Saturday, November 15, 2008


I’ve been reading the Greek tragedies. This is my second time. One Christmas vacation during college I determined to read the complete Greek tragedies, which is less formidable than it sounds.

There are only twenty-nine of them extant, and they average maybe 1300 lines. Back then I got bogged down in Euripides and left two or three of his unread. The same thing is happening this time.

I told myself I’d read everything else before doing the Oresteia and the Oedipus cycle, but I couldn’t hack it and am now in the middle of the Eumenides.

Anyway, I’m impressed this time with the centrality of emotion in all the plays. There is never a dearth of “alas, I am ruined,” “woe is me,” “life is nothing but pain.”

We must accept our fate, i.e., death, but we are definitely not happy about it. How we go about dealing with anger and frustration creates our life stories, but in the long run we aren’t much different than goats being led to the sacrifice: we bleat then we bleed.

So, a couple weeks ago I’m driving to the tennis courts in Golden Gate Park for my usual morning session (poor me!) and I’m totally steamed about the bailout news—like, this guy Paulson is fucking me and I never said yes and he ain’t even my type.

The usual bicyclists were annoying but there were a couple of egregious near-death encounters with spandexers whipping through stop signs out of a blinding rising sun. Readers here know how pathetic I find the bicycle movement as an expression of left wing politics.

Why do these guys (and gals) risk their lives pitting their flimsy frames against evil death machines?

[Click picture for source.]

Looking at my own boiling rage I understood their need for physical confrontation. Young people (more than old people) yearn for it. Warfare, gang warfare, and individualized violence are the undesired forms of confrontation. Political action (which is basically the threat of warfare) is the alternative, and physical confrontation is part of it.

Civil rights in the fifties and sixties wasn’t about constitutional law, or some Marxist theory. It was about fire hoses, and police dogs, and martyrdom. The white kids (and not-so-youngs) who went south for Freedom Summer were in the same kind of peril that soldiers experience.

Similarly, the bicycle activists are putting their own lives on the line.

The felt need to confront, and if necessary die, seems better than suffering in silence and feeling like one will explode.

The evil perps in this country who deserve to be confronted have so well insulated themselves that the enemy, for bicyclists, has become anyone who drives a car.

Meanwhile Pelosi and Newsom and the building trade unionists will be spending more than a billion dollars on a three-stop subway that was cooked up as a payoff to Rose Pak for her support in some pissant political race, long forgotten.

This time through, my favorite play is Philoctetes, which is about political conniving. In it, Neoptolemus (son of Achilles) responds to Odysseus’ advice to employ deceit against the blameless man:

…I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating. …Do you not find it vile yourself, this lying?

Not if the lying brings our rescue with it.

How can a man not blush to say such things?

When one does something for gain, one need not blush.

BTW: It was Neoptolemus who eventually killed Priam, king of Troy. He also killed Astyanax, the infant son of Hector and subject of the “the most touching scene” in the Iliad.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should be aware that there is a book, published in 2006, entitled "Unified Feel Theory", The Equilibrium Texts: Volume One.

I assume your take has nothing to do with this publication.