Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Father's Lament

Something tore inside me
The day she took away my son
It seems it won't repair,
It won't even form a scar.
The casual cruelty strikes me dumb,
The way that it was done.

I can see that what is best for him
Should be what is done.
But who says what that is?
One thing's for sure: they never ask me.
And this obviously isn't it,
Because it's best for none,
Except for those who think this is fun,
Or at least, a well-paid job
The easy, slow, daily grind
Of people's lives into hard ground
From atop a big book of words to make it all
Everyone else's fault,
Or mine.

I'm sorry, son.
It's not right, it's very wrong,
But they won't give me a way
To be you and I.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Lord of the Flies is watching you

I have, in recent months, with some embarrassment, read both Golding's Lord of the Flies and Orwell's 1984.

The embarrassment derives from the fact that I have, from time to time, indulged in various pontifications on their subject matter and, hell, I haven't even seen the movies. I possessed a sort of folk knowledge of the story-lines and themes gleaned from the myriad casual mentions everyone hears and that seemed to do for most chats in the pub. Now, honor is satisfied and I don't think I've made too big an ass of myself so I permit myself a small sigh of relief.

However, having finally read them, what stands out to me is their power and timelessness. Perhaps this is simply the point of great literature, that one should feel somewhat enlightened having read them, or touched, or disturbed, or, well more than just the satisfaction of having plowed through what your English teacher always said you should read.

Curiously, I don't feel that I have learned anything much, although I have had a number of suspicions reinforced. I'm a little jealous, that these two authors were able to express such dark themes so ably such that the stories became vehicles for much deeper thoughts than the immediate plot. And I am impressed that, despite having been written as what might be called speculative fiction - each taking place in a world that had not yet happened, but could - their relevance to our real lives is unquestionable.

I don't think I've learned much from these novels because they didn't tell me anything I didn't already know about their subject matter which, at the heart of it, has to do with the unintentional evil humanity inflicts on itself. Having said that, one reason that I am reading such heavy material as this, and others, is that I am trying to comprehend what I have seen over the past few years.

Golding's boys are stranded on an island onto which they project a deepening malevolence and which then turns around and proceeds to consume them. In the face of this, Ralph and Piggy, viewed as a unit, attempt to protect a semblance of rationality and plan for getting themselves out of it. For all their efforts and insight, savagery overcomes them.

Orwell's Smith lives in a world determined to undermine his every independent thought. He has to monitor his every action, even as the state monitors him itself; and as soon as he lets his guard down, he is consumed by it. In the process, he is instructed in his helpless complicity. Big Brother is all of us.

Inevitably, I identify with Ralph, Piggy and Winston Smith. My anonymity in this blog is driven by forces akin to those faced by Smith. Many times, I have wondered at the childish and savage insanity of the world so obvious to me and apparently invisible to others. This has never been visceral than in family court, where I despair at their inability to see the destructiveness of the process, never mind how I feel about what they've done to me and my son. Or rather, what they have allowed to happen.

But surely, the people who do these things would also identify with the central protagonists of these stories. So how, exactly, does a family court judge who does nothing to preserve a father's relationship with his child identify with Ralph and not the savage, self-righteous, despotic Jack? How does the Armani-suited lawyer who subtly suggests a denunciation, no matter how fabricated the evidence, as a means to controlling a divorce, not see himself as a member of the cossetted Inner Party rather than just another victim of the oppressive state in which he participates?

I suspect it has something to do with claiming that we're not boys stranded on a tropical island, nor huddled masses frightened of our own government, or some other point-missing argument like that.

Would they read these stories with a clinical detachment, convinced that these themes do not apply to them, while happily recognizing that they do to others? Such are confirmation bias and false uniqueness.

Having read these two books and seen what I've seen, I feel this urge to take a number of people I've met and force them to read them too, using physical means if necessary, and then explain the point to them in monosyllabic detail until they convince me they've got it and learned better. But then, that would make me no better than them, wouldn't it?

In closing, I note that all of the significant characters in these books are men, and boys. Orwell's Julia barely counts as she is largely a foil for Smith and vehicle for his downfall, possessing little individuality of her own. I cannot immediately bring to mind any dystopic novels written around female machinations - would that there were more insight into female malevolence to be found in this world, we might all live more honest lives.