Monday, 30 November 2009


The yearly crawl into the shadows of the winter solstice should be a sort of annual homecoming for me, for I am a winter child. I've always believed that those of us thrust into the world in the month ruled by Janus breathe into our very souls the season's privations, its thin air, its pale sunlight and its haunted silences. Perhaps this is what gives Capricorn the arid, passionless stolidity for which it is notorious. Perhaps this is also why Capricorn is said, in esoteric astrology, to be the most worldly and resilient of creatures, for the world at its coldest and most unforgiving was his first cradle, and he was nursed on long nights. Sacrifice is his godmother.

I have never strayed very far from the psychic precincts of my Janus birth; my mind is solstitial year-long, and I've been cursed with New Year's ambivalence all my life. My utopia has always been the immeasurable edge where endings and beginnings meet, where is hosted the mysterious, transcendent flowering of the new--a new made beautiful by the heavy scent of the decay it conquers. The scandal of life and death coexisting in a single moment is seductive, because it should not be--it cannot be. It is miraculous. J.R.R Tolkien called this a "eucatastrophe".

As I child, I loved to read of fallen empires and civilisations, little knowing that I would live to see my own civilisation self-administer the rites of winter. In those woeful stories, I saw a beauty that the victims of the disasters I was living vicariously could not have seen--that the Dark Ages would lighten, that the hieroglyphs would one day give up their secrets, that thousand-year tyrannies would be overthrown, that the darkness is always inside a chrysalis.

It is probably the disposition due to my love of endings and my certainty that they are seeds and not finalities that allows me to remain in profound inner communion with my own apparently vanishing culture. That communion I take so unquestionably for granted that it passes unnoticed throughout the year until it begins to knock slowly and gently at the heart as the shadows lengthen, turn, and stretch towards the Incarnation and the Passion that is its terrifyingly gorgeous after-carol.

In honour of fatally beautiful endings as we enter the season of endings, I present to you two beautifully sad filmic endings. I'm one of those odd, very odd, people who will sit through a movie, no matter how long, just to experience a breath-taking ending. There's something about such a consummation that makes me want to dwell in it, and it is precisely its refusal to be domesticated, its power to overrun me at every viewing, that perpetually renews my devotion to it.

The first is from the film version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Tomas and Tereza are driving away from a Czechoslovakian inn the morning after a party, finally happy with each other after years of marital discord. An emigrée friend of theirs living in California learns of their fate from a letter sent afterwards.

I saw this movie when it came out--a very strange choice for a nineteen-year-old boy (but I was a very strange nineteen-year-old boy). There weren't more than a dozen people in the theatre with me. When the house lights came up, we were all still in our seats, stunned, as if we'd been drained of blood. That was a superb feeling.

The second clip is from Terrence Malick's The New World, basically a re-telling of the Pocahontas story (for grown-ups). Malick turns her death into a magnificently elegiac summons to re-birth, one driven by Malick's brilliant use of Wagner's dizzying "Vorspiel" from Das Rheingold, creating a cathedral of sound. The truly captivating part, though, is the final silence--which really isn't one.


Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Mélange Adultère: Part Five

File It Under "Disingenuous":

While we wait for Fidel Castro to preside over the opening ceremonies of San Francisco's Gay Pride Parade, let us enjoy the ironic splendour of Stephen Harper's recent laudations in honour of press freedom. No, really--this actually happened.

Harper's eerily dissociative comments at the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada were recorded thusly:

In prepared remarks to be delivered to the event in Markham, [Harper] said freedom for Canadians goes hand-in-hand with journalistic freedom.

He said the liberty of Canadians is strengthened when journalists are free to pursue the truth, "shine light into dark corners" and help hold governments accountable.

Naturally, Harper would not take questions--from journalists--during or after the event (Canada's not that free). This was fortunate, as Harper's fatuous ad populum, boiler-plate drivel was allowed to stand undisturbed by awkward queries concerning, among other things, precisely what aspect of press freedom a prime minister is defending when he uses the power of his office to launch a vicious and unprecedented smear campaign against a journalist (using charges later totally discredited by his own expert) in the course of waging a desperate paranoia-fuelled partisan war to suppress the adverse effects of well-founded bribery

Less fortunately, Harper denied himself the opportunity to thank the media for never having been too interested in the question of just what he meant by "financial considerations". Oh, well--perhaps next year.

Stephen Harper: Still Widely Loathed After All These Years

Now we hear that the CPC is sitting at 36.6% support nationwide. Adjust this percentage for the size of the sample and the typical number of eligible electors who routinely bother to vote, and you'll end up with a core base of Harperoid support roughly equal to the number of Canadians who think Elvis is still alive.

It must be depressing to have methodically violated each one of your principles, shredded every last vestige of your dignity, executed every conceivable act of political defalcation, pandered--on bended, rug-burned knees--to every key ethnic, regional, and ideological special interest, and still be forced to rise dejectedly from your sweat-drenched carpet with 36.6 measly per fucking cent. It must be enraging. It might even be enough to make Harper suspect that Canadians hate him as much as he hates them (as if that's even possible). Really--what will Harper have to do to push himself into majority territory? He's already degenerated into a cheap song-and-dance man--literally.

I fear that his advisors may soon press him to adopt extreme measures. I'm not at all prepared to discount the possibility that we shall see Harper strip down to his boxers, slather his Falstaffian gut in canola oil and perform a pole dance to "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" on The O'Reilly Factor if he doesn't see his numbers go up, way up, by Christmas.

So for God's sake--if you ever get a phone call from a polling company, please express total, undiluted support for the CPC. We need to give the party a false sense of security (the higher their numbers, the quicker they'll dissolve the House), and, more importantly, we need to keep Harper's clothes on. Think of the children, people.

Unhappy Anniversary!

In a few months, we shall have had four years of minority CPC ministries. I wonder if those legions of committed Harperoids who expatiate endlessly on the chess-masterly brilliance of their leader and the unprecedented productivity of his reign are really prepared to set his "accomplishments" against those of other minority governments. I think they're not, actually--so I shall do it for them.

Let us list what Mike Pearson managed to accomplish during four years of his five-year premiership:

* the establishment of universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, and the federal student loan program;

* the adoption of the Maple Leaf as our official flag;

* the institution of the 40-hour work week and a minimum wage;

* the unification of the Canadian Armed Forces;

* the negotiation and ratification of the Auto Pact;

* the total overhaul of our immigration system, including the elimination of racial criteria and the adoption of the points system we use today;

* the supervision of Canada's massive Centennial celebrations;

* the re-establishment of cordial relations with America whilst taking a public stand against the Vietnam War.

That's what four years looked like to Canadians during the Pearson era. Look at that list: there's hardly an item that does not describe a colossal event--each one brought about by a minority government that faced in John Diefenbaker's Tories arguably the bitterest, most implacably obstructionist Opposition a Canadian government has ever encountered. Amazing. And Pearson pulled it off without once feeling the need to perform amateur cabarets whilst shrine-hopping on Club-Med-like Indian "trade missions".

Now, here is Harper's four-year legacy:

* a fixed-date election "law" he's already broken;

* a so-called Accountability Act whose main provisions remain unfulfilled;

* free trade with Columbia.

That's the lot. That's what Stephen Harper has to show for four years of facing the most pathetically invertebrate Opposition and the most thoroughly demoralised Liberal Party in our post-BNA history. That's the evidence, we are told, of the man's consummate political acumen.

There's no need to await the official conclusion of Stephen Harper's tenure. The trophy for the most negligible prime ministership since Sir John Abbott's has been awarded. There was no serious competition.