Monday, January 22, 2018

Knowing: Creative Platypus

Knowing

There are so many ways
of Knowing:

Oedipus cut out his eyes
and placed them on a table
so he could see himself.

"Know Thyself," the Oracle
commands, and The Socrates
knew he was the wisest man
for knowing nothing.

Is cutting out one's eyes a
confession of not knowing?
if thine eye offend...?
what if thy head offend?

O Galilean Teacher
who healed the blind,
do you bid us pluck out
our eyes that we might
see?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Second Snow Day 2018: Creative Platypus

Second Snow Day 2018

There is a poetry of Depression,
But not all days are sad.
Sometimes the Universe upends
and sends
Sudden snowfall on Houston.

Even gloomy Aeschylus
At Marathon or Salamis
Broke into mock hexameter
When Xerxes turned his posterior
And fled.

Just so, some Yankee farmer
As Yorktown's disarm-er
Told a passing redcoat
As a side-note
That he liked their band's selection.

It's true that many times we lose
But we can choose
To endure
Till God sends snow
On Houston.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Poem For Jane Eyre: Creative Platypus

Jane Eyre

Before Mother was Mother
she hid with Bewick's Birds
behind the curtain
and was glad there
could be
no possability
of a walk to Friendly's

I learned to hide like her,
though for different reasons,
and Jane sat with me
behind the curtain that
shut the World out.

Mother, I met Helen Burns
at camp.
Her hair had fallen out, but
her face was glad, and she
turned to books for consolation.

Resurgam

I plowed the field of thorns
and if I was no good as
ploughman
at least I had a tongue inside
my head to furiously
insist that I am me.

"Oh why am I always to be
sent away!
At least here I have not
been trampled,
and if I was as beautiful
as a Northern European
I would make it as hard
for you to leave me as
it is for me to leave!"
I tried to tell them that
at the party
where we buried our
hopes and dreams in the
ashes of a haunted mansion.

Resurgam

I am as much a Man
as you
and will defend my right
to be the self
that God made me.
For all of Nature spins around
us in its sympathies
when one sinner accepts
The Offer to be Free.

Mother, I have so much
to learn, and the road is
very long
that leads from Gateshead
to the Garden
and Beyond.

Alien Covenant: Film Platypus

Alien Covenant

I've been pouring over pieces of this one as well as trailers, additional content, and fan fights since it came out this summer. Even after watching the film for the first time at Thanksgiving, I've gone back and watched specific scenes for closer study. So what have I found?

The opening scene tells us right off the bat that Ridley Scott wants to have a serious conversation about Creation (just like he wanted to talk seriously about the corporate dehumanization of American workers when he shot Alien). Each item in Mr. Weyland's collection is a creative masterpiece. This is the beginning of the film's world as it is the beginning of connecting character David's world. I've had the privileged over the years of encountering almost all of the creative pieces on display (Wagner's Das Rheingold in performance at HGO, a Buggati throne at the MFAH, a concert Steinway at the Forsche Studio, and the David in Florence -if I saw Paolo Francesca's Nativity in Italy I've forgotten). Knowing the chosen works, each one serves as a powerful icon of what is to come. David was a biblical king swelled to the status of Greek god by Michelangelo, and David 8 will seek to enthrone himself. He will seek to become god and the movie will witness the nativity of his child, the xenomorph, as in Prometheus Elizabeth, who was barren, gave birth to trilobite that testified to David's future creation. Like, Wagner's dwarf, Alberich, David will renounce love (Elizabeth and Walter) to forge a ring of power (the circular eggs and embryos). Finally, like the gods of Wagner's opera, David will steal a celestial castle from the working class and ascend to a creative paradise accompanied by the full orchestral score of the same scene in Das Rheingold. Foreshadowing the next film, now that David 8 has his Valhalla, we know that he is doomed to lose it and his creation when his own Gotterdammerung comes.

Wagner aside, there are also less overt parallels with Shakespeare. Comparisons have been made between Rosenthal's severed head and Millais' Ophelia (though I would point to Waterhouse and Moreau's paintings of Orpheus' head). The deeper resonance, however, is with the Tempest. Like Prospero, David 8 is marooned by his enemies. There is free to follow his dark arts with the aliens serving as his erstwhile Calibans but he cannot return to the human world to wreck his revenge. Fortune, and a space storm, bring David's enemies within reach as well as a means of escape. David, Prospero-like, uses his dark arts to orchestrate his own alchemical drama and escape. Missing is the key character of Prospero's daughter Miranda (her name is linked to the Latin word for "wonder"). The woman who could fit the bill, Prometheus' Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, is dead.Without the magic of Miranda's wonder to spark compassion in Prospero and forgiveness for his foes, one wonders how The Tempest would have turned out. Alien Covenant gives us an idea as we see that if "it is not good for Man to be alone," then it is not good for androids either. Having killed his sense of wonder, David sees no "brave new world" in the human crew of the Covenant and instead uses them to fuel his dark arts and his quest to make the dead Shaw the mother of a better species and wreck vengeance on the humans who created him.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

300 Rise of an Empire: Film Platypus

I was too busy to see this one in the theater when it came out and it seemed so very far from Herodotus' account that it didn't seem worth it. That was a lost opportunity as my students did go see it and, as with its predecessor, they were ready talk about the Persians and the Greeks.

To begin, I've used clips from both 300 movies in class to generate discussion on Herodotus to great effect (the fact that the students thought our admin looked like Artemisia aside ... not sure how that works...). Even when Hollywood is grossly inaccurate, there is often useful material that can throw students back into the text with a keener eye for detail. Hollywood's preoccupations with gender performance, violence, and orientalism also ensure that concerns at the core of the Greek world picture are front and center. Both 300 movies keep the connection between invasion, masculinity, and rape (explicit in Herodotus' narrative) at the forefront of the drama.

The problem with 300: Rise of an Empire's handling of this quintessentially Herodotean nexus comes in the mechanics of its presentation. My wife, who is particularly sensitive to violence, could watch the entire end of the movie without a flinch. When I asked her how she felt, she told me that the violence was so stylized, so close to its comic book inspiration, that functioned more as a symbol or metaphor. Watching the entire movie on my own, however, I was struck by how unstylized the depiction of sexual violence was in the film. The world of theater has found infinite ways of powerfully portraying sexual violence in stylized fashion (see various stagings of Titus Andronicus and Sweeney Tod) so it's not as though it would have been difficult to do from a staging perspective. My worry, of course, is that the audience is meant to be titillated by it. In light of all the recent media sexual abuse scandals I can't see how that couldn't be a factor.

There is a story-telling layer, however, that contextualizes all the forms violence takes in the film, and it is one that is present in Herodotus via the figure of Artemisia, Queen of Halicarnassus. Herodotus' own queen fought ably for the Persians in the naval battle of Salamis. Herodotus frames this fact as a direct challenge to Persian masculinity, even going so far as to have Xerxes remark that his men have become women and his women have become men. 300: Rise of an Empire appropriates this trope and uses it to talk about how the violated respond to their violation. Artemisia, as she appears in the film, is a former refugee from Greek violence who chooses to wield violence as a violator in turn. She is at first seemingly placed in contrast to the Greek Hero Themistocles whom she attempts and fails to subordinate by both military and sexual violence. This exposes her horribly to the possibility of re-victimization. By the end of the film, however, it becomes clear that Artemisia's real opposite is the bereaved and violated (in the prior film) Queen Gorgo of Sparta. While renouncing both military and sexual violence throughout the film, Gorgo comes out of her victim mindset to embrace the power of military violence and revenge at the climactic battle of Salamis.

So what is the difference between these women and why is one a heroine and another a villainess? Is it just that "good girls" don't use their sexuality to gain power? Again, this is Hollywood, so that must at least be a factor. On a thematic level, both Queens' responses to victimization by subsequent empowerment through wielding violence are linked to the idea of Ordered Liberty. Greek Ordered Liberty in contrast to Oriental Despotism is the major theme (arguably) or Herodotus' Persian Wars, and is highlighted throughout 300: Rise of an Empire. Artemisia's response to violence in the movie is simply to become a violator herself. Through gaining power, she explicitly seeks "freedom with no consequences". Gorgo, on the other hand (men de construction anyone?), uses violence for the sake of defending her community and its unique way of life. It is power used to gain freedom from victimization, but not to become a victimizer in turn (I wonder what the Helots would say to that).

There is a tight thematic unity that holds 300: Rise of an Empire together and keeps it dialog with its distant source material, Herodotus' The Persian Wars. That unity is less powerful than in the film's predecessor, just as its link with its source material is also more distant than 300. The real problem with the film, as I see it, comes in the movie's handling of sexual violence. While the sexual violence in both films is portrayed in a way consistent with the deeply misogynist Greek world picture, the style in which it is presented in 300: Rise of an Empire clashes with the comic book aesthetic of the series and raises questions about the moral commitments of those in charge of the film's overall appearance and message.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Ghosts: Creative Platypus

Ghosts

I believe in ghosts;
Banquo appears at
my dinner parties.
He smiles, lips and throat.
I didn't kill him, and
knowing who did makes
little difference.

Do you miss the dead?
They are all around us.
Half of those who ever lived
are dead, while the half
that live are always dying.

I loved the dead from an
early age. Their houses
are like home to me. I'd
pick a tombstone in New Haven
sooner than a condo in L.A.
My vacations are in cemeteries.

Why do I disclose to you
what will not make a difference?
You know the place where
You are going and I fear it
as much as you.

Maybe there is some hope
in strangeness that is shown.
We need not all be like Macbeth
and think that thoughts of Death
betray a guilty conscience.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Platypus in 2017

As Counting Crows tells us it's been one long December, but there's reason to believe maybe next year will be better than the last. I suppose by now I can say that I successfully got out of the canyon, Hollywood, and all that. So, aside from surviving Harvey, what occurred here at Platypus of Truth?

Well, for starters, this year has been the least productive of posts since I started blogging. There are some outside reasons for that: new job, shorter summer, travel to see relatives, Harvey. There are also internal reasons. Unlike previous years, 2017 wasn't given over to reviewing books so much as to learning how to watch film. A new discipline means more time spent on organizing my thoughts and less time spent on writing. 2017 also saw an uptick in artwork on the blog as I began attempting to work in new mediums, particularly digital ones. Finally, I spent the year barfing out a lot of bad Eliot as free verse seemed the best way to get my thoughts out. There were other kinds of writing too (Powerpoints, Greek study, notes on Rome and Egypt), but they all went into the job rather than the blog.

At face value, 2018 isn't promising to be any different from 2017. We all know that doesn't mean much. This blog has always been about whatever happens to be on my mind at a given time. It is in that sense truly a "web log"; a sort of public journal. That may make it eclectic, but it also keeps things fresh. After all, who can tell where thought may take us? So as we close down 2017, here's looking forward to new adventures in the next year at Platypus of Truth!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Sappho: Creative Platypus

Sappho

Resistance is always a bitter agony
but the bitterest antagonist is
oneself.

All right rebellion begins in the self
and ends in the self;
For Men may master many things
but which of them can tame
his little tongue?

Teach us, Queen of Lesbos,
How the tongue is tamed;
For what Men cannot do
a Woman might.

O Fire higher than the Pierean Muse,
Burn my blindness that my sister
May teach me what she has to teach!