Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Fletcher Knebel Rises from the Dead!

Knebel was a writer of popular political fiction during the Cold War of the 1950’s and 1960’s, novels such as “Fail Safe” and “Seven Days in May,” being made into popular movies.  Another novel which did not make it into the movies was entitled, “Is the President Stark Raving Mad.” However, nearly sixty years later someone…for reasons unknown (wink, wink), the novel is being re-released, certainly in part because of references made by Bob Woodward and Rachel Maddow.

Did you ever wonder what would happen if you were “stark raving mad”?  Would you know it and be able to tell someone, “I’m nuts.  Help me!” or would you refuse to acknowledge it.  It depends upon the degree of madness.  The closer one is to total madness, the less likely is he to ask for help as the ability to acknowledge any such infirmity is beyond the capacity of his feeble, fear-ridden ego.  Most of us deal with internal duress at some point in our lives…and times throughout our lives…and one might think of this as “madness” but not anywhere near deserving the label madness.  Life is difficult and at times the difficulties test our resources and our ability to make appropriate adaptation is challenged.  But we do it and never merit the label “mad” though often…perhaps, ”neurotic as hell.”  But those who are “stark raving mad” are so far beyond the pale that they are immune to any external feedback and will listen only to the feedback from their own internal haunts as well as those who have subscribed to the influence of these same haunts. Those who are under this influence have permitted this to happen because the haunts of the mad man, the “identified patient”, have resonated with some muted haunt in their own depths that they have surrendered to the siren call of this embodiment of madness that was before them.

Shakespeare offered pertinent wisdom on this matter, asking the question, “What is madness but to be nothing else but mad?”  Shakespeare here recognized the point made above, that we are all mad to some degree, and the problem would lie only with those who are “nothing else but mad.”  He realized that “madness” was only a problem when it consumed the individual to the point that his judgment was gravely impaired so that his choices put himself and/or others in danger.  Such an individual is out of touch with reality, relative to another observation by the Bard, “Madness in great one’s must not unwatched go.”

I hesitate to describe Trump as “a great one” but he does occupy a “great” office with immense power and influence in the entire world.  The evidence of his instability goes back decades, has become more prominent in recent decades as he became a more prominent public figure, and now is glaringly obvious as he occupies the office of the President. No, he is not “mad” for there is, at this point, “something else than mad” present.  But there is madness, “stark raving madness” roiling in the depths of his being, and it cannot but escalate as the Mueller investigation continues to close in on him.  “Acting out” always leads to conclusion, either humility and recognition of one’s excesses or an explosion of violence upon oneself, or others, or both.  The ugliness within must find expression.  We can run from it but it will always follow us until we address it or find a steady diet of “others” upon whom to project it.

I find it interesting that my country, the United States of America…the sole surviving superpower…has the ability to destroy the world but so far does not have within its heart the will or power to even “limit” this personification of its own avarice.  Like any individual, my country is powerless before its hidden, feared, subterranean depths which are now glaringly obvious to us all in this embodiment of our heart’s darkness.  Even his minions are aware of this but they are so “dug in” with his delusional system that they cannot admit it. This is the ‘will to self-destruction” which will relentlessly pursue its ends unless the gods, i.e. “God”, offers us a “deux ex machina” to resolve this mess.

Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

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The Perilous Safety of “Hunkerin’ Down”

There is a pale.  And there are those who spend their life beyond the pale, some so far beyond the pale that they merit the term “deviant.”  And then there are those who live very close to the pale, hovering just short of this boundary or just beyond it and do the work that offers art in its full gamut to the human race.  This pale is what defines reality and “reality” must have some definition if there is to be any civilization at all.  But there are times when the “energy” that has constellated at and just beyond the pale appears threatening to those who hover near the center of “reality” and then there is a tendency to “hunker down” and fiercely resist the precious offering of those “pale dwellers”—opportunities for change.  But the “hunker downers”, if they find a chieftain around whom they can rally, often will become adamant about maintaining the status quo and the social body will suffer, especially those who do not have the comfort of the “in crowd.”  Often those in the “out crowd” are easily manipulated and intimidated and can be convinced by their chieftain that it is in their own best interest to oppose the changes that would be good for the entirety of the social body, including themselves.

Change is scary.  As Shakespeare put it, “We cling to these ills we have rather than fly to others we know not of.”  The Bard knew that often we will prefer to maintain our misery rather than dare to take the risk that would be entailed in taking actions that might alleviate our suffering.  A psychiatrist I worked with in a psych hospital one time quipped in a staffing about a patient that we both worked with, “She clings to her mental illness with the same tenacity that most of us cling to our mental health.”  “Hunkering down” gives one, or the whole of a group, the illusion of safety.  As W. H. Auden noted, “We have made for ourselves a life safer than we can bear.”

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Politics, Belief, and “a bit of wobbly”

Margaret Thatcher in 1990 brought the expression, “Don’t go wobbly” to the political table. At the time Saddam Hussein had invaded Iraq, Thatcher and George W. Bush were together in Aspen, Colorado discussing the ins and outs of a military response. As “W” appeared be equivocating, Thatcher told him, “This is not the time to go wobbly, George.” The opposite of, “wobbly,— going full speed ahead on a matter, throwing caution to the wind with utmost certainty–will always be appealing to many but the rigid certitude of such a stance often needs at least a tad of hesitation, a small dollop of what Shakespeare called, “the pauser reason.”

The relevance of this issue to our current political/cultural climate is obvious. And one dimension of this climate is the area of religion where “belief” is often held to so rigidly that many believers have found themselves “believing” themselves into a corner from which they can’t escape. This mind set avoids the wisdom of faith traditions that belief must be moderated with a bit of doubt here and there as when St Thomas prayed, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief,” or even Jesus when he prayed to his Father as the Crucifixion approached prayed, “Lord, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Following here is a lovely poem which speaks of the need of a touch of “wobbly” in a person’s faith:

Belief by Lia Purpura

Light being
wavy and particulate
at once
is instructive—
why wouldn’t
other things or states
present as
both/and?
For instance
I both
believe and can’t.
Holding these
together produces
a wobble, I think
it’s time
to take seriously
as a stance.

Hamlet’s Wisdom for Our Political Impasse

Shakespeare had wisdom relevant to the political impasse of my country. He realized that human nature often leaves us trapped in a cognitive grid, i.e. being “lost in our head,” which W. H. Auden described as the world of a “logical lunatic.” In the following passage Hamlet is in deep anguish and pines for his mother to listen to him, listen not merely be “waiting” until he finishes talking:

(Hamlet, speaking to his mother, Gertrude)
Leave wringing of your hands. Peace. Sit you down
And let me wring your heart. For so I shall
If it be made of penetrable stuff,
If damnèd custom have not bronzed it o’er so
That it is proof and bulwark against sense. (i.e.feeling)

Gertrude was wringing her hands with her own anguish and guilt over her son’s misery. But Hamlet, consumed by rage…teeming with “mother issues”…would not give her any mercy and asked her to take a seat and let him “ring her heart.” And Hamlet knew he could, for he knew that with his murderous rage he was able to, “speak daggers to her, not use them.”

But Hamlet’s creator, Shakespeare, knew that Gertrude was like all humans, insulated with a thought-world shaped by “damned custom” that had “bronzed o’er” her heart so that it would prevent any affect which would allow genuine listening. “Damned custom” is a necessary gift of human culture, to fill our heads with contrived thinking designed to help us function in our tribe which means to minimize the influence of “bothersome” affect. But if the “bronzing o’er” is done too completely, then one is not capable of listening to anyone but only in interpreting what is heard in terms of a medley of pre-conceptions and premises. Without that “proof and bulwark” being in place, listening to the anguish of another person would prove too painful so culture provides us platitudes such as, “Oh, it will pass” or “My, I know how that feels” or, “Oh hell. Why don’t you just get over it,” or, “God knows what is best.”

In the current political situation this denial system leads to the “hunkering down” phenomena in which some, when faced with contradictions and absurdity in their stances, merely assert their beliefs with greater emphasis. This is because core beliefs are seen to be under attack and these “core beliefs” …always to some degree unquestioned assumptions…are not subject to question. And, of course it is this morass of the unquestioned that harbors “material” that is deemed too painful to address.

“They call it Reason, using light celestial, just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.” Goethe

Poetry Sometimes Puts a Dollop of Grim on our Plate!

EXSANGUINATIONS by Joyce Carol Oates

Life as it unspools
Ever more eludes
Examination
We wonder what is best—
Exsanguination in a rush
Or in a 1,000 small slashes.

Oates has the grim that poets often have. This poem makes me think of Shakespeare’s cryptic observation about, “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Poets do not have the filter that most people are equipped with…in a sense, “cursed” with…and therefore are skilled at bringing our attention to the underbelly of life as well as the sublime.

Life is harsh. This harshness often bites us in the butt and the gods have equipped us with an infinitely resilient heart to cope…most of the time! Here I want to share an excerpt from William Wordsworth’s “Preludes” relevant to the beauty and Grace that is available in the context of human struggles:

DUST as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society. How strange that all 5
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I 10
Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!
Thanks to the means which Nature deigned to employ;
Whether her fearless visitings, or those
That came with soft alarm, like hurtless light
Opening the peaceful clouds; or she may use 
Severer interventions, ministry
More palpable, as best might suit her aim.

The Dynamic Nature of Language

Words are not static, just like life.  Heraclitus, (535 bc-475 bc) told us that life is an eternal flux and now that wisdom is even born out by modern science and quantum physics.  Life is a “flow” and if we are to be alive, rather than a static, dormant potential for life, we too will experience the flow of life in the depths of our being.

T.S. Eliot emphasized this wisdom in his Four Quartets, with observations such as,

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them.

Poets are very familiar with this dynamic energy, not just intellectually but emotionally, which allows them to “play” with words and images to create new, meaningful images for those of us who live more on the surface of life.  One local poet who is a friend of mine recently demonstrated this verbal finesse with the term “leaking adjacencies”, describing how that two images juxtaposed with no apparent relationship, if deftly chosen, could then “leak” into each other and “meaning” could be evoked by the reader.  One example that comes immediately to mind is Shakespeare’s term, the “pauser reason” in which “pause” and “reason” are juxtaposed in such a way to tell us how that reason does indeed impose a pause on our thoughts and thus our behavior.  Well, it could…and should though we have a President for whom this is obviously not so!

Virginia Woolf also had tremendous insight into the fluidity, the flux, of language.  A recent article in the Times Literary Supplement, revealed that she saw her task as to “Tempt words to come together” and I would surmise to become one of the “leaking adjacencies” noted above.  The author of the TLS article quoted Woolf, “…words are not useful at all because they lead the mind capriciously on from one image to another, and will not stay put.  The trouble with the plain reader, when confronted with the stuff of literature, is that words as he knows them are useful, and quite unexciting.  He cannot make them stand on their heads and perform tricks.”  This command of words is the craftsmanship of poets and novelists such as Eliot and Woolf who stand aloof from the verbal field enough that they can utilize words in a meaningful fashion to bring to the table truth that is hidden to most of us who live on the surface of things, those of us who are the “plain reader.”

In the same article, Woolf asked, “How do words live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, by ranging hither and thither, by falling in love and mating together …Royal words mate with commoners.  English words marry French words, German words, Indian words, Negro words, if they have a fancy.”

Woolf saw that language becomes a medley, a medley which becomes commonplace over generations as the meanings are lost in common usage.  But to a thoughtful writer, poets and novelists, words can be brought together in “leaking adjacencies” so that meaning can be evoked in the hearts of the readers.  Furthermore, artists and even comedians can put “leaking adjacencies” on the table and allow us to see into the depths of our heart…if we are open to it.  And these “leaking adjacencies” are not just single words, but concepts; for concepts, juxtaposed against each other, can abrade against each other and “leak” meaning.  For example, “justice” and “mercy” are meaningless unless they are brought together, and are allowed to abrade against one another leading to a judicious decision on the part of the “judge.”  The best example I can think of this is Jesus who was confronted with the “woman at the well” who was a prostitute.  “Justice” demanded she be stoned to death, mercy directed him to tell her accusers, “Let him without guilt cast the first stone.”  The accusers walked away with their tail between their legs and he told her, “Go, and sin no more.”

We live in words.  In some way, our very being expresses itself in a verbal structure, a capricious edifice tittering and swaying on the subterranean unconscious pre-verbal dimensions of that edifice.  Thus, “our thoughts become us” or “we are what we think.”  ‘Tis a scary proposition and is much more comforting to remain ensconced in the delusion that we are only what we think we are and never heed the wisdom of the bumper sticker, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

“Within be Rich, Without be Fed No More”

Shakespeare knew that life was a spiritual enterprise, that the essence of life was buried inside what Hamlet described as “this mortal coil.”  The Bard knew that human nature was to avoid this inner essence, preferring instead to invest in the external where sensual experience offers a ready deterrent from the excruciating labor involved in delving into the heart.  In his 46th sonnet he encouraged us to overrule those “rebel powers” that encourage arrayment in the gaudy apparel of this ego-driven “mortal coil.”  He knew that the accomplishments and accouterments that culture entices us with to avoid our inner essence gives us a sense of fulfillment that is illusory, leaving us with an inner emptiness gnawing away at our soul.  He suggested a different emphasis, “Within be fed, without be rich no more.”  I do not think that he would say that cultural contrivances have no value.  But when these superficies become predominant and we become the “Hollow Man” of T.S. Eliot or Willy Loman in the Arthur Miller play, “Death of a Salesman,” we have allowed superficial accomplishments to predominate at the expense of paying attention to our own soul.  This is what Jesus had in mind with his famous question, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

And, with the quotation of Jesus, I think Shakespeare was quite aware of false piety and hypocrisy which facilitate a gross misinterpretation of that famous verse from the Bible.  Even spirituality can become a “thing” purveyed by a “thing-oriented”, objectifying culture and we can miss the danger of letting “godliness” and “piety” be merely a thing of the external, a matter of adherence to creeds and dogma while allowing the “stillness” of our heart to go untouched.  Thereby we reduce this teaching of Jesus to the superficial cognitive grasp of his teachings and disallow them penetration into our heart, failing to realize that in keep his teachings and the whole of our life on that superficial cognitive dimension we are “losing” our own soul.  This is the truth that Ralph Waldo Emerson had in mind when he expressed fear of coming to the end of his life and realizing that what he had lived was not life at all but a mere facsimile of life.  And that can be readily done under the guise of spirituality.  As Shakespeare noted, “With devotions visage and pious action we do sugar o’er the devil himself.”  Shakespeare was the most astute teacher of the human soul since Jesus.

 

Sonnet 146, Shakespeare

Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth,
Thrall to these rebel pow’rs that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more.
  So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men,
  And death once dead, there’s no more dying then.
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ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are:

https://wordpress.com/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com