Tag Archives: drama

It’s Not Too Late

The snowy cold he knows to flee and every human exigency crackles as he plugs it in every outlet works but one: death stays dark.
– Sophokles, Antigonick, translated by Anne Carson illustrated by Bianca Stone.

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I was recently move to reread Antigone after a discussion with a lovely man over the eponymous character’s attributes. I love Anne Carson’s translations, so I was thrilled to find her version,  Antigonick in my library system. But I had no idea just what a treat it would be. More of an artist’s book than straightforward text with illustrations. The interplay between words, images, pages, and color is magnificent, irreverent, absurd, lovely, and striking.

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The book as a whole, as an object inseparable from the visual and tactile components that it comprises, makes the rash Kreon all the more ridiculous, the sweet Antigone all the more reasonable in her steadfast refusal to be shamed by the capricious laws of a man (or men, writ large). In the collaborative translation, illustration, and design trio of Carson, Stone and Robert Currie, Kreon is shown to be the flibbertigibbit that he is, but to tragic effect. He spews his nouns and verbs, but the black and white words imprison the letter of his laws, shutting his heart to the vitality of wisdom.

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Tangled up, and cornered in, when one can not feel and let love be the ruler of the day the results are bloody awful. And for Sophokles, that is quite literal. The body count is high. Oh! the Greek Tragedians – they didn’t fool around! The Chorus sings, “You’re late to learn what’s what aren’t you” And for Kreon it is a painful realization. Yes, he is late, so late. But, it’s never too late for wisdom. Isn’t that why we continue to revisit these tales of woe and tragedy? – to soften our hearts with what is wise and true.

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A Regular Vaurien

He was at that stage of irritability in which even reserved people say more than they ought. – Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Eternal Husband (365)

IMG_2072Dostoevsky is, in my opinion, a beautiful specialist of the crisis of the conscious. I was led to The Eternal Husband by my literary soul mate, who described it as the perfect story. How could I resist?

And something seemed faintly stirring in his memory, like some familiar but momentarily forgotten word, which one tries with all one’s might to recall; one knows it very well and knows that one knows it; one knows exactly what it means, one is close upon it and yet it refuses to be remembered, in spite of one’s efforts (354). 

I think it is the subtle but steady narrative voice of Dostoevsky that I fall for. José Saramago has a similar effect on me. It is the narrator’s observations and framing that one hears, and enjoys. The human ridiculousness is plainly and sympathetically articulated to you, Dear Confidant. The cat and mouse games that people engage in, tenderly and urgently described.

No sort of fact could have made her recognize her own depravity. “Most likely she genuinely does not know it,” Velchanikov thought about her even before he left T–. (We may remark, by the way, that he was the accomplice of her depravity.) (371).

We may indeed – you and I, Fyodor. Reminiscent of the brilliant scenes between Raskolnikov and Petrovich in Crime and Punishment, in The Eternal Husband, the contest is between Velchaninov and Pavlovitch – whose wife was Velchaninov’s former lover (an unkind woman, we may as well remark). Upon her death, Pavlovitch, being ‘the eternal husband,’ is lost without his role in life. Broken and disheveled, (not to mention blotto) he shows up at Velchaninov’s door one late night. But with what motive? What knowledge of his wife’s transgressions…who knew what when, indeed. Let the twisted  Tango begin!

“I must have that man!” he decided finally. “I must solve the riddle of that man, and then make up my mind. It’s–a duel!” (389)

No silly man, it’s a dance, only you’re not the lead, and your toes can’t find the dance floor. But it’s cheek to cheek: the story is tightly told with the precise choreography of a psychological drama.

The visitor chanted his phrases as though to music, but all the while that he was holding forth he looked at the floor, though, no doubt, all the time he saw everything. But Velchaninov had by now regained his composure (363).

‘The eternal husband’ is a grotesque thing, as any person who lives a role rather than a life must be. But it is the unyielding humanity of Dostoevsky’s voice that makes one fall in with the protagonist, Velchaninov, not in spite of  his imperfections, but because of them. His struggle to make sense of his part, as the spurned lover, without revealing it to the eternal husband, is by turns hilarious, heartbreaking, and harrowing.

Here is where I would place the final quote. The final line of this short novel. But, I can’t bring myself to do it on the off chance you have not read this story. I will not ruin the charm, the profound flippancy. It’s just life, the narrator seems to say – what you decide and what decides you. Ah!

* title from pg. 365. ‘Vaurien’ is a French term for a good-for-nothing.

*The Short Novels of Dostoevsky, Dial Press 1945 edition, translator uncredited.

 

 

Love Is the Infinity of Now

She came and sat at the other end of the bed and we gazed at each other. I could not remember that I had looked at anyone in quite that way before: when one is all vision and the other face enters into one’s own. I was aware too of a bodily feeling which was not exactly desire but was rather something to do with time, a sense of the present being infinitely large.
– Iris Murdoch, The Italian Girl (168)

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Close to Updike on the stacks was The Italian Girl by Iris Murdoch. I thought I might read it as the only thing I really have in my head concerning Murdoch is the face of Judy Dench.  It’s a strange little book. Or I read it on a strange little day, but I’m not sure I was entirely convinced of it.

The story is a brief period in the lives of two brothers, Edmond and Otto. Edmund returns to his childhood home where Otto’s wife, daughter, an Italian maid, an apprentice to Otto, and the apprentice’s sister all live. Anyone whom has experienced a little of this wonder we call life will not be surprised by reading in this story the lengths to which people go to complicate relationships and repress past traumas. This deranged family reunion is due to the death of Lydia, Edmund and Otto’s mother.

Perhaps Murdoch felt that the reader would not be interested to understand why the mother of the protagonists was such a monster, instead she focuses her story on the effects of Lydia’s depraved mothering instinct. And maybe that is where I lost a little something. Perhaps I have to disagree with Tolstoy- all unhappy families are alike as well. Certainly there is a greater diversity of action and reactions, but we all know that emotional pain is a sickness, and when a mother or a father is the cause, some sort of great violence or cataclysmic event is required to root it out. Or, we wither away into ourselves (which doesn’t always make great fiction).

Initially that is the path Edmund has chosen. He lives alone. He is alone. He is loath to face the demon of his mother. His experience in the present tense is a litany of what he does not like: “I detest smoking.” “I don’t like drinking,” I can’t abide that smell, or color, or feeling, or whatever it is. There is a lot he doesn’t like.

But he has his moments. Those lovely moments.

The extreme beauty of the scene put me into an instant trance. It was always a trick of my nature to be subject to these sudden enchantments of the visible world, when a particular scene would become so radiant with form and reality as to snatch me out of myself and make me oblivious of all my purposes. Beauty is such self-forgetting.

That last line: beauty is such self-forgetting, is extraordinary. It’s just…I would have liked to know a little more about Lydia. I would have liked to know – why? I always think of healthy babies coming into the world hard-wired to love and adore their parents. One really does have to be quite awful to make it such a horror show. Is it just a banal truth – simply a matter of selfishness? Narcissism?

Going through life forced into wanting to be loved, craving the timeless truth and purity of what was your inherent nature as a human from the start, well, it makes for a difficult experience. It is very hard to process the Lydias of the world. Edmund and Otto take opposite approaches, but both end up at the same place – which is back at the start.

I am in the truth now. And this is a moment for following the truth to whatever folly.(151)

Truth be Told

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We have finished reading A Doll House in my literature class. We are watching a movie of the play with Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins. I was very distracted watching the film by my inability to remember how I knew of Claire Bloom. Sadly, I knew that it was a husband of hers that I associated her name with, but beyond that, I was at a loss (she was Philip Roth’s wife for five years and Rod Steiger’s for 10, there was another, but I don’t know anything about him and she did not stay married to any of them so…). And then the actor whom played the character of Nils: he was in the movie Indiana Jones– I had to suppress the urge to shout out my joyful recognition when it came to me. Nils is a great character, flawed but essentially sweet, the kind of crushed man you hope someone will save by love.
But, why I have this sort of information in my head is beyond me. Why can I not remember a brilliant line I read recently, but I know most of the names of the Kardashian sisters…well, maybe not their actual names but at least I know that there is a preponderance of ‘k’ sounds in their names. Damn supermarket check out line- literally stealing real estate in my mind.

We didn’t get past the first act. I really would have like to to see Act III. The moment I went back to (while reading) the play was when Nora realizes the gig is up. I was interested in Ibsen’s interpretation of that seminal moment. Some people have said that the action of the third act happens too quickly, but all it takes is a moment, no? Once she knows: she knows. It is that quick. To put a revelation of that order back inside is impossible. Her quiet, stiff truth is, I imagine,  unfathomable to someone whom has not experienced that sort of thing.

I am sorry to admit to the plethora of useless knowledge swirling about my mind, curling around factoids and cheap images; but it is the the startlingly real knowing lurching forward that alters lives. I don’t know how people go back and feign ignorance once they know. That is something Ibsen understood well: The gravity of truth.