Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Let's Read: The Once and Future King (Ch.9)

Not much happens in this chapter, it seems to be a bridge between better and more interesting things. But, to get right into it.

Wart wakes up from his night as a merlin to an agitated Kay, who demands to know where Wart was since they both have a strict curfew; something which, evidently, was a thing in a castle with a limited number of things to do at night. But I digress.

Kay wants to know where the heck his bro was and Wart is all like, ‘I don’t kiss and tell,’ and remained firm in his silence. This upsets Kay and the two fight. This brings us to another homoerotic bit.

In a trice they were out of bed, pale and indignant, looking rather like skinned rabbits—for in those days, nobody wore clothes in bed—and whirling their arms like windmills in an effort to do each other a mischief” (86).

There should be a Godwin’s law about stories concerning young boys where, eventually, they will appear naked at some point—Ender’s Game, Harry Potter, and so forth, all have their protagonists in compromising positions at one time or another and we, as the audience, are expected to not notice the uncomfortable fetishization going on. It’s creepy.

But Wart gives Kay a bloody nose and the story goes on. Kay slumps on his bed starting to sob and bemoans the fact that it is Wart who captures Merlyn’s attention; he is feeling left out, you see.
So Wart hurries off to find Merlyn so as to try and convince him to transfigure kay at some point. But Wart is accosted by his nanny woman who notices the black eye that Kay gave him; she swipes him down to the kitchen and Wart acts sullen. Finally, though, he escapes and finds Merlyn.

He found him [Merlyn] without trouble in the tower room which he had chosen when he arrived. All philosophers prefer to live in towers…” (87).

Just for the record: I would love to live in a tower. Though I am not a philosopher by training, I enjoy the practice, so I can vouch for the book here—towers are pretty cool.

Merlyn is distracted, as usual, but flatly declines to pull Kay into an episode of ‘Magical Misadventures!’ Merlyn tries to find his hat by calling out to it; this part is actually pretty amusing: Merlyn keeps on calling a variety of anachronistic hats to him and finally curses himself, literally, to the Bahamas, which he uses as a bit of advice to Wart against swearing. Wart begs some more but Merlyn sticks to his guns saying that he was, essentially, was ordained by fate to teach Wart, not Kay.
Poor Kay. He really got the short end of this bargain. No, really, he did… I thought I distinctly remember reading in the opening chapters that Sir Ector was looking for a tutor for both of the boys.

Why now that only Wart is the one who is taught? Because he was the one who found him in his cottage when Kay stormed home after the hawking incident? If so, then damn, what a bum deal.
Thankfully, though, Merlyn isn’t a complete ass, just somewhat of one. He talks cryptically for a bit about Wart taking Kay to some clearing beyond the castle, or whatever, where they will find something… fun? He doesn’t say and the chapter ends.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Pardoner (Notes:43)

If we define the Wife of Bath in regards to her imposing identity, her sexuality and knowable presence, then the Pardoner is the opposite; a marginalized character, The Pardoner is anything but knowable and his gender identity and sexuality is always in doubt. The Pardoner is a creature of the lie, as Lerer suggests, and so contrasts well to the Wife of Bath who is preoccupied with always attempting to get people to believe that she is telling the truth,

The Pardoner sets out to determine his position for himself; he is what he was alleged himself to be based off of his preaching and collection of hack artifacts, among which is bull testicles and various rags and bones of supposed saints. In the general prologue, we remember, that the narrator described the Pardoner as either a munic (gelding) or a mare (homosexual). If the Pardoner is in fact a munic, then the image of him keeping bull testicles would be doubly ironic but may also only be an imposition of the narrator’s ignorant projections.

The Pardoner is concerned not with the correction of sin but with gaining (thus, harkening him back to a character in the Romance of the Rose). He is a sort of false prophet. Since Chaucer, of course, is creating this character out of a piece of literary fiction, it is important to note that the Pardoner is, in effect, a satirical creation.

The story of the Pardoner’s Tale is about three young men (fools) who hear about Death coming to town. The next town over, specifically, they discover. They rush out to meet death, believing themselves capable of vanquishing him. They heard that Death is out by an old tree. Once they arrive at the tree where death is supposed to be, however, they find nothing but a pot of gold. 

What do they decide to do? They send of them into town for provisions, for their long journey to transport all of the gold, while the other two remain behind to protect the gold. Unfortunately, all scheme to kill one another; as the third is in town, the two guarding the pot plan on murdering the third when he returns, while the third that is in town planned on murdering the other two with poison he put in some drink. So when the third returns from town, he is killed, and the other two die from the poison that the third had put in the drink before he was murdered. Thus, all three die.

After his tale is done, the Pardoner attempts to use the post-story monologue about morality and avarice in order to sell his relics. This is where the trouble starts. Because, of course, he is trying to gain as much gold, silver, and jewelry as possible this conflicts with the moral of his story. He tries to get the tavern owner—Harry Bailey—to buy his relics first since he is most inflicted with sin; the Pardoner tries to get Harry to kiss his relics. The host does not react well.

If the Pardoner is a gelding, then the host saying that he wished that he had the Pardoner’s balls in his hand so as to cut them off, is doubly powerful. But it also raises the question of how the Pardoner would be castrated if he is already a gelding. In the case of the Pardoner, it is words which replace things; the Pardoner is a creature of the symbolic displacement of his own physical reality. Instead of a sexual identity, the Pardoner has a verbal identity. So, to castrate the Pardoner you cut of his tongue. You shut him up.

The conflict grows and it is the knight who must restore order between the host and the Pardoner. Indeed, this is reflected in the pronouns used: informal second-person for the Pardoner, first person formal for the knight. Thus, the social hierarchy of the universe is retorted by the order which the tales had been told.

The Pardoner’s tale challenges us on our notions on sexual identity, about whether the ostentatious display of artifacts is merely a fa├žade or if it is actually part of the Pardoner’s sexual performance; is the Pardoner really a gelding or a mare, or is it merely the ignorance of the narrator who places him so?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Let's Read: The Once and Future King (Ch.8)

The chapter begins by Wart channeling his inner (pre-)teen angst.

He [Wart] was not forced to stay indoors because of the rain, by his female supervisors, as happens too frequently to the unhappy children of our generation, but the mere wetness and dreariness in the open discouraged him from going out. He hated everyone” (73).

‘I hate you and you, and especially you! Why doesn’t anybody understand me‽’ I can hear Wart saying in my mind’s eye.

More alarming though, check out that piece of sexist trash—Wart was forced to stay inside due to his female supervisors, the horror! Boys need to be free to splash around in the rain, dicks out and waving… I can hear White remarking in my mind’s eye. Darn women, emasculating men by keeping them coped up when they should be outside doing manly—penis-y—things! (Sorry to keep going back to genital delusions, it is just so evident in this passage.)

Now, I can understand where White is coming from; when I was little and my brother and I were babysat by our grandmother, she would, to out chagrin, keep us pressed inside all day while the wonders of the great outdoors beckoned. But that was due to many factors concerning danger as well as health and a personal desire to see us. Not because, as White seems to be suggesting here, that women are making children unhappy because of reasons.

But Wart is bored. Apparently, living in a castle is a tedious affair. True, though, it does sound less like Hogwarts and more like drafty corridors in an age before penicillin. So it does sound trite.
So to alleviate his boredom, Wart begs Merlyn to transform him into a bird—a merlin—so that he may spend the night among the castle’s various hawks and falcons, taking in their culture (or something). Merlyn eventually agrees but not before commenting on the bird’s enclosure and life; long story short, the birds formed a kind of Spartan military enclosure which favors only the high born class (other birds of prey). These game-birds are trained, in part, through hunger, and it is suggested that they have not only a deep pride for their home and heritage, what they can remember of it, anyways, but also that they do not actually understand that they are prisoners.

It is an odd commentary but not one which is unwelcome by any means since it is true that many real world military men and women are trapped into service for similar means (of honor and defending one’s home, etc. various other rationales which simply don’t apply in the imperialist metropole). But it is simply odd to see such a commentary spoken through birds and one which connotes as much sadness as it does—prisoners who take delight in what they can remember about their life before imprisonment, form an elitist, classist structure, and who take themselves so seriously, are in reality, simple animals who are unaware of the shadow-makers in the cave. Pity.

Moving on!

Merlyn drills into Wart that he must not under any circumstances stand beside Cully’s enclosure as Cully is not right in the brains; not only are we going to find some more extrapolations about Cully, the bird from the first chapter, but it is also tied up in yet more mental health issues. Yay? I dunno… this is, I think, the third time that mental health aberrations have been written of so far (the first was that woman from the first or second chapter and the second was Wat, who bite off Dog Boy’s nose). The references don’t seem particularly Ableist but it is odd seeing repeated reference to mental illness.

But, Merlyn transforms Wart into the merlin bird and then takes him into the enclosure where he is super nervous about being around his formerly subservient creatures. Disguised now as one of them, Wart must pass both a series of questions as well as an ordeal in order to prove his avian mettle.
This whole process isn’t very interesting—the questions are simply about being a bird and where he comes from and so on, whereas the ordeal is simply being forced to stand near Cully until a bell chimes three times. There is a bit of tension to the whole thing, which I find remarkable since it is just bird games, but it isn’t interesting except in a worldbuilding sense, of seeing all the hidden spaces of a world.

Before that happens, though, Cully makes his presence known by loudly muttering to himself.

’Damned niggers,’ he [Cully] was mumbling. ‘Damned administration. Damned politicians. Damned Bolsheviks. Is this a damned dagger that I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Damned spot. Now, Cully, thou hast but one brief hour to live, and then thou must be damned perpetually” (78).

Cully, what a bigot and reactionary. But the dialog does sound like that of a mentally ill person, perhaps someone with late stage Alzheimer’s disease who struggles to remember what exactly is happening at any given moment (though Cully is also prone to fits of violence, it seems, so this is perhaps not the case). Usage of the N-word and reference to Bolsheviks is thought-provoking; the birds’ enclosure is a military-styled formation, so it is not surprising that the old timers would be counterrevolutionary (though how birds know about Black people and Russian communists is beyond me since this is early medieval England).

Then Wart completes his trial, is sworn in, and the chapter ends after the birds sing their jolly old militarist song.