Balmy and Clod

June 17, 2011

I remember in sixth grade after a vacation, sitting and listening while each classmate was asked what he or she did over the break.  Several girls responded in this fashion:  “On Monday, I saw Bonnie and ClydeOn Tuesday, I saw  Bonnie and Clyde again.  On Thursday, I saw…”  I saw it too, but only once.

Some people criticized the film for glorifying a couple of outlaws – the usual culture-war stuff in the 1960s and early 70s.  Watching it yesterday, it seemed to me that the bank robbers were portrayed as utterly pathetic losers, uneducated and ignorant, stifled by their small-town lives in an era of economic disaster.

Clyde announces his masculine deficiencies right off, at the very start of the film.  First, symbolically:  He declares to Bonnie that he cut off some toes to escape work detail in prison.  Secondly, after a small robbery and heady getaway, he rejects Bonnie’s frenzied sexual advances and declares, “I ain’t no  lover boy.”  He’s a great shot with a pistol, though.

I was prepared to not like this film – another over-rated artifact of the 1960s effervescence – but, in fact, it is very good.  Spare, and very dark.  The editing is so crisp, keeping the pace going, and commenting on the smallness of the characters and their foolish, clueless self-aggrandizement.  Of course, it all builds towards that concluding fusillade, that made the film such a favorite for my sexually precocious, or curious, female classmates.  Doomed lovers are always a popular theme.

Clyde is impotent, although he does manage to perform at last, near the end.  They drive towards the final ambush, eating fruit, dribbling juice down their faces.  (Reminded me of the pre-sex meal scene in Tom Jones.)  Of course, sex is not what’s coming, or is it?  Sex-Death, the eternal couple, dancing on display here.  Eros and Thanatos.  Bonnie, cheated of earthly ecstasy, seems to achieve it in death.  The stylistic and thematic debt to the too-little-known Gun Crazy is enormous.

And of course, there’s this!

Nursery Rhyme

December 11, 2010

I remember this ditty from my childhood.  Do kids still sing songs like this?  Nobody knew where they came from or how old they were.  Has the Internet, Facebook, and continuous digital audio feed via earphones obliterated this folk-childhood culture, or does it yet remain?

Dylan vs. Saint Augustine

November 18, 2010


Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)


In fact, from the moment a man begins to exist in this body which is destined to die, he is involved all the time in a process whose end is death.  For this is the end to which the life of continual change is all the time directed, if indeed we can give the name of life to this passage towards death.  There is no one, it goes without saying, who is not nearer to death this year than he was last year…

City of God – Book XIII, Chapter 10:     The Life of Mortals:  Should it be Called Death?

Here’s a link to Bob Dylan doing his song, I Dreamed I saw Saint Augustine.

To Study Philosophy is to Learn How to Die

January 21, 2008


Okay, so philosophy isn’t to solve puzzles…so what is it for? To study philosophy is to learn how to die. If you don’t want to take my word for it, read the complete essay by Mr. Michel de Montaigne, one of my favorites by him. I think he knew whereof he spoke. Maybe that’s what Ludwig Wittgenstein was groping for when he said philosophy should teach us how to live.

Whaaaa?! Live, Die, aren’t they the opposite? A zen Buddhist might say that you cannot truly live unless you are ready to die. Story:

Woman is chased by tigers, runs to cliff. Jumps off and grabs a branch sticking out. Hanging in space, she sees water filled with vicious snakes below. Looking up, she sees rodents gnawing her branch off. Soon she will fall to her death. She sees some succulent berries hanging nearby. What does she do? Scream, wail, go crazy? No, she eats the berries, relishing their wonderful taste.

That lady knew how to live- knew how to die!

Some of Montaigne’s essay is about the old cliches, “living each moment like it is your last…” but in scholarly humanist garb. Carpe diem, all that. It’s always the same message, isn’t it? If you can’t take the measure of your own life, the measure of your life’s value to yourself, how can you live well? And how can you take the measure of your life’s value if it isn’t over? (Sure, any fool can take the measure of his life when he’s lying on his deathbed, hee, hee. That’s why priests always show up!) The trick is, to see the truth when your death is far off, and so he finds himself saying to himself during everyday actions, “What if this action were my last..?”

Upon all occasions represent [death] to our imagination in his every shape; at the stumbling of a horse, at the falling of a tile, at the least prick with a pin, let us presently consider, and say to ourselves, “Well, and what if it had been death itself?” and, thereupon, let us encourage and fortify ourselves.

As a zen nun wrote, when you are dying, will you really care who won that argument? And if not, why care so much now?

And so, with the help of Philosophy, we learn to live. Maybe we learn some other things too, like the difference between universals and particulars, but that’s all rather trivial compared to our own life and death, isn’t it?