Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Kos and Superkos, or, Jack Tanner is a Blogger

Having written my witty head, I now disavow it. But I save the explanation of that disavowal for later.

First, let's talk about the Cal Shakespeare performance of Shaw's "Man and Superman" we saw on Sunday. It was terrific -- strongly acted and fast paced, both qualities you need if you are going to include the "Don Juan in Hell" episode, which can drag any performance to a grinding halt if it's not done with speed and acting skill.

I'm no Shavian scholar, but I'm guessing M&S is a representative play. It has a hero who spouts provocative aphorisms about the class struggle and the sexual struggle, all of which provocation is watered down by the fact the hero is feckless, the heroine beautiful and sexually aggressive (there's a hope that still beats in every man's heart, and is sometimes true), and it all ends with a proper marriage.

The Don Juan in Hell interlude is a different beast, ending with the man -- conveniently bodiless -- leaving hell and choosing heaven, leaving the woman behind. In the interlude Shaw has fun undercutting conventional notions of hell, of sin, of how much cant there is in talk of beauty and romantic love, but there's a lot of nonsense about the evolutionary lifeforce that in some ways is tolerable to listen to only if you consider it part of a dream by a man who is about to be run down and scooped up by a beautiful woman. Outside of the context of the play, it really is nonsense.

Years ago I taught M&S to college sophomores, and I took it quite seriously. They were conservative North Carolina kids, and I thought their values were close enough to Victorian/Edwardian that underneath the political jokes -- the insights of which the play celebrates through intrinsic wit and undercuts through plot -- some points were made about politics and feminism that might tilt some attitudes in the direction I wanted them tilted.

Did they and should I? That's a longer essay than I feel like writing this morning. Maybe it flattered me to think I could move my students. Maybe at some point it flattered Edwardian audiences to think that they "got" what Shaw was driving at, which I think was let's have less hypocrisy and some Fabian socialism -- whatever that was? -- but all in good time and jokes first, revolution after tea.

I may be wrong about those Edwardian audiences. I read somewhere that the play was considered scandalous and was not performed immediately, so perhaps I should not condescend to it. Perhaps it was precisely as bold as it could afford to be.

But back to the Kos reference. Here are some of Tanner's Shavian maxims.

Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.
The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.

The savage bows down to idols of wood and stone: the civilized man to idols of flesh and blood.

Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.

Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.

He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.
Activity is the only road to knowledge.

Every fool believes what his teachers tell him, and calls his credulity science or morality as confidently as
his father called it divine revelation.

Criminals do not die by the hands of the law. They die by the hands of other men.

Assassination on the scaffold is the worst form of assassination, because there it is invested with the approval of society.
It is the deed that teaches, not the name we give it. Murder and capital punishment are not opposites that cancel one another, but similars that breed their kind.

Property, said Proudhon, is theft. This is the only perfect truism that has been uttered on the subject.

Masters and servants are both tyrannical; but the masters are the more dependent of the two.

No specific virtue or vice in a man implies the existence of any other specific virtue or vice in him, however closely the imagination may associate them.

Virtue consists, not in abstaining from vice, but in not desiring it.
Self-denial is not a virtue: it is only the effect of prudence on rascality.

Obedience simulates subordination as fear of the police simulates honesty.

The love of fairplay is a spectator’s virtue, not a principal’s.

He who desires a lifetime of happiness with a beautiful woman desires to enjoy the taste of wine by keeping his mouth always full of it.

The most intolerable pain is produced by prolonging the keenest pleasure.

The man with toothache thinks everyone happy whose teeth are sound. The poverty stricken man makes the
same mistake about the rich man.

In his efforts to escape from ugliness and unhappiness the rich man intensifies both. Every new yard of West End creates a new acre of East End.

A gentleman of our days is one who has money enough to do what every fool would do if he could afford it: that is, consume without producing.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

The man who listens to Reason is lost: Reason enslaves all whose minds are not strong enough to master her.

Decency is Indecency’s Conspiracy of Silence.

Men are wise in proportion, not to their experience, but to their capacity for experience. If we could learn from mere experience, the stones of London would be wiser than its wisest men.

The right to live is abused whenever it is not constantly challenged.

Home is the girl’s prison and the woman’s workhouse.

Civilization is a disease produced by the practice of building societies with rotten material. Those who admire modern civilization usually identify it with the steam engine and the electric telegraph.

Do not waste your time on Social Questions. What is the matter with the poor is Poverty: what is the matter with the rich is Uselessness.

Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get. Where there is no ventilation fresh air is declared unwholesome. Where there is no religion hypocrisy becomes good taste. Where there is no knowledge ignorance calls itself science.

Those who understand evil pardon it: those who resent it destroy it.
Acquired notions of propriety are stronger than natural instincts. It is easier to recruit for monasteries and convents than to induce an Arab woman to uncover her mouth in public, or a British officer to walk through Bond Street in a golfing cap on an afternoon in May.

The Chinese tame fowls by clipping their wings, and women by deforming their feet. A petticoat round the ankles serves equally well.

Self-sacrifice enables us to sacrifice other people without blushing.
If you begin by sacrificing yourself to those you love, you will end by hating those to whom you have sacrificed yourself.

And back to me: The problem with saying something in a very clever way is that a listener may suspect you are saying it only because it is clever, paradoxical, a way of getting attention, about as sincere as dying your hair pink. And thinking so, as I watched the play, I decided that Jack Tanner was essentially a blogger, of the jokey kind, to solid argument as the canape is to the good roast beef. Such writers assume you'll pass by his/her blog the way you pass by a lively conversation at a cocktail party: a few will stop but most will take ten seconds worth and keep moving. A blogger of this kind makes his point on the fly and hopes the listener will be prodded to consider the implications of the exaggeration, that the tickle will turn into a thought.

Thus: Kos and Superkos is not apt. The Daily Kos is a serious website. The next Shavian witticism I find in it will be the first. The posts at DK are long and tend toward the dead serious, pretty angry (but not crazed in the amount and kind of the abuse it contains, the case the idiot O'Reilly has recently tried to make). The Kossacks are not into quick hits. Daily Kos is something you have to settle down for, not like Atrios who is short and nasty in his links.

And maybe that's what a good Shavian witticism is, a link to deeper thoughts and more detailed consideration. There's a competition for attention going on in the world. When it comes to "issues," a really good joke -- a paradox, a joke so droll you want to commit it to memory for the effect if not the message -- is one way to grab some part of that attention.

Yes, once Jack Tanner is settled down and married to Ann Whitfield, he will definitely blog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

interesting read. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did anyone learn that some chinese hacker had busted twitter yesterday again.