Thursday, 8 February 2007

First past the post

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott reminds herself 'to pick up the one-inch picture frame and to figure out a one-inch piece of my story to tell' (p. 18). It helps with the freeze imposed by the blank page. My husband tells me 'don't get it right, get it written'. But he also says things like 'it's showbusiness, not showfriend', so I'm never sure whether to believe him. My late phd supervisor, a sorely missed, and deeply influential, man, would softly offer the image of sheets stacking themselves, one by one, in the out-tray, at the end of a day's work.

All to cajole, boss, trick me into sitting down and writing.

How long have I had this blog established, before taking the plunge?

A month.

Yesterday I went to a funeral. It was for the man I have just mentioned, my former phd supervisor. Unforgettable, a galviniser of thought, whose gift to me has been, will be, the gift of impatient patience. Never stop, never give up, love, laugh, and live. His passion was charmingly veiled under feigned innocence, and an ability to make mead out of the poisonous egotism that usually surrounded him: his weapon was to disarm.

Between hearing of this great man's death, and attending his funeral, I went to see a film: The Queen. Old news. I'd been away when it first came out. Many things captivated me about the film. The sense of building threat as 'the people' demanded an appearance from the Queen; the spectacle of another Labour prime minister rolling over for her; the delicate unpicking of the mechanisms of State which held the Queen together and also prevented her from giving way to any emotion.

But nothing startled me as much as the stag. Up in the Highlands around Balmoral, Prince Philip and Diana's two sons are hunting a stag with huge antlers, a 'fourteen-pointer'. The Royal Family are buried at Balmoral, refusing to return to London after the death of Princess Diana. The Queen drives to meet her grandchildren, and her landrover breaks down in a ford. She telephones for help and sits on the car's bonnet. Her shoulders heave, and we realize she is weeping for the first time since the death of her troublesome daughter-in-law. We have no way of knowing whether she is crying for Diana, her own son Charles, for her grandsons, for the trouble this has brought on her house, or a mixture.

She becomes aware that the stag is standing a little way off, magnificent, watching her. The Queen gazes, bewitched. A beat. A shot is heard offscreen. She chases the animal away.

In the myth of Diana and Actaeon, the roles of hunter and hunted are reversed backwards and forwards. Actaeon, hunter, spies on Diana, huntress, and is turned into a stag, torn apart by his own hounds. Hunter becomes hunted at the hands of a goddess who is hunted, but a huntress. In The Queen, this chiasmus is collapsed. Diana herself becomes the stag, and the revised meanings of the myth explode centrifugally, dizzyingly, from this. Is the film suggesting that Diana, the princess, was a huntress or the hunted? That what she was, was a figure born of a million perceptions?

Later in the film, the stag is shot on a neighbouring estate, by a merchant banker, up for the weekend to have a go. The Queen rushes off, in the middle of the State crisis, to view the body, its head severed. She mourns the animal's suffering. It is impossible to know whether she is mourning Diana, or the stag.

My former supervisor wrote brilliantly about the myth of Diana and Actaeon as a metaphor for the twisted workings of desire in Freud, Proust, Lacan: Theory as Fiction. The hunter shall win his prize, but in so doing be torn apart, and so lose both quarry and himself.

I came away from the film realizing that at the very public occasion his funeral would be, the display of emotion would be both appropriate and ghastly. Embarrassing, and worthy. Awkward and necessary. And so it transpired. Tears well up unbidden, but as soon as they break over the eyelid, they become public and political property, messily fluid, needing attention. They speak of the desire to express our emotions sincerely, honestly, openly, and they give away its impossibility.

I don't need to say goodbye to Malcolm, because this is just the beginning.

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