There be dragons!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Joker's Origin Speeches


The Joker [holding a knife inside Gambol's mouth]: Wanna know how I got these scars? My father was... a drinker. And a fiend. And one night he goes off crazier than usual. Mommy gets the kitchen knife to defend herself. He doesn't like that. Not-one-bit. So - me watching - he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it! Turns to me, and he says, "why so serious, son?" Comes at me with the knife... "Why so serious?" He sticks the blade in my mouth... "Let's put a smile on that face!" And... [looks sidelong at Gambol's thug, watching the whole thing in horror] Why so serious?


The Joker: Well, you look nervous. Is it the scars? You want to know how I got 'em? [He grabs Rachel's head and positions the knife by her mouth] Come here. Hey! Look at me. So I had a wife, beautiful, like you, who tells me I worry too much. Who tells me I ought to smile more. Who gambles and gets in deep with the sharks... Look at me! One day, they carve her face. And we have no money for surgeries. She can't take it. I just want to see her smile again, hm? I just want her to know that I don't care about the scars. So... I stick a razor in my mouth and do this... [the Joker mimics slicing his mouth open with his tongue] myself. And you know what? She can't stand the sight of me! She leaves. Now I see the funny side. Now I'm always smiling!

Both speeches tell tales of human cruelty and horror. The first is specifically catered to Gambol. It speaks of a father's cruelty to his son - beating of a mother, and the son attempts to stop the violence only to be maimed cruelly for trying to step in. This vision of broken homes, drunken fathers, abused mothers seems to be the plague of many homes within the black community. Our current culture registers thousands of situations like this one and the despair that festers due to witnessing such horror leads to violence and more violence. The very act of nobility, stepping in to stop the drunken father, is made into something futile and foolish. Who, after all, would attempt nobility against such overwhelming evil? Who would be brave enough to stop the evil rather than becoming evil himself? Surely the only way to survive in such a horrific world of violence is to become a monster just like daddy. This is the implication of Joker's speech to Gambol, a man who has turned to crime and violence and thus can never live a normal life of peace and love amidst his family. But the speech also is geared towards the henchmen and the audience. You see how good men are maimed? You see how even powerful men like Gambol are swallowed up by hungrier monsters like the Joker? Look upon my works you mighty and despair.

The second speech is similarly geared to Rachel. Little is known about Rachel's character except that she is a hard-headed woman making it in a man's world. She is tough, persistent, courageous and an ardent follower of justice. Having chosen such a life how can she risk the vulnerability of being in love? Her very noble choice of pursuing a career in law precludes the possibility that she ever have a loving family relationship. When Joker describes a husband/wife relationship with a despairing wife who has been pummelled by a cruel masculine world he is describing the possible world Rachel would experience were she to ever slip and let herself fall in love. Moreover, his maiming of himself (allegedly) represents the despair that the wife would experience which knows no remedy but more despair; a self-sacrificing husband whose very act of self-sacrifice causes only more sorrow. What else could a woman like Rachel expect but that the beautiful man she loves be tortured and maimed by the world? What else could she expect but that "the sharks" would come for them both eventually?

The really great depth of this version of the Joker is that he isn't just a maniac who blows things up or randomly kills people (like Jack Nicholson's character) nor is he just a silly wisecracker out to give grief to the guy in the grey tights (like Cesar Romero's character). Instead he is the psychologically dangerous character of the greater Batman graphic novels; he is the Nietzschean ubermensch, the Machiavellian prince, the character who is beyond the realm of right and wrong who worms his way into our subconscious with questions, suggestions and doubts. In short, he is the worst villain of the modern world b/c he can invade and infect any person anywhere, creating chaos that erupts in the despairing psychology that later manifests as violent action against others. He creates human time bombs using nothing more than words.

The two speeches also are conversely to male and female figures - thus to all people. A masculine story of father dominance, like Saturn devouring his children, for the young boy in Gambol. And for the little girl in Rachel, a feminine story of loss and sorrow, like Niobe or Rachel mourning and weeping because they are nought. The futility of power that emasculates the male; the helplessness of weakness that crushes the female. Adam's curse of "earning his bread by the sweat of his brow"; Eve's curse of "bearing her children in pain". Joker is the universal Satan in this instance and like Satan he breeds amongst his victims intense despair in the face of his irresistable evil.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday the 13th Post

Sonnet #29

When, in disgust with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone berate my aching pate,
And trouble deaf woodwork with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate.
When this one's a clod and this one's a dope,
A scalawag, a nincompoop, a tart,
When pimps are praised and whores are full of hope,
And all high thought is edifice and art,
Then in these thoughts my mind as black as night,
I bang my fist and rail against the grey,
(though silently for fear might children fright;
Or solid men in coats might take me away)
What good is rage the only wealth it brings;
Destruction, sorrow, cabbages and kings.

I rewrote it some.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thoughts on Iliad

I love having a job where I can not only teach writing but in the process of teaching writing work out new ideas about works which I love.

On the Iliad:


Achilles is spiritually blind.
Oedipus is spiritually blind.

Achilles has a, um, interesting relationship with Thetis, his mom.
Oediups has a, um, interesting relationship with his mom.

Achilles father, Peleus, is absent from the epic, spoken of only when asking if he is dead.
Oedipus has killed his father.

Achilles has a spiritual awakening only after an intense experience of pain and loss.
Oedipus has a spiritual awakening only after an intense experience of pain and loss.

So is Achilles another Oedipus? Was Homer aware of the myth? Or is Oedipus Achilles? Was Sophocles aware of the epic?

Briseis mourns over Patroclus' body in book 19 saying that the dead man was gentle and good to her; "you were always kind."
Helen mourns over Hector's body in book 24 (the last of three female mourners, Andromache and Hecabe, and the penultimate human voice in the epic poem) saying that the dead man was always gentle and good to her; "you with your gentle words and your gentle ways"

Both are slaves; both are left utterly alone at the end of the work (Helen b/c she lives with a lout and Briseis b/c Achilles soon will be dead).
Both are mourning over the "good man" character who is now dead.
Both are mourning over the Achilles duplicate (Patroclus and Hector connected by the wearing of the armor)

Homer makes the gods look ridiculous, undermines them, shows that they are not worthy of worhsip - but some of the humans who fail and die are. Homer elevates the humans to a position superior to the gods.
Why does he do this?
Hypothesis: He does this to

1. show that screwing up in life is not the worst thing possible

a. with perfect, unyielding and aloof gods who cannot experience the human condition the standard to which we hold ourselves makes us psychotic and homicidal (or suicidal)

2. smash the hold that the priesthood had on the lives of laypeople

a. a priesthood beholden to perfect gods would have held that perfection over laypeople like a cult or cabalistic master/slave relation

b. much like the scribes and Pharisees

c. Christ does later what Homer does here.

3. force the reader to find new gods (or god)

a. if these gods, these passions, are not to be worshipped as the God then who is? Deus ubi est?

Sonnet 116 (a blog for Ben)


  1. Let me not to the marriage of true minds
  2. Admit impediments, love is not love
  3. Which alters when it alteration finds,
  4. Or bends with the remover to remove.
  5. O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
  6. That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
  7. It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
  8. Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
  9. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
  10. Within his bending sickle's compass come,
  11. Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
  12. But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
  13. If this be error and upon me proved,
  14. I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

(William Shakespeare)

I agree that one reading of the poem is an honest analysis of true love. Unfortunately, I have never found a passage of Shakespeare that is entirely honest; he is always wearing a mask and always has something up his sleeve. Consequently, this poem, which seems like a straightforward proclamation of the steadfastness of love probably is too good to be true. He does the same thing in Romeo & Juliet, offering what looks like a great romance but loaded with problems that indicate the opposite of real love. Here there are numerous ambiguities, subtle references, and structural alterations that indicate if nothing else a difficulty in the poem.

First, the English sonnet normally has in the third quatrain a complication of the subject introduced in the first two quatrains. What is the complication? There is none (apparently) - not even in the last bit of the poem. The normal indicator of complication "but" is in the 12th line at the end of the third quatrain. If the turn exists at the beginnig of the third quatrain then our complication of the discourse is that Love is not Time's fool - which means what? The Fool was subordinate to the King so that Love is the King and Time is the fool (instead of the other way around). But Shakespeare who wrote this poem also wrote "King Lear" - a tragic play in which the King, Lear, is imprisoned by his daughters for being foolish in his actions and the Fool is seen as far more free and wise than the king. Moreover, during the play King and Fool trade places and so represent the same thing in different postures. If this is so (and to an audience familiar with Lear it seems to be an intentional comparison) is the comparison supposed to be between the foolishness of Love and the kingliness of Time? Does Time rule over us? Is Love a foolish thing (b/c it certainly does make men foolish as Mercutio says and Iago attests)? Or are Love and Time the same thing?

Second, there is a frequent ambiguity to the use of pronouns; the "it" in lines 2,4&6 seemingly references to "love". But then what is the antecedent of "his" in line 7,9&10 ? The Star? Love? Time? If the "his" in 7 refers to the Polar Star then the worth of the star is unknown but his height is taken; meaning, we can measure the thing empirically but don't actually know what it is worth. Thus the Pole Star's attributes are identical to Love's and the "his" could reference either. If the "his" in 10 refers to "Time" that makes sense - but the ambiguity suggests that the sickle belongs to Love. Same with the "his" in 11 which seems to refer to Time since "brief hours and weeks" is the auspice of Time. But Love too is brief so the line could mean that Love does change in the short time we know of it on earth. This ambiguity is particularly pointed in the 12th line where the antecedent of "it" is completely obscure. What is born out to the edge of doom? Love? Time? It?

Finally, Shakespeare is a master of the language. Nowhere else in his corpus of works is there ever so seemingly straightforward and honest a proclamation. Also, nowhere else are there so many ambiguities, vagueries, mistakes and errors. Consequently, the last couplet can be read in two different ways.

If this be error and upon me proved,

What is the "this" to which he refers? The proclamation of love? The construct of the poem prior? the language itself? If it is the proclamation of love he has suggested hitherto that love doesn't ever change; that it is constant; that it looks upon the tumult of human life from a remote and aloof position similar to a star looking down upon earth. But this isn't right about love and Shakespeare knew it. Human love isn't constant as he proved in "Much Ado About Nothing" and "The Merchant of Venice" and "Romeo & Juliet" and "Othello" and numerous other works. Moreover, if he is referring to Love as a god or The God he seems to be describe an aloof and impersonal god that remains utterly unmoved by the sorrows and passions of human existence. But his whole religion of Incarnation, redemption, suffering and resurrection speaks contrary to this. Even if he is correct in assessing human love and divine love as unchanging and inflexible he would be well aware of the maxim that living things alter and change and dead things don't. Consequently the love he is describing isn't truly living but dead. Is he in error here? Is this the "this" to which he refers in line 13? If the "this" is the construct of the poem, it has already been shown that structurally the poem doesn't follow the normal modus operandi of a sonnet. There is no apparent complication, there is no consistent poetic conceit, there are numerous switches in the rhythmic pattern during the poem. So the poem is itself somewhat in error. The language is intentionally ambiguous and hard to fathom; it too is in error. The "this" is, consequently, proven to be in error.

Given this proof, the line "I never writ, nor no man ever loved" adopts a knew meaning. Is "I never writ" an excuse? An escape? A Thomistic "burn it; it's all straw" statement? And has anyone ever really loved? Do we really know what love is? Do we really want to know what love is? Or do we only think we know what love is and desire love as long as it makes us feel good and gives us pleasure? Complicated. Brilliant.