August 28: Against traditional values

Bicycling? You harlot!

I'm reading these books that were musty when my great-grandfather bought them, so yeah, I guess you could say I have conservative tendencies. Maybe I should describe myself with the Canadian phrase "Red Tory," which is meditated on here, but which I idiosyncratically define as a posture (and really, it's not much more than that) that advocates massive spending on public schools so that we can teach Latin in them. Or as an Episcopalian friend of mine once said, "Radical in theology, reactionary in liturgy."

But I could never be a real conservative as it's defined today, and it's because I'm so horrified at the way Goethe treats poor Gretchen in today's Faust excerpt. Mephistopheles as allowed Faust to knock up Gretchen (who confusingly is also called "Margaret"; I feel that if a character is called Jim Bob he should stay Jim Bob and not alternatively be known as James Robert) -- and her brother tells her whose problem it is:
The time already I discern,
When thee all honest folk will spurn,
And shun thy hated form to meet,
As when a corpse infects the street.
Thy heart will sink in blank despair,
When they shall look thee in the face!
(Yes, yes -- the real crime is the translation. Tell me something I don't know.) And why is her brother so appalled at Gretchen's single-mom-ness? Because he loses face with the guys at the bar:
When seated ’mong the jovial crowd,
Where merry comrades boasting loud
Each named with pride his favourite lass,
And in her honour drain’d his glass;
Upon my elbows I would lean,
With easy quiet view the scene,
...Then smiling I my beard would stroke,
The while, with brimming glass, I spoke;
“Each to his taste!—but to my mind,
Where in the country will you find,
A maid, as my dear Gretchen fair,
Who with my sister can compare?”
Cling! Clang! so rang the jovial sound!
Shouts of assent went circling round;
Pride of her sex is she!—cried some;
Then were the noisy boasters dumb.

And now!—I could tear out my hair,
Or dash my brains out in despair!—
Me every scurvy knave may twit,
With stinging jest and taunting sneer!
In other words, Gretchen has no worth in herself, just in the honor she brings the family. When I hear the phrase "traditional values," or, we need to bring back shame, Gretchen's fate -- she goes crazy from her disgrace -- is the kind of thing I think of. Licentiousness brings about its evils too, but in this case I don't know whether a conservative return to the ancien regime is the cure. If you're driving on the left shoulder of the highway, driving on the right shoulder is not the solution.

1 comment:

Lisa Simeone said...

But I do quite like "every scurvy knave may twit," and I will make sure to find opportunities to use it in the future.