Sunday, April 25, 2010

Drama King

King for a day!

So, I have this ghost story on my mind (I'm supposed to read it publicly tomorrow evening), boxed like a rose between these two thorny films, each of which proposes somehow to mark the beginnings of our modern history. The tales are each subject to endless interpretation and re-interpretation, foregrounding love or duty or what you will.

One is the story of China's unification under the first emperor of the Qin dynasty; China's first proper dynasty. I loved the movie Hero, testing out various narrative possibilities about what really happened to stay the assassin's sword. In that film, the Emperor is hero more than tyrant, having to shoulder the burden and deny himself for the sake of history.

More recently, I saw The Emperor and the Assassin, which focuses just a little bit more on the love story. The Emperor and his lover both might have longed for the days of their youth, when, without means for clothing or food, they at least shared honest love. Now the Emperor was in charge of killing hoards of people who had offended his office if not himself. All sorts of effrontery against the noble and historically necessary cause to unify "all under heaven."

The other story is of Tristan and Isolde, recently (well, by my timeline) made into a movie itself. It's almost spooky how similar these plot lines are; Tristan and Isolde are actually presented with the possibility for escape and must relinquish it, against the thrall of history. It's the same story in its way, but this time instead of 'all under heaven,' it's the warring tribes of England which must learn to work together under a single King.

(I'm still in the middle of V. for Vendetta, a kind of re-enlivening of the Guy Fawkes day tale, a hoiliday the students used to celebrate at that private school I nearly didn't endure for the year I worked there - the kids being that much more clever than the teachers to understand the symbolism of "tear down these walls.")

Then there is the ghost story, a tale I once translated from the Chinese of a time to parallel the so-called dark ages brought to life in that film version of Tristan and Isolde. The ghost story rehearses the power of love to bring back the ghost of a former lover from beyond the pale of death. This theme also saturates East and West.

It is my burden, right, to disentangle these traditions, hopefully in time to avert the seeming inevitable contest between, say, China and the U.S. as we butt heads over important things like freedom of speech and intellectual property law. But sometimes I wonder where's the difference among all this apparent similarity?

Well, for starters, the Chinese story depicted in the films I watched is purported to be actual history. It was written down as such, even though all scholars recognize the tension between narrative requirements and historical facticity. I guess academic historians these days discount quite out of hand even the radical possibility of truing to fact as regards our narratives of history. I think that's part of what post-modern means.

The story of Tristan and Isolde is regarded as outright legend, although you'd think, being that much more recent, that something about its "truth" might be discoverable. Have there never been any Kings in love? Henry?

One question which might get begged is what is the relative valence, East to West, of what it is we wish to regard as fiction, and what fact. It has long since become cliché that the West is obsessed with romance, while the East is, by comparison, practical. Here in the West, we need our beginnings and endings, and remedy eternity with the pleasant fiction of  "ever after" in story and in religulous belief.

Where China cycles, and the East more generally accepts the idea that personalities and types and narratives just keep coming back around; the reuniting of ghost with lover neither more of tragedy or comedy, but a kind of exquisite blending of both.

How many movies lately play with these themes; moving time backwards, letting go from beyond the grave, truest love existing beyond the bonds of marriage, duty, honor, whatever it is, right on up to Jesus himself, which must keep a person from his personal right, in the face of duty to all humanity. This tension seems universal.

No wonder we are so scandalized when our leaders betray true love. We are the ones who must turn it into lust, the way of all flesh, corrupted, scandalized, for the worms. They are allowed only our idealized version, and should know that true love is allowed only to Hollywood stars. Over and over and over again, until they get it right and then we'll elect them back into office, whee!!!

(Hmmmm, I wonder why Spitzer hasn't been talking to Hollywood. I think Palin may be onto something here)

So, I write, trying to evacuate each little blog snippet from any particular narrative trajectory, so that I can look back someday and find the one for my real life. Where will I end up? On the road? In Seattle? Duty bound to my own future? To that of all mankind? Although it seems clear now that I won't live to see the difference unless we really get a move on. I think I won't shut up yet. Well, I've made those kinds of lies before, in all sorts of different directions, so don't hold your breath. Damn, I think I got it backwards again, now who's Puck and who's Bottom?

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