If hell is LAX's terminal 3, then I managed to make the hours-long wait for the connecting flight home quite bearable. I took on my trip my tattered copy of "King Lear," in my possession since I was 15. The scribbles in a childish hand like palimpsest beneath later annotations of the adult take me on a long, layered journey with William Shakespeare.
I was brought up a Confucian, even though the term was never used in the house. I was taught to revere the aged. In the Confucian world order, all under heaven turns to chaos--(Ran in Japanese, and, yes, the same word that Akira Kurozawa aptly used to title his "King Lear" or Luan in Chinese)--when the young do not uphold the contract.
Jessica Barksdale Inclan said that love and nurture should flow predominantly in the direction of the child--yes, when the child is a child. In most societies, outside of America and wealthy Western nations with vast resources, children are expected to nurture their parents when they come of age. This has always been the norm of society as long as there have been parents and children.* (In America, you have a helluva lot of lonely old people, rich and poor; but that's a rant I'll spare you for now.)
In China, filial piety was the primary judge of a man's character. It still is. He could be dismissed from a high-ranking position in court or pulled off the throne for disrespect to his parents.
Now, Matthew Biberman asked me an important question last week: Who is Edmund in your graphic novel-in-progress, "Forget Sorrow"? For me, Edmund is not so much a character but a dark force. The question clarified a great deal for me as I went the process of a good think.
Communism, was my reply.
While in Terminal 3, the following very un-Confucian passage leaped forth. Gloucester is reading out loud the fake letter made by Edmund in Edgar's handwriting about overthrowing their aged father:
The policy and reverence of age makes the world bitter to the best of our times; keeps our fortunes from us till our oldness cannot relish them. I begin to find an idle and fond bondage in the oppression of aged tyranny, who sways, not as it hath power, but as it is suffered.
Edmund is that dark force in human society--some may call it a revolutionary force--its sole purpose is to upend the traditional and "natural" order. Communism is a form of Edgar-ism. Chinese children, during the reign of Mao Zedong, were rewarded by Communists cadres when they turned against parents, humiliating them in public and taking pride in that very debasement. This is what the traditional Chinese and even the current regime fear: Ran, Luan or Chaos-Under-Heaven. "King Lear" presents the vision here:
Act I, Sc. II lines 102-113
Gloucester: Love cools, friendship falls off, brothers divide. In cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in palaces, treason; and the bond cracked ‘twixt son and father. . . . there's son against father: the King falls from bias of nature; there's father against child. . . . Machinations, hollowness, treachery and all ruinous disorders follow us disquietly to our graves.
ACT 1. SC. II line 142-145 (echos
Edmund: I promise you, the effects he writes of succeed unhappily: as of unnaturalness, between the child and the parent; death, dearth, dissolutions of ancient amities, division in state, menaces and maledictions against king and nobles, needless diffidences, banishment of friends, dissipation of cohorts, nuptial breaches, and I know not what.
* Harold Bloom said it perfectly: All old men are King Lear. I don't think "King Lear" was always irrational or selfish. He grew to be insecure in old age and therefore, irrationally needy.
I won't enter the debate over the authorship of the plays. Yawn, yawn, yawn. Shakespeare wrote them. There are far more interesting issues to discuss--like the content and ideas in the plays themselves. I will say this. In 1598, a preacher named Francis Meres wrote that, "as Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for comedy and tragedy among the Latins, so Shakespeare among the English the most excellent in both kinds for the stage." Meres refers to a dozen of Shakespeare's plays that made the bard's name famous.
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