Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Lisa Challenge

I'm not sure how to describe this, because I don't know how common the experience is, but quite often I find myself "flashing back" to The Simpsons' rendition of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven.  Inextricably tied to this, somehow (she's largely absent from the sequence), is the image of Lisa Simpson.

Lisa actually has an episode where she recreates (and relives) another Poe piece - this time the story "The Tell-Tale Heart". That episode too has a similar kind of poignancy to it. Something about the combination of Simpsons and Poe that sends me into adoration overload and is probably ultimately a far more decisive source of Americophilia for me than all that democratic stuff I keep going on about.

I've already worshipped here briefly at the altar of Poe. I'm going to try and honour Lisa now.

Occasionally I've heard (well, read) it discussed who was the real hero of the show - Homer or Bart. The answer of course is Lisa. Homer's the super-everyman and Bart is the quintessential free spirit, but Lisa is the conscience and voice of wisdom and greatest source of lust for life - in other words, the heart and soul.

Many people say this makes her boring. They should be shot. Their death notwithstanding, I feel it my duty to point out that Lisa constitutes more than the stories' straight woman. She is as colourful as all the rest, what with her knee-jerk liberalism with complementary vegetarian Buddhism and partiality to Malibu Stacy dolls and ponies and that teen idol Corey and, above all, the fact that in many of the show's best episodes, especially back in the earlier seasons when it was actually good, Lisa is very clearly in quite intense and seriously considered pain, a position only ever truly shared with Marge - everybody else's pain is little more than a plot point when it pops up.

Lisa is the person people ought to be. Not actually even remotely perfect, but serious in her attempt to live life, compassionate, and, above all, childishly excited about grown-up things.

A word about "grown-up things" then. It's a rather sad commentary on how we process words and ideas that what's immediately evoked is X-rated material. Grown-ups have done more over the years than create works that had to have access to them restricted by age. Everything that isn't total fluff is adult. Everything. Art, morality, spirituality, science, friendship, love, dignity, community. All these things, especially when you participate more actively in them, are what makes adulthood infinitely better than childhood. But adults, when they find time off their busy schedules to dabble in any of these things, do so quietly, equivocally, almost indifferently. They accept on some level that these things are good but then go about them almost as if to satisfy somebody else. Lisa dives in head first, without even checking if the pool's been filled.

Poe is similarly occupied by the artistically macabre or otherwise melodramatic, with an enthusiasm and sometimes it seems the intelligence of an 8-year-old. I think it was Yeats that said that Poe's writing was vulgar. The little I've read of Yeats actually isn't bad, but brimming with enthusiasm it ain't. Let the sophisticates be adult about their adultness. I want to attack the exciting things in life with the ravenous appetite of an 8-year-old girl.

Instead of walking through life like some unholy hybrid of businessman and politician.

Friday, 23 April 2010

I Am Larry Gopnik

How's that for a new heroic figure?

Perhaps this is not the best possible example of what I'm talking about. I'm not a Job figure. My life is okay. But this happens to be what's occasioned this thought. Not the story, but the actual character himself.

I have spent most of the previous years trying to be a good person. Largely succeeding too. Big whoop.

Having the appropriate, "gracious" emotional reaction to people and events means very little when they are background noise to you and you are background noise to them. It's an assumption that if you are "okay" somebody will make things turn out right for you.

The only thing that can be reasonably expected of life is that it will go to hell in a handbasket. You can hope you'll get lucky but you can't expect it.

I think this is what's at the bottom of the differentiation between religious and secular (truly secular) thinking. It's not up to you to be a good boy so that somebody up there will take care of things for you. It's up to you to take care of things. All of them. All of what matters to you.

Larry Gopnik is comfortable in his job, in his marriage, in his pretty suburban house. But he doesn't bother to publish any work to further his academic career, neglects his wife and doesn't lift a finger to try and stop the divorce once the ball starts rolling, and then lets her and her disgusting new boyfriend smother him in their collective slime, humiliate him and send him out of his home - all with unending graciousness and with all the good humour he can pretend to muster.

Throughout all of this Gopnik will occasionally throw up his hands in exasperation and demand of the universe, "But what have I done???" Very little, Larry - in fact virtually nothing. It's not that he isn't a good person. He is. But shit happens. And he does nothing to prevent it.

Even without shit happening on a massive scale, if you watch life go by you, life will watch you go by it. It's not a question of avoiding sin. It's a question, if you will, of achieving virtue. And more than that of making your own way.

It's not about understanding the universe and thereby finding your place in it. It's about creating your place. Finding somebody to love, as this movie keeps implying, and telling anybody who gets in your way to go fuck themselves, as this movie appears to completely overlook.

I'm not sure if these little vignettes actually serve the inspirational (shaming?) purpose I intend for them, but part of the reason I'm writing is because it suddenly bothers me that I haven't written for quite a long time. I have been busy, in truth, at least relative to myself, but this still indicates a skewed set of priorities. Writing here is the closest I get to a consistent meaningful give-and-take with the universe. Everything else is just passing along time, hoping I don't do anything "wrong", and generally trying to have a quiet time.

So fuck quiet. I hereby recommit to finish my Tao Te Ching summary, for starters. Not because I said I will, and not because I think I ought to, but because I want to. Because being yourself is a constant effort requiring active participation. Because to want to do something and yet not to do it is almost a logical contradiction. It's possible, thanks to our wonderful human capacity to ignore practically everything about ourselves and the world at our convenience, but it is a silly thing to do.