Friday, August 12, 2005

Random Quotes and Stuff: Installment #3

"Last summer, the F.D.A. approved the leech for use as a medical device, making this only the second time that the agency has authorized such a use for a live animal. (Maggots, which can be applied to wounds to consume infected tissue, were approved in January, 2004.)"

-John Colapinto, "Blood Suckers," The New Yorker, July 25, 2005
I find this news exciting. When I first read about the maggots-as-medicine approval last year, I was elated. I hoped that more people would realize how interconnected everything is if doctors dumped maggots into their festering wounds. Unfortunately, most people feel very differently about composter species and the idea of squirming, white grubs eating their flesh - even dead, dying or inflamed flesh - will likely disturb them. Whatever...I'll just go sit in the corner and play with my leeches.

"It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way….It endures because young men love it and old men love it in them."

-Judge Holden speaking in Cormac McCarthy's novel, Blood Meridian
In the early nineties, Operation Desert Storm was featured prominently on network television and in department stores. My Virginian neighbors proudly wore T-shirts emblazoned with the mission name, as though it was a World Series commemorative; to be without one was unusual or, worse, unpatriotic.

I was thirteen years old in 1991. I remember watching the green-tinted, "night vision" films of Baghdad air raids as I lay on the floor of my parents' living room, drawing pictures. I wondered, naively, why we still fought wars. After World War II, after the horror of the atomic bomb, I thought, we should know better.

And yet, five quick years later, I seriously considered military service. Being a good patriot requires some service to the country, I told myself, and, more importantly, I would not be "truly alive" until I had charged into harms way, guns blazing. I'm no longer so naive or bloodthirsty, but I think Judge Holden's answer accurate, no matter how damned distressing it may be.

"Children need the dark materials of fairy tales because they need to make sense - in a symbolic, displaced way - of their own feelings of anger, resentment, and powerlessness. Children also benefit from learning about violence and brutishness in fairy tales, Bettelheim writes, for it counters the 'widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in our life is due to our natures - the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly.'"

-Margaret Talbot, 'The Candy Man," The New Yorker, July 11 & 18, 2005
I recently met a young girl - I believe she was six or seven years of age - whom I found especially intriguing. At a Long Island dinner party, the several children present announced that they intended to "put on a show" for the adults, mostly Long Island married couples and a few odd men and women out, myself among them. A few minutes later, this particular girl emerged with a wand, a vaguely ethereal tutu bottom and a wide, toothy grin to announce the name of her segment. "Evil Always Wins," she said, proudly. She proceeded to make her way around the room, lightly touching the heads of all in attendance with her wand, announcing, "Now you have been made evil."

I took an instant liking to the precocious girl and found myself pondering her performance for much of the party. I believe she intended to protect the adults from the cruel realities of the world. Because "evil always wins," she magically transformed each of us into evil beings, thereby saving us from future defeat.

Examining this logic from an adult perspective, it stinks of "selling out," an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude, but children don't necessarily view the world in this way. For example, when I was ten or eleven, I once longed to be a werewolf or vampire, not so I could surf down Main Street on the roof of a van, but so I could "infect" people I liked, creating an eternal community of kindred spirits. Sure, at twenty-seven this scenario seems dangerously cultish, but I also used to fantasize about tearing away the throats of my "enemies," and if I'm not going to condemn my childhood wants and desires for their violent content, I certainly won't do so for their lack of philosophical foresight. Besides, there are worse fates than lycanthropy or vampirism.

When I later recounted the story of this "evil," little girl, most listeners shook their head and said things like, "Wow, something is sure wrong with her" or "That's disturbing. She's a troubled kid, huh?" I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there is something amiss in the child's life, but most children wrestle with real world nightmares. It's a vital part of growing up. Scars, mental and physical, stay with us, an important part of who we are. An increasingly protective approach to child rearing, though, has taken hold. Disney, as far as I'm concerned, is the embodiment of popular parenting, making formulaic movies to entertain unimaginative children and adults alike. The animation is spectacular, certainly, but the plots are hollow and repetitive alongside those found in, say, Grimms' Fairy Tales.

I brought this up with a parent I know and she told me she would never give Grimms' to her daughter "because they are too frightening." But I agree with G.K. Chesterton, author of "The Ethic of Elfland," who writes that fairytales inspire in children a sense that life "is not only a pleasure but an eccentric privilege." What a marvelous way of putting it!


Updog said...

I love it.
I think that's the best image of the Devil that I've ever seen... a cute little girl in a tutu with a wand.
"Now you're evil..."
Ha ha ha... we chuckle...
Joke right?
Bully for her.
As for the War quote, I'm not so enthusiastic about it. Struggle is the constant, violence is omnipresent, and victory is always fleeting. War, on the other hand, is a human endeavor. It does not exist except that we say it does and that we make it so.
I feel that most folks that talk in big certainties about the inevitability and grim glory of war are mostly attempting to justify their own cruelties or the cruelties they enable by proxy.
War IS like major league baseball.

Devo said...

I had dreams of lycanthropy and vampirism as a youth too. And thinking about your take on it, I realize a more subtle facet of the curse as it may have been understood in times when it was "real". If you do, in fact, thrive on destroying your enemies, as you once fantasized, then you infect them as well, granting them the same immortality that you have. Therefore, you damn yourself to an eternity of knowing that your enemy is as everlasting as you are. I hope that made sense. It's not even 8:30 and I'm trying to make sentences. So cut me some slack, jack...

As for maggots in my festering wounds, that certainly makes me squirm. It also reminds me of the immensely talented artists known as "GWAR". I'd pay big bucks to go to one of their concerts.

Updog said...

Speaking of Gwar and maggots... one of the bandmembers owns a trendy sushi joint here in Richmond... Sticky Rice it's called.
Gwar? Maggots? Sticky little white grains of rice?
Hmmm.... makes me hungry. (actually it does. they serve good maggots-- I mean rice)

Devo said...

Didn't they get banned from ever playing in Richmond again?

I'm glad they're busy being successful... but does that mean no more Vlad The Impaler or Scumdogs of the Universe? Those guys are such an important part of my upbringing... it'd be very sad to see them break up.

Hungry Hyaena said...


I agree with what you write regarding war; it is very much a "human endeavor." That "most folks" are justifying cruelty via "big certainties" is undeniable.

Sadly, this doesn't make the sentiment expressed by Holden any less popular. It is the reason organized team sports generate so much revenue. As you suggest, war is the MLB. Perhaps Holden could have been more precise by saying, "Young men love competition and old men love it in them?"


Depending on the writer (and the believer), vampires and werewolves do not infect everybody they "feed" on. Vampires for example, can drain all the blood on a one-stop shopping spree, thereby killing the victim, or elect to return several times, being careful to drain just enough blood to infect rather than kill them.

Werewolves are less skilled in the "infection election" department, but they too can choose to be more tender with a victim, thereby giving the human an opportunity to recover.

Basically, if you don't want someone to be a part of your undying intellectual circle, you just make sure you've killed them before you move on to more mayhem...or the local Starbucks.

Devo said...

Speaking of Starbucks... I saw this liqueur at the local Joe Canal's Booze Outlet by starbucks. It seems to be like a high-class Kahlua. I wanted to buy some, but Dawn made me get Kahlua instead. Starbucks stuff was too spensive. But I'm ever so curious...

I hate and love Starbucks at the same time. One saving grace: fair trade coffee....

Updog said...

(on the Gwar theme)
Yes, they did get banned from Richmond, but they still play... afterall, the city limits are much smaller than the actual metropolitan area. In fact, they were featured in full regalia in the local free paper. Hooray! Artificial bodily fluids for everyone!

(regarding the lycanthropes)
Y'all should check out the bits in the Malleus Maleficarum on Lycantropy. (FYI, the MM is a 16th century witch hunter's handbook written by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprengler... two nasty, misogynists that have a lot of blood on their hands) Their explanations are pretty intricate and demonstrate just how deeply this stuff was (and is) worked into culture.

Updog said...

Nix that: the MM is 15th century.

Devo said...

yeah, the MM is featured in many of my favorite nerdy TV shows. The History Channel's special on torture is particularly entertaining. Some of the things you could do to make a living back in the day are truly astounding. How to identify a werewolf indeed...