By Louise M. Hart
He silently sits in a busy underpass
Raggedy man reflecting his soul like glass
“Only the poor give to the poor,” He thinks
A benefit scrounger inserts a pound coin
Between his teeth
And drops it into raggedy man’s hat
He eats empty plates of thoughts for dinner
And dreams of being fat
His heart has no home
Less, his body resides in the West Midlands of nowhere
He does not even own a cat
Man, it is boring here
Where he cannot afford a beer or a filtered cigarette
His brow is lined with the sweat of circumstance and distress
And all because his Mother called him, “a sinner”
He was big in Moseley once
Now he is invisible in an underpass
Wanker banker leaves work at 5.33
He passes Mr Raggedy
And notices the curve of his lips
His hungry brown eyes
And delicate finger tips
He rubs his wallet
In my previous post I reviewed the novella, Death in Venice and feel that no discussion of the book is complete, without reference to the extraordinary film version. Upon first viewing, Visconti’s (1971) masterpiece, ensnared me in a mist of visual eloquence. Transported by the narrative, I entered a realm which suggested, behind a veneer of bourgeois respectability, the presence of decay. Fundamental to the portrayal of this, was the performance of Dirk Bogarde as the central character, a man in search of an ideal.
In a career defining performance, Bogarde chilled the screen with his icy presence and projected meaning in subtle facial expressions. A face, which had once graced the bedroom walls of the hearts of 1950’s British teens, had become distorted by the ravages of age and interpretations of desires, which did not speak their names. Dirk Bogarde had matured from matinee idol into middle-aged master of menace and finally, metamorphosed into an old man of European art house cinema and an interpreter of directorial dreams. He had become a hallucination which was 100 per cent real. A hallucination of his own feelings; the reality of the man hidden behind the propaganda of his acting career.
Until his death in 1999, Bogarde publicly denied his homosexuality. In private, his shared his life with his long-term male partner and manager. The world was naïvely fooled; gay people, however, had always known; the clues were not obscured but, were as apparent as the quiff he wore in, The Blue Lamp (1950), the first film, in which he appeared, which hinted at darkness behind his pretty façade. A façade which constituted more than indulgence; it was a necessary method to uphold a career in a society which, even in 2013, does not accept or want to watch films starring gay movie stars.
Society is an ass! Why has not the world accepted that not everyone is straight. Move away from your position peeping through closed curtains, go outside and embrace the nearest queen!
The modern literary trend is to produce gargantuan, door stops of novels. However, I do not believe that big is always best. Writing a novella is possibly even more challenging; the form requiring literary brevity which is often at odds with encapsulating heterogeneity of vision. One of the finest examples of a novella, whose vision reaches far beyond the density of its text is Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.
Written in 1912, Death in Venice depicts a middle-aged man’s gradual descent into madness and unreason. Aschenbach journeys to Venice in an attempt to relieve his writer’s block. During his stay he observes a beautiful young boy with whom he gradually becomes obsessed. Whilst many readers have questioned the nature of Aschenbach’s obsession, for me, it is largely symbolic. The boy (Tadzio) exists as a emblem of the unattainable, he is everything that Aschenbach is not; young impossibly handsome and unrestrained in his grasp of life and relationships. In contrast, Aschenbach represents the intellect and the constraints of reason.
The relationship between the two characters alludes to the opposition of the Apollonian and Dionysian principles, first proposed by Nietzche in The Birth of Tragedy. When forces collide, devastation ensues. In this instance, tragedy surfaces in Aschenbach’s decline. Initially, the decline is spiritual; his mind is disturbed by feelings, which one imagines, to be alien to this most ascetic of characters. Ultimately, however, his decline becomes physically transcribed. Mann describes how Aschenbach surrenders to cholera, which he courts, almost as though it were the youth, himself. Aschenbach’s desire for Tadzio alludes to the Platonic ideal of love, that of an older man for a boy, whose exploitation of purity demands penetrating despoilment. An image which continues to resonate in homoerotic literature and ideas.
Thomas Mann critiques modern bourgeois life. For in Aschenbach, he creates a character who represents the artist as someone who is detached from the life process, a chronicler of aestheticism, rather than a participant, which he emphasises in connecting artistic detachment with the eventual stagnation of the imagination. Thus, it is only Aschenbach’s preoccupation with something which is concrete and therefore, “real” in its (his) relationship to the social whole, which rids him of his writer’s block. “Solitude gives birth to the original in us, beauty unfamiliar and perilous-to poetry,” Writes Mann and subsequently reveals that solitude can, also, lead to death; a Death in Venice which, in contradiction to the book’s title, offers more insights into life, every time one read it.