Monday, February 09, 2009

Ruminations 9: Liebestod Hugs

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer)

This is another in what I hope to be a month long series of aphoristic (ἀφορισμός) essays, meant to provoke thought rather than explain it. The hope is that, built up on each other, the series will provide a matrix of thoughts that together might lead the reader in new directions. Though each can be read independently of the others, they are intended to be read together and against each other.
Love-death has a particular appeal in a sort of trans-cultural way.  And fire seems to be the lubricant most useful for effective consummation of love and life.  This pattern applies to states as well as couples.  All families seem to share certain characteristics. But far too grim. Many times an insight acquires profundity only when understood as irony. Out of perversity comes a greater understanding of the human condition.

This from Chenai, India:
According to the police, Bommi Devi and Arul got marrued six months ago and began living in Nesapakkam. Soon, Arul began suspecting his wife's fidelity as she was friendly to all the neighbours. Arul, a habitual drinker, some times returned home during the day to check on his wife's movements. He often quarrelled with her over trivial issues. A few days ago, Arul shifted his house to Vadapalani, the police said.

On Saturday, he returned home in the evening, entered into a quarrel with his wife and allegedly beat her. Later, they went to sleep. Around 2 am, Arul woke up, poured kerosene over his wife and set her afire.

She then managed to envelop Arul in a bear hug. After struggling for a while, he managed to extricated himself from Bommi Devi's clutches and ran out. He staggered to a friend's house two streets away. The latter peeped out of a window, saw that Arul was badly burnt and refused to open the door. Arul then saw two autorickshaws coming that way and signaled them to stop.. But the drivers refused and sped away. Arul lay on the roadside for more than half an hour till police personnel noticed him. He was rushed to the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital (KMCH) in a patrol vehicle.

Meanwhile, some neighbours rushed Bommi Devi to the KMCH and informed the police. Before breathing her last at 3.30 am, Bommi Devi gave a dying declaration to the police personnel and doctors, detailing the entire sequence of events. Arul, who claimed that his wife had set herself on fire and that he was burnt when he tried to save her, died at 11 am on Sunday. "Doctors told us that Arul's injuries probably became worse since he lying unattended on the roadside for a long time," a senior police officer said.

Burning woman hugs husband, both die in hospital, The Times of India, Feb. 16, 2009. Here are all of the ingredients of tragedy many times over--the angry husband, the lubrication of alcohol, the abused wife, the ritual aspects of fire, the hug, social indifference from beginning to end. But the most poetic element was the hug--that which joins in love, procreation, and affection, becomes as the gateway to a union in death Tied together in marriage, beating, love, and hate, she saw to it that the bond extended to the grave, and perhaps beyond. This is a Liebestod truer to life than that of Tristan and Isolde, though with a certain amount of enchantment as well.

And the irony, of course, is the archetype that the marriage of Bommi Devi and Arul represent--not among couples, but among ethnic communities and states. Bound together in unions that are inescapable, restive and self destructive, these marriages, and their incineration in a fatal embrace, paint a picture of large chunks of the global community. And like the neighbors of Bommi Devi and Arul, the community of states will observe, comment, involve itself indirectly, make suggestions, apply pressure, but lock its doors to the burning bed and the peregrinations of the burning survivor.

But far too grim. Many times an insight acquires profundity only when understood as irony. Out of perversity comes a greater understanding of the human condition. Perhaps Lorenzo da Ponte understood the perversity and irony best when he wrote the final chorus of the libretto to Cosi fan tutte as the two young couples reconcile after each of them had fallen in love (and nearly into marriage) with each others partner.

Fortunato l'uom che prende
ogni cosa per buon verso
e tra i casi e le vicende
da ragion guidar si .
Quel'che suole altrui ar ìangere
fia per lui cagion di ruso
e del mondo in mezzo i turbini
bella calma troverà.

Lorenzo da Ponte, Così fan tutte (music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) (1790), Act II, Scene 4 ("Happy is the man who looks on the bright side of everything and in every circumstance and trial guides himself by reason. That which makes others weep is for him the subject of laughter and in the midst of the turbulence of the world he will finds perfect serenity:").

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