purejuice: (Default)
I have always been gobsmacked by the hairy black devils which emerge when further good fortune, of the most quotidian kind, accrues to the British royal family. When Prince William was born within a year of his parents' fairy tale marriage, a friend of mine snarled, with truly transformative malevolence, like the bad fairy at the cradle, She's so perfect. Alas, she was not. The Bishop of Willesden was fired last week after he wrote on his Facebook page that William and Kate were "shallow celebrities" whose marriage wouldn't last seven years. The Anglican cleric said he'd be better off as a republican Frenchman. "I think we need a party in Calais for all good republicans who can't stand the nauseating tosh that surrounds this event," he added on Facebook.

There is a lot of talk in the British papers about class, and how Kate Middleton, each semester of whose prep school cost a year's salary, is not middle class, but Totes Tory, and therefore William is not actually taking the monarchy, should it survive for his accession, toward the dreaded "bicycling monarchies" of loathesome socialist Scandanavia.

(The crown princess of Sweden, as you will recall, thanked the Swedish people for giving her her prince, her former personal trainer, now Prince Daniel, Duke of Västergötland.)

The newspapers are full of barely decipherable class arguments, especially with the Tories now slashing Labour economies to the bone, and a recently ennobled Tory pol telling a reporter that slashing child welfare payments will encourage the poor to breed way less. William's marrying Kate is seen to be the accession of the middle class to the throne, and the way (see "bicycle monarchy") forward. Naysayers of different stripes point out that the Middletons are very rich, and also, you know, tradesmen. The aristos are said to have made fun of Mum Middleton by referring to her previous career as a stewardess; to have noted her chewing gum at the only royal event to which she was invited, and so on. But this may be apochryphal, and the key to the liaison may be that hardworking Kate, of miner stock, is said to have persuaded William not to drop out of college. Just so did the Queen Mum, who was oddly courageous -- she stood, aged 100, and almost totally blind, to review the 7000 troops of which she was colonel-in-chief for her entire 2000 centennial parade -- in bucking up the damaged and stuttering Duke of York when his elder brother abdicated.

There are those of us who are just as mesmerized by the horrific bad fortune of the British royal family, and by the spectacle of how individuals transform this accident of birth into a life as good or as bad as our own.

The question of why this person was born to be king, and you were born to be a worm, and the enormous pleasure or sadness when such an avatar of fortune appears to becoming more wormlike -- Prince Charming is just another dog -- is part of the moral authority kings accrue to themselves. We think that God has chosen them especially and not us. We think that such a messenger from God has a special role to perform on earth, and we read his performance for omens. He is God's fair-haired boy, we think, and hate him or love him on account of it. It is our nature to pay attention; not least because they are in no way celebrities. They did not earn or deserve their birth -- or did they?

My yellowed 1959 copy of Frazer's Golden Bough, in its minuscule cheap edition type, has 46 index entries on the mythological significance of "Kings", from "magic of, 31-186" to "worship of dead, 412-16". As these are available if not familiar to all western readers, I leave them to you to look up. The notion that God is among us as a man is neither shallow nor pathetic tosh, and that is what tremendous "good" "fortune" seems to signify.

What I would like to talk about is the notion that by marrying, the 700 million people who watched Lady Diana marry Charles imbued the two of them, their marriage, and their children, with moral authority. The vehemence of the grinches also imbues them with moral authority. Just what that moral authority is, and how they exercise it, is what creates the spectacle.

For this we need to turn to Theravada Buddhism, whose concept of the dharma rajah has a great deal to do with political agency, the genocide in Cambodia, and any number of other political events with which I am not as familiar. The influence of Buddhism on southeast Asian politics is the subject of a good deal of electrifying study. I would like to draw attention to the work of a Chulalongkorn University scholar -- the Thai, Cambodians and Sri Lankans are the Theravada Buddhists -- Somboon Suksamaran. Of the dharma rajah, he says:

...the Pali canon and the Jatakas emphasized the need for a king, if order was to prevail [echoes of Martin Luther]. The relationship between the king and his subjects is described as follows: the king has reached his exalted position because he was a great merit-maker in former lives. Such accumulation of merit entitled him to the kingship, 'otherwise he could not have been born a king.'

....Thus, Buddhist kingship was essentially based on the concept of righteousness. To maintain his political authority and to regulate state affairs for the benefit of the kingdom and hence reaffirm and enhance his authority, the king has to be a righteous ruler, the Dhamma Raja. The ethics of Dhamma are of universal relevance, applicable as much to individual conduct as to the principles of government.

...The morality and righteousness of the Dhamma Raja is closely related to the prosperity of his kingdom and the physical and mental well-being of his subjects. The king's conduct and his action has far-reaching consequences since they affect not only his own kingship but the fortunes of his subjects, who were almost entirely dependent on him. We are told that:

When the kings are not righteous, neither are princes, Brahmins, and householders, townsfolk and villagers. This being so, the moon and sun deviate from their courses, as do constellations and stars day and night...months, seasons, and years; the winds blow wrongly...., the god (of rain) does not pour down showers of rain, the crops ripen in the wrong season; thus men who live on such crops have short lives and look weak and sickly. Conversely, when the kings, the rulers, are righteous, the reverse consequences follow. Anguttara, Vol. 2, p. 74.

-- Buddhism and Political Legitimacy

Before you dismiss this as Old World and Third World paganism, think of how winning an election confers this same God-ordained political agency here in America. Two examples from a long life hanging around Washington. I spent the evening of the second election of Ronald Reagan in an Executive Office Building suite overlooking the White House. There was a young Reaganist there with a light in his blue eyes, against the backdrop of the uplit night White House, I hope never to see again. He told me he was going to get married on Reagan's birthday, as if proximity to the power of God himself were entailed in this fetish. Second, recall the apocalyptic quote Ron Suskind got from an unidentified source in the Bush White House:

We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

The sense of political agency both of the young Reaganist and Suskind's megalomanic insider was conferred, do not doubt it, by the idea that God himself had won the election and given to Reagan and Bush each a mandate to exercise God-ordained power. Suskind's piece was about faith in the White House.

That Prince Charles, like most aristos, is a Green and has been, since the days of the Baader Meinhof gang, may well be the dharma offset on Princess Diana's death and the elevation of the Parker Bowles (who, once again, is near 10 per cent in the should-she-be-crowned-queen polls). Whereas the elected dharma rajahs -- Reagan and Bush -- will probably go down in history as the architects of the social, economic and imperial catastrophes which ended America.

I will leave you with the words of the dharma rajah Benjamin Frankin:

I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such: because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no Form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well-administred; and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administred for a Course of Years and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other.

William's dharma has to do with Diana. He has given Kate her ring and has protected Kate, for eight years, from the press, as his mother was not protected. Kate is reportedly to be educated in royal life as Diana (and the royals) was not. William has announced a zero tolerance policy toward the paparazzi who he feels murdered his mother, ie., that he will sue as necessary any infringment of his or Kate's "private" life. There are rumors he has asked Diana's brother Earl Spencer -- who berated the royal family at Diana's funeral -- to speak at the wedding in order to include his mother. And that the guests at the wedding will be from Diana's charities. As Diana played the celebrity card specifically to upstage Charles, and was also a seriously troubled person, or a person seriously troubled by mediation, or a person tortured by her husband, I don't know how this will play.

But it will be dharma. The constellations will shift. It will be political. Not shallow. Not celebrity. No matter who you voted for, Old Man River just keeps rolling along.
purejuice: (billy budd)

Kate, Will, and the cloud of witness.

The 10th Earl (ca. 1306-1376) and Countess of Arundel, apotheosized by Larkin: "They would not think to lie so long."*

The other day I said next up in contemplation of the royal wedding was the childhood of Sir Oswald Mosley and the pagaent of British history, aka eternity, in Woolf's Between the Acts. I can't find Sir Oswald's bio and I am reading BTA for the salient quote.

Sir Oswald's childhood has to do with the vision, or a vision, at the heart of fascist, secessionist, green, hippie, survivalist, peak oiler, Mennonite, kibbutznik, Islamist, whatever you want to call it, of Utopia. A closed society, self-sufficient, pastoral, feudal, with women and serfs meeting their obligations -- the culture of artisanal, and perhaps pagan, perfection among the argricultural workers in plowing the perfect furrow, as described in Akenfield, the profile of an ancient hamlet disappeared by agribusiness, a place for everyone in the closed society, including the congenitally incontinent young woman, unemployable, unmarriageable, penniless and cared for by her grandmother -- the same closed society Mrs. Gaskell writes about in Cranford, where the old lady's young servant vows to take care of her when the money has run out, and it is not the kindness of strangers but the kindness of people your family has known for hundreds of years which literally sustains you. It is the proverbial closed room of the murder mystery, in which everyone in the room is well known to everyone else, and yet one of them has a secret. It is a society in which everyone is seen; in a mobile society such as ours, the emphasis is on a rigid standard of acceptable appearance on which -- as the cruising homosexual Tennessee Williams/Blanche DuBois certainly knew -- the kindness of strangers depends entirely.

At Sir Oswald's enclosed property, with its own castle and villages, everyone with their own place, there can be no one who is too ugly to see or to take their place in a self-perpetuating, seasonally-impelled, productive pastoral machine. Except, of course, the usual scapegoats like Jews, the upwardly mobile, the capitalists, and witches. There is an energy, Eros and Thanatos, which binds the artisanal peasantry and their laird. As my Old Hell Freezes Over Friend put it, aristocrats and serfs are the only people who do it outdoors. The tie to the land -- a Duke of Bundled Mortgages, the Earl of Soybean Futures, Jews and barren usurers, all, will never command the magick -- the growing where you're planted, the knowing where you will be planted, intertwined, as Woolf writes, with the Warings, the Elveys, the Mannerings or the Burnets; the old families who had all intermarried, and lay in their deaths intertwisted, like the ivy roots, beneath the churchyard wall. Intertwisted, too, with the loaves of bread the plowmen of the perfect furrow buried in the fields in the spring. To insure the continuation of the pagaent.

Princes and kings are dinosaurs, too, resurrected from Jurassic Park, perhaps by our affection. All their ancestors are apparent. We can trace Queen Mary's (1857-1953) face through the generations, in the Duke of Windsor's eyes, George VI's cheeks, a certain simian caste in Elizabeth's face, the shape of Charles' face and William's. The mystery of immortality and incarnation lies in idle thoughts about how the Duke of Windsor's eyelashes are just as oddly pale and moth-like as his Maman's, and how his sense of entitlement to other people's wives, droit de seigneur, might be related to Mary's habit of showing up at the homes of people who had stuff she wanted -- paintings, antique side chairs -- and admiring it and waiting for them to give it to her.

Persistence through the ages, as if one were a time capsule of feudal virtue, is the theme of Larkin's poem, An Arundel Tomb, which deftly describes, in fast forward, the 600 years between the deaths of the 10th earl and countess and Larkin's 1964 encounter with their holding hands in stone effigy at Chichester Cathedral. The persistence, as the very cynical Larkin -- 'sexual intercourse was invented in 1963, a bit too late for me' -- could not help but perceive, of love, and nothing else.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly, they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.

Amor manet. Love remains, along with Queen Mary's eyelashes, the Black Prince's 13th century egg-sized ruby in the imperial state crown, and Lady Diana's engagement ring. Like eternity, these rocks don't lose their shape. They're taking a poll, at TMZ, on whether or not it is the sapphire of death or a sweet and sentimental gift from William to his bride. With 119,626 people interested enough to vote, sweet and sentimental is winning, by a mile (72 per cent). And therein lies the moral authority of the king: his enormous accession of luck at birth is luck so good it overrides sin and evil and karma and time itself. It confirms our optimism about paradise. We will all live happily ever after.

Next up, the dharma rajah.

The future Queen Mary, 1893.

Princess Margaret with Mary's necklace, on her wedding day, 1960. It sold for $1.8 million 46 years later to pay her death duties.

Lady Diana, with the affection of the Prince and the L30K sapphire she chose from Garrard's, 1980.

Kate Middleton with Diana's sapphire.


*An Arundel Tomb

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd -
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor's sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly, they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

Phillip Larkin
purejuice: (billy budd)
So said the Archibishop of Canterbury -- with all the 600 years of Chaucer's anglophone word-coining power behind him -- to start his homily at the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles.

Seven hundred million people watched the wedding, which gives it immense power, being, and moral authority. Arguably witness of evil as well as good engenders existence in the moral universe, with eternal moral resonance for all who witness.

Why, is the question, ranging from what exactly is the agency of spectacle and pagaentry and sacrament and ritual, to how where you put your dick is precisely and most powerfully political, to the Schadenfreude of noting that monarchs have arguably used this power to impact history most profoundly by marrying badly -- Hello, Protestant reformation -- or not marrying at all -- So my old brother-in-law Philip has sent me the Armada? -- to noting that the choice of a bride by Charles and his son, William, may be the most morally authoritative thing either of them can, or will, do. Prince Charming, noted a black woman as Charles and Camilla drove Diana crazy, is just another dog. This is truly heart-breaking, I suspect, to every one of the seven hundred million who wished them so much good fortune. Hundreds of thousands of people surrounded the cathedral when they were married and listened to the ceremony, which was broadcast live to them. When Diana said I will, the hundreds of thousands cheered. Inside the cathedral, she heard them, and smiled.

Kate Middleton, like Diana, now has what Umberto Eco called the aura of burnt flesh -- referring to martyred saints -- about her, sporting Diana's own sapphire of death by paparazzi, along with all the other rivetting attributes of being struck by lightening, chosen by God and Prince William, and being Captain of the Girls' Team. Diana was, and Kate is now. Camilla never was, and it occurs to me both Charles and the Duke of Windsor were struggling for authenticity when they went for the slags. Hopefully, Waity Katie is a good old girl for whom William might, as gracefully as Sweden's Crown Princess did on marrying a commoner, thank the British people for giving him his princess.

Stepping into eternity, or history as the atheists call it, at the age of 28 is a very strange thing to do, as is throwing in your lot with someone who will be king, if he lives, whether he is Caligula or Jesus Christ. The wedding is between someone who needs to do nothing, and someone who has, we believe, done everything, or achieved it, been struck by lightening, elected by God, sold her soul to the devil, or won a battle better than history's most successful generals -- eight years! -- and the idea that she caught his eye and kept it and compelled him to marry her invests Waity Katie with a wile and a guile and a street wisdom we all wish we had. We will listen to whatever guff she says because we think she has the mojo, the key to paradise, is beatified as blessed among women, and she can be as useless a piece of shit as Wallis Simpson and history itself will spend the rest of eternity trying to figure out her secret.

This sense of not having to do anything to have a great destiny, or at least to be the cynosure of history, or the Helen of Troy of the paps, is I think the key to the interest of the seven hundred million. Is such a person truly lucky? Or truly touched by God? Or the most successful social climber of the century? What do they do with the moral authority conferred upon them by the happiness and good will of the seven hundred million who bless the fairy tale?

Is the best thing a King has done in the last couple of hundred years to step in where his pussy-whipped brother abdicated -- I mean, seriously, nobody but the King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India would give it all up -- India! -- for Wallis Simpson -- struggle with some success to overcome a serious stutter, make speeches, be photographed in the rubble during the Blitz, and have your wife, who did not stutter, announce, during same, that her children would not be evacuated to Canada: 'The children won't go without me. I won't leave the King. And the King will never leave' ? When George VI died, Churchill sent a wreath which simply said, For valor. That may be enough, the simple valor which sustained the stuttering king and his children against Hitler and which kept the first Elizabeth unmarried.

London during the Blitz: The Queen Mum contemplates the abyss as George VI eyes the skies.

I am thinking about the connection between pageantry, spectacle, a royal wedding, and a metaphor for eternity in which, by dressing up and marrying at Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's, Kate and William join the cloud of witness -- as by giving Kate Diana's sapphire William is well aware -- of history, as if in joining the parade of a wedding they are also literally transubstantiating themselves into the parade of eternity -- by enacting the same rituals and routes and sacraments, Kate and William join eternity and also invoke the spirits to join the parade. He said giving her his mother's ring was his way of inviting Diana to be part of the fun and the excitement. It's one of the first things I've ever heard him say about Diana; that what might be the most significant act of his life should invoke the 20th century's most mediated woman, who is also just this boy's mother, who really loved him, unlike Charles' mother, brings us back to investing with huge moral portent the utterings of the very, very un/lucky.

The locust sound of the cameras on this announcement vid, and William's clear sense of the mediated danger his mother did not survive is what strikes me now.

Next up, the thing about aristocrats and princes is that they just have to Be. Like freaks, as the photographer Diane Arbus noted, aristocrats have already met their challenge in life. What they, as simple men with free will chose to do with this Being, is, I think, what brings the attention of the seven hundred million: You who have everything, what is it you want? Authenticity, or your crabbed version of freedom, via the Parker Bowles? Charles' whinging and petulance are proverbial, as is the "frightening intensity" with which he informed his staff, and, I believe, the Queen's, that "Mrs. Parker Bowles is non-negotiable."* To use the moral authority of our own projected hope, Prince Charming himself, to secure the Parker Bowles -- the Queen rightly called her "used-looking" -- diminishes us all, in the moral universe, where we live. I can't get over the feeling that her bathrobe smells like bacon, and that is the mess of pottage he was ready to sell his birthright for. Non-negotiable.

The rest of us have to manifest our destinies. Coming up, scenes from Sir Oswald Mosley's enchanted childhood (he was like the 6th baronet of an idyllic estate) and from Between the Acts, by V. Woolf. Watch this space.

*For an authoritative account of the bad relations between Elizabeth an Charles, how the Diana and Camilla situations seemed to threaten the monarchy, and how it was handled neither by Charles nor Elzabeth but by her private secretary, Robert Fellowes, who was also Diana's brother-in-law, see this:

The mystery of why it was felt that it threatened the monarchy not to have a flag at half mast over Buckingham Palace during the time between Diana's death and funeral when an enormous public outpouring of grief took place, and the tabs demanded that the Queen lower the flag, is not elucidated. But the courtiers felt the monarchy was in danger and persuaded her to do the flag thing. I'll never understand. Meeting Camilla was also a big deal; I should have thought she -- a recent poll asking whether or not Camilla should be crowned Queen has 86 per cent of those polled saying no -- was the greater threat to the monarchy.


purejuice: (Default)

January 2012



RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 22nd, 2017 05:15 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios