A Descent of an Unnamed Character

Of all  the characters who have undergone changes in the novel so far, I find the tutor’s tale (albeit, a cliched one) to be the most dramatic. He is the soldier/poet who finally loses some last shred of humanity separating him from behaving in the manner that the RedBlacks are typically described or typified as. It seems again ironic to me that just as we are witnessing Mike’s rise from mere thuggery to what may perhaps be a brighter, more worldly man who has a new found interest in music, we are also witnessing the tutor’s fall into depression and sadness because he cannot come to terms with Katherine’s rejection of him. This mirrors his lessons to Mike on page 186, where he is advising Mike how to avoid depression. However, this depression is actually settling in on the tutor himself.
During the chapters which talk of his near fanatical chase of Katherine and Morgan through the tunnels via “maps” (a pursuit which, again I find irony in, might have led him to Jane the arsonist) we are given several short glimpses into his mind. Although the characters in the book so far are decidedly flat and nearly unapproachable in their ability to just “take action” with little information given to us as to their real internal dialogue, I wished to hunt through the novel to discover just what event broke the tutor’s previous near-Herculean ability (in my view) to maintain his “self” despite his employer and environs.
While the physical event may have been his attempt to speak to Katherine on page 184 is the root of this, I think that while this may have triggered the descent into his new behavior patterns, the most revealing sentence is at the beginning of Chapter 38.

“He considered his fate, who did not believe in fate until this moment. His fate was to be lonely and sad…” (pg. 220)

While much of the verbiage in the book has focused around religion, this is as I can recall one of the first times fate is considered. And deciding whether or not to believe in fate has scary consequences indeed.
While later on he keeps a book by an “Ellroy”, saying “F— doubt.” So, does this mean that the tutor has resigned himself?

This Ellroy?!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Ellroy

But then we are treated to the tutor’s thoughts on page 237, where he is considering the Judge’s fondness for torture. Here, the tutor suggests that  “the Judge either loved causing pain all his life, or experience had transformed him. The tutor knew how that cold happen; it was happening to him.”

So, is the tutor giving in? Or has the tutor actually been causing himself pain all his life? Or does the tutor believe that his experience in wooing Katherine has “transformed” him into someone capable of causing pain now?

The unrequited lover, making excuses for he behavior, as he plots for romantic revenge. A dramatic, if cliched change in character, indeed.

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The Insult of Martyrdom

I found myself very interested in the chapter regarding Billy’s death, and what Adam Novy may be suggesting about rebellions, or cultural upheavals in general. What causes them to happen? Is it a series of events, or a buildup until a single event breaks the camel’s back?

If this book is indeed related to the 9/11 tragedy, is this event highlighting the difference between how a event on a massive scale with many deaths can trigger things just the same as a single, small death can trigger massive events? This is not to say that Billy’s death is small or inconsequential, but many of the people within the story would probably be shocked to hear that it was that incident in particular that started the uprising.
Billy’s death came as a shock to me, as I expected the character to tag along with Morgan and Jane throughout the book. What further shocked me, however, was the response that Billy’s death generated from every character in the novel.

I found myself frustrated that no character, save Billy himself, would have been capable of describing the incident that caused the entire uprising as a tragic mistake that was brought on by loneliness. Is the fact that no amount of subjugation, nor segregation in the city was able to motivate them to violence, until a death that had little to do with the overall issue of the RedBlack’s control of the city, an ironic tragedy?

I don’t think Jane does her brother’s death a service, at all. Although it may be true that the Gypsy people are being ruled unjustly, to prop up a death that occurred by accident as a reason to begin burning buildings does not say much for Jane’s character. Also, Morgan seems unable to react to Jane’s new obsession. I wonder if perhaps Morgan knows in some part of him that what they are doing could be construed as “Wrong” but is allowing himself to stay silent and ambivalent, for Jane’s sake.

Although, this also raises the question of whether or not what Jane is not doing is “Wrong” or not. Which is a judgement I am unable to personally make at this time.

A Religious Analysis of The Skull Story

    I was immediately struck with the poignant religious imagery that winds its way through Cleome’s story she tells Zinnia. At first, I began to regard it as any other creation story. Yet, the beings and world created by this “G-d” sound far different from the ones we are usually greeted with when reading religious texts.

      I think that these skulls represent demons, or daemons, or any other etymologically traceable word that leads to “disembodied spirit”. They suffer from anger, and jealousy at having not been given bodies. However, it is specific in the course of the story that there are no good spirits here. This rules out, I believe, the traditional benevolent Christian deity as the “Lord of Fire” Cleome speaks of. More evidence to this is that the story says nothing about this Lord of Fire creating the handsome animals with green eyes, which gives an almost imperceptible shred of hope in this dark envisioning that covers only two short pages. Furthermore, even in the most childish and “cute” sentence of this story we are gifted with more disturbing imagery of daemonic-skull-spirits that must “hop” bodies, like possession.

In various pre-Christian or early Christian writings (maybe in obscure texts by Francois Rabelais) many demons or things “not human” are described as being jealous after human beings. The commonly known story of Satan being jealous of God’s love for Adam is possible, as well as the story of the Grigori, or fallen angels, written in the book of Enoch and other apocryphal texts.

The animals that the skulls choose to butcher and inhabit are important symbols as well. First, we have the lion. I think that this lion represents the Lion of Judah, or a Christ-like figure. I think that this animal in particular is “torn to bits” because of the amount of bloodshed or strife that has been caused over the world’s arguments on Christianity. I think the deer was next included to represent Pan, perhaps, or the wild pagan beliefs that have also been persecuted or destroyed by worldly forces in history. Importantly, both of these animals are described as “beautiful.” In some way, that word suggests that these skulls want to see beauty, or life removed from the world. And finally, we reach the elephant, who I believe stands in for the Hindu god Ganesha, a remover of obstacles and a Deva, one of the prime benevolent forces in Hindu religious practice. Again, we see the image of a positive religious being who these skulls wish to rip apart and become.

     The sentence suggesting that the skulls “paraded around in” the skins of the animals, suggests that they are making a mockery of the previous being of the animal, perhaps the same that any ill-spirited men or people who are really these “skulls rekindled” either before or after the Lord of Fire blows them out, who parade religion around yet commit atrocities that are just the same, if not worse.

     This may be either Cleome, or Laird Hunt speaking through Cleome’s indictment on religion or “G-d” himself as a being of callous nature who has created these terrible things (evil men, or demons) and have left them loose on the world to treat innocents with brutality on a spiritual and existential scale, which many of the characters in this novel suffer. And, who else would or could possibly represent or even literally embody one of these demons better than Linus, who not only behaves monstrously, but also is “possessed” by visions of a Paradise he feels compelled to create? I think this story is specifically nodding to Paradise Lost again, because just in John Milton’s epic, we are again presented with a most unusual and unexpected “protagonist”.

And as to who this mystery “protagonist/creator” is, it is here I refer to the title of this post, as Satan is traditionally linked with the meaning of Adversary. Lucifer, on the other hand, has a more specific etymological link with “light bringer”. I am sure that there are apocryphal or disputed texts that might connect more with Cleome’s story, but I am not more than an amateur theologian. I thought that my suspicion that the Lord of Fire represented either Lucifer or Satan was confirmed by the way he chooses to end the lights of the skulls. In Ephesians 2:2, one of the powers of Satan/Lucifer/The Devil is power over the air.

This story is not only a terrifying glimpse into what traumatized form Cleome’s understanding of the world may be, and a look at the grim, woefully empty existence she had to endure, but also suggestion that with the amount of unchecked evil in the world, Satan himself may as well be the creator. At least, to Cleome it may be that way, and presented only to the reader with a theme and these hallow images, not deliberate explicit belief.
And yet, despite the anti-religious themes, the Lord of Fire has, according to this tale, returned to slumber, and perhaps he was unable to know that the lights in the skulls would rekindle.

I still know not what to think of this. Only that these images are repeatedly presented in the book.

Religious Themes in “Kind One”

While reading “Kind One” I found myself particularly aware of not only Laird Hunt’s focus on Shakespearean quotes and themes, but also the particularly violent forms of religious imagery scattered throughout it.

Ginny repeatedly describes God in an unfavorable light throughout the book, linking him less to a benevolent or fair figure, and more of a constant antagonist, similar to the God of “Paradise Lost”. Indeed, the word “paradise” is repeatedly used in the novel.
The idea of “God” being an omnipresent and strangely malevolent force is suggested many times. Particularly page 99, where after her baptism (which she feels did not bless or change her) she describes God as “Him who was lurking everywhere.” He is also mentioned on pg. 51, where Ginny suggests that we humans are “just meat for his platter.”

I think that religion is mentioned or brought up many times because one of the themes that Laird Hunt is attempting to get us to approach is the question of evil, and how or why it could work into the world if God were real, as well as allusions to challenges on secular and dogmatic Christian beliefs.

For example, the habits and descriptions of Alcofibras are occasionally suggestive of a more natural, agnostic or positive personification of God. This is contrasted by Linus Lancaster “embodying” God momentarily, when he says that his vision of his farm was incomplete until he had seen his “Pigs turned upon the land.”
During his story telling, and when he is described on pg. 56 as blowing a flute to convince vegetables to rise from the ground. This imagery is familiar to Pan, and his name is almost exactly the same as the pen name French writer Francois Rabelais used. Francois was known for his bawdy poems and oft-times criticized writings on Christian humanism and philosophy relating to a less dogmatic or different version of God as well as how best to live in the world, among other things.

Here, another allusion to Gonstic or non-secular Christianity is mentioned. In her dream, she says “I had often wish to lay my eyes on all the glories of Earth’s Kingdom as well as heaven’s for this was true.” (p.103)  This is similar to certain Christian beliefs that clash when considering if Heaven, and only Heaven will exist after we die, or if humans are capable of creating Heaven on Earth.

 

In Defence of Ronnie’s “Art”

Kushner includes a plethora of different forms of art in this book. Some of it, such as the filming of a pregnant woman by a somewhat lecherous crowd of men, easily violates what people in cultured parts of the world would consider “in good taste”.

However, this raises the question of what art is and is not in “good taste”. Is there a defense for art that is brutal, dehumanizing or downright vulgar? The main example of this that I wish to investigate is that of Ronnie Fontaine. I wish to particularly focus on the chapter where Ronnie take photos of women and their bruised faces.

A type of Dionysian furor seems to overtake them, with the women beginning to hit themselves more and more. Initially, I found myself disgusted and disturbed that Ronnie would be taking photos of this, or encouraging it. What was his intention, his reason in making it? Was it to glorify violence? To capture the image of battered femininity? Or was it something even more perverse, with the art not so much mattering to him as some sadistic pleasure he derives from it’s making?

As I read the rest of the book, I anticipated the next chapter with Ronnie in it with baited breath, practically praying that Kushner would reveal some character flaw or traumatic event in his life that would give an explanation, any explanation, to why he would choose such a garish subject matter. And she did not disappoint, with snippets of Ronnie’s life (which are, in the case of the Commodore, also perhaps a pack of lies) such as his brother’s death. And upon reading these, I am still unsure of where I stand in regards to my opinion on Ronnie as a artist, if perhaps justified as a human.

In my occasionally-not-so-humble opinion, the difference in what makes art good or bad is not in the content, context or imagery that it presents to it’s viewer, but in it’s original intention upon conception. For example, during WWII there was a vast amount of propaganda that was passed off as art. Here, I feel, is an example of what separates art from “not-art” or “bad arts”. It lies deep within the mind of the artist at it’s moment of becoming. Art that has a intention to control, influence or sway the public is, in my opinion, inferior to art that, rather than try to convince, merely opens the door for the mind of the viewer to consider a new perspective. In plain words I am suggesting that propaganda is not art, but that some art is presented in the form of propaganda. Art historians and students everywhere may disagree with me, but for the purposes of this book investigation I still hold my opinion to be at least somewhat logical.

If I am correct, the artist then, is the key factor in the production of art. What perspective is it, then, that Ronnie is trying to elucidate to the world? What stance, what foul and darkly violent world is he trying to bring into this reality? And, what is his motivation? I think that there is no clear answer to this, but after reading this book which provides no clear answers to much of anything, I believe that the answer is besides the point. The important thing is that a question, or a perspective is raised. And while  Ronnie’s art may be distasteful, it still reveals a part of his character. To Ronnie, life may be many times worse and more brutal than the seemingly violent subject matter he revels in.

Perhaps, now that I’ve read it and all is seen and done, I still dislike Ronnie’s art. Violence is violence.

But I understand it.