Articulated

Sporadically updated analysis.

Woven

In moments of real awareness

I perceive

the multiplicity of worlds and people

in my own, interlaced; interweaved.

 

For each and every man and woman

brushing shoulders and treading heels, a secret;

a problem and a bereavement;

a heartache on a Monday,

does occupy the passerby;

his cancer, unknown until the end of the week.

 

I lay bare the gauntlet of empathy,

the impossible enigma laying between you and I:

despite all of human culture,

its history and its laws;

should you seek out my world,

I can only answer with yours.

A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens, 1859), second time around

Some books are famous for their beginnings and endings; that A Tale of Two Cities (a ‘Tale’) is one of these should not, nevertheless, take anything away from the sublime story Dickens weaves over the course of events leading to the French Revolution, between the still great cities of London and Paris. As a novel, Dickens sets a new aesthetic standard; posed via explicit antonymic poetry in the opening paragraph, Dickens confronts his reader with a logical contradiction: for how can it be both “the best of times” and “worst of times” simultaneously? As a book I hold dear to me personally, and for which I’ve read a second time as I perceive my life to be turning a corner, the answer to this lies in the remarkable events the book relates and the bittersweet symphony they give rise to. As Wittgenstein once said, the world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man: whilst the ending of the story may be viewed as tragic, it is also “no subject for regret or grief”.

Whilst the novel’s context is the political and social upheaval of the French Revolution and the evils therein, and whilst the politics of the novel remains firmly in the inequality-illustrating, humanist, and moderate/non-radical reformist nature of the rest of the Dickens canon, the symbols and beauty of the story, for me, transcend the worldly themes of the book. And, whilst clearly broadly Christian in its themes, of resurrection, forgiveness and rebirth, it is nuanced in that it is for Her — Lucie Manette — that Sydney Carton gives up his life. Carton stands as a giant in literature, for his marked humanistic singularity of purpose and intent, as a man wholly dedicated to giving everything he has for the happiness of others, and specifically for a man who might have been considered a rival. Dickens’ message is a Christian one — that there is redemption for everyone — but his agent is only placated by metaphysics. It is the thought of Lucy and Charles’ offspring, whose birth was only possible by Sydney’s sacrifice, and who wins his way through the lawyering profession Sydney could only practise with such disdain, which sustains Sydney in his final moments. Pure selflessness is demonstrated as a purity illuminating against but also outshining the much worse human traits Dickens is apt to show: vengeance, hatred and violence.

Happiness through the happiness of others is the small but potent light in Paris’s crucible of darkness, chipping away at an otherwise ever-lasting Carmagnole of evil begetting evil and a circle of revenge. Such a revenge story culminates in a pure form of the ever-knitting Therese Defarge, and it begins with the sexual rights over the peasant women the nobles regularly asserted — Defarge being the victim’s sister. Sydney should see such bad times ending, if he were a prophet; and Dickens, writing many decades later, notes that the violence and bloodshed does indeed end, as the great tide of hot blood comes to a rest once it has been all but entirely spilled.

The chip in the armour of family and love; the cause of Doctor Manette’s (Lucie’s father’s) repressed troubles; becomes known at a twist in the story near the end of the book. As Dickens weaves his characters — the best and the worst — between one another and between two cities — he lets loose the Doctor’s secret: that he did, in his youth, condemn with the same vigour he finds abhorrent in the revolutionary blood-lusting at Charles Darnay’s trial the entire race of French noblemen to death. With a stroke, Dickens unveils the fallibility of all and every character; with a stroke, the good doctor is revealed to have been capable — at least in feeling — of condemning innocent people to death. A Tale is indeed a tale of two broad sets of human action — good and bad — but it is a tale of a singular type of humanity: one subject to the great tides of emotion and the circumstances that produce them.

In this sense, analysing the characters, it is those who are capable of change and reform, especially in testing period of time, whom Dickens rises up, e.g. Charles Darnay (from his birthrights); Doctor Manette (from his youthful emotions); and Sydney Carton (from his hitherto wasted existence). It is, as often seems to be the case with Dickens, a question of character. By way of contrast, Madame Defarge is a constant: incapable of forgiveness and moderation, she seeks absolute vengeance and absolute vengeance alone, and whilst her one-dimensional nature may seem cartoonish today it is to Dickens’ timeless credit that she (all the better for it) is a striking and highlighted monument to the utter folly of the tireless and uncritical pursuit of a bloody end.

The revolution thereby comes to be seen for what it is: a macro umbrella for the micro grievances of the individuals acting underneath it. Thus shielded from the rain of precise analysis, every grievance is vindicated in the name of the indivisible Republic, and death is the alternative at every junction and test of patriotism/faith. In reading Dickens, it is easy to be swept up with the strength of negativity in this worldview; in reality, the dilemmas faced by the individuals in the book can only call up empathy — the rape and murder of Therese Defarge’s family is something which explains the character of Defarge but, according to Dickens, does not justify it. Whilst Dickens does not condemn entirely Defarge, he laments her; for she is as inevitable as the bloody end for those in the tumbrils rolling to their fates; “crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms.” Nevertheless, it is the gun secured near her bosom which ends her; a symbol that her cold heart led to her undoing — Dickens is clear and sees Defarge as going much beyond what vengeance would have called for.

But, eventually, we will stop, learn, change and grow. That is the optimistic message and it proceeds forth like something strangely immortal at a time when people are getting their heads chopped off; it arises from scripture, as did Lazarus; it rhymes with the biblical proposition, as the nocturnal Carton repeated, over and over, on his final night alive: that “I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosover liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” Safe in the firm belief of this, Carton helps a young seamstress, another passenger on the way to La Guillotine, to come to terms with her near end. There is hope for those who believe in change, says Dickens; and these people effect change all around them, on everyone they touch. Such is the small connected Dickensian world, and such is the day-to-day beauty a Tale carries for each and every one of us.

Whilst Dickens begins his novel with a cynical dig at superlatives and users of such — of “best” juxtaposed against “worst”; of “wisdom” against “foolishness” — he ends it with comparatives: says Carton, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” To be better than ourselves is all we can reasonably strive for; the perfection of bests and worsts, indivisible republics and clean vengeance are unobtainable; better ourselves and we better each other, step by step, day by day, forgiveness after forgiveness, and selfless act after selfless act.

 

 

Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford; 2016) — Spoilers

Tom Ford’s second flick is as sincere and personal as his first (A Single Man; 2009) but goes one step further in quality film-making by combining utterly sublime cinematography with an outstanding script and direction. The reviews are correct; I’d say it’s the best release of 2016.

Susan (Amy Adams) is a high-flying California-based modern artist, with a long-term difficulty in getting to sleep. Nicknamed a ‘nocturnal animal’ by her former husband (of near twenty years prior), Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), the premise of the film is that she is sent a very personal and important manuscript of fiction — by Edward — bearing the name of the film. As the film grinds on, we are with Susan as she reads and ultimately comes to terms with the purpose of this most violent novel, “Nocturnal Animals”: revenge. That this is both the true theme of the film (and a dish best served cold) is learnt by the viewer only in the final few scenes; as the protagonist of the book dies a deserted death and so too does Susan, figuratively speaking, by being stood up in a restaurant and learning of her being mistaken.

The twist of the film comes at the end, here: by way of a notification to the viewer of the lengths, in time, effort and sustained feeling, that one can revenge oneself on another. The humanity of the film comes from our understanding of/empathy with this act: as we only slowly learn the reasons for Edward’s vengeance, as the film progresses, we are initially duped — like Susan — into believing the possibility of a harmonious reunion, where in the real world evil begets only evil; and one bad deeds deserves another.

It is therefore both Susan’s and the viewer’s folly to treat the manuscript as a work of art; it is, instead, the instrument through which Edward will extract his vengeance, convincing Susan that she may once again have the romantic love she experienced with him, and that the manuscript is a letter of forgiveness of the acts which Susan committed to end such a romance when they were both idealistic young lovers (thinking Edward weak; turning away from her initial idealistic perception of him; falling for another man; and, most importantly, aborting hers and Edward’s child without his knowing).

Murder is a theme. The murder of the wife and child in the manuscript is, of course, a reference to what Edward sees as the murder, by Susan, of their unborn child. The grisly circumstances of both the wife and child’s deaths at the hands of a murderous gang, including their being raped, is testament to precisely how strongly Edward must feel about Susan’s decision earlier in her life in respect of their child. That the protagonist in the manuscript, also played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is quite effectively left helpless by the calculating but brutal and murdering gang/nocturnal animals in the book is a reference to Susan’s charge at him when younger: that he was too weak for her (and her mother). It is Edward’s revenge on her to show her how strong he can be, as the protagonist in the book finishes the revenge job himself by ultimately murdering the ringleader of the gang, and indeed after a prolonged struggle with such an act of vengeance.

Age is important, as one the circumstances of Susan’s present life. She has no children, and she is unloved by her duplicitous husband, Hutton — who also seems to be himself implicated in Susan’s act of abortion, many years ago. She is, therefore, a middle-aged woman, with a hinted-at declining career, surrounded by the consequences of decisions she made many years earlier — when she led a very different life. Middle age, colloquially, is thought of as a reflective period of life: both Susan and Edward reflect and come to very different actions, reflecting the real differences between them.

Edward was the boy next door; an old-school romantic and poet, who writes about what he experiences; Susan was the girl next door in the much bigger house — her mother’s class-based rationale/influence is the fault line through which the cracks in their relationship initially emerge. In the end, Edward got his story: his early problem was that he had nothing to write about; no authorial wound with which to sear out a beating heartfelt tale. Susan got her art career — possibly bankrolled by Hutton — but in choosing what she perceived as strength, early on in life, she left herself open to the inevitability of regret at a time of middle-aged reflection.

The film is outstanding for the beautiful way it is put together: with the rhyming of the themes, symbols, characters, and plots — of both the manuscript and Susan and Edward’s lives — Tom Ford shows us that art can transcend the piece itself into the very life of its creator. Edward artistically executes his vengeance by serving his ex-wife faux hope in a picturesque restaurant by standing her up; as each second ticks, as Edward fails to show at the door, we begin to learn Susan’s pain, in the restaurant, is reflecting Edward’s pain all those years earlier. Susan’s tears, although new, are for both of them and their old relationship, in a most beautiful symmetry cutting across time, gender, space and fictions.

 

Language – does it contrive or reveal reality?

Rhyme

Why can I not see

how events follow me?

Into narrowed alleyways

and myopic strangeways

I go — a perpetual circling down

toward a distant Chinatown.

 

Action, thought and consequence

pull out on harrow bends;

apex and now retrieval

of a thought and its subsequent upheaval.

 

Upend the outward notion,

now distinct vows go broken;

futilely, or worse,

act and then react;

attempt a change of fate;

in all possible worlds we entreat

the singular drummed-up manic State.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nostalgics

Come through a fight,

scratched, bruised but alright;

now you can write.

Anonymity Calling

Obscurity and darkness;

sought after by the City’s chancers.

 

Walking on the lot;

taking comfort in liberty;

seizing only the narratable opportunity.

 

Presently happy, in the friendly

unfamiliar; the known unknowns;

bar tears unseen,

drunk fears libertine,

I am the resurrection:

Queen Dopamine.