Revenge Should Have No Bounds – Chapter 27

[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
before proceeding.]

Prologue 001-002     Chap 1 003-005     Chap 2 006              Chap 3 007-008
Chap 4 009-010       Chap 5  011-013     Chap 6  014-017     Chap 7  018-019
Chap 8  020-023      Chap 9  024-027     Chap 10  028-031    Chap 11 032-041
Chap 12  042-048     Chap 13 049-055    Chap 14  056-063    Chap 15  064-074
Chap 16 075-084       Chap 17 85-95         Chap 18 96-110     Chap 19  111-123
Chap 20 124-131     Chap 21 132-133     Chap 22     Chap 23     Chap 24
Chap 25     Chap 26

Revenge Should Have No Bounds

Chapter 27: Reconsidering

In the course of many never-resting weeks since talking to Ojiro the summer has verged beyond the border to autumn and become a hurtful November.  Cold, chill, blustering.  More and more I while my time away indoors, in cafés, restaurants, movie theaters, book stores, libraries, museums.  My days are lonely and desolate to a degree of intensity that awes me.  It is therefore a kind of happy serendipity that sees the city’s major museum mount an alluring retrospective of that great painter of American loneliness, Edward Hopper.

I suppose his most famous painting is Nighthawks.  At least it is my favorite, and it captures my mood these days.  I have almost become that bleak nocturnal view into a corner diner where the viewer sees a man’s back, a couple staring straight ahead, and the counter man bending down to some task.  The painting screams loneliness.  And positively chilling to me in their analysis of human isolation are Room in New York and Hotel by the Railroad.  They express what I think of as a peculiarly American loneliness at that, the loneliness of togetherness.

In the first one, done in 1932, we are outside voyeurs looking through a large plate glass window into an apartment.  A man is sitting on the left hunched over in a large easy chair reading a newspaper, and a woman sits idly at a piano on the right plunking away with one finger at some tune – not a happy one, I would imagine.  Though together in this room, the two of them are separated by a table that, in perspective, consists of an oval, itself covered with an oval doily.  Each is preoccupied with an activity to the exclusion of the other.  The only visual connection between them is that the reddish color of the chair the man is occupying picks up the red of the dress the woman is wearing.  He looks as though he will be reading his paper for quite a while, but her sitting posture at the piano is casual as if she appears somehow to be expecting that something is going to happen fairly soon and she will have to get up.

Now move ahead twenty years to 1952 and the second painting.  We have what looks like the same couple, but her once black hair is now graying and what is left of his once blondish brown hair has turned silvery.  They are still not communicating – she is now sitting in a grayish easy chair reading a book and he is standing at the window, back to the woman, cigarette in hand, staring out at a dreary urban landscape.  He appears to be dressed in the same dark suit, now somewhat frayed with the years, and she is wearing an etiolated version of the bright red thing she wore twenty years ago.

Taking these two paintings of loneliness together, I get the sense that the man and woman have stayed with each other all these years, and still each has nothing to say to the other.  The only change, aside from the aging, is that the woman is now in the left side of the painting and he is on the right, the view is outward rather than inward as in 1932, and it is day rather than night.

Of course I do not know any more than anybody else what Hopper had in mind with these two paintings.  Still, to me they speak of an unbridgeable apartness in the midst of togetherness, an isolation so profound and so permanent that its horror has become banal in the lives of the two protagonists.  Hopper’s works seem to be a backwards echo to Thoreau’s words about the lives of quiet desperation that most people live, and after a while don’t even know that they are living, and a prospective to Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd.  I feel today that here in the warm silence and solitude of the museum I understand perfectly the thematic tie that links Thoreau, Hopper, and Riesman to myself.

It is an epiphany.

These are powerful paintings, even each by itself, but together they make a deep and disturbing comment on the impossibility of human relationships.  In a very real sense, I know, know the deep difficulty of making a connection that is much beyond the flesh.

This restful art that talks to me with such muted eloquence seduces my thoughts onto the theme of style.  Style is many things, but the thing that it most probably is not is appearances.  Am I posing a clever paradox to myself?

Mention style, and most people will think of clothes.  It is true that if you wear electric-blue suits stitched in brown and have on white socks and a patterned silk shirt you are dressed in a certain style.  But it is not style.

Other people will connect the idea of style with writing, or painting.  For example, if you write sentences filled with complex subordinations and honed parallelism or with a string of simple declarations, you are writing in a certain style.  But it probably has no style.

And there are those who will refer the concept of style to architecture.  Thus, a rich man’s home may have Ionic columns as a preface to the Georgian façade of a building with mansard roof, but this jumble of established styles will hardly assure that the architecture has style.

If style is not what is popularly thought to be style, what is it?  Style is not to be confused with a style.  A given style always involves external appearance; style always entails interior reality.

A particular art, a particular way of putting one’s words together, a certain type of dress – these are all manifestations of a personal attitude about oneself:  I want this type of painting, that kind of writing, and this mode of dress to tell you that I am the kind of person that I think I would like you to believe that I am.  This is sometimes known as putting the cart before the horse.

Style is not something that you put on last, on the outside, to create that final impression of whatever it is you imagine you wish to convey.  Style is essence, inextricable and inseparable essence.  Style springs from the deepest sources of one’s being;  style is as unique an attribute of a person as a fingerprint or DNA, if not nearly as universal.  For though everybody has a style, few have style.

Above all style is concinnity, a species of harmony.  Only when the outer expression is truly consistent with the inner substance does the possibility for style exist.  As you may imagine, I believe Hopper had style.

Now, why am I suddenly riffing on style and the artistic representation of loneliness?  Is it a way to deflect attention from the issues of morality that confront me as I go about my business of trying to do what most people would think unthinkable?  Even I would have a year ago.  Have I sunk so low, or reached so high?  What does style have to do with morality?

In all the tumult and turmoil that has been my life since the beginning of the year until the end of the trial I thought not once about ethics, morality, right or wrong.  But since my acquittal I have thought of few things but that.  And I am tired of these infernal rats scurrying around in my resonating head?  I’ve read Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, St. Augustine – they all talk endlessly about morality and ethics and right and wrong and justice and on and on and on.  Their elegance and clarity when met within the seminar room seem less compelling to me today.  What lessons do any of them have for me in the practical here and now?  I’ve read goodly portions of the Bible – the New Testament would seem to suggest one course of action for me, but what about the Old Testament?  There is that delicious condoning found at the end of chapter 6 of Proverbs:

… his reproach shall not be wiped away.  For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will not regard any ransom; neither will he rest content, though thou givest many gifts.

To be sure, these verses give permission for avenging adultery.  But is a frame for murder any less horrendous, much less murder itself that eludes the law?  I think not.  Well, we all know the devil can quote scripture to suit his own purpose.  But if some ‘he will not spare in the day of vengeance why should any ‘she spare in the day of vengeance ?  Like me?

Enough talk, enough thought, enough pro and con, enough this versus that.  Right or wrong, now my mind is made up.  What I have been ruminating on ever more intensely since my telephone chat with Ojiro in September is leading me into a territory I admit I’m not sure of and not sure I want to be sure of.  But I’ve come to that Gordian spot where I must either leave the tangled knot forever or, destructively, unravel it with one chopping swing of the sword.

And Ojiro has put it into my mind what must be done.


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