Saturday, 9 January 2010

And Now, Some Solipsism...

On this day forty-one years ago, at exactly 6:18 p.m., in the now quasi-defunct Catherine Booth Hospital of Montréal's Notre-Dame-De-Grâce neighbourhood, the author was born. Neither the world, nor the author, would ever be the same.

I suppose I shall need to devote a good portion of my birthday to the task set for me by fellow blogger Catelli, who shall soon be moderating the debate of the century, or of the week, at least (alright, fine: of the day). I've been cajoled into defending the outrageously undemocratic methods by which our heads of state are selected and execute their "functions". I invite readers to submit to me any argumentative strategies that might occur to them in this regard immediately, for, by God, I freely admit I'm fresh out.

Stepping yet another unwilling foot closer to the lonely columbarium that awaits me puts me in mind of endings, again--and compels me to rectify an earlier post, again. The final scene of No Country for Old Men was a poignant surprise for me, as I'm sure it was for many of its viewers--especially those deeply versed in the wry, ironic detachment that defines the Coen brothers' oeuvre and those (like me) who've never been much impressed by Tommy Lee Jones' performances. Here, the Coens drop their hip archness and allow Jones to deliver a heartbreaking soliloquy taken virtually word-for-word from the ending of Cormac McCarthy's novel.

Jones plays the sheriff of a small Texas town that has just begun a descent into unprecedented drug-related violence. The movie chronicles his pursuit of a case that plunges him into America's modern heart of darkness, forcing him to witness both the bloody commission and the ugly aftermath of countless brutal murders. Ultimately, he must abandon the case unsolved, sadly admitting that small-town lawmen like him have become outgunned and outclassed: they know only how to proceed according to the rules in a land that no longer acknowledges or respects them.

In the final scene, the sullen, defeated Jones tells his wife about a dream he just had about his dead father, who also had served the county as a sheriff back in the old, peaceful days. This brief but rich sequence explores Jones' deep need to get back in touch with the safety, warmth and stability represented by his father (and, of course, his symbolic cognates--the Father, Law, Order), as well as the current futility of that need-- for Jones, naturally, must wake up to the chaos of his waking present. Peace lies only where his father has found it; this is the painful truth Jones has learned, after having waded through the ruins of his wrecked world.

As someone whose entire childhood emotional investment lay in a dead but much beloved father, I totally relate to Jones' longing dream. I suppose, too, I relate to his despair over a lost order--a mythical order to be sure, but all the more compellingly beautiful for that. I relate most strongly to Jones' apparent feeling that the mere telling of the dream brings order, just for a few minutes, to the very chaos from which the dream briefly helped him escape.


23 comments:

Ti-Guy said...

As someone whose entire childhood emotional investment lay in a dead but much beloved father,

I'm so sorry to hear this. As someone who experienced a good part of his life in a difficult relationship with an impressive but complicated father I never understood, a relationship that healed only with the untimely death of my brother 15 years ago and with a mother whose own mother died when she was 12 (and left her vulnerable in ways I couldn't begin to describe here), I have a soft spot for adult children who never got the chance to experience both their parents as they moved through the stages of life that we end up facing ourselves and just want their children to understand, when they leave us, that they, in the end, are and were, just like us. The experiences of empathy, tolerance and forgiveness constitute the wisdom I hope to pass on to my own children.

I invite readers to submit to me any argumentative strategies that might occur to them in this regard immediately, for, by God, I freely admit I'm fresh out.

I'm fresh out. The alternatives don't work either, so I'll have to think about it.

Ti-Guy said...

And...Gawd, where are my manners?..., Happy Birthday, Sir Francis.

Sir Francis said...

Thanks for the thoughts and the good wishes, Ti.

theo said...

January the ninth - a fine day, Sir Francis, to be born. My oldest grandson, Elias, reached the august heights of two years this day. His mother, Ingrid, told me Eli would be enjoying the companionship of eleven similar aged souls in a ritual of birthday revelry. I would quake being charged with such responsibility but I have seen Ingrid in action. She’s a pro and always has backup. :) Happy birthday, Sir Francis. I hope it is pleasant and memorable.

Sir Francis said...

January the ninth - a fine day, Sir Francis, to be born.

Well, it's certainly an interesting day to be born: Jimmy Page, Simone de Beauvoir, Joan Baez, Richard Nixon[!]--quite the eclectic club I’m in.

Ti-Guy said...

Thanks for the thoughts and the good wishes,

And thanks for not pointing out that horrible run-on sentence I began that first comment with.

I hope you understood it; it's the most personal thing I've said over teh Internets.

Sir Francis said...

Ti:

I think I understood it.

I would have loved to have had a healthy relationship with both my parents, but that just didn't happen.

An anecdote. My oldest brother died in a car crash when he was twenty-three and I was four. I immediately began having night-terrors that kept me awake until near dawn and would often send me screaming all through the house. The only way I could sleep was to take my blankets and lie right in front of my parents' bedroom door, which my mother always insisted be kept closed so that I couldn't run in. Whenever my mother heard me approach, she would open the door, drag me back to my room in disgust and order me to stay put. I would just spend the night stark awake, crying and cringing in a corner.

My father was a kind and gentle man who usually deferred to my mother in order to keep peace in the house. One night, though, unwilling to watch any more of my mother's "tough-love" nonsense, he did something magically simple: he kept their bedroom door open. Why? Because he'd been a heavy smoker for four decades, and his breathing was laboured and loud. He knew that the sound of his breathing would carry into my room, provide a calming presence for me, and send me to sleep. It worked like a charm. I slept like a baby until the night-terrors ceased, a few months later.

That's the kind of father he was.

Jack Mitchell said...

Many happy returns, Sir F. Very pleased to learn that you are not even half way through this vale of tears. Merely a year (less?) of following your blog has much boosted my spirits; 9 January shall be a special day for me henceforth.

I invite readers to submit to me any argumentative strategies that might occur to them in this regard immediately, for, by God, I freely admit I'm fresh out.

Dunno what your stock, now exhausted, of arguments has been, but the clincher for me is that it's arbitrary (or, for the GG, seemingly random). The man or woman is nothing; the office is everything. The only qualification is that one should have good manners. There should thus (theoretically) be no motive for office-holder to arrogate power unto themselves, since the office-holder is entirely subsumed in the office. Such an arrangement is the only way to endow Parliament with supremacy while having a Head of State at all. Parliamentary supremacy is thus predicated on the arbitrary selection of a head to wear the Crown.

Ti-Guy said...

I'm sorry to hear that. I could always run into my parents' bed when I needed to. My sisters and I still talk about my dad's tobacco and my mother's White Shoulders perfume, scents we were overwhelmed with as children when we slept with them.

I can't understand a culture that doesn't shelter children from fear.

Sir Francis said...

9 January shall be a special day for me henceforth.

What a delightful and humbling thing for me to hear. Thanks for that.

Parliamentary supremacy is thus predicated on the arbitrary selection of a head to wear the Crown.

Hmm. I've got a take on that "arbitrariness" theme which I've been meaning to explore in written form for some time. I may or may not have the time and energy to include it in what I present on Monday.

Sir Francis said...

I can't understand a culture that doesn't shelter children from fear.

Then you don't understand the dour, unforgiving Anglo-Scots culture that built English Canada. ;)

For my mother's people--Edwardian Cockneys, mostly—it was a sacred duty to keep a child afraid, and keep him in the certain knowledge of his unadulterated uselessness and worthlessness. Anything else, they thought, would spoil him.

Catelli said...

Happy Birthday Sir!

Let me just say that you sound wiser than your years. (In my mind I had you pegged as older). Though why 41 would seem too young for wisdom, culture and literacy is a question I do not wish to investigate too thoroughly. I already know the answer will hit too close to home.

Now stop talking and get to work! ;)

Ti-Guy said...

Then you don't understand the dour, unforgiving Anglo-Scots culture that built English Canada. ;)

Oh, *pshaw*. Of course we do. These are the people who force the rest of us to clown around in front of to coax a smile out of, every once and a while.

...;)

liberal supporter said...

Happy birthday yesterday, SF!

jkg said...

Happy Birthday Sir Francis!

As a humble scatterbrained dabbler in your blog, I enjoy the variety of your posts. I suppose that in post-modern times, they call that lateral thinking? In any event, I do wish you another great year of sophisticated style and prose, elements lost on communication and often derided due to the stark streak of anti-intellectualism experienced today.

In my upbringing, my family was as nuclear as nuclear can get, though my parents came from very different backgrounds: My father was a staunch and merciless Methodist (not practicing anymore) and rigid technocrat often assessing family relationships on the ledger while my mother is a staunch Irish Catholic. Given that I have 4 siblings, the disconnect I experience came about almost as an emergent property. I eventually discovered that the order and stability they tried to provide even emotionally proved to be more technical and dogmatic and thus illusory as it aimed more the preservation of the status quo. Interestingly, this revelation only came once my siblings aged beyond university.

As for suggestions, I don't hide the fact that I find direct democracy suspicious more so because it enables the expansion and reach of partisan politic influence. This republican movement has co-opted some of the language of the direct democracy movement, but the self examination necessary to assess the negative outcomes is lost. I would submit that further politicization via adopting more direct democracy serves to only exacerbate the original criticism: That there are too many partisan self-serving politicians. I would find it hard to believe that elected GGs would come from a position less motivated by special interest and influenced by special interest groups. I would find that the elected GG would solve nothing and add an ancillary benefit to the already bloated Executive power.

That's all I got right now, sorry.

Peter Burnet said...

Happy Birthday, from one Catherine Booth alumnus to another.

Coaching you on the monarchy and the royal preogative is a bit like coaching Acquinas on the catechism, but one theme you might ponder is that it's not terribly wise to design a constitution with checking one politician in mind. The demonization of Harper has become so fevered in progressive circles that the thirst for his downfall is beginning to resemble a secular version of the Rapture. In fact, I am really struck by how so much modern debate on the constitution seems be centered on limiting or thwarting government, certainly not the perspective of the left in its heyday of the 30's to the 50's when they were down on the Privy Council, the Senate, and leery of anything that would fetter government such as a Charter of Rights. There was work to do. Today's Canadian lives in an era where the focus of constitutional "creativity" seems to be all about stopping Ottawa. The Charter, an elected Senate, independant M.P.s, proportional representation and now a revived perogative with a democratic mandate--all designed to stop or slow down the federal government in some way. I'm a decentralist, particularly on resource and cultural issues, but even so, I'm beginning to wonder whether we're on a lemming-like path to gridlock.

And I repeat, the man has a minority government. He may have side-stepped a non-con vote last fall, but those were unusal circumstances and I really can't believe anyone thinks he could do so repeatedly. Harper's arrogance about Parliament (hardly original) is matched by the Opposition's rather transparent efforts to avoid an election at all costs or explain to Canadians what they would do with the power they lust for, not the most noble cause for Her Majesty to associate herself with.

Sir Francis said...

...from one Catherine Booth alumnus to another.

Heh. When I was in Kindergarten, our teacher gave us an interesting assignment: she wanted us to find out the hospital of our birth and report it to the class. When my turn came, I got up and announced that I had been born in a telephone booth. The teacher found it so hilarious, she actually called my mother to laugh over it with her.

I find it sad that the place seems to be going downhill. Of course, what in Montréal isn’t going downhill these days?

Ti-Guy said...

The demonization of Harper has become so fevered in progressive circles that the thirst for his downfall is beginning to resemble a secular version of the Rapture.

This is your standard response to anyone who's not exactly thrilled with these proto-fascists. You spouted that tiresome twaddle all over Red Tory's blog in the Fall of 2008 with respect to Sarah Palin.

Get some new material or maybe see someone about your Aspergers.

SeanStok said...

Happy Birthday, SF!!! You bring a lot of happiness and enlightenment to this reader - I thank you for that.

I suspect your well of strategy is as deep as they come - you'll do fine. Think a bit about legitimacy in the broadest sense, and how convention and mutual understandings will always play a role in society/politics - not everything can be settled by a show of hands. Also, there's the whole 'best of a bad lot of options' line to consider - we need only reflect upon our southern neighbours electing everything from judges to dog catchers to municipal virginity testers (I may have made that last one up...). Politics aren't always best served by politicizing things, if that makes any sense.

Anyway, I doubt any of that is helpful, so let me just wish you a great year.

(p.s.: it's only about six weeks until my forty-first! I guess we're fellow roosters, by calendar year reckoning at any rate...)

Sir Francis said...

Sean:

Thanks for the New Year's wishes, and a (dreadfully premature) Happy Birthday to you, too!

Ryan said...

"I relate most strongly to Jones' apparent feeling that the mere telling of the dream brings order, just for a few minutes, to the very chaos from which the dream briefly helped him escape."

I didn't know you did theology over here :)

Sir Francis said...

Ryan:

Just because we're profane doesn't mean we don't do theology. It just means we're Catholic. ;)

Ryan said...

The phrase reminds me of something I read

"All we have left is our imagination. And ours is bigger than theirs."