July 25, 2005
Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb: Hollywood and the Cold War in 1964
Oscar Wilde once famously said that “Life imitates art more than art imitates life.” It is fortunate indeed that this is not true of the dozens of movies about nuclear warfare produced by Hollywood during the decades of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
When President Truman, hoping to force Japan’s rapid capitulation in the Pacific theater, ordered that atomic bombs be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, he changed, irreversibly and forever, the face of the world we live in. For the next four and a half decades, civilian populations around the globe would live beneath the shadowy specter of possible nuclear holocaust. And throughout the era of the Cold War, America’s movie industry was hard at work cranking out a continuous stream of films concerning every conceivable angle of the global ideological struggle.
Movies reflecting the harsh realities of the atomic age were hardly limited to a single genre, either: serious human dramas, tense suspense-thrillers, hilarious and bitingly-satirical comedies, low-budget science fiction; all of these made use of impending nuclear warfare as a plot device.
The early years of the Cold War were marked by a slowly evolving, though precarious, balance of nuclear power between the USA and the USSR, and by a very distinct period in American culture which was very much reflected by the cinema of the era. It was a time of almost paradoxical innocence, of strong anti-communist sentiment backing strong anti-communist policy, and of adjustment to the relatively new fear that mankind might have finally worked out a sure-fire method of self-annihilation.
In many ways, 1964 was the year that bridged the gap between those early years of the Cold War and everything that would come after. Two movies were released in 1964 which employ the same subject matter in very different ways. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a dark and satirical comedy, was released early in the year, and was followed several months later by the tense drama, Fail-Safe. Both movies addressed the question of what might transpire if a nuclear war were begun by mistake.
The enormous box-office success of, and critical response to, Dr. Strangelove shows how large a role such questions were playing in the minds of ordinary Americans at the time. Both films also present a fascinating picture of the nuclear systems that were in place at that time. An informed study of these movies reveals a great deal about America and its love-hate relationship with its own nuclear arsenal during the early years of the Cold War.
By 1964, nuclear weapons had long since become an integrated part of our armed forces. Truman had helped to establish the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) through the passage of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which placed production, maintenance, and distribution of nuclear weapons in civilian hands. Transfer of these weapons to the military was possible only with presidential authorization.
At that time, the Soviet Union did not yet possess nuclear capabilities, and it was uncertain as to whether Truman would authorize the use of atomic weapons even in the event of another war. Although Truman vastly increased the production of nuclear material in 1949, and authorized the development of the hydrogen bomb shortly after the Soviets detonated their first successful nuclear device, control of the nuclear arsenal was kept out of military hands throughout his presidency.
President Eisenhower wasted little time in reversing Truman’s nuclear policies after he took office in 1953. The AEC was ordered almost immediately to transfer custody of nuclear stockpiles to the military, which then dispersed the weapons to its forces around the world. Additionally, a single sentence from NSC 162/1, a National Security Council document, made the new role of nuclear weapons in military conflicts very clear. It stated very simply that: "In the event of hostilities, the United States will consider nuclear weapons to be as available for use as other munitions."
Furthermore, Eisenhower’s policy of “massive retaliation” (first outlined by his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, in early 1954) demonstrated his willingness to threaten a nuclear response to Soviet aggression, or as Dulles put it, "to blow [the] hell out of them in a hurry if they start anything." This policy would remain essentially unmodified until the Kennedy administration began to formulate a policy of "flexible response" which left open the possibility of delaying the use of nuclear weapons should any conflict flash suddenly into existence.
Essentially, flexible response finally made nuclear devices a special, rather than regular, part of the American arsenal once again. However, this policy was still not formally implemented by NATO until sometime in 1968. In the meantime, the Kennedy team pushed for a state of "mutual deterrence" or "assured destruction" in the American nuclear arsenal. It would soon become known by the acronym "MAD," for "mutually-assured destruction." As outlined in a speech by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in 1962:
The point is that a potential aggressor must believe that our assured-destruction capability is in fact actual, and that our will to use it in retaliation to an attack is in fact unwavering. The conclusion, then, is clear: if the United States is to deter a nuclear attack in itself or its allies, it must possess an actual and a credible assured-destruction capability.
The first few years of the 1960s had seen tensions heightened by such events as the raising of the Berlin Wall, the escalation of the Space Race, and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. In late 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis had brought the world closer to nuclear war than it had ever been before, or ever would be again. And the entire nation had been stunned by the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
Still, we had not yet committed fully to the quagmire of Vietnam, and so preserved a sterling track-record of successful anti-communist interventions in the Third World which included operations of various magnitudes in Iran, Guatemala, and Korea. The effort to promote a policy of détente had also not yet been fully realized. President Kennedy, in an address to the nation during the summer of 1963, had described the aftereffects of nuclear war in horrifying detail:
A war today or tomorrow, if it led to nuclear war, would not be like any war in history. A full-scale nuclear exchange, lasting less than 60 minutes, with the weapons now in existence, could wipe out more than 300 million Americans, Europeans, and Russians, as well as untold numbers elsewhere. And the survivors, as Chairman Khrushchev warned the Communist Chinese, "the survivors would envy the dead." For they would inherit a world so devastated by explosions and poison and fire that today we cannot even conceive of its horrors.
It was in this atmosphere of extreme uncertainty, tension, and danger that two directors began to work independently to bring adaptations of two different works of fiction to the silver screen. Sidney Lumet was beginning work on Fail-Safe, a movie based on a 1962 novel of the same title by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler.
The story involved frantic and fruitless attempts to recall a squadron of B-58 bombers which had been ordered to drop their nuclear payloads on Moscow due to an electrical malfunction in the fault indicator of the Strategic Air Command. The movie is taut with suspense and deadly serious from the opening scene to the unthinkably shocking conclusion.
Meanwhile, Stanley Kubrick, along with screenwriter Terry Southern, had been collaborating with novelist Peter George on a screenplay version of his 1958 novel, Red Alert, aka Two Hours to Doom. The novel very seriously considered the implications of an unexpected failure in the chain of command which might result in a disastrous pre-emptive strike being launched by the US against Russia.
Kubrick, having been "struck by people’s virtually listless acquiescence in the possibility—in fact, in the increasing probability—of nuclear war, by either design or accident," became increasingly aware that the script, which would become Dr. Strangelove, worked far better as black comedy than it did when played straight. And, much to George’s dismay and the public’s delight, this was how it was eventually translated onto film.
A rogue air force base commander, ironically named Jack D. Ripper, orders the bombers under his command to attack their military targets inside Russia, and then seals the base off from the outside world with himself and the secret bomber recall codes inside. The President and his top advisors must decide whether to cooperate with the Soviets in bringing the bombers down, or commit themselves to an all-out nuclear strike against the USSR. The characters are neurotic and quirky, and the situation is largely played for laughs. At the time of its release, the New York Times reviewer called it "beyond any question the most shattering sick joke I've ever come across."
Both movies were distributed by Columbia Pictures, which required the films to be accompanied by disclaimers assuring movie-goers that nothing like this could ever conceivably happen. The government also immediately dismissed both scenarios as impossible upon the movies’ respective releases. However, interestingly enough, the scene Dr. Strangelove where Captain Mandrake cannot reach the Pentagon because he lacks change for the pay phone was shown at a session of Congress. It was said to raise legitimate questions about whether such crucial communications would be possible in the midst of a nuclear crisis.
Banished to the realms of science fiction and fantasy by the United States government or not, Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe certainly appealed to audiences’ imaginations, although Fail-Safe was less successful financially. This was possibly due to its having been released in the shadow of Dr. Strangelove and to what many viewers might have regarded as an unacceptable outcome of the story. The film ends with Henry Fonda, as the President of the United States, ordering a nuclear strike on New York City in order to avert total nuclear war with the USSR after the combined efforts of both nations have failed to prevent the annihilation of Moscow.
Dr. Strangelove, in particular, was very relevant for American audiences at the time, in some ways eerily so. It was originally slated for release in late 1963, but the release was postponed for a number of months after Kennedy was assassinated. Additionally, Slim Pickens’ statement in the movie that "A fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff" originally read "Dallas," not "Vegas." It was redubbed before the film’s release, also because of the Kennedy assassination. Further, Kubrick had originally planned to end the film with a custard pie fight in the War Room. President Muffley was to have been hit, with General Turgidson loudly exclaiming that "Our gallant young president has been struck down in his prime!" If it had remained in the script, this too would almost certainly have been cut after Kennedy’s death.
As shown in both movies, American nuclear strategy for several years consisted of a force of nuclear-equipped bombers remaining airborne outside Russian airspace at all times. By late 1959, a full two years ahead of the Soviet Union, the United States arsenal had incorporated its first inter-continental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, and from that time the bomber strategy began to be phased out slowly. However, it is difficult to ascertain how much information about such a relatively new weapon would have been available to the general public, and it is to be expected that the movies’ portrayals would feature nuclear strategies that were a few years out of date.
Other issues raised by the movies would have been pulled directly from contemporary events as well. Less than a year before the release of Dr. Strangelove, the US and the USSR signed an agreement to install a "hot line" between Moscow and Washington D. C., in order to fascilitate communication between the nations' leaders should any mishaps actually occur.
Charges that the fluoridation of water in the United States was part of a communist conspiracy to poison America had circulated since the days of McCarthy hysteria many years earlier. In fact, all of the trappings of paranoia regarding Soviets and communists which are present in Dr. Strangelove were certainly quite present in American culture.
"Red scares" had been occurring with some regularity in the United States since at least the time of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. General Turgidson’s dismay at the Russian ambassador’s presence inside the War Room ("He'll see the Big Board!") and Colonel Bat Guano’s dark mutterings about communist "preversions" might have brought a chuckle from liberal members of the audience and a grimace from conservatives, but everyone would have recognized the accuracy of the images.
Both movies also show the potential consequences of relying too much on fallible automated systems and machines. Technology was moving ever more swiftly in the direction of automation, producing results which would have been both exciting and chilling at the same time. After all, if humans are fallible, how much more so are the machines they create?
Finally, one cannot discount the relevance of the important roles played by Walter Matthau as Prof. Groeteschele and Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove. Both men, portraying slightly deranged and coldly logical intellectuals who pull the strings as advisors at the highest levels of government, based their performances to some degree on existing public figures. Dr. Strangelove himself is generally agreed to be a rough composite of four such men:
-Werner Von Braun, a German pioneer of rocket technology and a Nazi scientist who was brought to the United States after World War II to head the development of American rockets.
-Herman Kahn, a nuclear strategist made famous by his 1960 book On Thermonuclear War. Kahn was also the man who half-jokingly put forward the idea of a "doomsday machine" (a concept that plays an important role in the plot of Dr. Strangelove) which would make America’s response to a nuclear strike fully automated.
-Henry Kissinger, another former citizen of Germany and strategist who would later become the Secretary of State. Kissinger was also the architect of Nixon's efforts at détente.
-Edward Teller, a scientist born in Hungary who made his name as the father of the H-bomb and as a nuclear strategist who advised and opposed presidents. Teller walked with an obvious limp, the only one of the four who had a physical handicap, as Strangelove does. In fact, Teller for one was extremely sensitive regarding any comparison between himself and the Dr. Strangelove of Kubrick's movie. Throughout his long life, interviewers who broached the subject might be asked curtly to leave.
The cold, machine-like thinking of Strangelove combined with his creepy foreign accent and habits, though played for laughs, would have struck a particular chord with American moviegoers who might have felt increasingly less in control of their fate and of the direction their country was taking.
Whether or not life imitates art with any regularity, as Wilde asserted, it is an absolute certainty that art often imitates life. This is especially true of the classics of American cinema. Hollywood and The Movies have been an important part of our culture and heritage almost since they were first introduced. They possess the incredible capability of freezing our lives, our hopes, our fears, and our dreams onto a strip of celluloid, of capturing one fascinating aspect of America at an exact (and, in the case of Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe, unique and defining) moment in history and preserving it for future generations to examine and participate in.
The great films of the Cold War, while they may not be the best source of historical fact, are an infallible source of cultural enlightenment, able to transport us temporarily back into that time of uncertainty and promise. America’s greatest movies are an important part of the cultural heritage we bring with us out of the 20th Century, and it is in this light that we should always attempt to view and enjoy them.
Crowther, Bosley. "Kubrick Film Presents Sellers in 3 Roles." The New York Times 30 Jan 1964. http://www.nytimes.com/1964/01/30/movies/013064strangelove.html.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, and Sterling Hayden. Columbia Pictures, 1964.
Eisenhower, Dwight. "'Atoms for Peace' Speech." Atomic Archive. 8 Dec 1953.
Fail-Safe. Dir. Sidney Lumet. Perf. Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, and Dan O’Herlihy. Columbia Pictures, 1964.
Glikman, Andrew Yale. "Herman Kahn's Doomsday Machine." http://trace.ntu.ac.uk/frame2/articles/borg/kahn.html.
Goodchild, Peter. Edward Teller: The Real Dr. Strangelove. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004.
Halperin, Morton H. Nuclear Fallacy: Dispelling the Myth of Nuclear Strategy. Cambridge: Ballinger Publishing Company, 1987.
Kennedy, John F. "Address to the American People on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty." Atomic Archive. 26 Jul 1963. http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/Deterrence/ JFK_LTBTreaty.shtml.
McNamara, Robert. "'Mutual Deterrence' Speech." Atomic Archive. 1962
"Memorandum of Understanding Between The United States of America and The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Link." U.S. Department of State. 20 Jun 1963. http://www.state.gov/t/ac/trt/4785.htm.
Powaski, Ronald E. The Cold War. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
The Internet Movie Database. "Information on Fail-Safe." 1990-2005. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058083/.
The Internet Movie Database. "Information on Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." 1990-2005. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057012/.
"Timeline of the Nuclear Age." Atomic Archive. AJ Software & Multimedia. 24 Jul.
Walker, Alexander, Sybil Taylor, and Ulrich Ruchti. Stanley Kubrick, Director: A Visual Analysis. Revised and Expanded ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999.
July 20, 2005
"There is a limit to human charity," said Lady Outram, trembling all over.
"There is," said Father Brown dryly; "and that is the real difference between human charity and Christian charity. You must forgive me if I was not altogether crushed by your contempt for my uncharitableness to-day; or by the lectures you read me about pardon for every sinner. For it seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don't really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don't regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. So you tolerate a conventional duel, just as you tolerate a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn't anything to be forgiven."
"But, hang it all," cried Mallow, "you don't expect us to be able to pardon a vile thing like this?"
"No," said the priest; "but we have to be able to pardon it . . . We have to touch such men . . . We have to say the word that will save them from hell. We alone are left to deliver them from despair when your human charity deserts them. Go on your own primrose path pardoning all your favourite vices and being generous to your fashionable crimes; and leave us in the darkness, vampires of the night, to console those who really need consolation; who do things really indefensible, things that neither the world nor they themselves can defend; and none but a priest will pardon. Leave us with the men who commit the mean and revolting and real crimes; mean as St. Peter when the cock crew, and yet the dawn came."
-The Secret of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton
July 15, 2005
A few months ago I watched Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, and loved it. As I'm sure you all know, I routinely display the percentage rating I give movies here on my blog, and the rating for Pulp Fiction reflected this. A regular commenter, who I have a great deal of respect for, noted that the movie has a great deal, perhaps an excessive amount, of foul language, and I responded with a quick rundown of what I loved about the film and drew (speaking of gratuitous) a parallel between it and works by an author that I know he loves.
At this point, my challenger returned, as he is often wont to do (unwilling as he is to allow me to get away with not fully fleshing out what I believe and why when I make a controversial statement), and presented me with some questions. Namely, what I was asked boiled down to this: "How much intellectually stimulating content is required in order to overcome excess profanity or other troubling content?"
I quickly realized two things: First, that I would not be able to manage a proper response in the comment sections. Second, that I was essentially being asked to reveal a fairly vital chunk of my personal philosophy of art. I felt that this needed to be done eventually anyway, and that this was the perfect opportunity to do it. So I took a running start at the thing, and then (quite frankly) became intimidated at the prospect and allowed myself to become bogged down by multitudinous summertime activities and responsibilities. A few things have struck me with particular force since then, and I have taken what I began with, expanded it and modified it, and I hope that it now turns out that I have something to say after all.
My philosophy of art, as I picture it in my head, has long appeared to me as giant jigsaw puzzle being assembled without the benefit of reference to the box it came in. I do have a philosophy, yes, but it is not a fully developed one. It has grown in two years from the presence of only a few properly anchored pieces to a place where I am beginning to finally conceive an idea of the outline of the finished product.
This, I think, is how it should be. A philosophy of art needs sufficient time to develop, and I am still collecting data and experience for mine. I am still enlarging a pool of study materials consisting of, in particular, works of literature and film and fitting them into place within the framework that is slowly taking shape in my mind. It is quite probable that this process began very near to the time when I first began this blog, and if one were to read through the entirety of the thing (a task I do not by any means recommend that you undertake) it is just possible that I have conveyed (or am beginning to convey) a sense of this dark shape.
I think the formal beginnings of this process can be traced directly to the Honors class "Only Inklings" which I took during the fall of my sophomore year. It was in this class that I was finally made to understand that a certain "guilty" belief which I held more or less in secret might not come as sharply into conflict with my Christianity as I had formerly been led to believe. Namely, the idea was that truth in art (in particular, as I say, in the art of narrative, i.e. literature and film) may exist with or without the supporting presence of any other virtue, and furthermore, this truth is worth pursuing for its own sake alone, perhaps even as the supreme quality (beyond mere technical brilliance) which makes consumption of art worthwhile.
Of course, I didn't have it spelled out, even for myself, nearly that explicitly at first. However, the journey in this direction has continued in a more or less continuous flow through at least one class during each semester of my college experience. Other major contributors to this particular area include English Literature II, Studies in American Film, World Literature Through Film, American Literature II. I have similarly high expectations of my upcoming classes in Reading the Bible as Literature and Literary Criticism, and perhaps my Senior History Research Seminar as well.
However, the process has of course extended well into the realm of extracurricular activities. Long before Watson's film class and the beginnings of the movie list, my friends and I were seeking out, viewing, and discussing films of very limited popular appeal and very high critical acclaim, content no object. Movies aside, I have shared more discussions with these same friends than I could possibly enumerate on a wide-ranging variety of topics, and these, in addition to my constant visits with professors outside of class, have further served to drop puzzle pieces into place. My own independent readings (though always less thorough than I would wish) have played an important role as well.
A few important steps along the way have included a growing (but still far from perfected) ability to pick those worthwhile nuggets of truth out of a story in the first place, and, through an ever-widening exposure to those works which are widely considered great, the ability to draw and strengthen thematic connections between authors and directors who present similar ideas and philosophies to their audiences. These are the things that I strive to do.
In the end, although I was initially intimidated by the prospect of attempting to encapsulate a few years of broad study in a brief but meaningful post, and then transform that into a blithe and pithy philosophical motto, I have come to realize that explaining where I am now does not require any such profundity or verbosity. My not-quite-complete and not-totally-substantiated personal philosophy of art is a simple one. Seeing what I have already expressed of it, you may find yourself several hundred yards ahead of me . . . or you may believe that I am on the wrong track entirely. That's fine. I invite and encourage any and all comments.
What I believe is this: Fiction or nonfiction, adaptation, remake, reimagination, or based-on-true-events, regardless of genre or source material, a work of art in the realms of literature and film derives a significant portion of its inherent value from the validity of what it communicates. Unless its purpose is purely to entertain (and while I may sometimes enjoy such things, I do not allow them anywhere near, say, the same latitude of expression through questionable content), any book or movie has something to say . . . some message it is trying to sell you. It is my goal and my great joy to search for and find this message . . . to discover precisely what the artist is trying to sell me, how, and why.
The next step, which I approach even more seriously, but with no less enjoyment, is to discover whether the artist's message is a true and worthy one. This is accomplished by applying to it my personal philosophy of religion, yet another growing, but still not fully matured, area of my worldview which has developed along a different but parallel path to my philosophy of art, through yet more classes, discussions, etc. (another subject for another time . . . perhaps).
Does the idea, ideal, philosophy, lesson . . . whatever . . . which is being presented to me meet with an objective, biblical standard of Truth? If so, how can I benefit from having seen this particular "spin" on the issue? How might I incorporate it into what I know, believe, and hope to pass on to others? What new connections or ideas might it help me to see? If the issue does not come across as true, why not? Where did it go wrong? How might it be refuted and shown to be untrue? How believable might this idea be to someone who doesn't know any better, and how can I get a good enough handle on the issue to see their point of view? These are just a few of the many many questions that I have begun to try and ask myself as I watch or read.
At this point, you may all be realizing that I haven't ever really answered the original question. That's because I don't know whether there is one right answer. I'm no filthy relativist, but I really don't think there is one absolute line that can be drawn for everyone on this issue. At least, I hope there isn't, because I'm not quite sure exactly where my line goes yet . . . but I know that it's a lot deeper in the grey area (which some think I'm only imagining anyway) than most of my fellow Christians'.
In fact, a number of people I am very close to, people I respect and love, disagree rather pointedly with my perspective. And I think we are all still struggling with whether that's okay. For my part, I will willingly, even emphatically, acknowledge that my beliefs on this subject are not for everyone. Far from it. But they are my beliefs for all that. And, while I will try not to step maliciously on the toes of those who strongly disagree, I will not back down simply because they disagree, and I will continue the journey of personal discovery which I have begun. No one can begrudge me that, surely. I hope it lasts a lifetime, because it won't end until I have all the answers. And if and when that happens, well . . . Let's just say, if you think I'm insufferable now . . . ha!
July 10, 2005
Henry James and The American Girl
Late last night I finished reading Washington Square by Henry James, the third book by that author that I have read (The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller being the other two). At this point, I think I can safely call myself a fan of James. I chose to read Washington Square after the considerable attention devoted to it in Reading Lolita in Tehran, and as I read and enjoyed the book, I decided I needed to write something about it, especially in light of having read Daisy Miller (post here).
My original intention was to highlight the extreme differences between the two books and see what conclusions I could draw from this contrast . . . but as I began to catalogue the differences in characters, settings, themes, and so forth, I soon realized that the difference between the two is purely a superficial one. Ultimately they are about much the same thing. I might almost call them mirror images of each other, because they seem like complete opposites, yet the philosophy of the one reflects the philosophy of the other exactly.
Daisy Miller is the story of a young American ingénue (the title character) and her experiences in Europe, told from the point of view of the worldly Winterbourne, an American who has lived in Europe for many years. Daisy, a native of New York and a very free-spirited sort, is travelling with her mother and younger brother, and the American community in Europe is decidedly disapproving of her impetuousity and ignorance of "acceptable" behavior. Ultimately, her innocence and her stubborness lead to her tragic death from Roman fever.
Washington Square is the story of a young American ingénue and her ill-fated romance with a fortune hunter. Catherine Sloper is a native of New York City (she lives in a house at the title location), residing there with her father and aunt. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to her. Catherine, a plain, shy, and unintelligent girl, is wooed by a handsome, silver-tongued young charmer named Morris Townsend, who has recently returned from squandering his modest fortune on a world tour.
Now very much in the market to wed, he has been encouraged in his attentions towards Catherine by the overly-romantic, meddlesome aunt, but her father, Dr. Austin Sloper, sees through Morris at once. He knows that Morris must be after Catherine's money, for why else would he be interested in the girl? Catherine lacks charm, intelligence and beauty, as her father well knows. But, Catherine has been swept off her feet, and while perceptive judgment of others' characters may not be one of her strengths, compassion and fidelity are. She has committed herself wholly to Morris Townsend, no matter what her father may say or do.
Unswayed by her father's threats to cut her off without a cent should she proceed to marry Morris, Catherine prepares for her wedding . . . but as soon as Morris sees that he has been beaten, and that Dr. Sloper will not be moved, he skips town. This is not done maliciously . . . He regards Catherine merely as a business opportunity which fell through. Catherine herself is left flat, with no one to turn to. Her father has grown even more cold and distant than he already was and her aunt is infatuated with Morris and believes he acted understandably.
As I said before, on the surface, the two novels could hardly be more different. The heroines are polar opposites of each other. Daisy is extroverted, adventurous, and beautiful, but thinks little of the feelings of others. She travels Europe with her mother and younger brother. Her father is alive, but out of the picture. Catherine is shy, quiet, extremely domestic, plain, and places her sense of duty to those she cares about above all other considerations. She lives at home with her father. Her mother is dead. An older brother died as an infant.
Daisy Miller follows Winterbourne around, and the novel's plot chiefly follows his fascination with Daisy and his perspective of her actions as we try to figure her out. His attitude, and the reader's, changes from immediate admiration of her gradually towards annoyance and even apathy. When he discovers at the end of the novel that he has misjudged her character, he is remorseful, but soon seems to have forgotten about her entirely.
The reader, too, is perhaps sorry to learn of the truly tragic nature of her death, but she is a difficult character to respect. She is, after all, a very foolish girl. None of the relationships she cultivates in the story, even her seemingly serious and even compromising involvment with Giovanelli, has any depth or permanence. She had no intention of marrying Giovanelli and would have eventually moved on to someone else. Her character, although we find out more about it over the course of the book, remains completely static.
Washington Square does not follow one particular character, alternating chiefly between Catherine, Aunt Lavinia, and Dr. Sloper. Morris remains as something of an enigma, in roughly the same way Daisy is, until near the end of the story. We are unsure whether his motives are pure, partially pure, or totally self-serving . . . although we suspect. This is the chief direction in which the plot moves as Catherine and Morris get closer to marrying one another.
When Catherine finally learns that she has misjudged his character, the sorrow felt by both her and the reader is of an entirely different nature from the feelings about Daisy. We are sorry for ever having liked or been sympathetic to Morris in any way. Knowing the truth, it is difficult to feel anything for him but contempt. The full sympathy of the reader in this case is for the character who was mistaken rather than the character they were mistaken about.
By the time this final split occurs, of course, there is no longer any doubt in the reader's mind that Catherine Sloper is no Daisy Miller. She has given up, or is prepared to give up, everything she knows (family, home, money) for Morris, and for Morris alone. The great tragedy is that she has "loved not wisely, but too well" and has given her heart to a man that did not deserve it. Unlike Daisy, Catherine is capable of inspiring a great deal of respect and admiration. She begins the book as a timid, weak-willed young girl, who James describes over and over as the antithesis of a typical heroine. By the end, she has become strong, assertive, and much wiser, while retaining her best quality: compassion.
Really, almost the only similarity between Daisy and Catherine, aside from nationality, is that they both suffer because they are innocent. But it is at that depth that the two novels truly connect. They share a number of important themes and ideas.
The most obvious of these is the discrepancy between appearance and reality, and the havoc this creates in the lives of the characters. Daisy Miller appears to be willfully violating the rules of decent social conduct and common sense, when in fact she is too innocent to really know any better. Winterbourne's failure to realize this and come to her rescue lead to her demise. To Catherine Sloper, Morris Townsend appears to be charming, handsome, and sincerely in love with her, although in reality his eye is on her money alone.
Dr. Sloper sees only his daughter's lack of wit and perception, and her stubborness in clinging to Morris, and is disgusted with her and disappointed in her as he has been her whole life. He fails to recognize that his daughter possesses a very strong character, but is emotionally vulnerable and inexperienced. While he believes that he has her best interests at heart, his approach to exposing Morris lacks compassion and sensitivity. He only cares that she, and by extension he, is being made a fool of, and he cannot stand this.
This problem with the characters' perceptions leads to a series of betrayals, both real and imagined. In Daisy Miller, the American circle in Europe believes that Daisy has betrayed the common values they all share, and Winterbourne comes to believe that this is the truth when he misinterprets her actions in the Colosseum. In reality, it is he who betrays her respect, trust, and friendship when he declares that he does not care what she does. This is such a blow to her that stops caring about anything. Additionally, Giovanelli plays at being her suitor and harboring affections for her, but he does not care enough to act with her best interests at heart, and so she contracts Roman fever and dies.
In Washington Square, Dr. Sloper believes that Catherine has betrayed the relationship between father and daughter by stubbornly and deliberately opposing his will. It does not help matters that he happens to be right. He is so put out by her actions that he is blinded by them, and cannot see that her relationship with Morris has ended. He dies still believing that she means to defy him, and so disinherits her almost entirely (only leaving her the house in Washington Square) in consequence. However, Dr. Sloper is actually the betrayer. He fails her as a father when he presents her with cold, logical facts and ultimatums rather than love and understanding. In the end, he cares little for Catherine herself, or her feelings. The only things that matter to him are that he is right, and that he should not be made to look a fool.
Morris' betrayal is obvious, though no less heartbreaking. Aunt Lavinia betrays Catherine by playing the part of intimate confidante to her and fostering the relationship at every step of the way, only to retreat to Morris' side at the crucial moment of his callous act of mercenary cowardice, leaving Catherine completely stranded and alone.
As I mentioned earlier, though, at the heart of both stories is the innocence of their young American heroines. Both Daisy and Catherine possess a certain helpless innocence which leads others to either take advantage of them or condemn them wrongfully. Daisy requires the guidance of a firm hand from someone who knows better than she. Catherine needs love and acceptance, someone who appreciates her and will take care of her. Neither of them have their needs fulfilled by their families. Daisy's mother is malleable and oblivious. Catherine's father is harsh and critical.
Both girls come in contact with strong, worldly, male characters who are in a position to provide them with what they need, and seem to be willing to do so, but remove their support at the crucial moment. The effects are shattering. In the end, Daisy Miller and Washington Square are potent and moving object lessons about the tragedy of mishandling innocence. I recommend both as excellent reads (although I enjoyed the latter somewhat more). I also recommend the recent film adaptation of Washington Square, which features some great performances and remains very faithful to the original.
July 05, 2005
Children Waving Cheerfully Through the Window: John Le Carré and the Cold War in Microcosm
The book is a legend among Cold War spy novels, the standard by which all others are judged. But there is no glamorous 007-esque blend of shiny gadgets, spectacular explosions, and swimsuit models here. The fate of the world is not at stake here . . . at least not in the James Bond sense. No, this is a different sort of spy novel entirely. John Le Carré's 1963 work, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, was written while the author was working for the British Foreign Service in Berlin, and it shows.
When I first read this book in 9th grade, my predominant emotions were boredom and confusion. I was not caught up in the book, and so I did not quite follow its many subtle and intricate twists and turns. Having paid too little attention to the opening chapters, my mind was unable to keep pace as the plot turned itself upside down again and again . . . When I picked it up again a few weeks ago, the only thing I could remember was some vague notion of one character betraying another (and I got that completely wrong, it turned out) and what happens on the very last page.
The true genius of this book, which I did not quite grasp the first time, has three layers, which I will get to in a moment. First, a brief rundown of the plot: Alec Leamas is the British Head of Counter-Intelligence in Berlin, directing and controlling the flow of information from double agents on the other side of The Wall. He faces just one problem: The East German Head of Counter-Intelligence, a ruthless and efficient genius named Dieter Mundt. In fact, as the book opens Mundt has just finished cleaning out Leamas' entire network of operatives. Leamas is forced to return to England in disgrace and appear before the god-like "Control" (who somehow manages to come off looking both omniscient and clueless as his character is developed).
Leamas fully expects to be relieved of his post. He has felt himself slipping gradually for years now, and his best days of espionage work are behind him . . . but Control has one final operation in store before Leamas will be allowed to permanently come in from the cold: Destroy Dieter Mundt. It was probably shortly after this point that the book took a sharp turn down a back alley and lost me the first time through, so if (that is to say, when) you read it, be sure you're paying attention. However, I have unfolded quite enough of the plot for you. If I tell you anymore, I'll have to kill you.
The greatness of the book, as I mentioned before, is particularly apparent to me on three different levels. To begin with, there is the style in which the narrative is told. We follow the action of the plot from the perspectives of two and only two specific characters (namely, Alec Leamas and Elizabeth Gold). The author is very selective, however, about when and where we are allowed inside their heads. Most of the time I felt like I was watching from the vantage point of a camera the floats above and slightly behind the characters' heads, following them as they go about their business in the story.
This is effective because, although it was the factor that originally caused me to lose the thread of the plot in my younger days, it allows the reader to make a few leaps of logic for himself. The plot is such that, while somewhat convoluted, it is quite possible to follow, and the author does not insult the intelligence of his audience by awkwardly forcing dialogue to keep us up to speed. Telling the story in this way also subtly communicates the fact that Alec is playing a very dangerous game of deceit where he must keep even himself fooled in order to avoid a potentially fatal slip.
Secondly, the plot of the book is fantastic. The opening chapter is full of tension, suspense, and frustration, effectively setting the tone, mood, and theme for what is to come. The pool of major characters which the author draws from is small and easy to track (the true motives and natures of these characters less so). Once the premise has been established, we are plunged immediately into a labyrinth of plots, counterplots, and surprise twists. Alec may (in fact, does) see a number of these coming, but the reader does not. Through it all runs a quietly understated love story . . . very simple, very tenuous (so much so that the reader hardly realizes it is there sometimes). But it is this love story that gave the book its great human, emotional impact for me during the closing chapters. And, make no mistake, it is the human element that is really important . . . that is truly at stake here. More on that later.
I recently saw a documentary involving two main people (call them A and B, for simplicity's sake). The end of the documentary had A reading a letter to B which B had written as if he were A. The challenge of the scene was in remembering exactly whose words we were hearing . . . and this situation strikes me as somewhat analogous to the way we see espionage work in Le Carré's book. Intelligence is trumped by counter-intelligence, which is trumped in turn by counter-counter-intelligence, and nothing is ever quite what it appears to be. The quality and sophistication of the narrative with which we are presented makes one wonder why the movie industry ever decided that gargantuan pyrotechnic displays were superior to a good old-fashioned triple-cross in dominating the viewers' attention during a spy thriller.
However, it is the third layer that really makes the book an enduring classic: the philosophy. The philosophy of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is both explicitly and implicitly stated at various points during the narrative. The message it is trying to get across through this has, I think, two points which are of primary importance.
The first of these is stated at the very end of chapter 18, in a conversation between Alec and Fiedler. Fiedler is Mundt's second-in-command, and they respect each other's abilities, but Fiedler is a Jew and Mundt hates him for it. Fiedler grows to hate Mundt for his prejudice. (Side note: For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, I invariably associated Fiedler with Wilson in my imagination.) Alec is a pragmatist and an atheist, and rarely thinks beyond the immediate business at hand. Fiedler, on the other hand, is a deep thinker, a philosopher, and his insistent inquiries into the ideology of the West both annoy and baffle Leamas. Their final private exchange proceeds as follows:
"I thought a lot about you," Fiedler added. "I thought about the talk we had -- you remember -- about the motor."
Fiedler smiled. "I'm sorry, that is a direct translation. I mean 'Motor,' the engine, spirit, urge; whatever Christians call it."
"I'm not a Christian."
Fiedler shrugged. "You know what I mean." He smiled again, "the thing that embarrasses you . . . I'll put it another way . . . would you kill a man, an innocent man --"
"Mundt's a killer himself."
"Suppose he wasn't. Suppose it were me they wanted to kill: would London do it?"
"It depends . . . it depends on the need . . ."
"Ah," said Fiedler contentedly, "it depends on the need. Like Stalin, in fact. The traffic accident and the statistics. That is a great relief."
"You must get some sleep," said Fiedler . . . as he reached the door he looked back and said, "We're all the same, you know, that's the joke."
Both sides in the Cold War, we are being reminded, are loudly preaching high-minded but conflicting ideals to the entire world. But in the seedy underbelly of government, where intelligence agencies work ceaselessly to undermine the enemy, is either side really practicing what they preach? Are they not both pretending to some degree to be that which they are not? For both communism and democracy, the end justifies the means when no one is watching.
The second point (dovetailing with the first) is made in a conversation between Liz (Elizabeth Gold, Alec's lover) and Alec near the end of the book (severely edited to avoid major plot points):
"It gives him a chance to secure his position," Leamas replied curtly.
"By killing more innocent people? It doesn't seem to worry you much."
"Of course it worries me. It makes me sick with shame and anger and . . . But I've been brought up differently, Liz; I can't see it in black and white. People who play this game take risks . . . London won -- that's the point. It was a foul, foul operation. But it's paid off, and that's the only rule." As he spoke his voice rose, until finally he was nearly shouting.
"You're trying to convince yourself," Liz cried. "They've done a wicked . . . he was good, Alec; I know he was . . ."
"What the hell are you complaining about," Leamas demanded roughly. "Your party's always at war, isn't it? Sacrificing the individual to the mass. That's what it says. Socialist reality: fighting night and day -- that relentless battle -- that's what they say, isn't it? At least you've survived. I never heard that Communists preached the sanctity of human life -- perhaps I've got it wrong," he added sarcastically. "I agree, yes, I agree, you might have been destroyed. That was on the cards . . . So you might have died -- today, next year or twenty years on -- in a prison in the worker's paradise. And so might I. But I seem to remember the Party is aiming at the destruction of a whole class. Or have I got it wrong? . . .
"Don't complain about the terms, Liz; they're Party terms. A small price for a big return. One sacrificed for many . . .
"There's only one law in this game . . . Leninism -- the expediency of temporary alliances. What do you think spies are: priests, saints and martyrs? They're a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives. Do you think they sit like monks in London balancing the rights and wrongs? . . .
"This is a war . . . It's graphic and unpleasant because it's fought on a tiny scale, at close range; fought with a wastage of innocent life sometimes, I admit. But it's nothing at all beside other wars -- the last or the next."
"Oh God," said Liz softly. "You don't undertand. You don't want to. You're trying to persuade yourself. It's far more terrible, what they're doing; to find the humanity in people, in me and whoever else they use, to turn it like a weapon in their hands, and use it to hurt and kill . . ."
"Christ Almighty!" Leamas cried. "What else have men done since the world began? I don't believe in anything, don't you see -- not even destruction or anarchy. I'm sick, sick of killing but I don't see what else they can do. They don't proselytise; they don't stand in pulpits or on party platforms and tell us to fight for Peace or for God or whatever it is. They're the poor sods who try to keep the preachers from blowing each other sky high."
"You're wrong," Liz declared hopelessly; "they're more wicked than all of us . . . Because of their contempt. Contempt for what is real and good; contempt for love, contempt for . . ."
"Yes," Leamas agreed, suddenly weary. "That is the price they pay; to despise God and Karl Marx in the same sentence. If that is what you mean . . . But it's the world, it's mankind that's gone mad. We're a tiny price to pay . . . but everywhere's the same, people cheated and misled, whole lives thrown away, people shot and in prison, whole groups and classes of men written off for nothing. And you, your party -- God knows it was built on the bodies of ordinary people . . ."
As he spoke Liz remembered the drab prison courtyard, and the wardress saying: "It is a prison for those who slow down the march . . . for those who think they have the right to err."
As Liz and Alec shout defensively at each other, they are enveloped by an enormous gray area, where flashes of black and white show infrequently through the haze. I challenge anyone to read this book and, at the end, present me with a clear-cut list of the good guys and the bad guys. It simply can't be done (or, if it can, no two lists will look alike) because invariably you will be struck with the conflict of whether to judge characters consistently based solely on their actions or based on which "side" they are on and what you know in your head they are fighting for. What Le Carré is doing here is what no one involved in a war likes to do: He is zooming the camera in on individual human faces, and we observe with horror that some of our enemies' faces look like ours and some of our allies' faces look like theirs.
As I read the book, I thought of all the different views one could get on the nature of the Cold War simply from all of the different labels the combatants apply to each other and themselves. How many communist nations during the Cold War had the word "Democratic" in them? But we call their government totalitarian. The Western world, of course, stands for Democracy and Freedom, right? But they call our governments imperialist. Are we both right in a sense in what we say about the opposing side? An imperialist government is one that practices "the policy of extending a nation's authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations." Is that not exactly what we were doing throughout the fifties and sixties?
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold cuts directly to the ugly heart of the ideological conflict of the Cold War, exposing to us the fact that both sides had at least one thing in common: They both used any and all means necessary (no matter how treacherous or foul) to achieve the appearance of a utopian end which could never co-exist in reality alongside such vile methods of implementation. The double life that one of those two superpowers was living eventually disconnected the ideal so far from the reality that it self-destructed. The double life that the other superpower leads has only this going for it, that it is only really practiced outside the borders of that nation. I should have hoped that the example of the Soviet Union would have taught us that much, at least.
Lest I get too far off topic, though, let me just wrap this up with one final thought. The book employs a fantastic metaphor from a combination of Alec's memory and his imagination. And it connects beautifully to what the book is talking about on the most basic level . . . more basic than the global or the ideological or even the national: at the level of what Alec calls "ordinary, crummy people." It is the recurring, nightmarish image of a small car with smiling, waving children in the backseat, smashed to pieces by two enormous trucks.
July 04, 2005
No Work and All Plays
Yeah, the title is a sly and totally non-bitter reference to the fact that I hate looking for a job . . . but I hate not finding one even more. But that's not what this post is about. This post is about the fantastic time we all had attending the annual Texas Shakespeare Festival in Kilgore. (Be sure to also refer to the words of Wilson and of Gallagher on the subject . . . and Anna has a few relevant pictures up, as well.)
Saturday night was A Midsummer Night's Dream, easily my favorite Shakespeare comedy ever, and an excellent play in its own right. I've read it at least six times, a few of those with different groups of people, and seen the newer movie version (own it, in fact) . . . but this interpretation was creative enough to bring in ideas I had never seen or considered. Also, the casting emphasized some interesting parallels. Theseus and Oberon were played by the same actor, Hippolyta and Titania by the same actress, Philostrate and Puck by the same actor . . . additionally, Theseus and Hippolyta begin the play in a conflict no less violent than the one between the Fairy King and Queen. I thought it worked very nicely, establishing tension across the board and making the happy ending all the more joyous by contrast.
The sets were great, particularly the Grecian interiors. They had a number of very convincing columns made of some sort of creased cloth with carved wooden tops and bottoms which folded and unfolded from the ceiling quickly, silently, and smoothly between scenes. One of our favorite effects in the play involved Bottom and company traversing the stage en route somewhere (into the woods or to the palace) between scenes. The only light came from behind the painted night sky at the very back of the stage, showing the rustics silhouetted very clearly against it. As Wilson pointed out afterwards, their costumes were made so as to give each a distinct shape and personality which fit their trade, and both times it happened it was an excellent scene transition.
Speaking of the costumes, I thought they were all . . . Okay, I won't lie. When you're on the 2nd row and there are guys in very short skirts falling hither and thither with their legs sprawling wide . . . that's not cool. But aside from that, the costumes were quite good. The fairies all wore headgear that was full of small lights and when they skipped through the darkened theater the effect was quite ethereal. The rich green colors worn at the wedding banquet were particularly pleasing to the eye.
The acting was top-notch were it counted (and here I refer to my personal favorite character, Bottom the Weaver). He was great. In fact, all of the rustic craftsmen were extremely good and every one of their scenes had the audience absolutely rolling in the aisles. Puck got to do fun things with leaping through trapdoors . . . and of course he always has his moments. The various songs and dances were quite passable . . . in fact, I thought the music as a whole was very nice.
One slapstick device deserves special mention. It occurred at the point where mud wrestling was inserted into the movie (if you've seen it). It occurs at the absolute height of the mix-up, where both Demetrius and Lysander attempt to shove each other and Hermia out of the way in order to get at Helena while Hermia and Helena engage in a catfight. At one point, all four characters were stretched out across the front of the stage, each clinging desperately onto the leg of the person in front of them, attempting to haul them backwards, while hopping on a single leg of their own . . . and continuing to say their lines. Absolutely classic.
And no description of the acting could be complete without a brief mention of the guy who played Mustardseed. He was quite gay. Nope. He was happy, too, but I meant the other one. He was also wearing very short boxer briefs. *shudders* Typecasting fairies . . .
At any rate, as expected, it was quite a memorable experience, and one which I would be tempted to repeat again next week were it not for the prohibitively large cost combined with a lack of ready and steady income. Ah, well . . . memory alone will have to serve.
Sunday night was a good deal more somber, with a performance of Macbeth. It was the fourth play I have attended there, but the first tragedy, and I was interested to see how they would handle it. The set was quite sparse, being almost entirely black with one large, red sun (made me think of Charn from The Magician's Nephew) painted on the right side of the backdrop. More difficult to notice at the beginning was that the center of the stage was covered with an enormous black circle (difficult to spot because the rest of the stage was black as well).
However, with each successive murder during the play's first half (those being only two, Duncan and Banquo) the black circle fractured further, revealing a large reddish orange circle of a similair shade to the sun underneath. Very cool, and very effective. Because the sets were so sparse, a good deal was accomplished with the lighting and smoke. They had some very striking effects up their sleeves, particularly when Lady Macbeth was onstage alone.
The costumes were quite good here, as well. I'm not sure how . . . well, Scottish they were, exactly, but they were easy on the eyes. And I don't remember seeing any guys in short skirts (ironically, since we were further back for this play). Also, the copious amounts of fake blood splashed here and there on various people was realistic and gruesome enough to pass measure.
I thought the acting was quite good, really. Macbeth and Macduff were both excellent. The Weird Sisters were creepy (dressed like Celtic druids, basically). Lady Macbeth had some excellent scenes, but I thought she overdid it a bit here and there (this actress has had the leading female role in every play I have seen there, but her tendency to overact slightly is less noticeable in a comedy). The final fight scene between Macbeth and Macduff was fairly well coreographed . . . by which I mean it was pretty to look at, with lots of spinning and very little actual contact. I'm not hard to please.
As I observed at least twice at various points last night, tragedies are very long. But this one did manage to avoid tedium almost entirely, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself the second night as well. I shouldn't fail to mention, though, Gallagher and I were a bit concerned at the beginning. The guy who always announces the beginning of the play did the most retarded thing . . . he said "Macbeth" right there out loud. Everyone heard it. Glancing about nervously, we couldn't help but notice we were seated directly under the sound booth . . . and barring that I kept expecting there to be an actor taking an unexpected tumble through a trapdoor or a rogue Shakespeare hater within the audience opening fire with the small arsenal under their long, black trenchcoat. Thankfully, the performance came off without any consequences from the announcer's foolish tempting of the Fates, and I hope that every subsequent performance of "The Scottish Play" proceeds as smoothly.
And that was my weekend with Bill Shakespeare.
Was Today Some Kind of Holiday or Something?
In honor of Independence Day (USA, observed) I finished reading America (The Book) from cover to cover sometime very early this morning (like, 1:30-in-the-morning morning). And that's all. I even had Mexican food for lunch, Chinese food for supper, spent the morning moving out of the apartment I share with Koreans (with the aid of Gallagher . . . Irish descent), and spent a good deal of the afternoon and evening messing about with my paper on a book by a British author set chiefly in London and Berlin (no, not the Texan ones). I haven't done a single particularly American thing all day . . . and don't go trying to say that I've spent the day celebrating "The Great Melting-Pot" aspects of our nation, either.
LeTourneau University, in its infinite wisdom and boundless stupidity, is moving apartment dwellers up to the Quads for a few weeks and back again, chunk by chunk, that Physical Plant may have a chance to clean our carpets. And my turn to move fell on July 4th. I had to be out by 11 PM so that Physical Plant can start cleaning at 8 AM tomorrow morning . . . because the apartments really needed that nine hour break in-between, the poor dears. Ironically, my book report on The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is due July 5th at 8 AM in the morning. I don't know what that means, but it must be significant. Or maybe I've just been reading too much spy novel.
I'm not sure I understand why things work out this way. I have had two months of inactivity so total I could have afforded to spend hours finding and cataloguing new and exciting alternate routes between various important landmarks on campus or sitting in front of various mens restrooms and seeing which custodial cleaning crew could set the record for longest "Closed for Cleaning" status (that was a snarky in-joke). But, suddenly and all in one weekend, I am forced to write a paper, move myself and all of my important worldly goods several hundred yards uphill, and attend the Texas Shakespeare Festival with Anna, Scholl, Wilson, Gallagher, and Sharpton.
Okay, so maybe I wasn't forced to attend that last, but c'mon . . . it was important. Anyway, it's been a fun weekend, hanging with the Gallagher and the Wilson for the few days they were in town. And, in a way, I suppose the timing was good in that I was able to get Gallagher to assist me with the move (couldn't have done it without him, as a matter of fact).
And as for The Festival itself . . . Well, that certainly deserves its own post in a few hours, when I've spent some more time on my paper.