The biggest own goal in history

Will this country die from obstinacy? Why won’t the patients take their medicine?

Increased support among European nations
including the UK
for EU following Brexit

Simpkin at the Tailor’s Bedside c.1902 Helen Beatrix Potter 1866-1943 Presented by Capt. K.W.G. Duke RN 1946 Photo © Tate

No-one reading this who holds different opinions should feel offended. I intend no disrespect, but I must speak, and I’ve been given this insidious tool to amplify my thoughts. I’d be saying the same things aloud in solitary confinement.

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
Coco Chanel.

I’m not addressing individual members of the audience. This is a platform, a virtual theatre. I’m not attacking you, I don’t dislike you, I should have lived 200 years ago, and published pamphlets or books anonymously (by a Lady), and if you didn’t like them you could have burnt them after reading or used them in the privy.

“This is slavery, not to speak one’s thought.”
Euripides, The Phoenician Women

I know I’m not going to change minds or influence people. I rant on about the same thing in messages in bottles, repeating myself, adding a fresh quote or two after a quick online search, skimming the surface of thought.

And it is a tirade. I know that. Give me a break on this weaselly platform and admit this is not blogging, it’s polemic. I’m impotent but loud. You’re afraid to let me in, because I’d overturn your tables and scream your house down.

I’m not talking to you personally, I can’t even see you.

I’m not part of your community, I don’t want your Likes or your Follows, I’m not even me, I’m inhabiting a role of a better me. I’d prefer to have lived 20

I’m standing on the wall, berating destiny. Call me Cassandra, if you like. You may think I’m mad and ignore me – I can see you are, by the paltry number of Likes – but you need me as a particle of collective consciousness in the grand muddle of truth.

Cassandra, Cassandra,
You’re fated to madness, it’s out of your hands
Destined to say what no one wants to know

‘Cassandra’, Famiglia album, written by Sophie Michelle Ellis-Bextor, Ed Harcourt, sung by Sophie Ellis Bextor

Her  again – the unknown woman lamenting by a burning city

J’accuse: the right-wing Brexit conspiracy, in which too many of us are complicit, is an act of vandalism, trashing our country’s history and laying waste to its future

Wake up, Britons! Avert this catastrophe! Don’t you hear Drake’s drum beating again, alerting him to save us from national danger?

This time, the threat to our country, this precious stone set in the silver sea…this realm, this England, is not from a foreign Armada, it’s from ourselves.

The language of English-speaking myths had charm, once, before poetic inspiration for doing the right thing deviated into  facile slogans for knee-jerk nationalism.

The beauty of metaphor, the subtlety of irony, has been defaced. “My soul, there is a country” seen in a vision of Peace by Henry Vaughan, the “green and pleasant land” of Blake’s Jerusalem, were spiritual and political ideals, not nostalgia for an England that never was. Patriotism, at its best, has always been a personal myth; at its worst, it covers up crimes with a national flag.

Joan_of_Arc_on_horseback

Joan of Arc on horseback, miniature from a manuscript, Les vies des femmes célèbres d’Antoine Dufour, 1504, Nantes, musée Dobrée. Image source: Wikipedia

 

A great British, working-class, transvestite heroine, Joan of Arc, is a golden girl, forever fighting to liberate people from foreign oppressors and gender prejudice. It’s a minor detail to us that she was French, born Jeanne in Domrémy, later called la Pucelle, the maid of Orléans, inspiration, mascot, scapegoat of French resistance to English imperialism in The Hundred Years War, burnt alive by the English in 1431, when she was nineteen years old, because she’s still ours, we made her, she wouldn’t be special if we hadn’t cooked her.

The living Jeanne d’Arc was a victim of an English war crime, and the dead Jeanne of England’s greatest victory, of imagination, of story-telling, of creating national fictions in the face of historical evidence, of kidding ourselves that sentimentality and sensation – canonized as “empathy” – pre-empt responsibility.

Joan is one of the national symbols of our dishonest relationship with Europe, and with Wales, Scotland and Ireland, of our habitual raiding and resentment of  our neighbours, abusing and assimilating as we choose.  If and when Brexit goes ahead, we’re going to lose the choice.

We’ve lost the blessed plot. We’re no longer the envy of less happy lands; we’re the butt of the rest of the world’s bemusement and pity as England scores the biggest own goal in history.

Brexit is the biggest lie perpetrated by small political and capitalist elites on the English public since the First World War.

And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension

Brexit is the poison that will taint a nation, a fungus that grew in the ideological rifts of the Conservative party and then infected purer minds.

Drink the medicine.

Changing your minds is not a weakness. The greatest courage is in turning to face reality.

Cassandra, Cassandra
If I could just sit with you
We two could conspire and
We’d make them listen
You only tell the truth.

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When children don’t want to live any more

‘…it was in his nature to do it…it is the beginning of the coming universal wish not to live’
Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure, 1895

It is the most infamously morbid passage in English literature. It is more shocking than the infanticides of medieval history or Jacobean tragedies, worse than the murders of the Little Princes in the Tower, Macduff’s children, or Tamora being fed her own sons by Titus.

Jude’s eldest son, nicknamed Little Father Time because he has an old soul in his tiny body, overhears his father and step-mother lamenting they cannot afford to feed so many children, and then, being precociously intelligent and logical, kills his infant siblings and himself in the belief he is helping his parents.

Hardy was congenitally cruel to his characters when he finished his sport with them – his betrayal of Tess, just as she’s being executed, by throwing her younger sister at Angel Clare fulfills his private misogynistic fantasies rather than any loftier authorial purpose.

Jude’s little boy is a fatalistic novelist’s symbol of society’s moral decay, he lives and dies as a plot device, it is hard to believe anyone so frail themselves would have the strength to hang a baby, but there is something uncomfortably plausible, even inevitable, about Little Father Time’s character. He is clearly not a criminal, not a misfit. The wise child is the next stage in human evolution: the executor and inheritor of our will, even if we’re too cowardly to sign it.

There is nothing more terrible under the sun than the death of a child. The death of a child by his or her own hand is the most terrible of all,  and it implicates all of us, not as individuals, not when even the kindest, most loving of parents is unable to save their darlings from reality, but collectively, as a species of social animals, unable to make our environment safe for our young.

Painting, 1592, of the legend of the Pied Piper copied from the glass window of the Market Church in Hameln, Germany (c.1300-1633). Image: Wikipedia

We are hateful, and don’t be resigned, not here, anyway. Face up to it, and for humanity’s sake don’t click Like. Not on this blog. It’s not a “popular” blog”. It’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to.

Don’t like, don’t be resigned – change. Change what is happening in the world. What is popular is seldom right. What we enjoy eating most is usually not good for us.

Even fastidious cats don’t know what’s good for them to eat, only what tastes nice. Maybe an innate fatty, sugary death-wish will kill us all before the bombs do. About a third of the children you see in over-developed western nations are too fat; elsewhere in the world they are starving to death; there are others butchered by perverse strangers, or their own feral parents, or even each other; and now there are a few, discomfiting ghostly presences on the edge of liberal consciences, lingering in suicidal despair because of war and exile, because of the society we have colluded in.

Henry Wallis The Death of Chatterton 1856 © Tate. Image: Wikipedia.
“The marvellous boy” who committed suicide in 1770, aged seventeen, became a symbol to the Romantics of resistance to social injustice and cultural repression, of the battle of the authentic self
against modern society’s crass oppression.

We can’t blame the food: it’s us, it’s what we’re made of, our rottenness, poisoning the children. Thousands of years ago, societies sacrificed children for the common good. Now there are children doing the dirty work for us.

Refugee children in Sweden, one of the few countries in the world where asylum seekers are well-treated, have been exhibiting symptoms of a death-wish when their families are threatened with deportation. They dwindle into a  semi-comotose state, refusing to eat or drink, confined to wheelchairs and have tubes stuck in their mouths. This has been called uppgivenhetssyndrom, “giving up on life syndrome”.

It has been identified as resignation, but in adult refugees similar behaviour might be called hunger-strike, passive protest or martyrdom.

The children were lied to when they were brought into the world. They see for themselves that living without hope is not worth the cost of existence. They believe they are burdens on their parents.

Through their death-wish, the children might be trying to help us.

The fate of this blog

girl withcagerippl

Rippl-Rónai, Girl with Cage 1892 Oil on canvas Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest.
Image: WGA

This is Beetley Pete‘s fault. Before that, it was Sarah of FND‘s fault. She handed me the bird in the gilded cage. I don’t even know if I want a blog, and I sure as hell don’t know where I should be going with it. I’ve carried it around in my head for three years, and now I don’t know where to put it.

Supposing the bird has fled or died, and I’m just lugging an empty cage? I really don’t have anything to say. I try to have the Last Word, and Beetley Pete squeezes another one out of me.

The moment a blog starts singing about itself, is the moment the blanket should be put over it.

But the painting is fascinating. That’s the saving grace of scavenging the web for a shiny image to illustrate a dull thought: serendipity. Like Vermeer, József Rippl-Rónai describes the deep spaces in corners we feel but cannot see.

They make you hear eternal whisperings (Keats’ words, not mine, of course) in the most ordinary looking rooms, only the sound in Rónai’s interiors is so much louder, building to a roar. His intense background offers no comfort to the human figure, at odds with her environment in a recognizably modern way. Where are we going?

So here she is, as my way of saying thank you to the great bloggers and readers out there – the ghostly Girl with Cage.

Facing the world (2) through Beguiling Hollywood

“I want to be alone; I just want to be alone.”
Line delivered by Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel, 1932

garbo-clarence-s-bull-1929-the-kissPortrait of Greta Garbo in The Kiss, 1929 by the great Hollywood stills photographer Clarence Sinclair Bull.
Image: Beguiling Hollywood © Vickie Lester 2014

Orson Welles spins a tale about two incomparable beauties; Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo…truth or fiction? retold in the wittiest, most sophisticated blog in the west – Vickie Lester’s Beguiling Hollywood.

Garbo was sitting on a raised platform in the middle of the living room, so that everybody had to stand and look up at her. I introduced them. I said, “Greta, it’s unbelievable that you two have never met—Greta, Marlene. Marlene, Greta.” Marlene started to gush, which was not like her at all. Looking up at Garbo, she said, “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, it’s such a pleasure to meet you, I’m humble in your presence,” and on and on. Garbo said, “Thank you very much. Next?” And turned away to somebody else. Marlene was crushed.

Read the full, illustrated story on Vickie Lester’s Beguiling Hollywood.

Orson Welles’ mischievous anecdote about a goddess so world-weary she is bored with being worshipped contains an allegory of acedia, the state of mind that drives people to retreat from responsibility to lonely indifference to their existence.

The shadows of facts and guesses about Welles, Marlene and Garbo loom over the tale, along with the suspicion that more than one of them was sending up the others.

Welles and Garbo both suffered from depression which has been diagnosed since as bipolar disorder; Marlene and Garbo are rumoured to have been lovers, many years before the party at which, according to Welles, he introduced them for the first time.

The affair might be a writer’s sexual fantasy turned into lucrative gossip, but it could also be an imagined consummation of an attraction between two powerful, androgynous rivals, an historical fiction with pyschological truth.

None of them corrected the received impressions of their private lives, or revealed their most desperate feelings, when they faced the world. The self needs protecting from exposure to other people if it is to stay true. You don’t know what they will do to it.

Orson Welles deflects all the latent sexual feelings, self-aggrandisement and fears of worthlessness into an amusing piece of apocrypha.

As Vickie Lester succinctly puts it, “truth or fiction?”, meaning, it doesn’t matter, art in the form of a funny story has been born.

Both are true; one reveals the outward parade of facts, the other what was going on inside people’s heads, their thoughts and passions, and secrets.

Myth and history interweave, informing each other, and it’s up to us to treat them as allies, not irreconciliable forces. We can’t understand one if we ignore the other.

It is a universal truth that could not have been illustrated without Vickie Lester, who has published her own beguiling Hollywood murder-mystery, It’s In His Kiss.