Rape and the Republic

Rape of Lucretia

Lucretia by Artemisia Gentileschi

On Wednesday 13th November 2019 Lucretia sold for €4.8 million establishing a record price for the work of the 17th Century Female Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi.

The subject matter, the suicide of Lucretia, is the founding event of the Roman Republic. Sextus Tarquinus, the son of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (last King of Rome) raped the virtuous wife of the chief magistrate Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus.  In front of her husband and father she accused her rapist and took her own life in shame.  Her self sacrifice led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the creation of the Roman Republic.

Lucretia is one of those memes that has re-occured in art through the centuries, an icon of virtue, an innocent despoiled by brute power.  The rape itself forms one subject and the suicide another, both lurid, sexualised and even pornographic.

The story is a patriarchal morality story.  Despite her innocence the “path of virtue” for Lucretia is to take her own life.  That way she does not saddle her upstanding father and husband with “damaged goods”.

When Christianity rose to power suicide was deemed a sin.  But the raped innocent was expected to commit a symbolic form of suicide.  She was removed from polite society.  If she was pregnant she was sent away to bear the child in secret, in a convent if rich or in a Magdalene Laundry if she was poor.   Many an Irish girl was put on a boat to England to have her child abroad, or to avail of an abortion.  Good Catholic families specialised in sweeping their morality under the carpet of convenience.

To this day the legal systems in most countries are weighted in favour of the rapist and against the victim.  Her silence is rewarded with discretion as the rapist trots off to find his next victim.  Her accusation is questioned in detail and her character is torn to shreds in the courtroom where her sexual history and clothing choices will be used to paint her as a loose woman, a woman of dubious virtue, no Lucretia.

Lucretia

 

 

Dying is an art.

Image result for sylvia plath

Today is the birthday of Sylvia Plath, born in 1932 and dying of suicide in 1963, aged only 30.  Forever young, forever turgid with what may have been.

The poem below is a description of her relationship with suicide.  The death of her father when she was 8 years old remained with her all her life.  He died of complications following the amputation of his foot from diabetes.  Does the reference to her own right foot reflect this in the poem below?

Her father Otto Plath self diagnosed his illness – incorrectly.  Is this “Herr Doktor”?  This poem and “Daddy” are imbued with German imagery, Nazi imagery, Holocaust Imagery.  Having a German father and an Austrian mother during WW2 clearly carried a weight of guilt for the young Plath.

Her success in suicide was achieved ironically in an oven, gassing herself to death, a parody of the gassing and burning of the Jews in death camps.  Those were the days when we used towns gas, made from coal or naphta, which was poisonous.  These days if you stick your head in a gas oven you will simply get a headache.  Natural gas is not poisonous.

Lady Lazarus is one of Plath’s most analysed poems.  You will find analysis that claims it as a holocaust poem, survivor guilt, a feminist tirade against the patriarchy, a commentary on the vampire like demands of the audience on the artist, the legacy of her fathers early death, the abusive relationship with her husband Ted Hughes, the pressures on women to conform to a societal ideal, and so on.  It is a rich soup of imagery for any critic.

 

Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it——

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
bright as a Nazi lampshade,
my right foot

a paperweight,
my face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?——

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
the grave cave ate will be
at home on me

and I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
and like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
to annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
shoves in to see

them unwrap me hand and foot——
the big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

these are my hands
my knees.
I may be skin and bone,

nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
to last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

as a seashell.
They had to call and call
and pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

comeback in broad day
to the same place, the same face, the same brute
amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
that knocks me out.
There is a charge

for the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
for the hearing of my heart——
it really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
for a word or a touch
or a bit of blood

or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
the pure gold baby

that melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
you poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——

a cake of soap,
a wedding ring,
a gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
beware
beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
and I eat men like air.

Fight for peace!

Fermanagh

My oxymoronic headline is an attempt to explain what I am witnessing today, November 11th, the 100th year commemoration of the end of WW1.

What the day is about is remembrance.  Remembering the lives and the deaths of ordinary men and women who gave their lives for freedom, for peace, for God, Country and Corps.  That last bit is the bit that gets me.  The Corps.

The ceremonies of remembrance are, first and foremost, a grand day out for the military.  In Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin, during the ceremony a military honour guard paraded to take station at the stands where poppy wreaths are to be laid.  During the drill the plate of medals attached to the chest of one of the soldiers came loose, swung away from his chest, and fell to the ground.

In that moment I asked if this was perhaps a good thing.  Those medals represent the peak of military achievement by that man, that soldier.  Why, at a ceremony to mark futility of death in battle, do we celebrate our soldiers.  We allow the military to own these ceremonies.  They don their finest uniforms, polish their boots, oil their rifles, raise their flags and march with great precision to the glorification of their corps, their battalion, their unit, division, brigade, regiment, whatever.

On a day when we should be repudiating war we celebrate the soldiers.  We are effectively telling those soldiers “if you are lucky we could be praying for you here someday, when you gloriously die in battle”.

Instead of wearing their finery perhaps it would be better if we asked our soldiers to attend these events in civilian dress.  No marching, no military bands, no pipe or fife and drum.

Cover up your medals, store them away.  Roll up your flags and place them in a cupboard.  Lay away your uniform.  Lock away your weapons.  Let the solemnity of the occasion be fractured by the shouted commands of military drill.  Carry a flower and a handkerchief.

Suicide in the trenches; by Seigfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
who grinned at life in empty joy,
slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
and whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
with crumps and lice and lack of rum,
he put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
who cheer when soldier lads march by,
sneak home and pray you’ll never know
the hell where youth and laughter go.

 

 

Happy Birthday B. S. Johnson

Bryan

Born this day 1933.  Died 1973, aged 40.

Depression is a terrible condition.  Suicide a terrible conclusion.  Commercial success a chimera.  This was a man who dragged himself up by the bootstraps and gained himself a university degree.  He was a highly interesting and experimental writer and his legacy is now more recognised than in his lifetime.

If we had a Universal Basic Income would he have revealed even greater potential?  UBI would be especially beneficial in giving artists the leeway to create.

Love-All; by Bryan Stanley Johnson

The decorously informative church
Guide to Sex suggested that any urge
could well be controlled by playing tennis:
and the game provided also “many
harmless opportunities for healthy
social intercourse between the sexes.”

For weeks the drawings in the Guide misled
me as to what went where, but nonetheless
I booked the public courts and learnt the game
with other curious youths of my age:
and later joined a club, to lose six one,
six love, in the first round of the Open.

But the only girl I ever met had
her “energies channelled” far too bloody
“healthily”, and very quickly let me
know that love was merely another means
of saying nil. It was not as though I
became any good at tennis; either.

Happy Birthday Sara Teasdale

A fatalist poet, Sara Teasdale may be most famous for her poem “I shall not care” which many people mistakenly believe is her suicide note.  In fact she published that poem in 1915.  Her lover, Vachel Lindsay, took his own life in 1931 and she died from an overdose of sleeping pills in 1933.

I Shall Not Care; by Sara Teasdale

When I am dead and over me bright April
shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
tho’ you should lean above me broken-hearted,
I shall not care.

I shall have peace, as leafy trees are peaceful
when rain bends down the bough,
and I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
than you are now.

-o0o-

Her poems are powerful through their simplicity.  “There will come soft rains” became a Ray Bradbury short story, and you can instantly see why.  The poem could and should be the anthem of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT) who seek to protect planet earth by eliminating mankind.

There will come soft rains: by Sara Teasdale

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
and swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

and frogs in the pools singing at night,
and wild plum-trees in tremulous white;

robins will wear their feathery fire
whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

and not one will know of the war, not one
will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
if mankind perished utterly;

and Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
would scarcely know that we were gone.

Ramillies

Ramillies_1706_Duprez

Marlborough accepting the captured standards at Ramillies

One swallow doth not a summer make.  Although the Duke of Marlborough won a great victory at Blenheim in 1704 in the war of the Spanish Succession, he was unable to capitalize on it in 1705.  Given a year to recover his position Louis XIV felt he could at the very least bargain a better peace if he made a military demonstration.

With this in mind in the Spring of 1706 he launched campaigns in Italy and Germany with some success.  On the back of the early gains he launched Marshal Villeroi from Leuven into the Netherlands.  At Ramillies he met John Churchill, hungering for an opportunity to deal decisively with the French.

The French, Spanish & Bavarian alliance collided with Churchill’s English, Scottish, Dutch and Danish army on open flat farmland near the village of Ramillies.  The ground was a flat canvas, the perfect medium on which a skilled general could dictate a battle.  In four hours the Duke of Marlborough demonstrated why he was the greatest general in the world in his day.  23rd May is the anniversary of the battle.

The beauty of such a decisive win early in the campaign season is what happened next.  Malines, Lierre, Ghent, Alost, Damme, Oudenaarde, Bruges, and on 6 June Antwerp, all subsequently fell to Marlborough’s victorious army.  The Spanish Netherlands was Spanish no more.

I wrote this post last night, before the news leaked through of the explosion at the Manchester arena.  This morning we hear that 22 people lost their lives and over 50 have been injured in a suicide bomb blast.  Some of the casualties were children, which is no surprise in the audience of the Ariana Grande Dangerous Woman show.  A lone suicide bomber was responsible.

I hate to jump to conclusions without the full facts, but it has all the hallmarks of Islamic extremism.  John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, had the benefit of a defined enemy with stated aims.  His opponents decked their troops in uniforms and lined them up on fields of battle.  Islamic extremists have no country.  Their aim appears to be the destruction of all that is not Islam.  They are happy to die to achieve this aim and have a constant supply of suicide bombers.  They are happy to slaughter innocent children to pursue their goals.  They are happy to recruit impressionable teenagers, and indoctrinate them in madrasas converting them into weapons of flesh and bone.  How do you deal with such people?

I think Ariana Grande herself said all that can be said:

Arianabroken

Suicide cycle

13-reasons-why-5-stills-released-see-here

A lot about suicide going on this week.  Both Esha and Gavin are in the Cycle Against Suicide tomorrow from Rockwell College Cashel to Ursuline College Thurles.  So they are cycling from Gavin’s school to Esha’s.

In work people are registering for the “Darkness into Light” walk raising funds for Pieta House, which has a huge role in addressing self esteem issues in young people.

The  big hit TV series is “13 Reasons Why” the Netflix show which follows the set of cassette tapes recorded by a teenage girl before she commits suicide.  Teenagers are eating it up.  I watched it myself and really enjoyed it.  But.  Sorry…BUT (it’s a big but).

As one commentator pointed out tonight on the radio, they are young,  they are downright hot, they are so cool, they are all good looking, well dressed, highly alluring. The production is glossy, the music is fantastic, there is a teenager driving a Ford Mustang for goodness sake.  They are the teenagers that teenagers want to be.  They are the fashion queens, the sports jocks, the cheerleaders, the smart kids, the ones who matter.  When the teenagers your teens want to be are killing themselves in a form of revenge ritual you need to be concerned.  Maybe the reports are anecdotal, maybe not, but all suicide and self-harm agencies are reporting a rise in incidents.

So to my newest favourite poet, who has just released a new poem.  Not about suicide, but about the very opposite.  I just love this sentiment.  It reflects what I believe about social media.  When you are having fun, put the phone away.  Live in the moment.  It doesn’t last long.  Celebrate the NOW.

 

Blink and You’ll Miss It: by Esha Hourihane Clancy

Unlike a million other things, happiness is a choice.
A choice we all have and one we all make,
make for ourselves but for others we fake.
Fake a smile, fake a laugh,
whose to know, or much less care?
When you smile the world smiles back.
It can’t see past the façade we wear.

I cannot be bought by the wealthy nor donated to the poor.
Who am I? What am I for?
Why do plays and poems celebrate the aching and breaking of hearts?
The rolling of heads and the rolling of tears precede and interrupt the happier parts.
I guess poets and playwrights know all too well
that it is best to write when you are drowning in hell.
It’s easier.
What a sin it would be to pick up a pen while laughing.
To interrupt joy in such gross kind, you would certainly scare it away.
A deer in the woods isn’t so hard to catch.

Document the sad times, the sloths and the snails.
Fill oceans with tears and draw great blue whales.
Sing sad songs ’til the cows come home
but don’t ever try to write a happy poem.
Lions and tigers are too fast for your flash.
Reach for your pen and off they’ll dash.
Don’t worry about forgetting it
because it’s going to get forgotten.
Just enjoy it now, before it’s gone.

Look!

 

Cycle