Friday, August 30, 2013
My Wife Who Throws Me Out
I had noticed him several times rushing in a stiff legged walk, carrying a somewhat too heavy torso, from the emergency medicine clinic to the overgrown garden outside, sitting on the usual dirty plastic chairs, smoking cigarettes. Old black tee-shirt and blue jeans, moccasins. An expression on his face readable from across the street, mocking and amiable. The upward angle of his eyebrows and forehead lines suggested a devil's horns.
He stopped me late one night as I walked by, asking where I was from, inviting me to take a seat with him in the clinic garden. Really a doctor, I asked. Yes, he was. From this Greek island village, back after travels and work 14 years ago to stay. I told him when he asked what I was doing in Moraitica that I was keeping away from my profiteering Hungarian wife. He laughed, said he employed East European women, they were all whores, Hungarians the worst, the most greedy, money minded. He did not believe in love. He did not care about women, any woman. Experiment had taught him there was nothing normal, and so nothing to get excited about keeping and holding to. I did not argue with him.
A patient appears from out of the dark behind us, from her accent an East European girl, she sits down in the doctor's lap, says, does she really have to take more boxes of medicine, antibiotic, she wants to go in the sun. The doctor says he needs a massage, doing which is this Hungarian girl's occupation, and she gets to work on his shoulders standing behind him. How much for a full body message, the doctor asks.
- With a box of medicine?
` 20 euros.
- O.K. Do you do sex message?
- No. My friend Olga does. For 100 euros.
- What if it happens anyway, sexual release. Do I have to pay?
` It will not happen.
- Why not?
- I will stop it.
- By giving pain.
- That won't be a message then.
- Good massage must be painful.
They make an appointment for the following morning. The girl says to the doctor, after he goes and gets her a box of antibiotics, can't you give me some love? The doctor embraces her, all are satisfied, and I go home.
2. Let's Go Sell Oil
In the heat wave I take an afternoon walk up the newly black-topped road to the hill village Chlomatiana, away from people and cars, only scattered goats and multitudes of singing cicadas. Hearing running steps behind me, I turn to see a jogger pass me by, about 40, black ringlets, Greek. He twists round, slows, stops, asks where I am from. I tell him, offer to jog along.
- Petros - me crazy man. You crazy man?
- Crazy enough.
- What you do here? You Bin Laden? Taliban?
- My wife's Taliban. She threw me out in Budapest, and I came here.
- Your name? (I told him.) My name? You remember?
- Petros. Petros sexy man. Big dick man.
We jog, resting occasionally, up through the village and down to the sea shore, where he lives with his wife and young boy. He takes me around the side, hold up a plastic bottle of olive oil, stained, clearly refilled.
- These my olives. From my family trees. I mix up good.
He points my attention to a couple of 20 liter plastic containers leaning against the house wall.
- I mix up good. We go buy oil at supermarket. You come with me?
- Let's go sell oil. We go to one village near Corfu town. I have customers. Every winter my job is sell oil. I have good customers.
We stop at one discount market in the outskirts of town, Petros returns with a 5 liter clear plastic bottle of oil. All they have, he says, so we have to go to another market. The second supplies 3 metal containers. Standing around his car trunk, where I am given the job of shielding our secret undertaking from the street view, he pours together in a ration of 3 to 1 the shop oil with the home made oil. That done, we drive up to the village he knew, finding the customers, the last an old woman.
- You like that woman? Sexy woman. Her husband died 6 months. I get her for you.
- No thanks.
- Your wife go for big dick man. That is why you alone.
- How do you know?
- Saint Christopher told me.
3. Jew In Corfu
The doctor has taken to shouting to me when I come into town, "Re! Re! Come have a frappe!" He has not become generous, of course. The latest, he was standing outside his friend Yanni's restaurant, on call, restless as usual and waiting for business as he put it, he waved me over and says buy him a drink. He says,
- I drink only Champagne and Whiskey.
- Are you a bar girl on the payroll of Yanni's? Why should I buy you a drink, anyway?
- You owe me for the coffees I gave you.
- You means the coffee your 3.50 Euro an hour receptionist makes from powder? 30 seconds of her time, 3 cents, 5 cents worth of coffee, that makes about 8 cents: I will give you 10 to make you happy.
Then the young mother of his 20 month old baby girl, - the mother lives with him but "not his wife" he makes a point of explaining, and the baby looking as much like an angel as he looks like a devil, (the doctor nods his head appreciatively when I make this comparison) - the mother is standing with him in the clinic garden wilderness and is going in to make coffee, and asks me if I would also like coffee, and she is introduced to me by her name while I am introduced to her as "the American Jew". I say yes to the coffee offer with trepidation, and immediately the doctor puts out his hand and shouts, he has to pay! She ignores him, and slips down the path out of his reach. The doctor asks me how much I paid for my bike.
- 50 Euros.
- I will give you 40 when you leave in October.
- If I still have it then, alright.
- And pay me one Euro for the coffee.
- I will take it off the price of the bike.
- 39 Euros.
And that is how it has come about that every time he sees me the doctor wants to buy me a coffee, calling out, " 38 Euros for the bike!"
And now he knows why I don't come by any more. He has taken to saying,
- Don't be such a cheap Jew!
4. Psycho In Budapest (first part)
My wife who throws me out has called me to meet her. She and I are going together to see the book signing by the famous American best selling author who has been specially invited to address the Budapest Book Fair this year. Yesterday at his public address he expressed his surprise that they like him so much in Hungary, and today by popular demand he is offering a second book signing opportunity. We see hundreds waiting patiently in line as we arrive at the Millennium Center. We do not wait, my wife who looks exactly like what she wants to be, a rich and famous American pop-singer, easily gets us past the entrance security with a few words, whatever they were.
The bestselling author is there: bloated baby face, wearing a suit so stiff it seems still being held up for fitting by its tailor, tightly crossed legs, limp wrist, smirking... Dressed more conservatively in bankers black is the body guard, looking ready to kill, though not much more vicious than strollers you everywhere on the streets of any East European Capital. Protection is necessary because this author is famous for writing a book about a rich business executive who takes care of himself, is an expert on clothing, physical fitness, pop-music food and restaurants, who when the mood takes him likes to kill and torture people.
My wife has been working on her college thesis about this book. She is fascinated by the writer, because he seems to have done the impossible, break all the rules and profit by it, he is rich, famous, laughing at the world, and creative too. The book itself she doesn't care about, no more than she cares about any book, it is just what got him the money.
She takes a position at the head of the line where she has a good view of the writer, who between ourselves for months I have been referring to as "Psycho", after his famous character whom he can be said to resemble, and she keeps trained on him her disc-recording video camera. The writer after a while gets irritated, asks
- What are you going to do with it?
- I don't know.
- Post it on the internet?
- It's an obsession. Deal with it.
Nevertheless she keeps her camera on him. I am a little amused, as far as I am concerned she can walk all over this professional transgressor, transgression being the literary category my wife has placed him in for the purposes of her thesis.
Standing with us at the head of the line is a young Hungarian woman with whom my wife strikes up a conversation. This fan really loves the writer. I ask her,
- Would you like to become his lover?
- Wouldn't you be afraid?
- We are all strange at times.
- What do you like about his book?
- The character.
- He is detached, confident, strong, takes care of himself. He is not fooled into serving other people. I admire him.
- What about his hobby of killing people?
- Of course, that is bad. But everyone has problems.
- And he gets away with it, too.
Mystery solved why people like the writer so much here: they want to be like his favorite character!
5. Psycho In Budapest (second part)
I take a walk around the closing down exhibit hall, and when I return my wife hastens to inform me that the girl we were talking with asked her who the old man was. Meaning me. I decide to take another walk and leave the women to their business, and find a chair at a distant booth and sit with my back to the excitement. The book is Shakespeare, and I am not that old, by the way.
And while we are off the subject you might wonder why the old man lets himself be thrown out all the time by the young pop-singer in Budapest.
This is not easy to answer, because I am trying with you to be a best seller myself. That limits me to writing only about techniques of gaining power or sexual possession or money, the means to both. So I will put it this way.
I am on to the secret of a much greater mystery than why people love to read about rich torturers. It is that we need security in our social lives if we are to remain capable of loving. And that social life, because most people always will believe that it is better to harm those who harm us, will always be divided into factions, parties, interest groups. In fact, security is generally provided by factions. Factions play favorites, factions protect their own, and doing so will do everything bad, will lie, kill and destroy.
Since we must live with factions and the injustice they impose if we are to have a chance to love, we will nearly always be betrayed by those we love and those who love us. This is human nature. So we need a strategy to, as Psycho says, deal with it. If the world of betraying love, security, and faction is the natural world, the world of betrayal is Shakespeare’s supernatural world, inhabited by betrayed people playing specific roles, roles that cannot be put in regular, secure relation to each other. They are: fool, magician, mad, pretend mad, mistaken identity, disguised identity, ghosts, witches, monsters. In Shakespeare you can find, if you look, stories of how betrayed characters pass through a world inhabited by these types, being of their kind themselves, and using tricks or magic to try to work their way back to the natural world where they can rest in love.
To get back to best sellers: there is, in this passage from natural world through supernatural would to natural world, strong technique used, tricks, magic. But the skills practiced in best sellers are natural world skills: knowing how to manage relations between stable roles: rich and poor, master and slave, child and parent, governing and governed, man and woman.
When you write a book about the skills of return, you might impress people by the technical skill you practice in your natural world role as writer, with your social and money making power, but the supernatural skills you write about will pass without comment. They remain secret. They are useless in the natural world.
My hope with you, my best seller readers, then rests on you being impressed by my skill in describing something that you cannot understand! Sorry. But here you go - I am always being thrown out by my wife, that is the stuff of best sellers. She does it, she tells me, to stop me from getting too confident, "impudent" is the word she uses. Here's power, here's sex. And I let myself be thrown out disguised into the betrayed world of the supernatural - because that is a mystery.
6. Psycho In Budapest (third part)
It is a secret hidden in plain sight in Shakespeare. His rulers, as they vie for power, are often warned that they teach others to depose them when they illegitimately depose to gain their rule. Disorder teaches disorder, and when a ruler teaches disorder, the subject's obedience is useless in protecting his security. It is more secure to rebel than to submit, since the conditions necessary to go on loving are gone.
In the poem Lucrece, a wife whose husband boasts of her chastity, is raped, and would rather kill herself rather than live in dishonor. She chooses though to live a while longer because her attacker has threatened, if she does not submit, to make it appear after her death that he had found her with a lover and killed them both.
Her dishonor destroys the basis of her marriage, but because obeying the principle "death before dishonor" would create dishonor, her husband's and children's, she rebels against the principle.
Socrates does the same. When it is only his own life at risk, he obeys the law and is willing to submit to the court's decision without trying to escape. But when it is a case where obeying the law would weaken the law, when he is being asked to depose the law, in the two cases he mentions at his trial he refuses the direct orders of the ruling party.
But with my wife: what can be done with someone who defies all rules? "No consequences" is her motto, she told me early on.
Let's return to Psycho in Budapest. Continuing to make use of our trove of hidden knowledge, we find in Plato that if a tyranny is a government of those who do anything to satisfy any and all desires, without reason or shame, and the governed simply slaves not allowed any satisfaction at all, a democracy is the same anarchy of desires, with however some restraint, some attention at times for appearances, for exercising control of reason. From communist tyranny, to new democracy, the people are, as Plato says in our treasured text, a government within themselves. They are in their own lives an anarchy of desires, reasoning, fame seeking, all in change and substitution. Their choices come about not from any internal self knowledge, but from outside, from suggestion, opportunity, persuasion.
Psycho claims his book was written through him, it felt when he was writing that he was merely the channel for its appearance in words. He is not joking. As a best selling writer he knows what he is doing, but this kind of knowledge is what Plato called true belief, as opposed to real knowledge, with which you can say what you know, how you know and from where you learned it. It is difficult at first to see how a person with such anarchy within him can learn to do anything. But a democracy has laws, and stable roles. It takes no more than developing the right habits of flattery, giving those who control the spoils of money, jobs, position what they want. Every democrat in fact is a teacher of the right ways of going about this, and best sellers are the handbooks for this on-going education.
My problem with me wife is identifying what order is there in the first place, what gives the security in which we can love. And when that security is betrayed, find a way to fight my way back. There are many different stories of how that is done, and they are in Shakespeare, - we will get to them.
For now, Psycho the democrat, loved by the new democrats in Budapest. In "Othello" Shakespeare presents two such democratic characters, Othello himself, and Iago. Iago is a clear case: he reasons about man taking care of himself, he proposes to himself that he seeks revenge because his has lost his hope for promotion to higher military rank and shame at possibly being cuckolded by Othello, and that he acts out of jealousy, frustrated desire for Othello's wife. These desires, flights of reasoning, shame and pride have no order among them: Iago acts it seems without calculation of the results for himself. He does not scheme carefully to find a way to satisfy his desires and gain himself honor. It seems to himself he desires, is ashamed, wishes revenge and exercise his reason, but like Psycho's character, when he acts it is by mood, - he is not there, he says of himself, when he looks for what holds together these moody episodes.
A democrat suffers from episodes of insanity when he becomes aware that every one of his acts is flattery, imitation of model behavior, of what is expected of him. He thinks of himself as the last true man, in a world of imitators and imitation. And either feels himself a victim of attempts of the world to impose imitation on him, to remove his reality by force, or he himself exercises force to bring back a sense of reality to his life, since violence, removing imitation, seems to allow a reappearance of reality.
Jealousy in Shakespeare's analysis is this kind of insanity. All acts are suspicious: those that likely suggest deception is going on, and also those acts which have no likelihood at all as evidence of deception, because their very improbability suggests that someone has put on a show, made an imitation of honesty. Once the world is seen as an arena of imitation, all acts are suspicious, whether as evidence probable or improbable.
Othello too is a democrat. He is extremely self-controlled, except when pressed too far. He is passionate as a barbarian in his anger. He is respectable and respected. But as a democrat, all this is a lie. The sea battle he fights he wins through the flight of his enemy, not through any skill or courage of his own. He employs a magic handkerchief to win the love of his wife Desdemona, and lies about it to the Venetian leadership. He claims he is no politician, but admits that he relied on the city's need of him in time of war to be able to get away with his elopement. He lies, he breaks the law, he employs magic to marry someone he does not deserve and cannot understand. And he has not the slightest idea that he is a liar and thief. Psycho the writer is like Othello, as the character Psycho created is like Iago.
7. Monsters (first part)
My wife has thrown me out, not quite yet for the last time, so I am spending time at the Odeon Cafe in Budapest again. I strike up a conversation with a young English woman who is there alone, and find she is visiting with an originally Hungarian professor of law in Warwick who is doing his regular research into Jews and Gypsies in Transylvania. She hates Budapest and she hates the people in this cafe, their grim faces. I reassure her that everyone hates them and they hate themselves. She laughs, and asks me why.
Well, I begin, strictly speaking they are melancholy. That means they feel betrayed by the world, and make a somehow comfortable habit of returning to look back at the world that has betrayed them, finding it reassuring to see it is only worse than they thought.
The peculiar thing about the melancholy is that it is not a particular betrayal that makes them sad, but the whole world. Shakespeare is an expert in melancholy, and I have been studying him.
- Really? My friend has just written a chapter of his book on Jews in Shakespeare. You're a Jew too, aren't you?
I admit it. And the next day, she is there again at the Odeon when I arrive. Outside the street has become strangely quiet. It turns out that there is civil disorder in the making. Across the street is a ticket office for concerts and theater called Broadway. It seems that last week one of the types called skin heads visited the store to buy a ticket, and according to one version, was given a price that he considered too high, according to another version of the story, was told they had no tickets at all. He yelled they were all greedy Jews, and began organizing through the internet a demonstration against the power of Jews in Hungary. In response, another demonstration had been announced by those who were against "Neo Nazis" and their demonstration. And a further demonstration was already assembling, which was hundreds if not thousands of police moving into position along the streets of the entire neighborhood which they had closed to traffic with barricades.
The English woman is surprised this kind of thing was going on in modern-day Europe. Her friend the professor has joined us. We talk of the demonstration, and from there get on to his chapter which is entitled, Shylock in Transylvania. Later he will email it to me, so I can say that it makes the argument that the Merchant of Venice without question is anti-Semitic, portraying Shylock as greedy, ungrateful, blood thirsty. An observation of his which I found striking was being confirmed before our very eyes as we found ourselves in the very center of civil disorder. He had discovered that in Soviet controlled East Europe the play, Merchant of Venice, was never performed, while it was often performed in West Europe, The United States, Great Britain. The reason was not that the Communist states were less anti-Semitic: they were more. Rather, just like in Hungary now, the government which almost any Hungarian will tell you are a bunch of thieves did not want to risk civil disorder, which as tyrants they were aware could arise at any moment, no matter how much they themselves hated Jews. They wanted the people to stay in melancholy.
- Tell him what you were telling me yesterday about melancholy,
the English woman asks me. I ask the professor,
- How well do you know Shakespeare?
- I live in Stratford, and my University is only a few miles away. So though I am not an expert by any means, I am surrounded by his influence.
Good. Then the first thing you notice about melancholy in Shakespeare is that it is a very common mood his characters complain of. Famously Hamlet is melancholy, but only at the beginning of the play. Melancholy depends on two things, a sense that your world has been betrayed, and a sense that life is regular and safe outside the betrayed world: it is from a secure place that you return to the sight of the betrayed world. Hamlet's uncle tries to re-assure him his selection as successor is settled. But after his father's ghost has brought his injunction to action and revealed the truth about his murder, Hamlet's security of place is gone for good, and melancholy with it.
Melancholy makes its appearance twice in The Merchant of Venice. Antonio is sad and he does not know why. And Portia is sad because she cannot choose for herself her husband, only wait. Both are unmarried, and it is unnatural for them to be. When Portia sets out on her impersonation of a lawyer, the melancholy is gone. It is an act of melancholy that leads Antonio, feeling safe in his business prospects, to make his bargain with Shylock and agree to pay a penalty of a pound of his flesh if he defaults on his loan.
As I told your friend, what makes melancholy puzzling is how a single failure becomes for us the betrayal of the whole world. I have a theory to explain it, but I hesitate to tell you.
I discovered this in Cyprus, which I fled to after one the many disastrous experiences I have been passing through the last few years. I can tell you those stories some other time. I was living, if you call it that, sleeping on the attic floor of a small second hand shop, surrounded by plastic bags filled with old clothes. In exchange for the housing, I had been given the job of being a guarding presence against the Turkish Cypriot restaurateur next door in the courtyard, who had taken a drastic dislike of my Serbian friend, the proprietor of the shop. Every morning I cleared a path to the door, unlocked it and dragged outside all the boxes of clothes I had moved out of my way, set up a table and chair, made cold instant coffee, and took out my volume of Shakespeare and read.
We were feeding the cats, and I noticed that they were arranging themselves around me in a regular geometrical way, keeping an eye on me and on each other. At the same time I noticed the many mentions Shakespeare makes of cats, and I began to put the two together.
Cats were wild and to be tamed. They were of little esteem. They were half blind. They were hated. It seemed to me that they were hated because they were monstrous, a mixture of two species, in this case wild and tame. More than this, that they were a mixing of two worlds, because that is what I was finding as I read through Shakespeare: two worlds. There was the natural world, with family, government, occupations, and there was the world characters got thrown into when the world betrayed them, which I for my own purposes I called the supernatural world. I saw that both "natures" were regular in how they were portrayed.
In the natural world there was faction, which Aristotle said were groups defined by a single quality. Civil and family disorder was caused often by jealousy. And jealousy arose when someone, seeing himself defined by a single quality,- as brother, sister, soldier, - realizes that his place, in relation to another person, a wife for example, or to the state as its selected ruler, that this place could be taken by a similarly qualified substitute. The ruler in The Winters Tale is jealous of a childhood friend, also a ruler, Othello is made to be jealous of his second in command, even Hamlet is briefly jealous of the grieving love Desdemona's brother expresses for her by jumping into her grave.
The natural order, the Bastard says in King John, is "piesed" or poised well, until "commodity", bias, injustice arises to upset its even path. It is because of faction that characters are expelled, flee, or are thrown out of the natural world of family and state.
The world they find themselves in is not "unnatural" . In fact, the natural world is artificial, man made, since it is defined by social relations which obviously are a human product. Equally artificial is the supernatural world, which is a place where you see yourself as not yourself, in which your role is questionable. And what happens in the supernatural world is that other characters met with there are in a roles which also are questionable, in the sense that they cannot ever be in regular relation with each other, no matter how clearly they are defined to themselves.
The supernatural world is populated by ghosts, clowns, fairies, monsters, witches, the mad, the pretend mad, the disguised and the mistakenly identified. Amidst these inhabitants the characters who are not themselves use deception, tricks, or magic to make their way back into the natural world. Or fail to do so. In play after play I found this pattern. I don't think I can go into much more detail here at the cafe.
- I don't think Shakespeare was following though on a theory he had.
- I don't either. I have the theory, not Shakespeare. I was sitting outside the second hand store in Larnaca, next door was the hunchbacked giant who was throwing down banana trees during the night blocking the door to the shop, and the cats were collecting in odd patterns around me. I was sure Shakespeare knew more than me, and was writing exactly about my experience, which was to feel myself safely out of the world, and for the first time in my life I did not feel the imperative to go out and find friends, find love, find new ideas and make something new. I needed a tool, a theory to guide my attention through the plays, to see if I could discover descriptions of different ways of getting out, of being out and away.
- And you did find them?
- Yes. But what I wanted to explain to you was melancholy, how the betrayal of a single aspect of orderly life came to be felt as the whole world's betrayal.
The way I understand it is like this. Shakespeare was describing, better than anyone before him or since, how we actually live. By we I mean those who are in the Western tradition, founded in the Jewish religion and Greek philosophy.
We read in Genesis that God creates, names, and says it is good. And after all has been created, he rests on the 7th day. We read in Parmenides that there is a world of appearances that must be learned and spoken of, thought the reality, when the time of talking is over, is that we see a world that is one, whole, all together.
God promises the Jews as a group a good life, but he makes a contract with each individual Jew to obey the laws. Others in the group betray, not god; individuals are responsible to use their intelligence, and even tricks, to follow rules generously interpreted and restore what they have lost. To me, these are the two natures: the world of the Jews as a group of potential betrayers, is the natural world; the world of tricks and expulsions, of rule- improvisation and visitations, the supernatural world.
Now since God requires our love, and love relies on knowledge of what is loved, when we are following God's laws, when we are betrayed and our roles questionable, - perhaps we are asked to murder our son, - we watch ourselves as we struggle to return to the natural orderly world. We are audience to our strange selves, to the self that is only an appearance and cannot be real. But when by trick or deception or miracle and magic get home, we rest.
When we rest, we are no longer audience to our self. The world is audience to us. God is audience to us. We feel the whole world watching us with love. We are grateful to what we have come to know in our passage through the supernatural world. But not to just those people and things, we feel grateful to everything.
This is because we, like the Jews, live in a group. Our language, our habits, customs, manner all are taught us by the group. Yet, as Plato returns to again and again, we know what groups teach us without being able to account for it. We know by knack, we have true opinion rather than knowledge. And that there is a difference between true opinion and knowledge is one of the few things Socrates says he is sure of.
When we rest, when we do not have to observe our questionable self, we feel observed by the restored world we have remade for ourselves. And since our tools are given us by our group, the entire group, our entire world, is felt grateful towards, for it seems it love us as it has taken us back into a secure world in which we love and are loved. It is everything watching and loving us, in other words, God.
Among our first activities in life is play. What we see ourselves doing is pretend, and the reason this works for children is that we know that at the end of play, when we have learned to know what we have played with, is rest, is real, is the reality.
Shakespeare plays with putting on plays, on being audience and performer: it is fundamental, and for him there is a good way of putting on plays and a bad way.....I have to put this aside for now.
Melancholy then is felt as a loss of the whole. But, - the cats. I went through all this because I wanted to be able to say that cats lived in both worlds, natural and supernatural at once. They had their own natural world of subordination, faction, regular relation. And they had another world, in which I had tamed them with food and caresses, the supernatural world, in which I played a part for them, a strange creature that helps them while they, strange to themselves and each other, have to re-establish new relations to each other around me. That is what I thought I was looking at, in the geometry of watchful cats in the courtyard of the second hand shop with the hunchbacked giant lurking at the restaurant next door.
Cats are monsters. They are wild, they are tame, at the same time. Monsters are common inhabitants in supernatural worlds. Monsters are important. And the Jew is, in Shakespeare's treatment, the biggest monster of them all.
This is because the Jews set the rules at the very beginning. It is their story we live with: making, doing, speaking, -- then rest in love. Giving things names to make them useful so we can exercise our magic on them, and get ourselves home.
Shylock, as his name implies, is locked in his shyness, stays out in his ghetto of exclusion. To the Christians that world of exclusion is supernatural, filled with people who will not accept god but who will not rest, are always following strange rules: they are locked in the supernatural world of doing.
What makes Shylock a monster, however, is that he brings his usury into the natural world of the Christians. Usury is a complex matter. It is making a repeated profit out of the same thing, the same dollar. It is to make a faction of dollars, strange as that sounds. The prostitute makes a faction out of her body, re-selling the same thing many times. Romeo is rebuked by the friar for making a usury of his body, by not being firm in any intention. Children, when they complain about unfairness, have not the slightest idea of justice, sympathy for the victims of unfairness. They are simply extremely sensitive to the ease with which the security of faction falls into the disorder of favoritism. The counting of similar things, one brother taking the place due to a similar brother, identity allowing substitution, - that is what the child fears, is that important, is with us as a threat from the beginning of our lives. The Jew goes in and out of Christian society making his loans, excursion after excursion, but always returning to his own world of restless law-following without feeling any gratitude to the Christians from whom he profited.
To be a recipient of a loan by a Jew is to be among the numerous faction of those who have received loans. As long as you see yourself so, you are unsafe. Jews are dangerously disturbing to the Christians by their simple act of usury, putting aside the accusations of torture and abduction of Christian children.
Shylock however would not be a monster merely by being a Jewish usurer. The Christian Venetians, betrayed by their need of money, find themselves with him in his supernatural world. The Jewish usurer is not attempting to enter the Christian world. Shylock says repeatedly he disdains that world. But he is a monster because a spirit of revenge, incited by Antonio's baiting of him and the opportunity need for a loan offers, leads him to break out into the natural world. The pound of flesh bargain makes no sense in his own world, it is insane, is unlawful. And Shakespeare, to make clear what he intends, has Shylock going out to dinner with Bassano, against the rules of his religion and his own tastes, merely for the sake of gloating and revenge. When Shylock complains, is he not a man? does he like other men not revenge? he is asking for the prerogatives of the natural world, for the Jew in his world definitely does not revenge. Shylock is a monster because he brings his supernatural existence into the natural world, because he demands the stable Christian order while still living his Jewish life.
Caliban in The Tempest is a monster because he seeks to take charge, become the ruler of the island while still remaining physically and morally corrupt, ungrateful, incapable of education. Othello is a monster because, a barbarian convert, he brings his controlled but dark, uncertain, questionable supernatural self into natural orderly civilized family life. But as I said, when a Jew becomes a monster he should have know better. He betrays the foundation of his own religion.
8. Monsters (second part)
We find many kind of monsters in the supernatural world, and like Shylock they are misfits, self excluded or outcast, but if they were that alone they would not be monsters. They must, like Shylock, be incongruous within themselves, a mixture of mis-fitting parts. Let's go through a list. There are:
They all live at the same time in the natural and supernatural worlds. These worlds, as explained, have exact definitions. The natural world is the place of security, and faction, rest and love and betrayal of love. The supernatural world is the place of lost self, lost place in the group, of questionable role.
Plato worked out the pattern: the characters in his dialogs have their ideas, their knowledge, which is the product of unaware learning in their group. This knowledge is betrayed, and the characters find themselves lost in a world of uncertainty. Shakespeare extended the category of betrayal from that of knowledge, to betrayal of our sense of self, our role in the group, with the result that he told stories of life as a whole instead of being limited to philosophic investigation.
I left out from the list the last class of monsters, because it is to us astonishing: women.
In our choice of words, clothes, gestures, and manners we have to choose to manage the associations of each these forms of communication, and these associations are conventional, arbitrary, the result of our lives together in the group which creates the languages we use. We choose to wear uniforms, it could be a suit and tie in clothes for example, to tell others what roles they can land us in so as to feel safe with us, so as to give us a chance at life with them. However, some of us can have no chance to wear the uniforms demanded: born deformed, born a bastard. Notice that the bastard is of unknown parentage, of disguised parentage therefore in the supernatural world, yet allowed a sort of place in the natural world still. The dark, the moors are equally born wrong by convention, yet not insurmountably: in Loves Labors Lost, the most likeable character chooses for his love the darkest of women in the play. A fool wears motley, the opposite extreme to a uniform, a suit sewn together with patches of material, reflecting his mixed nature: he has license to say anything, therefore a secure place in the natural world, yet what he says is typically in defiance of all factions and roles, therefore placing him in the supernatural world. A ghost is in the opposite relation to the two natures: he lives, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, in the supernatural world, purgatory in his case, yet he speaks of the natural world, revealing familial and governmental secrets. And women finally: Aristotle said they had an equal place in the constitution of a democracy but unlike men, were not to be allowed a chance to rule in turn. Not significantly incapable, they were not born wearing the right uniform. All these are monsters. And there is a sense in which we all are monsters as we age, finally becoming a corpse, a "carrion monster" as is said in King John.
And yet it is not that simple. When we enter a theater, we sit next to each other as if we did not exist to each other. We pretend and give a magical reality to that which we see on stage, which we judge good or bad by strict personal standards we could not easily clarify if asked, but which if satisfied give us a feeling of relief and new beginning, Aristotle's catharsis. On the stage we demand to see probable relations between the characters and a probable sequence of cause and effect in the events. We like to see stories of betrayal, and recovery, of failure to recover after determined attempt.
I hope you recognize the pattern - Shakespeare certainly did. As an audience we are in the supernatural world, operating like magicians to give reality to the natural world of love and factions and betrayal of love, the natural world of roles which must be probable in their presentation because that is how they must be played in our public lives among strangers. These shows of probable ability allow us to play our roles regularly, though they may be arbitrary, or even plainly wrong, for the reason's Plato made clear: if we do not understand exactly how a thing is done right, we will choose what has the appearance of being good. For bakery goods we choose to eat the cakes of the pastry chef as his cakes are sweet, while the whole grain breads offered by an heath-knowledgeable baker are declined because we do not know ourselves what is healthy.
But the actors onstage themselves are not at rest, they are practicing an art, they are impersonating - they too are in the supernatural world, and they look out to us in the audience as the natural world they must please if they are to return to it, and to please it they must work hard to make a show of probable relations and keep hidden the truth that that they are in the supernatural world.
Actors and audience together in the supernatural! And together, if the trick is successful, they leave the theater and return to the natural world. A perfect model , a microcosm, of one's betrayal in group, of one's individual responsibility to make a return passing through the company of other supernatural creatures like oneself.
Shakespeare continually played with this model, often putting on stage an audience to the action there, while we are audience to both this audience and the action they watch. There is an important truth here: that though we have been betrayed by our world, exiled to the forest of Arden for example, we may find there, contrary to our expectations of a bloody wilderness, a more perfectly ordered society than the one we have just left. And within that order there may be a further betrayal. Midsummer’s Nights Dream has a hierarchy of orders: the fairy royalty at the top, then the Athenian rulers, then the faction blocked lovers, then the lower classes, the workers. There is a cascade of betrayals, and lastly the betrayal of the natural-supernatural structure itself, with actors and audience during the workers' theater play actually talking directly to each other.
All this reflects the simple fact that we make things, observe ourselves while making, and do this all together in a group. There is a right way to do this, and the wrong way, which wrong way Shakespeare experimented with representing too: it is an altogether different way of using shows.
If Hamlet put on a show to surprise a reaction out of his murderous uncle, that is the right way to use theater: magic, trick. The wrong way is to construct a new faction by persuading others to promise loyalty. I will go into this in detail next, but for the moment I want to conclude with Melancholy.
Jacques, in As you like it, is a self-declared melancholy role player. And he makes a famous speech beginning, All the world's a stage, and we merely players in it. The Duke says of him that he was licentious before he entered this supernatural highly secure society the Duke leads. Jacques's melancholy, since he logically could not have suffered being betrayed in an orderly natural world when living licentiously, is itself a role put on. He is mocked as an unnecessary traveler, having sold his own house to see other people's houses, gaining nothing by it but experience. His melancholy is a staging, within the supernatural world of audience. So this is again a good example of a monstrous role in the supernatural. In fact he is a kind of clown, and he jokingly aspires to be a clown like Touchstone. Shakespeare often doubles roles in the supernatural world, as in this way he reproduces in the supernatural world the conditions of faction, and again produce the "monstrous" mixing of the two worlds.
9. Monsters (third part)
Leaders of factions, says Plato, get their job by their knowing how to persuade the others to give them the job, not by any real knowledge how to do the job well. Because of this, factions are inherently unstable. We need them, but we fear them. The arbitrary and often false uniforms we must wear in language and manners, determined by faction leaders whether they do this deliberately or accepting what chance throws out, make us all monsters. And this falsity and show making works against the clear sight, the strictest perception of true conditions we need in order to perform our "magic" and work the deceptions necessary to get back from the supernatural to the natural world. The more we know about this, the more flexible we become in performing this necessary passage we must make repeatedly in our lives. Let's consider again Midsummer Nights Dream, the most extensive examination Shakespeare, the most proficient of the world's artists, made of our monstrous status.
Levels rise above levels, linked to each other by betrayals sending off characters to a lower level, which for each newly arrived character is a supernatural world while for those born there it is the natural world. Each level is clearly defined by subordination within faction.
There is the king of fairies, with his deputy fairy Puck. There is his wife, insubordinate in the matter of her subordinate, an Indian child, whom her husband and superior demands she give him.
There is, on the next lower level, Theseus the king of Athenians, and his wife, subordinate, captured in war.
The Athenian aristocrats occupy the next lower level, some of whom are insubordinate to the king's demands of whom to marry. Lysander treats Helena like a dog.
The then there are the Athenian workers, with Bottom who wants to be top, another insubordination, who is transformed into an Ass, at the lowest level of beasts.
The fairy queen is betrayed into the supernatural world many levels below her own, while Bottom is betrayed into a world many levels above, that world defined by the queen's aristocratic manners.
Altogether the effect is magical -- meaning that it teaches, reminds us that there is such a thing as real skill as opposed to the show making inseparable from natural world factions.
Shylock is a bloods thirty demon, but his magical or supernatural status is entirely dependent on the fact that, thrown into the supernatural world by his daughter's betrayal of him, her robbery and elopement with a Christian, he chooses to enter the natural world of the Christians, going out to dinner and even looking ahead to possessing a pound of the actual flesh of one of them. His magic is usury and his astonishing willingness to take full advantage of his position. There is no physical magic involved. In the same way, it is not important to Shakespeare's purposes whether a monster be physically deformed or not.
In the natural world of brothers and childhood friendships, doubling of roles leads to fear of betrayal within the faction or fear of unfair subordination: supernatural role-falsity is feared from within the secure natural world. Shakespeare also sometimes uses doubling within the supernatural world, the natural "faction" of doubles existing within a supernatural world.
The best case is in Timon of Athens, where two misanthropes resent each other for putting each other into a faction of misanthropes, each accusing the other of being misanthropic not by nature but only by circumstances, that is, only putting on a show. Obviously misanthropes cannot live together and form a faction, and this creates the monstrous "magic" we feel ourselves fallen into the spell of when we read the play.
Falstaff is another kind of monster. He is a fool licensed by the Prince, living with him in a supernatural resort of thievery. He has been betrayed by his nature, is in second childhood, betrayed by his choice to be free from all social constraints except that of the society of the Prince, with whom he establishes a natural order within the supernatural world, a resort, as found in Two Gentlemen of Verona, As you Like it, and other plays. He wants, and this is monstrous, the Prince, when he becomes King, to protect thieves. But the Prince, betrayed into the supernatural by having a character too wild, intends, when the time is right for him, to leave all the supernatural world behind him, seeing it he says as a dream, when that time has come, and to leave Falstaff behind there, because Falstaff would bring disorder into the natural world which is disordered enough, menaced as it is by civil war. Falstaff dies in childishness, victim to his will to live with no consequences.
And then there are the monsters who are the dark magicians, who deceive, put on shows, to achieve a sense of power. In this category are Iago, Richard III, the Duke in Measure for Measure, King Lear - and my wife who throws me out.
10. Natural And Supernatural
A Jew is a monster for Shakespeare, so are bastards, so are the deformed. A monster lives in both the natural and supernatural worlds. And what are they really?
Both worlds, natural and supernatural, are artificial. Each of them is "our" world, how we feel ourselves in the world, is a way of relating to the world we have or are making. The natural world has laws, families, and factions, this last being groups defined by a single quality (according to Aristotle). The supernatural would is occupied by role players, some of whom practice or suffer the practice of arts of magic or deception.
The difference in the two natures reflects a simple fact of our own nature: we are always in an audience to ourselves. When me make something, we have both an idea of a future condition of the thing to be made, and have developed past habits of how to get things in the condition we want them to be in. When we are doing something, we are not thinking of ourselves in the physical place we actually are, we are in the past and future. How we put together a sentence depends on words we learned from others, without paying attention to how we learned. It is as if our teachers of language are in an audience with us, while we speak, looking on with us, until we decide whether what we have said is good enough and we end. What we talk of is like something written, or better, a stage play: it must meet demands of probability, and follow strict rules of realism: it is like Shakespeare's natural world.
We live in both worlds together all the time that we make something, but only in the sense of a story: the natural world, betrayed, is the beginning of the story, rest has been lost, something needs to be done, and the natural world is the end of the story, love is recovered, and we put a stop to our making of things or words or acts.
The reason both worlds are artificial is that both involve a complex relation to other people: secure rules, roles, and the threat ever-present of faction in the natural world, and insecure roles, tricks and deception in the supernatural world. And so there is a particular knowledge we can learn, how these two social constructions relate to each other. We'll look at it now.
First, a monster is someone who brings the two natures together at one time and place, this sometimes symbolized by physical deformation or misbirth, parts put together wrongly.
I had been feeling pretty bad lately, dear reader of best sellers. Was it the effect of the recent eclipse of the moon, with accompanying comets? And here in Corfu there has just been a festival commemorating the miraculous power of the relics of St. Spiro, which are said to have brought on the storm that sank a Turkish fleet invading Corfu, then a Venetian territory, in the early 18th century. St. Spiro, who had died long before this miracle occurred, was from Cyprus, where Othello was based and to where he was called back from Venice and his newly won Desdemona, to protect it from a Turkish invasion fleet which also miraculously was sunk by a storm. Is this is mere coincidence, Shakespeare having written his play more than 100 years before there arose the resembling circumstances in Corfu, or should we say that Shakespeare was divinely inspired himself, perhaps under the influence of bones of St. Spiro, to predict the later miracle?
Events like eclipses and comets and earthquakes and prophesies, whether they are fabricated rumors by dark magicians like Richard III, or natural, upset the natural world, which we know Shakespeare says is poised well, to run even on even ground, but once upset runs headlong into bias, imbalance, and disorder follows closely upon disorder. (As the monster exists without physical sign, and magic is served just as well by deception as the real thing, it is indifferent to Shakespeare's purposes whether the portent is faked or natural.)
But readers of best sellers, how strange the real world is! Yesterday I sent my story about monsters to a friend in the United States. It seems she has a lover who is an Orthodox Jew who gets out of his orthodoxy to dine with my Catholic friend. I don't know if technically he's an usurer or not, though chances are he lives off investments one way or another. In other words, he is in the position of Shylock, and he takes personally my calling Shylock a monster. Jacques in As You Like It speaks for me when he protests he was only generalizing: no one forces anyone to see himself in anything I write. That he did, well - I feel better now!
Because, you know, I have got my eyes on becoming a best seller, and I see already that someone's power and sex are threatened by what I am working on. In these matters when someone loses another gains, so money is on its way.
With this encouragement I'll try harder to keep your attention.
I know you are well confused by now with the natural and supernatural, two new worlds, when you hardly knew what to do with the one you already had. Let me remind you first: the supernatural world is a human construction, composed of specific kinds of social roles. So is the natural world a human construction, composed of factions. The supernatural world is the world of doing and making, but only when your self has to be remade because you have been betrayed. You can rest in it too, but only as a pause along the way. The natural world is the world of rest, where you can love and be loved, but it would not be much of a world if you could not talk and act in it too. You can, in all possible varieties except those in which you feel you have lost yourself.
I hope I have convinced you, best seller readers, that I have given you power to impress friends and co-workers. I have disclosed to you a valuable secret, that Shakespeare, far from being moralistic, all worked out, dated, confused, is rather dead center in our tradition and unexplored territory. Give your friends and co-workers the message, and demand suitable compensation in return for the power you have given them. Ask for sex. Good luck.
(It has just occurred to me that I too am a Jew with an estranged wife, that the only friends I have willing to trust me with money are usurers (credit card companies), that I am trying to get Christians to pay me as a best selling writer, that is, as someone who sells the same story of sex and power to millions of readers, making each and every one a cuckold of the others - that I am like Shylock too, and consequently a monster.)
12. I Become A Cuckold
One day I was sitting reading at the house in the village in Hungary, I look up to see my wife who throws me out, recently returned from a month alone in Los Angeles, coming my way, and I say:
- Here comes the monster.
- Oh, I don't like that, being called a monster. Why do you like me, if you call me a monster?
- It's good being a monster. I like your being a monster. You're like a character in Shakespeare.
- Which one?
- The schemers like Iago, Richard III. But mostly like Kate the Shrew.
My wife sits down on my lap, I try to keep my book from being crushed, and she says,
- Why can't you be my father?
- You have a father already, down at the other house watching music videos.
- I wouldn't be betraying you then.
A cuckold is what the jealous man fears becoming. It means being put into the faction of men identified by the quality, "lovers of his wife", any one of whom could take his place permanently. The insecurity is important, but much more important is the impossibility to love a woman who cuckolds you. This is because when you look at her betrayal of you, you are at the same time deprived of your skill of making a passage through the supernatural world to recover, remake your relation to her. When you look at her you are reminded that you are only one among many, the history of how you fell in love with her is forgotten by you, and with it the confidence necessary to fight to make a return out of betrayal. A woman betrayed by her husband is in the same condition, and in Two Gentlemen of Verona, a female character complains she is being "strumpeted" by her husband's infidelities. The symbol of the cuckold is perfect: sexual, double, and on the head. It is astonishingly pervasive in Shakespeare, and rightly so. It is a reminder of the ever present possibility of betrayal we all have to live with. (By the way, a unicorn is the symbol of lack of cuckold status; virginity in the time of the unmarried "virgin" Queen Elisabeth often had the same meaning of "not cuckolded".)
We are betrayed into the supernatural world, and there we find assembling around us characters like ourselves. When the natural world begins to decline into disorder, and we have fallen out of it willingly or otherwise, other betrayed characters are drawn to us, along with those not themselves directly betrayed, who voluntarily join us in our exit, finding in loyalty to us more stability than is to be found in the disintegrating natural world: servants, retainers, licensed fools who have no longer secure license. King Lear shows this happening. Or other characters prey on us, finding the supernatural world fertile ground for forming factions: these are monsters, Caliban in The Tempest the most obvious example.
Incest is forbidden because an erotic interest always involves insecurity, desire for what is not yet possessed, while family life depends on security. Incest is in both worlds, it is monstrous. Hamlet plays on this in his taunting speech with his mother, teaching her how she can wean herself from her "incestuous" attraction to the brother of her deceased husband, suggesting there could be no other reason for that attraction but the wish to cross the boundary between family and desire. And this is a deliberate making or remaking family relations, remaking the natural world by choice.
The other alternative to entering the supernatural world when you feel betrayed is self betrayal, self remaking occurring together with a re-making of the natural world of faction, both done deliberately to gain or regain a sense of power. We'll look at this now.
13. Cats (And Hysteria)
No we won't. I want to go back to monsters, and my wife who throws me out. She does it, she has written me the explanation recently, to make sure I don't get to feeling too secure, she is the one who wants to be in charge. Rather like Kate the shrew tormenting her sister, but that is not the whole story. She does it too, as I told her, like Iago schemes, out of relish for power in itself. Though she is, I'd like to think, less monster and more like a cat, traveling between two worlds, domesticated and tame, without trying to combine the worlds together as monsters do. In the play Kate is tamed by having her defenses destroyed, confused by her husband's unaccountable behavior, sleep and food denied her. You can also tame by refusing to be offended. Valentine in Two Gentlemen of Verona plays magician with his betraying friend Proteus, who pursues violently and dishonestly the woman Valentine loves. Proteus is exposed, Valentine shows his disappointment in his friend's betrayal, Proteus makes a miraculous conversion and apologizes, and then the magic: Valentine says he gives up whatever is his in the woman he loves. The woman Proteus had loved before and who still loves him faints, is revived, and complains about the inconstancy of Proteus. Proteus now realizes that his first choice in partners was the best. It was his own, personally motivated choice, not a choice made in relation, in faction, with his friend Valentine. By refusing all defense, Valentine tamed his friend. I tried a similar strategy with my wife when she threw me out. I developed an ability to take her punching me in the face without flinching. My wife had a habit of doing this when she became hysterical. But in the end, like Kate is tamed, my wife, though not for long, would suddenly shift to voluntarily serving me elaborately prepared meals, without any suggestion from me, happy to be calm and at home.
The other cat in Shakespeare is Parolles, or purr-talker, hated as a cat by others, who is a fool without license. His big talk gets him into trouble, and he and others wonder how he can know what he is and still be what he is. Because he is without license his foolish talk and deeds get him into trouble, take him across the boundary between the two worlds. At the play's end he decides simply to be what he is, a fool without any pretense to being anything else, and so finds a safe place for himself. My wife who throws me out likes to think of herself as a ruler, and a master-schemer as well, and like Parolles she gets herself into trouble. Hysteria is a condition rulers are subject to, because like women they have no alternative to the place they have: politicians have their house to rule, though it is the greatest one, and have to do it in the face of whatever disruptions the outside world brings. Unlike others they cannot learn to change and adapt their roles in life. They cannot quit. Hysteria is a passion that, without thought or reflection, strikes out against obstacles, demanding of the world that it remain as it was. The weakness proper to youth is instability, is Proteus' one desire following another, that proper to old age is inflexibility, rashly insisting on the same conditions. Old age is subject to hysteria.
14. Dark Magic
We know who the greatest monster is. The greatest cuckold is Menaleus in Troilus and Cressida, one of the plays that are said to pose a problem for the reader's understanding.
The problem is, these plays deal with dark magic in the supernatural world, and this involves us in a world turned upside down. Characters going the right way about employ tricks and magic when betrayed by the natural world into the supernatural. In the supernatural world they are an audience to their own sense of confused self, and when their supernatural tricks succeed they can rest once again in the natural world, the world is audience to them, watching over them with love: they rest in observation of their world audience.
But we do not always, do not even usually go the right way into the supernatural world. Often we do not wait for the world to betray us. We betray ourselves, fearful of our weak position in the faction we depend upon for security, into trying to realize a fantasy, an imagination of how our faction could be re-made so as to be more secure, our position more powerful.
Lear feels old and weak, and so wishes to divide his kingdom between his three daughters, promising to reward them separately with a greater or lesser portion in accordance with how much they declare their love and dedication to him to be. In fact he has already made an even division between them. The scene of public declaration of love he puts on is pure show making. Without having been betrayed by anyone, Lear decides to remake his place in the world based on a fantasy of security, in which he would be king only in name. He betrays his own self, his nature and definition as king, to become a king without power, hoping to remake the natural world in a way he believes will be more secure. (Loves Labors Lost presents a comic variation. The would be cloistered students like Lear are too old, like Lear they stage a scene in which they publicly promise to remake their world into an ideal world (theirs of scholarship, not promised love) and like him, their good intention, "while it doth study to have what it would, it doth forget to do the thing is should.")
Macbeth does the same thing. The witches have put on a show for him in which he is promised he will be king. But to accomplish this rise to power he will have to, he says, jump his reluctance to murder, have to betray his own self, his nature, must look ahead to the new self in a newly made world in which he will be king. And do this, like Lear, like the aged students in Loves Labors Lost, without having been betrayed. In fact he says he would prefer not to, to rest and enjoy his newly won prestige from victory in battle. But his wife weakens his resolve, undermines his family security, presses him to an ambition that is more hers than his.
This jump is a conversion: a turning one’s back on one way of resort into the supernatural and launching oneself into another.
King Lear and Macbeth are terrified of their altered status in the supernatural world. They are powerless to control their own selves, selves locked inflexibly defined in relation to the world their attention is absorbed by, the world that is being remade appallingly as they watch. The product of their own imagination, the world acts upon them and responds to the characteristic actions of that new made self: Macbeth the ambitious murderer who would be king, Lear the victim of filial ingratitude and king in name alone. And they were set out into this supernatural terror by their decision to give up the rest they had in the natural world, where the world was audience to them, and their own action natural and unobserved because unquestionable, and instead they become audience to their own imagined, artificial, fantasy of new regular conditions of faction. Where before the natural world was audience to them in their state of rest in faction, now they are audience to themselves as mere place holder in their newly imagined natural world. When they attempt to put into effect their imagined remaking, leave the deliberately re-imagined natural world of faction, and enter into by choice the supernatural world, they lose their attention to themselves because they are impotent to act in any way other than they have self defined themselves. They are without will, absorbed in fascinated observation of the changing world work they have earlier, in a different life it seems, set in progress. When the natural world is returned to, if that happens, they are back where they began when they betrayed themselves to remake themselves: audience to their selves and their position in the natural world, and pronounce themselves secure, if in fact they are. But between the two aberrant “unnatural” self observations in the natural world is the passage through the supernatural in which they did not observe themselves, rather rested passively while the world responded to their proposed reconstruction, a state that resembles intoxication because decisions about the world seem to come from outside, to be mad, or divinely inspired. When they look back on this period of action without conscious control it seems a jump, their sense of self did not persist throughout the passage because their attention had been diverted to the world being remade in accordance with their fantasy.
However, going the right way through our passage through the supernatural, we are continuously in audience to our questionable selves.
Look at it this way: Either you wonder who you are, not being able to love, and maybe like Hamlet use a trick play to get the information you need so you can take action. Or you, like Macbeth, betray yourself into a world of your own making which began as a show, an imitation, a fantasy of power. And doing this you must forget who you are - you are not a murderer - you must not observe yourself at all - must let the technical demands of remaking the world in accord with your fantasy take control of you who are defenseless to that taking control because you have voluntarily given up all sense of self.
If you in your intoxicated ambition succeed in remaking the natural world, you will have lost a real sense of yourself because you have lost continuity of self observation while you were acting. You self exists as a kind of picture you created of yourself, disconnected with your own real history. That picture-self is inherently liable to factionate weakness, to cuckoldry. It is without roots provided by continuous history, and therefore identical to every other self that remade itself by a jump into an imagined future world.
15. Natural Within Supernatural (Reversals Of Magic)
Alciabades says in Timon of Athens, “let war breed peace, and peace stint war.” When Hector makes a speech to the Trojans arguing that both continuing to hold Helen, and continuing war with the Greeks are not in the Trojan interest, and not right, but the Trojans, he says, should go on fighting anyway for the glory of it, he is preaching war for the sake of war. Everything in Shakespeare is against this proposition. The great cuckold Menaleus might be justified in his attempt to recover his abducted or absconding wife, but he along with the entire Greek camp is stalled in faction. The great Greek hero Achilles refuses to fight, has a secret lover in among the enemy Trojans, and passes his time audience to clownish mockery of the Greek leaders. The Trojan lover Troilus is also reluctant to fight, his lover Cressida is the daughter of a traitor, he fears Cressida's constancy as she fears his (“what's won is done“), he employs a go-between (Panderus) to present an image of himself that will persuade Cressida to love him when in reality she already does, when Cressida is handed over to the Greeks as part of an exchange she is subjected to a welcoming scene of competitive, serial kissing, the great Greek hero is dishonorable in battle, will do anything to win the reputation of honor.
The return the magician tries to make with his tricks has taken too long and now is uncertain. The natural world is fading from their memories. Character after character plays with ideas of factional reversal, alliance with the enemy or insubordination. Like Macbeth they seek honor and position, like him they are willing to betray themselves to get what they want. They have turned to dark magic. The natural world forgotten, they shift their attention to remaking the factionally divisive world they find themselves in.
When Alciabades is expelled by the Senators he rebels and gathers an army to invade Athens, yet we are shown him briefly stalled in that intention while in the company of two coarse prostitutes, the doubling or roles suggesting imitation, suggesting family security in a mocking way, and that his motivation is a felt weakness in his position in faction of those defined by a single quality rather than to recover his lost world.
When banished by Rome Corliolanus also sets out to seek " other worlds elsewhere" and reassures his family that he is not gone for good, but along the way he reverses himself and approaches his enemy with an offer to join together in war against Rome. His enemy welcomes him with these words: "Know thou first, I loved the maid I married, never man sighed truer breath, but that I see thee here, thou noble thing: more dances my rapt heart than when I first my wedded mistress saw bestride my threshold." Again the suggestion of a perverse family. Only the appeals of his mother and sister, reminding him of the natural world, his world that he is about to destroy stops him.
In these stories of reversals of magic Shakespeare is showing the betrayal of oneself from in the midst of supernatural world. That finding themselves disguised among the disguised, characters resolve to remake their disguise and reorganize the world into a place where the remade role will flourish. We have seen Shakespeare experimenting with the form of two natures, where one world is natural to some characters, supernatural to others. In the supernatural world there can be stability, forming a natural world which can betray and send one to a further level of the supernatural. And that supernatural world can be changed to that of dark magic - for Alciabades the stand still is represented by his being accompanied before his campaign against Athens begins by two prostitutes, the repetitive acts of prostitution indicating that here is an interval of regularity.
In common in all these plays: stalled magic, and a misanthropy that comes from being aware of the faction that is inevitable in the natural world. Faction which normally we do not attend to it, being content and at rest, but which, in this stall produced security established within the supernatural world, is impressed upon us. Everything is in doubt.
16. Stand Still In The Supernatural
Security, when magic is powerless to move one through the supernatural world and one is at a stand still, is not true security. Each inhabitant remains in disguise to the other, there may be basic agreement, and that agreement may be understood, but the role players cannot understand each other. They can come to understand, fall in love even, but to be in love they must return to the natural world. Those who form the idyllic forest society in As You Like jump at the chance to return when they are given it. The roles they play, as imitations, are made to a pattern, and anyone can remake himself to the same pattern: no one can never escape a fear of being cuckolded or deposed. This terrible liability to factional battle is the meaning of the chaos of betrayals in Troilus and Cressida.
The secure, let us say imitation natural world that is formed within the supernatural when a stand still has occurred in the passage, then has these forms:
- A relatively orderly, imitation natural world, as we see in As You Like It, and partly in the bandit society of Two Gentlemen of Verona.
- A disorderly imitation natural world, with repeated expressions of factional hostility and betrayal, where dark magic has taken the place of light, and the true natural world forgotten ("false resort").
- Temporary turns from light magic to dark, and then back again, as we saw in Timon of Athens (Alciabades), Coriolanus, maybe even Hamlet in the deadly game Hamlet plays with Rosencranz and Guildenstern.
- And then there is the society Prospero heads in the Tempest, which he also gives up, it may be with some reluctance, because he is old, and when he returns to the natural world he will never leave there again until he dies. He must give up his magic, which in his age and rashness he can no longer safely use, and must accept the natural world's betrayals without recourse. That is a melancholy prospect. His every third though will be of death.
17. Measure For Measure
In Measure for Measure we are back with a monster, the "Duke of Dark Corners", who fearful of slander, and guilty of being too tolerant as a ruler -- he has been merciful so often toleration is expected, he has taught disregard for the law as there could not plausibly have been so many exceptional circumstances, in which a greater law's fulfillment (the greatest being return from out of a betrayed world to a world that allows love) forced breaking a weaker law - he appoints a deputy to take his place, and instead of leaving Vienna as he pretends he will do, hides in town disguised as a friar. This friar, as we might expect of dark magicians whose selves have been invisible to themselves, expresses a philosophy that life is better lived in seclusion, that life is a rush towards death. His desire to lose himself is mocked by a clown who attaches himself to him, and who will not stop slandering the Duke, the clown apparently knowing that this ruler in hiding is, in his disguise as Friar, unable to defend himself. The Duke tells Claudio, a young man, that his execution will cost him only 7 years, about the period of time we know from the gravedigger in Hamlet it takes an ordinary corpse to decay.
The Duke wishes to remake his self image, and deliberately puts in power as his representative and moral reformer a man he knows has betrayed a woman he had promised to marry. The Duke unnecessarily puts on shows that force characters to reconcile themselves to death. And he himself takes in marriage a woman who was at the play's beginning about to enter seclusion in a convent. The Duke exposes and humiliates his deputy, who plays the part of his old role he would like to replace, and re-establishes himself with a wife, now both husband and wife haters of life and lovers of removal from it.
The meaning is obvious: the world we make with dark magic is death.
18. Corfu Castle
My wife who throws me out is inquiring from Budapest if I have found someone yet. I tell her I have a very nice Persian cat who visits me here at Castle Corfu from the neighbor's balcony. She warns me not to get myself into any trouble, which she knows from stories I've told her that I am liable to do.
I gave this partly abandoned hotel its name in recognition of the impressive quality to its ruin. When I moved in last month the entire lower floor was occupied by rotting garbage, decayed clothes, shoes, cooking oils left behind by the last summer season's guests. I made a deal with the landlord: in exchange for a month's rent I would clear out the rubbish, as well as several years worth of matted grass that covered the hotel grounds. It transpires though that he was drunk when he agreed, and now resents losing the rent money.
The bathroom sink water pipes have been broken now for weeks, water flooding the floor and making its way these last days in a stream under my door out to the hotel's main hall and down that too.
It is a supernatural world I am in, of course. We're all disguised to each other here. The landlord, according to what he said, is not really a capitalist, is a religious man who likes his ouzo. And I, what am I, he asks? A rich man pretending to be poor, or a poor mad pretending to be rich?
My neighbors on either side of my room, however, are the disguised characters who are causing me difficulty. Who are these sometimes 4, sometimes 5, 6, Arabic speaking young men? 2 have changed, taken the place of others, since I arrived last month. They say they are illegal, smuggled in on boats from Turkey, and house painters, but they hardly ever go to work, and me and other residents of the castle have seen them in the evening change into paint-splattered works jeans and shoes to stroll down the street to the bakery, then return to change back to their previous outfits, and prepare their every evening feasts. They shout aggressively to each other back and forth, one side of the hotel to the other, they shout aggressively into their mobile telephone for hours every night, literally hours, sometimes passing the telephone from one to another on the same call. Some nights one or other of them can be seen standing doing nothing at the crossroad in the town.
I've got it into my head that they are terrorists, preparing for an attack. Suicide bombers being given a bit of the good life before they go into that better world of infinite pleasure they believe awaits them as their reward after death.
Let me go back to Shakespeare one last time. Macbeth murders men, women and children, but gets and keeps our sympathy. He murders to keep his place in his family, to satisfy his wife's demands, not to remake his place in the world. He is satisfied with himself and his place. He finds that holding successfully his place in his family, he has lost nature: he has murdered sleep.
I don't think I have made clear enough that faction exists only in the natural world. Family is powerless to help in the supernatural world of supernatural roles, has no place there. Macbeth has made a terrible mistake, and we sympathize with his efforts to make the best of it.
I've told you about Macbeth because I wanted a comparison to use somehow to explain why I have not the slightest sympathy for this kind of murderer, if that is really what they are. Terrorists are undramatic, dark characters who believe they are remaking themselves with their violence.
So what do I do? If I had any reason to believe that the factions that make the decisions of the American Government were interested in stopping terrorism rather than encouraging it, I would contact their spies. I settled for the next best thing.
Two days ago the screaming Arabic coming from down the balconies was particularly loud and aggressive, and I got their attention by loudly imitating their voices. I asked them why they wanted to make it look so much like they were terrorists preparing to blow up a busload of school children. If they were what they looked and sounded like, I wanted them to know they were being watched from the sky and their telephone calls monitored....
If the Jews don't kill me the Arabs will.
The Taming of the Shrew is in fact a play within a play. The play we watch is the one watched by Christopher Sly, who has been tricked into believing he in fact is a lord just awakened out of his delusion he was a common drunk. The frame is not closed: the play we watch ends with the story of Kate and Petrucio. We are left in the position of Christopher Sly, stuck in the supernatural world, in the audience. (Given Shakespeare’s love of playing with stage and audience, we have no reason to believe, as some have suggested, that the end of the play has been lost.)
Falstaff, as we know, never gets out of his supernatural world. Unless you want to count what happens to him in The Merry Wives of Windsor as natural. In that play Shakespeare has posed himself the question, what would Falstaff be like, if staged not in another world, in the company of a prince pretending to be a bandit, and another time, but in Shakespeare's own ordinary times and neighborhood? And have fairies, creatures of the supernatural but obviously staged, mock him? And Shakespeare answers, see the joke of Falstaff fall flat, learn that the joke of his virtuoso irresponsibility depends on his being from another place and wanting to get back there.
So watching Christopher Sly watch Kate being tamed, we like Falstaff are left in the supernatural to do the best we can there. But maybe it is better to just stay there, not continue on the cycle from natural to supernatural to natural....
We make progress in the arts, originality is unlimited, the branching of our innovations being more or less the same, the moves, the turns, the tricks the same, but always somewhat changed in meaning because they stem from different places on the branch, have a different background altering their effect.
We make progress in technology, and it too seems to be unlimited.
And we make progress in our social organizations, but that does not seem to be unlimited. The artistic progress and technological progress may or may not be good for us, but most people agree when they think of it that social progress is not. Being subject to more and more complex social demands causes us to lose ourselves, to forget that we perform our roles, do our jobs, for the sake of making life good, and it is not good to be a part of a social machine.
Life may get better for artists and technologists, at least in their work - and Shakespeare is if not a better artist than Plato a more comprehensive one, though unthinkable without him - but what can we says of their lives? And if that is in doubt, what about the others of us who are not artists or technologists?
Progress in art and technology and decline resulting from progressing social technology results in a collapse of civilization, and everything begins again: simple art and simple technology and simple society. The Greeks believed this, and there is some evidence they were right.
We cannot stay in the supernatural world, stay out of the world of progress going in circles, even if we fall in love there in the supernatural. Romeo and Juliet's supernatural retreat is spoken of as night to the natural world's day, as dark and a kind of death. Juliet is the sun, glorious in this night. She is light in darkness, the day in this night. The patriarchs of their clans are too old and inflexible to resolve their feud, and Romeo and Juliet are too young, too inconstant, to work the trick the Friar tries to help them with. The prince has failed to maintain order, his mercy and tolerance he admits were mistakes. (Mercy which leads to disorder, Shakespeare likes to repeat, is the only mercy that can be denied.) Their world is really a kind of death, as the natural order fails to allow them back in, and even magic is a failure: the apothecary Romeo buys his drugs from cannot make a living.
Our social lives seem to be a practical joke on us, when we look at them this way, when we are the audience to what happens to us. Plato has Socrates say that nothing which happens to us is very serious. And who said society was good? Certainly not the God of the Jews, our God, who only said, follow the rules and you will get a good rest, a rest in sight of the good.
20. Seventy Euros
I was standing with the doctor outside his clinic. As he watched the girls walk by, calling out compliments and half-hearted invitations, he was advising me on my life. I changed the subject, said I was worried about Charlie,
- He did not show up for work the last two days, the doctor says. No one can help him. He's drunk 24 hours a day.
Charlie was my neighbor at the hotel. In fact he was the one who told me about the place. It was true about his drinking, yet he always remained gentle and self possessed. He said drinking gave him a sense of being powerful. Charlie told me he had been a traveling stage worker for a British Rock band in the sixties, going all over the world, then driver of concrete mixing trucks, then teacher of English in Japan, then for the last decade or so expatriate in Corfu, coming with his wife who left him years ago but who still lived in a nearby village with her boyfriend. The doctor says Charlie gave her half his small pension. Otherwise his income was from working as a laborer, mostly cutting grass with his gasoline powered wire-spinner.
Charlie, if one can judge from how he spoke on the telephone to his wife, still loved her. His appearance took some getting used to. His face was swollen from years of drinking, He stood strait, tall and fit though thin, his thick yellow hair swept back from his forehead, He had shockingly bad teeth.
I told the doctor that Charlie had quit.
- I was only trying to help him with some money and he quits? I don't need him to water the grass for 100 euros a month. It looks terrible anyway.
(It did look bad. Charlie wanted 7 euros an hour for the watering, the doctor offered 3.50 for an half hour every day, Charlie agreed, since in fact his usual wage was 5 Euros an hour, and sometimes less. The doctor wanted him also to cut the grass and weed, but Charlie said that would be extra, since he would have to carry down his equipment every day, come to 5 euros a day, so that was left out of the deal, the doctor defeated in the negotiation by his charity.)
- He has stopped working all his jobs. He's staying at home drinking. He drank a full quart bottle of ouzo a couple days ago. He is going to kill himself.
- Maybe that is better for him. I don't have sympathy for drug addicts, alcoholics. If they can't live, they are better off dead.
- You don't think you should try to help him?
- I did help him. I help many people. I helped you. If you are not careful you are going to end up the same way.
- I know some tricks Charlie doesn’t' t know. What do you think, Charlie can't bare to live without his wife's love?
- I don't know.
- He answered his door yesterday when I went up to the hotel to check on him. He seemed ok, said he would come down to your place to water the grass as usual.
- He didn’t' t come.
- Can't we do something? Do you want to know what I think?
- When a woman takes away her love, and you won't live without love, if you don't end up killing yourself it is because you have so drastically changed the way you live you don't recognize yourself.
- That's your trick?
- Something like that.
- Charlie can't do that.
- I know.
That afternoon I rode my bike up to the hotel to see about Charlie and get my left behind mobile telephone under the doctor's orders. He wanted to be able to call me in Budapest, where I was set to fly the next day. I had been summarily thrown out the day before on account of my giving a little help to the water leaving my room under the door and flowing down the hall. Finding me (to his own profit) a place to sleep that night was the help the doctor referred to giving me. About half way up to the hotel I saw one 50 and one 20 Euro note lying on the side of the road. I pocketed the money quickly, and went on the rest of the way.
Somehow I connected this money to Charlie. I got it into my head that the bills might have fallen from his pocket when he was walking. Since this was the National Highway, busy with traffic at all hours day and night, there wasn't a good reason to think this. I almost never keep money in my wallet, but this money I was compelled to hide away there.
I suppose it was the idea of finding money that bothered me. The money seemed to be saying that problems in life could be solved by chance, meaninglessly, arbitrarily.
Charlie didn't answer his door. I collected my telephone, and immediately went back down to the village and bought a 200 gram can of instant coffee to present to the doctor. That would make him owe me 97 coffees, and the price of the bike he still wanted to buy adjusted accordingly.
I had only just arrived in Budapest when I got a call from the doctor. Charlie had hanged himself.
But that is not the end of the story. A few days later I was walking down the street and felt something was wrong; my jacket seemed loose. My wallet with the 70 Euros was gone.
And so, dear readers of best sellers, we've reached the epilog. I ask for your applause and book buying dollars, if I have pleased, answered your questions, is God good? Should you stay or should you go? - and I think I have answered them - and I ask you to release me from this work-a-day writing world of fairy tales. My wife is waiting for me to come home.