Sunday, March 27, 2011

In tearing haste

In opening and closing frames of Spottiswooode's film (1993) of Randy Shilts' history of the gay men's health crisis, And the Band Played On (1987), a human hand clutches the wrist of Matthew Modine with clawing tenacity before he tears it away in fear. A woman in central Africa, the last of her village to be swept away by a fever whose virus isn't known; and a forty-ish man, taken away by a virus that is. Rodin saw this, and Valéry Lorenzo reminded us.

I borrow the fashionably apologetic closing of a dutiful correspondence - the title of a recent compilation, worthy of any library - to test these terrible waters, because the sculpture simply commands the recollection, and the phrase captures a truth of it. The holding on is a digging in; we were designed to do it.

The part of haste comes to us all, but not since the Middle Ages has a generation been so educated in its urgency. The prehensile hand is such a convenience, as we fumble in our thornproof for the car keys, or secure the lead of an English dog, that its genius for our service in emergency is seldom on our mind. We draw on it as we draw a beer from a tap, a tea infuser from a cup, a razor through our whiskers, an oar in its arc; and the resistances we meet, are familiar to us, sometimes even pleasing, as in the weight of a face we lift to our own. Except in the latter instance, we seldom sense that it is our truest gesture; even now, even not gripping a pen, we dabble at indentations.

How sleekly the blade dispenses with resis-tance, we seldom think of as we sweep it all aside in our processions through the day. Much poetry, so much religion celebrate the gift of letting go, that you'd think the calling of our life were to prepare an exit in good taste.

I admit, this fastidious disposition is not a touchstone of this page. We portray the education we were given, in the ways that strike us as truest to our mentors. The truth is, we are the resistance to our own education; it is how we acquire it. What we know is nothing we've over-come, but taken in. We have acquired something deeper than a taste to seize what holds.

Yet our gyre is the one which is not the acquisitive funnel of current fashion, a compulsion to possess. It is a compulsion to know, defined as one to give. Time and again an exemplary tenacity has dug itself beneath our gaze, sometimes into ourselves, a pure and powerful center, holding. What hauls us back to this well? Is the prehensile grasp a reflex, or a cause?

The closing, in tearing haste, relies on a grant of permission in the end, and treasures the bark of the vigorous tree.


  1. "in the ways that strike us as truest"

    If the strike is true, is it more true if truest? Does the noble "us" in the sentence make truth less objective? Ah, were this humble creature capable of striking truth as readily as he has been by it struck. The light of a million million stars illume the soul no more than a stricken match stroked when in darkness it dies.

  2. Here one owes a patient reader a reply in kind. He is having the familiar trouble with the refinement of an apparent superlative by its own term, as we all used to do before being introduced to experience. There is nothing supervening in the term, truth; it is not a superlative, or there couldn't be so much of it. Nor does it have to be immaculate, to remain objective, or there could be no doctrine of reasonable doubt. Among other conditionals, what it proves, how it proves it, and why it is pertinent then subject truth to selection for the instant case. There is more than one principle of mathematics for grammar to absorb. "2" and "3" may be true, but only one may satisfy the equation.

    Moving right along, the adoption of the plural defers to a variety of conventions, not to one. It can reflect the least affected of the lot, as in referring to "the more than one of us, similarly situated." I don't object to a disgust with my adoption of the plural, but the reader is entitled to know why he should not expect consistency in its antecedent.

    I confide regret for a swing and a miss at truth, if that was the consequence of a remark here; but I am not surprised.

    Finally, I'm afraid I cannot accept the closing aphorism. Quantity is pertinent in establishing pattern; and if the reader is not acquainted with the relevancy of pattern, he cannot believe in the probity of circumstantial evidence. Lucky him, he gets excused from jury duty.