Tag Archives: Cleopatra

“The Great Advisor”

Adam and Eve by Raphael

Adam and Eve by Raphael: ‘When Adam, beholding Eve, embraced and kissed her, / should he have thought, “she’s made of me!” – and curbed his sexuality?’

In this scene, Kamal’s mother is about to leave the house to go shopping at Rodeo Drive. Her driver, Ramana Narayanamurthy, who is also her personal assistant, masseuse, tennis coach, handyman, spiritual advisor and all around toyboy, is a man of great wisdom in Kamal’s eyes. And thus Kamal, we learn, in seeking advice from the wise sage Ramana, has recently confessed a scandalous truth: namely, that he, Kamal, is in love with his own sister, Imogene.

Saint Ana, dear – a great big breath from you please.
To blow away these credits, end this montage,
and stir our story forward! The reader sees
the black Mercedes parked outside the garage;
and notes its driver toying with the keys.
I’ve mentioned this talented retainer
– the chef cum chauffeur cum fitness trainer
cum handyman (he works like a pun!),
cum guru-shrink-masseuse all in one.
His name was Ramana Narayanamurthy;
his age was locked at less than thirty;
his real name was Rick. What satisfaction
he felt to be Indian! – though ’twas only a fraction.

Powerbars Power Pars

‘Bee pollen, power bars… / …Guatemalan ginseng, guarana, / vitamin B, some marijuana…’

About one-eighth, in fact. His eyes were blue;
his hair was golden; his firm physique was shaped
by some kickboxing program, plus a certain brew
for which the lips of kitchen blenders gaped:
Bee pollen, power bars (low carb, and only a few),
Guatemalan ginseng, guarana,
vitamin B, some marijuana,
a mystery powder of strange patina,
wheatgrass, carrots and spirulina;
and vegetable protein to make him strong,
his mind and values never wrong;
and give him ceaseless energy to expound
philosophies Kamal believed profound.

Put quickly – for our driver sees his lady
leaving the house, and something tragic is about
to happen! – what philosophies he made he
kept both clear and simple, so our devout
Kamal could easily follow: Life was arrayed, he
believed, like a stage, for every actor
to find something he called a ‘factor
X,’ or ‘X-factor’ (Kamal
confused the terms), a private call
from within that tells us how to perform.
‘The red phone!’ Ramana would inform.
Desire! Pick it up! Make it real!’
In other words: Always act the way you feel.

Phil Donahue

Phil Donahue: ‘…whom [Kamal’s] mother often quoted.’

True, or truer, than anything he knew,
such words presented an ontology
as great, to Kamal, as Phillip Donahue’s
– that ancient pundit whose ideology
no doubt informed the thoughts of Montesquieu,
and whom his mother often quoted.

[Editor’s note: I must break-in here to explain that Phillip Donahue was the Oprah Winfrey of his day. His TV program, The Phil Donahue Show, invented the modern talk show format.]

Kamal, to Rick, was so devoted
he often asked him for advice.
And just 12 hours, to be precise,
before the time that snags our story
and drags it from the ‘prefatory,’
Kamal had asked opinions from his sage,
which caused (we’ll see) Fate’s minions to be paged.

‘Sometimes – I mean – I hope you’ll understand,
but’ – Kamal was unsure how best to raise it –
‘lately, alone with Imogene, some gland
or other, I don’t know – let me rephrase it –
our bodies do things at their own command,
which, once the blood and nectar subside,
leave us – not just mortified –
but flushed and happy and laughing too!
And that is why I’ve come to you.
Dear Ramana! Is it okay
for me to commune with Genie this way?
Such things between a brother and sister, I mean.
Be honest – is it indecent? Or – obscene?’

Cleopatra by Piero di Cosimo

Cleopatra by Piero di Cosimo: ‘…And what about the wife of Cain? / Or Cleopatra?’

The Great Advisor, who was never shirted,
or panted, or shoed, was well-adorned in sweat
– but not from any news Kamal asserted,
(which left our guru amused more than upset),
but rather from the peddling his legs exerted.
He stopped, dismounted his cycle machine,
smiled at Kamal, and said – ‘Obscene?
Nothing is obscene, my friend!
Not even passions we emend
to mollify society!
Thank god for impropriety!
Thank god for Freedom’s most essential treasure:
The right to chase what gives us greatest pleasure!’

‘But – my sister?’
                                           ‘And why not your sister?
Has she not the parts that you require?
The years? The pulchritude? Then why resist her?
A sin it is to shun what we admire!
When Adam, beholding Eve, embraced and kissed her,
should he have thought, “she’s made of me!” –
and curbed his sexuality?
And what about the wife of Cain?
Or Cleopatra? Or what’s-her-name,
the sister of that Roman Caesar –
Persilla? Ursilla? – a real teaser.’

‘Genie often mentions a poet, a Lord,
whose sister was the one he most adored.’

‘Kamal! No man is luckier than you!’
The teacher gently squeezed his pupil’s shoulder.
‘Listen – pleasure’s what you must pursue!
Pleasure! The Goddess of Contentment! Uphold her!’

A drawing of a Hawaiian chief wearing traditional hemet and cape

A drawing of a Hawaiian chief wearing traditional hemet and cape: ‘…[Kamal] knew …Hawaii’s Alii…were granted rights to marry – and love – a sibling.’

These proclamations soothed Kamal, who drew
an infinite vivacity
from Rick’s profuse sagacity.
And too, from Imogene he knew
the privileged Incas of Peru,
Hawaii’s Alii, the Singhalese,
Hyperion and Pylades
and Zeus – and more! – without the slightest quibbling,
were granted rights to marry – and love – a sibling.

But back now to those keys! Our story’s ignition!
They stimulate the Benz, which shivers, then purrs.
The famous lady shows no inhibition
in the mini-dress she most prefers
(Versace’s tribute to her dietician!).
She gives Narayanamurthy a kiss.

‘There’s something I must tell you, Miss,’
he says in servile tones she loves.

‘Oh darling,’ she counters, ‘where are your gloves?
A waste of all that naked brawn, no?
To not wear gloves like Galliano?
That’s better. Go on, now finish your complaint.
I ate those brownies, so? I’m not a saint!’

But Ramana had something else to say
– which he’ll soon tell…

                                                     Legs and heels retract
into the Benz’s hind-wing. It speeds away.

The Italianate villa’s door – left open a crack –
swings open further still (Saint Ana’s play),
inviting us inside…

And we will enter that door very soon, to see for ourselves what Kamal and Imogene are up to while their mother goes shopping. A hint:

They’re deeply engorged, I mean engrossed,
in what they love to do the most…

…and we must hope their mother doesn’t return before they are finished.
See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

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Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom, Riverhead Books, 1999, 745 pages

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom

The further one ventures out of this world and into the Shakespearean universe, the more one feels the inadequacy of certain cerebral equipage.  Your most insulated jackets, your thickest snow boots won’t shield you from the icy temperatures of Macbeth.  No sunscreen, of even the highest SPF, can block the searing sun of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  There’s no oxygen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or maybe there’s too much oxygen— and what’s that strange gas everyone seems to be breathing in Twelfth Night?  Gravity exists, of course, a severe and fundamental gravity in King Lear and Hamlet, but it torques and twists and transmutes the world like nothing we’re accustomed to.

One requires, alas, no less than the literary equivalent of NASA to design a proper suit, one which can hold up in the watery, or windy, or sometimes fiery — but always extreme, always shifting and temporally unusual  – conditions one finds in a work by William Shakespeare.

If anyone would know how such a suit should be designed it’s Harold Bloom, one of the most accomplished and important literary scientists of all time (right up there with his cross-epochal lover and soul-mate, Dr. Johnson). But in his Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Bloom approaches the greatest of all writers – “greatest” being a superlative which one can safely and liberally employ (as Bloom does, exuberantly, in a variety of ways) when writing about Shakespeare — from a different, or rather reverse and astonishing angle.

Each of us, Bloom insists, or at least anyone who can engage in a discussion of Shakespeare, is a creation of Shakespeare.  That is, our very sense of self and nature, the way we reason and behave, is nothing less than our evolutionary adaptation to Shakespeare’s art.  We’ve been living and breathing and surviving in the strange and alien-seeming substance of Shakespeare from the moment of our self-awareness.  “I do not know if God created Shakespeare,” writes Bloom, “but I know that Shakespeare created us, to an altogether startling degree.”

This heady argument – and yes, for Bloom it’s an “argument” – appears to arise more out of distress than pleasure.  Bloom has a bone, a skull you might say, to pick with Marxists, multiculturalists, feminists, nouveau historicists (“the usual suspects,” he quips) who misinterpret and travesty Shakespeare’s plays and ultimately produce what Bloom, quite wonderfully, calls “ideological jamborees.”  One can’t help cheering Bloom on here, although sometimes we see Bloom as a courageous David, other times as Ali the boxing champion, other times it’s Bloom the pit-bull in a dogfight, a crowd of academics carousing around the bloody spectacle.

Bloom acknowledges early in his book that critics of Shakespeare, writing what they see in Shakespeare’s mirror, tell us more about themselves than about Shakespeare’s work.  Bloom, we quickly learn, is a “devout Falstaffian.”  Shakespeare, he writes, invented Harold Bloom as a parody of Falstaff.  There is, indeed, a Falstaffian fleshiness to Bloom’s book, the inflated theatricality, the bombast and self-indulgence, the stylistic rotundity – folds of repetitive flabbiness hanging over his belt – and (perhaps most of all) a sense of youthfulness in old age not unlike Falstaff’s.  And yet Falstaff would never write a book like this one.

Bloom understands the Shakespearean illusion.  We think we see in Hamlet what everyone else sees, but it’s the reflection of our inner selves we’re witnessing.  And Bloom also knows, brilliantly, that the image of himself which he sees reflected in Shakespeare’s mirror is not what we see in Bloom.  Falstaff and Hamlet are Bloom’s favourite characters because they display a passionate charisma mixed with what he calls “inwardness” (a type of self-consciousness, self-reflection, self-revisionism).  On Bloom’s stage, where the main players include Nietzsche, Dr. Johnson, Montaigne, Chaucer, Cervantes, Beckett and a kind of Shylockian Freud , with minor parts given to Hegel, Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, Wilde, Spinoza, Anthony Burgess, Eliot, Hart Crane and countless others, Bloom is his own favourite character.

Bloom, too, displays charisma and inwardness; and he knows that what he writes is both insightful and fleeting, precise and prolix, enthusiastic, laborious, accurate and yet never quite right.  At times it’s difficult to take anything Bloom says seriously, such a believer is Bloom in revisionism. A Whitehouse Secretary, a Scott McClellan type of literary scholarship. And much of what Blooms says — especially about how poets operate — is simply wrong, but being wrong, in Bloom’s production, is a temporary affair.  Give it time.  Wrongs will right themselves eventually.

Bloom as Falstaff?  But also Cleopatra, it seems to me, with her “longing for a lost sublime,” and I hate to say it (this will hurt Bloom terribly), Henry V, because Bloom finds his strongest inspiration when fighting an enemy. Hamlet was an expert swordsman, easily defeating Laertes in their duel, but his most powerful weapon, like Falstaff’s, was his wit, coupled with his air of indifference (or “disinterestedness,” to use Bloom’s term).  Bloom is massive and lovable, sensitive, beautiful, brave and thrilling, profoundly alive, a miracle of nature, soaring loftily, jubilantly in the raging slipstream of Shakespearean studies; but he isn’t witty.

Wit is the interpretation of words “out of frame” (to use Hamlet’s metaphor).  It is to literature what a trick of light, or a piece of camouflage, or a reflection in a window, is to a painting.  The word is not what we first think; the little shadow reveals itself to be a blackbird; the woman’s silky-seeming veil is made of alabaster; and the woman is really a man.  Anne Salmond, in her wonderful book on Captain Cook, informs us that some of the island men mistook a few members of Cook’s crew for ladies and excitedly pursued them into the foliage for coupling, only to find themselves the butts, so to speak, of a Shakespearean charade, a wonderful play of cultural wit.

Hamlet was a cannibal (Gloucester his supper); and he was Captain Cook, too.  The Maori, who always paddled their canoes while sitting forward, believed the approaching British sailors, who paddled toward shore in a backward manner, were a convoy of faceless goblins.  Hamlet-the-Maori traded feathers for a mirror and admired his clear reflection in the smooth device.  Hamlet-the-ship’s captain awarded human dignity to the natives who ate his friends.  Hamlet was a conquistador and a slave, a native and a foreigner, a feminist, a Marxist, a multiculturalist and, at the same time, he was Bloom the “Brontosaurus Bardolator” (as Bloom urbanely, unpoetically calls himself).  He is a member of the human species, but from another country, an undiscovered country – or rather, a country discovered and observed, but beyond our comprehension, beyond our control.

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