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Decapitation — Variations on a theme by Vollmann

Monday, September 24th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — preliminary to a rave review, i suspect, with Helena Bonham Carter as Red Queen thrown in ]
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There’s an old English saying, presumably about the martyred King Charles I:

The King walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off..

Young boys, getting acquainted with rules and grammar, and somewhat literal minded as a result, find this statement a paradox, which, however, can easily be resolved by the addition of a comma or perhaps better, a semicolon:

The King walked and talked; half an hour after his head was cut off..

Older boys quickly learn the (semicolon) reason of the riddle, and eagerly apply the first version to younger boys, the better to perplex and torment them. And thus both versions, the beauty of the paradox, the ease of its resolution, and the cruelty thus made available are transmitted across the generations..

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I have written this because the beheading of a king clearly marked my young soul, as I was yesterday reminded by three passages from an Atlantic review of Vollmann‘s latest Opus — Magnum III at least [I, II, and let us not forget, gods I would love to read this, Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater]..

Summits chopped off:

  • In West Virginia, mountains do not have their summits chopped off but are granted “removal of overburden.”
  • Decapitation:

  • His insatiable appetite for detail yields both irrelevant trivia (“Embarking on the Super Limited Hitachi Express, which was also known as the Super Hitachi 23 Limited Express”) and magisterial portraits of landscapes befouled by poking and prodding and, in the case of West Virginia’s mountains, decapitating.
  • Headless:

  • Vollmann breathes a cool wind “whose degree of particulate contamination was of course unknown,” hears on a silent street at night the grunting of a radioactive wild boar, and walks on broken glass through an abandoned clothing store advertising a 50 percent–off sale and peopled by headless mannequins.
  • Headless mannequins and radioactive wild boars — vivid metaphors, no? — we the humans have been brain-dead, and in all likelihood will continue so.

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    We’re all too familiar with images of ISIS executioners with their orange jump-suited prisoners, just prior to and after solo and group beheadings — as a corrective to the “it’s all Islam” narrative, here’s a para from an article titled Inside the Minds of Cartel Hitmen: Hannibal Lecters for Hire (which includes an interview with Robert Bunker that I will be taking a more extended look at now my review of JM Berger‘s new book. Extremism, is in):

    And the tactics employed in all that killing have become more and more gruesome over time. Maybe the rush felt by some murderers is like a drug itself, and they are junkies needing ever greater doses to get the same high. But how is it that ordinary people get hooked on activities like beheading, acid baths, and cannibalism?

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    Quoth the Red Queen: Off with their heads!

    Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?

    Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — Thomas à Becket, Jim Comey, Vladimir Putin, Stormy Daniels ]
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    Okay, let’s start with the movie version of “Who will rid me..?” Here’s the set up, the breaking of the long and deep friendship between King Henry II, his will driven by the power of the State, and his Archbishop, Thomas à Becket, driven to opposition by the honor of Mother Church

    When the King determines at last to have his Archbishop removed, he utters those words which ring down the centuries — “will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” — shown here in Anouilh‘s version of Becket at 3.32 in this clip or thereabouts:

    Sigh.

    Becket meanwhile offers his resignation unto death in surrender to the will of his God:

    In Eliot‘s Murder in the Cathedral, a passage with which one must wrestle lays out the conflict and its resolution:

    They know and do not know, what it is to act or suffer.
    They know and do not know, that acting is suffering
    And suffering is action. Neither does the actor suffer
    Nor the patient act. But both are fixed
    In an eternal action, an eternal patience
    To which all must consent that it may be willed
    And which all must suffer that they may will it,
    That the pattern may subsist, for the pattern is the action
    And the suffering, that the wheel may turn and still
    Be forever still.

    Becket was killed in his cathedral on 29 December 1170, by four knights acting on the spur of the moment utterance of their king, and their own certainty as to the wish their king intended to express.

    Becket was canonized — named a saint and martyr — in 1173. And the King? Wiki summarizes:

    The king performed a public act of penance on 12 July 1174 at Canterbury, when he publicly confessed his sins, and then allowed each bishop present, including Foliot, to give him five blows from a rod, then each of the 80 monks of Canterbury Cathedral gave the king three blows. The king then offered gifts to Becket’s shrine and spent a vigil at Becket’s tomb.

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    So much for Becket.

    President Trump, who had somewhat reluctantly fired Flynn, suggests to Jim Comey, head of the FBI, that he might want to close down the further investigation of the Russia business:

    I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.

    Comey was later questioned by Sen. Angus King in an intelligence committee hearing:

    KING: In terms of his comments to you — I think in response to Mr. Risch — to Senator Risch, you said he said, “I hope you will hold back on that.” But when you get a — when a president of the United States in the Oval Office says something like “I hope” or “I suggest” or — or “would you,” do you take that as a — as a — as a directive?

    COMEY: Yes. Yes, it rings in my ear as kind of, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

    KING: I was just going to quote that. In 1170, December 29, Henry II said, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” and then, the next day, he was killed — Thomas Becket. That’s exactly the same situation. You’re — we’re thinking along the same lines.
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    That’s the direct use of the Becket theme turned to a contemporary purpose. But there’s more..

    Julia Ioffe on All In with Chris Hayes, speaking of Putin‘s plausible deniability using the oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin as a cut-out:

    IOFFE:It`s a very, very close relationship. In Russia, he`s known as Putin`s chef. And this is very much in keeping with how the Russians do things, right? There`s never going to be or probably not going to be any finger – any of Putin`s fingerprints on this, right? Probably what it looked like was Putin essentially saying, you know, who will rid me of this you know troublesome Hillary and everybody else kind of gets what that means and swings into action.

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    You might think the Becket story was enough. You might take delight in its contemporary echo by Comey and King. Julia Ioffe using the same example of Vladimir Putin was an unexpected bonus — but there’s (sadly) more..

    Consider this:

    Who Will Rid Me of This Meddlesome Stormy? The Michael Cohen Story:

    Doing conspicuous favors and fixing things is in the nature of this bizarrely public toady-chieftain relationship. Read through Cohen’s interviews. You’ll find it’s replete with mixes of mafia tough guy talk and zany levels of conspicuous self-abnegation. It’s all theater at some level. But I think to a great degree it’s genuine. It’s the guy’s identity, like the way a top captain thinks about the mob boss he serves. Who will rid me of this meddlesome Stormy? Did I mention that Cohen and Trump’s mafia business partner Felix Sater were childhood friends long before they both ended up as top Trump business partners right around the same time? Well, that’s true too. In the scale of money both Trump and Cohen operate at, covering the $130,000 payment himself seems entirely plausible as something Cohen would do as part of the larger relationship. He probably did get paid back some way or another. But I think it’s totally plausible he didn’t. He’d love to be that guy who made the problem go away. Doing Trump a solid like that would be something he’d happily do. It’s the basis of their relationship. He’d get paid back in other ways.”

    When Donald Trump, in one of his furies, makes an offhand comment about Mueller, does that then become an order in the ears of one of his loyal subordinates?

    The Becket story has much to teach us.

    Trump in Arizona, Rosalind in Arden

    Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — think of the universe as a handkerchief — folding it into one by its opposite corners ]
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    Consider these two phrasings — the first, from a WaPo report of Donald Trump‘s speech in Arizona, in which Jenna Johnson or her editor thought he “ranted and rambled” —

    — the second from fair Rosalind, in Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 3 scene 5.

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    I donm’t think in the long haul that Trump is very Shakespeare the playwright, though as a character he may be Shakespearean. But I’m very taken with the genius of Shakespeare’s Rosalind, “insult, exult, and all at once..” and Trump’s “never left, right? All of us..”

    Audrey Stanley, who directed a superlative Greek-tragedy-influenced As You Like It at Ashland while I was an adjunct anthro professor there, instructed her actors to make of each word its own universe, before running them together with the natural rhythms of speech, focusing in on “insult, exult” — both of which are two syllable words of which the second syllable is “sult” — yet having diametrically opposed meanings, and thus “universes”.

    The actor who can move his or her breath and rib-cage from the fullness of “insult” to the fullness of “exult” — spitting defiance to joyous exaltation, at opposite extremes of the verbal spectrum — has performed a “coniunction oppositorum” as Jung would say, a folding of the universe as I would put it, from two (opposites) into one — “and all at once”.

    It’s a brilliant and potentially transformative utterance, given to the brilliant and potentially transformative character, Rosalind.

    Is Trump “brilliant and potentially transformative” — eh?

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    Under Audrey’s inspiration, I have long admired that brief line of Rosalind’s, and have only found one line — in Dylan Thomas — to match it:

    Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray

    — that’s from his scandalously fine villanelle, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night:

    **

    Oy. Only one comparable usage. Until Trump.

    Well, I’ll leave you there. I don’t think Trump, as I’ve said, is Shakespeare, quite — but in Arizona he stumbled into a speech pattern that attracts my notice.

    Shakespeare Trumped, perhaps? I don’t know, but it comes close..

    Until next time..

    ISIS, bridal and burial veils, Rilke

    Monday, July 17th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — some non-Islamic (archetypal) context for a jihadist’s bride receiving a suicide belt as a wedding gift ]
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    Asia Ahmed Mohamed, 26 (left), was given a suicide belt as dowry by her jihadi husband Mohammed Hamdouch – Daily Mail

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    The unfortunate King Admetus, who had shown great hospitality to Apollo when the latter was banished from Olympus for nine years, was gifted by the spinners of fates with an extended lifespan — provided a substitute was found at the time death came to claim him.

    Death came for Admetus, and in the great poem that Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, after his father, mother and closest friend have each refused the chance to save Admetus’ life at cost of their own — Admetus’ loving wife Alcestis steps forward to offer herself..

    Here Rilke describes her inner state:

    No one can be his ransom: only I can.
    I am his ransom. For no one else has finished
    with life as I have. What is left for me
    of everything I once was? Just my dying.
    Didn’t she tell you when she sent you down here
    that the bed waiting inside belongs to death?
    For I have taken leave. No one dying
    takes more than that. I left so that all this,
    buried beneath the man who is now my husband,
    might fade and vanish–. Come, lead me away,
    already I have begun to die, for him.

    **

    The young, free, wild woman, the Artemis in every young bride, loses not just her father’s name but her identity, her life even, at the moment of marriage: the more sober, adult, bound woman, the wife, succeeds toi her flesh and days.

    This theme, in which the (presumably white) bridal veil is seen to imply the (presumably black) burial veil, is a central strand in Greek tragedy, not just in Euripides ALcestist, from which Rilke drew his narrative, but in all three great tragedians, as Rush Rehm shows in his book, Marriage to Death: The Conflation of Marriage and Funeral Rituals in Greek Tragedy:

    The link between weddings and death — as found in dramas ranging from Romeo and Juliet to Lorca’s Blood Wedding–plays a central role in the action of many Greek tragedies. Female characters such as Kassandra, Antigone, and Helen enact and refer to significant parts of wedding and funeral rites, but often in a twisted fashion. Over time the pressure of dramatic events causes the distinctions between weddings and funerals to disappear. In this book, Rush Rehm considers how and why the conflation of the two ceremonies comes to theatrical life in the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes.

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    Oh yes, and here’s Santa Muerte as Death Bride:

    Regarding Santa Muerte, here’s R. Andrew Chesnut‘s abstract for his book, Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint:

    Although condemned by mainstream churches, this folk saint’s supernatural powers appeal to millions of Latin Americans and immigrants in the U.S. Devotees believe the Bony Lady (as she is affectionately called) to be the fastest and most effective miracle worker, and as such, her statuettes and paraphernalia now outsell those of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Saint Judetwo other giants of Mexican religiosity. In particular, the book shows Santa Muerte has become the patron saint of drug traffickers, playing an important role as protector of peddlers of crystal meth and marijuana; DEA agents and Mexican police often find her altars in the safe houses of drug smugglers. Yet Saint Death plays other important roles: she is a supernatural healer, love doctor, money-maker, lawyer, and angel of death. She has become without doubt one of the most popular and powerful saints on both the Mexican and American religious landscapes.

    In Santa Muerte we see the conflation of wedding and funeral alive and well in 21st century Mexico — and rippling out into the wider world.

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    That’s pretty much the cross-cultural context against which I understand a Jihadist’s bride given SUICIDE BELT as wedding gift:

    Asia left Spain for Syria in March 2014 where she married Hamdouch, also known as Kokito de Castillejos, ‘the decapitator of Castillejos.’

    During the ceremony, the terrorist gave his wife a belt of explosives. They had a son.

    Sunday surprise — Pascal, Shakespeare, you and me

    Sunday, June 11th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — wondering whether Pascal was imitating or poorly recalling Shakespeare, plagiarizing or merely GMTA? ]
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    Try these three on for size!


    Hamlet


    Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead


    Star Trek

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    Pascal in the original French:

    Quelle chimère est-ce donc que l’homme? quelle nouveauté, quel monstre, quel chaos, quel sujet de contradictions, quel prodige? Juge de toutes choses, imbécile ver de terre, dépositaire du vrai, cloaque d’incertitude et d’erreur, gloire et rebut de l’univers. Qui démêlera cet embrouillement? La nature confond les pyrrhoniens, et la raison confond les dogmatiques.

    Have a chimerical day!

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