Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.
We must all work in harmony with each other to stand up for what is right, to speak up for what is fair, and to always voice any corrections so that the ignorant become informed and justice is never ignored. Every time a person allows an act of ignorance to happen, they delay our progress for true change. Every person, molecule and thing matters. We become responsible for the actions of others the instant we become conscious of what they are doing wrong and fail to remind them of what is right.
―Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem
If the Great Way perishes there will be morality and duty. When cleverness and knowledge arise great lies will flourish. When relatives fall out with one another there will be filial duty and love. When states are in confusion there will be faithful servants.
The daily life into which people are born, and into which they are absorbed before they are well aware, forms chains which only one in a hundred has moral strength enough to despise, and to break when the right time comes – when an inward necessity for independent individual action arises, which is superior to all outward conventionalities. Therefore it is well to know what were the chains of daily domestic habit which were the natural leading-strings of our forefathers before they learnt to go alone.
B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber Public Domain Image via Pixabay
It was a warship, after all. It was built, designed to glory in destruction, when it was considered appropriate. It found, as it was rightly and properly supposed to, an awful beauty in both the weaponry of war and the violence and devastation which that weaponry was capable of inflicting, and yet it knew that attractiveness stemmed from a kind of insecurity, a sort of childishness. It could see that– by some criteria– a warship, just by the perfectly articulated purity of its purpose, was the most beautiful single artifact the Culture was capable of producing, and at the same time understand the paucity of moral vision such a judgment implied. To fully appreciate the beauty of the weapon was to admit to a kind of shortsightedness close to blindness, to confess to a sort of stupidity. The weapon was not itself; nothing was solely itself. The weapon, like anything else, could only finally be judged by the effect it had on others, by the consequences it produced in some outside context, by its place in the rest of the universe. By this measure the love, or just the appreciation, of weapons was a kind of tragedy.
These three poems, Fractures, were written in 2012 for an operatic recital called The Other Woman. They were also part of the inspiration for an earlier blog post called Of Mud and Poetry Contestsand are linked to synkroniciti even though they predate her founding. It was during the time that they were written and performed that I began to have the ideas that would become synkroniciti.
Triangles, magdalen, and Homecoming served as linking material between musical pieces arranged to reveal a desperate love triangle. To me, these poems are like tortured postcards from people who are falling apart. The difficulty was to make them stark and descriptive without being sentimental and avoiding either judgment or excuse. Words skip across the page as if they were cut from a magazine and pasted together, enhancing the feeling that the fabric of human thought has been destroyed and communication lines are fractured. All that is left are snippets of feelings, almost too painful to endure, and lifeless memories.
It has often struck me that those who develop relationships outside of proscribed limits are judged as harshly as murderers and rapists, sometimes even more so. If they inflict pain and damage on themselves and those around them, isn’t that enough without observers adding their disapproval? Some might argue that this disapproval is necessary to keep others from such behavior, but I wonder if it doesn’t just serve to make it more attractive to those who are desperate to rebel. The greatest reason to avoid any risky type of behavior should not be a fear of punishment, but a fear of inflicting pain.
These poems are an attempt to empathize with both the betrayed and the betrayer, realizing that we all carry within us our own breaking point. Perhaps this is the reason for our harshness.
The most famous of vampires is Dracula. Why are we mesmerized by this character created more than a century ago?
We owe our acquaintance with Dracula, a figure who has laced himself through western culture and has been portrayed on film more than Sherlock Holmes, to the mind of Bram Stoker, who wove him from legend and his own imagination with daring skill. Stoker was known during his lifetime chiefly as the personal assistant to actor Henry Irving and the manager of Irving’s theatre, the Lyceum, in London. It is ironic that his name would eclipse that of Irving, only to be overshadowed by his greatest creation, the aristocratic vampire known as Count Dracula.
Origins of a Monster
Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Dracula
Stoker spent seven years researching vampires before writing Dracula, with particular attention to thestrigoi, or undead, of the Balkan peninsula. The strigoi were peasant men and women who came back from the dead to feast upon the blood of their own kin. Although he was excited by the animal ferocity of these creatures, who often transformed themselves into wolves or bats, these folktales were not completely satisfying to Stoker, who wanted to create a character to be played by his own employer, Henry Irving, a regal and noble presence who often played impressive villains onstage. Much to his delight, he ran across the history of a Wallachian prince of Transylvania, now a region of central Romania, renowned for his unspeakable cruelty and bloodlust. This prince was called Vlad Țepeș, the Impaler, after his habit of impaling his enemies on long wooden stakes, but not while he was within earshot. His title was Vlad Dracula, son of the Dragon, after his father who had been knighted into the Order of the Dragon and was thus sworn to keep Christianity safe from the invading Ottoman Turks. In fusing the strigoi with this infamous historical warrior, Stoker produced a menacing and enduring personality who contained both aristocratic and uncivilized elements.
A Shadow of Victorian Values
Christopher Lee as Dracula
Contrary to what we often see in movies, Stoker’s Dracula is not charming and seductive, nor does he seem susceptible to romance. He is a violent and methodical predator who is capable of taking what he requires by overwhelming and out-thinking his victims against their will. Although he cannot enter a home without being invited in, he has, over centuries, amassed techniques for tricking the inhabitants into doing just that. Thus he uses Lucy’s sleepwalking to trap her and his power over the insane Renfield to gain access to Seward’s asylum and his guests. With the exception of a quick glimpse on the street, neither Lucy nor Mina ever meet him in a normal social situation.
If he is not conventionally seductive, why are Dracula’s victims women and why do they end up under his power? Here lies a deep shadow. At the time Stoker wrote Dracula the push for women’s rights and universal suffrage was beginning, hence there are many references to the “new women”, usually spoken by Mina or Lucy in a pejorative fashion that belies considerable fascination. In addition, Sigmund Freud was promoting his ideas about sexuality and the subconscious. Victorian blood was beginning to boil. We see the men in Stoker’s novel trying to protect their women from the vampire while seeking to retain the proper distance and decorum between genders that was required by society. This strategy very nearly gets them all murdered and the ladies turned into immortal killing machines. It is ultimately Mina’s coordination and communication across the gender divide that provides hope for overcoming Dracula, not the overprotective schemes of Van Helsing and his crew, who consistently make quite a mess of things. These men are crippled by their own refusal to see women as complete beings and their idealization of the feminine. Unfortunately, it is usually the women who pay the price for their ignorance.
She is one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist – and that, let me tell you, is much in this age, so sceptical and selfish.
–Professor Van Helsing, speaking of Madam Mina, Chapter 14
The Victorian lady was presented with few options: she could retain an innocent, angelic personality and show childlike devotion to a husband whom she would regard worshipfully without lust, she could become a spinster on the edge of society who would always be dependent on male relatives and regarded with some suspicion, or she could become a lady of ill repute. Female sensuality was taboo and any woman who admitted to enjoying sex, even within the bonds of wedlock, was not considered wholesome or healthy, although mothers were revered. There is a sense in Dracula that, rather than see their women as sexual creatures, these men would see them dead and their bodies desecrated. Are they engaged in battle with a vampire, or are they victim to their own fears and imaginations?
The unfortunate Miss Lucy has three suitors. In her letters to Mina, she expresses dismay at having to choose between them, admitting to having the scandalous thought of marrying all of them. Later, in an attempt to keep her alive, she will receive blood transfusions from each of these suitors, as well as one from old man Van Helsing himself. Is it this underlying sensuality which condemns her, and if so, are the men guiltless in this regard? Perhaps Dracula is terrifying because he lies at the intersection of female sensuality with male aggression.
Dracula in the 21st Century
Dracula takes place in a culture where women are not permitted to make choices vital to their own survival and where they are stigmatized for their natural sexuality. Old habits die hard, because these issues are front page news these days, although women have many more options and a stronger voice than they did in the Victorian era. Maybe we can put a stake through the heart of misogyny some day in the future.
Dracula may seem like your grandfather’s vampire, but there is life in him yet. A foreign invader possessing skill, intelligence, and animal sensuality, he remains a persuasive argument against eternal youth at a time when our culture seems ready to embrace it as a path of little risk. Come to think of it, maybe the vampires of the 21st century are more frightening. Would anyone want to spend eternity as a sparkly teenager?
1936 was a memorable year: Hitler’s Germany hosted the Olympics in Berlin and broke the Treaty of Versailles by stationing troops in Rhineland; Italy occupied Ethiopia; Franco rose to power in Spain; China declared war on Japan; Hoover Dam, then known as Boulder Dam, was finished; The Green Hornet debuted on Detroit radio; Life Magazine was born; Shostakovich finished his Fourth Symphony but was unable to premiere it due to persecution by Stalin; the last Tasmanian Wolf (aka Tasmanian Tiger) died in captivity in Australia; Margaret Mitchell published her book, Gone with the Wind; and the hottest summer on record in the United States created temperatures over 110 degrees Fahrenheit in many states.
That same year, in an attempt to codify the mores of his culture, Hugh Morris penned an illustrated pamphlet entitled The Art of Kissing. Take a look at excerpts in this delightful article from Brain Pickings. Today it seems frightfully chauvinist, blatantly heterosexual and titillatingly prudish. Some may also find it more than a tad hilarious, although the line is narrow between amusement and offense when confronted with such cavalier ignorance (and extremely moldy prose). Treating the whole experience of kissing and courtship rather like a hunting trip in which care must be taken to approach the target properly, The Art of Kissing creates a certain camaraderie among men, but is decidedly unromantic from the female point of view. I’m not sure I would find the “vacuum kiss” appealing, especially described in this manner! Looking back on what seem to be the teen-age years of our culture makes one grateful for the present, despite the struggles that still face us.