Monday, September 11, 2006

In which there is a kind of memorial and a kind of management

We did Titus today, and I normally don't try to link course material to "real life" because I think (hope) that my students are bright enough to see why classic literature is important in their everyday lives. But today, as we were talking about the absurd jumps in magnitude and response in the play, it struck me that at the heart of this overwrought, gory, slightly campy play is an extended meditation on how an individual responds to unspeakable grief. In the face of literal horror--his mutilated and raped daughter--Titus runs out of methods of performing grief and starts to laugh. It's not madness, yet, but it's a recognition of how impossible responding rationally to the impossible really is.

The other attempts to respond are equally untenable, but recognizable. Titus is willing to exchange his own bodily pain for the hope of... well, hope itself. He cuts off his hand in exchange for the life of his sons and recieves, in return, their heads. It looks like a sacrifice, but really, isn't it just a desperate grab (pardon the pun) for anything that looks like not-grief? And then the immediate shift to the language of revenge, which obscures but doesn't mitigate grief, at least offers a version of the future in a moment that looks like the end of the world.

Which is to say... I don't know what. Titus is not a hopeful play, but it's true in as much as there are times when we have nothing left to say.

So here's my memorial: Five years ago, I slept in, because classes wouldn't start for two weeks yet. Carl got up early to do some writing. It was a beautiful day, clear and crisp and not yet fall but no longer summer, exactly. Around nine, Carl came in to tell me that I might want to wake up, since the end of the world might be happening. And that's all. No one we know was hurt or killed. Our lives didn't change. But I still couldn't watch the footage again this morning, and I still don't know what words work to make this better.

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