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To be or to do

[ by Charles Cameron — to be or to do: this one’s for Scott ]

Martin Sheen as Capt. Willard in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now


Of course, Col. Kurtz‘ end in the movie is more than a little different from Col. Boyd‘s — but one wonders whether John Milius was aware of the Boyd quote when he wrote that particular scene.

7 Responses to “To be or to do”

  1. zen Says:

    Colonel Boyd was speaking of an individual rising or self-actualizing to the benefit of something larger than himself. The fictional Kurtz, drawn from Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz and a couple of real life scary operators in the  Vietnam War (one who barely escaped court-martial for war crimes), turned that self-actualization inward to become more than man, less than human in pursuit of war for war’s sake. An agent or avatar of chaos. 180 degrees opposite of Boyd’s constructive idealization, really.

  2. zen Says:

    And real life has generated figures worst than Kurtz:

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Zen:
    I was a bit concerned when posting that juxtaposition of Boyd and Kurtz — as I often am — by the thought that some might take the juxtaposition as implying the two men were somehow the same, when they’re clearly not. As I said earlier this month, “juxtaposition does not imply eqivalence” — in fact you hit one of my own nails on the head when you call Kurtz “180 degrees opposite of Boyd’s constructive idealization, really”. Part of what’s fascinating about analysis by analogy is that it applies to opposites as well as parallels.
    In my Intro to the Said Symphony, I laid out my own “rules of engagement” thus:

    And the fact that I juxtapose two situations, events, anecdotes, quotes, processes or persons in no way means that I equate them — any more than a juxtaposition between the soccer game that kicked off the Football War (El Salvador and Honduras, 1969) and the Fischer-Spassky match that was a minute but focused skirmish in the Cold War (USA vs USSR, 1972) implies that soccer is or somehow equals chess — or is its exact opposite — or provides or implies a moral equivalence between America and Russia:
    Linkage does not imply equivalency, moral or otherwise. 

    I guess what I’m getting at is that similarities of form do indeed raise questions of similarities of value — they’re provocative in that way, but not dispositive.


    I really need to think some more about this, it ties in with the problem we have when we get an analogy in our heads and behave as though it’s an identity — as though history repeats itself without variation… as though differences were not as significant as similarities.

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Cath Styles’ point is significant here too, I think:

    A general principle can be distilled from this. Perhaps: In the very moment we identify a similarity between two objects, we recognise their difference. In other words, the process of drawing two things together creates an equal opposite force that draws attention to their natural distance. So the act of seeking resemblance – consistency, or patterns – simultaneously renders visible the inconsistencies, the structures and textures of our social world. And the greater the conceptual distance between the two likened objects, the more interesting the likening – and the greater the understanding to be found.

    I think that’s a key insight, both about the Sembl / Hipbone games and about my own mode of thinking.

  5. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Charles,
    Many thanks! I’d never thought of the connection, but perhaps there is some linkage. Boyd was a fiercely independent thinker and doer. That said, he  understood the system well enough to use it when it was to his advantage…Kurtz turned his back on the system.  

  6. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Scott:
    You’re most welcome.  I was watching the film last night, and Willard at that point in the film is reading about Kurtz’ backgound, impressive history and credentials — and his appreciation for Kurtz is growing, even as he struggles with the way a good man eventually turned rotten, and with the eventual realities of his own mission to terminate him.
    But of course, it’s also a work of fiction, and Kurtz a study in human atavistic tendences.  Even Kurtz somewhere knows he has to go.

  7. A little ways down the road Says:

    “Time is too slow for those who wait, Too swift for those who fear, Too long for those who grieve, Too short for those who rejoice, But for those who love, Time is eternal.” – words by Anonymous

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