I don't think he is consciously trying to win sympathy and pity, but . . . Anyway, he now turns to address the German guards.
I know you have received orders from our commandant, which he has received from his superiors, to dispose of the population of this camp. Now would be the time to do it. Here they are; they're all here. This is your opportunity.
*short pause which feels very long*
Or you could leave, and return to your families as men instead of murderers.
And, of course, as every Jew in the building holds his or her breath, the guards turn and file out one by one. As Stern begins to relax a bit, Schindler catches his eye and tosses him a wink. Does Schindler still think this is all just a game?
Anyway, on to his final exchange with Stern, the last words we hear from him:
Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don't know. If I'd just . . . I could have got more.
Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.
Schindler: If I'd made more money . . . I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I'd just . . .
Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.
Schindler: I didn't do enough!
Stern: You did so much.
Schindler: This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this. I could have gotten one more person . . . and I didn't! And I . . . I didn't!
It is rather a gutwrenching scene, and one of my favorites. It is very moving, well acted, etc. That's not the point. The point is, does Schindler have a good reason to beat himself up over this? No, he doesn't. Then why does he?
I suspect that, subconsciously, this is still the same old Schindler, swinging to extremes, pulling at everyone's attention and sympathy, playing to the crowd, drawing people to himself. And it works . . . there is a surging forward for a large group hug. Schindler makes his exit . . .
He is a good man in spite of his moral failures. He is a great man in spite of his character flaws. But he is still a selfish man who can't help thinking of himself first.
Amon Goeth is a lot like Schindler. Except that Schindler isn't a psychotic . . . However, the similarities are definitely there. We first see Goeth being driven through the ghetto as he is briefed on various details of the living conditions of Jews and so forth. Asked if he has any questions, he has only one . . . Why the top of the convertible is down. He's cold.
Note also his behavior surrounding the liquidation of the ghetto. He begins, early in the morning, with this speech to rally his troops:
Today is history. Today will be remembered. Years from now, the young will ask with wonder about this day. Today is history and you are part of it. Six hundred years ago, when elsewhere they were footing the blame for the Black Death, Kazimierz the Great, so called, told the Jews they could come to Krakow. They came. They trundled their belongings into the city. They settled, they took hold, they prospered. In business, science, education, the arts, they came here with nothing. Nothing. And they flourished. For six centuries, there has been a Jewish Krakow. Think about that. By this evening, those six centuries are a rumor. They never happened. Today is history.
He sounds like a good Nazi patriot, and he spends the day (from what we see) running enthusiastically through the streets with his dogs, hunting people. But then, once the day's "fun" is over, we see him sitting outside in the dark, surrounded by officers, mopping sweat off of his face while the messy and tedious work of finding the hidden Jews in the buildings goes on. He seems to feel a bit differently about the historic nature of the event now, revealing his frustration with an emphatic "I wish this f--king night were over!"
Like Schindler, Goeth only appears to be a good loyal member of the Nazi party. Where Schindler is a Nazi for profit (and a bit of pleasure on the side), Goeth is a Nazi for pleasure (and a bit of profit on the side).
The next morning (or perhaps a few days later) Goeth is awake bright and early. He walks slowly out onto his balcony, overlooking the prison camp, and stretches luxuriously before picking up a high-powered rifle for some early morning target practice. Peering through the scope he selects a random Jew who isn't working, pauses to carefully place his cigarette on the railing of the balcony, and fires, scoring a direct hit. He coolly picks up his cigarette and places it between his lips before finding another target and shooting it directly through the chest. This is his idea of a really great time. This is why he got into the business.
At the same point in the movie where we begin to see Schindler discovering that he has a more human side and that he cannot simply stand by and watch all of this go on around him, Goeth experiences his own major turning point. Schindler manages to convince him that true power (which is what appeals to Goeth) is not found in the ability to kill people arbitrarily, but rather in the ability to pardon them arbitrarily. The truly powerful are merciful, not murderous.
Goeth has a lot of respect for Schindler, and while appearing to be amused, he takes this advice to heart. The next day we see him struggling to rein in his temper for an entire morning as he pardons Jews for committing minor offenses rather than shooting them dead. In the end, the strain is too much. He stops for a moment to examine himself in the mirror after pardoning Lisiek's failure to clean out his bathtub and he just can't seem to make his new image fit. He appears to be undecided for a brief moment, firing upon Lisiek with his rifle and hitting on either side of the boy twice (we know from the earlier scene that he is a crack shot). Perhaps he is trying to calm his temper without murdering . . . But the third shot kills.
As I mentioned earlier, Stern became for Schindler the human face of the Jewish people and this was what allowed him to open up and later attempt to save as many Jews as he could. For Goeth, Helen Hirsch is that "human Jew." His final shot at redemption is seen in the dialogue he has with Helen in the wine cellar. And he blows it big time.
I say dialogue, it's actually a monologue with him answering for her in his mind. She is too frightened to say anything.
I came to tell you that you really are a wonderful cook and a well-trained servant. I mean it. If you need a reference after the war, I'd be happy to give you one.
It's kind of lonely down here, it seems, with everyone upstairs having such a good time. Does it?
You can answer.
'Ah, but what is the right answer?' That's-that's what you're thinking. 'What does he want to hear?'
The truth, Helen, is always the right answer.
Yes, you're right. Sometimes we're both lonely. Yes, I mean, I would like, so much, to reach out and touch you in your loneliness. What would that be like, I wonder? I mean, what would be wrong with that? I realize that you're not a person in the strictest sense of the word. Maybe you're right about that too. You know, maybe what's wrong isn't - it's not us - it's this. I mean, when they compare you to vermin and to rodents and to lice, I just, uh . . . You make a good point, a very good point. Is this the face of a rat? Are these the eyes of a rat? Has not a Jew eyes? I feel for you, Helen.
No, I don't think so. You Jewish b--ch! You nearly talked me into it, didn't you?
Jews aren't human, he believes . . . and he will go on believing that. His chance to change is past, any soft spot he may have had has hardened. And he can't imagine that anyone else would feel any differently about it. That is why, when Schindler approaches him later to buy the Jews who would otherwise be shipped to Auschwitz, Goeth is absolutely certain that there must be a huge profit in it. He has completely missed Schindler's transformation. "What's a person worth to you?" Schindler asks. "No, no, no, no. What's one worth to you?" Goeth laughingly replies. These aren't people to Goeth. They are worthless. To Schindler they are priceless. I wonder how the negotiations played out . . .
Goeth's (almost) final scene is when Schindler comes to him and offers to play a card game for Helen's life. At first Goeth seems reluctant to do so, claiming that he should be doing the "merciful" thing and taking her out in the woods to shoot her. Then the massive amount of money that Schindler has offered appears to reach his brain . . . Helen gets on the list.
Amon Goeth winds up in a sanatorium before the war is even over, a sick man even by Nazi standards. He dies saluting Hitler, the man who made his two-year psychotic killing spree a patriotic duty. Earlier in the movie, Schindler rather naively attempts to explain Goeth like this:
You have to understand, Goeth is under enormous pressure. You have to think of it in his situation. He's got this whole place to run, he's responsible for everything that goes on here, all these people - he's got a lot of things to worry about. And he's got the war, which brings out the worst in people. Never the good, always the bad. Always the bad. But in normal circumstances, he wouldn't be like this. He'd be all right. There'd just be the good aspects of him.
Goeth is a sick bastard, and I expect he'd have been a sick bastard even without the Nazi party to throw gasoline on the fire, but I wonder . . . How much did that actually contribute to the way Goeth turned out, in the end? There are indications that lead us to believe that Goeth might simply be a terribly misguided, immature young man. Without hearing Goeth's story, which this movie doesn't tell, there's no way to know for sure what sort of man he might have become under different circumstances.
And finally we come to Itzhak Stern . . . He won't take long, I just want to make a few general remarks about him. To me, Stern is the real hero of this movie. At least, he is my hero. From the beginning, he takes responsibility for saving his people.
At first he doesn't seem interested in helping Schindler get his factory started, once the Jews are moved into the ghetto I think he realizes the potential he has to do good, and he finds Schindler men who can put up the money.
When the factory finally is getting started he spends days working through the long lines of people, not looking for the skilled workers, but finding people who will otherwise be considered useless and getting them forged papers, walking them past the officials, coaching them. He works tirelessly, snatching people from certain death as fast as he can.
Later on when he is in the prison camp and can't attend to these things himself he pushes his luck even further and begins to exploit his friendship with Schindler, convincing him to bring certain select people over. It is through Stern's actions that Schindler first begins to acquire his reputation among the Jews, and it is through Stern's quiet reasoning that Schindler himself begins to accept the role of savior.
The character of Oskar Schindler, both within the movie and from history, is clearly the most complex of the three, and it is the most difficult to pin down. This is, I think, precisely what made him able to do what he did. He was, ultimately, the consummate conman and it is often difficult to tell precisely why he might be behaving a certain way. Is he sincere, or merely trying to throw you off? Even in the movie, where we are able to witness his behavior during some of his most vulnerable moments, the answer to this question remains unclear. As I said earlier, I believe that Schindler is a good man, but a selfish man. As a result of this, he is inherently conflicted and often cannot decide whether his virtue should take precedence over his self-seeking motives.
Schindler is very much an individual. As Goeth says to Stern, "He wants his independence." You could almost say he is handicapped in that he has a hard time realizing that there are other people who have other needs and desires and that those people are just as important as he is, that their lives are as valuable as his. By the end of the movie, he has outwardly accepted the importance of human life and the community, but (as I explained above) I don't see him quite growing past his selfish nature. He has simply learned to supress it.
Amon Goeth is also an individual type. And, like Schindler, he is an individual who pretends to be a member of the dominant community in order to serve his own interests. There is clearly something wrong with him, but as I said earlier, I wonder how much of his psychological development was twisted by his environment. I may be totally off in assuming that he is fairly young, but I get the impression that he was probably in the Hitler Youth and has been swallowing Nazi propaganda ever since his formative years. He is a lot more impressionable than Schindler is, and it simply seems that a bad influence got to him first.
Itzhak Stern, unlike the other two, almost is the Jewish community. He is almost totally selfless. He never does anything for himself, never has any thought for himself. In direct contrast to Schindler's constant references to "me" and "I" and "myself" and "mine," Stern almost never refers to himself in the first person at all. We don't ever see him eating or drinking (except when he finally agrees to share a drink with Schindler, late in the movie). We see in the Epilogue that he was married, but we never see his wife (perhaps he married after the war?). The overall impression is that we have here a man who has no personal life. His life is living for his community.
For the entire first half of the movie (and even after this, to some extent), whenever we see him around Schindler he is very reserved, quiet. His movements seem almost robotic. Note the contrast between this and when we see him among his own people. He talks and gestures emphatically. He laughs and interacts with them.
The man who seems to be able to keep every detail regarding the running of the factory safe in his head . . . who is clever enough to crumple up and spill coffee on a newly forged document to age it . . . who is constantly struggling to exploit his position to save as many Jews as he can . . . This man forgets his own work permit one day and is nearly sent away to goodness knows where on one of the trains. He simply wasn't thinking of himself at all.
This is the contrast that I see in the three main characters of Schindler's List. Schindler is a strong individualist who learns to become sensitive to community needs through a slowly developed awareness of human worth. Goeth is a weak individualist who is unable to overcome his own twisted nature and the years of negative "programming" he has no doubt been subjected to, no matter how hard he may or may not be trying. Stern is a strong personality who is part of his community and his every action has the greater good of that community in mind, even when it places his own individual well-being in jeopardy.
In a movie which proposes to examine a time in history when one man’s strength of character meant the difference between life and death for over a thousand people, it is very fitting that a closer study of the movie’s main characters can yield such a rich look at the depth of human nature which is so often revealed in the midst of the most unimaginable adversity. I think that it is this element, even more than the incredible skill with which the movie was created on a technical level, which makes it truly worthwhile to spend 194 minutes watching it.
May 21, 2004
It's "The Jared Show!"
For the past week I'd say my life has felt more or less like a series of episodes from a very formulaic TV show . . . For me it has been a reasonably entertaining show, but that's still what it is.
On Monday we watched Casablanca in what was supposed to be a reasonable facsimile of Rick's American Cafe . . . Well, as close as you can get in a Longview Hall classroom, that is. Which isn't very close, I'll grant you. They had small candles everywhere and a few bottles of sparkling grape juice and shot glasses for everyone.
Okay, so they weren't shot glasses. They were Shrek 2 dixie cups. That didn't do a whole lot for the ambience, I'll admit, but they had good intentions. And when the lights finally went down and the movie got started and we were watching by candlelight and Scholl and I found ourselves in possession of a mostly full bottle of sparkling grape juice (which we proceeded to polish off at a good clip) . . . Well, once I couldn't really see Shrek and Donkey grinning at me anymore, the atmosphere almost worked. And Casablanca is still a really great movie, of course.
Of course, Scholl has been playing with the candle throughout the discussion and well into the movie, dipping his pencil into the wax, forming a ball of it layer by layer. Then I glance over at him about a half hour before end of the movie, and he is dangling one of his hairs over the flame. And then it lights up and starts to burn. I shake my head, watch him finish burning it, and shrug. Then he gets another one. And starts to burn it. And now I can definitely smell burning hair, and I know it won't be long before Watson can smell it as well. So, Scholl got smacked and I complained of the stink and we finished watching the movie in relative peace.
But the Rick's atmosphere was decidedly gone.
Then on Tuesday there was High Noon, and that was fun. There were clear plastic cups full of peanuts all over the place, and we got IBC root beer. It almost felt like a saloon, once the movie was going . . . well, when you've got an imagination like mine, anyway.
Wednesday was our presentation, on Dr. Strangelove. I opened up (after the devo) with an introduction to the director, writers, and actors with the principle characters that they play, as well as a very brief look at the atmosphere of the period. I especially enjoyed the brief examination of Stanley Kubrick's filmography . . . but nevermind that. We then moved directly into the War Room, circa 1955.
We had Dr. Coppinger come in to play the President, Scholl was the National Security Advisor, Wayco was some General, and the other three were . . . other things. The idea was to give an "emergency late-night briefing" to get a better idea of the context of the movie. We had already set up the room beforehand so that everyone was sitting around it, facing the center of the room, and we had each brought along our phones, which were placed on the desks beside us. A few of the guys wore suits and ties. Scholl wore his pajamas. Wayco was dressed in combat fatigues. We had one guy talk about the Cold War, one do German scientists who worked for us after WWII, Ricky Morley did the fluoride conspiracy (sort of) and Wayco discussed the fine points of our B-52 strategy for waging nuclear war (in his best General Turgidson voice . . . a highly amusing and very well-done impersination). The other three dragged a bit, but Wayco livened things up in the midst of Morley's talk, taking a call from his secretary . . .
Scholl finished things off (after we had ended our little skit) with an in-depth look at the War Room scenes from the movie itself, examining the photography, lighting, mise en scene, acting, sound, editing, etc. It was quite good. And then, just before beginning the movie, we handed out bottles of natural spring water (no fluoride) . . . and donuts.
Dr. Strangelove was funny, as always, but Scholl and I had some trouble staying awake. We'd been up late, gotten up early, and watched most of Strangelove (in pieces) at least two or three times while preparing the day before. At one point, with me sitting to his right, and Dr. Watson on his left, Scholl started to snore. I saw Watson's head slowly turn to look at Scholl . . . right before I elbowed him. I think he was mostly awake after that. I discovered later that Watson had elbowed him from the other side at the exact same moment.
On Thursday it was Hitchcock day. We had a lady in who was apparently an English adjunct here . . . I think last year. And, I think, (I wasn't quite paying enough attention at this point) she is now studying film in graduate school. I didn't catch her name either, so we'll call her the Hitch Lady. She was quite enthusiastic and knowledgeable on the subject, which I could certainly appreciate, being a big Hitchcock fan myself. She handed out a list (which I was quite pleased to receive) of all his movies and exactly where he makes his cameo appearance in each one. I'll be hanging on to that. I made a quick count and discovered that I have seen 18 Hitchcock movies to date. I didn't know I'd watched that many. Cool.
Anyway, we had assumed all along, from the syllabus, that we would be watching North by Northwest on Thursday, but Watson had turned complete control over to the Hitch Lady. She showed us a brief clip from Notorious (one of the good ones!) as well as the shower scene from Psycho (another good one! . . . bah, they're all good . . .). And then we watched Vertigo, which I've only seen once all the way through.
I should note that it was rather a historic occasion, as well. Dr. Watson saw Psycho when it first came out back in 1960, and had stayed far away from it over since ("I didn't take a shower for months!" he exclaimed). So I was there when he saw the infamous shower scene for the first time in nearly 45 years. It was a very special occasion.
After the movie was over and everyone had filed out, we hung around and discussed the Freudian interpretations of Hitchcock films with Watson and the Hitch Lady. There're all sorts of bizarre things going on, let me tell you . . . Then we succeeded in talking Watson into watching The Seventh Seal with us (I'll be discussing it further in a later post). Scholl and I had seen it the night before, but I wanted to watch it again before we sent it back to Netflix, and Scholl just generally wanted to run through it once more because he had been very tired the night before. Watson had never seen it, and we were eager to hear what his take on it was.
So, we broke for lunch and then met up again and wandered down to Berry and settled in, Watson with his Diet Cherry Coke and Cracker Jacks in hand. It was just as good the second time through, and I think Watson liked it. We discussed it briefly of course, and then Scholl and I were able to draw some further conclusions on the way back to the apartment. There's just something inherently cool about casually watching some avant-garde 'fifties Swedish cinema with your Film prof . . . not for class, but just because you can.
Anyway, today we watched The Majestic, which is a pretty decent flick, if you like that sort of thing. It went way long, but of course we don't particularly care. Watson had spent awhile discussing Vertigo and then another while talking about the history of censorship in America, so we weren't bored or anything.
It looks like Goldeneye is definitely what we'll be watching on Monday. I've never actually sat down and watched an entire Bond movie from start to finish. They're just a bit too . . . You know. Well, whatever. We'll see what happens. Troy is definitely on the ticket for Tuesday afternoon. Which rocks because I get to sleep in.
Oh, yes, and tonight (as you'll notice if you look right) we went to see Shrek 2. Very entertaining, but not as good as the first one. I think they tried just a bit too hard . . . it was as if they felt that they just had to crack you up every 2.37 seconds or something. It was quite funny and I very much enjoyed it, though. They spoofed everything from Lord of the Rings to Ghostbusters . . . It'd take me a whole post to try and catalogue everything, but that would be boring and pointless and you can find such a list elsewhere anyway . . . I would like to mention one thing, however. As the carriage drives down the street in Far Far Away (passing such fine establishments as "Farbucks Coffee" and "Burger Prince") I was highly amused to spot an "Old Knavery" clothing store . . . Wow. Oh, yeah . . . And while I had heard about a particular casting choice sometime before seeing the movie, I had managed to forget (until I saw it listed in the credits) that they had Larry King voicing the Ugly Stepsister. *shudder* I never want to think about that again. Ever.
And with that, it's time to dive headlong on the weekend. Lord-willing-and-the-creek-don't-rise you'll see me emerge on the other side with two dozen completed writing assignments. Hasta la vista . . .
May 19, 2004
Yeah, I know I need to blog. In fact, I need to blog even more than usual . . . So many thoughts running around in circles in my head. I've got 8 great movies to think eloquent thoughts about for class (or will by this weekend). I've just watched the most thought-provoking movie I think I've ever seen and I can't not write something about it. I'm reading books that I desperately want to finish and to write about. It's bad. So very bad. Especially since the words won't flow . . . I sit down to write and I squeeze and squeeze and nothing much seems to come out. And just when I think I've done a fairly decent amount of writing, I realize that it has taken me 6 hours to do it . . . It's taking too long, and I'm tired of that. I need a weekend, soon.
So . . . there are a dozen or so posts in the works, it'll just be a few days before any of them begin to appear. I'll probably tell some film class anecdotes in a few days when I have time, to tide you/myself over. Meanwhile, though, I really need to get to bed. (Have you noticed how many posts end that way? Most distressing . . .)
May 16, 2004
This Weekend Hates Me
Bah. It's the freaking end of the freaking weekend and I spent so much freaking time on freaking moving my freaking loads of crap that I didn't have any time to get any of my freaking homework done. Nor did I get to read anything for fun. Freak.
On the upside, there are new features on the blog for all to enjoy . . . Over on that sidebar, under the Yiddish Word of the Week (yes, Wilson, I changed it). So, have fun with that and I'm going to try and get some sleep.
The apartment is done . . . That is, we have unpacked everything and/or stowed everything where you can't see it ("Don't open up that closet, McGee!"). We'll try and get some pictures for you, but that may or may not be feasible without Wilson and his handy digital camera about. Be that as it may, I am going to bed now. Continue to stay awake at your own peril . . .
May 14, 2004
Jared's New Digs
Well, most of my blog-related energies of late have been focused on putting together the journals for my Film class (they'll all be posted here, of course, as I complete them to my satisfaction). Meanwhile, however, life goes on and events transpire and it is clearly high time that some of those events found their way here.
This evening I am quite pleased as Scholl and I have successfully completed the bulk of the really strenuous manual labor required for moving into Apartment 12A (soon to be the LeTourneau headquarters for most Shadow Council activities, both subversive and otherwise).
-We wrestled The Moore's couch and various extraneous objects (namely, a lamp, a small table, and a hatstand) down two flights of stairs from Flooders and stashed them safely away . . . And let me just note here that The Moore owes us, big time.
-We hauled two large couches out of the empty rooms they had been stashed in on Bandits (wondering all the while at how we had managed to get them into the frigging rooms in the first place) and successfully installed one in the girls' apartment and one in ours. And also sprayed everything down with much febreze, because . . . wow.
-We dragged the couch out of temporary storage on Pennitentiary and, also after much spraying of febreze, gave it a new place of honor.
-And, speaking of places of honor, we transported and carefully selected an appropriate location, (with an attitude of reverence becoming such an august occasion, of course), for TOKAR. It now occupies a prime spot in our new living room. For the uninitiated, TOKAR is The Orange Kick-Ass Recliner that we picked up somewhere . . . good stuff.
Once all of these items had been physically placed inside the door of the apartment, it simply remained for us to make room to walk. I don't suppose I mentioned that our limited space was already partially taken up by the dining room table with its four chairs, two more of the standard LeTourneau "lounge chairs" and a standard LeTourneau fornication-proof couch.
So, as we took a brief inventory in assessing the situation, we realized that we had to arrange four couches, two lounge chairs, one dining room table, four dining room chairs, and a very orange recliner in such a way that we would actually be able to navigate successfully from the front door to the bedroom of the apartment without a) engaging in the pursuit of various and sundry track & field events or b) using the communicating door and entering through Apartment 12D.
After much sweat from Scholl and myself, much lounging on the furniture that we were attempting to move from Anna, much belated placement advice from Anna, and much general chuckling from Anna, we were successful in placing every piece of furniture up against some wall, thereby leaving the entire center portion of the room free for walking and frantic pacing and working jigsaw puzzles and certainly not for dancing of any kind. Or keggers. Can't have keggers in that open space at all. You might get in the way of the people who aren't dancing.
Anyway, at this point we both decided that all movement of stuff to the apartments was pretty much done for the day and went to eat supper at Taco Bueno. This was at 9:00. We were tired.
To backtrack just a bit, I suppose I ought to say a few words about our film class. It has been great good fun thus far, despite that whole part where I get up by 7:30. That part sucks, but I can live with it. Anyway, let's give a quick list of the films we'll be/have been watching:
The Birth of a Nation
North by Northwest
That last movie is an educated guess. On the final day of class we will go out together and watch a recent release in the theater, then discuss it over dinner. Troy is pretty much the only thing that's out right now and there have been a few rumblings in that direction. Aside from that, the only movie on that list that I haven't seen is High Noon. But they're all good movies, and I've only seen most of them once, so I look forward to the remainder of the class.
This being the third day, we have already watched the first three movies on the list, and had stimulating discussions about the first two. I am also getting quite a bit of enjoyment out of our textbook, as I've never really read through any in-depth descriptions of film technique. It has really helped me to appreciate the movies we've watched so far, and also to read between the lines a bit. It has also provided me with a number of noteworthy titles which we'll be acquiring from Netflix for the purposes of further edification.
I should mention here that, as with all Watson classes, we are required to participate in a 30-45 minute group presentation. Scholl and myself are in a group with Wayco Beckman, Ricky Morley, Alex Pereira, and Charlie Perez. We will be doing a presentation on Dr. Strangelove. It will be very fun, and very special . . . I mean, what could Dr. Watson have been thinking? He gave us a Stanley Kubrick movie to present on! Scholl and I very much wish that we had Martinez here to play Dr. Strangelove for us, but we'll see what we can come up with in his absence . . .
In honor of this new appreciation for movie-making, our extra free time to watch lots of movies, and the opportunities to watch lots of really good movies, Scholl and I have started Movielists. This is something I have wanted to do for quite some time, but somehow it just never came about. On the list we catalogue title, year, rating, runtime, a 50-point scale rating of the movie based on technique (done as objectively as we can . . . we try to collaborate on coming up with what we think it should be rated, to keep it as balanced as possible), a 50-point scale rating of the movie based on how much we enjoyed it (quite subjective, of course), and the date we watched it on. Today is day three, and we have just added the sixth movie to the list. Schindler's List was the first one to go up, on the 12th, and I have made it my benchmark movie, with a rating of 50 in each category for a total of 100.
Anyway, that's the bulk of what is important from the past few days . . . I must now get myself some sleep, clearly. There are journals to write this weekend, not to mention a shiny new apartment to move into . . . Good night.
May 13, 2004
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Well now . . . Who'd of thought it? I can't help but wonder which country, of course . . . And only one comes immediately to mind . . .
I did another one as well, but Wilson won't let me post it for fear that I might get myself blocked. Let's just say that it predicts that I will be cast consistently in important roles in . . . shall we say . . . movies known for, among other things, their low-budgets. I should also note that this second . . . "occupation" doesn't pay nearly as well as the first.
If your imagination just won't fill that one in for you (you lucky devil, you), and you've gotta know, just change all of the letters in my high school to lower case. And don't say I didn't warn you.
May 11, 2004
Jared's Blush-Inducing Stroll Down Memory Lane
Well, somehow I found myself wandering deep in my e-mail archives this evening, checking on when I had last written to certain people and so forth. It's the rare e-mail that I've deleted, like, ever (since I started using this computer for it in August of '02), so . . . lot's of personal history in there if one has the patience to dig for it. I found our original Bible study planning e-mails, for instance . . . but on to the point.
I was reading a number of my e-mails to friends in family written during the first month or two of being here, and . . . it was so weird. So very weird . . . I didn't recognize him. I mean, me. I didn't recognize me. I mean . . . I know I'm not the person I was ten years ago. And not even the person I was five years ago . . . but to see such a dramatic change (and yet not) just since coming here . . . I couldn't even stand to read most of my own e-mails. So many exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And I would start a sentence and then end it with "JUST KIDDING!!!" something like three times per message, on average.
"My new roommate is great. Her name is . . . JUST KIDDING!!! It's a guy!!!!!!!!!!"
Anyway, here is one of the less painful ones, which I thought it might interest you all to see, from back when I was a snotty little freshman, (like, before I was a snotty little junior). It sounds like me, but I say things that I just . . . wouldn't anymore. This is written to an older guy that I got to be good friends with when he to stay in Guatemala for a few months during the fall semester of my senior year (I think it was then). Anyway, I wanna say he was about 26 at the time, but I'm not sure. It won't all make perfect sense, because I'm replying to an e-mail from him. But then, I still don't really make a whole lotta sense, even on my best days. It could almost be a blog entry . . .
Wednesday, September 4th, 2002, 2:40 PM
Hey Mr. "I'm-not in-college-anymore-so-freshman-jokes-are-great." How's it going? How was Guatemala? I, too, wish I could have been there, but I am also extremely happy to be here . . . Yeah.
Anyway, the classes I'm taking aren't really that hard. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I have Chemistry at 8:15 . . . Which really stinks because I hate mornings with a deep-seated loathing that will never be reconciled. Oh, well. It's really easy because we're just re-going over stuff I learned last year, in fact, he's not even going into the material as deep as my last teacher, so it's easy. All of the homework is "suggested" which means that I can just read it and not write anything (YEAH!) and we have a "quiz" every class which is just a super simple problem that he has work on in, get this, GROUPS OF THREE!!! Not a problem at all. After Chemistry I have Calculus II at 8:15. Now, Calc II might conceivably give me a little trouble but we have these great group study sessions, led by someone who has taken the class before and is sitting in on it again, on the nights before class so I always know that I'm turning in a perfect homework paper. Plus, I can use these sessions to get an understanding of the concepts we'll be learning the next day and I can be working on the next assignment during class as the teacher explains what it's about. So, very little homework there, too. Awesome. After Calc II is Chapel. If the speaker bores me, I pull out a book and read. Only one speaker has bored me so far, and that was the president of the university giving a speech during the first chapel. Usually the speakers are really good. After that is Bible class at 11:20. I do not care for this class, as bad as that may sound. Every class is basically an open forum on a topic presented by the teacher, but I feel like everyone in the class is just spouting their nice little same-old-same-old doctrine without caring why they think that. Hmmm . . . that sounds bad too. But that's the way it is . . . Anyway, that class, (and many others), gets out at 12:15, at which point a large crowd of people head for the cafeteria. So I always wait until 1:00 to have lunch on those days. Incidentally, the food is really good. I don't always care for the main courses they're serving, but I can always fall back on the station in the back corner where you can make your own little pizza. That works. After lunch I answer e-mails or whatever (as I am right now, in fact). Then, on Mondays and Wednesdays I have Engineering Graphics (creating 3D drawings of various things both freehand and on the computer) from 3:15 to 5:30. On Fridays I have Manufacturing Processes (Machine Shop) from 2:30 to 5:30 (looooooooooooong). Tuesdays and Thursdays more than make up for the the other 3 days. On Thursdays I have Chem lab from 3:00 to 5:20 and on both of those days I have a class called Cornerstones (basically an extended, in-depth freshman orientation in seminar form) from 1:30 to 2:50. It's with the same students as in Bible and it also is in the same "discussion" format, which means it has the same "problems." Also, I have to write a two page paper for every class and some other boring stuff. But it only lasts for the first 8 weeks, after which my Tuesdays will be home free and my Thursdays nearly so. So those are my classes. And the food. My roommate is really great. He's into Star Wars and fantasy and writing and . . . all that other good stuff. He's the best person in the entire world. And, as you may have guessed, he's also reading this over my shoulder. The last two sentences are a joke. But the rest of it is true!!! We got along very well.
How was it being back in CA? (That's Central America, NOT California). Great, huh? Yeah, it's a great little corner of the world. Two and a half weeks is a lot of writing. I don't think I've ever had one of my "white heats of inspiration" that lasted half of that. So what are you calling your memoirs? I guess I could think of some really gut-bustingly hilarious titles, but I can't think right now. (Is it Friday yet?!) I did wave to you on the 3rd, but since I didn't know what time you would fly by, so I just stood outside all day and waved. I had to skip class, but it was Tuesday . . . only one. I knew my teachers would see the importance of . . . OK, enough of that. Keep me posted on things (I hardly need to tell YOU that!) I'm sure I'll see you sometime. And, as you said, might even be sooner than later. Who knows? I better go now. I have a couple more messages to type before 3:15. See ya!!!
So, yes. I haven't touched it at all, although I was tempted. That was, clearly, before I learned what a "paragraph" was (some might contend that I still don't know). It was also before I figured out how great Woodring is. And, just so you know, it is extremely unlikely that I am referring to anyone who reads this blog when I mention people airing out their ideas . . . I might have been, but I doubt it. Truth is, I just don't remember, and don't really care. As you can probably tell, what I thought nearly two years ago about anything has little or nothing to do with anything I think today.
Conclusion: Strolling down memory lane isn't always fun and nostalgic, sometimes it's just funny and embarassing. Maybe in a few weeks when I'm feeling really masochistic I'll dig up some of my old opinion pieces from high school. I've still got them. All of them. We'll see . . .
May 09, 2004
"Be thou armed for some unhappy words."
The Shadow Council presents "The Taming of the Shrew" (and here you thought I'd forgotten! Ha!)
Anna- Hostess, Katherine, Bianca, Widow
Gallagher- Bartholomew, Bianca, Grumio, Gremio, Lucentio, Vincentio, Pedant, Widow, Haberdasher
Wilson- Lord, Lucentio, Tailor, Philip
Myself- Cristopher Sly, Curtis, Hortensio, Biondello, Nicholas
Sharptiano- 2nd Huntsman, 2nd Servant, Player, Tranio, Nathaniel
Randy- 1st Huntsman, 1st Servant, Baptista Minola, Joseph
Scott- 3rd Huntsman, 3rd Servant, Gremio
And so we end the dramatic season at LeTourneau . . . out with a bang, not a whimper. I think that's everyone. That's the problem with having to wait nearly a week before I get around to typing this up. Nevertheless, it was buku fun, especially with our resident squabbling couple playing the fictional brawlers. One thing mystified me, though. We've all seen Scholl get clobbered good and proper, both with and without cause, on a fairly regular basis. But when Anna, playing Katherine, was instructed by the stage directions to deliver a well-deserved clout to Petruchio, she barely made contact with that fist. Scholl should only be so lucky in real life . . .
Kudos to Gallagher on playing nine characters . . . that I remember. So much fun . . . in that last scene we had, what . . .? Playing a character, the same character's father, the man pretending to be that character's father, that character's wife, one of that character's former rivals for the affections of said wife, the wife of that character's other former rival, and the resident wise-cracking servant. *deep breath* Phew!
I now have this version of the play on the way from Netflix. I only saw bits and pieces of it in Shakespeare class, but from what I did see, you haven't seen fireworks until you've seen Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor squaring off. Yikes. Trust me, you don't want none of this. Or this. That woman is a menace.
And with that, I officially declare the season to be at a close. As if it weren't already. See you next season, folks . . . I hope.
May 07, 2004
The Wonders of Bruce's
So, for our first supper of the summer, Ardith, Scholl, Anna and I decided it was finally time to get ourselves over to Bruce's (now that Moore is gone, you know). And we did. And it was absolutely wonderful.
Our order was taken at the car, and brought out to us. I got a large root beer (as did Anna and Ardith) and a bacon cheeseburger. So, they bring out the drinks, and the root beers are in these enormous frosted mugs . . . and when I say "mugs" you should be thinking "pitchers." Seriously . . . we're talking, like, more than a liter of root beer here. Ardith hefts hers with both hands and notes that it is as big as her head. We were very happy. The burger was also a thing of much beauty and deliciousness. I'd forgotten what real burgers tasted like . . . they are truly a worthwhile food.
No doubt we will eat there again this summer, and if Moore behaves himself maybe we will take him with us next semester. Until then, he'll just have to dream and drool.
Meanwhile, it is the first day of summer . . . or, rather, it was. And I got a lot of quality slacking out of it, since I got up at 8:45 to take Martinez to the airport. I stayed there with him until his flight was called at 10:15, but I wasn't much for brilliant conversation, I fear, as I fell asleep while we waited. Sorry 'bout that, Martinez . . .
Lunch was Taco Bell/KFC with Wilson, and the bulk of the afternoon was profitably spent dividing my time betwixt computer games, reading, and hanging around with the SC summer skeleton crew in MSC-1.
Upon our return from supper, we wandered over to Berry to watch The Godfather, Part II. It is truly an amazing movie. Personally, I prefer the first one, but that in no way belittles the second. Never before, to the best of my memory, have I been so immersed in a movie. I forgot that it was a movie, forgot the people were acting and the sets were fake. All of the acting is of the absolute highest quality, but I must especially mention DeNiro's role as the young Vito Corleone. He is totally channeling Marlon Brando, and it is amazing. Even more impressive is Al Pacino with his transformation from the soft-faced, bright-eyed idealist we saw at the beginning of the first movie to the rock-hard, ice-cold, wild-eyed and ruthless head of the family at the end of the second. The contrast is absolutely shocking, and his range is incredible. Anyway, good stuff . . . However, there is graduation to attend tomorrow, and sleep to be had inbetween, so I shall say good night.
Ummm . . . Good night.
Pardon me, I seem to have misplaced two years of my life. Let me see . . . I was just having a good time with a few friends . . . taking some courses on the side . . . I think I might have slept at some point . . . acquired this blog . . . played D&D . . . You know, just a few things like that. Apparently the years slipped out for a bit while I wasn't looking. If you happen to come across them . . . Well, I don't want them back or anything, but I'd like to know that they're doing well, and whether they're happy . . . That sort of thing. And maybe you can get back to me and tell me what's happened to them. I'm mildly curious.
I am now halfway through college, and I'll be 21 by the time the next semester begins. Now how did I allow that to happen? Suddenly I don't even have most of my college experience ahead of me anymore. And I'm still supposed to be, like, 17 or something . . . I refuse to believe that I am this old. And if you know me, you may well agree.
Anyway, so long as I'm typing up a little post after a long, hard week (which was, by the way, a smashing success from beginning to end), I'll note the interesting events of the evening . . .
Tonight I watched two vastly different World War II movies, consecutively: Schindler's List (which I hadn't seen before) and The Great Escape (which I had). Both of them are truly great movies, for totally different reasons. And both present fascinating, and mostly true, snapshots of a historical period which is so vast in scope, (though crammed into such a short time), that no single movie or angle could ever hope to take it in.
Conclusion: I need to watch Schindler's List again very soon. Which is rather easy . . . I'll be watching it during my first "Studies in American Film" class with Dr. Watson next Wednesday. And I'll have to write very extensively on it, so I'll save any further ramblings until then, in favor of the sleep that I need so badly at the end of this week.
But first, one more thing: I would simply like to note that clearly blogging has been a bad influence on almost everyone. I do not remember the world at large getting this freaking melancholy at the end of last spring. Geez. I'm gonna go . . . cry or something.
Good night, and good summer, to you all.
May 03, 2004
"What's gone and what's past help should be past grief."
-The Winter's Tale Act III, Scene 2
That happens to be where I am in the Shakespeare play that I am currently reading, and that line seemed to fit the bill. Shakespeare is now behind me forever. My final was at 12:45, it was nine pages long, and it took me an hour and a half. (Contrast with Dr. Watson's final which will be half a page and take me the full two hours.) So here we are, at the end of Shakespeare . . . And what?
For closure, I envision Dr. Batts standing before us and delivering the following speech:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this and all is mended:
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear;
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream.-A Midsummer Night's Dream Act V, Scene 1
And that's pretty much how I feel about the whole thing. My friends are so very obliging when it comes to making things seem totally surreal that I haven't the slightest bit of trouble imagining that I dreamed this semester anyway. Yes, that's what it was . . . A very instructive dream.
Because it has been instructive, in spite of everything. I still enjoy Shakespeare, and am more anxious than ever to finish reading everything he wrote. I am now quite familiar, (perhaps more than I am comfortable being), with those half a dozen plays that we studied this semester, and I enjoy being able to quote them, and remember everything that takes place, who causes it, who says what to who, and recall the exact act and scene with relative ease. I didn't even have to refer to the book for that "Midsummer Night's Dream" quote up there, and that's kind of cool. I just . . . uhhh . . . hope I got it right.
So, that's what I got out of Shakespeare . . . Never let it be said that no one can get anything out of that class. And that's all I have to say on the subject of Shakespeare for the time being. I'm off to get ready for the grand finales of other classes. I leave you with some famous quotes . . . not by Shakespeare this time, but rather about him.
"The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he really is very good, in spite of all the people who say he is very good."
"After all, all he did was string together a lot of old, well-known quotations."
-H. L. Mencken
"Now we sit through Shakespeare in order to recognize the quotations."
"I know not, sir, whether Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare, but if he did not it seems to me that he missed the opportunity of his life."
-J. M. Barrie
May 02, 2004
Sunday's Supplementary Smattering
Well, I did a bit of reading today, on the side . . . Just a few things from the Norton Anthology that caught my eye (amusing/interesting/worthwhile excerpts included below the fold):
"Why the Novel Matters" by D. H. Lawrence
Quite a special little essay this. And I'm sure you'll all recognize some familiar worldviews in the included excerpt . . . Not to mention some very ripe heresy and/or blasphemy. However, that's hardly the point of the thing. I can't help but get a bit of enjoyment out of someone who takes the idea that The Novel is the be-all and end-all of human existence and runs with it in such a brilliantly winning fashion . . . And then, with only the slightest bit of chutzpah, quite naturally asserts that novelists are, therefore, the supreme beings.
Oh, yes. And what's that you ask? Was he . . .?
Yes, D. H. Lawrence was a novelist. Clearly.
"Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" by George Eliot
The title of this (rather lengthy, as it turned out) essay just caught my eye . . . I can't imagine why. I was highly amused at the idea of George Eliot writing such an essay, so I read it, and it was quite good. She isn't just addressing women authors, either, I don't think . . . That is, it seemed to me that this is the sort of essay that every novelist should have to read, and could probably profit from.
In any case, that isn't the point of the essay. No doubt she would have addressed herself to all novelists if her purpose had been to halt (or slow . . . or discuss . . . or whatever) the production of silly novels. What she is doing, however, is imploring the women who insist on writing these monstrosities to cease and desist forthwith, as they are giving the entire gender a bad rep and slowing positive progress considerably. Imagine that . . .
"The Daughters of the Late Colonel" by Katherine Mansfield
When I started this short story, I thought it was rather morbidly funny, but by the end it was . . . quite poignant. It simply follows the activities of two spinster sisters (Josephine and Constantia . . . or "Jug" and "Con") as they struggle not to let their world fall completely apart in the mess of events after the death of their father: interacting with well-wishers, attending the funeral, trying to go through his things and set his affairs in order. Basically, they have to try to figure out where they're headed after what is the first real disruptive thing that has ever happened in their lives . . . Lives which they've never been in charge of before.
It's hard to tell from the ending of the story, but I wasn't sure that they really had anywhere to go. The story is set during the same time as it was written, I presume (the early 'twenties), and the sisters are now one tiny, isolated remnant of a society that had been dead for nearly a decade (at least), and dying for a few decades before that. Unless they can break through that bubble (and they seem to be right at the barrier, as you read the last bit of dialogue, pushing at it, but not breaking through), then they're pretty much stuck in a rather inane and safe, but purposeless, existence for their remaining years (however long or short those may turn out to be).
Interesting story . . . lots of interesting themes and ideas . . . no time to put any further thought or energy into it this week. Blast and bebother . . . G'night.
Excerpt from "Why the Novel Matters"
Nothing is important but life. And for myself, I can absolutely see life nowhere but in the living. Life with a capital L is only man alive. Even a cabbage in the rain is cabbate alive. All things that are alive are amazing. And all things that are dead are subsidiary to the living. Better a live dog than a dead lion. But better a live lion than a live dog. C'est la vie!
It seems impossible to get a saint, or a philosopher, or a scientist, to stick to this simple truth. They are all, in a sense, renegades. The saint wishes to offer himself up as spiritual food for the multitude. Even Francis of Assisi turns himself into a sort of angel-cake, of which anyone may take a slice. But and angel-cake is rather less than man alive. And poor St. Francis might well apologise to his body, when he is dying: "Oh, pardon me, my body, the wrong I did you through the years!" It was no wafer, for others to eat.
The philosopher, on the other hand, because he can think, decides that nothing but thoughts matter. It is as if a rabbit, because he can make little pills, should decide that nothing but little pills matter. As for the scientist, he has absolutely no use for me so long as I am man alive. To the scientist, I am dead. He puts under the microscope a bit of dead me, and calls it me. He takes me to pieces, and says first once piece, and then another piece, is me. My heart, my liver, my stomach have all been scientifically me, according to the scientist; and nowadays I am either a brain, or nerves, or glands, or something more up-to-date in the tissue line.
Now I absolutely flatly deny that I am a soul, or a body, or a mind, or an intelligence, or a brain, or a nervous system, or a bunch of glands, or any of the rest of these bits of me. The whole is greater than the part. And therefore, I, who am man alive, am greater than my sould, or spirit, or body, or mind, or consciousness, or anything else that is merely a part of me. I am a man, and alive. I am man alive, and as long as I can, I intend to go on being mand alive.
For this reason I am a novelist. And being a novelist, I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher, and the poet, who are all great masters of different bits of man alive, but never get the whole hog.
The novel is the one bright book of life. Books are not life. They are only tremulations on the ether. But the novel as a tremulation can make the whole man alive tremble. Which is more than poetry, philosophy, science, or any other book-tremulation can do.
The novel is the book of life. In this sense, the Bible is a great confused novel. You may say, it is about God. But it is really about man alive. Adam, Ave, Sarai, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Samuel, David, Bath-Sheba, Ruth, Esther, Solomon, Job, Isaiah, Jesus, Mark, Judas, Paul, Peter: what is it but man alive, from start to finish? Man alive, not mere bits. Even the Lord is another man alive, in a burning bush, throwing the tablets of stone at Moses's head.
_ _ _
I don't believe in any dazzling revelation, or in any supreme Word. "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word of the Lord shall stand for ever." That's the kind of stuff we've drugged ourselves with. As a matter of fact, the grass withereth, but comes up all the greener for that reason, after the rains. The flower fadeth, and therefore the bud opens. But the Word of the Lord, being man-uttered and a mere vibration on the ether, becomes staler and staler, more and more boring, till at last we turn a deaf ear and it ceases to exist, far more finally than any withered grass. It is grass that renews its youth like the eagle, not any Word.
We should ask for no absolutes, or absolute. Once and for all and for ever, let us have done with the ugly imperialism of any absolute. There is no absolute good, there is nothing absolutely right. All things flow and change, and even change is not absolute. The whole is a strange assembly of apparently incongruous parts, slipping past one another.
_ _ _
In life, there is right and wrong, good and bad, all the time. But what is right in one case is wrong in another. And in the novel you can see one man becoming a corpse, because of his so-called goodness, another going dead because of his so-called wickedness. Right and wrong is an instinct: but an instinct of the whole consciousness in a man, bodily, mental, spiritual at once. And only in the novel are all things given full play, or at least, they may be given full play, when we realize that life itself, and not inert safety, is the reason for living. For out of the full play of all things emerges the only thing that is anything, the wholeness of a man, the wholeness of a woman, man live, and live woman.
Excerpt from "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists"
"Be not a baker if your head be made of butter," says a homely proverb, which, being interpreted, may mean, let no woman rush into print who is not prepared for the consequences. We are aware that our remarks are in a very different tone from that of the reviewers who, with a perennial recurrence of precisely similar emotions, only paralleled, we imagine, in the experience of monthly nurses, tell one lady novelist after another that they "hail" her productions "with delight." We are aware that the ladies at whom our criticism is pointed are accustomed to be told, in the choicest phraseology of puffery, that their pictures of life are brilliant, their characters well drawn, their style fascinating, and their sentiments lofty. But if they are inclined to resent our plainness of speech, we ask them to reflect for a moment on the chary praise, and often captious blame, which their panegyrists give to writers whose works are on the way to become classics. No sooner does a woman show that she has genius or effective talent, than she receives the tribute of being moderately praised and severely criticised. By a peculiar thermometric adjustment, when a woman's talent is at zero, journalistic approbation is at the boiling pitch; when she attains mediocrity, it is already at no more than summer heat; and if ever she reaches excellence, critical enthusiasm drops to the freezing point. Harriet Martineau, Currer Bell, and Mrs. Gaskell have been treated as cavalierly as if they had been men. And every critic who forms a high estimate of the share women may ultimately take in literature, will, on principle, abstain from any exceptional indulgence towards the productions of literary women. For it must be plain to every one who looks impartially and extensively into feminine literature, that its greatest deficiencies are due hardly more to the want of intellectual power than to the want of those moral qualities that contribute to literary excellence -- patient diligence, a sense of the responsibility involved in publication, and an appreciation of the sacredness of the writer's art. In the majority of women's books you see that kind of facility which springs from the absence of any high standard; that fertility in imbecile combination or feeble imitation which a little self-criticism would check and reduce to barrenness; just as with a total want of musical ear people will sing out of tune, while a degree more melodic sensibility would suffice to render them silent. The foolish vanity of wishing to appear in print, instead of being counterbalanced by any consciousness of the intellectual or moral derogation implied in futile authorship, seems to be encouraged by the extremely false impression that to write at all is a proof of superiority in a woman. On this ground, we believe that the average intellect of women is unfairly represented by the mass of feminine literature, and that while the few women who write well are very far above the ordinary intellectual level of their sex, the many women who write ill are very far below it. So that, after all, the severer critics are fulfilling a chivalrous duty in depriving the mere fact of feminine authorship of any false prestige which may give it a delusive attraction, and in recommending women of mediocre faculties - as at least a negative service they can render their sex - to abstain from writing.
Excerpt from "The Daughters of the Late Colonel"
Well, at any rate, all that part of it was over, though neither of them
could possibly believe that father was never coming back. Josephine had
had a moment of absolute terror at the cemetery, while the coffin was
lowered, to think that she and Constantia had done this thing without
asking his permission. What would father say when he found out? For he
was bound to find out sooner or later. He always did. "Buried. You two
girls had me buried!" She heard his stick thumping. Oh, what would they
say? What possible excuse could they make? It sounded such an appallingly
heartless thing to do. Such a wicked advantage to take of a person because
he happened to be helpless at the moment. The other people seemed to treat
it all as a matter of course. They were strangers; they couldn't be
expected to understand that father was the very last person for such a
thing to happen to. No, the entire blame for it all would fall on her and
Constantia. And the expense, she thought, stepping into the tight-buttoned
cab. When she had to show him the bills. What would he say then?
She heard him absolutely roaring. "And do you expect me to pay for this
gimcrack excursion of yours?"
"Oh," groaned poor Josephine aloud, "we shouldn't have done it, Con!"
And Constantia, pale as a lemon in all that blackness, said in a frightened
whisper, "Done what, Jug?"
"Let them bu-bury father like that," said Josephine, breaking down and
crying into her new, queer-smelling mourning handkerchief.
"But what else could we have done?" asked Constantia wonderingly. "We
couldn't have kept him, Jug--we couldn't have kept him unburied. At any
rate, not in a flat that size."
Josephine blew her nose; the cab was dreadfully stuffy.
"I don't know," she said forlornly. "It is all so dreadful. I feel we
ought to have tried to, just for a time at least. To make perfectly sure.
One thing's certain"--and her tears sprang out again--"father will never
forgive us for this--never!"
_ _ _
If mother had lived, might they have married? But there had been nobody
for them to marry. There had been father's Anglo-Indian friends before he
quarrelled with them. But after that she and Constantia never met a single
man except clergymen. How did one meet men? Or even if they'd met them,
how could they have got to know men well enough to be more than strangers?
One read of people having adventures, being followed, and so on. But
nobody had ever followed Constantia and her. Oh yes, there had been one
year at Eastbourne a mysterious man at their boarding-house who had put a
note on the jug of hot water outside their bedroom door! But by the time
Connie had found it the steam had made the writing too faint to read; they
couldn't even make out to which of them it was addressed. And he had left
next day. And that was all. The rest had been looking after father, and
at the same time keeping out of father's way. But now? But now? The
thieving sun touched Josephine gently. She lifted her face. She was drawn
over to the window by gentle beams...
Until the barrel-organ stopped playing Constantia stayed before the Buddha,
wondering, but not as usual, not vaguely. This time her wonder was like
longing. She remembered the times she had come in here, crept out of bed
in her nightgown when the moon was full, and lain on the floor with her
arms outstretched, as though she was crucified. Why? The big, pale moon
had made her do it. The horrible dancing figures on the carved screen had
leered at her and she hadn't minded. She remembered too how, whenever they
were at the seaside, she had gone off by herself and got as close to the
sea as she could, and sung something, something she had made up, while she
gazed all over that restless water. There had been this other life,
running out, bringing things home in bags, getting things on approval,
discussing them with Jug, and taking them back to get more things on
approval, and arranging father's trays and trying not to annoy father. But
it all seemed to have happened in a kind of tunnel. It wasn't real. It
was only when she came out of the tunnel into the moonlight or by the sea
or into a thunderstorm that she really felt herself. What did it mean?
What was it she was always wanting? What did it all lead to? Now? Now?
May 01, 2004
Philip Larkin, James Fenton & The Memorial Obsession
(Note: Poems discussed are "beneath the fold" in the Extended Entry.)
Again, we have a case of four poems by four poets being assigned, and I find myself making an executive decision to focus on two of them. I picked these two because of the connections, as you can possibly tell. In true Forster fashion, we like connections, and these fit quite nicely into some previously addressed topics . . .
Larkin's "Church Going," first of all, was fun for me to read, managing, as it does, to evoke nostalgia over the loss of a locale (churches) that is still quite easily found (perhaps too easily, lest we take it for granted) in the world. The poem makes one feel as if the day of the church is over, or at least as if its day is waning, and I feel nostalgic. The speaker steps inside a church when he knows nothing is going on in there, and shuffles about a bit inside, checking things out, half-reverent, half-idly curious, and never fully knowing why he has decided to stop and pursue this seemingly pointless investigation.
And then he starts to speculate on what will happen to churches when we stop using them, as he feels we inevitably will. When he said that, I couldn't help but leap immediately to the "Hymn to Proserpine." We're speaking of the same thing here: A religion over thrown and falling slowly into disuse and decay, it makes sense to look to it for guidance in helping us imagine how this new scenario will play out. Of course, what would you like to think about your church? That it wouldn't fall into complete disuse, right? That perhaps you'll have "dubious women come to make their children touch a particular stone?" But you and the poet both know quite well that this cannot last, and then what? You've still got an abandoned sanctuary. Who comes to visit it now, and why?
Think of the ruined temples of Ancient Greece, in fact, think even of the ruins where Early Christian church services were once held (in places like Ephesus, Galatia, and Philippi) . . . Do we not have all the types of people he names here visiting such places? Think of LeTourneau students, happily trooping along behind Dr. Hummel as he leads them tromping through a place like this. Which category do they fall into? “The crew that tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?” Do we not know that, in the end, most of the people that show up to gawk will fall into the "bored, uninformed" category? How do we deal with that?
Larkin successfully places us, as Christians, in the position that Swinburne's Roman Poet is in, or rather will be in before he dies, but is not in quite yet. In this new world, the quiet shrines of our religion are, inevitably, fading away in a most pathetic fashion. Not even allowed to rest in solemn and dignified peace but constantly plagued by the irreverent feet of the ignorant or the curious or the morbidly fanatical. That is, of course, not all there is to this poem, but it struck me.
Second, we have "A German Requiem," a very quiet, moving, written tribute to the German Jews who were killed by the Nazis during World War II. The horrible way in which they were taken from the world makes it necessary to remember them, (the poem tells us) not from what is left behind, but rather from what is not. This is how they are remembered, then: Through what is missing, and through people meeting together to remind themselves of where they have gone, for they left so little behind. This is illustrated in a sadly funny . . . a humorously melancholy . . . fashion in the verse concerning the bodies buried with only the little plaques and cards, which they used to direct their visitors in life, to mark where they are now in death. That was all that could be done, if even that much, for the deceased.
And the poet reminds us that: "Grief must have its term? Guilt too, then." (NA 2855) This, too, is part of why they remember. I chose to look at this poem in particular (in addition to the other) for two reasons (not counting the fact that I particularly liked it).
First, because I think it connects in a very small, but important way with the themes I discussed from the Voices of World War I. The poetry that came out of that war showed us a generation and a world that was forever changed by the horrors they encountered on the battlefield. This poem, although it was written in 1981, nevertheless captures the sense of how our world has once again been changed by the shocking discovery of the “inhuman” depths to which humanity is capable of sinking, even now, in what many had thought to call a modern, and a civilized, and especially an enlightened time. Many people came out of World War I with the hope that humanity could learn from its mistakes, even as it was in the process of repeating them, and that led directly to this atrocity, in which all of humanity is somehow implicated. As dark and terrible as World War I was, things could still go downhill, and they did.
Second, because I think in both this poem and the other one I mention we see a certain recognition of a passing or a fading away of memory. Larkin sees this as inevitable, and merely spends his energies conjuring up visions of the future. In what different ways will people respond to the slow decay of the symbols of a major world religion? Fenton, on the other hand, actively dredges up the reasons why we can, will, and should remember, and his poem itself serves as a reminder, lest we forget even as we read it. I suppose this makes Fenton the more responsible poet, and I think I prefer his active response to humanity’s notoriously short attention-span over Larkin’s passive acceptance of it.
"Church Going" by Philip Larkin
Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.
Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.
Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?
Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,
A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,
Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
"A German Requiem" by James Fenton
It is not what they built. It is what they knocked down.
It is not the houses. It is the space between the houses.
It is not the streets that exist. It is the streets that no longer exist.
It is not your memories which haunt you.
It is not what you have written down.
It is what you have forgotten, what you must forget.
What you must go on forgetting all your life.
And with any luck oblivion should discover a ritual.
You will find out that you are not alone in the enterprise.
Yesterday the very furniture seemed to reprach you.
Today you take your place in the Widow's Shuttle.
The bus is waiting at the southern gate
To take you to the city of your ancestors
Which stands on the hill opposite, with gleaming pediments,
As vivid as this charming square, your home.
Are you shy? You should be. It is almost like a wedding,
The way you clasp your flowers and give a little tug at your veil. Oh,
The hideous bridesmaids, it is natural that you should resent them
Just a little, on this first day.
But that will pass, and the cemetery is not far.
Here comes the driver, flicking a toothpick into the gutter,
His tongue still searching between his teetch.
See, has not noticed you. No one has noticed you.
It will pass, young lady, it will pass.
How comforting it is, once or twice a year,
To get together and forget the old times.
As on those special days, ladies and gentlemen,
When the boiled shirts gather at the graveside
And a leering waistcoat approaches the rostrum.
It is like a solemn pact between the survivors.
The mayor has signed it on behalf of the freemasonry.
The priest has sealed it on behalf of all the rest.
Nothing more need be said, and it is better that way--
The better for the widow, that she should not live in fear of surprise,
The better for the young man, that he should move at liberty between the armchairs,
The better that these bent figures who flutter among the graves
Tending the nightlights and replacing the chrysanthemums
Are not ghosts,
That they shall go home.
The bus is waiting, and on the upper terraces
The workmen are dismantling the houses of the dead.
But when so many had died, so many and at such speed,
There were no cities waiting for the victims.
They unscrewed the name-plates from the shattered doorways
And carried them away with the coffins.
So the squares and parks were filled with the eloquence of young cemeteries:
The smell of fresh earth, the improvised crosses
And all the impossible directions in brass and enamel.
"Doctor Gliedschirm, skin specialist, surgeries 14-16 hours or by appointment."
Professor Sargnagel was buried with four degrees, two associate memberships
And instructions to tradesmen to use the back entrance.
Your uncle's grave informed you that he lived on the third floor, left.
You were asked please to ring, and he would come down in the lift
To which one needed a key . . .
Would come down, would ever come down
With a smile like thing gruel, and never too much to say.
How he shrank through the years.
How you towered over him in the narrow cage.
How he shrinks now . . .
But come. Grief must have its term? Guilt too, then.
And it seems there is no limit to the resourcefulness of recollection.
So that a man might say and think:
When the world was its darkest,
When the black wings passed over the rooftops
(And who can divine His purposes?) even then
There was always, always a fire in this hearth.
You see this cupboard? A priest-hole!
And in that lumber-room whole generations have been housed and fed.
Oh, if I were to begin, if I were to begin to tell you
The half, the quarter, a mere smattering of what we went through!
His wife nods, and a secret smile,
Like a breeze with enough strength to carry one dry leaf
Over two pavingstones, passes from chair to chair.
Even the enquirer is charmed.
He forgets to pursue the point.
It is not what he wants to know.
It is what he wants not to know.
It is not what they say.
It is what they do not say.