Nothing Either Good or Bad

 

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We sufferers of C-PTSD often find ourselves overwhelmed with bad thoughts, thanks to our inner critic. It seems as though negativity is a permanent, static state to be in.

As hard as it is to believe for sufferers of complex trauma, though, neither good nor bad states exist permanently; good and bad flow back and forth between each other like the waves of the ocean. This is part of the reason I use ‘infinite ocean‘ as a metaphor for universal reality. The good moments are the crests, and the bad moments are the troughs; we must be patient in waiting for the troughs to rise into crests.

Recall Hamlet‘s line to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Only our thoughts cause this flow (of one opposite to the other) to ossify into rigid absolutes. Freed of that rigidity, we experience the flow of good to bad, to good to bad, to good, as a Unity of Action.

This Unity of Action is the unity of opposites, an idea found in philosophical traditions around the world, throughout history. It was part of Heraclitus‘s thought: “the path up and down are one and the same”; he also understood how these opposites flow into each other in a state of endless change, for “everything flows”, and “No man ever steps in the same river twice”. Dialectical monism is central to Taoist philosophy, particularly in the concept of yin and yang. Unity in duality is seen in the idealist Hegelian dialectic, which Marx turned into a materialist version, and Lenin, Stalin, and Mao in turn all expanded on Marx.

My point in bringing up these various testimonies to the validity of a universal dialectic, many from independent sources, is to show that talk of a Unity of Action is not just some New Age sentimentality. When a great thinker such as Hegel affirms the truth of dialectical monism, we know it’s not something to be airily dismissed.

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I like to use the ouroboros as a symbol of the dialectical relationships between opposites such as happiness and sadness. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, all opposites can be seen at the extreme ends of a continuum, rather than in rigid terms of black and white. This continuum can be coiled into a circle, with one extreme phasing into its opposite. The biting head and bitten tail of the ouroboros can represent those meeting extremes.

I’ve demonstrated how the ouroboros, representing the Unity of Action, is manifested in class struggle, in the development of capitalism, in the relationship between oneself and other people, and in the relationship between mental health and various forms of mental illness, in the form of a general theory of the personality.

Now, I’d like to show how we can use dialectical thinking to turn negative emotions and experiences into positive ones. When we’re seriously upset about some problem, it’s often hard to imagine a solution, especially if we’re emotionally dysregulating and making a catastrophe of the problem in our minds. Good and bad are imagined in terms of black and white, with an insuperable barrier between the problem and a solution.

However, when we see the problem and possible solution dialectically, in the form of the ouroboros, we can now imagine a path from the bitten tail of the problem, passing along the length of the serpent’s body towards greater and greater hope, all the way to the biting head of a solution.

Since, as I described elsewhere, one can compare the three parts of Hegel’s dialectic (which I, admittedly, am simplifying here, for the sake of brevity) to the tail (the “thesis,” or abstract), the head (the “antithesis,” or negation, a logical challenge to the original abstract idea), and the length of the serpent’s body (the “synthesis,” the concrete, or sublation, a resolving of the contradictions between the head and tail to form a higher truth…a new abstract tail to be negated and sublated again and again in endless cycles), we can see how dialectical thinking can help us turn negative thinking into positive.

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When we have a problem, negative thought, or any reason to be depressed or anxious, we start with the “thesis,” or abstract. Next, we imagine the negation, which is the solution to our problem, or the happy state of mind we wish we were in. Since there is a unity of opposites, we know we have no reason to believe a solution to our problem is unreachable.

We must now work out the contradiction between the difficulty and the solution we wish we could find; this is the sublation we need to work out, that path along the circular serpent’s body towards the solution. How can we do this? We can start by asking what we could learn from the problem. We can always learn from past mistakes, or learn to avoid repeating past misfortunes. Second, we can acknowledge what we have to be grateful for; we can count our blessings, all those things and people (i.e., friends) we take for granted, but shouldn’t, at this moment of crisis.

I’ll now give an example of how to negate negativity, as I did with regards to my family. As I explained here, I started with my parents’ vices–my father’s bad temper, bigotry, parsimony, and closed-mindedness, as well as my mother’s lack of empathy, narcissism, and habitual gaslighting, triangulating, and smear campaigning–and I used them as the “thesis.” Since writing The Inner Critic blog post, I’ve added my siblings’ vices–their bullying and verbal abuse, as well as my sister J.‘s constant attempts to reform me into the brother she wants me to be–to the collective family “thesis,” or abstract.

Now, for the “antithesis,” or negation: in The Inner Critic, I wrote of meditating on and visualizing, in hypnotic trance, kind, loving parents who pick you up and cuddle with you. In the case of my parents, I imagine the dialectical opposites of those vices I mentioned above: I visualize a new father who is easy-going, tolerant, giving, and open-minded; I imagine a new mother who values lifting up her children’s self-esteem, as well as promoting family harmony; added to these, I meditate on a supportive, protective older brother (something my brothers, R. and F., never were), and a sister who wouldn’t change one character trait of mine, but rather considering my eccentricities as part of my charm. Instead of the old family sneering at me, I imagine the new family cheering for me. This alone, done with the right intensity and focus, makes me feel much better.

As for a “synthesis,” the concrete, or the Aufhebung, my repeated and intensive auto-hypnotic meditations on the negation should, over time, counterbalance all the negativity I suffered from my family over four decades of dealing with them. I note how the idealized family of my self-hypnosis represents who my old family should have been; also, my memories of the old family are no less ghosts in my mind, old bad object relations, than are the newly internalized objects of my idealized new family, who are there to heal me and eliminate my inner critic. Combine this visualization with my “Christopher Sly” meditation–a tossing aside of my past ghosts as having no more right to be considered reality than are the new family of my meditations–and I should balance out the negative past with my positive present, and thus have a median, realistic self-assessment.

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Remember how suggestible the mind is during hypnosis, which is just a meditation in a relaxed, yet focused mental state. Note also that the mind doesn’t distinguish between reality and imagination: that’s how we can get emotionally involved in a movie, which of course is pure fiction and illusion. So we can use this suggestibility to our advantage in curing ourselves of our C-PTSD.

As I’ve said before, we sufferers of narcissistic and emotional abuse tend to imagine a fragmented world where the shattered pieces can’t be put back together. To solve this problem, I see it as imperative that we all cultivate an outlook of seeing the underlying unity in all things. This means seeing a unity between oneself and others to end C-PTSD isolation and alienation, The Unity of Space.

It also means putting the past behind us, worrying less about the future, and focusing on NOW, The Unity of Time. Finally, we also need to stop seeing an insurmountable wall existing between our sorrows and the happiness we crave, but see instead how all opposites are dialectically unified, as symbolized by yin/yang and the ouroboros, The Unity of Action.

Such unifying replaces despair with hope, alienation with belonging, and anxiety and depression with joy in the present moment–a lasting cure for complex trauma.

Putting the Painful Past Behind Us

To stop myself from ruminating on my painful childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood–a bad habit I picked up, thanks to the emotional abusers I had to endure during those years–I recently found inspiration in Shakespeare. Yes, the immortal Bard wrote a not-so-well-known scene in one of his otherwise most popular comedies, a scene whose meaning I interpreted in a way that I now see (in the form of a meditation/self-hypnosis) as something that may help us forget the past, and focus on the present. Allow me to explain.

In my Analysis of The Taming of the Shrew, I argued that the Induction is the main story, not the Katherina (‘Kate’) and Petruchio story, which is just a play within a play, a further remove from the audience’s sense of reality than the Induction itself is (a full synopsis of the play can be read here, if you don’t have access to it or the time to read it).

In the Induction (<<<YouTube video of Scene i), a boorish, drunken tinker named Christopher Sly is tricked (<<<video of Scene ii) into thinking he’s a lord, after waking up from a fifteen-year coma (as his pranksters tell him), during which his memory of his whole life as a tinker has been only a dream. Lying in a luxurious bed, wearing the bedclothes of a rich man, and surrounded by people pretending to be his loving friends, servants, and wife (a boy dressed in women’s clothes), Sly is incredulous at first, but soon acquiesces to the whole thing, and then watches a farcical play of the Kate and Petruchio story.

As far as pranks go, this is a rather odd one. Why go to such lengths to flatter a drunken slob? Far from making Sly look foolish, the trick dignifies and ennobles him instead. What’s more, we never even see the prank brought to its conclusion. Sly nods off to sleep during the performance of the play (Act I, Scene i, lines 242-247), which is briefly halted to wake him up, then carries on till the end of the story; no more mention of Sly is ever made. We never see the pranksters reveal themselves as such, laughing at the fool for falling for the gag. It’s as if we, the audience, are also tricked into thinking the Kate and Petruchio story, rather than that of Sly, is the real one.

What comes later (Sly as a lord; the Kate and Petruchio story) comes off as real, and what came first (Sly’s life as a tinker; the Induction, often excluded from productions of the play, or movie and TV adaptations) is forgotten about and deemed irrelevant.

To relate the Induction to our lives, we can see Christopher Sly as representing us. We were originally treated with contempt as he was, and that contempt may have caused us to have a surly manner; after all, when we believe we’re unworthy, we often behave as unworthy people…not because we really are, but because we’ve been manipulated by our abusers to think of ourselves as unworthy. We must go from believing ourselves as base to thinking of ourselves as someone much better. Thus, we must trick ourselves.

As formerly emotionally abused children (or ex-boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses), we C-PTSD sufferers must trick ourselves into deeming as irrelevant the pain that came earlier in our lives, just as Sly is tricked into thinking his earlier life, as a contemptible slob, is just a dream (and as the audience watching Shakespeare’s play is tricked into thinking the play-within-a-play, rather than the Induction, is the real story).

We must imagine ourselves as having woken up from a nightmare (I’m assuming you, Dear Reader, have distanced yourself from your abusive family or ex, and gone NO CONTACT; if you haven’t, I urge you to do so; if you can’t do it yet, make it your ambition), and see our new life, our present life, as one of glorious new possibilities.

We must remember that our NOW is the only reality we have. Our memories are just ghosts haunting our minds, old object relations we need to eject from our consciousness (see these links for meditations on how to replace old, bad internal objects with new, good ones). The past is no longer real for us, except in our ruminations. We need to stop that obsessive over-thinking…but how?

I’ve already described in other posts how we can, in auto-hypnotic trance (a restful, focused state in which one is more suggestible), imagine our oneness with everything around us by getting our bodies so relaxed that we can feel ourselves vibrating all over. Those vibrations, in and around us, can be compared to a feeling like the waves of the ocean. In our meditative state, we imagine our bodies, our cohesive, non-fragmented Self–our Atman, if you will–as part of an infinite ocean, our surroundings, the whole universe–Brahman, as it were. This meditative state, our unity with everything, can cure us of our sense of isolation, provided we practice it, in sessions of substantial duration, every day over a lengthy period of time.

Added to this contemplation of The Unity of Space, as I call it, we can also contemplate what I call The Unity of Time, the eternal NOW. As we focus on those ‘waves’ passing through our vibrating bodies, which are part of the water of the infinite ocean of Brahman, we also focus on the present moment, doing our best never to let our minds wander and daydream of other things (if we let ourselves get distracted, we should gently but firmly bring our minds back to the present moment). This discipline will gradually take our minds off the past, to focus more on NOW. We must always keep our minds on those moving waves, for every second.

Another meditation we can do to say goodbye to the past is to lie in bed with our eyes closed, and after getting ourselves perfectly relaxed in the manner I described in previous posts (breathing in and out, deeply and slowly, focusing on all the parts of our bodies, from our toes up to our heads, until they’re vibrating with calm, counting down from ten, with our bodies getting more and more relaxed with each passing number), imagine waking up as Sly does, with loving family (the new, good one we’ve imagined, of course, not the original, abusive one) and friends all around our bed, teary-eyed with joy that we’ve revived from a ‘coma’.

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We do not recognize these people, and are shocked to hear them say they are our family. They speak lovingly and respectfully to us, yet to be honoured in such a way feels alien to us, and we protest how odd they are behaving. Still, they insist that we are worthy of such love, and that we should cease this idle notion that we would “be infused with so foul a spirit” [Induction, Scene ii, line 15] as to deserve to be treated as we had been by our past abusers.

We feel dazed still, unable to believe what we’re hearing. We wonder, “do I dream? Or have I dream’d till now? / I do not sleep: I see, I hear, I speak; / I smell sweet savours, and I feel soft things.” [Induction, Scene ii, lines 67-69] We come to believe that we aren’t the person we thought we were before. We’re someone new, and we have a whole new life ahead of us!

With a bright smile on our face, we accept that this present moment is, indeed, our true life, and the painful past we’d experienced before was just a bad dream, something we can now brush aside and forget. We are the lord of our new, liberated life!

Now, the people in this meditation are not pulling a prank on us: they genuinely love and care for us. Though this is a meditation, we’ll do a dialectical flip, and imagine the present visualization to be reality, and our past to have been the illusion. Yes, we’ll be playing a benevolent prank on ourselves, tricking our minds into conceiving this present moment as our true reality.

And why not? The past is just ghosts and visions; NOW is the material reality before our eyes and all around us. By sustaining this meditative state for ourselves, as truly sly Christophers (or sly Christinas, if you’re female), for as long as we can, and doing this self-hypnosis regularly, every day (just after waking up, ideally, to get the best, most realistic effect), we can, over time, truly put the painful past behind us.

Imagine those loving faces around your bed, those people telling you that your painful past was all just a long, bad dream. You’ve just woken from a long coma of many years, and NOW is your real life, surrounded by people who love you. Flood your whole body with feelings of love, acceptance, and validation, what you’ve been cruelly denied for far too long. Don’t worry about visualizing accurate physical details; focus on the good feelings.

Since there’s a dialectical unity of opposites, we can feel free to turn our bad situation into its good opposite, a negation of the thesis that was once our awful lives, and work through the contradictions of our bad past and our good present, then sublate them into the synthesis that will be the basis of our new lives.

I’m not talking about deluding yourself: I’m advocating a disciplining of your mind to focus on now and forget about your past. When you’re no longer ‘tinkering’ with your painful memories, you’ll be lord (or lady) over your present life, you’ll be truly sly (that is, in your cunning but benevolent self-deceit), and the raging shrew inside you will be tamed. No, Christopher (or Christina), you aren’t a loser: you’re the master of your life.

Analysis of ‘Marat/Sade’

The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade is a drama with music, written by Peter Weiss in 1963. It incorporates elements of Brecht‘s epic theatre (including “alienation effect“) and Antonin Artaud‘s theatre of cruelty (especially in Peter Brook‘s production and 1967 film adaptation).

Here are some quotes, from Geoffrey Skelton‘s English translation (and Adrian Mitchell‘s lyric adaptation) of 1964:

“Down with the ruling class
Throw all the generals out on their arse” –Chorus

But man has given a false importance to death
Any animal plant or man who dies
adds to Nature’s compost heap
becomes the manure without which
nothing could grow nothing could be created
Death is simply part of the process
Every death even the cruellest death
drowns in the total indifference of Nature
Nature herself would watch unmoved
if we destroyed the entire human race
[rising]
I hate Nature” —Sade

“The important thing
is to pull yourself up by your own hair
to turn yourself inside out
and see the whole world with fresh eyes” —Marat

“For me the only reality is imagination
the world inside myself
The Revolution
no longer interests me” –Sade

“It becomes clear
that the Revolution was fought
for merchants and shopkeepers
the bourgeoisie
a new victorious class
and underneath them
ourselves
who always lose the lottery” –Marat

“Do you think it’s possible
to unite mankind
when already you see how the few idealists
who did join together in the name of harmony
are now out of tune
and would like to kill each other over trifles” –Sade

“And what’s the point of a revolution
without general copulation” –Sade

Though the story reflects on the aftermath of the French Revolution, a bourgeois revolution, it deals with the political issues from Weiss’s Marxist perspective. Marat and Sade are Weiss’s mouthpieces, engaging in a dialectic between Marat’s concern for the rights of the poor and Sade’s nihilism and individualism.

Historically, both men were in the National Convention (Sade was on the far left); but where Marat was like the Lenin of his day, Sade was, in a way, more like an extreme individualist anarchist, wishing above all to abolish Church hegemony and sexually liberate everyone, including women. Sade’s ‘anarchism’ was the stereotype of lawless chaos; you’d search until your eyes ached without finding any Kropotkin in him.

The play within the play is performed by the mentally ill inmates of the asylum, all chanting and singing of their wish to be liberated from state and class oppression. Acting out such a drama would seem to make for good psychotherapy, except for the fact that Coulmier, in charge of the production of Sade’s play, has had subversive passages excised in hopes the play will promote Napoleon and French nationalistic sentiment. The inmate actors, however, frequently recite the censored passages and act up in violent outbursts, making Coulmier break in and reprimand Sade for not keeping the actors under control.

Indeed, Coulmier represents how the liberal bourgeoisie allow the publication and performance of left-wing writings, plays, movies, etc., but will never allow even the rumblings of revolution. Similarly, the inmates represent the oppressed proletariat, for a sick people we are, indeed, trapped in a class system kept intact by a bourgeois government, and struggling to break free.

The progress of the story–involving three visits to sick Marat in his bathtub by his eventual assassin, Corday–gets interrupted by songs, Coulmier’s attempts at restraint, and debate between Marat and Sade over the very validity of revolution. These Verfremdungseffekt breaks represent the psychological fragmentation inside all of us, which makes a socialist revolution so elusive.

“Alienation” effect may be a bad translation of Brecht’s techniques to distance the audience emotionally from the story, to estrange us from the characters; but I find “alienation” a useful word nonetheless, for it makes for easy association with Marx’s theory of alienation. Brecht’s and Weiss’s Marxism makes this association all the more valid. Indeed, alienation and fragmentation, as I’ve argued elsewhere, is what has all but killed the revolutionary potential of the First World.

Prison bars are set up to divide the viewers of the play from the inmates, as seen in the movie, and only Coulmier, his wife, and daughter are on the side with the inmates, so he can more directly control them, with the aid of nuns and male nurses, who overpower the inmates whenever they get unruly.

One particularly intractable inmate is the one playing Jacques Roux, a former priest; having turned to radical socialism and with his arms bound in a sort of straitjacket, he shouts at everyone, demanding social justice and urgently crying for revolution. His outbursts at the end of the play cause a riot among the inmates, the revolution we’ve all been waiting for.

Another unruly inmate is the one playing Duperret (in Brook’s production and movie adaptation, played by John Steiner, who by the way also played Longinus in Penthouse’s infamous Caligula); he lusts after the somnambulistic actress playing Corday, and intermittently attempts sexual assaults on her. We’re happy to note that the lecherous buffoon never succeeds.

This unruly energy, as alienating as it is, is counterproductive to the hopes of revolution. Sade tells Marat:

Marat
these cells of the inner self
are worse than the deepest stone dungeon
and as long as they are locked
all your revolution remains
only a prison mutiny
to be put down
by corrupted fellow prisoners”

We can’t change the world for the better until we change what’s wrong inside ourselves. Empathy and mutual love–the cultivation of which is stifled throughout the performance thanks to Coulmier’s suppressions, Marat’s assassination, Sade’s ‘trolling’, if you will, Duperret’s attempted rapes of Corday, and the Brechtian distancing–are essential to building up the worker solidarity needed for revolution. The “corrupted fellow prisoners” in our present-day world, those useful idiots of the political right, have time and again betrayed the working class, because they lack the needed love.

(Che Guevara once said, “The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”)

Marat’s politics were pretty straightforward; he was, in the parlance of our time, a socialist “before it was cool,” wanting to help the sans-culottes any way he could. Sade’s politics, however, are not so cut and dry. An aristocrat, he supported the overthrow of the monarchy…and the Church especially. He was a “left-winger” in the new French republican government of the early 1790s…but was he any kind of a socialist?

Some of his contemporaries accused him of political opportunism, as John Phillips points out: “Many have accused Sade of unabashed political opportunism in the Revolution. After all, throughout his life, Sade was capable of behaving like any other feudal lord of the manor, pulling rank when it suited him. Moreover, Sade’s tendencies towards self-dramatization are never too far below the surface, and the theatre of revolution certainly provided him with ample opportunities to role-play. Indeed, days before the Bastille was stormed, Sade is said to have harangued the street crowds from his cell, urging them to rise up and revolt–perhaps the most theatrical of all episodes in his very theatrical life…On the other hand, as Sade’s most recent biographer Neil Shaeffer observes, there was no hypocrisy in these performances, part of his charm being that, at the time, ‘he truly felt and truly was what he seemed to be’. And of course, Sade had no love for a monarchy that had kept him in prison without trial for more than thirteen years, and he was certainly carried away by the fast pace of events during the revolutionary period. Moreover, the view that his overtly pro-republican activities at this time were dictated by pure expediency is hard to credit, when one might have expected him to adopt a more discreet profile in view of his aristocratic past.” (Phillips, pages 44-45)

We all know of Sade’s libertinism, which he wrote about in his four pornographic/philosophical works, Justine, Juliette, The 120 Days of Sodom, and Philosophy in the Bedroom, and which he practiced with consenting and, some say, non-consenting partners, though Phillips doubts the latter:

“…Sade certainly committed a number of…acts that some might now consider reprehensible, acts that included the flagellation and buggery of prostitutes, and, allegedly, the sexual corruption of young women, although there is no reason to believe that any of this behaviour involved compulsion.

“In 1768, a 36-year-old beggar-woman from Alsace name Rose Keller accused Sade of subjecting her to acts of libertinage, sacrilege and sadism on Easter Sunday in his house at Arcueil. The marquis claimed she was a prostitute who had been well paid for her services and that he never intended her any harm. Nevertheless, he was imprisoned for six months initially at Saumur, then at Pierre-Encise near Lyons.” (Phillips pages 4-5)

Sade wrote of the pleasure of being cruel to others, but to what extent did Sade really advocate the brand of sociopathy to which he gave his name? He wrote of the pleasures of whipping and torturing people, but also wrote and knew of the pleasure of being on the receiving end of flagellation and other forms of pain (examples can be found on the pages of Juliette, such as on page 764: “I offered my ass; Braschi speared it dry and deep. This scraping whence resulted mingled pain and pleasure, the moral irritation resulting from the idea of holding the Pope’s prick in my ass, everything marched me toward happiness: I discharged.”). Furthermore, there’s the scene in Marat/Sade in which he has himself whipped by the actress playing Corday (with Glenda Jackson‘s hair, oddly, in Brook’s production and film).

As Freud once said, “A person who feels pleasure in producing pain in someone else in a sexual relationship is also capable of enjoying as pleasure any pain which he may himself derive from sexual relations. A sadist is always at the same time a masochist.” (Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality)

That so many of the tormentors and perverts in Sade’s erotic writings are also wealthy, powerful people, including the Tartuffes of the Church, the kind of people he’d wanted overthrown in the French Revolution, shows he wasn’t so much advocating their cruelty as he was commenting on how corrupt the powerful are. Phillips says,

“…there may appear to be numerous counter-revolutionary notes in Juliette. All of the libertines praise despotism and terror, some even demanding a return to feudalism. We should remember, however, that it is, precisely, the villainous characters of the novel who express such views, and that they are not to be simplistically equated with those of the author. Sade’s own voice is always cloaked in irony, and if we read carefully between the lines, it is not hard to discern a far more subtle politics than that of his libertine anti-heroes.” (Phillips, page 58)

“What’s the point of a revolution without general copulation?” Sade asks, cuing the actors to begin the orgiastic round. We sense, knowing the historical Sade’s proclivities, what he would have meant had he actually said that; but what does Weiss mean by it, using Sade as his mouthpiece? Does he mean something along the lines of that quote attributed to anarchist Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution”? Is the goal of our liberation merely to have more pleasure? Or was Weiss’s line meant as a left-libertarian-leaning jab at the tankies, who are typically characterized as suppressive of individual freedom, including pleasure? Could that be part of the reason, along with his Trotsky play, that East Germany had something of a love-hate relationship with Weiss?

Speaking of tankies, by calling the play “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat…” etc., was Weiss, in a way, being a prophet? In what could have been his making Marat (who advocated having prisoners of the Revolution killed before they could be freed in what became known as the September Massacres) a spokesman for authoritarian leaders like Lenin, Stalin, or Mao, was Weiss commenting on the direction the Cold War was going in, with the persecution of Warsaw Pact countries (through Western capitalist, CIA propaganda in the media, Khrushchev’s de-Stalinizationartificial food shortages in Gorbachev-era Russia, the US’s numerous attempts at regime change of left-wing governments, and Carter’s and Brzezinski‘s manipulation of the outbreak of the Soviet-Afghan war, which finally killed the USSR)? Was Weiss predicting the socialist states’ “assassination” (i.e., the dissolution of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc in the 1990s)? If so, does this make Sade, Marat’s dialectical opposite, as much a spokesman for bourgeois liberals, in his own way, as Coulmier is?

Consider, also, the “fifteen glorious years” (Weiss, pages 101-104) of rule under the bourgeois and Napoleon, from Marat’s assassination (1793) to the time of the play’s setting (1808). How can we parallel those years to recent ones? “Fifteen glorious years” (note my sarcasm) between the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991) to the chaos of the Iraq War already underway (as of 2006)? Or should the comparison be between the balkanization of Yugoslavia–including the persecution and death of slandered Slobodan (1990s-2006)–and the Obama and Trump administrations, at the height of their imperialist tyranny (a parallel to that of Napoleon, as ironically sung about in the song lyric, “Marat, we’re marching on, behind Napoleon”–Weiss, page 104), with NSA spying, bombing of seven countries in 2016, and the farcical election of the same year?

Finally, who won the debate, Marat or Sade? Is the riot at the end of the play Marat’s post-mortem revolution, a move of the ouroboros from the bitten tail of socialist defeat to the biting head of a triumph of the people; or is it just a Sadean prank? Sade, laughing (Weiss, page 109), seems to think the latter. The chaos of the uprising of the inmates as an assault on the eyes and ears of the audience, the essence of the concept of Theatre of Cruelty, could make the winner either Marat or Sade.

As Artaud said, “the Theater of Cruelty proposes to resort to a mass spectacle; to seek in the agitation of tremendous masses, convulsed and hurled against each other…” (Artaud, page 85) Also, “It is in order to attack the spectator’s sensibility on all sides that we advocate a revolving spectacle which, instead of making the stage and auditorium two closed worlds, without possible communication, spreads its visual and sonorous outbursts over the entire mass of the spectators.” (ibid, page 86)

So, does the riot of the inmates (“the agitation of tremendous masses, convulsed and hurled against each other”), in a form of expressive drama therapy, “attack the spectator’s sensibility on all sides”, making “possible communication” between the “two closed worlds” of “the stage and auditorium”, and thus winning the class war for the proletariat? If so, Marat wins. Or, is the riot…

…”only a prison mutiny
to be put down
by corrupted fellow prisoners”?

Then, in that case, ‘Theatre of Cruelty‘ is to be taken literally, and Sade wins.

Here’s another question for you, Dear Reader: after “fifteen glorious years” (or however many years one wishes to calculate) of neoliberal hegemony, with virtually no substantial socialist alternative (the Marxist-Leninist defenders of China notwithstanding), will the crisis of current-day capitalism result in a new communist revolution, or Sadean barbarism? We’ll find out, I guess.

Peter Weiss, Marat/Sade, Marion Boyars, London, 1965

John Phillips, The Marquis de Sade: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2005

Marquis de Sade (translated by Austryn Wainhouse), Juliette, Grove Press, New York, 1968

Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, Grove Press, New York, 1958

Family Romance

I

Mom is here.  Dad is here.
Child is held.

Mom is harsh.  Dad is harsh.

Child runs off.

New Mom guards.  New Dad guards.
Child is safe.

She says, “Play.”  He says, “Play.”

Child can play.

II

Mom looks over.  Dad looks over.
Child is watched.

Mom looms over.  Dad looms over.

Child then flees.

New Mom sees him.  New Dad sees him.
Child is tended.

She saves him.  He saves him.

Child is free.

III

Parents are rich…yet, they’re poor.
Child feels empty.

Parents give things…but not love.

Child feels lonely.

New parents: poor…yet, they’re rich.
Child has plenty.

New parents love…but, sans silver
Child–loved wholly.

 

The Calm After the Storm

There is the breast that gives milk,
and that which doesn’t;
and then, there are both, which feed us sparingly.

We, smiling, suck on the first,
we bite the second;
we sigh when we see they’re from the same mother.

One parent is our hero,
one is a mirror;
but both are bridges from us to the world.

Some heroes will fall from grace,
some mirrors crack;
our bridges, then, will break, and we can’t cross them.

Bravely, we’d walk on the water,
see wavy reflections
beneath our feet, our warped and rippled faces.

Thus, we ignore the storm,
feel still, calm waters,
blind to the splashing sea we’re drowning in.

We’d reach the other side,
the land of milk,
but all we have to drink is wind-tossed water.

The storm cannot be calmed
until it’s faced.
We see our faces blowing on the waves.

We see parental ghosts
inside our eyes,
the ruach blowing on the rolling seas.

They blow the wind into us,
we blow it out,
and all our gales break mirrors and bridges.

Our gusts make crests and troughs,
and gentle waves
will only come when we can calm the winds.

Bad ghosts blow hurricanes,
good ones blow breezes;
cast out the bad by letting in the good.

The good are our new heroes:
they’ll mend the mirrors,
and help us build new bridges we can cross.

The winds of rage will slow down to a calm.

We’ll cross the bridges, reach the other side,

and drink the milk of bliss and mutual love.

Infamous Hearts

Infamous Hearts Full Wrap.jpg

Though I sometimes write erotica (to be found on the Literotica website) and erotic horror, my own writing isn’t to be found at all in this dark romance anthology. I wish to promote it, nonetheless, in order to help out a friend and fellow writer, Emery LeeAnn, as well as help out all the other writers whose works grace this volume.

So if you like dark romance writing, you might be interested in the following:

#NewRelease #InfamousHearts

The Infamous Hearts Anthology is #LIVE!! One click your copy of this twisted historical anthology today!

 

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  • •••••Synopsis••••••

Thirteen authors come together to provide a glimpse at notorious couples through history. When finding love in the arms of Hades must be escaped before dawn. Where the secret of the outlaw’s bride is found only in a place between heaven and hell. Where the wrath of Rosaline swings ominously like a pendulum and rapture can be found in the most iniquitous of times. When the secret of hieroglyphic hearts are drawn by daddy’s toy to overcome the feeling of being a darling little pet. When the blonde bombshell thrives high above the world in a tower made up of wanton lust and lies. When becoming a Kray is the only way to survive the mean streets of London. Time becomes frozen in each moment and secrets are told in whispers only to the most coveted.

 

Infamous Hearts: A Match Made in History.

 

 

Author pages:

Ashleigh Giannoccaro: https://www.facebook.com/Colourmyugly/?ref=br_rs

Avery Reigns: https://www.facebook.com/Avery-Reigns-Author-552254841785731/

C.A. Bell: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorC.A.BELL/

Dani René: https://www.facebook.com/DaniReneAuthor/

Destiny Hawkins: https://www.facebook.com/authordhawkins/

Elizabeth Cash: https://www.facebook.com/ElizabethCashAuthor/

Ellie Midwood: https://www.facebook.com/EllieMidwood/

Emery LeeAnn: https://www.facebook.com/EmeryLeeAnn/

Julia Clare: https://www.facebook.com/authorjuliaclare/

Natalie Bennett: https://www.facebook.com/NatalieBennettWriter/

Rose Devereux: https://www.facebook.com/rosedevereuxbooks/

Virginia Johnson: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorVirginiaJohnson/

Yolanda Olson: https://www.facebook.com/yolandasendlesswords/

 

  • •••••What Early Readers Are Saying••••••

“Wow, this collection completely blew my mind away! Not only it combined my two favorite genres – historical romance and dark fiction – but each pair in each story was written absolutely incredibly!”
“A different take on famous or infamous characters that spin a different tale on romance. Each author propels the need to keep reading, a different way of thinking in every mini-story, a different level of consuming darkness.”

So, go and check out this awesome collection of writing!

Analysis of ‘Richard III’

Richard III, though called “The Tragedy of King Richard the third” in the First Quarto, is a history play written by William Shakespeare in the early 1590s. It’s the last play in a tetralogy on British kings, the first three being parts I, II, and III of Henry VI, which are among the earliest plays the Bard is known to have written.

While Henry VI, Part I is considered one of Shakespeare’s worst plays, and thus is also believed to be a collaboration (these same two assessments have been made of another early Shakespeare play, Titus Andronicus), Richard III is the Bard’s first great play. It is also his second-longest play (after Hamlet).

Richard III is great literature, but it isn’t good history: essentially a propaganda play, it vilifies its namesake in order to justify his usurpation by Henry VII, the first monarch of the House of Tudor (Elizabeth I, contemporaneous with Shakespeare, being the last Tudor monarch). While the theory–that Richard III was responsible for the deaths (or, rather, disappearance) of the princes in the Towerseems the most probable one to explain the fate of the two boys, it is by no means proven; accordingly, the Ricardians are trying to rehabilitate Richard III‘s reputation.

Here are some famous quotes from Richard III, and from plays associated with it:

“Why, love forswore me in my mother’s womb;/And, for I should not deal in her soft laws,/She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe/To shrink mine arm up like a wither’d shrub;/To make an envious mountain on my back,/Where sits deformity to mock my body;/To shape my legs of an unequal size;/To disproportion me in every part,/Like to a chaos, or an unlick’d bear-whelp/That carries no impression like the dam./And am I then a man to be belov’d?/O, monstrous fault, to harbour such a thought!/Then, since this earth affords no joy to me/But to command, to check, to o’erbear such/As are of better person than myself,/I’ll make my heaven to dream upon the crown,/And, whiles I live, to account this world but hell/Until my mis-shap’d trunk that bear this head/Be round impaled with a glorious crown./And yet I know not how to get the crown,/For many lives stand between me and home,/And I, like one lost in a thorny wood,/That rends the thorns, and is rent with the thorns,/Seeking a way, and straying from the way,/Not knowing how to find the open air,/But toiling desperately to find it out,/Torment myself to catch the English crown;/And from that torment I will free myself,/Or hew my way out with a bloody axe./Why, I can smile, and murther while I smile,/And cry ‘Content!’ to that which grieves my heart,/And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,/And frame my face to all occasions./I’ll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall,/I’ll slay more gazers than the basilisk;/I’ll play the orator as well as Nestor,/Deceive more slyly than Ulysses could,/And like a Sinon take another Troy./I can add colours to the chameleon,/Change shapes with Protheus for advantages,/And set the murtherous Machiavel to school./Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?/Tut, were it farther off, I’ll pluck it down.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Henry VI, Part III, Act III, Scene ii, lines 153-195

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York
;
And all the clouds, that lour’d upon our house,
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums chang’d to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visag’d war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, — instead of mounting barbed steeds,
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,—
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, — that am not shap’d for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty,
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable,
That dogs bark at me, as I halt by them,—
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Richard III, Act I, Scene i, lines 1-31

“Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I’ll have her; — but I will not keep her long.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Richard III, Act I, Scene ii, lines 227-229

“I cannot tell: the world is grown so bad,
That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch:
Since every Jack became a gentleman,
There’s many a gentle person made a Jack.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Richard III, Act I, Scene iii, lines 70-73

“But then I sigh, and, with a piece of scripture,
Tell them that God bids us do good for evil:
And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With odd old ends, stol’n out of holy writ;
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Richard III, Act I, Scene iii, lines 334-338

“O momentary grace of mortal men,
Which we more hunt for than the grace of God!
Who builds his hope in air of your fair looks,
Lives like a drunken sailor on a mast,
Ready, with every nod, to tumble down
Into the fatal bowels of the deep.” —Hastings, Richard III, Act III, Scene iv, lines 98-103

“O bloody Richard! —miserable England!
I prophesy the fearfull’st time to thee
That ever wretched age hath look’d upon. —
Come, lead me to the block; bear him my head:
They smile at me who shortly shall be dead.” –Hastings, Richard III, Act III, Scene iv, lines 105-109

“I must be married to my brother’s daughter,
Or else my kingdom stands on brittle glass: —
Murder her brothers, and then marry her!
Uncertain way of gain! But I am in
So far in blood, that sin will pluck on sin.
Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye.” –King Richard, Richard III, Act IV, Scene ii, lines 62-67

King Richard: I am not in the giving vein to-day.
Buckingham: Why, then resolve me whe’r you will or no.
King Richard: Tut, tut, thou troublest me; I am not in the vein. —Richard III, Act IV, Scene ii, lines 120-122

“The sons of Edward sleep in Abraham’s bosom,
And Anne my wife hath bid the world good night.” –King Richard, Richard III, Act IV, Scene iii, lines 38-39

“Is the chair empty? is the sword unsway’d?
Is the king dead? the empire unpossess’d?” –King Richard, Richard III, Act IV, Scene iv, lines 470-471

“Despair and die!” –The Ghosts of Edward, Prince of Wales; Henry VI; Clarence; Grey; Rivers; Vaughan; Hastings; the boy Princes; Anne and Buckingham, Richard III, Act V, repeatedly throughout Scene iii

“Give me another horse! — bind up my wounds!
Have mercy, Sweet Jesu!” –King Richard, Richard III, Act V, Scene iii, lines 177-178

“I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die!
I think there be six Richmonds in the field;
Five have I slain to-day instead of him.” –King Richard, Richard III, Act V, Scene iv, lines 9-12

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” –King Richard, Richard III, Act V, Scene iv, line 7, then again at line 13

“Inter their bodies as becomes their births.
Proclaim a pardon to the soldiers fled,
That in submission will return to us;
And then, as we have ta’en the sacrament,
We will unite the white rose and the red: —
Smile heaven upon this fair conjunction,
That long have frown’d upon their enmity!
” —Henry, Earl of Richmond, Richard III, Act V, Scene v, lines 15-21

“Off with his head; so much for Buckingham” –King Richard, Colley Cibber‘s 1699 adaptation of Richard III

“Richard’s himself again!” –King Richard, Colley Cibber’s adaptation of Richard III

Because Richard III is part four of a tetralogy, which Shakespeare assumed his audience had seen in its entirety, he makes allusions to the first three parts that would be lost on audiences who’ve only seen the last part. (Colley Cibber tried to solve this problem with his 1699 adaptation.) Hence, to understand Shakespeare’s play, one must give a précis of the first three plays; I refer mostly to those parts relevant to understanding Richard III.

Henry VI, Part I

Henry V has passed away, way before his time, meaning his son, the child Henry VI, must be the new king. Squabbling and mismanagement of the kingdom under the Lord Protector and other nobles, as well as rebellions led by Joan of Arc, have lost England the French territory won under Henry V’s rule. Factions in King Henry’s court choose to side either with the White Rose of York or the Red Rose of Lancaster. Suffolk‘s plan is for Henry VI to marry Margaret of Anjou, as against the advice of the Lord Protector, so Suffolk can control the king through her.

Henry VI, Part II

The king marries Margaret. Bickering between the two factions leads, by the end of the play, to the Wars of the Roses. The Lord Protector; Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, has been imprisoned for treason and killed by hired murderers. The Duke of York, claiming the right to the throne, fights against Henry VI’s Lancastrian faction. The king, too meek and pious to fight, will let his wife, Queen Margaret, lead the Lancastrians.

Henry VI, Part III

The Duke of York briefly gains the upper hand and is made king, but the Lancastrians regain power, put a paper crown on York to mock him, then kill him. Henry VI is king again, but not for long, as the Yorkists get the upper hand again, and York’s eldest son is made King Edward IV. Hunchbacked Richard, Edward’s youngest brother, is made Duke of Gloucester; he lusts for the crown, but in a soliloquy (see first quote above) speaks of how he doesn’t know how to get to it; he compares his difficult quest for power to cutting through a “thorny wood” to get to a clearing. During the ongoing civil war, Warwick is killed by King Edward, as is (in the Battle of Tewkesbury) the Lancastrian Prince of Wales by all three of York’s sons, Edward (the king), George, and Richard, the last of these three later killing imprisoned King Henry VI, who prophesies that the Earl of Richmond will be king after the future King Richard III’s reign. The Yorkists win, Margaret is banished, and the Yorkists celebrate.

Richard III

Only Richard, Duke of Gloucester, doesn’t celebrate with the others, for he is still scheming to eliminate his rivals to the crown. In a soliloquy (see second quote above), he speaks of the great change that has just occurred: from war to peace, from “the winter of our discontent” to “glorious summer by this sun of York” (that is, the Yorkist badge of the sun, or, son of the Duke of York, Edward IV). Instead of making war, the people are making love.

This soliloquy introduces the theme of vicissitudes, or continually revolving changes in condition or fortune (especially from good to bad luck, for as we will see, Gloucester hates this shift from killing to copulating). The theme is established clearly by repeating, over and over again, how bellicosity has changed to such things as “the lascivious pleasing of a lute”.

Gloucester, however, is too ugly to be a lover. No woman would want this hunchback, who has been “Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,/Deform’d”, with one leg longer than the other. So, since he “cannot prove a lover”, his emotional rejection, combined with his ambition, has him “determined to prove a villain”. He is determined by fate and by his resolve to become king.

Through Gloucester’s scheming, his elder brother George, Duke of Clarence, is being sent by Brackenbury to the Tower because a prophecy says that “G” (George, apparently, but actually Gloucester) will kill King Edward’s heirs. Thus we see the vicissitudes of Clarence’s fortunes, traded with those of Hastings, who has just been freed from the Tower, a change to ill fortune only in the eyes of his enemies, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan.

To help secure him on the throne, Gloucester must wed Anne Neville, who hates him for having murdered her father, Warwick, her husband, the Prince of Wales at Tewkesbury, and his father, Henry VI. Getting her to change her attitude to Gloucester will be a formidable task for him, but he succeeds within one scene of fiery dialogue with her: he feigns both repentance and love for her, even offering either to have her stab him with his sword or to kill himself. She agrees, amazingly, to marry him by the end of the scene. Vicissitudes follow each other so closely, they’re like a pair of feet stepping on each other’s toes.

Indeed, immediately after she leaves, Gloucester has gone from imagining himself too repellent to woo women, to being a “marv’llous proper man”, and he wants to go out and buy himself some fashionable clothes and gaze on himself in a looking glass.

The nobles have changed from celebrating their victory to squabbling among each other. Elizabeth, Edward IV’s queen, knows how dangerous Gloucester is to her family. He stirs up more rancour among the nobles by comparing the rise in power of her family to how “wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch”. He claims that, in his opinion, lowly people like her family have become gentlemen, while truly noble people like himself have been abased. More vicissitudes, both real and imagined.

Speaking of abased nobles, Margaret of Anjou, former queen to Henry VI, has defied her banishment and walks among the, in her opinion, “every Jack [who] became a gentleman” and curses them for causing her ruinous vicissitudes. They all scoff at her curses (her curse at Gloucester seeming to be sent back to her by him–Act I, Scene iii, lines 216-234), but by the end of the play, they’ll be weeping or dead, and she will be seen as a prophetess (Act I, Scene iii, lines 299-303–more on the theme of curses, i.e., self-inflicted ones, later).

Gloucester has hired two murderers to kill Clarence in the Tower. He warns them to be quick about it, for if they let his brother speak, his clever words will surely dissuade them from doing the murder. Indeed, his words almost do, and only one of the murderers actually kills Clarence by drowning him in a malmsey butt of wine, presaged in a dream Clarence has had of being knocked off a boat by falling Gloucester, and drowning in the sea while seeing the horrid ghosts of all those Lancastrians Clarence killed (Act I, Scene iv, lines 9-23, then lines 43-63).

Act II begins with ailing Edward IV pushing the squabbling nobles to be reconciled with each other, getting forced exchanges of love between Hastings and Rivers, Buckingham and Queen Elizabeth, etc. All would seem well in the eyes of the smiling king, until Gloucester shocks everyone with the announcement of Clarence’s death. More vicissitudes come when the king dies of grief, causing, in turn, the mourning of the queen, Clarence’s children, and the Duchess of York, the mother of the dead king, Clarence, and Gloucester (Act II, Scene ii).

Though preparations are being made for Edward IV’s elder son, Prince Edward, to become King Edward V, Gloucester, as the Lord Protector, is making preparations to get rid of the twelve-year-old boy and his younger brother, Prince Richard of York.

Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan are to be executed on a trumped-up charge, causing lamentations in Elizabeth over “the ruin of [her] house” (Act II, Scene iv). As the three condemned men bemoan their vicissitudes, they remember Margaret’s curses not only at them, but at their enemies, Gloucester, Buckingham, and…Hastings, too! Now they can go to their deaths with a kind of gloating solace (Act III, Scene iii).

Elizabeth has her nine-(ten?)-year-old son, Prince Richard, Duke of York, put in sanctuary for his protection from Gloucester and Buckingham. The boy’s vicissitudes turn sour when Buckingham argues that he’s too young to understand, and therefore merit, the Church’s protection (Act III, Scene i, lines 44-56); so he’s taken out of sanctuary and into Gloucester’s ‘protection’ with his older brother, the boy who would be king…if not for Gloucester.

Though Lord Stanley warns Hastings of a bad dream he’s had presaging Hastings’s death at the hands of Gloucester (the boar), Hastings dismisses the danger, riding high on the news of the execution of his enemies, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan (Act III, Scene ii). Catesby asks Hastings if he’ll support Gloucester over the two boy princes as the next king; Hastings says he’ll give up his own head before he’ll allow that. Vicissitudes lead to his head, indeed, being chopped off, and what a dramatic swing in fortune do we see when Hastings’s smile is so quickly changed to a frown, all from having said “If“.

So soon after the two princes’ rise in power do we see their vicissitudinous fall, first into the gaping mouth of the Tower, then to being slandered as bastard sons of lascivious Edward IV (Act III, Scene v, lines 72-94), then to their murder by men hired by Tyrell, who at first craves financial gain from just-crowned King Richard III (Act IV, Scene ii, lines 32-41), then quickly switches to remorse upon the sight of the smothered innocents in their bed (Act IV, Scene iii, lines 1-22).

The new king, fearing losing his power, is disappointed with Buckingham, who flinches at the idea of approving of the killing of the princes in the Tower. Buckingham has thus switched from being the king’s loyal friend–who had until now been crucial in helping Richard’s rise to power–to being his enemy. Irked at how the king “Repays…[Buckingham’s] deep service/With such contempt”, Buckingham changes his allegiance to Richmond.

Richard III has undergone vicissitudes, too: he’s gone from being a gleeful villain, who “can smile, and murder while [he] smile[s]”, to a paranoid tyrant who no longer has “that alacrity of spirit/Nor cheer of mind that [he] was wont to have”, and who increasingly hates himself, knowing no one–not even his mother, the Duchess of York–loves him (Act V, Scene iii, lines 177-206).

He’s had his queen, Anne, killed, and he feels the only way he can secure his kingdom is to marry the daughter of the former Queen Elizabeth, who naturally would abominate such a foul marriage, preferring an alliance of her daughter with Richmond. The king tries to charm Elizabeth into allowing the marriage as he did with Anne, but vicissitudes mean he hasn’t the success he had with Anne (Act IV, Scene iv, lines 196-431).

Indeed, the only way Richard can get even the semblance of an agreement from Elizabeth for him to marry her daughter is to curse himself if he ever proves false to her (Act IV, Scene iv, lines 397-417). Since he’s already proven false to that family (as well as to his own) so many times before, he doesn’t need to prove himself false to his would-be bride; so his pretend curse on himself comes true.

This unwitting curse on oneself is not unique to Richard. Anne Neville has cursed any future wife of his, not knowing “his honey words” would make her that accursed future wife (Act IV, Scene i, lines 66-86). Richard Gloucester turns one of Margaret’s curses on herself (Act I, Scene iii, lines 216-240), though this doesn’t stop her curses from having effect on the Yorkists. Buckingham curses himself if he ever proves unfaithful to Queen Elizabeth, saying his own friends, Gloucester et al, should likewise prove untrue to him (Act II, Scene i, lines 32-40)…and this curse, as we know, comes true (Act V, Scene i, lines 12-29).

These self-inflicted curses are made because Anne, Buckingham, and Richard are overconfident, not provident enough to consider how quickly vicissitudes can turn good fortune into bad.

Indeed, with the rise in Richmond’s power and decline in Richard’s, we see a perfect illustration of this trade in fortune in their shared dream, that of Richard’s victims (the Prince of Wales slain in Tewkesbury, Henry VI, Clarence, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan, Hastings, the princes in the Tower, Anne, and Buckingham) cursing the tyrant to “Despair, and die”, then wishing success to Richmond in the upcoming Battle of Bosworth Field (Act V, Scene iii, lines 118-176).

During that battle, Richard fights bravely, but before his death, he despairs so greatly that, limping on the grass, he would trade the kingdom that has meant everything to him…just for a horse, so he can escape from his enemies.

From craving rule of the kingdom, craving it so much that he would kill anyone standing in his way (family, his wife, even children), to achieving it; then willingly trading that coveted kingdom for a mere horse: such extremity of vicissitudes.

Analysis of ‘Salem’s Lot

‘Salem’s Lot is a vampire horror novel written by Stephen King and published in 1975. It’s his second novel, as well as his personal favourite of all of those he’s written. There have been two made-for-TV adaptations: the 1979 one starring David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, and Bonnie Bedelia; and the 2004 adaptation starring Rob Lowe, Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, and James Cromwell. While the first adaptation took many liberties with King’s novel, he felt no animus against it, unlike his reaction to Stanley Kubrick‘s version of The Shining.

Here are a few quotes:

“…the Lot’s knowledge of the country’s torment was academic. Time went on a different schedule there. Nothing too nasty could happen in such a nice little town. Not there.”        –Chapter 2, 4 (page 44)

“The town knew about darkness.

“It knew about the darkness that comes on the land when rotation hides the land from the sun, and about the darkness of the human soul.” –Ch. 10, 1 (page 321)

“These are the town’s secrets, and some will later be known and some will never be known. The town keeps them all with the ultimate poker face.

“The town cares for devil’s work no more than it cares for God’s or man’s. It knew darkness. And darkness was enough.” –Ch. 10, 1 (page 327)

In the Prologue, part 3, we come upon a newspaper article, ‘GHOST TOWN IN MAINE?’, referring to two ghost towns: Jerusalem’s Lot and Momson (page 8; also, pages 594-5). Some kind of evil has emptied both towns of their residents. By the end of the story, Ben Mears has started a brush fire as the only way to rid ‘salem’s Lot of its vampires. A fire to rid a city of its evil; two cities laid in desolation by some horrible evil; ‘Salem and Momson seem redolent of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Indeed, ‘salem’s Lot sounds like a pun on ‘Sodom’s Lot’. Is Ben Mears the ‘Lot’ of Jerusalem’s Lot? A fiery destruction is certainly ‘salem’s lot (i.e., fate). What’s more, ‘Salem sounds like fairly nearby Salem, Massachusetts, where the infamous witch trials took place.

Jerusalem is a most holy city (the fighting and controversy over it notwithstanding), as opposed to most unholy Sodom. ‘Salem’s Lot comes off as a quaint, wholesome town…on the surface. The Marsten House (a pun on monster, and almost an anagram, phonetically) is a magnet for evil, having been the home of a murder/suicide before housing master vampire Kurt Barlow and his human assistant, Richard Straker.

Is the contraction, ‘salem, removing Jeru (a pun on Jesu?), meant to indicate a removal of the outer veneer of goodness, leaving only evil? Indeed, the horror of this novel, as with The Exorcist and The Omen, lies in the presence only of evil, and the absence of good.

Jerusalem was originally the name of a pig that escaped the confines of its owner, Charles Belknap Tanner, then ran wild into a forest. Tanner then called the forest (part of his property), ‘Jerusalem’s Lot‘, and warned kids not to go into it, lest they be killed by the wild pig. The town was later named after the forest. The history of the town included a cult that practiced witchcraft and amoral sexuality, including inbreeding. Hence, we can easily see how the town has always been associated with outright bestial evil; hence, in turn, my association of ‘salem’s Lot with Sodom.

Before I go further into my comparison of ‘salem’s Lot with Sodom, let’s consider the story of Lot in Sodom. He was accommodating two angels, in the guise of men, when all the men of Sodom crowded around Lot’s house, demanding he bring the two men out so they could “know” (yada’) them, i.e., gang rape them (Genesis 19:5).

The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah included flagrant inhospitality, overweening pride (Ezekiel 16:49-50), and most controversially, male homosexuality (though it is only male-on-male gang rape that is explicitly dealt with in this story, not that that makes any difference to bigoted Bible fundamentalists, who use this story to justify intolerance of LGBT people).

Lot, demonstrating his duty to be hospitable to the angels, refuses to bring them out for the sexual sport of the Sodomites, who then try to force their way into Lot’s house. The two angels blind the Sodomites and warn Lot to take his family out of the city while the angels destroy the cities with fire and brimstone.

To show the parallels between the Bible story and ‘Salem’s Lot, I must start by pointing out how eroticism is all over the place in vampire fictionCarmilla and Dracula are two well-known early examples of this. Those phallic fangs’ biting into flesh and sucking out blood powerfully suggests sexual predation, and many, if not most of the significant vampire attacks (including attempts) in this novel are male on male, symbolic of male homosexual rape.

Remember that no victim of a vampire bite consents to it, and I’m not at all agreeing with the Bible-beating bigots’ notion that consensual gay sex between adults is a sin (I don’t even believe in God). I’m not trying to moralize about gay male sex, but rather my concern is with the novel’s vampirism as symbolic typically of (attempted or successful) male-on-male sexual assault, which is every bit as indefensible as male-on-female rape, or any other kind of rape.

I’m just seeing an interesting parallel between the Sodomites wanting to get into Lot’s house to rape the angels, on the one hand, and the vampire Danny Glick biting Mike Ryerson, Randy McDougall (page 327), and Jack Griffen, and wanting to get Mark Petrie to open his bedroom window, so he can enter Mark’s room and bite him (pages 367-371). Petrie, of course, scares Danny away with a crucifix, just as the angels thwarted the Sodomites’ plan to push their way past Lot’s doorway and gang-rape them.

In this connection, remember also the Glick boys’ fear of “preeverts” while passing through the woods on the night Ralphie goes missing (pages 119-121). Remember also Hank Peters and Royal Snow wondering about the two new residents of the Marsten House: ‘Hank…looked up toward the Marsten House, which was dark and shuttered tonight. “I don’t like goin’ up there, and I ain’t afraid to say so. If there was ever a haunted house, that’s it. Those guys must be crazy, tryin’ to live there. Probably queer for each other anyway.”…”Like those fag interior decorators,” Royal agreed.’ (page 143)

Now, the homophobia of Hank and Royal aside, whatever Barlow and Straker are doing in the privacy of their own house is no one’s business but theirs; but their vampirism on the males and females of the whole town (a symbolic sexual predation), including such female victims as Marjorie Glick (pages 331-335) and Susan Norton, will be a major worry for Ben Mears. The vampire victim is hypnotized (or at least an attempt is made to hypnotize: pages 316-318) into allowing the vampire to bite him, just as a rape victim may be ‘hypnotized’ by alcohol or drugs into allowing a sexual predator to enjoy him or her.

What is of far greater importance, though, for the sake of my comparison of ‘Salem’s Lot with ‘Sodom’s Lot’, is how the blatant inhospitality in Sodom and Gomorrah was due to the excessive pride and arrogance of the inhabitants of those two sinful cities (i.e., their refusal to help the poor); for the vampirism of ‘Salem’s Lot can be seen as symbolic of narcissism.

Narcissists can be inhospitable in the extreme. Bullies by nature, they try to manipulate and control their victims (like vampires getting their victims to look in their eyes, to hypnotize them), even to the point of controlling their victims’ finances. They lure a victim in with fake, superficial charm (like the suave Barlow and Straker, with their charming furniture shop), then they idealize, devalue, and discard their victims (as Barlow does with Susan Norton after biting her, not caring at all that his ‘bride’ will be staked in the heart by the man who truly loves her…Ben Mears! [The Lot IV, 15, pages 514-520]).

Matt Burke notes several times that Barlow has a big ego (pages 525-527). Narcissists don’t necessarily brag overtly, however: having mastered their craft at manipulating others, they learn to present a False Self of goodness to the world (of the sort that Straker shows everyone [page 249], that he and Barlow are just business associates), while hiding their egotistical True Self, even from themselves (as Barlow must be hidden, sleeping during the day, and coming out only in the shadows at night).

This sleeping in the day, and coming out only at night, suggests that the day represents the conscious mind, while the night represents the unconscious. Heinz Kohut wrote of how narcissists will either repress their grandiose self (push it down into the unconscious) or disavow it (split it away vertically–Kohut, page 185).

Straker can thus represent this False Self: ‘”Mr. Straker?…Well, he’s quite charming,” [Susan] said. “Courtly might be an even better world…”…”Did you like him?” Matt asked, watching her closely… [Susan said] “I’ll give you a woman’s reaction. I did and I didn’t. I was attracted to him in a mildly sexual way, I guess. Older man, very urbane, very charming, very courtly.” […but,] “I think I sensed a certain contempt under the surface. A cynicism. As if he were playing a certain part, and playing it well, but as if he knew he wouldn’t have to pull out all the stops to fool us. A touch of condescension…And there seemed to be something a little bit cruel about him.” (pages 306-308)

Narcissists need narcissistic supply to be regularly provided. The vampires’ hunger for blood represents this craving for narcissistic supply. This supply, which feeds the narcissist’s ego, comes at the expense of the victims, who are drained of self-worth and energy, just like Barlow’s and Danny’s victims. Remember how sick Mike Ryerson feels after his bite at the graveyard (Chapter 7, part 3, pages 252-258).

If a narcissist feels threatened, that is, if his False Self is exposed as such, thus revealing his True Self, he’ll react with narcissistic rage and injury. When Barlow discovers Mark has infiltrated his house and killed Straker, the head vampire vows revenge (pages 510-512). He doesn’t bite Mark’s parents: he kills them by cracking their skulls together before the boy’s eyes (pages 535-539). When a narcissist feels a wound to his ego, his only way to feel better is to inflict pain on others.

Barlow has a special way of disposing of Father Callahan: he makes the priest drink his blood (page 542). By making the priest into a vampire of sorts, having Callahan drink his devilish blood, Barlow projects his evil onto him. Again, narcissists are known to project their vices onto the victims of their abuse. The tainted priest can no longer enter a church (pages 549-550).

Barlow enjoys having humiliated the priest, having stripped him of his ability to be a man of God. Similarly, the Sodomites’ wish to gang rape the angels may have had more to do with the desire to rob them of their holiness than to satisfy homosexual lust; indeed, when (often straight) men rape other men, it’s often to humiliate their victims, rather than just to get off. Narcissists humiliate and abase as just another way to get narcissistic supply.

Examples of narcissistic abuse can be seen on a normal, human level in the everyday lives of the people in ‘salem’s Lot, before they’ve even been attacked by the vampires. Consider Richie Bodden, the school bully, whose proud mother wants everyone to know “what a huge young man her son was” (page 83); then Mark Petrie puts him in his place (pages 86-7).

Then there’s hunchbacked Dud Rogers–the custodian of the Lot’s Town Dump–whose grotesqueness and strength remind me of that “dog”, that “elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog”, that “bottled spider”, that “poisonous bunch-back’d toad” (I, iii), the Duke of Gloucester, the hunchbacked Richard III, a man who “cannot prove a lover”, and so is “determined to prove a villain” (I, i, lines 28, 30); in Shakespeare’s play, the duke’s narcissistic ambition drives him to kill his way to the throne.

Dud gets his jollies firing his .22 target pistol at rats (pages 88-92); but when he encounters Barlow, whose “hypnotizin'” eyes are “like dark pits ringed with fire, pits you could fall into and drown in”, the vampire assumes correctly that “The girls laugh at [Dud]…They have no knowing of [Dud’s] manhood…[and] strength.” (page 233) And when Barlow bites him (page 234), Dud is as determined to be a villain as the duke was.

Also, there’s Mabel Werts, the town gossip (page 122)…and narcissists are notorious gossips. Susan Norton’s mother, disapproving of Ben (page 188), has a relationship with her daughter bordering on dysfunction (page 395). As an example of this troubled relationship, Mrs. Norton prefers “That nice boy, Floyd Tibbits” to Ben…and Floyd “put Ben in the hospital” (page 301).

Then there’s Sandy McDougall’s irresponsible treatment of her and Roy’s baby Randy (pages 71-73, 224-227, and 327-330), who ultimately dies, having not only Danny Glick’s vampire bite on his neck, but also Sandy’s bruises. Again, narcissistic mothers are known for putting their own needs before those of their children, and Sandy is the epitome of narcissistic inhospitality, before the vampires have even struck.

Back to Ben. The author has returned to ‘salem’s Lot, his childhood hometown, to “exorcise all his demons” (page 648) by writing about them in a new book. When he was nine, his friends dared him to go inside the Marsten House and take something from it, as initiation into their club, the Bloody Pirates. Inside the house, he saw the hanging corpse of Hubie Marsten, whose eyes opened for the boy (pages 56-58, 221, and 310)!

Young Ben stole a glass snow globe from the house, and has kept it as a memento until the end of the novel (pages 636-7), when, after seeing his own face in it (implying his fear that he, too, embodies the evil of the house), he destroys it, along with burning the manuscript of his book on the Marsten House. The only way to get rid of his trauma is to destroy it.

Another trauma of Ben’s is the death of his wife, Miranda, in a motorcycle accident, one for which, we sense, he blames himself (pages 482-484). Since I consider Ben to be the Lot of (the Sodom that is) ‘salem’s Lot, I find it apposite at this point to remind us of Lot’s own guilt. Lot offered his two virgin daughters (Genesis 19:8) to satisfy the lust of the Sodomites (making nonsense of John Boswell‘s claim [1980] that the Sodomites merely wanted “to ‘know‘ [another meaning of yada’] who [the two angels] were”, which in itself would hardly be a heinous sin for the Sodomites to have committed; the point in the Biblical narrative of offering, and rejecting the offer of, the daughters is to emphasize the Sodomites’ taste for male-on-male rape over male-on-female rape).

Though Lot and his family were saved from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looked back on the burning cities, then turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). Lot must have imagined himself to be, on at least some level, guilty of her death (as Mears must have blamed his carelessness on his motorcycle for the death of Miranda), having incurred God’s wrath for the offer of his daughters (as Robert Alter believes: Alter, page 85, note 8).

Lot must have incurred the girls’ wrath, too, since they later shamed him by getting him drunk and having sex with him (Genesis 19:31-38), to impregnate them and bear the ancestors of the despised Moabites (Mo-ab, “from the father”) and the children of Ammon (see also Alter, page 90, note 30-38). Lot’s daughters’ sexual predation is like vampiress Susan’s attempt to bite Mark (Ben’s double: more on that later) at his bedroom window (pages 449-451).

Evil occurs in cycles throughout ‘Salem’s Lot. Ben’s book on the Marsten House is “about the recurrent power of evil” (page 181). First, there was the evil, sexually perverse cult of James Boon back in the 18th century, as well as the myth of the dangerous wild pig, Jerusalem, in his “Lot”, the forest within Tanner’s property. Then there were the Hubie Marsten crimes in the house. Next came Straker, Barlow, and the vampires.

Other cycles include Mears’s traumas: first, his seeing Hubie’s ghost and its opening eyes; then, Mears’s return to the Lot, only to find himself battling vampires. Then, he returns again, with his double, Mark, to burn down the whole town in a brush fire. First, Ben accidentally killed Miranda; then, he’s forced to destroy the vampire version of his next love, Susan.

One of Mark’s traumas is watching Barlow smash together the heads of the boy’s parents, killing them (page 535). Earlier, Mark went into the Marsten House with Susan, only to find himself tied up by Straker (pages 438-440) and, failing to protect her (as Mears failed to protect Miranda by failing to turn a non-fatal corner–page 483: “in some parallel world he and Miranda had taken a left at the corner one block back and were riding into an entirely different future.”), Mark has let her be turned into a vampiress. Mark kills Straker (pages 445-6), Barlow’s presentable double (as Mears, of whom Mark is the innocent double, destroys Barlow), then runs out of the Marsten House (page 448) in a repeat of nine-year-old Ben’s frantic escape from the house twenty-four years earlier.

A fire occurred in 1951 (page 326), spread by the winds to incinerate so much more; then, Ben starts a fire to destroy the Lot at the end of the novel.

There are two pairs of destroying visitors, the younger of each pair either more innocent or more presentable than the older: good Mark and Ben, and evil Straker and Barlow, paralleling doubles of each other. A good casting choice was made in the 1979 adaptation, with Lance Kerwin (Mark) and David Soul (Ben), both actors possessing a conspicuous blond youth, to emphasize how the boy is a cyclical repeat of the man.

Straker, similarly, has an urbane suaveness like Barlow’s in the novel, though you wouldn’t see that in the 1979 adaptation, with James Mason (Straker) contrasted with the Nosferatu version of Barlow. On the other hand, during the scene of Barlow’s confrontation with Mark and Father Callahan, Mason’s Straker speaks for the snarling Nosferatu (instead of Barlow speaking for himself, as he does in the novel), thus showing how the servant (the False Self–see above) is the double of his master (the True Self).

Mears’s guilt feelings, and demons to be exorcized by writing about his childhood trauma, make him wonder if that magnet of evil, the Marsten House, has attracted him in the same way as Barlow (David Soul’s Ben asks this of Lew Ayres‘s Burke in the 1979 adaptation). Is Ben a double of Barlow? In destroying Barlow, is Ben killing the evil in himself (i.e., that exorcizing), or at least trying to?

Victims of narcissistic abuse often ask themselves if they, too, are narcissists. Have they themselves been infected by the disease of their victimizers? When Barlow’s hiding place has been discovered, he has to find a new one: the basement of Eva Miller’s boarding house…where Ben is staying. Rather than equate Barlow thus with Ben, we can see this move as symbolizing Barlow’s introjection into Ben’s psyche, something narcissists do to their victims.

The Marsten House symbolizes the narcissistic psyche, with its evil hidden in the unconscious id of its shadows. The boarding house can be seen as representing Mears’s psyche, the hiding vampires in the basement representing Mears’s repressed, unconscious trauma–Barlow’s introjections into him. Mark’s house is his own psyche. (Lot’s house can be seen as his own psyche, too.) Evil (be it in the form of vampires or Sodomites) infects all of these places by forcing its way in (or at least trying to), traumatizing its victims.

Even when Ben and Mark have gone as far away as “a small California town on the Mexican border” (page 3), they’re still affected by their trauma. They must go back to ‘salem’s Lot, and finish the town off for good. In the end, both ‘salem’s Lot and Momson, like Sodom and Gomorrah, are left in desolation, just as those psychological vampires known as narcissists leave their victims in a state of emotional desolation.

Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot, Anchor Books, New York, 1975

‘Bloodsuckers’, a Surreal Horror Short Story

My name is Samir. I am ten years old, and I don’t know how many days it’s been since the last time I ate.

I do remember the bombs, though.

When they hit our house, I was with my parents and sister, trying to celebrate her sixth birthday.

I haven’t seen any of them since.

I haven’t eaten since then, either.

I don’t know how many days I’ve been in this hospital. I just lie on a bed, and the nurses have no food to give me. I have dirty bandages on my half-naked body. The blood from my wounds has stopped flowing, but other spots of blood, little red spots, drip blood from new wounds.

They are from the bites of the purple, flying insects.

They’re like mosquitoes: I’ve never seen such bugs before. They bite me, and suck out a little of my blood each time.

Do they put something in my body, too? I think they do.

I lie on my back, my head swinging left to right—not so much left, anymore, since I don’t like what I see in the mirror to my left.

My upper head has blown up into the shape of a giant, green-yellow ball. Much of my hair is gone. My skin is green-yellow, too. I look like an alien, or a monster. I’m like a skeleton with skin.

Did the bombs do this to my skin and head? When they hit our house, I remember something burning in my nose, eyes, and mouth. I was coughing, desperate to suck some pure air into my lungs—then everything went black; then I woke up here. Did I inhale a chemical from the bombs?

Or are the purple flies doing this to me, squirting some kind of poison into my body while they suck out my blood? I think that’s what it is.

I’m not sure if I’m awake or dreaming, but I see a TV, I think, on the ceiling. What a TV is doing up there, of all places, I don’t know; maybe I’m seeing and hearing things, because I think I’m awake.

Anyway, a white man in a dark blue suit is talking to me on the TV. He is in his fifties or sixties, I think, because he has lines of silver in his combed-back hair. He smiles and speaks with a gentle, kind voice, but his words don’t comfort me. They confuse me.

My stomach is grumbling. It hurts so much. Could someone please give me some food? Was I a bad boy? Am I being punished for eating too much at my sister’s birthday party? I’ll be good next time, I promise!

“You are being a very good boy,” the man says to me in Arabic (Wow! I didn’t know white people could speak my language!) “My name is Brian Oates, Samir, and I want to tell you that your sacrifice is bringing happiness to a number of worthy people in my country. You should be proud of your selflessness!”

“Am I…giving them something?” I ask Brian, who seems to be able to hear me. (Is this TV that thing they call ‘Skype’?) “I have…nothing to give. I’m just a…poor Yemeni boy. I only feel…as if someone is…taking everything…from me.” I begin to sob. “Where is my family? I want my mother! I’m so hungry.” My tears are the only wet my face has felt in so long.

“Well, some people would say you’ve had everything taken from you, but it’s only a point of view,” he says, grinning like a friend. “There are other ways of understanding what is happening to you. Alternative interpretations, other facts that are equally valid, if not better, explanations of what you’re doing.”

“There are?” I ask, hoping his alternative facts will ease my pain. I stop crying. I almost smile as I listen.

“Yes, of course there are. It is possible for many different realities to coexist, in the same place and at the same time. One reality says you’re starving and dying on a hospital bed, being bitten by insects. Another says you’re giving qapita, your life-force, so others may live better.”

Qapita? My ‘life-force’?” (Is that an Arabic word? I’ve never heard it before. His Arabic must be really good.)

“Yes, qapita, your life-force. Yemen isn’t the only country in the world that’s dying, Samir. Even we in the richer countries are running out of food and other needed things. Some people say that Big Business destroyed the environment, but that’s just their facts. Our facts say that too much government caused the problem. Too many rules took away people’s freedoms.

“Anyway, the fewer and fewer resources in the world are why we invented the purple bloodsuckers, which are taking out little bits of your life-force at a time, then we’re having them all flown back to Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, where we have the technology to turn your life-force, as well as that of millions of other poor people in countries like yours, into food and other necessities for us.”

“You can…turn blood into…food?” I look around the hospital room. The other patients on the beds all have purple flies biting them, too. I don’t see anyone from my family among them, though.

“Yes, we can transform qapita into food, with the help of machines we have over here! It’s amazing what modern technology can do in the 2030s. We need you to stay alive as long as you can, though. As the bugs suck out your blood, they also inject a greenish-yellow blood substitute, to keep you from dying, so we can get as much life-force out of you as we can, before you finally die. By keeping you alive as long as we can, we are showing you how much we love you and care about you. You’re very important to us, Samir!”

“I am?” My stomach just keeps on growling. I feel as if my belly is eating me up from the inside.

“Yes, of course you are!” His smile reminds me of my mother’s: oh, how much more comforting she would be to me now! She would have her legs cut off to feed me! “Some say we’re using you and your people; but that’s only one reality. There are so many others to consider. We would say that you, Samir, are a hero, generously giving of yourself to people here that you don’t even know, as if they were your own family.”

A memory is flashing by my eyes at this moment: my mother, father, and me giving toys to my sister, and the wide-eyed joy on her face when she saw them. Two seconds later, we heard bombs falling.

“Why believe in sad truths when you can accept alternative ones, happy ones?” the white man goes on. The video on the ceiling TV shows happy white people laughing, dancing, drinking, and…eating! They are handsome young men, beautiful young women, enjoying a large banquet of food, delicious dishes covering a long table from one end to the other: chicken, vegetables, fruit, breads, noodles, rice, wine, juice, eggs, and so many others! A small drop of spit falls out of my mouth, the only wet it’s felt in a while. I reach up at the screen, hoping at least to touch it. My failing strength, and the pain in my arms from trying to move, means my arms keep falling back down on the bed with each two-second try.

“Can I…have some?” I say in a rough whisper. “I’m so…hungry.”

“Now, Samir, if you had some, there would be less for all the people in that party, wouldn’t there?”

“I guess so.”

Remember, you’re a selfless hero. You don’t want your own desires to spoil their happiness, do you?”

“No, I shouldn’t…be selfish.”

“That’s right. As I said before, happy realities are better to think about than sad ones. That’s why we in the West show only happy things on TV and in movies, to help people forget the troubles of the world. We never show our people the reality of places like Yemen—it would make them unhappy. Similarly, you should forget your sorrows and think of the happiness you’re giving people on the other side of the world, so I’ll leave you with this video of the banquet, and all the happy Americans here enjoying food converted from the life-force of the blood of heroes like you. Alternative truths, Samir! They will give you comfort. Watch, and enjoy!”

I’ve been getting light-headed. The purple flies are buzzing around my face. I’m too weak to swat at them, and the pain from moving my body is greater than the pain of their bites, so I mostly just let them bite me.

Their purple is glowing: is my vision getting blurry? Am I dreaming? I see purple balls of light floating in the air above me, then rising up to the ceiling TV screen. The purple balls seem to be changing into new food on the banquet table, when they touch the TV screen.

I feel bites, then I see the purple, glowing balls rise up to feed the white people. I see my shining life-force being taken up to the TV.

My stomach is growling louder now. It’s making my body shake. I look down at my chest: red spots of blood are everywhere. The purple bugs keep biting and flying up to the ceiling-TV. I can’t see my legs.

I look to my left and see myself in the mirror again: I’m all green now. I look like a rotting corpse! Also…where are my legs?

My bald, swollen head looks like a giant melon. Before the bombs, Mother, Father, my sister, my friends, and my neighbours all used to say how cute I was. What an adorable little boy, they’d say! What would they say if they saw me now?

I look down at my growling belly. I no longer have legs or a pelvic region. Am I dreaming? What I see can’t be real! There is a huge mouth where my belly should be. The mouth is like a huge navel. With the teeth of a tiger, or some wild beast, it is eating at my flesh above. Am I eating myself?

Below is too painful to watch, so instead I look above, a much happier place to be. The glowing purple balls are floating up to the banquet on the ceiling. They flash when they touch the TV screen, then turn into meat, bread, fish, and other delicious dishes.

The white people sitting at the table are smiling, laughing, and talking to each other as they bite into the food that was once my blood. The love they reflect to each other on their grinning faces, it’s like a big, happy family. Is my family up there, eating with them in Allah’s paradise? I hope they are, but I don’t see them anywhere: I see only white people, dozens of white people.

They’re young, handsome, and beautiful. They’re wearing nice clothes, unlike the filthy rags that covered the private parts I once had, or the bandages I have on my arms, or those I had on the legs I used to have.

Well, if I cannot have food, let the white people have it for me.

If I cannot have a family, let them be the family I’ve lost forever.

If I must be naked, let them wear clothes for me.

If I cannot have a body, let them have bodies instead.

If I cannot live, let me die so they can live.

I don’t want to be selfish. Let them be selfish instead. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.

I feel numb, even where I still have a body. I look down at myself, to see what is left of me. I have only a head and neck now, a longer neck, almost like that of a giraffe; that mouth is still eating, chewing at the base of my neck with loud chomps. The mouth’s bloody, beast-like teeth seem to be grinning at me as they bite their way up my neck. There is very little blood, apart from the tiny dots of red that splash in all directions with each bite; the mouth must be drinking the rest of it up.

I don’t care. Let me die. Numbness means no more pain. I don’t feel hungry or thirsty anymore. My mouth is dry; everywhere I feel dry, if I feel anything.

I don’t want anything anymore. Let the white people do the wanting. The fight in me is over now. I accept my lot, my place in the world. It is the will of Allah.

There are truths other than mine here in Yemen. Happy truths in the West. Believe the happy truths. Forget the bad ones.

Two tears are running down my nose. It’s all right, though, everything is alright.

I love my white brothers.

I’m happy for them. Losing my family and my life doesn’t ma…

‘Pills’, a surreal horror short story

“Here’s his address,” Max said, handing me a small piece of paper. I looked at it. “You know where that is?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Easy to find. But will this Pauly guy have what I need?”

“Of course,” Max said, waving his hand to reassure me. “Trust me. Tell him I sent you.”

I left Max’s apartment building. Walking on the street to the bus stop to catch the bus to Pauly’s place, I found myself ruminating on my life, and why I was hoping Pauly could…help me.

I went over memories of my life with my family, a dysfunctional bunch. My brothers and sister bullied me, the baby of the family. One brother used to spit on my face for the fun of it, laughing as I wiped the spit off my cheek; the other once pulled a chair out from under me when I was about to sit on it, so I fell on my ass on the floor, everyone else in the living room laughing at me, including my mom. My sister once made me do something that was…well…private…with her…

I twitched from that memory as I arrived at the bus stop. I continued going down bad memory lane, standing in the bus shelter and frowning.

My mother never cared how much my siblings hurt me. She made excuses for them instead of defending me. She was hurtful herself, always undermining my ability to develop self-confidence.

I’ll never forget the day my mother looked me straight in the eye and said, “The kind of things you’re good at simply don’t make a lot of money, Paul.”

I was twelve when she said that.

My high school grades weren’t good enough for me to get into university. As a young adult, I roamed from job to job, usually working in either restaurants (in my late teens–a busboy, dishwasher, or cook), or as a cashier once, in a pet food store, when I was in my mid-twenties.

In contrast, my brothers became an engineer and a salesman, and my sister got a job in the government. Mom never failed to point out the difference between them and me.

Just after the cashier job, there was my disastrous experience as a clerk in the reserve army: I’d made an error setting up the monthly pay for my regiment, and when everyone’s pay got delayed, I practically got a lynching.

After getting fired from yet another menial job, I was faced with either moving back home to be reminded by my mother of what a failure I was, or being homeless. Pride compelled me to risk the latter.

I’d been homeless for six weeks before I found my current job, making stuff in a factory.

I felt trapped in that job, working long hours, feeling lonely among a crowd of other workers, with none of whom I had a meaningful friendship. I’d never been good at making friends, as a kid at school, or anywhere: if you can’t be friends with your own family, who can you be friends with?

I’d chat a little with Max (a coworker in the factory as well as my personal drug connection), and take orders from Carl Parshin, my manager. But there was nothing beyond that, in terms of human contact: it was just a drab, tiring job. I could have quit, but then where would I have gone? Back on the streets again, panhandling? Enduring my mom again?

Don’t bother asking about my luck with women–I’m even more pathetic there. (I’m awkward with even the occasional prostitute, for fuck’s sakes. Seriously, I have to pay for it, and it’s not as if I were hideous or something.)

The only escape I’d ever had in life was with drugs. Some marijuana or hashish for my pipe on the weekends, or some LSD if I was lucky enough to score some, could see me through. Now, I was pushing thirty, and my depression, about aging without having done anything respectable with my life, meant I needed something stronger in the hallucinogens area.

I got on the bus, sulking in my seat the whole ride.

Please, Pauly, I thought, have something to help me forget my shitty life.

Ten minutes later, I’d got off the bus, and I was now on the sixth floor of a high-class apartment building, knocking on Pauly’s door. A man in a yellow and black striped suit answered. He looked like a hornet with red hair, more like a pimp than a drug dealer.

“Yes?” he said, looking at me as if I were a cop.

“My name is Paul Turian,” I said. “Max Midea sent me.”

“Oh, Max,” he said, then put out his hand to shake mine. “Pauly Tishin. Come on in.”

The living room of his apartment was roomy, with orange-red wallpaper, and large mirrors on each wall. I could see myself from all angles. What a strange interior design, even frightening: it was like being surrounded by the flames of Hell, where one judges one’s own sins by seeing oneself for all eternity.

“So, what can I get you?” Pauly asked. “You seem tense.”

“I am,” I said. “I need something to take my mind off my troubles.”

“And what would those troubles be? I don’t mean to pry, but knowing something about them will help me get the right…product…for you.”

“Well, I feel lonely, alienated, like I can’t connect with anyone, or anything.”

“Alienated from who? From what? Can you elaborate?” He flapped his upturned hands at himself, as if gesturing to me to come closer, or to draw out more about what was troubling me.

“Well, I work at a factory, making household things, like taps, doorknobs, pipes, and fans…mostly metal stuff. All of us there work long hours, the pay is shit. We don’t really talk to each other, or even look at each other, except for two or three coworkers, Max is one of them. There’s also my manager, Carl Parshin. They’re not really friends, though, just acquaintances. I have no real friends. It’s depressing. I have no real creative outlet in my life. I’m going nowhere.

“I get home late, and I’m really tired then, too tired to do anything creative or social. I just turn on the TV, hoping to be diverted, but the news just reminds me of what a shitty word we all live in. Movies and TV shows are just the same old, Hollywood garbage. As I said, my life is depressing; it feels meaningless. I don’t like myself. I need an escape from it all. Do you have any acid, or ketamine, maybe?” I was fighting back sobs.

“Actually, I have something even better, if you’re willing to try something new. I synthesized it myself. I guarantee it will take away all those problems you just mentioned. Are you in a daring mood?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “Anything to make me forget about my problems.”

“I think you and I have a lot more in common than just our names, Paul. You see, I’ve been working on a solution to just that whole ‘alienation’ issue myself.” He put his arm around my back and led me to a corner of that mirrored living room, where he had a large, black garbage bag filled with what looked like hundreds of pink pills. “I’ve discovered something even better than escapism, even better than a drug high. I’ve found a solution to your problem, for it was once my problem.” He took one of the pills and showed it to me. “I once felt lonely and powerless, but having this…and giving it to others…gave me a new power few people have.”

“Really?” I looked around at the opulence of his room, the expensive furniture (antiques?), the golden frames around the mirrors. “This is a nice apartment building you live in, but I don’t wanna be a drug dealer. I’m just looking for a few hours of escape.”

“Oh, I’m not saying you’ll be a drug dealer. I’m not a drug dealer. I’m a realizer of dreams.”

What was he talking about? I wondered. Whatever it was, it sounded too good to be true, and was turning out to be more hassle than a good high was really worth, more danger than dream. I took a few steps back.

“You know the difference between the successful and the poor? The real difference? It’s attitude. You need to believe in yourself. You need confidence. You need to see yourself differently. That’s what my mirrors are for. Take this pill, then look in the mirrors. When you see the difference, you’ll want more. Trust me.”

Well, I thought, I may as well get something out of this dandy. “How much?”

“$20 for one, $30 for three, but you must act now.”

Act now? I thought. He sounds like one of those pushy internet ad-men. “What if I don’t like what I see?”

“Money back guarantee, and you walk out of here as you were as soon as the pills wear off.” His grin was Mephistophelian, an omen I should have thought about more.

“And how long would it take for them to wear off?”

“Oh, just a few hours. No more than that.”

I paused, looking at that pill between his finger and thumb. Was I seeing things, or did it seem to shake slightly?

“The $30 offer ends in a few seconds.”

“OK. Hit me.” How bad could it be? I wondered, giving him my cash.

He dropped the pill in the palm of my hand; again, it seemed to fidget a bit. I thought I could hear an ever-so-faint, squeaky, high-pitched voice calling out: No, no, no!

Where the fuck was that coming from?

Nah, I thought. I’m hearing things.

I tossed the pill in my mouth. I felt it shaking again slightly before dissolving in my throat.

Then, the weirdest thing happened.

I gagged, feeling something metal growing out of my mouth, starting in my throat, pushing my jaws open and pushing past my lips. My tongue was stuck between the steel outgrowth and my lower teeth: damn, it hurt! My eyes widened as I looked at myself in his mirror to the right of me: there was a fucking faucet coming out of my mouth!

I tried pulling it out, but it was stuck in there, attached to my body, as if grown into my jawbone and the flesh of my throat or something. It hurt my tongue even more from trying to pull it out, so I gave up trying. I wanted to say, “What the fuck’s the idea?”, but with this thing in my mouth, I could only whine muffled squeals.

He put his hand in the bag for another pill, but I shook my hands to tell him not to; I could only make inarticulate grunts, so I gestured to him to give me my money back.

“Oh, you want your second pill,” he said, smirking as if only pretending to misunderstand me, while acting as if I had to have the full experience before asking for my money back. Then, he held the faucet still and put the next pill under the spigot, which acted with some kind of bizarro vacuum function and sucked it into my body.

As it went in, I thought I heard another faint, mouse-like No! again.

My right ear started to swell; it felt hard, metallic, it grew heavy. My head tilted from the weight. I looked in the mirror. It morphed into a doorknob, like one of the ones my factory makes! Indeed, I felt like a knob for agreeing to this conman magician’s offer.

“You see?” he said, getting a third pill from the bag. “Now you’re not so alienated from your work. It’s truly a part of you. Wait for more changes to come.” He giggled.

He brought the third pill over to my faucet-mouth, but I tried to back away. I felt my legs stiffen and grow hard. I looked down at them. Below my shorts, I no longer saw the flesh of my legs. They had turned into pipes that penetrated into the floor, rooting me to the spot!

I tried to swat at his hand with the pill, but my arms were now stiffening, though they didn’t feel like metal. I looked to my left and right: they’d turned into tree branches, with leaves and shiny, red apples hanging from them!

What kind of a monster is he turning me into? I wondered. Is this a drug trip, an intense hallucination? Or is it some kind of black magic? I looked at that flame-coloured wallpaper, and had a feeling the latter was the correct answer, for that devilish grin remained on his face.

I could only moan like a gagged prisoner, and fidget with my still-human torso. I tried shaking my head, but he grabbed the faucet and put the pill under it. It got sucked in.

I could suddenly see all of the room, from many different angles at the same time, for eyes had appeared all over my body: on my chest and my back (though my T-shirt was blocking their view), on my tree-branch-arms, on my pipe legs, and on the back of my head, peeking through my hair. The sight of my monstrous new form, from all angles in those mirrors, made the fear in all those agape eyes too easy to understand. Tears formed in all of them.

I kept shaking, trying to hit him with my branch-arms, but he grabbed the left one and plucked an apple.

He ripped my T-shirt off my torso. My chest and stomach eyes, no longer shrouded in darkness, looked up in terror at him. Tears ran down my belly.

I whined in annoyance. Damn this faucet, I thought as it kept pressing my tongue into my lower incisors, still stabbing sharply into it. The steel had a rusty taste mixed with the blood from my tongue.

“Now,” he said, holding the apple level with my belly, “you can enjoy the fruits of your labour.” He laughed as a mouth opened in my belly and ate the apple…which I could feel breaking up not into smaller apple pieces…but into a few dozen, dissolving pills.

My torso turned into a huge fan, with that mouth in the middle axis, and weeping, bloodshot eyes all around the fan’s outer circle. I could no longer move, for I no longer had joints. I tried speaking through that mouth, but I could only make it moan and babble like a madman.

Is this just a drug trip? I still wondered. Will it wear off in a few hours? Or will this be the rest of my life?

The doorbell rang.

“Ah, my guests have arrived,” Pauly said with a smile as he walked to the door. Three young men came in the room. One of them was Max, the second, Carl, my manager. I didn’t know the third man.

Oh, Max, Carl, please! I thought. Help me!

“Paul!” Max said as he and the others approached me. “Looking good!” All four of them laughed at me.

I’m fucked, I thought.

“Holy shit, what a freak-show!” the man to Max’s right said. “This is totally worth the price of admission.”

“Indeed, it is,” Max said, playing with my doorknob-ear. “I promised you a good show, and I always deliver on my promises, don’t I, Paul?” Still playing with my doorknob-ear, he rapped his knuckles on my head, as if it were a door. “Hello? Anybody home?” They all laughed again.

You fucking bastard, Max, I wanted to say.

“Speaking of the price of admission, pay up, guys,” Pauly said, gesturing with his hands. “$50 a man.”

They all paid him. As he counted the bills in his hands, the other three were feeling me up, fascinated with what I’d turned into.

My nose now felt metallic, pushing forwards and swelling. It turned into a valve for the faucet. They all laughed at me.

“Whoa!” Max said. “Check this shit out! Paul, you’re a metal-head!”

Everyone laughed loud, high-pitched howls that stung my human ear, the only one that heard anything anymore.

I looked at the ridiculous monstrosity that I’d become in the mirrors. It made me think of my school years, when I’d been laughed at and bullied, my classmates taking over the duties of the tormentors in my family. At that moment, for a few seconds, I thought I actually saw four of my high school bullies instead of these four men.

The reflections of everyone in the mirrors, seen from all of my eyes from all those angles, from time to time looked like everyone in my old classrooms…all of them laughing at me.

“Does he dispense beer?” Carl asked.

Everybody laughed some more.

“Try his nose for yourself, Mr. Parshin,” Pauly told Carl, who then turned my nose-tap. Nothing came out.

“Useless!” he shouted, then slapped my still-human cheek. The sting of that slap made me so want to hit him, but I could only stand there, motionless. His slap caused a tear in my cheek, which now was dripping blood. “Eww!” Carl said, then wiped my blood on the side of my fan-torso.

In my daze as I recovered from the sting, I thought, just for a few seconds, that instead of seeing Max, Carl, and the third man in the mirror reflections, I saw my siblings tormenting me. I thought I saw myself as a little kid in one of the mirrors, and instead of Pauly, I saw my mother. Then I snapped out of the daze and saw my present tormentors. Again, I wanted to twitch from the memory of my childhood trauma, but I couldn’t budge.

I looked over at Pauly…and saw horns on his head! I blinked, then looked again: the horns were gone.

Did these brief hallucinations mean that my monstrous form was all one extended hallucination? I could only hope so.

“Want an apple?” the man to Max’s right asked, pulling one off my right branch-arm and handing it to Carl.

“No, thanks,” Carl said, swatting it out of the guy’s hand. “I might turn into this kind of freak. This is what happens when you do dope, Paul.”

“I like your fan, Paul,” Max said, laughing at me between each sentence. “Nice and comfortable breeze you’re blowing. Yeah, I got caught with a stash of weed in my apartment, and the only way Carl would save my ass from the cops was if I ratted you out. So I did. But since Carl doesn’t like you–actually, nobody has ever liked you–he said he’d love to see what you’d do if Pauly gave you some of his stash. Man, you didn’t disappoint. The third guy with us here is a cop, by the way. Again, I promised he’d be so entertained by you that he’d drop the charges against me. I guess I’m safe. Thanks, bro!”

Fuck you, I thought.

My many eyes were trying to avoid my oglers, who kept touching me, ripping off pieces of bark from my arms, or running their fingers along the screen of the fan.

Stick your fingers inside, guys, I thought. Let the fan blades cut them off, you compassionless bastards.

Blood flowed from where they’d torn off pieces of bark from my branch-arms. Any drops of my blood that got on their hands, they wiped off on the edges of my fan-torso. They wouldn’t tear off any more: I suppose I should have been grateful for that, at least.

As an hour or so of this ordeal went by–their eyes always staring at me, their hands touching me, their fingers poking a few of my eyes (which spouted blood, too, now), and their mouths laughing at me–my eyes kept looking at my mirror reflection, hoping for my transformation back to normal, or for an end to this drug trip. This has to be a trip. It can’t be real, can it?

Instead, I began to notice myself turning pink. Were those flesh tones I was seeing? My monstrous shape was the same, but everything looked flesh-like. Were the pills finally wearing off? They had to be! In my mind, I was begging for it.

A funny thing, though: I was now all pinkish, but every centimetre of me looked detached from each other. I looked like a man in a Georges Seurat painting–pointillistic, my body was all pink dots.

“Whoa!” Carl said. “What the fuck is he turning into now?”

Max tapped me on the chest. My body broke into thousands of little pink pieces…I was all pills now! I lay there in a pile before my four onlookers, who continued to gaze down on me without any pity, but with contempt.

I looked up at them the way many of us think a fly must see the world; for each pill-unit of my body was an eye of its own, looking up at the four men in utter helplessness.

“Man, that’s the weirdest shit I’ve ever seen,” Carl said.

Max brought his foot up as if about to stomp on me. I actually hoped for it.

“No!” Pauly said. “I have a use for him still. Don’t step on any…of him.”

The others laughed.

“Alright, guys,” Pauly said. “Show’s over now.” He motioned for them to leave. “I’ll have another spectacle for you to see soon.”

“When?” the third guy asked as they all reached the door.

“When she gets here, of course,” Pauly said. “I’ll let you all know. Until then, good-night.”

“Bye,” his visitors said, then left.

Pauly came back over to the pile of me.

“I know you still have consciousness,” he said, bending over. “Enjoy your new life. At least you won’t have to work in that awful factory anymore.” He walked away and laughed.

********************

The next day, his doorbell rang. He answered it. I saw, through my pill-eyes, several dozen images of the same girl–a teenager from the looks of her–entering his apartment and approaching me. All my other pill-eyes saw only a hellish blackness. Was I put into a black garbage bag while I was sleeping?

“You were telling me about your problems,” Pauly said to her.

“Yes,” she said, beginning to sob. “I feel so alone. I hate my parents. No one pays any attention to me. I’m sick of feeling so…ordinary.”

Picking up one of me, he showed it to her. “I have just the thing for you.”

No! I said, hoping she’d hear me.