Friday, October 23, 2009

The Regiment You Might Not Know You're In

Last night's tweets;

I can't tell you there's a wrong thing to eat.
But nations fit only the guts of Rome.
Chinese Pac-Man's nuts trying to compete.
And me, I can't get beyond Thunderdome.

I finished reading Book I of War and Peace last night, which is about a fourth of the whole book. At this point, I can say Tolstoy has convincingly portrayed the frailty of the human soul with awesome skill. The story continually shifts from one group of characters, location, and situation to another, each time describing people, old and young, with inevitably flawed perspectives making decisions for themselves and others based on imperfect data. On meeting Napoleon at the end of Book I, Prince Andrei seems to have the only moment of pure insight into reality when he realises how human the legendary emperor is. It's the final nail in the coffin for confidence in the idea that someone, somewhere, really knows anything.

The urgency of battle seems to put characters closer to a realistic point of view on life and death, only to be forgotten later when the young soldier, Rostov, is telling his comrades about his brush with death and can't help exaggerating;

He asked Rostov where and how he had received the wound. This pleased Rostov and he began telling them about it, growing more and more impassioned as he talked. He described the Shongraben action exactly as men who have taken part in battles generally do describe them, that is, as they would like them to have been, as they have heard them described by others, and making them sound more glorious, and quite unlike what they actually were. Rostov was a truthful young man and would on no account have told a deliberate lie. He began with the intention of relating everything exactly as it happened, but imperceptibly, unconsciously, and inevitably, he slipped into falsehood. If he had told the truth to his listeners, who, like himself, had heard numerous stories of cavalry attacks, had formed a definite idea of what an attack was, and were expecting to hear such a story, either they would not have believed him, or, still worse, they would have thought Rostov himself was at fault, since what generally happened to those taking part in a cavalry charge had not happened to him.

This phenomenon is presented again and again, from a marriage arranged between two nobles almost entirely by a pervasive, unspoken anxiety in their immediate society about finances and how an inheritance out to be socially processed, to decisions about romantic engagements based either on flawed youthful reasoning or rigid, traditional formulae.

These portraits of fundamental human clumsiness might have only been humorous except Tolstoy also manages to evoke a feeling of tenderness for the characters and a sadness about how little control people really have over their lives and how arbitrary their affections are.

I also watched "Dead Things", a sixth season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that had several elements I really liked, though it suffered from weak foundations in a few ways. I found this bit from the episode's Wikipedia entry interesting;

Sarah Michelle Gellar, who played Buffy, disliked the way her character was treated in this episode, telling Entertainment Weekly, "I had trouble with the one where Buffy had sex with Spike on the balcony while watching their friends. I really thought that was out of character. And I didn't like what it stood for. That was the moment that I had the most problems with." Writer Steven S. DeKnight says, "I totally understand why that part made her uncomfortable... I wish that I could say it was my idea but it's something Joss Whedon had in the back of his head for a year. It just so happened that it happened in my episode." Despite Gellar's dislike, this episode is DeKnight's personal favorite because "it had humor at the beginning and then it had that great twist where [the nerds] accidentally killed Katrina and then it got dark, dark, dark, dark. We really wanted to highlight how unhappy Buffy was with herself and really show why she was mistreating Spike because she hated herself."

And I could tell watching the episode that Gellar wasn't into it, particularly at the end when she rather unconvincingly breaks down in Tara's arms, though I thought Buffy expressing a fear of being forgiven was an interesting bit of Characterisation that Might have Been--I mean, I'm not convinced Buffy has that much self-hatred. What's happening now seems to be putting Buffy through Faith's paces--the episode even features Buffy thinking she accidentally killed someone. But the story lacks the foundation of the Faith arc. Saying Buffy feels guilty about being with Spike doesn't feel like quite enough, mainly because it places too much of its weight on the show's pretty vague idea of what it means for someone to have a soul. Tara, as seems repeatedly to be the case, is the unimpeachable agent of rational thought, plainly telling Buffy it's okay to like Spike.

Again, I can't help thinking how great a Faith/Spike relationship could've been. Buffy/Spike is still pretty sexy, in my opinion, though. I just wish I could buy the darkness in Buffy.

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