RARA-AVIS: Re: Last Wednesday's digest

From: Frederick Zackel ( fzackel@wcnet.org)
Date: 11 Sep 2005

Being a slacker & a lurker, I just had to put my two cents in.

Last Wednesday Kerry J. Schooley wrote:
"Most other genres suggest that if the protagonist behaves a certain way, they will transcend the human dilemma. Love conquers all. Work hard and apply yourself and you will succeed. Have sufficient faith and you will be rewarded, if not on earth than in heaven. Ditto the
"moral" path. Tragedy suggests the same thing by taking a negative approach. Do wrong and you will fail. If not for indecision, Hamlet would have fared better, found happiness with Ophilia or something."

Naw, that's not tragedy. Tragedy is the Rebel going up against Cosmic Forces and (somewhere along the way) discovering he has to lose, that there's no way this side of Hell he could win, but what the hell he'll do it and then he'll pay it. That's why Tragic Heroes are better than the rest of us smucks. The Tragic Hero pays the Big Price.

What are the Cosmic Forces? These are forces greater than any human. Things like: the Gods, God, Destiny, Fate, Karma, Random Chance, Lady Luck, Dame Fortune, Las Vegas...

That French fry guy Albert Camus once pointed out (after he fell in love with James Cain's Postman) that tragedies only occurred twice in bulk: once with the ancient Greeks and once in 16th century Europe (Spanish blood tragedies & Eliuzabethean mostly co-existed.) In each case, you had Human Beings as pawns in a brawl between Religion and Reason, (i.e., between the Gods & One Human Smuck "who won't play the sap for you.")

The tragedy of Oedipus is he refuses to accept that the Gods determined his Destiny; at the end he says, "Apollo did this to me," and the grumpy chump is happily accepting it. Sophocles was a military man and a conservative; give me those old time religious values, he was saying at a time when Democracy was threatening that old Oligarchy.

The tragedy of Hamlet is not his indecision; from his first big meet with the ghostie, his job is clear ("Kill the guy who murdered the old king.") But when the Prince becomes a political assassin, well, that's not following the Cosmic Order, and Hamlet knows he will pay the heaviest price. His Indecision is his debating with himself, "Man, is this my only honest way out?" Just before he goes into that stupid swordfighting thingie with Laertes, Hamlet talks about God's Providence. ('Member how the Old Man with a White Beard watches out for Sparrows? That's Providence. As opposed to Deism, which says, God was here, but He split for Tijuana, so the Game's been rigged all along.)

As for Romeo & Juliet, nobody back then gave a damn about the puppies croaking. Look at the play. The first scene and the last scene talk about how the FAMILIES fucked up. The families should have put their puppies on a shorter leash. Only now, in our puppy love American culture, does anybody weep for R & J. The real tragedy is how the two wealthy familes screwed up their jobs. That last scene where the Prince of Verona bitches out the families book-ends the real sorrow.

What noir does is bring tragedy to the little guy. Look at Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men; it's Every Man (and Every Mouse, I suppose) doomed and screwed. You got plowed under by Cosmic Forces greater than you. Imagine Charlie Chaplin's The Little Tramp in a noir relationship with some blind chick. Easy to picture, right? Aw, man, that tragedy is downright inevitable, too. The Little Tramp's gonna pull the trigger. And then it's Old Smokey for him in the last reel. In noir, the little guy doesn't know he has to pay for ending "that rotton smell in Denmark." In noir, is it, well, pathetic? Maybe. But also fascinating.

"...only noir denies the possibility of transcendence."

If so, that's because Noir removed God from the equation.

Maybe yes. The Flitcraft parable makes sense after Hammett's daughter (in her memoirs) states that her dad believed Random Chance rules the Universe.
(That's a sort of religious statement, much as atheism is a religious statement.) Raised Catholic, Hammett became a Behaviorist, I suppose.

Which makes Sam Spade's comment at the end that:
"Next, I've no reason in God's world to think I can trust you and if I did this and got away with it you'd have something on me that you could use whenever you happened to want to."

So he has to live in this world, too?

If you think talking about religion is wandering off, Kerry J. Schooley also wrote:
"Is Brigid Shaughnessy better off for Spade's morality? Don't think so. Do people take the lesson and end the obsessive pursuit of false idolatry? Not the Fat Man and his gang. "

False idolatry? Hmm, no strange gods before us? First Commandment, right? What's the one about Murder? Maybe we should ask Pat Robertson, speaking about Political Assassination.

Best to all, and back to football...

Frederick Zackel

"Our best work you seem to disappear into completely like a love affair." ~ Kent Harrington

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