Friends will be friends

Elizabeth Chanler, de linhagem aristocrática, herdou certamente a candura da sua homónima tia-avó, que foi retratada por John Singer Sargent – “the face of the Madonna and the eyes of a child”:

John_Singer_Sargent_Elizabeth_Winthrop_Chanler

Mulher enigmática e discreta, acedeu aos anais da História por intermédio do seu marido, tendo mantido um contrato matrimonial com Bruce Chatwin durante vinte e três anos. Eram colegas de trabalho na Sotheby’s e ambos tinham os passaportes pejados de países, pelo que não lhes faltavam assuntos em comum. Os dois eram loquazes e espirituosos.

Enquanto mulher casada, Elizabeth tomou conta da quinta sozinha, ocupando-se de mil e um afazeres domésticos em plena auto-suficiência, enquanto o companheiro errava pelo mundo. Quando ele retornava ao seu país, escolhia naturalmente a hospitalidade de Elizabeth. Consta que era um casamento celibatário, uma vez que ficavam anos sem se ver e Bruce nutria preferências homossexuais, o que era do conhecimento da esposa.

Elizabeth foi secretária, governanta, anfitriã, enfermeira para Bruce. O escritor foi o conviva de conversas animadas, o forasteiro que trazia novas de longe, a inflexão que rompia com a azáfama do quotidiano, o solitário que acompanhava outra alma solitária.

Os biógrafos, maledicentes como é costume, narram episódios de contornos imprecisos em que Bruce terá sido rude para com Elizabeth, contudo, o autor deixou testemunho do seu grande afecto por ela:

«A minha futura mulher, Elizabeth, era americana. Ao ouvi-la contar-me uma história, também eu senti que era com ela que devia casar-me» (texto datado de 1988, “O que faço eu aqui”, p. 384).

Em 1980, ela pediu a separação, mas, quando em 1989, ele adoeceu com SIDA, Elizabeth cuidou dele até ao fim no sul de França.

Como se não tivessem sido senão amigos, os melhores amigos, acima de todas as trivialidades e contratempos mundanos.

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As três mães

O filme “L’Aimée” de Arnaud Desplechin versa sobre o tema das três mães que, no documentário, recupera os nomes das tias-avós e avó do realizador: Reine, Thérèse e Rose-Aimée.

No filme, Thérese, a irmã do meio que padece de tuberculose, constitui-se como a mãe oral de Robert (o pai do realizador) ao suspirar no leito de morte: «Alph…». Como num último canto de cisne, ela compõe o Alpha.

As três mães são analisadas por Deleuze, a propósito de Masoch:

«Las tres mujeres constituyen un orden simbólico en el cual o por el cual el padre está ya suprimido, suprimido desde siempre. (…) El masoquista vive el orden simbólico como inter–materno, y postula las condiciones bajo las cuales la madre se confunde, en este orden, con la ley. De ahí que, en el caso del masoquismo, no deba hablarse de una identificación con la madre. La madre no es en absoluto término de una identificación, sino condición del simbolismo a través del cual el masoquista se expresa. La triplicación de las madres ha expulsado literalmente al padre del universo masoquista. (…) A la denegación magnificadora de la madre («No, a la madre no le falta simbolicamente nada»), corresponde una denegación anuladora del padre («El padre no es nada», es decir, está privado de toda función simbólica). (…) Debemos entender que el padre, anulado en el orden simbólico, continuaba actuando sin embargo en el orden real o vivido. Lacan enunció una profunda ley según la cual lo que se cancela simbolicamente resurge en lo real en forma alucinatoria. (…) Sería totalmente equivocado confundir el fantasma que actúa en el orden simbólico con la alucinación en la que se expresa la revancha de lo vivido en el orden de lo real. (…) El retorno ofensivo de la imagen de padre marca el peligro, siempre presente, que amenaza desde el exterior al mundo masoquista (…). Pero ¿qué hace el masoquista para precaverse de ese retorno, tanto el de la realidad como el de la alucinación del retorno ofensivo del padre? El héroe masoquista tiene que valerse de un procedimiento complejo para proteger su mundo fantasmático y simbólico, y para conjurar los ataques alucinatorios de lo real (también podría hablarse de los ataques reales de la alucinación). Veremos que ese procedimiento existe en el masoquismo de manera constante: se trata del contrato establecido con la mujer y que, en un momento preciso y por un tiempo determinado, otorga a esta todos los derechos. Gracias al contrato, el masoquista conjura el peligro del padre e intenta garantizar la adecuación del orden real y la vivencia temporal al orden simbólico, donde el padre está anulado desde siempre. Gracias al contrato, es decir, gracias al más racional de los actos y al más definido en el tiempo, el masoquista alcanza las regiones más míticas y eternas, aquellas donde reinan las tres imágenes de madre. (…) El masoquismo es el arte del fantasma. El fantasma actúa sobre dos series, sobre dos límites, sobre dos «bordes»; entre ambos se instala una resonancia que constituye la verdadera vida del fantasma. El fantasma masoquista tiene por bordes simbólicos a la madre uterina y a la madre edípica: entre las dos, y de una a otra, la madre oral, el corazón del fantasma. El masoquista juega con estos extremos y los hace resonar en la madre oral. De este modo confiere a esta, a la madre buena, una amplitud que le hace rozar constantemente la imagen de sus rivales. La madre oral tiene que arrebatar a la madre uterina sus funciones hetaíricas (prostitución), así como a la madre edípica sus funciones sadizantes (castigo). (…) El masoquista vive en él la alianza de la madre oral con el hijo (…)».

– Deleuze, “Présentacion de Sacher-Masoch”, p. 68-73.

‘Blue River’

Diálogo entre a psicanalista e Ismaël:

«- Excusez-moi mais les femmes c’est pas pareil que les hommes.
– C’est à dire?
– Vous n’avez pas d’âme.
– Parce que je suis une femme?
– Ne me regardez pas comme ca, vous avez déjà vu une femme prêtre ou une femme rabbin? Je ne dis pas bon; vous avez certainement autre chose à la place mais enfin je me vois mal parler de mon âme avec vous.
– Un peu insultant pour les femmes non?
– Mais non. Les hommes ça vie sur une droite et les femmes vous vivez dans des bulles. Je ne sais pas; des petites bulles où vous devez passer de l’une à l’autre, des petites bulles où il doit y avoir des intersections pas ça doit être des petites bulles de temps j’imagine. Et nous, les hommes on vit sur une droite, une seule ligne. Nous, on vit pour mourir.
– Et les femmes elles vivent pourquoi?
– Vous vivez quoi, nous on vit pour mourir (…)
– C’est quoi, votre définition de l’ame?
– Une âme, c’est une manière de négocier au quotidien avec la question de l’être.»

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A meu ver, esta é a cena fundamental do filme “Rois et Reine“, para ser lida ao som da música dos genéricos inicial e final, “Blue River”, e com os olhos de Arielle Phoenix (anjo e fénix), a personagem apelidada de «chinesa» por estudar Sinologia, porque os Chineses sabem que todos os seres são, simultaneamente, yin e yang, mulher e homem, tal como num rio não se pode separar o seu curso a direito das bolhas de espuma. Mas Arnaud Desplechin, talvez deliberadamente, não precaveu o discurso o suficiente para não ser confundido com um sexista.

Resta acrescentar que este rio corre a direito, mas o seu leito não é unitário, abre-se a quatro braços – tal como há quatro reis no filme – formando um delta, os dedos de uma mão, ou mesmo o Homem Vitruviano.

Notas sobre Esther

Há um esquema no filme “Esther Kahn” que merece redobrada atenção, para lá do estruturalismo do argumento com alguns “topoi” típicos (note-se, por exemplo, a sequência de cores dos vestidos da actriz em palco, verde-vermelho-negro, um clássico da literatura e da cultura em geral, presente em Flaubert e Lampedusa, entre outros):

NOISE > SPEAK
_____    _____

MOVE > ACT

 

Ao invés de se comparar operações características de um mesmo modo ou regime, sinaliza-se, antes de mais nada, a mudança de plano, de tal modo que o principal protagonista desta fórmula é o vazio que interrompe e diferencia, simultaneamente, ruído de fala e movimento de actividade. Tantas vezes fazemos apenas barulho, sem efectivamente falarmos, e podemos movermo-nos freneticamente sem criarmos uma acção, sem activarmos o estado passivo/passional.

Neste ponto, o filme vai contra a sua própria fórmula, ao postular que Esther se torna uma actriz mais capaz por meio de paixões, e tristes. Falsa conexão. As paixões tristes não tornam ninguém nem mais inteligente nem mais activo, embora nos possam pôr a berrar e a gesticular muito. Mas Spinoza, embora judeu, não seguia propriamente o estruturalismo judaico, e é com ele que concordamos: só as paixões alegres podem activar-nos.

Teria sido uma saída mais airosa do argumentista conceber que Esther não é humilhada e trocada por Sylvia, mas é ela que se torna Sylvia (ou Sylvia que se torna nela, ambas tomadas num devir-outro), o silvo da serpente é a «nota» que desperta nela e a que se alude no final do filme. O mesmo seria dizer que a estéril cona (Esther Kahn) se metamorfoseia na lúbrica loba Sophia/Sibila (Sylvia), por intermédio da «amizade» (Philos) de Philippe, o crítico.

‘The human presence on the planet is not really sustainable’

“The only thing that becomes quite obvious in Antarctica”, Herzog says, “is that our presence on this planet, the human presence on the planet, is not really sustainable.”

Herzog is not talking merely about the top-of-mind matter of global warming. “Climate change would not be the only reason why we might become extinct. Sure, it may be a factor. It may not. But human life in complicated civilized structures is very, very vulnerable. And of course when you look at the presence of biological life on this planet, it has been an endless line of cataclysmic events… I do not make any predictions. That would be silly; we do not know. But there is an all-pervasive sense which makes me see clearly that our presence is not sustainable – in particular this highly technical civilization which is wasting resources at a dramatic pace”.

Some observers have mistaken Herzog’s clear-eyed view for misanthropy, but he meets the world head-on – creatively, without undue regard for convention.

“The thought that human beings may eventually disappear from this planet doesn’t make me nervous,” Herzog noted. “There was a very beautiful thing that Martin Luther, the reformist, said in the 16th century. He was asked, ‘What would you do if tomorrow the world would disappear, would explode, would not be anymore?’ And Luther said, ‘I would plant an apple tree.’ ”

Herzog leaned forward, smiling, his voice filled with gleeful decisiveness. “And my answer is, if I knew it was over tomorrow, I would start to shoot a movie”.

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Werner Herzog’s Antarctica

On location at a research station in the Antarctic, the film director Werner Herzog is enthralled by the wildlife – and the wild people – he discovers there.

By Werner Herzog
Published: 10:55AM BST 28 Aug 2009

It was what lies beneath the ice, not what exists on top of it, that first attracted me to the Antarctic. But then I wasn’t there to make another film about fluffy penguins. A few years ago I happened to see some amazing underwater film taken below the Antarctic ice cap. It was so stunning in colour, light and movement, and the creatures it revealed so strange, that I used some of it in a science-fiction film, The Wild Blue Yonder. That same, other-worldly footage then became my reason for going to the South Pole. My purpose was to make a documentary about life in Antarctica.

Encounters at the End of the World is about the wildlife that lives there and the human characters who pass through. Viewed from our uniform and compliant hemisphere, they seem as unusual as each other.

My base was McMurdo Station, the big US scientific centre on the frozen shore of the Ross Sea. From there I travelled to different satellite camps, such as the one where the divers operate. They work from a sturdy tent, rigged over a hole in the ice, collecting organisms for scientists to study. Some have never been seen before. Three new species were discovered while I was there.

I wanted to dive myself, but only the most expert are allowed. It is extremely dangerous. With the water temperature around -2C (28F), the divers are trussed in layers of neoprene and risk being swept away by tidal currents. Yet they work untethered; safety lines could impede their work. That means they have no aids to help them get back to the hole, which is their only way to the surface. Compasses are no use because the needles would always point straight up. If they get disoriented, and can’t find the exit hole, they perish under a 20ft ceiling of ice.

Like so much that is beautiful, the Antarctic conceals a lot that is unlovely. One diver described the organisms that live under the ice as inhabiting a horribly violent world, much creepier than science fiction. And he is a sci-fi fan. The movies he shows to his colleagues of life-threatening extraterrestrials are kindergarten stuff compared with the slimy “blobs” with ensnaring tendrils, and worms with mandibles to rip their prey apart, that he sees underwater. No wonder the mammals of prehistory retreated from the oceans to get on with their evolution in the relative sanctuary of dry land.

You don’t have to be in the Antarctic for long before recognising how strange and alien a place it is. It is night for five months. At the South Pole you turn left and it’s north, and then you turn further and it’s still north. Everywhere is north.

At the pole itself, oddity turns into absurdity. If archaeologists in aeons hence excavate the ice beneath the pole to determine what the human race was doing there, they will need a sense of the surreal. What they will exhume at the mathematically precise true South Pole is a tunnel containing a bizarre cache of mementoes. Among them are a deep-frozen sturgeon and a tin of caviar, left by the Russians, and a display of dried flowers framed in a garland of popcorn, left by the Americans. Beside them is propped a poem.

The flowers here for you to smell

Came from far and wide to this frozen hell.

Sent by mom, friends, grandmas, great aunts and such,

They look nice and did not cost too much.

Such are the remnants of our existence.

Polar politics – or lack of them – are unique. Antarctica has no government as such; it doesn’t belong to anyone. The continent is run under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, in my opinion the most outstanding international agreement in existence.

It came into force in 1961 and its provisions could not be simpler or more idealistic. The Antarctic, it declares, should be used only for peaceful purposes and scientific research. International co-operation is a constitutional requirement, and there is an unequivocal ban on nuclear testing or dumping of radioactive waste. And that’s it – possibly the finest document of all time, committing an entire vast continent to the principles of peace and knowledge.

The size is something else to which you must adjust; you need to recalibrate your perceptions of scale. Antarctica is one and a half times the size of the United States, bigger than Europe or Australia. I met a glaciologist who was studying a single iceberg that was larger than the Lebanon. The water it contained was enough to keep the River Jordan flowing for a thousand years.

The people in the Antarctic are different, too. With no indigenous population, no one there has anything in common other than a shared attraction to this immense, unspoilt and untouched area of the earth. It was suggested to me that everybody who is not tied down falls to the bottom of the globe. McMurdo Station is said to be populated “by full-time travellers and part-time workers.”

There was a Bulgarian fork lift driver, who happens to be a philosopher – I think he also has a PhD in comparative literature – who has a similar theory: that some process of natural selection is at work, making the kind of people who want to jump off the edge of the map gravitate to Antarctica.

One such was a journeyman plumber, part Apache, who believes he is a descendant of Aztec and Inca royalty. As evidence, his middle and ring fingers are the same length, as are his index and little fingers – which he demonstrates in the film.

Scientists are drawn to the Antarctic by the opportunities they have for cutting-edge research, some of it quite rarefied. I watched a huge helium balloon being launched 25 miles into the stratosphere to search for almost undetectable subatomic particles called neutrinos. Neutrinos were fundamental to the beginning of the universe. They can be measured and their behaviour predicted, but they seem to exist in another world where scientists can’t get their hands on them. In Antarctica, where detection instruments can function free from electrical interference, things might be different.

Undoubtedly there are travellers today lured by the distant echo of romanticism that rang originally from the epics of the Antarctic’s first explorers. For all their courage and fortitude, their quest to be the first to reach the Pole a hundred years ago was culturally very damaging.

It ended human adventure in the classical sense. That ancient concept lost its meaning as it degenerated into silly antics that are now more the stuff of the Guinness Book of World Records than pinnacles of human endeavour. I am waiting for the first person to reach the South Pole barefoot… walking backwards.

The romantics sober up quickly because if the Antarctic represents anything, it is stark realism. McMurdo itself is like an ugly mining town, full of noisy construction sites and earth-moving machinery. About 1,100 people live there in the austral summer. They have neither the time nor resources for any embellishment.

That is not to say McMurdo hasn’t collected some of the sillier flotsam of modern civilisation. Here, at 77 degrees 51 minutes south, a little more than 800 miles from the South Pole, you find not only an ATM but yoga classes and an aerobics studio.

I stayed there in something like a college dormitory. On Mount Erebus, the active volcano, I slept in a tent. It was not easy. The sun shone all night and I was mummified in a sleeping bag with just a hole left open through which to breathe. After an hour or so it was rimmed by a solid crust of ice. When I moved, it broke; the ice fell on my face and woke me.

We were a two-man crew – my cinematographer, Peter Zeitlinger, and me. I acted as sound recordist as well as director because I didn’t want to exploit too many of the McMurdo resources. It’s exorbitantly expensive to accommodate people there. The recorder had tiny buttons, so small that I had to take off my gloves to operate them. Instantly my fingers were numbed by the cold. Just switching on and off was a hassle.

It wasn’t that bad. In winter things are far more disagreeable. About a quarter of the McMurdo population remains at the station through the months of darkness. Mainly they are maintenance people, although a few scientists, such as astronomers, choose to be there because of the extraordinary conditions for long-term observations. There are some peculiarly unpleasant penalties if you do stay on. Your wisdom teeth and appendix have to be removed, even if they are perfectly healthy, because you can’t be evacuated and they couldn’t be operated on at the station. From March to the end of September McMurdo is completely isolated.

I met some astonishing people in making this film. As in the fairy tale, I felt as if I had held up my apron and golden coins rained into it.

I came across a man in the McMurdo greenhouse, itself an anomaly. He worked in computers but withdrew to the lettuce beds and rows of unripe tomatoes to read.

Our conversation was about disappearing languages. It resonates with me still. We have something like 6,000 languages and within 50 years 90 per cent of them will be extinct, many of them gone without trace. That’s an extraordinary cultural tragedy occurring almost unnoticed. We know the numbers of whales are dwindling, and that snow leopards are fighting for survival, but nobody talks about disappearing cultures and languages.

What is overwhelming, from talking to so many of the scientists in Antarctica, is the certainty that our human existence on this planet, our survival as a species, is not sustainable. Many express grave doubts about our long-term presence on this planet. Nature, they predict, will regulate us.

Life on the planet has always been interrupted by cataclysmic events. The trilobites and dinosaurs hung in there for quite a long time, but eventually they were extinguished. We are next. The human species evolved very quickly and it will disappear very quickly. Not just because of climate change. That would be the most primitive and simplistic of explanations. There are many other factors that make it highly improbable that we have a long future here.

It doesn’t make me nervous. It doesn’t matter whether we have another 20,000 or 200,000 years. We have to fortify ourselves with philosophy to accept whatever is our destiny. I developed a very acute sense of that in the Antarctic.

It becomes quite evident, for example, talking to the volcanologists on the rim of the crater of Mount Erebus, that there will be events that might be so apocalyptic that there won’t be any survivors. And the more technically sophisticated we become, the more vulnerable we are. Imagine London, or any of the world’s great cities, without electricity for two weeks.

The film’s title – Encounters at the End of the World – is, of course, ambiguous. In one sense it refers to a place on the globe at the end of all the converging lines of longitude, and in a second sense that we will not last very long on this earth. There is nothing gloomy about that. Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he were told that the world would end tomorrow. He said, “I should plant an apple tree today.”