Tuesday, March 23, 2010

FOLKLORE by Camelia Elias
I'm writing a paper on aging for a conference in Dublin this Saturday, but my head is set on disappearing in the eternal snow of the Arctic on the last day of this month. What keeps me going is the idea of oysters that my friends in Dublin will make sure I get enough of. This keeps my head away from cooling down entirely and untimely, which makes my writing retain a sense of decency against the background of some outrageous claims I venture to make; not uplifting, not optimistic, and definitely not hopeful. Perhaps I'm contaminated by the short story “The Day Before the Revolution” by a favorite writer of SF and fantasy fiction Ursula K. Le Guin, who has this to say about her protagonist, an old woman who started a movement in her youth, and whose aim was the eradication of governments and nations, but who is now to die on the day before the event proper happens: “After a lifetime of living on hope because there is nothing but hope, one loses the taste for victory. A real sense of triumph must be preceded by real despair.” I'll spare you of my analysis, which in the academic context is not so bad—in terms of originality, impact, virility, and visibility—but there is something else that makes me think of what remains in the face of resignation. Perhaps I'm contaminated by the film Harold and Maude, which I juxtapose with Le Guin's take on anarchist women. Whereas Odo, Le Guin's protagonist doesn't lose hope but the faith that 'her' revolution will make any difference to her in the final analysis, Maude loses faith, but not the hope that at least her lessons in, what she calls, “odorifics” will make a difference. This makes me think of the passion we experience every time we encounter beauty. Most artists believe that beauty is the greatest mystery in life, and because a mystery, it can only be experienced in the mind. So, when everything is said and done, if there was beauty in it, then beauty prevails. Not the context. Not the text. This is a beautiful thought in itself, and it makes me feel good even in the face of thinking about the cruelty of loss: there's loss everywhere, even when you give nothing of yourself. Perhaps I'm contaminated by the greatest singer of all times of Romanian folklore, Maria Tanase, whose song, “Cine iubeste si lasa” [whoever loves and leaves the lover] sends shivers down my spine, as I write this, and as I think about eccentric old women. Whoever listens to Tanase—who died untimely of cancer in '63 after a life of great success, and who, after a period of having been banned from performing in public, sang in Paris and New York—is bound to be touched. Although the song is all about cursing, one gets the sense that because of the lamenting tone that cuts through you, the beauty of the sound transcends the prophetic proclamations, and it thus undoes the word. Beauty is as beauty does. It makes us all age with grace.

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