Assorted

[Peter Wildanger]


I've been feeling quiet lately -- that summer spread-out feeling. Short stories have made up my diet -- I've read so many short stories that I've felt the need to write quick summaries in my reading journal. I've already mentioned all of the Stifter -- Limestone, The Forest Path, Brigitta, Abdias, Granite. Then there was 'The Story of Good Caspar and Fair Annie' by Clemens Brentano; then 'The Strange Story of Peter Schlemihl' by Adelbert von Chamisso [which recalled so much of Anodos' journey in MacDonald's Phantastes]. And just today I finished Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist. Many stories. Add Chekhov's The Seagull, a continued swim through V. Woolf's diaries, and the first 40 pages of Fear & Trembling -- they've been my sustenance.

I keep thinking about injustice -- definitely because of Michael Kohlhaas, and 'Good Caspar,' but also because I've noticed that it's one of the strongest emotions I feel. It's almost paralyzing, my rage at injustice. Perhaps I'm reacting to irrationality -- if injustice means an act against justice -- reason -- rationality. But that can't always be true -- so I wonder where this authentically visceral response comes from -- so sad that I actually have to ask -- is this true outrage? So sad that I can take my ignorance of injustice and outrage in my hands and examine it -- watch it, and then write little notes about it. I haven't had to learn those lessons, so I suppose I'm allowed the freedom to speculate about them.
But the strangest thing about it is how blind my emotion is, how irrational. I would like to be able to say that my sense of injustice was rationally-based -- that it knew arguments and reason -- but I don't think that outrage can be rational -- not even watered-down outrage. I had an argument last week -- about small injustices, the sort of things that one generally lets slip. I had mentioned something that bothered me -- a small injustice that has occurred frequently enough in recent weeks to become an irritant. And as the argument progressed I started to watch my own emotionality, my own irrationality as the small injustices that I generally ignore became more and more important.

Somewhere in the discussion we stopped talking about how irritating it is to be whistled at from a moving vehicle and began talking about sexual objectification, double standards, and the appropriate amount of outrage in various situations. My irrationality grew in proportion to my sense of injustice -- not that some men will always whistle at women from moving vehicles, but that the people I was speaking with -- respected and loved -- didn't agree with me. I was shaken up by this discussion, and woke up the next day with a massive network of knots in my neck and back. They're still bothering me.

This little experience made me very aware of the second-hand outrage I felt in reading Michael Kohlhaas -- outrage at the small injustice which multiplied into a tangle of fault and non-responsibility. An illegal demand for a pass, an illegal toll, and a pair of horses kept as collateral. The horses are found starved and overworked; the groom left behind to care for them a victim of beating and false accusations. How swiftly this spins out of control. How swiftly do the lines of fault and responsibility become blurred. It becomes even more clear how justice depends on the people administering it. And throughout the entire story can be felt the breath of the mystical. Prophecy -- righteous vengeance -- the influence of chance.

Chance has been on my mind lately too -- I'm not much of a movie-goer, but I did see The Dark Knight on Sunday. Chance and chaos vs. design and order. There's an interesting element of despair too -- a slight discussion of how disappointing hope can be -- how unclear the division between good and evil really is. Much of the plot is fueled by these dualisms -- by the breakdown of these dualisms -- much of the plot rests on the lack of clarity once the poles have been discarded -- or rather collapsed into one another [Two-Face being the obvious representative of this]. At the end there is little hope left -- at least not in its characteristic guise of the White Knight battling evil for the sake of good, and for the hand of his lady. There's a new set of standards, a new set of goals, or rather a doing-away of all standards and goals.

I'm not good at talking about films -- but I'll speak of just one more -- Wall-E moved me for a completely different reason. I fell in love with that robot from the very first preview I saw and watching the movie was such a beautiful experience. I laughed, wept, felt fear and hope and excitement. I didn't even realize how little dialogue there was until I started speaking with others about it. I was mesmerized the entire time -- mesmerized with that desire to reach out and join in their world. The sort of strange impulse that makes one reach out for a painting. And the message was so clear -- even a bit thin -- a message of hope -- of how hope will endure and good will overcome. It was a darker version of Bill Peet's Wump World -- a world destroyed by its own inhabitants. But there is a strange sense of futility at the end -- because, really, will they make it?