Demise of glory

I remember now being inspired earlier in my writing of The Woman in the Window by the idea of glory’s demise. It was a fixation of Europeans following the Napoleonic Wars, and when I discovered it, I suddenly understood a lot of what was going then in literary circles, too. Then I think I forgot this basic insight for a while, and the details of my analysis with all its bits of cleverness eclipsed what was the first, truest insight. Slowly it has been coming back to me lately, as I’ve thought about what a suicide bomber might be most attracted by (glory) and most repelled by (looking ridiculous), and how men — this is a male thing mostly — might find the encroachment of commerce, that oh so calculating prudence-oriented petty-looking activity (from the standpoint of someone inspired by glory) rather a threat.

And today, as I complained to my friend David about the two-faced bean-counting of a certain administrator I am glad to have left behind in a previous chapter of my life, he reminded me of the words of Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the French Revolution:

“It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France. … I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in—glittering like the morning-star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. … Little did I dream when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom [a dagger]; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour, and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever.”

I am so predictable! This is the woman in the window! I had forgotten, and this makes me both elated and very sad. Such a sexist, anachronistic person I must seem. Even to myself. To have written such a book with such a title. I suppose I need to follow David Hume’s advice upon meeting an insoluble problem in one’s thinking — take a friend to dinner. Where are you, friends?! Ah, yes, that’s why I’m writing blog posts…

Advertisements

Crossing Seven Silences (in two parts): 2

“The silences” suggests a limitation where there isn’t any, a purity somewhat like the absence of mixture I am loathe to credit. And so there are taboo silences, like when your sister marries a black man, and these are closely allied with the silences of prejudice and bigotry, as when your uncle comes out from the pizzeria’s kitchen in back where you used to play with your cousins throwing pizza dough balls up onto the ceiling to see if you could get them to stick, dozens upon dozens of dough balls,  and he says hello to all his relatives at the table, one by one, and asks how you’ve been, each in turn, lingering, his eyes kind, and then he skips, in silence, across his four-year-old great-nephew, the little dark-skinned boy who hears you pronouncing uncle so many times as if there is some natural connection here that does not quite connect, and so he asks, when his uncle has disappeared back into the kitchen, “Is he my uncle, too?”

This and other moments of this have made me want to be good, to try at least, and make me wonder now why I did not start writing a book with virtue, or rather the virtues at its heart, as that, I think, is where it should all begin. The medieval moralists, following Aristotle, emphasized their practice over their contemplation in the hope that the cultivation of habit would encourage the values themselves, not just the behaviors that made one look as if courageous, temperate, prudent, just, faithful, hopeful, and loving. Father Zosima says something like this in The Brothers Karamazov, when his visitor, beside herself with grief, admits that she has lost her faith. He tries many tacks but, when nothing works, says, act as if you have it, practice, behave as if, and it will come back to you. Your acting, he seems to suggest, will become the thing, and this must be what Plato was afraid might happen to his imaginary guardians in his imaginary state, if they acted the parts of scoundrels or weaklings or liars in a play, rather than only ever acting the one role he had assigned them—that of guardians.

The seven ideals thus resemble silences, voids that cannot be grasped, only traversed again and again, in the hope that the practice will bring one closer to them, the hope that, through behaving as if, long enough, as if will become, in the end, simply as. And the crossing, the melding of them all, together in one person—or rather one persona (for we all are just acting here)—becomes the ideal of an integrated, unified virtuous whole, an ethical purity made up of mixture.

There noTiconderoga-Number-2w, everything’s in its place.

Take pencil.