"The lyrical dissonance of this clip adds a layer to the song not present in either the words or instrumentals alone; while the lyrics are despondent, hopeless -- 'broken heroes,' 'no place left to hide,' -- the music sounds just the opposite -- not just hopeful, but triumphant.
"Together, they could indicate that things may seem now like it can never get better from here, but that in fact there is still hope, that the narrator and Wendy will someday 'get to that place where [they] really want to go' and 'walk in the sun,' no matter how bleak the future seems now."
So it's been more than a little while since I last posted about my favorite series in the entire world. But I read this interesting piece on Harry Potter. It's fairly short, so you should click through and read the whole thing, but the part that really made me think was this:
The biggest problem begins with that obnoxious Sorting Hat. Eagle-eyed readers will notice that every last one of the major heroic characters gets sorted into Gryffindor, the “brave” house. Nearly all of the villains get sorted into Slytherin, the “ambition” house.
Already you’ll notice that things are getting a little bit vague, as “ambition” is a substantially more nebulous concept than “hard work” or “cleverness.” Well, that or it simply comes packaged WITH all those other virtues. But the point is our heroes and villains all get lumped in together.
So, not only is bravery implied to be the best of all virtues, but it also apparently trumps intelligence or hard work. Fine, sure. We’ll just go with that. And we’ll also try to ignore the blatant violation of these sortings that occur over and over again through the series.
I get that this is just a way to make a “hero” house and a “villain” house. Normally I’d write this off as typical fantasy-movie simplicity. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and a host of others do the same thing; they create a group of cartoonish baddies to embody the opposition to our hero. We’re not meant to really question it. Evil is evil.
The problem with doing this in the Harry Potter universe is the books and movies are obsessively focused on tearing down the walls built by prejudice and groupthink.
So why, then, is it just like… totally cool to write off as bad every single person chosen to be in Slytherin House?
I mean, I know WHY. Slytherin students are constantly undermining their classmates, and adults who graduate from the house tend to go on to undermine the rest of the wizarding community. It’s stated as fact that no evil wizard ever walked the earth that WASN’T a member of the house at some point.
And there 'tis.
Assuming that the bolded part is correct—and I don't recall it ever being stated that baldly, although I'm not much of a HP scholar and, either way, it is the clear implication—it seems to me the real question here is one of cause-and-effect, or maybe chicken-and-egg: are these kids—and that's all they are, just little, little kids at the beginnging—inherently bad, or are they already lost causes...or does Slytherin itself cause them to all go over to the dark side? And if that's the case, how on earth could Dumbledore and all his predecessors possibly justify keeping the house around?
So Top Management is having a crisis because she's a writer and that's what creative people do.
No problem. I've been a (theoretically) creative person for 20+ years and, much more important, in addition to being married to a legitimate artist, I've been an editor for much of that time and have dealt with creative people and I get it. I know how these things go. I know that it's not unusual for even the most creative of creative people to hit a wall, for whatever reason, and worry that they've lost it, that this isn't working out, that they're never going to be able to do anything worthwhile again, that that's it, it's all over. Usually, a little talk gets them off the ledge and a (generally very productive) day later, it's as though it never happened and I mean that: often I think that just a day later they literally don't recall feeling so deathly despondent no more than one day earlier.
So Top Management and I talk but it's the witching hour, as she used to call it. It's the evening, and the kitchen needs to be cleaned, the dinner dishes done, homework overseen, hair washed, laundry folded and put away, kids slammed into bed, the whole shebang. So I listen for ten minutes but then I just, I have to go, I really do, but I promise to come back in just a bit and angst with her some more.
Fifteen minutes later I walk in, things semi-taken care of, temporarily. "I'm ready to be understanding!" I announce heroically.
She slowly and silently looks up at me as though I've got three heads, one of which is speaking Mandarin, another Swahili and the third vomiting blood. "What's wrong?" I asked, actually worried for the first time.
She just keeps staring for a few more very long seconds. "I'm writing," she finally manages to mutter, after painfully switching from the right hemisphere to the left in order to be able to process and answer my question.
All righty then.
Man, I'm good.
So I step on something hard in the middle of the hall and emphatically do not curse (at least for the purposes of this story).
I look down and see half a crayon. I kick it out of the way and notice another half crayon near—but not in—the trash can. I walk out towards the living room, limping slightly, because crayons are far harder than you'd think and also because I crave sympathy or at least a bit of drama. I notice another half crayon near the front door, and some crayon powder nearby. I look at the 3-year-old happily sitting in the sun on the front stoop.
"Hey," I say. "Are you breaking crayons in half?"
He looks up at me. "Yes," he says softly.
This throws me. I'm not used to honesty, other than when people tell me how I look. "Well," I say, thinking quickly. "Don't do that anymore."
Having thus dispensed my daily Mike Brady-like fatherly wisdom, I look over at the 11-year-old. "Why would he do that?" I ask, shaking my head. "Why would someone break crayons in half? What was he thinking?"
"Well," the Bean replies. "It goes back to The Great Crayon-Pencil War of 1953. There was a dispute over territory and one thing led to another and when the battle lines were drawn, he felt he simply had no choice but to side with the pencils."
My mouth drops open. She smiles. "Can I have the leftover cheesecake for lunch?"
[She later reported the cheesecake was delicious.]
So here's the thing. It's easy to make fun of someone for a typo. Left of the Dialian DT, for instance, although an excellent writer, can rarely go more than five sentences without one, often with unintentionally hysterical results.
Well...not quite. But how the end began.
So here’s something kinda groovy I just discovered this weekend: scenes from the video game I wrote about eight years ago. Have I mentioned that I love YouTube?
I wrote this in late 2000, although it took several years to produce the actual game, which wasn’t released until early 2003. I was never anywhere near good enough at the game (or any other) to get to where I could see most of the scenes, although I did have early (and blurry) versions of them on disc. Still, it’s been a long time since I saw them, and it was pretty cool to see them again.
One of the things that was so satisfying about this was that, at that point, there were so few Batman projects that got the Dark Knight right. The animated show did, but it used a different continuity. And later, the two most recent films have, but when I was writing this, they were way in the future. So getting to do the “real” Batman, the way I was writing him in the comics at the time, he said oh so modestly, was pretty thrilling. As was using the Batgirl I’d helped create. As well as Oracle, just about my favorite character of all time.
I know, most of you have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s okay, neither do I. So here’s one of the clips. There are six of them in total, including all four of the possible endings, should you make it that far, and they take almost 45 minutes to watch. I’m going to put two of the six up, but if you do watch the first one, please please please skip the first minute. If you know Batman at all, it totally ruins a later twist, and if you don't know Batman, it won't mean anything to you anyway. Otherwise, you might want to just watch the other clip, the third part, since it takes place in Arkham Asylum, which means you get to see lots of groovy villains and whatnot.
Oh, and I should explain for those of you that have never played a video game. These bits of animation are called cut scenes. They introduce a game, give you an idea of the plot and the mission, and then it switches to game play, where you’re in control. Once you’ve achieved one of the goals, it cuts back to pure animation, and the plot is advanced a bit more. That’s why these scenes keeps fading to black and then back in—it's like a series of vignettes. And, also, keep in mind that digital animation makes leaps every year, and that this stuff is seven years old.
Funny, until watching these this weekend, I'd totally forgotten that I had to write a bunch of different endings, including a few where the Batman actually dies. I'm a hopeless romantic, I know, but I found writing those scenes surprisingly moving. What can I say? I'm a geek.
I’ve had a lot of pretty righteous gigs over the years, but this was definitely one of the coolest.
So I reckon most of us have seen this portion of the interview Sarah Palin did with Katie Couric a while back. But I, at least, hadn't seen this entire segment and, I have to admit, it changed my view of the exchange.
So. Here's a paper I wrote for my graduate class last semester, Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. Basically, we'd read a play by a semi-obscure or even totally forgotten (as in Anonymous) renaissance playwright and one by Willy the Shake and compare and contrast. And what became immediately obvious was that, despite how he's viewed and taught nowadays, Shakespeare did not operate in a void. He was part of a thriving theatre scene, where the movers and shakers—as in the film Shakespeare in Love, actually—knew each other, saw each other's productions, even socialized, so that themes and plots were bandied about everywhere. Which is why you can have a plethora, a veritable cornucopia even, of plays about...shoemakers. Strange but true.
Obviously, most folks who've taken a course in Shakespeare know he invented virtually none of his own plots, either revamping well-known tales from the past or actual historical events, or as in The Merchant of Venice, of course, borrowing liberally from Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta. He'd then generally go on to sprinkle his own offerings with liberal doses of his unique and unprecedented and unsurpassed genius.
So taken out of context, his plays can obviously stand on their own quite nicely indeed. But looked at in context, it's truly striking to see how certain concerns run through a string of plays at the same time, reflecting obvious distress over, say, the dissolution of the monasteries or unease over Elizabeth's lack of an heir.
Anyhoo, with so many topics to choose from, how could I possibly single out one single thesis?
It was easy. I just wrote about Shakespeare.
Which seems, in retrospect, kinda stupid o' me. But what can I say? Rereading The Merchant of Venice for the first time in a dozen years, something leapt out at me and doing some research indicated that, bizarrely, no one else had ever noticed it. Well, I'm sure someone and prolly many someones have over the past four hundred plus years. But no seems to have ever published a paper on this precise idear.
In fact, the professor—one of the most kickass I've ever had the pleasure to know and with generally unimpeachable taste in musicks to boot—wrote "the distinguished critic Debora Shuger talks about something she calls the 'hermeneutics of the obvious.' Meaning, I take it, that critics have a habit of going after seemingly tenuous or far-fetched themes, while what we need to deal with is right in front of us. So in the case of Measure for Measure, it's not about King James, but about the regulation of sexuality. In your case, you've isolated something that is so blindingly obvious that nobody, to my knowledge, has really acknowledged it."
Which is pretty awesome to hear, that after four hundred plus years, and hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of pages, you're the first. (On the other hand, nice as it is to hear that your paper is sui generis, it's a little disconcerting to also be told that your thesis is "blindingly obvious.")
So. There you go. Since I'm never going to spend the dozen hours needed to get this puppy up to the snuff required to even think about submitting it, I offer it up to the internets at large. And, yes, I know there are several problems with the paper, including some formatting issues and at least one argument which might not hold water. As I said, it would require hours of work to fix and, really, I can't be arsed. Besides, this way if anyone steals it they'll be that much more likely to get busticated.
HONESTY IN THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
Walter Cohen wrote, “The Merchant of Venice (1596) offers an embarrassment of socio-economic riches. It treats merchants and usurers, the nature of the law, and the interaction between country and city. But since it is also about the relationship between love and friendship, the meaning of Christianity, and a good deal more, a thematically minded critic, regardless of his or her persuasion, may be in for a bit of difficulty” (Cohen, “The Merchant of Venice and the Possibilities of Historical Criticism,” ELH, Vol. 49, No. 4. P. 766). Indeed, there sometimes seems to be an endless number of different ways to view the play, but as Cohen points out, various relationships are at its heart. Yet when one examines the major relationships in the play, it becomes apparent that there are few which do not appear to be fatally flawed, based as they are upon a foundation of betrayal and deception. “Each [of the play’s two] trials teaches that mercy is necessary to a community’s honoring of the bonds (qua law) that tie each member together,” Trish Olson writes, “for it is mercy that allows sturdy and sympathetic relationships to grow and endure” (Olson, “Pausing upon Portia,” Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 19, No. 2, p. 303-304). But even more basic to the success of a relationship than mercy, strain’d or otherwise, is trust.
The titular character in The Merchant of Venice is often mistakenly assumed by the casual reader to be Shylock, and for good reason. Shylock is the most memorable character in the play and has one of the two most memorable speeches. The actual merchant, of course, is Antonio, Shylock’s enemy (and vice-versa), and through the course of the play the two characters are both contrasted and/or bound together in many ways—financial, legal, religious—and yet at the end they share a common bond. They are the only major characters who do not commit a falsehood in the course of a relationship. And they are the only characters left alone and unmarried at the end.
Antonio’s friend Bassanio is presented from the beginning as a profligate spendthrift, a playboy seemingly without ambition or even a vocation. Upon learning of the rich and eligible Portia, Bassanio sets out to woo and win her, quite cognizant of her enormous dowry. As he doesn’t have anywhere near the funds to present himself properly, he turns to Antonio, who immediately offers to finance his trip, despite his own current lack of liquidity, forcing him to turn to the hated usurer Shylock for backing. Thus from the very beginning of Bassanio and Portia’s relationship, Bassanio is deceptive: “The richness of his appearance and gifts when he arrives in Belmont is false, for though he is a gentleman, he is in debt—as he only later confesses to Portia” (Walter F. Eggers, Jr., “Love and Likeness in the Merchant of Venice,” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 3, p. 331).
Bassanio. …I should then have told you
That I was worse than nothing; for, indeed,
I have engaged myself to a dear friend,
Engaged my friend to his mere enemy,
To feed my means. (III.ii.258-263)
Things do not improve from an honesty standpoint as their relationship progresses, as Portia in turn deceives Bassanio by assuming the guise of the young legal sage Balthazar. While there can be no doubt her motives were pure, the fact remains that from the moment she stepped into the courtroom in disguise, Portia was deceiving every single person there (with the exception, of course, of Nerissa, herself also in disguise and also deceiving the entire court, including her husband). But Portia’s deception started even earlier. There’s no sign in the text of exactly when she decided to assume a new identity in order to save Antonio, nor does she ever articulate just why she feels it necessary. But the thoroughness of her plan indicates that it’s not likely she only thought of it the moment she mentions it to Nerissa. So when she said to Lorenzo
Portia. …for mine own part,
I have toward heaven breathed a secret vow
To live in prayer and contemplation,
Only attended by Nerissa here,
Until her husband and my lord's return:
There is a monastery two miles off;
And there will we abide. (III.iv.26-32)
she was obviously lying. A mere 22 lines later, she tells her waiting-gentlewoman, “Come on, Nerissa; I have work in hand / That you yet know not of: we'll see our husbands / Before they think of us (III.iv.57-59).” Why the deception? There’s never a reason given in the play. Does she doubt Antonio or Bassanio will be able to secure adequate legal counsel? There simply seems no motive to lie. But even after that, the deception continues. For even if we grant that Portia, in a flash of insight, conceived of a brilliant legal loophole while they were all still assembled in Belmont, and that although unspoken, it was tacitly understood a woman would never have been granted a fair hearing, and that for some reason she could not simply lay out the flaws in Shylock’s case for Bassanio to argue in court—even if all that is taken as a given, it is still difficult to reconcile the manner in which Portia and Nerissa test Bassanio and Gratiano after the trial is over.
Portia. And for your love I’ll take this ring from you.
Do not draw back your hand, I’ll take no more,
And you in love shall not deny me this!
Bassanio. This ring, good sir, alas, it is a trifle!
I will not shame myself to give you this.
Portia. I will have nothing else but only this,
And now methinks I have a mind to it.
Bassanio. There’s more depends on this than on the value.
The dearest ring in Venice will I give you,
And find it out by proclamation;
Only for this, I pray you pardon me.
Portia. I see, sir, you are liberal in offers.
You taught me first to beg, and now methinks
You teach me how a beggar should be answer’d.
Bassanio. Good sir, this ring was given me by my wife,
And when she put it on, she made me vow
That I should neither sell, nor give, nor lose it.
Portia. That ‘scuse serves many men to save their gifts,
And if your wife be not a mad woman,
And know how well I have deserv’d this ring,
She would not hold out enemy for ever
For giving it to me. (IV.i.427-428)
Bassanio could not be more plain: he has made a promise to his wife and he takes that most seriously. Clearly Portia knows she has a way with words—that’s why she went to court as she did and the events there have just proven her opinion correct. Yet even after Bassanio is shown to be faithful to her, Portia continues to torment him relentlessly, most skillfully but cruelly setting him in an unwinnable situation, between the promise he gave his new wife and the debt he owes the person who saved his best friend from a gruesome, horrific death. Portia knows this is what she’s doing by continuing to pretend to be Balthazar, and yet she expresses no qualms whatsoever about doing so. Bassanio ultimately proves unable to thread this moral needle, but in this case his failing is far from entirely his own; an enormous proportion of the blame must be laid at the feet of his new wife. The fact that Bassanio fails does not prove Portia was right to lie to him in order to test him.
Furthermore, even Portia’s vaunted relationship with her dead father is shown to be flawed. Regardless of the validity of his wish that her husband pass the casket test, Portia has promised to abide by his decree and not give any hint to any potential suitor. Portia admits that she’s tempted, despite the clear-cut situation:
Portia. I could teach you
How to choose right, but I am then forsworn;
So will I never be: so may you miss me;
But if you do, you'll make me wish a sin,
That I had been forsworn. (III.ii.10-14)
So far, so good: the very fact that she suffers the temptation to break her oath and does not break it speaks to the firmness of her commitment. There is more honor (and difficulty) in keeping an oath one has motive to break than in keeping a vow which works to one’s advantage. But Portia’s resolution soon wavers when her heart’s desire is truly on the line.
As the scene unfolds, we see Bassanio resolute in his desire to make his choice and be done with the waiting. In response, Portia pulls out some surprising metaphors:
Portia. Upon the rack, Bassanio! then confess
What treason there is mingled with your love.
Bassanio. None but that ugly treason of mistrust,
Which makes me fear th’ enjoying of my love;
There may as well be amity and life
‘Tween snow and fire, as treason and my life.
Portia. Ay, but I fear you speak upon the rack,
Where men enforced do speak any thing.
Bassanio. Promise me life and I’ll confess the truth. (III.ii. 26-35)
It is as though Portia is unable to believe love can be pure and true, without ulterior motives or hidden quicksand. The rest of the play will prove her right, of course, but one is left to wonder if it’s not a self-fulfilling prophesy, whether the lack of honesty to come simply shows she’s not naïve, or whether it is her cynical attitude that contributes to an environment in which truth is a matter to be regarded lightly.
As for her promise to her father, Portia may say she’s loathe to forswear, yet she proceeds to do precisely that: as others have pointed out, while Bassanio contemplates which casket to choose, Portia sings a song whose opening couplet, “Tell me where is fancy bred / Or in the heart or in the head” (III.ii.63-64) rhymes quite conspicuously with “lead,” the correct answer. She has already spoken most harshly of her previous suitors and admitted Bassanio is the only one she’s found agreeable so far. For someone as cognizant of the power of words and suggestion as Portia unambiguously proves herself to be in the courtroom scene, the likelihood that this song is not a hint is remote, tying this scene even tighter to the main plot thematically. “Shylock stands for the necessity of keeping contracts,” Cynthia Lewis notes, “a necessity that Portia is forced to recognize by keeping her oath to her father” (Cynthia Lewis, “Antonio and Alienation in ‘The Merchant of Venice,” South Atlantic Review, Vol. 48, No. 4, p. 29). But by dropping even this small and subtle hint to the only suitor she’s ever favored, Portia has broken the oath to her father, betraying the promise she had previously kept—an agreement apparently easy to uphold when one’s suitors are distasteful, but considerably more difficult when a pleasing gentleman shows up.
And Portia’s faithlessness seems to have something of a domino effect—once she breaks the oath she gave to her father, she seems to have little compunction about practicing further deceptions, such as upon the court and later Bassanio directly. It’s as though once she broke down herself and failed to stay true to her dead father, her previously unshakeable adherence to truth and promises were considered malleable to her, kept or not as whim dictates. And if she herself could not stay true, then of course she has doubts about the veracity of others, leading her to put Bassanio to a test he could not possible survive unblemished either way.
The most obvious and inexcusable instance of one member of a relationship being untrue to the other is displayed by another daughter—Jessica, who betrays Shylock in just about every way imaginable. “As lovers,” Sigurd Burckhardt write, “Jessica and Lorenzo stand in the sharpest imaginable contrast to Portia and Bassanio. Their love is lawless, financed by theft and engineered through a gross breach of trust” (Burckhardt, “The Merchant of Venice: The Gentle Bond,” ELH, Vol. 29, No. 3, p. 253). Leaving aside that Portia and Bassanio are not, in fact, a particularly admirable couple to hold up in comparison, Burckhardt is absolutely correct that the marriage of Jessica and Lorenzo is predicated entirely upon her lack of fidelity to her own father. As Douglas Anderson writes, “Lorenzo teasingly reminds Jessica that their marriage began in theft. Jessica teasingly replies that all Lorenzo’s vows of love are faithless” (Anderson, “The Old Testament Presence in The Merchant of Venice,” ELH, Vol. 52, No. 1, p 130). Jessica lies directly to Shylock when he asks what their former servant, Launcelot, had just said to her.
Launcelot. I will go before, sir. Mistress, look out at
window, for all this, There will come a Christian
boy, will be worth a Jewess' eye.
Shylock. What says that fool of Hagar's offspring, ha?
Jessica. His words were 'Farewell mistress;' nothing else.
By now the audience knows that she’s constantly lying to her father indirectly, a lie of omission, by concealing her plans. And she steals from him, an obvious crime as well as a sin, but even more so, from Shylock’s point of view, a betrayal, one made all the more reprehensible in this case as Jessica knows how much both her elopement and the loss of his treasure will mean to him.
Camille Slights downplays this act considerably: “Shylock’s fidelity to Leah’s memory sharpens our discomfort at Jessica’s betrayal, but it does not obliterate our recognition that life requires growth and the courageous acceptance of new responsibilities” (Slights, “In Defense of Jessica: The Runaway Daughter in The Merchant of Venice,” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 3, p. 365). Yet excusing her heinous treatment of her father, absent any evidence in the play that whatever his other faults he has ever been less than a loving father, is extraordinarily difficult. That Jessica does not just steal from and lie to her father but moreover leaves him for a member of the very group which has scorned him so over the years—going so far as to spit upon and kick him in public—merely compounds the injury further, as even Slights acknowledges: “In fleeing to Christian marriage from a house that has become a hell, Jessica moves from Judaism to Christianity, but she also deceives disobeys, robs and abandons her father” (Slights, p. 359).
Even the minor supporting character of Launcelot emphasizes how prevalent this theme of deception and betrayal is, as he too lies to his father. When the old man, half-blind, first shows up seeking him, Launcelot toys with him, telling his father that his son is dead. Here, writes Douglas Anderson, “…Shakespeare makes it clear to any member of his audience who is even casually acquainted with Genesis that Launcelot is unwittingly reenacting two popular stories from Jewish legend: Jacob’s deception of his own blind father, Isaac, when he steals a blessing meant for Esau, and the deception carried out by Joseph’s brothers when they, in turn, tell Jacob that Joseph is dead” (Anderson, “The Old Testament Presence in The Merchant of Venice,” ELH, Vol. 52, No. 1, p. 120).
It seems at times as though there’s not an honest character in the play. Bassanio lies when he appears before Portia as a wealthy gentleman, Portia lies to Bassanio when she appears before him as Balthazar, Jessica lies to her father, Nerissa lies to Gratiano and Launcelot lies to his own father. It is, perhaps, a sign of just how flawed the entire relationship structure is that when Nerissa says she too is going to try to con her husband out of the ring she gave him, that Portia is not only quite certain the attempt will be successful, as indeed it is, but that “We shall have old swearing / That they did give the rings away to men” (IV.ii.14-15). In this context, it’s notable that it barely even occurs to the husbands to attempt deception when called upon to explain their missing rings. Perhaps Portia’s conscience does weigh heavily upon her, as her entire marriage is laced with deceit: Bassanio deceiving her initially, Portia deceiving him at court, and Portia deceiving her dead father.
Of all the major relationships in Merchant, two in particular stand out as being notably different from the rest in at least one respect. Neither Antonio nor Shylock ever lie to a loved one—in fact, they don’t lie at all. Both men are utterly honest about who and what they are: they say what they mean and they mean what they say, which is why Shylock insists upon his bond and Antonio never attempts to shirk his legal culpabilities. Antonio never lies to Shylock, Bassanio or Portia, and Shylock never lies to Antonio, Bassanio, Portia or Jessica. As Steve Patterson points out, “As for the trope of well-matched or twinned lovers, Antonio finally mirrors Shylock, not Bassanio” (Patterson, “The Bankruptcy of Homoerotic Amity in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice,” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 1, p. 29).
It is all the more telling, then, that Antonio and Shylock are the only two major characters left alone at the end of the play, as they have mirrored each other from the very beginning: “Merchant repeatedly draws the antagonist as one. Each seems from his entrance not only socially alienated but an obstacle to the progress of courtship and romance…” (Patterson, p. 29). Shylock has lost his daughter, his only family. Antonio has seen his best friend in the world, and very possibly the love of his life, married off to a woman whose wealth would indicate Bassanio will have far less need of Antonio in the future—and the last scene would lead the audience to believe that, in any case, Portia will be ensuring that Antonio is seeing quite a bit less of Bassanio henceforth. Patterson sees Shylock’s conversion as having a negative effect on the play’s last scene: “This enforced transformation casts a pall over Act 6 as the married couples struggle to collect on the promise of an ecstatic reunion in such a night that seems to be ‘the daylight sick’ (V.i.124)” (Patterson, p. 27). And while that may have an effect on the audience’s reaction, in the world of the play it has no effect whatsoever on any of the couples themselves. Rather, it is the myriad betrayals which have begun to pile up which are dragging down what should be a moment comprised of couples in a state of euphoric marital bliss.
Cohen contends that Merchant “…is entirely typical of comedy in its movement toward resolution and reconciliation, and typical of specifically romantic comedy in its reliance on married love as a means to those ends” (Cohen, p. 781). But the married couples in the play are treading on shaky ground: Portia and Bassanio have been untrue to each other a number of times before spending even a single night together, as have Nerissa and Gratiano. As for Jessica and Lorenzo, if she could lie to and rob her father, how can he possibly trust her in the future? In a sense, then, it is Antonio and Shylock who are in the least precarious situation: they are alone, but it’s entirely possible that they have at least hit the bottom, whereas the married couples would all seem to have very rough seas still ahead of them, with little indication they’ve the fortitude to weather the storm. “This irony, a bonding of the merchant with the Jew, is made apparent in the way friendship’s twin motif, significantly absent between Antonio and Bassanio, yokes the supposedly contrary figures of the usurer and the friend” (Patterson, p. 29). These two characters, aliens in this society due to situations beyond their control—the Jew and the homosexual, both subject to genetic backgrounds over which they obviously had no power—are at the end, still bound together. “All the exchanges between Antonio and Shylock are marked by the sense of a long and bitter past. Together they fittingly constitute the Venetian abominations that must not be permitted to corrupt Paradise” (Anderson, p. 130).
The entire play is rife with instances of lying, deception and betrayal, both minor (Launcelot teasing his blind father) and major (Jessica stealing her dead mother’s ring from her father). Lewis points out that “the Christian men show their failure to understand the importance of such contracts by urging Portia (Balthazar) to ‘wrest…the law’ (IV.i.215). Shylock also criticizes ‘Christian husbands’ in this scene for their laxity toward marital bonds (IV.i.294), and Portia reinforces his criticism emphatically (IV.i.288-289, V.i.166-255)” (Lewis, p. 29). The entire culture, it seems, both legal and interpersonal, has a remarkably relaxed attitude towards the truth.
Some of these instances may seem trivial, but there is a reason people are sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth during a trial, and why a charge of perjury so often has an obstruction of justice charge attached. The act of lying is a breaking of a contract, a generally unspoken agreement which is, in most cases, tacitly understood to be at the heart of any relationship between people, as in the absence of such an understanding, no transaction, no matter how minor, is possible. This is the flawed foundation upon which the relationships in The Merchant of Venice rest, leaving considerable doubt as to their long-term stability.
Well, rock on. Who knew?
vomitorium (vom-i-TOR-ee-uhm) noun, plural vomitoria
A passageway to the rows of seats in a theater.
[From Latin vomitorium, from vomere (to discharge).]
I am SO going to use that the next time I go to a movie. If, you know, I ever do again—I gots kind o’ a lotta kids…
You know what I hate? I hate when I invent something completely new, something which might actually change the world at least a little bit…
…and someone else has already beat me to it.
So I’m talkin to pal DT earlier today (and, no, there’s no truth to the rumor that he’s actually a personification of Delirium Tremens, although, yes, I did enjoy a delightful bottle of riesling this weekend, the first time I’d had a riesling since the late eighties and, oddly, this bottle was from the same winery as that last bottle, up in Washington state), and I was professing my love for wikipedia.
There. I said it. I don’t care. I love wikipedia. So helpful, so useful, so omnipresent and damn near omniscient. And if it’s not always one hundred percent correct, what of it? Does that not make it the perfect resources for our times?
Of course it does.
Anyhoo, I was defending wikipedia and pointing out that it might not always be accurate but at least it was, you know, accurish.
We both started laughing. It was one of those times when you have no idea what’s about to come out of your mouth and you’re therefore just as surprised as the other person. In my case that happens quite a bit, as you might expect, but rarely is it this pleasant.
I like that.
Sure I’d never heard of it before, cognizant that it was an obvious cousin to truthiness, I began to wonder if I’d, in fact, invented it, mayhap even coined it.
And if so, if there was any money to made in trademarking it.
Google the rescue!
Alas, poor accurish, you’ve been with another. You harlot.
A Google search turns up four hits, one of which seems to be in Norwegian, one of which seems to be name of a bracelet and two of which seem to be the same hit: the exact same meaning, posted on a message board back in November.
Accurish. Still a hell of a word. The tramp.
UPDATE: Ah, what the difference a few days make. Here's what happens if you Google "accurish" NOW--
Sweet, sweet search results, how I do love ye.
Hm. I normally get a kick out o' these little quizzes. But this one?
I find this distrubingly close to the mark. How, then, does one explain the presence of Left of the Dial? One cannot and therefore one does not even attempt to.
Innerestingly, beneath this, it said:
"If you were not tanka, you'd be haiku."
I've never taken one of these here personality tests that gave multiple choice.
Emotive? Emotive?! Kiss my ass!
H/T: The impossibly perfect Top Management.
Here’s my entry:
I was walking to Penn Station one day, cruising down Broadway, in a hurry as usual—my goal when walking in Manhattan was always to see if I could reach my destination without ever stopping once, regarding red lights as an attractive decoration, only barely slowing down if truly necessary, so as to avoid more than glancing contact with the fenders of taxicabs or the handlebars of a delivery boy’s bike—when I saw a group of large men headed my way.
The sidewalk was crowded—it was rush hour, or just a bit after—so they were not easily avoidable. Not, you know, without some effort on my part. And they were not small humans. They were, in fact, a tad on the large side, two of them considerably more than just a tad.
I continued to hustle forward, but turned slightly, in order to pass between the middle guy and one of the much larger men flanking him. The middle guy gave me a small smile and a nod; the larger man did not.
It was about half a block later that I realized I’d pushed my way between Al Sharpton and one of his bodyguards.
UPDATE: Pal Gorf just stopped by. He had a very pleasant chat with Leonard Nimoy on Tuesday and then yesterday advised Jill Hennessy on what computer to buy. And then—and this is why I’m writing this—he gave me a present: Fareed Zakaria’s autograph, personalized to me. This will be added to my autograph collection, which now consists of two items, the other one being a scrap of paper Gorf got Sam Waterston to sign for me, again, personalized. Oh, and he and I once drank a table over from John McLaughlin—host of the McLaughlin Group, not the phenomenal jazz guitarist. Look at all them candidates for the coveted Colson!
Hm. Apparently he and I focus an undue amount on political talking heads and Law & Order. I don't know what to make of that.
The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him... a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create -- so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.
—Pearl S. Buck, novelist, Nobel laureate (1892-1973)
Unfortunately, I've got the “abnormally, inhumanly sensitive” part down cold (he says, flattering the hell out of himself with absolutely no justification). The problem is that the whole “creation” part of the equation really only applies in my case to pro-creation. Which just isn’t the boon to the wallet that just plain ol’ creating is, or can be. In fact, experience has taught me it’s just the opposite, generally speaking.
But then, on the other hand, you get this. And that’s a pretty decent trade-off.
Sorry for the radio silence. A certain mystery-fighting cartoon dog has been kicking my tail recently. I hope to gain the upper paw soon and then I’ll be back to annoy on a more regular schedule.
Meanwhile, I just discovered this recording someone made a while back of P. Diddy calling Bjork. My faith in humanity is restored.
Here’s a letter my boy Gorf just wrote to the New York Times:
Pow! Zap! Stop the cliché headlines! What is it that brings out the circa 1966 sound effects in the headlines of articles about comics and graphic novels in the New York Times, and every other newspaper in the country for that matter? I wouldn’t demean the word offensive by applying it here, but at the very least it’s banal and it’s certainly trite. Contemporary comic books are, to cite your May 28 Arts & Leisure article, diverse: they are the award winning Maus, they are the new Batgirl and Black Panther, and they are the source material for the critically acclaimed—and charts dominating—"Spider-Man" "X-Men" and "Batman Begins" films. How does this reality jibe with your page 1 "Inside" preview headline "Pow! Zap!"? As an editor of Batman comics for the better part of a decade, I love Adam West more than anyone, but please, leave him in the Sixties. Pow! Zap! headlines do not reflect the contemporary illustrated storytelling artform of comics and graphic novels, only ignorance.
Jordan B. Gorfinkel
University Heights, OH
I remember being annoyed by this headline tendency twenty years ago now. There’re few if any who love the old Adam West show more than I, but even twenty years ago I thought, come on, guys, give it a rest—it’s been twenty years already. And here we are, another twenty down the road and they’re still doing it. It’s not just that it’s damn lazy—although it’s certainly that—or that it’s that it’s incongruous to be talking about how comics have grown up and then using these juvenile headlines. It’s that, as Gorf says, the same kind of headline even gets used in an article discussing the Pulitzer Prize winning comic "Maus," which deals with the Holocaust.
Time to retire this cliché. There are still plenty of others out there for writers to choose from—as anyone who read Left of the Dial knows all too well.
I’m sure there are many, many others. Perhaps I'll update this
occa oca ocass once in a while.
Thank God four spellchek. I don’t no what I’d due without it.
oniomania (O-nee-uh-MAY-nee-uh, -MAYN-yuh) noun
Compulsive shopping; excessive, uncontrollable desire to buy things.
Top Management and I do not have opulent tastes. We are, however, gluttons. Not so much for food (well, not usually), however. Books and CDs, on the other hand…oy. We may indeed have a slight case of oniomania, if it’s, in fact, possible to have a slight case of oniomania. We are slight oniomaniacs. We live in a slightly oniomaniacal fashion. We live slightly oniomaniacally.
We try really hard to buy books and CDs new when we can, in order to support the artists who created the works. When it comes to certain authors—Charles Dickens, say—we don’t worry too much about it because, you know, I think he’s doing just fine financially right now.
We certainly do buy a lot of stuff used and make enormous use of our marvelous local library, and even occasionally the UVa library, since life as freelancers tend to leave finances somewhat…tension-filled, shall we say? We tell ourselves that that’s apropos for writers.
But when we can, we buy stuff new as much as usual, just to show some love to our fellow creators. Oh, sure, it’s a drop in the bucket but if enough people make the effort, right? So with U2, f’r instance, it doesn’t make a lot of difference but, hey, with The Replacements or Dinosaur Jr it just might make a noticeable spike. "Say…why are we doing so well in the Blue Ridge Mountains these days?" I can imagine the fine folks in Minneapolis wondering.
This is also why we’re such sticklers about not making copies of officially released albums or accepting them from well-meaning friends. Neither of us are, alas, in a position where we get much mileage out of royalties, but we get some, as I’ll discuss in a moment, and we very much hope someday to get more. Much, much more. Oh so much more. Oodles and boodles more. [Besides, making copies for others is, well...you know...stealing, even when it’s done by a well-meaning friend. But more on that another time.]
So. I received my bi-annual (or is it semi-annual? I can never remember and I’m way too lazy to look it up right now) royalty statement today from DC Comics and as usual the unexpected windfall allows to us buy…well, not a new house or a Lamborghini, but at least a couple of pizzas. And I’m not complaining, mind you—as my former boss used to put it, you already got paid for the work and you weren't expecting anything more, so it’s basically free money. And, hey, a couple of pizzas, man…that’s a guaranteed good time.
But what makes this particular gift so unexpected and so pleasant is that it’s for foreign publishing. Not that I got nothin’ against good ol’-fashioned ‘Murican publishing, by any means. But here in the States, you pretty much print a comic and it’s done. Unless it’s later collected, it’s basically out-of-print after a few weeks. Such is the transient nature of comics.
I have had several things collected, so it’s not all that unusual to get tiny little royalties for them. Not surprisingly, the story I’ve made far and away the most money on (enough for nearly a dozen pizzas, maybe) is also easily one of the two worst pieces of writing I’ve ever done. Well, and gotten paid for, that is. Just horrible. Horrible, horrible, horrible. Nice artwork, though. And it might have been slightly better if I hadn’t had to write the first half the week before Max was born (when Top Management was already a week past her due date) and then finish it the week after Max was born (when I had even less of a clue about both writing and parenting than I do now). Oh, and if I hadn’t had to toss my original ending because it was too good. Seriously. Long story of interoffice politics and, actually, they made the right call, much though it bummed me at the time. Beautiful art, though. Really gorgeous. Much better’n my writing deserved. But then that’s true of even my best stuff. Tim, Brian, Jim, Phil, Rick and all the rest--thanks, fellas!
But that’s not what was in this latest statement. This statement was pretty entirely made up of the reprinting of some of the Gotham Adventures books I did with pal and brilliant artist Tim.
And where were these little gems reprinted? The usual places: England. India. Russia. China. Egypt. Lebanon. And Indonesia.
Much as our nation’s most brilliant jazz musicians often found more receptive audiences in Europe and Asia, so too must I go abroad to be hailed as the genius I (and, alas, only I) recognize myself to be.
I mean, how cool is that? My Batman is in Russia and China and India. It was already in England and Canada, from being printed the first time, and most of it’s been reprinted in Mexico and Argentina. Sometimes France and Germany and Spain and even, if I recall correctly, South Korea (I may not be remembering correctly, however, since Batman doesn’t actually translate very well into Asian cultures, interestingly).
But Egypt? And Lebanon? I mean, I’ve now had my work printed in virtually every one of the biggest and most important countries in the world.
Or, as Top Management put it:
Germans love David Hasselhoff.
But Indonesians love Scott Peterson.
Saw this haiku on the door of a professor in the English department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I don’t recall the name of the professor, but the poem was credited to the professor’s nine-year-old daughter.
Haiku is stupid.
It’s poetry for people
Who count on fingers.
A hero of mine died the other day.
Colonel David H. Hackworth passed away on Wednesday, May 11, 2005 in Tijuana, where he was receiving treatment for cancer. He was 74 years old.
Colonel Hackworth lied to enlist in the merchant marine at age 14 and served in the South Pacific. The next year he lied in order to enlist in the Army at 15 and won a battlefield commission at 20 to become the Korean War's youngest captain. He was America's youngest full colonel in Vietnam, and won a total of 91 medals, including two Distinguished Service Crosses, 10 Silver Stars, 8 Bronze Stars and 8 Purple Hearts.
Robert Duvall’s amazing character in "Apocalypse Now" was based on Hack, an amazing guy who always tended to side with the enlisted men over the officers and who thought the civilians running the wars had no idea what they were doing. Strong stuff coming from a guy who was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times, and just one reason Nixon despised him.
Later Hack became, among other things, a Newsweek contributing editor, which is how he and I came into contact.
In 1996 we decided to do a comic book about landmines. As the victim of violence, Batman was the logical choice for the story’s lead character. Dennis O’Neil volunteered to write the script (and donated his fee to an anti-landmine charity), we got some fantastic artists, and then lined up a few folks to write pieces for the book. United States Senator Patrick Leahy wrote the introduction and two prominent anti-landmine activists, Jody Williams and Jerry White, wrote pieces for the back of the book.
I felt we needed one more piece and recalled that Hack had recently written a piece about landmines for Newsweek. Our publisher was also a big fan of the colonel’s and enthusiastically gave me the thumbs-up.
I have no idea how I got Hack’s number but somehow I did. I called and spoke with one of his assistants. I explained who I was and what I was looking for and within about ten minutes I received a call from the most-decorated living American soldier, who laughed when I tried to call him "Colonel," insisting I call him "Hack."
He asked for specifics—word count, what kind of audience this was for, what the others were writing so there wasn’t too much overlap, that sort of stuff—and then asked about deadlines. Well, as usual, the deadline was pretty tight, and he had his regular Newsweek gig and a new book about to come out that he had to promote. But he said he could hit the deadline.
He didn’t. Instead, his piece came over the fax several days early. And it was absolutely perfect. It opened hard and gripped you from the first. He tossed in facts to support his argument and bolstered them with first-hand memories of what it’s like to get splattered with the brains of a young man whose head had just been vaporized by a landmine.
Actually, it wasn’t *quite* perfect—there was this one tiny little transition that wasn’t as clear as I’d have liked it to be. It was good, it was just fine, but this project was a labor of love for all involved and I obsessed over the wording of this one sentence. But what to do? Who the hell was I to question the most-decorated living American soldier, a contributing editor to Newsweek, a best-selling author, a triple-nominee for the Medal of Honor?
I was, I guess, slightly more arrogant (or obsessed) than trepidatious, because I finally called him and asked him about that one sentence. Hack just laughed. "Oh, hey, listen," he said. "You do whatever you need to do to make that piece work. I trust you."
Hack later came to the office for a press conference with Senator Leahy to promote the comic book. As I recall, he only had an hour to spare, as his book was now out and he had his own project to promote, yet he still found time to lend a hand for a cause he believed in. Moreover, he was as friendly and engaging a guy as you could ever meet.
As anyone who’s ever met me knows, I’ve never been a macho guy. Didn’t like sports growing up, and never had any interest in military history, much less actually joining the military. In fact, I still don’t like macho guys. But if the world had more guys like Colonel David Hackworth it would be a far, far better place.
Requiescat in pace, Hack. And thanks. It was a pleasure and an honor to know you.
So my boy Tom teaches at a most prestigious school, where the parents pay more for tuition than Top Management and I have earned some years. All part of the joy of freelancing.
Despite the outstanding quality of the staff, however, some students just refuse to learn (not that I'm one to talk). Which explains the essay from one youngster explaining how John Donne and Ernest Hemingway were very different poets.
The mind boggles.
Top Management was so inspired by this insightful comment that she immediately sat down, became world-weary, helped herself to a stiff drink—after all, no one else is going to help her—and penned the following:
Haiku Like White Elephants
He poured the Pernod.
Or did the Pernod pour him.
What did it matter.
The following essay was actually written by a student, Hugh Gallagher, applying for admission to NYU in response to the question "Are there any personal accomplishments or significant experiences you have had that have helped define you as a person?" The author was accepted and graduated from NYU in 1994.
I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees. I write award-winning operas. I manage time efficiently.
Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row. I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing. I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook 30-minute brownies in 20 minutes.
I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.
Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello. I was scouted by the Mets. I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I'm bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays after school I repair electrical appliances free of charge.
I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don't perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal force demonstration. I bat .400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.
I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.
I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life, but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four-course meals using only a blender and a toaster oven.
I breed prize-winning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.
But I have not yet gone to college.