There be dragons!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

To Bes Compared

I got interested in these interpretations and thought I'd try to string them all in one place.

William Shakespeare - To be, or not to be (from Hamlet 3/1)

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. - Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.

First, Olivier. Not a big fan of this one; melodrama - bad camera work - very wooden. Cutting edge for its time.

Here's an acting student doing the same.

Derek Jacobi is pretty damn good in about everything he does.

An interesting one with Kevin Kline who, surprisingly, was classically trained. A bit too much of the Olivier here, though; sort of "hi, I'm Kevin Kline and I'm acting":

Have I ever seen a Zefferelli film I didn't like? Let's think... no. Probably the best version of the Danish prince I've yet seen. Gibson does a phenomenal job (in his pre-drinking, pre Jew-hating, pre-Apocalyptic days).

Ugh. Branagh. God's gift to acting. Probably one of the more painful renditions of this play I've seen and this... this travesty... where the words of anguish are just more patina for the glory of Branagh's ego.

If you're going to see any modern renditions of Shakespeare ("O", "Ten Things I Hate About You", "Richard III") make it the Ethan Hawke Hamlet. God. He so gets the modern world in this, the obsession with media, the sorrow and loss of daddy as a figure of respect - this scene puts the suicide speech in Blockbuster video! Brilliant! In the midst of all this wonderful glitz and all he wants is to cut his own throat; America entertaining itself to death. Bill Murray is excellent in this production as Polonius.

And of course there's Schwarzenegger:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

To Helen Analysis

This is the poem by E.A. Poe:

To Helen
by Edgar Allan Poe

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfum'd sea,
The weary way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the beauty of fair Greece,
And the grandeur of old Rome.

Lo ! in that little window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand!
The folded scroll within thy hand —
A Psyche from the regions which
Are Holy land !

Stanza 1

The Helen of the poem is an immediate reference to Mrs. Stanard but a proximate reference to Helen of Troy. This is problematic since Helen is responsible for the death of thousands - "the face that launched a thousand ships". In the second line the poet notes that it is not Helen who is like the bark but "her beauty". Thus the inspiration/longing/eros that this woman has invoked in him is the salvific element, the bark (and Nicean - which alludes to the historical power near Troy that carried the Byzantine Empire through the early 13th century and would later be the site where the Creed that defined the Church was crafted. The name itself means victory, Nike in Greek) that carries the speaker "the weary way-worn wanderer" (an alliterative series of w's that puff out the mouth in an expulsion of air much like a spent runner) out of the element of chaos, the sea, back to his home - his sense of self. Immediately this raises the question of eros; is it a force that leads us to the beautiful or a destructive power that prompts annihilation or perhaps both? Are we to be subsumed by our very love of beauty into a loss of self, obliteration of identity in love; or are we to find our proper place in the universe - our home? The wanderer and the reference to home immediately call up the epic work of Homer in which Odysseus, guided by the remembered love of his wife, Penelope, struggles to reach his home. Is Penelope like the guiding bark? Or is she Eros? The ocean over which the speaker travels is chaos but also the element of the feminine; confirmed by the fact that it is "perfum'd". Is the first stanza suggesting that the salvific beauty of Helen guides him past the chaos offered by illicit unions with other women to find a true love in her? Is she, or her beauty, native to him - a second self, as Aristotle said?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Consciousness and sex

If consciousness is the problem, that is, if self-awareness, being self-conscious is the human difficulty, then why is sexuality such a big deal? Not that it isn't a big deal; it is. Rather, why is our identity of self so wrapped up with our vision of sexuality and so intimately tied to the sexual life we choose to engage in? What is the connection between our sexual life and the self-image we deal with on a regular basis? We, as the only creature that seems to be aware of its self, the only creature that makes effigies, the only creature that lies or laughs, seem also to be the only creature with difficulties concerning our sexuality? Why not eating or sleeping? These things define us to a degree, but not nearly as powerfully as sexuality. Nobody, as C.S. Lewis notes, pays money to slowly see a pork chop unveiled.

Perhaps "power" is the key word. Self-consciousness assumes power over things. It considers that because it knows it exists it therefore must be in control. Yet urges creep up on us, some to lesser degree, some to greater. The greater the urge the greater power it has over us and the less we think we are in control. Since the urge to sex is one of the most powerful urges, Aphrodite is very strong, it has a great deal of power over us; it can even enslave us; make us feel driven by it. And the whole while it seems to inflate our opinion of ourselves to unhealthy degrees - perpetuating the myth of our immortal divinity.

The struggle against this urge forces us, then, to redefine our own self-image, to learn humility and know our limits, to come in contact with our own mortality.

Moreover, it seems, that as we do construct effigies we, like Pygmalion, tend to mistake our effigies for the reality. We make a God out of our gods and think that our perceptions are the reality. But there is a vast lacuna in that relationship between what is and what we think is. This is particularly true, it seems, with our self-image; we think that we are greater than we are. Perverse or rampant sexuality seems to reinforce this misguided self-image and makes objects out of the other people with whom we engage; it objectifies them.

So perhaps our sexuality is tied up with our inappropriate self-image and thus blinds us to the reality of the world such that we become enslaved to it. Mastering it might prove the thing to give us clear vision of who we are and what the world really is. And conversely, those who do not attempt to master it would continue to see the world darkly.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Dimock Odysseus and the Cattle of Helios

In his most excellent article entitled “The Name of Odysseus” (Hudson Review 1956), G.E. Dimock ostensibly treats the etymological roots of the name of Homer’s hero. Dimmock claims that the name comes from the Greek word “To odysseus” (odyssasthai in Greek)” which usually is said to mean “‘be wroth against,’ ‘hate,’” and is “connected with the Latin odisse.” (Dimock 52) The title, however is misleading as the article though only briefly dealing with the roots of the name is actually about the nature of pain. Dimock makes a remarkably profound statement about the nature of pain saying that
For Odysseus to choose to pursue the path of his painful identity as he did on
Circe’s beach, is to win power over and recognition from, that ambiguous
daughter of Sun, the life-giver, and Ocean, the all-engulfing. It is also
to accept pain as the only real basis of meaning in this life or the next. (61)

Essentially, Dimock claims, the story of Odysseus is a story about accepting the pain of being human in order to make a name for yourself; to leave the security of the womb of nonbeing and enter into that painful world of human identity;
Leaving Kalypso is very like leaving the perfect security and satisfaction of
the womb; but, as the Cyclops reminds us, the womb is after all a deadly
place. In the womb one has no identity, no existence worthy of a name.

Dimock is very correct in suggesting that “there is no human identity in other terms than pain” (63) and that “in a world without trouble love must be as little serious as the affair of Ares and Aphrodite.” (64) Indeed without the trials of suffering these glories seem meaningless and life seems tedious and dark. Men who avoid pain or succumb to its trials become, in a word, monsters. It is significant to note, therefore, that the threefold distinction of pain which Dimock makes has direct bearing on the episode of Odysseus’ men and the cattle of the sun. Dimock claims that
Teiresias implies three modes of pain: first, pain administered… (second) the
pain of the resisted impulse… and third to introduce the idea of trouble (or
pain) to those who, like the Phaeacians, are not sufficiently aware of it. (65)

The first two modes are the role of the student, the third that of the teacher; the undergraduate, the graduate student, and the professor, so to speak. Odysseus is successful in all three modes of pain. But because he endures the first and holds himself against the second he becomes a teacher or mentor of others, so to speak. His men do not. Because they refuse to endure the “resisted impulse” they fall victim to the monstrousness of oblivion. As Dimock points out “…the life of pain contemplated in the Odyssey is fruitful, not sadistic. The ultimate object is recognition and the sense of one’s own existence, not the pain itself.” (69) This recognition of our own existence, the Greeks held, was the very essence of the spiritual and educational life. Their phrase, gnothi seauton, or “know thyself”, was the distinguishing mark between men and non-men. Odysseus men, because they rejected pain for their own gustatorial satisfaction, become pigs, or worse than pigs, they become men who are pigs; and in such transformation they become monstrous and fit only for destruction.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I’m reading a book on music by Jocelyn Godwin in which the author examines ancient musical charms. These charms consisted of a series of six or seven vowels that each represented a god. Godwin claims that such charms were throughout the ancient world as wards or guards against evil and existed in amulets as well as chanted songs in religious rites. One such example, Godwin points out, exists in the Bacchic exclamation EVOHE! Another is in the name of the Jewish God, YHVH, whose power was so great as to necessitate a ban on the pronunciation of his name. Thus the Jews added the other name of the god, Adonai, or Lord to YHVH to create YaHoVaH, or Jehovah. This seven syllable chant of vowels constituted one of the greatest religious music charms available in the Jewish world. My question is, driven by intuitive insight, is the Christian Euouae at the end of a chant a similar charm? I know that the Euouae is a shortened bit for Seculorum, Amen, but why choose that phrase, unless the amulet phrase existed prior? In other words, is there a vestigial remnant of this ancient musical magic embedded in the Gregorian “Seculorum, Amen” phrase of Euouae? By extension, is Gregorian chant itself an extended form of this same type of musical magic, the words being fitted to conjure certain metaphysical powers?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Posting some music

I was encouraged by this fellow, Brad Sucks, to post some of my music. I used to have some YouTube videos created for some of these, but gave up and took them down. - sorry about the hosting site: lots of extra crud in order to hear these tunes. I'd like to find a better free host but they probably don't exist.

Latex Lola (Again and Again and Again): reflecting on the dichotomy between real women and the plastycene fantasy of woman as plaything.

Sister Cornflower Part 2: written for my lovely woman and redone here to make it more strange and ethereal.

Lola's Leopardskin Bag: not sure, but very interesting turns of lyric, I think.

Radiant Rose: written after a dream about a college friend of mine.

Hungary: reflecting on the squalor, misery, and generally putridity which most people live in. We are hungry for something greater and this once great country, in which hunger is still predominant, reals under the effects of communism which so denied that metaphysical longing.

She's Like a Rainbow: a cover of a Rolling Stones song - though they do it better, to be sure.