Saturday, March 29

Why Dr. Rieux is a Better Narrator Than Zorba’s Boss
Albert Camus’s The Plague and Nikos Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek are each told by a narrator who is a character in the story. I will argue that the narrator of The Plague does his job more effectively than the narrator of Zorba the Greek because Camus’s narrator has more valid reasons for writing his chronicle and is better at persuading me to read his tale than Kazantzakis’s narrator. I will use as my evidence the fact that the serious manner and historical aim of Camus’s narrator imbues his tale with a universal importance, thus compelling the reader to continue reading, whereas Kazantzakis’s narrator’s personal motivations do little to persuade the reader that his tale is of importance to anyone other than himself. I will also discuss the fact that the professional air of Camus’s narrator garners more respect for him as a storyteller than Kazantzakis’s narrator, who seems to have little respect for himself or his craft.
One of the most important questions one must ask when considering the narrators of The Plague and Zorba the Greek is whether it is easier to sympathize with the third-person distance of Dr. Rieux or the first-person immediacy of Zorba’s boss. The objective detachment of Dr. Rieux is colder and more impersonal than the impassioned storytelling of Kazantzakis’s narrator, but I find I’m more willing to listen to Camus’s narrator due to his clinical approach. Dr. Rieux’s clinical detachment comes from the fact that he wants to portray the “grave events” of his tale accurately and objectively, but also because he’s not seeking any glory for writing them down. On page six he says “[a narrator’s] business is only to say: ‘This is what happened’” and that “the narrator...would have little claim to competence for a task like this, had not chance put him in the way of gathering much information, and had he not been, by the force of things, closely involved in all that he proposes to narrate.” He also feels he needs to give “justification” for writing his story down. He goes about storytelling like a very professional news reporter who hones his work to give an accurate portrayal of events, similar to the way his friend Grand agonizes over writing one phrase. I see Rieux’s wish for accuracy reflected in Grand’s feverish editing, and his precise “just the facts” style of reporting represented in Grand’s statement that he has finally “cut out all the adjectives” (306). By contrast, Kazantzakis’s narrator describes his goals and reasons for writing as personal ones, “I had, without knowing how, engraved on my mind the double task I had to accomplish on this shore: Escape from Buddha, rid myself by words of all my metaphysical cares and free my mind from vain anxiety” (55). Like Rieux, Zorba’s boss sees writing as an important undertaking, but he does not have any “grave events” or ideas of important historical magnitude to convey to the reader. Why should the reader care that he needs to, as he says, “[m]ake direct and firm contact with men?”
At the beginning of The Plague, the as-yet-unrevealed Dr. Rieux gives very compelling reasons for why he wants to tell the story of Oran’s plague, the chief reason being “that it actually did happen, that it closely affected the life of a whole populace,” and that he wants to “play[...] the part of a historian” for these events (6). Describing his story as true and serious convinces me that it’s information I need to know and that I should keep reading. In contrast, the narrator of Zorba the Greek doesn’t give any reason why his story is important other than to say that Zorba helps him to understand “[t]he meaning of the words, art, love, beauty, purity, passion” and that because of this, “Zorba [i]s the man I ha[ve] sought so long in vain” (12). This statement lets the reader know why Zorba is important to the narrator, but it doesn’t make a convincing argument for me to read the narrator’s story about Zorba.
I also respect Dr. Rieux more as a narrator because the seriousness and professionalism discussed above show that he treats himself and his writing with respect, while Kazantzakis’s narrator doesn’t respect himself much and allows his friend to make fun of him for being a writer, or “bookworm.” On page five of Zorba the Greek, the narrator describes his “great friend” Stavridaki with all the tenderness of a lover: “I gazed at him intently for a long time...I wished to make a mental note of his features...his bluish-green, luminous eyes...youthful face...intelligent and disdainful expression...his aristocratic hands with their long, slender fingers.” Immediately thereafter, the beloved Stavridaki mocks the narrator, asking him “how long are you going on chewing paper and covering yourself with ink?...Au revoir, bookworm!” From this point on the narrator internalizes his friend’s mocking attitude, referring to himself as a “barbarian” compared to Stavridaki, “the intelligent, ironical, civilized man.” He goes on to describe his embarrassment at feeling upset over parting with his friend, who attempts to shame the narrator about showing his feelings, “[h]e looked at me, astonished. ‘Are you so moved?’” A short time later, the narrator makes clear the extent to which his friend’s words have affected him: “If only I could live again the moment of that anger which surged up in me when my friend called me a bookworm! I recalled then that all my disgust at the life I had been leading was personified in those words” (8). This man obviously does not have confidence in himself or his convictions if his friend can so easily make him feel bad about the life he’s chosen to lead. It’s also somewhat ironic that he’s just referred to his friend as an “intellectual” but beats up on himself for living the life of an intellectual.
The above-mentioned factors lead me to believe that Kazantzakis’s narrator is a hypocrite who is full of self-loathing, so I don’t see why I should read the story he’s telling if he hates himself for the very act of writing it. Stavridaki as much as calls him a hypocrite for not joining him in the Caucasus: “‘Don’t you preach: “The only way to save yourself is to endeavor to save others?”. . .Well, forward, master. You’re good at preaching.’” The narrator next admits his cowardice, “I was listening, passively, as if pain was a dream and life some absorbing tragedy, in which nobody but a boor or a simpleton would rush onto the stage and take part in the action” (5). He is too conflicted; he’s writing a story but hates himself for writing rather than having the guts to help his countrymen in the Caucasus. What would Rieux say to this? He tells Tarrou on page 126 of The Plague “when you see the misery it brings, you’d need to be a madman, or a coward, or stone blind, to give in tamely to the plague.” Rieux compares plague to war on page 37, and when I consider this, I cannot see Kazantzakis’s narrator as anything but a coward in comparison to Rieux, who ends his tale by saying that he “resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague-stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure” (308). Perhaps if the narrator of Zorba the Greek were less of a coward, he would join his friend in the Caucasus and write about those events, which would certainly be of more historical significance than his own personal tale.
In conclusion, I feel that The Plague’s Dr. Rieux is a more professional and critical thinker in the way he approaches his writing than Kazantzakis’s narrator. Dr. Rieux makes me believe it’s essential that I read his tale because of its historical importance, while Zorba’s boss tells me he is writing for personal reasons that have meaning only for him. Most importantly, I cannot respect Kazantzakis’s narrator because when I compare him to Camus’s Dr. Rieux, he appears to be a coward with little self-respect.

Friday, March 21

I’m going to warn you right now that this is the point in the semester at which all of my research projects begin to meld together in my head and take over everything that I do, so from now on you will probably be hearing a lot about The Master and Margarita, Sergio Leone films, Frankenstein, and M.G. Lewis’s The Monk. Or not. Just know that if I ever for any reason start quoting Nietzsche, it means I have lost my mind.

One thing that really strikes me as a contrast to American ideology in Zorba the Greek is the scene on page 302 where Zorba reenacts for the narrator how his father quit smoking: “‘he...pulled out his pouch and tore it to shreds with his teeth, then stamped it in the ground and spat on it. “Filth! Filth!” he bellowed. “Dirty slut!”...That’s the way real men behave, boss.’” This is the way “real men” behave? I’ve been reading Lee Clark Mitchell’s Westerns: Making the Man in Fiction and Film, and in it he talks about how to Americans Clint Eastwood embodies a “real man” because he does everything with so much “restraint.” Mitchell even compares him to an automaton or a zombie. I immediately thought of this idea when I read this part of Zorba, because, while I agree that a “real man” might just quit smoking cold turkey like Zorba’s father, I find his method to be absolutely childish. And does he have to call it a “Dirty slut?” Of course he does. The smoking makes Zorba’s father more of a “real man” until he becomes disgusted with it; then, he must feminize it to properly show his disgust and to distance himself from it. (Another thing I remember about Aristotle is that part of the Model of Contagious Intoxication involved inculcating his students with a fear of lust for the female body. This theme is so much a part of Zorba the Greek that I think the full title of the book should be Zorba the Greek: A Story of Platonic Love.)

Anyway, this whole scene underscores the fact that Zorba represents all kinds of grand passions and that he’s larger than life, like a Greek god—his father was even bigger, even more larger-than-life. It makes one take note of the differences between the passionate and the rational. The narrator represents the rational, and I find myself disappointed in him after he gets Zorba’s telegram about the beautiful green rock and reacts by writing a letter to Zorba in “the moderating, cold, human voice of logic” (306). I find it interesting that we don’t get to see the letter. I am curious to see what it says. I also find it interesting that the narrator blames his cold, rational behavior on the German depression. That’s not really what his problem is here; this is just his true nature returning to him. He is kind of like an automaton, or a “pen-pusher” as Zorba calls him. I wonder if Greeks think Americans are all automatons (I wonder if they see Germans as automatons, since the narrator is in Germany when he acts this way. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard that)? Do Italians, since an Italian made the films in which Clint Eastwood so famously behaves like an automaton? I don’t really care; it’s just one of those inane questions I contemplate after I’ve had too much coffee. The thing is, in the spring, I have irrational hyperbolic reactions to everything, sort of like Zorba. Books, films, songs are all THE BEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN/HEARD!!!! This is the only time I feel like this, and I always identify more with the restraint model than the Zorba model. This has nothing to do with anything, but I think Russian writers find the best balance between the passionate and rational temperaments.

I find end of Zorba kind of frustrating. Lauren Bailey was talking about this book in my Food and Lit class (the one where I’m writing about Bulgakov), and she was talking about catharsis. This book has so many cathartic moments, like the singing girl on page 293, “All at once he leaped up and caught her by the foot, gripping it fiercely. She burst into tears as if only waiting for this brutal gesture to relieve her feelings.” I felt denied when I read about Zorba dying. I thought it would make me cry, but it didn’t. I don’t know if it is tempered by the cold tone of the schoolmaster’s letter or the ridiculous image of Zorba jumping out of bed and dying while looking out the window. The part about the santuri is sweet, but it didn’t make me cry. I cried at the end of The Master and Margarita when Pilate walked away with Yeshua and Banga, and the Pilate plotline was the least interesting to me. I cried when Jim Burden met the 45-year-old “flat-chested” gray-haired Ántonia in My Ántonia. (And I know I’m supposed to talk about literature in the present tense, but I can’t use past and present tense in the same sentence. It makes me crazy.) I find the end of Zorba the Greek kind of conflicted. I think the rationality of the narrator overrides any sense of catharsis because he doesn’t have Zorba there to help him out by dancing or something.

Wednesday, March 19

Zorba's Contagious Intoxication

There are ideas in Zorba the Greek that remind me of my good old History of Literary Criticism class. I looked up the journal I had to turn in to Dr. Simon when I took his class and looked up some of my notes on Aristotle. Aristotle compares being inspired with being inebriated and he talks about how art comes from artifice, which is a copy of something else and is therefore not real. He defines divine inspiration as the “Model of Contagious Intoxication,” in which the Muse possesses the artist with divine inspiration, the artist creates an earthly representation of divine energies called art, and the audience is inspired by interacting with the divine energies represented in the art.

Zorba is the Muse, and his link with the divine can be seen in several ways. For one thing, Zorba is often actually intoxicated, and his intoxication is contagious because he talks the narrator into getting intoxicated with him. Zorba is like the narrator’s other muse, Buddha, because “[l]ike the child, he sees everything for the first time” (151); if I remember Siddhartha correctly, Buddha, Siddhartha and Vasudeva all talk about looking at things and interacting with the world like a child. Because Zorba looks at everything like a child, it means that, in a way, everything intoxicates him, like on page 136 when he says, “Boss, did you see that?...On slopes, stones come to life again.” This, in turn, intoxicates the narrator, who feels “a deep joy;” he is the audience to whom the divine energy has been transformed into inspiration, and he’s inspired to write about his muse Zorba.

Zorba has been so effective at passing down divine inspiration to the narrator that the narrator can’t even read other poetry, because in comparison to what Zorba teaches him, it has become “bloodless, odorless, void of any human substance” (133). Zorba’s position as Muse is highlighted when he tells his story to the narrator about “how God made man” because as Zorba says, “I was [there]!” (152-3). Zorba himself behaves as though he’s possessed by the Muse when he plays his santuri just before he tells this story; first he is divinely inspired and plays the santuri, and then he tells the narrator about God creating man. He is the “Model of Contagious Intoxication.”

Obviously, Zorba is the Muse for the narrator of this story, otherwise the narrator would not have called his book Zorba the Greek, he would have called it Buddha, as he originally intended. Zorba is slowly replacing the narrator’s original muse, Buddha, but I don’t understand if the narrator is fully aware of it yet. At the end of this section, he says that Zorba “has given a warm, beloved, living body to all the abstract ideas which were shivering inside me” (154). Then on the next page, he says, “[t]he exorcism of Buddha was flowing without hindrance onto the paper” (155). I don’t understand why he’s still wrestling with his ideas about Buddha when it’s obvious that Zorba is more inspiring to him than Buddha. I suppose it won’t come until the end of the book that the narrator will have an epiphany wherein he realizes that Zorba does not help him to write about Buddha, he is actually the idea the narrator wants to write about instead of Buddha. Which leads me to ask, was this written as a reaction to Siddhartha?

Wednesday, March 12

Of Petulant Heroes and Flatulent Villains

I didn’t know much about Like Water for Chocolate before I started reading, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it belongs to the genre of magical realism. I’d always been under the impression that it was a much more serious book. It reads as a fable, which is why I think some characters don’t get very much development. I find this especially true in the case of Pedro. The most we ever find out about him is that he loves Tita, lusts after Tita, and that he often becomes aroused by her food and by the act of her cooking. When he declares he will “smash [John Brown’s] face in,” he just seems like a stereotypical hot-blooded Latin man (231). This comes in the last chapter, after 22 years have passed, and it just makes me want to tell Pedro to grow up. I know being hot-blooded is part of his character, and he represents a traditional archetype, but we get no background for him though we get the backgrounds of most of the other characters. To me he seems petulant and whiny, like on page 211 when he reproaches Tita: “You don’t want to talk to John because you’re starting to have doubts about whether to stay with me or marry him, right? You aren’t tied to me anymore, a poor sick man.” He’s not very understanding; I don’t think he’s quite good enough for Tita. I don’t really understand why she loves him so much, other than that he has some stereotypical masculine qualities like jealousy and lustfulness, and that he makes her feel “how dough feels when it is plunged into boiling oil” (16).

I suppose part of what brings Tita and Pedro together is the fact that he understands how important cooking is to her. In contrast, Esquivel sets her antagonists apart from Tita by the negative ways they interact with food and cooking. Mama Elena can “crack sack after sack of nuts in a short time; she seem[s] to take great pleasure in doing it. Applying pressure, smashing to bits, skinning, those [a]re among her favorite activities” (230). This is a perfect metaphor for Mama Elena’s personality. After she is crippled, Tita’s carefully prepared food tastes bitter to Mama Elena because she herself is bitter, she doesn’t appreciate Tita’s efforts to comfort her, and because she has turned off her ability to love. She sees Tita’s making food for her as an act of pity, and pity is a bitter pill for her to swallow. Rosaura’s fear of the kitchen and fear of adventurous foods is representative of her fear of life. She is boring. She cares so much about what other people think of her that she has no real personality, only bitterness. This is why she has no milk and her son later dies from eating “something that [does]n’t agree with him” (99); she can’t provide nourishment to others because she only cares about herself and her image. This is what I think leads to her unfortunate and amusing demise. Rosaura is full of herself and her image-conscious ways, which is mainly hot air, and it expresses itself as flatulence. Rosaura is also quite rotten, and rotting things give off gas. As for her actual death, I think Nacha may have something to do with it, but we will never know. I think Rosaura may be the only character in Literature who farts herself to death.

I think this idea of food as a sort of sponge that soaks up personality and emotion is an interesting one. I know from personal experience that the food won’t taste good if you aren’t very into it when you’re cooking. I always used to approach cooking as something that I “couldn’t do” and therefore nothing I ever made tasted good. It didn’t even look good. It always had a shabby quality; the texture would be all wrong, and it would leave a weird aftertaste in my mouth even if I followed the recipe exactly. I eventually realized that cooking is not difficult, that it is fun, and I don’t have that problem any more.

Tuesday, March 11

The Plague Response #2

I am interested to know why Camus has Cottard shoot a dog. Is it simply to show how bitter Cottard is at the plague's being over? Is it to make the reader feel less sympathy for him, since we may have had some sympathy held over from Cottard's suicide attempt? Does Camus want the reader to agree with Tarrou that Cottard would be forgivable, except for the fact that he has been "for" that indescriminate killer, the plague, all along? Cottard has been on a slide throughout the novel. At first he is pitiful and he seems so lonely and sad that you find it hard not to sympathize with him. Grand treats him coldly, the police treat him coldly, and you feel sorrier for him. Then you find out that he's a criminal and that the reason he tried to kill himself is not lonliness, but fear of arrest. Then maybe you feel less sorry for him, depending on how you sympathize with the fear of being humiliated by arrest and locked away in prison. Then he becomes a smuggler, making money hand over fist. You might either think, "good for him, he's been through a lot," or "what an exploitative bastard," depending on how you feel about such things. Then he almost gets arrested, and you think that either he's getting what's coming to him, or you feel disappointed that he should get caught now, when he's been able to avoid it for so long. When we next see him, he has gone crazy.

Cottard is a coward. Though it’s been since high school that I read The Stranger, I think Cottard has many qualities that are the opposite of its protagonist, Meursault. Meursault faces his crime, his arrest, and his impending execution. Cottard runs and hides from his crime and his potential arrest. Rieux says on page 131 “men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point...the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. The soul of the murderer is blind, and there can be no true goodness nor true love without the utmost clear-sightedness.” This describes Cottard; he is blind to the needs and suffering of others. He never assists anyone, never joins the sanitation crew or helps at the camps or hospitals. You could even say that he is blind to humanity in general, so focused is he on himself. I find this somewhat ironic, given that he seems so desperate for attention and companionship when we first meet him. It seems he has learned nothing from his experiences.

Obviously, Cottard represents this “banality of evil” aspect talked about by Arendt and Judt. He’s for the plague, not because he’s evil and wants people to suffer and die, but because the plague helps his cause. Up until this last scene with him, the reader has been thinking, “Oh, he’s not so bad; he’s had a hard time of it, give him a break.” I think Camus wants the final scene with Cottard to be a wake-up call to the reader to show that he’s not such a good guy. He may have been pathetic before, but he is choosing to behave in this undignified, misanthropic way (was he the character who said “don’t call me a misanthrope?” I think he is one). He shoots the cops who are trying to arrest him, and there are those who would say that he is doing what he can to stay free. When he shoots the innocent dog—who hasn’t done anything to Cottard other than remind him that the plague is over—it underscores how selfish he is and that he really has no respect for his fellow creatures. He also represents one of the themes of all Camus’s writing: choice. Years ago, I took professor Harbison’s class on Existentialism and Phenomenology. Much of it was over my head, but one thing I remember is that existentialists feel suicide is the coward’s way of coping with the absurd. One must choose to face the absurd despite everything. This is what he’s telling us in the last lines of the book when he says that the plague may lay dormant but it never goes away. The absurd never goes away, but life goes on.

Sunday, March 9

The Plague

At the end of this section, is Camus saying that Father Paneloux lost his faith and died because of it? His sermon didn’t really seem to go anywhere. In the passage on 225, he speaks of times in history when there was no purgatory; it seems to me that he should say that this plague is the purgatory, but before this, on 224, he says that he can’t assure anyone that M. Othon’s little boy faces a life of eternal bliss because “he [knows] nothing about it.” His words say to me that he knows he should feel that the boy’s suffering is equivalent to the fiery spiritual cleansing usually experienced by the soul in purgatory, and that maybe if he hadn’t witnessed the event himself he would have preached that the boy’s soul had been purified and he is now in Heaven. Camus definitely wants to evoke divine purgation since he describes the boy’s suffering as being comparable to fiery torment.

Father Paneloux has been stripped of his convictions, which I think is why we get most of his sermon as a second-hand relation told by the narrator rather than as first-hand dialogue, except for the important passages; he seems to be just going through the motions. When he dies, it’s like he chokes on his own blood. After reading this, I looked up the four temperaments that evolved from the belief in the four humors. The humors theory holds that blood represents both springtime and arrogance, which fits Father Paneloux because his first sermon took place in the spring and it was very arrogant. The temperament used to name the state of having too much blood is “sanguine,” which Wikipedia defines as being “full of hope” but which I have always associated with a certain amount of self-satisfied smugness. These characteristics also describe Paneloux’s first sermon and his attitude at that time. When he dies, it’s as though the humor of blood has been taken over by the humor of phlegm, which is said to represent coldness and an absence of emotion. Father Paneloux definitely seems cold and unemotional during his second sermon, and afterwards in his interaction with his elderly hostess. In the end, his symptoms match the symptoms said to plague those who suffer from too much phlegm: fever, lungs full of phlegm, lassitude, and resignation. In the end, disgusting as it is, he coughs up what seems to be blood mixed with phlegm.

Why is Camus alluding to these ancient beliefs? I think there are several reasons. For one thing, they’re ancient, just like the plague; in medieval times, the plague would have been studied and dealt with in terms of the four humors. Additionally—in this novel at least—modern medicine seems to have as little effect on curing the plague as did the methods used by doctors who subscribed to the four humors theory. The methods used to combat the disease haven’t advanced very much from medieval times: lancing buboes (which is now known to be harmful), quarantining people, closing the gates to the city, praying.

I think Camus includes descriptions of medieval plague outbreaks on purpose, not just to show that the plague is an ancient affliction or an ancient evil, but also to imply three ideas. The most obvious is to compare how humanity coped with the plague in ancient times to how the people of Oran cope in the modern age (e.g. giving in to hedonistic impulses, trying to avoid contact with people, trying to run away instead of helping people). In connection with this is the notion that society, (or humankind, or whatever you want to call it), is just as ill-equipped today to fight the plague as it ever has been and that it will probably always be so ill-equipped to face such a monstrous affliction. Last is the idea that maybe civilization hasn’t really advanced as far as we’d like to think, if we still can’t fight such and archaic enemy.

I also think what Camus is getting at is the fact that Christianity is about as effective at fighting, curing, or understanding the plague—or the absurd—as is the old belief in the four humors. Christianity has been around for a long time, just like the plague. I also see a parallel between the fact that the four humors theory has been disproved, and maybe Camus is saying that Christianity is just as archaic and ridiculous as the four humors theory. Camus gives several examples of monasteries almost wiped out by the plague, so obviously just being a Christian doesn’t spare one from dying of the plague. Interestingly enough, the people who live in most of his examples are the ones who do their duty and help others, like Camus’s characters. Characters like Rieux and Tarrou embody Camus’s belief that one should simply continue doing what one can even though it may seem pointless in the face of the overwhelming enormity of the absurd. Trying to find an answer for the absurd, like Father Paneloux does, is only going to lead to anguish because one cannot understand the absurd.

Wednesday, March 5

I love the scene with Gwendolen and Cecily and the tea, sugar, bread and butter, and cake. In David’s response, he mentioned that Gwendolen uses the bread and butter to try to establish herself as more refined than Cecily. I see this too. I also see the phrase, “sugar is not in fashion anymore” as having a double meaning referring to her immediate relationship with Cecily. Upon meeting Cecily, Gwendolen remarks, “Cecily Cardew? What a sweet name!” Now that their declarations of eternal friendship have been reversed and they find themselves enemies, Gwendolyn’s statement that sugar is not fashionable now means both that she no longer finds Cecily to be “sweet;” and it also describes the state between her and Cecily, as their relationship has soured. I may be extrapolating too much here, but when Gwendolyn asks Cecily for bread and butter and Cecily instead hands her a giant slice of cake, it reminded me of the quote so famously and erroneously attributed to Marie Antoinette. Why I think Wilde may have done this is simply to suggest how extremely nasty the state of affairs are between the two ladies, as though the flaring tempers may soon lead to violence.

I also see the way Algernon eats everything he comes into contact with as a reflection of his extreme selfishness. When he arrives at Jack’s country estate, the first thing he tells the butler is that he’s hungry. Obviously, he’s eager to feast his eyes on Cecily, but it also shows that he is always thinking of himself. This is further emphasized when Jack says it’s “heartless” of Algernon to eat muffins in light of their disappointed romantic circumstances, since Algernon doesn’t seem very distraught over losing Cecily. (Why should he be, since he’s only known her five minutes?) It seems that the only time Algernon is actually being “earnest” is when he is hungry.

An extension Algernon’s selfishness is the way he uses food as an immature way to slight others. He makes Jack watch him eat the cucumber sandwiches but won’t let him have any, which is sort of the same thing he does with Lady Bracknell, luring her to his home upon the promise of cucumber sandwiches, then disappointing her when she gets there. When he tells Jack to eat the bread and butter because Gwendolen is “devoted” to it, he’s ridiculing Jack’s wish to settle down and marry Gwendolen. The remark comes at the same time he’s giving his unfavorable views on marriage and annoying relatives. This is in itself cruel, since Jack doesn’t know what it is like to have relatives.

I really wanted to see this when the Idaho Shakespeare Festival put it on some year recently, but like many good intentions, that scheme never came to fruition. I like the overriding ironic tone of The Importance of Being Earnest, though I find that the clever wordplay begins to grate on my nerves by the end. You expect this sort of shtick when Algernon is talking to Lane: “Algernon: I hope to-morrow will be a fine day, Lane. Lane: It never is, sir. Algernon: Lane, you’re a perfect pessimist. Lane: I do my best to give satisfaction, sir.” This is the classic sarcastic servant/master exchange you see in all of British comedy. But having everyone speak this sarcastically from beginning to end just makes me imagine Wilde writing it with a huge smirk on his face, sincerely believing that he is the Brit who invented irony. Perhaps he is.

Tuesday, March 4

reading about plague always gives me nightmares. is it stored in collective unconscious to be afraid of plague?

"ignorance is the worst vice:" I agree.