Freya and Brisingamen

I’ve always wanted to enjoy the Arabian Nights and Norse Mythology.  I’ve given up on the Arabian Nights after several attempts at different stages of my life.  I find the stories unenjoyable and the characters needlessly cruel.  Norse Mythology is a little better, but is still hit or miss for me.  I have always resonated with C.S. Lewis admiration for “Northern-ness” as a genre of aesthetic pleasure.  Also, my grandfather is of Swedish descent so I have a soft spot for the Vikings.  I remember thumbing through a Time Life Book about Vikings many times as a boy.  One illustration of a Beserker charging into a wall of spears was solely responsible for searing into my brain the glory of lost causes.  Despite my appreciation of the Norse, their myths feel like they have too much architecture and too little heart.  The mechanics of the mythological world seem most front and center, while the emotional interest in the characters dwells backstage (Perhaps this is a problem with the adaptations I encounter and not with the tales themselves).

I did however read a story that effected me emotionally and the more I think about it, the more profound it seems.

Here’s a synopsis of the story:

The gods enjoy a state of innocence until three Giant women come to Asgard (the dwelling place of the gods) and throw a bit of a tupperware party for gold.  After this visit from the Giant women, the gods all begin to covet gold.  Odur is an exception.  He prefers the innocence of simplicity but his wife Freya wants to place an order for some gold.  She knows her husband disapproves so she sneaks away without his knowledge.  On the way, she trades her virtue for directions to the Giantesses and after a long and terrible journey she finds the Giantesses and receives a beautiful necklace.  She returns to her home in Asgard and finds her husband is missing.

He left her because she preferred the quest of a shining thing to her life with him.  She seeks him out without success.

Heimdall, the watcher of the gods tells Freya that Odur will never be found by the one who searches for him.  Freya ceases her searching and returns to Asgard with her necklace (Brisingamen), which is now a sign of sorrow.  The poets call her the “Lady of Tears.”

What makes the story stand out isn’t the anti-gold message.  Materialism is a danger and Freya’s pursuit for a gold necklace appeals to her vanity but costs her far more than she predicts.  That’s a good point, sure.  But the more profound point is that Freya desired something that was wrong.  Her strong desire didn’t sanctify the quest.  It’s not an Oprah, “what-does-your-heart-tell-you” story.  Her heart tells her to get gold and she ends up sleeping with dwarves, losing her husband, and crying all the time.  The story is profound because it suggests that what she wanted isn’t really what she wanted.  This story moved me because it displays a conflict in the human will that causes us to want what we don’t really want.  Furthermore, it puts the lie to that popular notion that innocence is to be discarded as quickly as possible.  Rather, it states that innocence lost is really something to cry about.

Quixotic Protests

A few months ago I watched the film Man of La Mancha with Peter O’ Toole.  This musical glorifies Don Quixote’s madness in a way that seemed typical of the 60s and 70s.  It felt a little too modern so I read the end of Cervantes’ book to see how it would compare.

In Cervantes’ book, a crazy Quixote goes on adventures with noble motives but disastrous results.  At the end of his life he reacquires his sanity, exchanges his delusion for reality, and then he dies.  In the musical he does all of that, but just before he dies, he recovers his glorious insanity and then dies in the midst of a happy delusion.

I’m open to correction, but here are the two mutually opposed ideas I perceive.

The book seems to say that heroic delusion must ultimately give way to reality.

The musical seems to conclude that reality must ultimately give way to heroic delusion.

These opposing beliefs seem to me to explain the distinctions between the Tea-Party protests and the Occupy Wall Street protests.  The Tea Party protesters gathered together and asserted a common grievance: Reality won’t let us get away with unsustainable government spending.  For the Tea Partier, infinite desires must bow before the reality of finite means.

The OWS Protests are like a protest buffet.  A little anarchy.  A little union activism.  A little “I have to pay this money back?” student load disgruntlement.  Add a dash of drum circle, a pinch of self-worship, and a handful of class envy and dig in.  Sure, it might be a little unfocused and it might taste a little marijuana-ey, but doesn’t it bring back memories of the 60’s and isn’t that the important thing?  To the cynically minded the OWS protests are marred by the protesters’ desire for other people’s stuff.  Their refrain is less “Hands off” more “Hand out.”  But maybe that’s uncharitable.  Maybe these aren’t spoiled attention-starved college kids angry at how poorly a degree in Performance Art prepared them for the workforce.  These are heroic warriors tilting at the horrors of capitalism.  Don’t think of it as protesting math.  Think of it as dreaming the impossible dream.

Coda:

Awesome video of a greedy anti-greed protester who wants college for free.

Tragic Clinton

In college a teacher once remarked that Shakespeare’s Richard II is tragic not because he evidences great vanity, ambition, and moral collapse.  Shakespeare’s tragic touches come through the flashes of Richard’s promise.

Take this speech for instance, where Richard rises to the stature of a man:

Tell Bolingbroke–for yond methinks he stands–

That every stride he makes upon my land

Is dangerous treason: he is come to open

The purple testament of bleeding war;

But ere the crown he looks for live in peace,

Ten thousand bloody crowns of mother’s sons

Shall ill become the flower of England’s face,

Change the complexion of her maid-pale peace

To scarlet indignation and bedew

Her pastures’ grass with faithful English blood.

Richard doesn’t draw from his well of strength until his rule is beyond hope, but when he does the reader wonders, ‘what a man he might have been.’

Lady Gaga, in her recent classless performance, affirmed that Bill Clinton will always be known as the president who lacked a moral compass.  This Rhodes Scholar, this graduate of Yale, and former governor used all his powers not to underscore America’s virtues, but to persuade the nation that sex is as meaningless as junk mail.  Lady Gaga might be richer for this cultural shift, but I think the country is poorer.  Clinton displayed his political skill most as he lied, evaded, and mobilized power to control the narrative of his character flaws.  Like the audiences who witnessed the potential of Richard II, many who witnessed the masterful duck and weave of Bill Clinton thought, “What a man he might have been.”

 

 

W.I.P.

Here are some works in progress shots that my wife took.  I’m doing a series of paintings and it’s nice to get away from the computer every once in a while.  But I do miss Photoshop’s color correct options.

I know what you’re asking.  How did you get your hair to look so stylish?  As many of you who know me realize, I spend a great deal of time on my hair and I am always experimenting with new looks.  This look takes several hours and it is meant to simulate how hair might look if one just walked out of the shower, dried it with a towel and let it do whatever it wanted to do.  Like I said, it is an intensive process that involves a variety of hair products, candle wax, and egg yolk.  It’s part of what I strive for: A lifestyle of glamour.