Two days off in a row is a rare boon, almost a vacation, considering the breakneck schedule I’ve been running on as of late, averaging about 80 hours a week. The downside is that I have to work 12 days in a row, which basically just really sucks. Around day 10 I start getting extremely cranky, and by day 11 I’m ready to bite people. But I can’t do anything about it except call in sick, which is, at times, tempting.
I think perhaps that I have been eating very poorly lately. Which is not to say that I haven’t been eating—to the contrary, I’ve been eating quite a bit of junk food. But I think that’s the thing. The empty calories are starting to get to me. I decided to take a vitamin pill today and felt tons better. Maybe it’s just placebo effect, but I’m beginning to suspect that my steady diet of hospital cafeteria food and drive-through cuisine is quite low on essential nutrients.
I felt like my brain was working a lot better this evening. Like my third eye opened or something. (Yes, that was a cryptic Gnostic reference to Philip K Dick’s VALIS trilogy, but I won’t elaborate on that here.) Ideas flowed a lot better. I’m not as anxious as I’ve been (although I guess I’m still anxious.)
I watched “Pan’s Labyrinth” this afternoon, which was actually quite perfect, if a touch violent. Well, war is violent, and in the end, this is a war movie, set in the waning days of World War II in Spain, with the victorious fascist army mopping up the communists. But it melds the personal with the political and with the fantastic quite marvelously.
What it actually reminded me a lot of is “Mirrormask” which similarly involves a little girl who discovers that she may be a princess (or is at least the döppleganger of a princess) and it occurs to me, how many little girls dream of being princesses? (I think of my sister and her current aspiration of being a revolutionary, and find it fitting into my train of thought, but I digress.) Although the fantasy in “Mirrormask” is an allegory entirely of the personal, whereas in “Pan’s Labyrinth”, it melds together the political and the personal.
In any case, I’ve tangentially touched upon China Miéville’s reworking of the fantasy genre in order to use it as a vehicle for speculative politics. I really dug how he infused New Crobuzon with the gritty political corruption of capitalism and with Marxist sensibilities of impending, although flawed, revolution. Del Toro realizes something similar in “Pan’s Labyrinth” and I don’t think you can dig the movie without fully appreciating the specific political aspect of it. (More of this line of thought is better elucidated by this blog post that summarizes essays regarding Miéville’s Iron Council as well as Miéville’s own responses to these essays.)
The story of the rose and its poisonous thorns appears to represent humanity’s quest for utopia, perhaps even romanticizing Marxism—Marx’s eschatology is supposed to lead to sustainable economies that don’t require exploitation to maintain—the metaphoric eternal life that the rose offers. But instead, no doubt because of human nature, all we get are the thorns—Stalinism, the Cold War, and the sad inability to wean ourselves from the tit of fossil fuel.
But like all fantasy, all myth, we eventually have to ask ourself, is it true? The rose may not give eternal life, after all, although it doesn’t help that we’ve stopped trying for it.
Del Toro seems to point in that direction, though, that it’s not real at all, it’s just the crazed imaginings of a twelve-year old girl who finds herself in the hellish midst of all-out war. But like the Spanish communists fighting Franco’s fascists, the myth keeps us alive, allows us to frame ourselves in terms of nobility and ignominy. This comes out, paradoxically, in the character of General Vidal, who seems to be living with the burden of a family mythology—his father, the perfect soldier who died in battle. Whatever his sadistic impulses, and never mind that he is a fascistic thug, he feels compelled to uphold this mythology, fixated on leaving his son a similar legacy—the broken watch with the time of his death, and his name. And we perhaps gain an inkling that the only way to extirpate the evil created by these kinds of obsessive, impossible, fantastic myths is to destroy the myth entirely, and cut the cord of transmission.
And in the midst of our current dire conflict, with the possibility of conflagarating into World War III as Israel asks for airspace permission in case they need to bomb Iran, and as the wardrums beat ever loudly here in the U.S. despite our populace’s growing disgust for this seemingly meaningless debacle, I can’t help think how fitting these ideas are.
Here we are, some 1,400 years since the time of Muhammed, and presumably two millenia since the time of Yesua the Nazarean, and like all myths, there are good parts and bad parts, and it seems that this never-ending war is based solely on the bad parts. Never mind that the majority of Muslims and of Christians actually read their respective sacred scriptures and realize that God finds hatred deplorable. How can you mistake something like “Thou shalt not kill”? There are no exception for self-defense or times of war in the book of Exodus, at least not in the copy that I’ve read.
And it seems like the only way to rid ourselves of this never-ending evil is to obliterate the myth.
(But would we be more content knowing that such a rose exists, even if it nearly impossible to attain, or would we be better off just aiming a missile at the mountain upon which it sits, removing it entirely from all possibility?)
And I think of Vidal’s doomed soldiers, trying to contain a populace full of rebels, where you can’t at all tell who is your ally and who is your enemy, and I immediately think of our soldiers in harms way in the Desert, commanded by blundering idiots who either have no conception of the intricacies of myth, or are perhaps too inured in their embryonic myth of the New American Century.
(Interestingly, one can imagine that the reason why Vidal fails to see the faun is not because he is not really there, but because he is too caught up in his own fascist mythology and can’t help but disbelieve. Similarly, perhaps the reason why W and Cheney continue to fail miserably in this ridiculous imperial war is that their mythologic beliefs disable them too acutely.)
But myth and fantasy is all about one thing, and that is hope. I find it poetic that, despite all the reactionary and unenlightened elements that many leftist critics deplore in Tolkien, his main theme is nonetheless quite relevant, perhaps the last piece of mythology that has survived the backlash against the 1960’s. And it is indeed quite fantastic: that a single individual, faced with the overwhelming power of mastery—enough to rule the entire world—that this individual would seek to sacrifice himself in order that such power may be destroyed, instead of claiming it for himself and making the world in his own image. That this individual would rather that the world moved along its own trajectory, neither defiled by great evil nor reshaped by what interested parties might wrongly call “good.” This is a fantasy, a myth, that is worth carrying on from generation to generation, even though it may never in a million years happen.
I’ve prattled on and on and on about things I barely understand, but perhaps that’s all that moment of epiphany was: the coming together of a hundred million little thoughts into this confused half-formed concept of the intersection of myth, fantasy, and politics. We are, I suppose, at the crux of something big, the consequences of which we can’t even hope to predict.