Friday, July 23, 2010

Jung at Heart

(reflection upon re-reading Robertson Davies' "Deptford Trilogy," especially the second in the series, THE MANTICORE.  I use a paperback edition from Penguin books, 1984,  Originally published in 1972.)

Robertson Davies (photographed above) was a sly, witty, humane spinner of tales from his esoteric interests.  I've written an appreciation of him elsewhere ( "Reading" at  ) , and will focus here on THE MANTICORE.

As a novel, it's a great essay.  It is flanked by wonderful stories.  This one is also fascinating, and it's fun to see how Davies fits its incidents into the larger framework.  But it's still a device for showing the reader what Davies liked in Jung's psychology.

The narrator, lawyer David Staunton, speaks to us through journal entries and transcripts of his year in analysis with a Jungian practitioner.  He tells his life story to her, and she points out to him the way he is casting the real people of his life as characters in his own personal drama.  By the end, he has achieved at least one main goal of analysis:

I am beginning to recognize the objectivity of the world, while knowing also that because I am who and what I am, I both perceive the world in terms of who and what I am and project onto the world a great deal of who and what I am.  If I know this, I ought to be able to escape the stupider kinds of illusion. (269)

All of this was fascinating to me when I read it at 25. Double that, now, and it's a timely reminder.  Now that I think of it, I have a pretty good idea of who my "persona" is and my "shadow."

The face I try to present to the world at my best, my persona, is mild, competent, detached (and therefore ready to be amused), a fair observer whose talents are sifting and finding connections between things, and appreciating others' perspectives the way an actor does.

The shadow, whom I know uncomfortably well when I feel under attack, is hot tempered and ready to strike back with cutting remarks intended to cause permanent damage to the attacker's self-image and social reputation,

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Gripe With Grimes

(reflection on Martha Grimes' detective novel THE BLACK CAT.)

Although I expect any detective fiction to be on some level a game  (see my "Guilty Pleasure in Crime Fiction" ), I also hope to lose myself in the story.   THE BLACK CAT drew me in quickly with elements of plot, involving expensively dressed corpses of women who work for different "escort services."    Grimes also continues an emotional storyline from an earlier book in the series, as Inspector Richard Jury visits a comatose woman in the hospital, guilty that he feels more relief that the relationship is over than sadness over the certainty that she won't recover.  That's plausible.  In this novel, there's a likable small town detective with a paraplegic wife.  They're appealing.

But I could never believe the story because Grimes keeps interrupting it with whimsical characters and their self-consciously witty dialogue -- perhaps aiming for the effect of Sayers' Lord Peter Whimsey fictions. It's why I put down Grimes after initial excitement with her series a few years ago.   The characters seem sometimes to be aware that they are part of an entertainment.  There are whole chapters that seem intended to be "cute," here involving a couple of anthropomorphized pets.  In other novels, there were cute chapters involving over-the-top small town characters -- an aunt, a lazy aristocrat, a snide butler -- all looking like they'd wandered in from a parody of Agatha Christie.   

Granted, it's a fine line to walk between the artifice that we love in detective fiction, and the artificiality that makes it flat.   In Grimes, I think the problem may be in Jury himself, because she seems to play him both ways.   He's sort of like the detective in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?  who passes between a real world and a cartoon one. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time

(reflections on the news cycle of the past two days.)

I picked up a theme in yesterday's news that points to a universal truth that Democrats and Republicans alike ignore at their peril.  Sorry -- our peril.

The theme is nothing surprising:  When intelligent people in authority get together and make plans with good intentions for other people,  there will be consequences that they did not foresee and would not want.

For example, in a flurry of urgent activity to get a handle on the economic crisis, the Obama administration bought out GM and forced the closing of redundant and poorly performing dealerships.  This made perfect sense, to save jobs by saving the company by divesting it of dead weight.   News yesterday was analysis that shows net harm and net job loss by killing dealerships that were job creators in their communities.  An Obama regulator admitted this today, speaking how they would have done things differently, with benefit of hindsight.

Another example is the 2004 Republican Congress's response to the 9/11 Commission's common - sense  recommendation that a new head of intelligence be given the responsibility and authority to "connect the dots" in all the intelligence gathered.  As the latest candidate for the post interviews for the job today, analysts have reflected on the failure of the idea, as the position holds responsibility but not authority, and it's supported by a vast new bureaucracy that cannot (yet) do what it's intended to do.  Meanwhile, another analyst interviewed yesterday detailed examples of the different agencies' duplications of effort.  Of course, we also saw the "failure to connect the dots" at Christmas when a warning from a would-be bomber's father didn't get through channels to the people who would have kept the man off a plane.

Another example is in the gulf spill.  Here, it's corporate decision-makers plus political ones plus federal decision makers in the Coast Guard and other departments.  Did the dispersants used to break up the oil actually make the situation worse, because the thick oil becomes thinner and more easily absorbed into living tissue?  Has the capping of the pipe actually resulted in subterranean ruptures across a much wider area, hopeless to stop?

When we discuss these things and criticize the ones who made the decisions, we're scoring points as if every decision is a win or lose, right or wrong, smart or stupid, fair or unfair.  But it's always a matter of balance.

What other policy decisions in the news today will be discussed next year "with the benefit of hindsight?"