fpb: (Default)
This essay is going to start on a very different subject from where it is going to end.

The highest level of artistic achievement always has a powerful ethical content, quite simply because artists of the level of Homer, Dante, Beethoven, have a broad enough insight to take in all significant parts of human experience, and morality is a major part of it. However, morality as such is not necessarily connected with artistic merit, except in the sense that artistic merit always has to do with truth to experience. Take, for instance, a song such as Tata Young's Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy. There can be no doubt that nobody would want to encourage the kind of attitude it describes, not only the tarty-ness, but the vanity and egotism that underlie it, and the parasitical overtones of such a verse as “I like all my men, I like them tall with MO-NEY!!”. But because it is the work of a young woman who has been, one way or another, in the position of feeling, experiencing, imaginatively understanding – if not necessarily acting out – the attitudes it describes, it is an almost complete success, vigorous, driving, melodious and vital. She knows that generation and those people, if she knows anything at all. And even where the lyrics cross the border from childishly arrogant to merely stupid, repeating without insight the follies of the worst pseudo-feminism (“people are intimidated when a girl is cool with her sexuality” - sorry, dear, we aren't really intimidated by any such thing, only embarrassed and rather sad), it may be said at least that this is a true-to-life part of the experience described. Teen-agers will indeed repeat that kind of rubbish. Shakespeare this is not, but it has in common with Shakespeare and all successful art that it is a true image of a true experience.

It follows, naturally, that artistic failure always tends, for whatever reason, to falsify experience; whether it distorts it by conventional and superficial notions, or by ideological blinkers, or by mere stupidity and ignorance. The worst song Frank Sinatra ever sang, Love and Marriage, belongs in this category. This car crash of a song, whose hideous jingle-like opening sticks in the mind like the worst kind of advertising music, is so steeped in sentimental falsehood that it is almost aware of it; almost. For if it really understood that “the idea that love and marriage must go together is sentimental, false and dangerous”, we would have a very different kind of song – something like, for instance, Bruce Springsteen's The River. But Love and Marriage is trying to say the exact opposite, but without any real belief, without any of the belief born from experience. It tries to be both witty and earnest, and fails at both. The material is as arbitrary (“ask the local gentry – and they will say it's ellyment'ry!”) as that of my previous instance was relevant and inevitable (“My mouth never takes a holiday, I always shock with the things I say/ I was always the kid at school who'd turn up to each class about an hour late!”). Notice, too, the modest but effective invention of that half-line, “my mouth never takes a holiday”, as compared with the utter deadness of something like “Ask the local gentry”. Why “the local gentry”? Why not the alien gentry, the overseas gentry, or just the gentry, period? Why, because about a century before the song was written, the expression “the local gentry” meant something. It was pulled from the list of old, half-remembered word groupings, purely to fill its space in a verse. From beginning to end, there is not one passage that has that sense of inevitability that is the mark of a well conceived poem or lyric. The very opening leaves the impression that the singer is repeating the words to himself in the hope that some significant rhyme will occur to him.

The reason why this song does not dare quite take itself seriously, and never seems to find the right turn of phrase, is that it is trying to assert as undeniable fact something that was, and had been for at least half a century, under concentrated cultural fire, namely, the institution of marriage. “Love and marriage, love and marriage, it's an institute you can't disparage...” - can't what? (And notice the infelicity of replacing “institute” for “institution” to make it fit the verse.) It belongs to a luckily rather small group of songs that seemed to want to use popular music to preach, any old how, attitudes that the authors regarded as desirable – although they seemed never to understand what could possibly make them desirable. Another such terrible Sinatra item was Swinging on a star, apparently aimed at schoolchildren, and promising them that if they were good hard-working schoolchildren rather than “mules” or “pigs” or “fishes”, they would grow up able to perform miracles and travel to the stars at will. Well, of course we want children to work hard and study; but to promise them that if only they work hard they can all be Thomas A. Edison or John Wayne or John D. Rockefeller is bunk so pure, so repulsive, so fraudulent, that one wonders how anyone could be so stupid as to want to propagate it to children. Luckily, the song is so bad that one doubts any child ever took it seriously, but if any one ever did, they were setting themselves up for nearly inevitable disappointment and resentment.

One great work of art that originated in the same period showed what the right message had to be, and what it should be. As Bill Mauldin, a great cartoonist, said of his colleague Charles M.Schulz, “He is a preacher. All great cartoonists are jackleg preachers... there is a high moral tone there.” What did he mean? Not, certainly, what many people imagine that the work of art “with a message” should be, that is, that the person with the right ideas and attitudes should be the winner in the end. Absolutely the contrary: what we get from Peanuts is that you can be a “loser”, a modest person with no accomplishment or glitter, a kind of punching bag for destiny, and still be better than a winner. The winner, in the world of Peanuts , is fairly clearly Lucy Van Pelt – a bully and a fool; and I don't think there is a single reader of Peanuts in three quarters of a century who has not left the strip with a strong feeling that it would be infinitely better to be a Charlie Brown than to be a Lucy. That is the moral message children and adults need to hear, reconciling us to the battle of life with its inevitable defeats, showing by example rather than by precept the hollowness and unimportance of “winning”; a message of the most desperate importance in a country where children are daily subjected to liminal and subliminal messages preaching the exact opposite - “winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.”

Swinging on a Star came out at a time when American public opinion was seriously worried about the state of the country's youth, about gangs and a growing looseness in behaviour and fashion. It clearly was intended to preach the virtues of schoolwork and learning, and by extension of hard work and discipline in general, but its scheme of thought shows that the author did not have the least idea why the life of work and study should be preferred to the life of a mule, a pig, or a fish . In fact, it shows the exact opposite: by emphasizing vast ambition and overwhelming success, swinging on a star, carrying moonbeams round in a jar, it effectively depreciates the life of hard work, moderate achievement, and “being happy at home”, that is the best most of us can realistically hope for. (Indeed, from another point of view, it is the best that anyone can hope for. The triumphant billionaire or movie star cannot really be more happy than an ordinary grandfather playing with his grandchildren in a house he has bought and paid for from his own work as a welder or as a clerk. The satisfaction of work well done, of a thriving family, of the esteem of friends and colleagues, is the same for both.) A decade later, Bob Dylan skewered all such fantasies in a few pointed and meaningful lines: Advertising signs they con/ You into thinking you're the one/ That can do what's never been done/ That can win what's never been won/ Meanwhile life outside goes on/ All around you! Indeed Swinging on a Star and Love and marriage are clearly in the style of advertising jingles. Somebody set out to advertise marriage and hard work, with the advertiser's mentality, and had been as successful as one could expect.

Swinging on a Star is not as spectacularly, unredeemably, wholly worthless as Love and Marriage. If its values and rewards are unreal and misleading, at least it is very clear about what it opposes, and when it describes the attitudes it condemns it does with understanding, sting, and even wit. A mule is an animal with long, funny ears./ He kicks up at anything he hears. / His back is brawny and his brain is weak./ He's just plain stupid with a stubborn streak./ And, by the way, if you hate to go to school/ You may grow up to be a mule. ... A pig is an animal with dirt on his face/ His shoes are a terrible disgrace./ He's got no manners when he eats his food./ He's fat and lazy and extremely rude!/ But if you don't care a feather or a fig/ You may grow up to be a pig.....A fish won't do anything but swim in a brook/ He can't write his name or read a book./ To fool all the people is his only thought,/ And though he's slippery, he still gets caught./ But then if that sort of life is what you wish,/ You may grow up to be a fish. There is no such relief of wit or realism or even real anger anywhere in Love and Marriage.

By comparison, then, we have to conclude that Love and Marriage really has no truth to offer, not even a negative kind of truth. It does not, like Sexy, Naugthy, Bitchy, depict vivacity and insight an objectively bad but real attitude; it does not, like Swinging on a Star, have a clear idea of at least the negative part of its message – much less of the positive on). Love and Marriage has no artistic value at all, no truth to experience. And the common advertiser's attitude of the two songs suggests that their flaws must be similar, rooted in the same way of thinking and doing things. And as Love and marriage is all bad, unrelieved by any quality patches, it is also likely to reflect only the bad parts of Swinging on a Star – to offer as the obvious result of hard work something – great and extraordinary success – that is by its nature open only to the lucky.

And indeed it is so. There is a relationship between love and marriage, but it is not what the song tries to suggest. Let us ask ourselves: what kind of feeling do sane people – I mean those who don't write editorials about “heteronormativity” and “matrimania” and other such ugly neologisms – have, when they hear someone like Jack Kirby say that his proudest achievement was, “I married the woman I love, and I loved her all my life”? If love and marriage went together like a horse and carriage, we should find that fairly obvious. But we don't. We react to it as to something great, noble and touching, something we admire and wish we could emulate even though we suspect we never could. Livelong married love is something like a sporting record or a great work of art: something rare and beautiful, but that makes us all feel a little better about mankind and so, in a sense, about ourselves. I may never manage to cover a hundred metres in a hundred minutes, but I can watch, enjoy and admire the sight of Usain Bolt streaking down the straight and making it look easy. I may be a disaster with the other sex, but I can still look on a life like Kirby's or many others, and feel warmer because married love really is possible.

Married love is the achievement; marriage is the activity. And that being the case, you can see exactly what is the problem with Love and Marriage and the whole set of notions it embodies so disastrously: it offers as the ordinary condition what is in fact the hard-won and somewhat lucky achievement. It offers the equivalent of a Wimbledon singles title to every entry-level tennis player. Which, of course, is exactly what Swinging on a Star does with respect to work and good behaviour in general, and work and good behaviour at school in particular.

But, you will say, people marry for love. Well, some do. Many people marry for companionship; it is that, much more than the unlikely hope that you might meet a complete stranger and just fall head over heels in love for life, that keeps marriage bureaux, websites and ad columns in business. Some marry because there is a child on the way. And even in Europe, let alone in other parts of the world, there are still a few people whose first reason to marry is that an heir is expected from them, beginning with the surviving royal families. And I would have to see the evidence that these marriages are in any way less well founded and durable than those based on romantic love. (Because, of course, what I mean by love in this context, unless I say otherwise, is exclusively romantic or erotic love, the thing that makes you feel that the whole meaning of life is wrapped up into another person, normally of the opposite sex.)

No, love and marriage do not go together like a horse and carriage. Like the attempt to justify hard work as the road to overwhelming success – rather than a necessity which, if properly carried out, might help you to a modestly comfortable later life and perhaps a nest egg for your heirs – to make love the cause and heart and constant fellow-traveller of marriage is wrong in itself and a fertile breeder of disillusionment, anger and unhappiness. One can see it in the lives of the very people who have, for more than a century, done the most to spread this false equivalence. Rich men and entertainment figures who divorce four or five times really do believe that marriage is all about love – so they break up and start again every time they think they are in love. And if anyone thinks that is an enviable situation, I heartily disagree. A single divorce (setting aside the issue whether divorce is even admissible, and treating the modern world as it is) is the most miserable thing in the world; imagine five! And let's not hear any nonsense about amicable divorce. If you can bear to separate yourself from the place you lived for years, from the objects and sights that framed your daily life, from a person with whom you once shared everything – and let's not even speak about custody – then you were never married, you were a gigolo or a prostitute now about to get a final pay-off and leave the place of employment. And in fact such things rarely happen. People, including myself, make bitter jokes about divorce lawyers, but in fact most of divorce lawyers – yes, and judges too – will tell you that most of their time is spent trying to get reason through to two people maddened by loss, anger, disappointment and jealousy. Or to put it another way: let us go from one of Old Blue Eyes' worst songs to one of the best. One for my baby (and one more for the road). As fraudulent as Love and Marriage is, so One for my baby is true to life (including the life of the much-married crooner himself) and speaks from experience. The lament for the impermanence of love, the pain in admitting that it was just “a brief episode”, the where-did-we-go-wrong, are typical of love as it often appears if you are not Jack and Rosalind Kirby, and therefore an artistic triumph. Play the two songs one after the other, and you will need no more arguments to understand how crassly wrong is the very notion that love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.

What, then, is marriage about? Well, of course I could start with the Christian doctrine, which I set out in a recent essay. But that would not convince anyone who is not Christian already. More importantly, it is my view that the tenets of morality, contrary to what many Christians preach, are evident by themselves and would equally be true if no God existed. God is as it were their third dimension; they are rooted in Him and sanctified by Him because so is mankind itself. But I do not need to start from God – though I will certainly end with Him – to argue that murder or abortion are wrong, and that taking care of the old and the sick is right. At any rate, there is no originality in Christ's moral teaching; rather it amounts to “Do what you have always known you must do, only more so” (or, as an Italian patriot used to say, “When you cannot tell the path of duty, choose the hardest”). In the case of marriage, this means that marriage is for life: Jesus compared the statement of principle in Genesis, declaring the nature of mankind in mythical language, where a man and a woman are said to become one flesh, and contrasts it with the merely human and historically originated law that allows divorce “because of the hardness of your hearts”. Jesus himself said that He had not come to alter the law, but to fulfill it; and St.Paul taught that even pagans deprived of the Divine revelation are capable of being “law” to their own selves, perceiving and following the dictates of an exacting moral law. Morality is universal. Even the recognition that every man is a sinner, while it might have surprised the proud Greek philosophers, would come as nothing new to Hindus and Buddhists, each of whom knew of the burden of past karma.

And that being the case, what we have to do is see what marriage is in the daily lives of the ordinary world. First of all, then, marriage brings two families or groups of families permanently together. That is a frequent historical reason for marriage – alliances, peace-making, joining properties and inheritances. That, in a true marriage, never changes; and it is signalized by the typical marriage feast, to which every connection of the couple, however remote, has to be invited. That is because even the most distant members of a family group will know that from now on they have another connection, another link in blood and law. And that link is real and effective. How often does anyone in need of help, advice, introductions, expertise, stop to say - “Hey, isn't your cousin a conveyancing expert? Isn't your uncle's wife a friend of so-and-so? Doesn't your nephew speak fluent Swedish?” Help from in-laws is as expected as mutual concern in the lives of each other's families. This connection reminds us immediately of the words of Genesis – they shall be one flesh. The unity established between two families depend son the fact that each of the partners now has both family identities. In what sense this is more than merely symbolic or fictive is a question that can be argued, but only a fool would argue that it differs only in degree, rather than in kind, from cohabitation.

And this leads us to another central issue: children. I don't want to have to argue that children do better with a firmly married father and mother, any more than I want to have to argue that water is wet. I ask that we take this as axiomatic, as read. That is not to say that this optimal situation is always possible; even without divorce, family break-ups, family violence , or just tragedies – the early death of one or both parents – mean that a large number of people will either live without this benefit, or live in a situation where the benefit of living parents is perverted into an enduring torture. But to make these instances of misfortune or evil behaviour into a reason to attack the institution of marriage is like using the fact that some cops will always be thugs and some cops will always be on the take to call for the abolition of the concept (and the fact) of police. Marriage brings together two people, with the support of many others, for the most demanding and intensive of all jobs – one that takes a minimum of eighteen to twenty years to be considered complete, and that, especially in early years, will take every second of the day and much of the night of a strong young adult. Anyone who has had to take care of a small child, however well behaved, for one hour, ought to understand how wise nature was to ordain that a part of the process of human reproduction should involve two strong adult individuals, supported by many others, dedicating much or most of their lives to rearing their child or children. In child rearing, there is no alternative to a family structure. Institutions and orphanages are proverbial by-words for neglect and abuse, not because they necessarily employ bad people, but because it is totally impossible that a paid person with a schedule could pay a child the attention that a mother or a father are ready to pay every moment of the day. And even in this day where the disastrous worship of love has made marriage as vulnerable as an eggshell or a scrap of paper, nonetheless statistics tell us that married couples break down much more rarely than cohabiting ones,and last much longer. The ceremony of marriage really does make a difference in this central issue of child-rearing – the survival of the couple of biological parents.

Finally, let us talk of the most neglected and even occasionally abused aspect of marriage: companionship. I have already mentioned the constant and – from the romantic point of view – inexplicable flourishing of marriage bureaux, wedding contact ads, and websites; which is only explained by the fact that many people simply want to come home and find a member of the opposite sex there. Sex, as such, may or may not take place; the important thing is not to be alone in the evening and not wake up alone in the morning. I have actually seen this used as an argument for “gay marriage”: because people marry when they are aged or infertile, therefore marriage is not about fertility, and therefore “gay marriage” is perfectly all right. Now, the second “therefore” makes no sense at all: just because some instances of actual marriage are infertile, it does not mean that you should invent a kind of marriage that is bound to be infertile, and, more to the point, not involve the two sexes. Because that is the important fact about these things is that they are always about bringing together a man and a woman. Today, of course, they have little spaces for gay couples, but they are certainly in the nature of a gesture to prevailing winds. A marriage bureau that concentrated on “gay marriages” would have a very high likelihood of going bust in a few months, but bringing together lonely men and lonely women is one of the enduring and enduringly profitable businesses of the world. And that is because the two sexes really are complementary in a way that no two members of one sex can be. We have seen that the union and collaboration of a man and a woman over a matter of decades – that is, at the very least, much of their adult lives – is a biological necessity for the rearing of human children. But the complementarity built into the two sexes by this biological need is a natural part of them and can't be talked or wished away. Men will tell you that women always talk about men; but then, how often do men talk about women? Not rarely, I can tell you. No matter what the propaganda, what the pressure of politics and of politically influenced media, the presumptions, the sexes remain a wonder and a mystery to each other.

And across this wonder and this mystery, a union takes place that is more than mere friendship, more than mere feeling, more even than love. A man and a woman form a grouping that is wholly sui generis, that is not to be explained in any terms but its own. It is not friendship, even the deepest and closest and most wonderful friendship; although, if the spouses are good and decent people, it will develop among other things into an enduring friendship where the one understands the other instinctively, appreciates their views, and supports their actions. It is not love, although love is one of its highest and most admired achievements; but two people may be validly married, and even get along quite nicely thank you, without every having had a tremendous attraction to each other. It is not even only fertility, because father and mother may well, it is hoped, look to the children, but they also look to each other. It is marriage; period, end of story. And it is between a man and a woman.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
The drift away from normative lifelong monogamous marriage seems to be as old as the human race. That seems to me to be what Our Lord meant when He said: "Moses told you so [allowing divorce] because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning it was not so." Jesus had asked "What did Moses teach you [about marriage]?" And he had been answered that Moses - the biblical character Moses - had allowed a man to repudiate his wife. But Jesus answered that Moses - the traditional author of the first five books of the Bible - had, before that, taught that God Himself had made men male and female, and had ordered that they shall leave their respective families and become "one flesh". This is what God ordered, "and what God has put together let no man tear asunder."

In other words, the drift from monogamy had taken place even in the history of the Chosen People. Indeed, this was one thing in which Jews, Greeks and Romans were very like each other. It was not that the ideal of lifelong monogamy was not known; in the area I know best, Rome, it was implicit in numerous features of religious and ritual ideas, for instance the prescription that the priest of Jupiter (Flamen Dialis), highest ranking of all priests in Rome, should be married with a single wife who shared his duties, or the fact that the children who assisted in certain important sacrifices should be "patrimi matrimi", that is, having both parents living. This indicates that the condition of being married to the same wife, in an unbroken partnership, and having had children with her, was regarded as a religiously pure and desirable condition. But what was more likely was the life story of Caesar - who had actually briefly been Flamen Dialis at seventeen - who was married four times, and eventually had his much-desired male heir not from his wife but from Cleopatra, who was never married to him - but was the highest-ranking and most powerful monarch at the time. Caesar's enemy Cato the Younger "lent" his second wife Marcia to his friend and ally Hortensius, divorcing her so that Hortensius could marry her, and remarried her, with no problem at all, when Hortensius died! In the Greek world there are several accounts of brothers marrying their own sisters to keep the family patrimony intact, something, indeed, that seems to have become a system among the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, the Greek dynasties that ruled Egypt and Syria after Alexander the Great. Cleopatra herself (Cleopatra VII), Caesar's lover, was the product of more than a dozen generations of married incest. How she felt about that charming family tradition is shown by the fact that her first act as a ruling queen was to have her brother murdered.

All this has one clear, visible and easily identifiable common feature: power. Violations of the natural rule of monogamy always come from displays of power or consideration of political and economic convenience. Poor and middling folks did not take more than one wife, and did not divorce, things that would have cost money.they did not have; at most, they may have wasted a little money on a girlfriend, or a favoured slave, or a prostitute. (And their culture, from King Lemuel to Plautus, always warned them that such women were financially ruinous.) It was the sovereign kings of Egypt or Iran or China who kept harems, as a display of their personal power. It was the importance of holding large inheritances, or even royal power, in a single line, that led that very practical nation, the Greeks, to allow married incest. When Cato "lent" his wife to his friend Hortensius, it was because Hortensius, an older man and the greatest orator in Rome, was an important part of the alliance he was establishing against Caesar. (He would not give him his daughter, as would have been more natural, because she was already married to Caesar's worst single enemy, Bibulus.) Wealth, kingship, political power, and the display that go with them, were the levers that had broken monogamous marriage across the civilized world from Rome to China.

Even in the Christian West, and in spite of Our Lord's clear and revered teaching, the way of political power to get around His prescription was visible, often to the point of hilarity. In Ireland, indeed, polygamy was accepted by the local Church until at least 1200 in theory, and until 1500 and more in practise; in other words, it could not be uprooted until the English had set out to destroy the whole class of Irish lords in earnest. In the Germanic countries and in Italy, they took advantage of the fiction that the kind has two selves - his public and his private one - to invent the "morganatic marriage", a marriage that involved only the king as a private person. So many kings (such as the founder of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II) had two wives, one official and married as a matter of policy, but also meant to give him the heir, and one private, whose children were usually ennobled. In France we reach the height of farce: girlfriend of the King becomes, by the seventeen hundreds, an official post, and great balls are held to find the lucky candidate. As a result, the languid and undersexed King Louis XV chose the beautiful and accomplished Madame Pompadour as he had been expected to, but did little more, all her short life, than have friendly and enjoyable talks with her. It had taken enough out of him to have a son - the future guillotine victim, Louis XVI - with his official wife.

Obviously, nothing is clearer than that divorce, outlawed by the Catholic Church for more than ten centuries, re-entered the Western world thanks to the most brutal exercise of naked political power, that of Henry VIII. The results, for him, were absolutely disastrous; the first symptoms of that mental and physical illness that destroyed his life and ruined his kingdom were when he had Anne Boleyn, the very woman he had "married" after forcing his first wife away from him, murdered under form of law after less than a year of "marriage", out of a mere and monstrous suspicion that she had been having incestuous relationships with her own brother! Nobody ever saw any evidence of this beyond the King's suspicions, and I for one have no doubt whatever that this is nothing more than the paranoid fears of an aging and already very guilty man (he had already murdered his friend Thomas More and dozens of others, and unleashed the monster Thomas Cromwell upon the Church) when he saw his beautiful young "bride" chatting and enjoying herself with her brother - a young lord as handsome and charming as Henry himself had once been, and would never now be again. Mind you, Anne Boleyn was a home-wrecker and a slut, and while I don't say she deserved to be humiliated and murdered under form of law by the man she had seduced, she took her chances when she set her cap at an aging and already married tyrant. Kings are dangerous. But the principle of divorce, born in such elevated and admirable circumstances, remained on the English statute book, migrated to America with the first English settlers just as slavery did, was slowly broadened, and eventually spread across the West. And we are still lucky: if the Lutheran Philip of Hesse had successfully managed what he had plotted in secret together with Luther and seven of Luther's chief followers, Europe might have been saddled not only with divorce but with polygamy. But that proved a bridge too far, even for them.

Feminists ought to oppose divorce, polygamy and all other marriage "variations", because they are historically always born as displays of male power and that is what they are nine times out of ten in reality. However, I do not agree with what seems to be the implication here, that the degeneration of ordinary marriage has anything to do with the invention of "gay marriage". I think the issue there is quite different. Caesar may have married four wives, but did not consider marrying four husbands. Even in the most degenerate environments, men saw a fundamental difference between attachments between or within the sexes,and never thought of granting the status of marriage to the others. Juvenal makes a savage joke out of the very notion that a man might marry another.

No, the fact is that a new, and bad, doctrine has been introduced. It had, originally, nothing to do with sexuality at all. You may find it in a famous play, "Henry IV" by Pirandello, in which the protagonist manages to force the people around him to act as though he were the emperor Henry IV (a historical figure from the Middle Ages). Its basic doctrine is the omnipotence of the will, the notion that will forms the identity of a man independently of his/her birth, characteristics, connections. or anything else. This, it may surprise you, was the central doctrine of Fascism, I mean the real thing, the doctrine formulated by Benito Mussolini after he abandoned Socialism in the wake of World War One. Not surprisingly (although his admirers tend not to discuss the matter) Pirandello himself was a black-as-coal Fascist, a favourite of Mussolini's, and the head of Mussolini's Academy of Italy. The political relevance was that Italian Fascism promised Italy, a middling power in the shade of mightier neighbours, the ability to change itself into the Roman Empire, merely by concentrated will. Willpower was the god of the Fascists.

Having failed politically in the most extreme manner (and having shown for all the world to see that Willpower was exactly the quality which Mussolini most lacked), the doctrine of the omnipotence of the will and the malleability of the self migrated, of course, to the universities, especially in the USA. That is where you got people like the horrible Professor John Money applying them to real human beings in the context of sex. The rest you know. But the point is that, whatever evil we may have done or accepted in the context of normal marriage, "gay marriage" and the associated evils of gender ideology are something new. The drift away from the norm of one man, one woman, for life, is ancient, universal, and - taking the word to refer to fallen human nature - natural. The doctrine of the subservience of self and gender to will, on the other hand, is a wholly modern evil. It would be disastrous whether or not the situation of marriage were bad, just as it was disastrous - look at what it did to my country - when it had not yet been associated with gender and sex at all.

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An English translation of Luigi Pirandello's three most famous plays, including "Henry IV"; http://www.gutenberg.org/files/42148/42148-h/42148-h.htm
fpb: (Default)
According to a recent piece of research that the BBC is heavily publicizing, one good third of British teen-agers do not consider their parents people they admire or want to imitate. Even disregarding the obvious notion of teen-age rebellion, this is rather a worrying number. However, the BBC does not draw one clear conclusion from it: if teen-agers have learned to despise or disregard their own parents, does that have nothing to do with the prevalence of divorce? Does it have nothing to do with Mother telling them all kinds of awful things about Fathers, and Father teaching them to hate Mother, and both of them instructing them to repeat the same stories in the divorce court? Stories the more damaging because they were often based on some truths - Father and Mother knew each other, after all, they knew how to defame each other in the most hurtful ways possible?

As I said elsewhere, the reasons for the prevalence of divorce are real and serious. But when you consider the damage it does, let alone the cost, is there no ground for a serious policy of reducing it?
fpb: (Default)
At one end of life, [profile] avus, who is old enough to be my father, works like a demon to help rehabilitate his wife, who has suffered a terrible accident, and is rewarded by a slow but constant improvement, till he is certain that the woman he married is back. At the other, [community profile] photosynthesis, who is young enough to be my daughter, and who has a had a life in which absolutely nothing ever came easy, receives a proposal from the man she loves in the most awe-inspiring and romantic circumstances imaginable - at the altar rails on the day of the Resurrection of Our Lord. Now tell me why these two events should move me so much.

Well, there are two possible interpretations. One is that, having myself completely and permanently failed to find a companion, I tend to overestimate the importance of marriage. The other is that marriage, the union of a man and a woman, really is the central event in life, and that moments that bring out its tremendous and heroic aspects - commitment for life and ceremonial grandeur - have the emotional power of all the things that are noble and just and true.
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A few months ago, I wrote an essay on the Catholic doctrine of marriage - http://www.livejournal.com/users/fpb/84324.html. Among the responses, this one by [personal profile] rfachir stood out for its length, eloquence and passion. Why any couple would want to be married is beyond me... Please disabuse me of these shallow, sad thoughts... In the perfect world to which the writing aspires, everyone would endevor to live in such a way as to bring heaven to earth. But I don't live in that world and I've never seen a perfect marriage, in any culture or religion, close enough to say "this is the divine plan." I'll just argue what I know - not the Living Church but the living marriage.

There is nothing in heterosexual unions that comes close to the heavenly union. Ours is not the constant perfect understanding that God has for us, nor the perfect love. We may aspire to it, and imagine it, but we fall short when it comes to "making the word flesh." We either make compromises to ensure that the marraige survives, for the sake of the divine sparks in our care, and because in the end that is what we see as a higher purpose, or we don't. But to say that how we touch ourselves or each other has any impact on how close we come to touching God is a joke.

God loves us too much to set us up like this. Jesus may have talked the talk - you know better than I - but he never walked the walk. Marriage is not Holy Orders. "Thou art a husband forever" never came into the picture. The codification of marriage isn't a divine institution - we're still practicing serial polygamy. We're so far from God's love in that single, man-made, political and material union that I don't even want to contemplate what soul-destroying power we're trying to paint it over with. These "shalt not"'s are a man-made crock. The marriage I'm living in has just as much to be penitent about as any homosexual union. Caving into sinful desires isn't limited to fornication, and fornication isn't limited to un-married or sterile intercourse.

God is love - I agree wholeheartedly. But to say God is marriage is another thing altogether, right up there with God is government (which also used to be a popular sentiment). God the Father is an incarnation I can agree with, but not God the husband.

Please please convince me otherwise. Writing this has left me unusually bitter, and I honestly don't think I have anything to complain about.


As I told her at the time, she was asking quite a bit of me. And I do not know that I can do anything towards it now, any more than I could then. But I do not think that that exempts me from making, at least, a few points.

One red herring is better got out of the way first. Jesus did not have to "walk the walk". Jesus was God; "he who has seen Me has seen the Father". As we on Earth understand difference, there was no difference between Him and God. And I argued that the "image of God" in which God made man was the unity of man and woman. In what sense this is reflected in Jesus, I do not want to speculate. As a man, as a member of the human race, he was male; as God, he was - God. He was the fullness of being.

But to us feeble ones below, everything comes as if from a great distance. There is something that I have already mentioned: In a very imperfect world and a fallen mankind, however, understanding is not a steady light, but a fitful, ill-regulated, oft-obscured glimmer. Here we see through a glass darkly; it is only there that we shall know as we are known. This explains the agonizing phenomenon of delusive love, love for the unworthy...

You might want to ask, of course, if marriage is so unnatural a thing, why do all cultures establish it, pursue it, celebrate it? Above all, if it is so unsuited to our nature, why is it such a sad thing to you - something you describe with every evidence of sadness, even of heartbreak - that it should be so? Clearly, because it is something that is in itself beautiful and attractive, and whose opposite is instinctively felt to be ugly. Your imagination instinctively seizes on the fertile union of a woman and a man as something that it would be lovely to have, were it - you would say - only possible.

What I described in my article was something like an archetype of marriage, a vision of an idea - an attempt, in fact, to locate exactly that particular thought, that particular vision, that seems so beautiful, even to you, that its apparent impossibility among men leaves you feeling sad and negative. It was not, or at least not primarily, aimed at describing how marriage actually exists in the circumstances of ordinary life. And that being the case, you ought to reflect on the relationship of archetypes, of ideals, with actual daily life. Take the police. Do you imagine that policemen and women ever do really see themselves as what they ought to be - the thin blue line, the last bulwark of peaceful society against chaos, perversity and evil? Goodness, do they ever not. Many of them, perhaps most of them, when they ever do think of such things, only lament at how far beneath the ideal they fall. They know that many of their colleagues, are lazy, incompetent, or on the take, or all of those things at once. They know that they fail so much more often than they succeed. They feel that time goes on and slowly grinds them down, and the same old everlasting evils just repeat themselvs again and again. It will often be the best, and not the worst, of them, who will find themselves asking: "Is it even worth it?" And yet - remove the idea that is always at the back of their minds; remove the archetype that is only partially actualized in the uniforms, the badges, the signs of authority and service; remove the image that they had in their mind's eyes when they first chose to be policemen and women rather than any other job; and see what happens!

The ideal, the archetype, is the spirit that gives life to every institution. Do most teachers ever stop to think that they stand at the solemn hinge of time and life, passing on the life and achievements of the dead to those who have only just begun to live? Do they ever think of their work as solemn and sacred, a service to wisdom as well as to society? Hardly. How many doctors see themselves in the image of the sworn guardian of others' bodies, committing the best of mind and soul to the healing of others? Hardly any - consciously. And yet, again, where would any of these professions be, with all the good they do for society, if the archetype did not live somewhere behind all the dreary, boring, wrong-headed, bull-headed, idle, mistaken, or plain dull events of the ordinary working day?

You may still say that I gave too high, too luminous an idea of something which is never, or hardly ever, seen in the real world. To this I have two answers. First, we say that marriage is a sacrament: and there can hardly be too high, too noble a description of a sacrament - something which is the presence and work of God on Earth. Second, I never married, and not for want of trying. Therefore I have that right of the loser to claim a clearer view, of which Emily Dickinson spoke:

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires a sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of Victory,

As he defeated — dying —
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear.
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