Wednesday, April 19, 2006

births and deaths

Dudes, I am bored. Not that I ever really followed the scary baby-in-a-pod Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes thing, but now that it's all over, there's a certain sense of loss as I wonder: where will all the newsprint devoted to the paternal delusions of that insane and repressed celebrity zealot of a fake religion go? That man, I say, is Captain Nuts. I mean, have you seen The Last Samurai? There's this bit where he tells Ken Watanabe's character about the Greeks at Thermopylae, who all died to the last man, laughs, and then makes sure that all the samurai die to the last man. Tactics? That's - one word for it.

This 'die-with-honour' thing, having irritated the crap out of the last century's most brilliant minds, continues to bug the daylights out of me. I understand that there are times when it's unavoidable - say, if you're Gil-galad facing Sauron during the first War of the Ring - but most of the time it's a farce, not to mention a deeply manipulative false incentive to get young men to sign up to die. I suppose there was a point at which you couldn't blame young men. Take Herbert Read, who went to World War I, and wrote To A Conscript of 1940 about it many years later:

But you my brother and my ghost, if you can go
Knowing that there is no reward, no certain use
In all your sacrifice, then honour is reprieved.

Coming from the same generation of poets as Wilfred Owen, this is pretty naive, but also touching, in a way, because it illustrates why some people need to retain these illusions to survive. They obscure one from confronting more complex truths about accountability, or alternatives. It's very rarely actually about being desperate enough. It's a waste. It is not okay. Worshipping honourable death for its humanity is a bit like reading Mein Kampf for the sociology.+

Maybe I don't get it because the traditional notion of honour has always been so exclusively masculine. Import it into the feminine world and you end up with things like johar [ insert Bollywood joke here ], borne not only of the notion that rape is a fate worse than death, but that grabbing a sword and sticking it to the bastards while you can is a fate worse than death, which in itself seems to be borne out of the puzzling notion that women are good for nothing but mincing around illiterate and barefoot in shiny constricted clothing, and popping out male babies when required. Honour imported into the feminine world leads to the school stories of Enid Blyton, wherein it becomes a thing not had and not even heard of, by foreign girls (invariably all seamstresses, actresses, or from the circus), and the strong and the popular consistently use it as a tool to bully, patronise and, well, dishonour. Come on. Who is she kidding about enjoying the benefits of mopping up after girls in older classes? I wouldn't do it either! (Sometimes I wonder at my tiny self devouring these stories. I must have been a Percy Weasley in pigtails. Bleck.) Is it any wonder that the lying, sneaking bitches of St Clare's are invariably the soppy, dramatic, ultra-feminine ones? These were the notions that struck me while I was re-reading these books in the house of my mothers and fathers last week - that as a civilisation, we must have been truly far gone to make truth-telling a male thing. Keep it then! I said impetuously last week, tossing my ghostly pigtails. I don't want your oh-I-say brand of unvarnished black and white. I will retreat to the world of fiction and fancy and thence take up my tale. And sucks - or 'shucks!' as the English schoolgirls of a late era might rudely say - to honour.

[I guess it's one reason why I love the Iliad. It doesn't pretend, on any level, to be about honour. It's about pride and shame, certainly, but out on the field it's simply about taking as many people down with you as you can. The funeral games are all very well for the living, but at least the dying are never given to believe that lying back and thinking of England is a Good Thing.]


+I thought about this line as soon as I cut myself off from Internet access for the night and I have concluded, of course, that it is all balls. I do in fact believe that Mein Kampf can/should be read for the sociology. I think I was trying to express my irritation with the sort of people I met in college, all young men and mercifully few, who thought Hitler was 'cool'. And I think sociology is cool. So it was garbled. I'm woolly-headed at the best of times, and evenings after-work are never those times.


  1. You write well.

    About Illiad
    "It's about pride and shame, certainly, but out on the field it's simply about taking as many people down with you as you can."

    I think its not so much about taking people down but more about the people standing behind the fighters. If Zeus stayed in a good mood, Trojans were taking down more people till Hera decided to do something about it. It seems like it was not so much about the people and their honourable or dishourorable sentiments, but an act played out for the amusement of gods, their fights and bets, in which the poor trojans and rest of the world were mere puppets.

  2. Hollywood is having too many babies, it's a bit odd.

    I am going to reread the 'Naughtiest Girl in School' series this summer myself. About all I can say I really crave about/from that world is the tuck box goodness. Those passages make me hungry.

  3. @ shreemoyee: thanks for commenting! that's a very valid reading of the iliad, i'll agree - those gods are everywhere, and they keep the story unpredictable for the humans. and it's also very moral; it constantly reminds us that we can never overrule divine will. still, for me it's always been a very human story, and it's the struggle of the mortals that keeps it fresh and moving - i guess i'm ambivalent about the gods because they're not exciting: they've got all the power, all the foreknowledge and not half the capacity for feeling.

    @ ish: and i remember loving the 'naughtiest girl' series too - i'm sure it's just as horrifyingly regressive in many ways as the others, but for once a heroine who wasn't always in the right! and those young boys were cute. someone should write fanfiction about those series. i would TOTALLY read it. (i've lost my own copies, or i would, i believe. la, je suis terrible.)

  4. The Illiad gods are erractic and that's a scary if thats how they rule they manage the universe, but its a great story.