martes, 14 de junio de 2016

WHAT ARE YOU IN THE DARK?

This rhetorical question is clearly not bereft of meaning.

What are you in the dark, when all you can see is pitch black and looks exactly the same, when there is no light at all, so that no mirror gives back your face?
After all, in the reflection left is right and right is left, and letters and numbers are reversed and arranged backwards.
What is more elusive: a mirror image reflected by the light or the absence of it in the form of utter darkness?
Whoever is wise enough and, by seeing how the reflection is reversed compared to real life (left and right, letters and numbers), says of their reflection: "THIS IS NOT ME!" is wiser than the one who thinks one sees oneself in the looking glass.
Yet, in the dark, without even a spark of light, no one can see their reflection. There, there is only one's true self...

Othello is a story of the loss of identity, of what happens when we question our inner mirrors, when we discover what we are in the dark, when and where we, and our images, cannot be seen.
The tale takes place in springtime (in between freezing winter and searing summer), in an outpost community on the fringe of two great powers (the "good" republic and the "evil" empire), during a rare period of armed peace.
Just like in The Breakfast Club, in Master and Commander, in Billy Budd, in the four first Potterverse novels/films (Sorcerer's Stone through Goblet of Fire), in Alien, in The Thing, in The Finishing Stroke, or in Christie's most famous stories (And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, The Mousetrap...), the key to creating all the tension is taking a cast of diverse characters, the fewer and the more diverse the better, and lock them in a single place which they cannot leave (a fortress, a ship [whether ocean ship or starship], a boarding school, a snowed-in estate or a snowed-in train...), "crowded within narrow walls" to quote Lew Wallace. And then just watch the dynamics between them unfurl. To see how there is tension between these characters, they become suspicious, some of them are already friends or lovers, while others are complete strangers to one another... we see how bonds are forged and broken, some of them reforged and others not, we see conspiracies, even our greatest fears coming to life...
Maybe Othello was the first modern Enclosed Space story, the first huis clos story to employ the French expression, ever. (IMOHO, it IS). And there is a psychological name for this reaction to being enclosed for a long time: cabin fever.

Returning to the themes of light and darkness, left and right, and elusive reflections, on whether to prefer an elusive reflection or the true selves we are in the dark, let's talk a bit more about this question and introduce it with a little song that would surely be on a present-day Iago's playlist.
Larvae of all stages, may I perform... "The Art of the Possible!":

One has no rules,
is not precise...
One rarely acts
the same way twice...
One spurns no device
practicing the art of the possible 

One always picks
the easy fight...
One praises fools,
one smothers light,
one shifts left to right...
It's part of the art of the possible 


One always claims
mistakes were planned.
When risk is slight,
one takes one's stand,
with much sleight of hand...

It's part of the art of the possible 

One has no rules,
is not precise...
One rarely acts
the same way twice...
One spurns no device
practicing the art of the possible 


Again, we have talked before about Othello and loss of identity, on how Iago's icons --the corruption of language, drunkenness, counterfeit letters, lies, and monstrous births-- are motifs of the loss of identity.
Now, Andersen opens his Snow Queen with a short story that could as well be a standalone and a wellspring of many other stories: there is a certain magic mirror, the so-called Mirror of Truth, which only reflects the dark side of reality, lowing out what is good, true, and fair altogether. One day, this looking glass shatters, and the countless shards are scattered left and right all over the wide world. Some of them are used to make other mirrors, window panes, and spectacles... yet most of the shards are so tiny that they cannot be seen by the naked eye. These fragments enter human bodies and lodge in the victims' hearts, which then turn as cold and hard as the ice and steel used for creating the Mirror of Truth: those unfortunate people become entirely rational and bereft of emotions.
Here be the start of darkness, maybe, of the Wicked Queen in Snow White. And of Iago. A former article of mine gives the conjecture that a shard was involved as well in his case.
Like Andersen's looking-glass, Iago brings out the sinister side of those he befriends, and unlocks the worst potential within both men and women. 
Furthermore, Iago, like the frozenhearted Kai, is emotionless, cold, critical, calculating, unable to see the beauty and the goodness in his surroundings and despising positive values altogether. One may say the ensign got a shard of the Mirror of Truth, or Mirror of Reason, in his own heart as well... or that he has been a soldier since childhood, unable to be a child and forced to grow up, to fight the enemy... like the robber boy in Elspeth's Snow Queen fic:
"I have been cutting men's throats all my life, I am merciless as the winter, and I have never been a child. But maybe, with this musket and this helmet, I can go south to the Low Countries where the great kingdoms of the world are forever fighting their wars, and try my luck at being an honest soldier."
They maybe put a gun in Iago's hands at let's say 8 or 9, and he was born and bred in camp. No surprise that he envies the aristocratic, learned stripling who got the lieutenancy that should have been his by right, not merely for attaining the commission, but also for "the daily beauty in his life." It's everything about Cassio: he's good-looking, learned, well-spoken, young, with a sunny and happy aristocratic childhood devoid of hardships, as well as innocent and full of good will. In comparison, Iago himself feels that he never will be that fortunate in any way himself. This is the catalyst for the whole play. The part where the lieutenant gets drunk and furious, stripped of his reason and of his commission, as Iago looks on in schadenfreude, pretending to be well-intentioned (and getting it surprisingly right), is when the theme of loss of identity begins to pervade it all. We feel sorry for Cassio, trying to warn him not to drink anymore as Iago refills his tankard... and we're powerless as we hear one gulp after the other and watch the young officer get more and more intoxicated. Then, we have fallen under the spell of Iago, and under the spell of Shakespeare, as well... The suffering of the innocent and the irony that the wicked prosper, as well as the fact that we are powerless in front of this injustice, are themes that captivate us and tug at our heartstrings, pulling us into a maelström of keeping on watching the show from which there is no escape until the curtain falls, Cassio rules from the keep, at last forgiven yet wounded within and without (the sole survivor is broken, completely bereft of his former identity), and Iago is arrested for torture and execution... yet, somewhere in our minds, lingers the idea that, come hell or highwater, he will take to flight, and corrupt language, lie, and intoxicate others to strip them of their identity and confront them with their inner strangers elsewhere.
Sometime, surely this summer, I will present my theory "An Abundance of Jamies," according to which all the Shakespearean characters whose name is a form of James are one and the same person, Iago being one of the many personae this chameleonic character takes. Just like the Thénardiers, IMOHO, he fled Cyprus and started anew elsewhere.
Now what drew me to Othello? The leading trio of Othello, Desdemona, and Cassio, at first. A man of the world and a sheltered noblewoman, as different as night and day yet happily married, plus her learned officer childhood friend thirdwheeling. ENTER IAGO. Now reducing his motivation to "not having become the leader's right hand" is as little fleshed out as using the same words to explain why Stalin did what he did to Trotsky, or Stannis to Renly, to quote other two examples of the same scenario (Unlike Trotsky and Renly, however, Cassio survives, yet the disability Iago wrought upon him has caused his social death as a military officer). Then, I was hooked. Iago wants to shatter this idyl.
We would all of us, geeky or awkward or bookish female middle-class students, have a romance with Count Jean de Satigny, or Major Charles Eastwood, or Monsieur Gustave, or Oberyn Nymeros Martell, or Sirius Black, or someguy who is as cultured as oneself as well as a bon vivant or a man of the world. That's why I daydream, and read visual novels, and write fiction. Desdemona's two men, her childhood friend and her exotic husband, incarnate the cultured fellow and the man of the world, respectively. She has basically got one guy on each arm, one on the left and the other on the right (which middle-class European fangirl wouldn't like the prospect: the Count/Gustave/Eastwood/Jasper Whitlock for a childhood friend and Oberyn/Sirius/Lord Byron for a spouse?), and, when both of these men fall out, she tries to reconstruct the broken bridge of trust between them. Though well-intentioned, her efforts, due to miscommunication and deception, lead to the tragedy. And to nearly everyone's demise...
Now... Most renowned stories end with a happy ever after. Othello, on the other hand, begins with a happy ever after: the leading cast having everything they wished for within their reach. The war is over. Victory is theirs. Lovers are either just happily married (Othello and Desdemona) or about to tie the knot (Cassio and Bianca). It's springtime, the sun is shining, songbirds are chirping, flowers are in bloom, a cool Mediterranean breeze has replaced the storm that wiped out the enemy...
And here they are, just seven characters: the grizzled self-made outsider, the prim and proper ojou (diva/young noblewoman), the by-the-book young lieutenant, the savvy maidservant, the flirtatious tsundere coquette, the friendzoned spurned suitor, and Iago. The latter has many faces, each one meant for interacting with a person in particular, with one of the other six.
Now I would like to quote a few Yeats verses you will surely recognize (as heading for Book III of the Baratheon Saga):
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
the ceremony of innocence is drowned;
the best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity."
W. B. Yeats

Those words could apply to either Westeros, the Ringstetten Saga, Yu-Gi-Oh Zexal, Sailor Stars, DokiDoki! Precure, or any of the Enclosed Space narratives mentioned at the start of this article. As well as to Othello, of course (I will later on write my defenses of Zexal and Stars, of why I regard these seasons as my personal favourites within their respective franchises).
As I have said before, most renowned stories end with a happy ever after. Othello, on the other hand, begins with a happy ever after. Other Shakespearean tragedies do NOT. Hamlet opens with the usurper having already claimed the throne. Romeo and Juliet, with a Montague-Capulet brawl. The Scottish tragedy, with the war already ongoing. King Lear, with the old ruler about to abdicate and asking his three daughters how much they love him, clarifying that the two eldest are snakes and Cordelia is the pure-hearted one, who is subsequently driven into exile. By contrast, Othello opens with everything going right as rain, peachy keen, and Iago as the friendly faithful servant stage left. Then, WHAM.
Like Ty Lee disabling her opponents by swiftly and deftly hitting their acupressure points, Iago contrives to strike, one by one, their softest spots.
If I have mentioned Billy Budd, another story about military officers "crowded within narrow walls" (though on a clipper rather than in a fortress) rife with homoerotic tension, it is not by chance. The titular character is the ranker version of Cassio, the captain is the aristocratic version of Othello, and the villain, non-com officer Claggart, is Iago 2.0 (basically, Iago with the serial numbers filed off). There are no female characters: the closest there is is Budd, the fair and blue-eyed bishónen stripling who has become the commanding officer's right hand over Claggart himself.
Queer scholars agree that both Iago and Claggart are motivated by unrequited homoerotic love, of the "If I cannot have you, then nobody will" variety. Their feelings for their respective younger and more innocent comrades change from admiration to something more than friendship, then to disappointment since the younger lover is beyond their reach, then to envy and hatred.
In Zexal and Sailor Stars, there is also a lot of such subtext. The former series has got, furthermore, an Iago figure in the form of the Barian known as Vector, AKA Ray Shadows/Shingetsu. Other Barians appear within the series as soon as their arc begins and corrupt human victims of the week: first Dumon/Durbhe, Girak, and Alitho. All three reveal their Barian selves pretty quickly, yet the protagonist team, Ray's "friends" on Earth, are unaware that the new kid is an enemy fifth-columnist in their midst, as well as the villain who started it all. When Ray reveals that he has been Vector all along, WHAM. Like Iago, Hans, or Littlefinger, or Claggart, or Schneizel, or Nakago, or (insert Iago figure's name here)... One of these fellows we luuuuuuve to hate.
Sailor Stars... I could devote a whole cycle of posts to it: first to the Snow Queen story arc, then to the ThreeLights, the Galactica empire and its pursuit of starseeds, the phages, the final battle... Ditto Zexal: the Astrals and Barians and their war; the expedition into the Astral World; the struggle between the Faker faction, the Vetrix faction, and the leading cast for the number cards; the victims of the week possessed by the number cards; the Barian lords and their agenda; the reveal of who Reggie and Rio actually are... these series are as complex and layered with existential meanings as DokiDoki! and Go! Princess Precure, or Othello, or the Potterverse, or A Song of Ice and Fire. Perchance I will do it this summer.


No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario