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 barely visible author

bazille mericJean-Frédéric Bazille, The Terrace at Méric (Oleander) 1867 Oil on canvas, Art Museum, Cincinnati. Image source: WGA

QUOTES FROM WRITER NOËLLE MACKAY:

I like being invisible. I reject the meek life of a wannabee. I don’t want to spend a life in waiting for a dish that might never come, or that I’ll have to send back when it’s served cold.

I’d rather be a successful fraud than a failed tryer. Chameleons are the best of nature’s artists. If people don’t understand or like what you’re saying, change colour to communicate the same thing.

blueroomancher

Anna Ancher Sunlight in the Blue Room. Helga Ancher Knitting in her Grandmother’s Room 1891
Oil on canvas, Skagens Museum, Skagen. Image: WGA

As I write to please myself by following trains of thought to their derailment, reaching success station was never likely. After so long in the sidings, I started missing other people, even the voice saying “Eh? What did you say?” or “That’s stupid”.

I don’t think effort and/or self-belief are substitutes for talent and finishing skills. If something’s not working, shut it down. A hundred new beginnings are worth more than one bad ending.

lazinessRamon Casas i Carbó Laziness 1898-1900 Oil on canvas, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.
Image: WGA

Rosalind was joking when she said good wine needs no bush. If truth is essential to good (as distinct from popular) writing, the possibility of being neither good nor popular should not be discounted.

Writers, artists, and actors have a professional duty to hold the mirror up to nature, not to reflect ourselves fumbling to hold the mirror up in the right position, in the right light, on the right day.

madameinthemirrordegasDegas Madame Jeantaud in the Mirror 1875 Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: WGA

The selfie is the death mask of self-criticism.

While we were mesmerized by our own reflections, we slipped into akrasia. We have lost self-command and feel justified by proof of existence alone.

I work in anti-social media.

A STORY BY NOËLLE MACKAY CAN BE READ HERE

hammershoiVilhelm Hammershøi Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor, 1901.
Image: SMK

reblog: Carapace

FairyTales(BostonPublicLibrary)

Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith. Chromolithograph for book cover illustration (c 1861 – 97). Boston Public Library. Source: Wikipedia.

extract from a story by Noëlle Mackay (reblogged from Tumblr)

“She’s mad. And she hates me. I’m sure she wants to kill me.” Imogen, unusually agitated, trying too hard to keep her tone flippant, was standing in her kitchen, clutching a glass of wine far too early in the afternoon, knowing she was about to give away too much to her avid audience of one. “And she’s living in my house, looking after my children, sleeping with my husband.”

“Darling, you are so lucky and so beautiful – your life is a Victorian melodrama. Oliver is so sexy, we all want to sleep with him.”

Mark, for all the campery, had hit the nail on the head. Oliver was less of a person than an object, everyone’s object, the golden goose, there for the laying, if only you could get to the front of the queue. She had known that when she married him; she could hardly accuse him of betrayal.

Mark was so wise for such a young man, young enough to be her son, though she would never say it. He was exquisite, slender and fair, with an angelic face and solemn judge’s eyes.

Flirting with him was a courtly pleasure that relaxed her. The mind sex invented by women when they were chattels of men in tights was still liberating. She wondered if Oliver  thought atavistically of her as a chattel. It would explain a lot. “Marriage is no real excuse for not loving” she remembered, but couldn’t remember the last time she had felt loving towards her husband.

Annoyingly, Mark didn’t drink alcohol. She put down her glass of wine. “It would be better if I started smoking. All we need is something to keep fingers and mouth occupied. I’m sure that’s why my mother smoked so much. She did everything else in moderation. I wish I was like her. How is your mother?”

“She is well; she is beautiful like you; she knows how to organize her life, though it is harder now my father is home so much.”

“But they love each other, don’t they? They’ve made it work.”

“They got used to being apart. It was a pact: he earned the money abroad; my mother brought us up and worked when she could.”

“And I can’t manage without a frigging nanny.” Heroically, Imogen did not pour another glass.

She looked distractedly around the gleaming work surfaces and artfully distressed furniture of the room, where every utensil and flower was coordinated for a lovely whole.

Imogen had created this order herself. She was a priestess of shabby chic, manifested in her clothes, her expensive hair-cut and make-up that did not look like make-up. She wanted everything to look natural and spontaneous, which cost her great effort.

floor scrapers

Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte (1875) Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

She continued: “Is that what you’re thinking? My poor, privileged children. I hate having a nanny. I don’t know how I let it happen. Any of it. Do you feel hard done by, have regrets, about your father’s absence I mean?”

“No. He made money to make us free. My sisters and I wouldn’t have got our flats without his help. We’d never have afforded tuition fees. They thought it through.”

“And are you free? Do you feel free? I don’t. Now I think I have to welcome refugees to my spare room – the one She’s got now. And I don’t really want them. Well,  I want nice ones, of course. But I can’t choose people as if they were rescue dogs or cats. I can’t face more clutter, more emotion. Isn’t that bad? To reject my White Woman’s Burden? To think that I could use refugees as an excuse to evict the nanny? Thank God I never tell the truth on Facebook.” Continue reading