A few observations on eternity as revealed by love
A man falls in love with a woman. He feels he cannot offer her the kind of life that love deserves, or requires. He realizes that America is a place where the poor can become rich, but that this they must in secret, the more so if they mean to do it quickly. The greatest acquisitions are the most private. He feels the woman would be shocked to see what he has understood about infinite acquisition.
It is a strange kind of piety that thinks so much of respectability that wishes to acquire & preserve the appearance of respectability. But only children, lovers, & barbarians are so apt to believe in appearances, to make so much of the images of things that the things themselves are left unexamined. Gatsby is all three wrapped up in one. We’ll learn a lot knowing him.
His beloved is astounded by his acquisitions, by their tyrannic mastery or command to love. She is no lover; she likes to be loved, though. He offers her an entire life, which shocks her, who wanted only a little life. Gatsby thinks to attract the woman by throwing the most spectacular parties. This judgment of her character proves correct, but not in the way he thinks. He advertises pleasure & all the lovers & beloveds come to him as if his house were a temple.
Gatsby is deluded by the images of things. Beauty always presents a whole apparent at once, to be glimpsed or grasped by eye & mind as a whole. This convinces Gatsby that love is forever. That the woman will love him always. This is a strange delusion created by the simple psychological fact that he loves her unconditionally. This is an error of judgment only lovers commit.
Gatsby is not blind to the good, but he has learned that the good is essentially a criminal enterprise. This is what he hides, always unsuccessfully. The beautiful shines through, though, calling & announcing paradise. Gatsby knows that America’s favorite pastime is a fraud: He does business with the man who arranged the results of the World Series of 1919. This reminds us with horrible comedy of the Great War.
America is about putting courage into fortune. Manly self-assertion is the game. Gatsby is the American self-made man. It turns out he did not make himself. He made what he was taught by the city. He wants to be loved by America – how can Gatsby want respectable love by making a woman an adulteress? He must think the woman is America. This is not a tragedy, but almost comic – Machiavelli without the happy end. Really, the life of the lover is death. This Gatsby cannot accept.
It’s been said that each generation gets the Gatsby they deserve. All have deserved Gatsby
War shows with unique clarity the weaknesses of men. The Lannister queen learns that she does not really rule anything. She has only survived because of her father, whom she rules no more than her son. So many powers move in the land, she can only keep up appearances.
The Lannister dwarf is charged to rule over the kingdom’s monies. He shares the princes’ low opinion of the job. But the kingdom is someone’s kingdom & nobody rules the kingdom who cannot afford it. He learns about property & that liberality is the sure way to bankruptcy. He must learn how necessary acquisition is to survive. Even the richest, compared to what there is to be taken, are poor…
The Lannister prince learns how much he had relied on his family. He is captured, humiliated, his sword hand cut. This reminds him why he killed a king once, who in his madness wanted to burn the city. His innocence reminds him of saving the innocent. He also learns what it is to have necessity drive him, how parlous to take survival for granted.
Their enemy, Robb Stark, has not only left enemies in his rear, but loses his capitol to a raid. The belief that there is a fate worse than death is strange in a man who wants to avenge his father. He should know justice needs to be done & otherwise there is none. Worse still, the belief that he needs or can afford to be generous will destroy him. His father’s death did not teach him about his father’s failure. His father’s great virtues blind him to their defect. He learns he needs men & he learns that they do not need him.
The Targaryen girl learns to seem stupid & to betray people. She learns to break contracts or promises or oaths & to deceive people to their death. She also learns that the best way to acquire is to take from those who are hated , that the most just conquests are defensive, & that generosity comes easily when you take other people’s property.
She quickly acquires an army, proving that the art of war is more important than arms, & arms more important than money. With arms & dragons, how can she be defeated?
Jon Snow learns the lessons of the North: Nature kills everything she can; betraying people is necessary to learning deception, which is necessary to survival. A bastard likely has a better grasp of the problem of legitimacy, & therefore more opportunity to succeed.
Finally, the little deceiver who started it all, Littlefinger, acquires a title & a principality to protect his riches, proof that the life of crime is best.
The third season of the show, even more popular than the previous two
In the end, Tony Stark decides that the iron man armor was really a cocoon. Hindsight is blessed: This would seem to mean that the necessity under which he labored has been removed from him. That necessity we may call the ambiguity of science, which created both the bullets trying to kill him & his defenses against them. His heart is relieved from this continuous struggle. This story teaches us the price of that relief.
In the beginning, we learn Stark suffers from panic attacks. He knows the cause: He has seen aliens & gods fight around New York, treating humans like worthless vermin. These astounding powers make him fear death. He cannot sleep, because sleep takes away his powers, & then his fears return. He marshals scientific armies to defend himself. His newest invention is an armor that will move to him whenever he needs it. One night, the woman tries to comfort his nightmares, but the armor attacks her.
By one of those happy coincidences, such as the great scientific advances we have inherited by surviving the wars of the last century, there is a very evil man whose life purpose will help Stark. This man also confronted fear of death; he has also considered man’s brain, his reason, his science, to hold the solution. But he does not tinker with iron. He wants to prevent fear of death by making man immortal.
We learn two things about immortality. First, it is not so much a matter of invulnerability as infinite endurance. Man will hurt & then regenerate. Secondly, the power to withstand death transforms human beings into bombs. This would be comic, except for the obvious problem. It is one of those jokes – people see the explosions & are quick to blame terrorism. Because they’re afraid, they get the terror.
Well, science may be said to be led by the motto: You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. Stark & his daring enemy both have the omelet to show for their effort. Mankind are understandably cautious… Stark deals with fear by allowing people to mock him & by being patriotic. The other guy is just anonymous, he gives people frightening stories behind which he hides his banal scientific ambition.
There is an arresting scene, the American president in one of these armors. It was called War Machine – the warrior still uses that name – but it’s now called the Iron Patriot: Less aggressive. This reminds us that war has no country; to correct the problem, the armor is painted red, white, & blue. Does the uniform make the patriot? Stark does not like the name; science makes him think of man as man, not man as patriot.
The first blockbuster of the year, yet another fantastically worldwide popular story
This time around, Boyd has to create a criminal organization, having failed to take up his father’s & also in creating a fascist mob. One is pleasantly surprised to see how little he learned from his mistakes & how much courage & cleverness he pours into building his fortune. Set aside the distinction between the legal & the illegal, & he is an endearing entrepreneur dedicated to acquisition. Liberalism is all about setting that distinction aside.
Two problems quickly emerge. One of them is competition, the other trust. Mafiosi types come to Harlan to take over the crime business. Organizing crime is a business, so it depends on a model & a ruthless executive. Maybe order means simply making people believe order is in their interest. This interestingly involves threatening them with horrifying chaos. But it is not at all clear that the protagonists of these fights care about the good so much.
The question of trust is threefold. To begin with, how can underlings trust their criminal boss? His beautiful speeches persuade them, but his deeds fail to satisfy their desires. They do not learn that they are idealists & maybe yearn for law, but only to betray their boss. On the other hand, what are the rewards of keeping faith with the boss?
Then there is Raylan, who has the best seat in the house at the morality play, the destruction of his life’s purpose. His harsh, contemptuous humor serves him well now. First, the job does not help him rid Harlan of injustice, & can hardly protect him from the great dangers attending on love of justice. Secondly, this great distinction between the good & the just causes his wife to abandon him for more prosperous, less violent pastures. Thirdly, his defiance of authority is as likely to get him killed as to save his life by protecting him from moralistic love of order.
Finally, there is the question of the fight between these daring men, all seeking to rule Harlan. The older & the newer show by their fighting that not one among them can rise & destroy the others. At the same time, their bellicose turn of mind prevents them from coming up with a peaceful agreement about tyrannizing Harlan. We see therefore lowly criminals turn from loyal to treacherous & back, their understanding of their own interest confused by the great motions underway in Harlan.
Surprisingly, the principal actors think little of assassination; underlings die instead. Maybe they do not understand necessity; maybe they think that once they start down that path, too many things are left to chance. The unthinkable is not just unjust. Raylan’s rulers also rein him in for that reason.
The criminal Raylan has to destroy an old woman. Maggie runs the only other serious criminal organization around – her family having been at crime for several generations. There is a suggestion here about the contrast between love of the good & love of one’s own. This woman’s sons are rather incompetent & therefore untrustworthy. She is her mother’s daughter, but has no girls. As dumb as the boys are, she is sophisticated; they are simpletons – she is clever.
Unfortunately, the virtues most needed to pursue the life of crime may not run in the family. Her only capable boy is the sheriff. He only shows he knows deception by using his office to hurt family enemies. This family rules their town by fear. The people who know crime, fear death, & have learned that nobody is going to do anything for justice.
Crime teaches both the criminal & his victim about the good, though only the victim fears death. Justice for the people & honor for the men are far too costly. The good is far easier to achieve, or some part of it, at least, but it can never be taken for granted. The people are the many; Maggie can rule them by concealing terror; but indirect rule would require that she let her boys think they are independent. In foregoing this, she provokes them to choose between doing what is prudent & doing what they want.
Raylan stumbles into this town. This is just as inevitable as the fact that his enemy is a family. He looks around; his opinions about people’s lives & about the law cause him to notice things, especially things that happen. Then he starts making trouble, trying to see through deceptions. He forces criminals to be far more violent than they would otherwise be. He bullies in the name of the law. Strangely, everyone thinks he is doing this for family reasons, because they are undeceived by legal appearances & suspect a personal motive in fighting crime.
To the contrary, the women do not care for the law, they care for their own good, especially their children. It’s strange to see how much Raylan does to protect women, when he should see that where women rule, there are no laws.
Boyd Crowder returns to home, the life of crime. There is little left of his family, but his ambitions are undiminished. Survival has taught him about self-restraint & deception. He seems to have first thought that killing is a show of strength; then that killing is punishment for wrongdoing; & now that killing is doing the necessary. But survival gives way to ambition, & empire requires an opinion about how to rule.
Raylan involves himself with two women. Ava is as straightforward as they come, or at least forward. She loved Raylan, he left town, she married the son of the biggest criminal around. Maybe he was strong & handsome… Raylan’s father was in contention, too. Once she had enough of that scoundrel, she sent him to judgment. Now Raylan’s back, so is love, & life in that neck of the woods is wine, death & law notwithstanding.
Winnona was Raylan’s wife. She abandoned him for a real estate dude. He seems safe. She dresses professional middle class. Raylan left town, but is back. She needs his help & him, too. But she also wants happiness, so she’s hedging her bets. Unsurprisingly, she understands the connection between adultery & discretion. A beautiful man & a beautiful life might not make for happiness. Otherwise, why would all these cops be so sarcastic?
It would seem Raylan is not all killer. Aside from the charms of women, he is not blind to the importance of family & that something less harsh than law should control his great anger. His humor is a provocation to the laws – but it is only speeches. Something further is needed to show him his humanity. One wonders what comes of cities who cannot persuade men to become lawful. How about offering something good to mellow justice?
Raylan’s family of criminals is something to behold. Anyone who thinks courage is a virtue should be shamed into a cure by the spectacle. There is a way of life outside the laws & people who would rather be criminals than whatever else is on offer. Partly, they know their worth because they break the laws or oppose them. But other criminal families are far more enterprising & suggest the contradiction between the good & the just.
Raylan has to mind a lot of these people’s private lives. What does he think about how criminal families defy liberalism? Jail cannot separate or contain them. They can corrupt political institutions. They make it impossible for others to act like citizens. What does law mean if law means law-enforcement? Why does liberalism create people who can only be ruled by fear if liberalism precludes rule by fear?
It would seem that the time has come to compromise between justice & liberalism. A sheriff who is unfortunately compelled to murder Raylan, given the marshal’s strange dedication to justice, shows the way: He has destroyed criminals, taken over their business, & has arranged criminal life such that the local civilians suffer far less than they had before. This of course is going in the direction of Oriental despotism. Both misery & prosperity seem to lead to despotism.
Although several policemen object to Raylan’s habit of killing people, nobody says it’s because his father is a criminal. Indeed, his father never killed anyone – criminals tend to look to the good. Money tames them, let’s say. Trouble comes Raylan’s way for shooting criminals. This is frowned upon among Americans, who are nevertheless an armed race. Let’s say they at least want heaven disarmed.
Now, about Raylan’s authority. Marshals serve the federal government, which detaches them from any given place. It is possible that they are not entirely bound to a city. So they are fine chasers, & better able to see necessity than policemen usually are, but they do not rule. One of the local marshals is upset with Raylan for rising to the top. It emerges by degrees that Raylan has his weaknesses & that he may not be the cleverest marshal.
Making things may be less wise than seeing things, but it is far more impressive & it fights injustice far faster. Killing people helps man understand how people live & to whom he should be directing his attention. It is nearly prophetic. It discounts speeches to the extent that it implies that people act with necessity regarding death; at least, they no longer have their self-control quite. The urgency of crime & punishment may allow no alternative.
Crime families are based on trust, not competence. Love of one’s own & love of the good may very well be different. It is beauty that gets in the way: Men think of eternity & such when it comes to their children. They assume too much about order, although they understand order may have nothing to do with law, & that the good it serves may be criminal, or private, if you prefer.
The beneficiaries of the laws ignore the protection law offers. Defending the families they love might make them unlovable. If family at war were lovable, criminal families would war continuously… Policing requires destroying families. Policemen cannot make the law-abiding happy, but they can make the lawless unhappy. It is necessary that they do this, because it is family that nourishes the desires that lead to crime. But if they do this, the harshness of justice becomes inescapably obvious.
One day, Raylan gets in a bar fight defending an absent woman’s honor while waiting for his ex-wife, who is late. The two hicks beat him up – barkeep saves his life, but not his hat. People ask about that hat; he’s fond of it, too. The good says leave it, but the beautiful says take it back. Raylan is handsome in that hat; people know what it means – no one can take it from him while he lives.
In a Miami bar, Marshal Givens confronts a criminal at his table. He’d told the man he had a day to leave town. Now he has come to kill him. The man talks his last, he draws, he gets killed. Then Raylan Givens is kicked out of Miami, back to his home in Kentucky. This is not the end of the story, however.
Miami is no place for cowboys. Givens assumed he ran the city, at least so far as criminals were concerned. Miami likes criminals better than cowboys. Kentucky is not different. But we remember that Kentucky was the first western territory to become a state & it is just above the Mason-Dixon line separating North & South. Now, Kentucky is poor & unimportant. America has forgotten Kentucky. It is also lawless. Men run wild in Kentucky.
Marshal Givens fits best in this picture. He belongs here, but he cannot tolerate lawlessness. The lawless might tolerate him, though. Raylan is bringing the law back to Kentucky. It takes a lot of attention to details to learn how Kentucky became lawless. So for example, the law is the family, but family is lawless. The manly life may only be possible when lawlessness arises. Liberalism failed in Kentucky because the men became debauched; this taught the women to protect themselves & forget the laws.
There is a saying about wrestling pigs: Ain’t easy to win – you both get dirty, but the pig likes it. Law enforcement is like wrestling pigs. Pigs are the greediest, least reasonable house animals. In these latter days, is it possible to have a Western? Westerns are not about the War of Independence or the Civil War, much less later, lesser wars. They’re about how America was made, though, & of what men are made.
Raylan’s first real enemy is Boyd the neo-Nazi. Anyone who knows American politics knows fascism is not one of them. The point is that some few American men become Nazis. Why? Well, watch how Boyd Crowder turns criminals into Nazis & you will see the predicament of man as such. This possibility was always known to the Westerns. The Kentucky wilderness is not a place where you can take America for granted, even if you can see that the folks there are Americans.
Raylan’s mistake is twofold: He thinks you can put people in jail & forget about them. Liberalism insists on the difference between death & jail. He thinks that a man who wants to steal money & cause explosions is for that reason predictable or small-time. Stealing money is as conventional as money, but greed is not. & explosions attract men, because they are terrifying. Modern comfort is highly combustible.
In the South, Lizzy meets Arnie, a drunkard. She tends bar nights – she is both observer & accomplice. Days, she waits tables, & so learns Arnie is a cop. He says it had been his last day of drinking; he also shows her his many sobriety chips; he’s often quit drinking. She wises up later. We may say those chips are not legal tender.
She then sees proud, intemperate Sue Lynne & begins to learn about his desperation. One night, she storms in, cursing his name for beating up her lover. He points out, adultery is not a safe vocation. She says she’s leaving town, & will get a job; he replies, she doesn’t need a job, only to start charging.
He insists she is still his wife, he her husband; she says he is nothing. He then abandons all dignity. He pulls his gun on her, but in the face of her contempt & a quiet question: What then?, dares not shoot her; he dies later that night. Lizzy later suggests she should pay his drinking debts. She flies into a rage. She then tells Lizzy her story: A cop stopped her one night, she was high & underage. He later married her. Time & again she ran from him, then returned, & he loved her anyway. She insists she did not hate him.
She was not good for him. He gave her everything good, including forgiveness. None of it seems to have been good for her. It certainly did him no good. She did not love him. This may be the cause of all the destruction: She may have concluded that the good is not loveable. Then again, if he was good, why should he be a slave to her beauty? What does that say about the worth of the good? The aftermath is comparatively uninteresting. Sue Lynne settles Arnie’s debts, which admits they were hers, & wants that he should be remembered. She finds life without him far more tolerable than he found life without her.
Lizzy, like Sue Lynne, started wandering through America, because she could no longer live with a man. She shares Arnie’s jealousy. Erotic love is exclusive, but their beloveds took other lovers. Unlike him, in her anger, she repaid her suffering with suffering, but revenge seems to be an indifferent substitute for love. How did she survive the erotic failure that killed him? Lizzy got mugged the night she left that man; she says she was never good at confrontation; presumably, that includes defense.
Maybe Lizzy learns that the laws cannot protect you from love. Everyone sees the unfolding drama of Arnie & Sue Lynne. Nobody does anything. Private life is secret.
Wong Kar Wai’s only film in English. A romance for the broken-hearted.
The assassin knows two women; the dark one plans the assassinations he executes. She knows him by picking through his garbage – bodily leftovers. The blonde one picks him up at McDonald’s, bleaches her hair, & has sex with him. The dark masters her art – but cunning may be unlovable.
The blonde promises the pleasure that we also think is good, but which is a matter of having, not of getting. She simply assumes he will love her, that she is loveable. She is wrong, he shows her. She becomes unhappy, because she cannot make him her own.
He one day meets an old schoolmate who recognizes him. He shows this guy a picture of a black woman & some kid, pretending they are his family. The guy is a life insurance salesman–the assassin is skeptical his life can be insured. He is too dangerous & unpredictable.
He says life is easy when someone decides life & death for you: It’s predictable, nor yet as dangerous as people fear. But he is restive. This must predate murder, or else why abandon the life of the city? Unsatisfied, he is obedient awhile & then no longer. With whom shall he keep faith? Trust & neediness go together. In his job, that’s a danger. But there is something else. Love is about what makes life worth living. He dares not decide that for himself. The job requires obedience; he will not obey in love. He is a man in search of a soul. He knows soul is needed to be human. He lives by night, secluded, like a criminal.
Need implies the political or a substitute, a being together with other humans. The assassin wants to buy a restaurant – like the cop in Chunking Express. But that man had law on his side. He could live in the city. He trusts the woman who betrays him; she had trusted him, & feels betrayed, so she retaliates. The man does not think that that’s what he’s always done, he’s enacted people’s vengeance or provoked it. Sexual possessivity is not the only kind: A job or a city can be as possessive as a woman.
The other man, also a criminal, breaks into businesses at night. He works, playing ice-cream man, butcher, barber to people. They do not want to buy, he wants to sell. If they are unpersuaded, he will compel them. He mocks the self-transformation of the lover into something the beloved wants. He makes himself useful to be lovable. Women find him unlovable: They suspect he does not believe he is loveable. Confidence is lovable because it announces the good. Lovers see self-contained perfection in their beloveds. That attracts them.
The sequel to Chungking Express. Its protagonists are criminals not cops, it takes place by night not by day, & shocases the suffering, not the promises, of love. In short, an educational companion to a charming movie…