“AFTER many a summer dies the swan.’ ” George rolls the words off his tongue with such hammy harmonics, such shameless relish, that this sounds like a parody of W. B. Yeats reciting. (He comes down on “dies” with a great thump to compensate for the “And” which Aldous Huxley has chopped off from the beginning of the original line.) Then, having managed to startle or embarrass at least a few of them, he looks around the room with an ironical grin and says quickly, schoolmasterishly, “I take it you’ve all read the Huxley novel by this time, seeing that I asked you to more than three weeks ago?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Buddy Sorensen’s evident dismay, which is not unexpected, and Estelle Oxford’s indignant now-they-tell-me shrug of the shoulders, which is more serious. Estelle is one of his brightest students. Just because she is bright, she is more conscious of being a Negro, apparently, than the other colored students in the class are; in fact, she is hypersensitive. George suspects her of suspecting him of all kinds of subtle discrimination. Probably she wasn’t in the room when he told them to read the novel. Damn, he should have noticed that and told her later. He is a bit intimidated by her. Also he likes her and is sorry. Also he resents the way she makes him feel.
“Oh well,” he says, as nicely as he can, “if any of you haven’t read it yet, that’s not too important. Just listen to what’s said this morning, and then you can read it and see if you agree or disagree.”
He looks at Estelle and smiles. She smiles back. So, this time, it’s going to be all right.
“The title is, of course, a quotation from Tennyson’s poem `Tithonus.’ And, by the way, while we’re on the subject – who was Tithonus?”
Silence. He looks from face to face. Nobody knows. Even Dreyer doesn’t know. And, Christ, how typical this is! Tithonus doesn’t concern them because he’s at two removes from their subject. Huxley, Tennyson, Tithonus. They’re prepared to go as far as Tennyson, but not one step farther. There their curiosity ends. Because, basically, they don’t give a shit.
“You seriously mean to tell me that none of you knows who Tithonus was? That none of you could be bothered to find out? Well then, advise you all to spend part of your weekend reading Graves’s Greek Myths, and the poem itself. I must say, I don’t see how anyone can pretend to be interested in a novel when he doesn’t even stop to ask himself what its title means.”
This spurt of ill temper dismays George as soon as he has discharged it. Oh dear, he is getting nasty! And the worst is, he never knows when he’s going to behave like this. He has no time to check himself. Shamefaced now, and avoiding all their eyes–Kenny Potter’s particularly – he fastens his gaze high up on the wall opposite.
“Well, to begin at the beginning, Aphrodite once caught her lover Ares in bed with Eos, the goddess of the Dawn. (You’d better look them all up, while you’re about it.) Aphrodite was furious, of course, so she cursed Eos with a craze for handsome mortal boys – to teach her to leave other people’s gods alone.” (George gets a giggle on this line from someone and is relieved; he has feared they would be offended by their scolding and would sulk.) Not lowering his eyes yet, he continues, with a grin sounding in his voice, “Eos was terribly embarrassed, but she found she just couldn’t control herself, so she started kidnapping and seducing boys from the earth. Tithonus was one of them. As a matter of fact, she took his brother Ganymede along too – for company – ” (Louder giggles, from several parts of the room, this time.) “Unfortunately, Zeus saw Ganymede and fell madly in love with him.” (If Sister Maria is shocked, that’s too bad. George doesn’t look at her, however, but at Wally Bryant – about whom he couldn’t be more certain – and, sure enough, Wally is wriggling with delight.) “So, knowing that she’d have to give up Ganymede anyway, Eos asked Zeus, wouldn’t he, in exchange, make Tithonus immortal? So Zeus said, of course, why not? And lie did it. But Eos was so stupid, she forgot to ask him to give Tithonus eternal youth as well. Incidentally, that could quite easily have been arranged; Selene, the Moon goddess, fixed it up for her boy friend Endymion. The only trouble there was that Selene didn’t care to do anything but kiss, whereas Endymion had other ideas; so she put him into an eternal sleep to keep him quiet. And it’s not much fun being beautiful for ever and ever, when you can’t even wake up and look at yourself in a mirror.” (Nearly everybody is smiling, now – yes, even Sister Maria. George beams at them. He does so hate unpleasantness.) “Where was I? Oh yes – so poor Tithonus gradually became a repulsively immortal old man -” (Loud laughter.)
“And Eos, with the charac-teristic heartlessness of a goddess, got bored with him and locked him up. And he got more and more gaga, find his voice got shriller and shriller, until suddenly one day he turned into a cicada.”
This is a miserably weak payoff. George hasn’t expected it to work, and it doesn’t. Mr. Stoessel is quite frantic with incomprehension and appeals to Dreyer in desperate whispers. Dreyer whispers back explanations, which cause further misunderstandings. Mr. Stoessel gets it at last and exclaims, “Ach so – eine Zikade!” in a reproachful tone which implies that it’s George and the entire Anglo-American world who have been mispronouncing the word. But by now George has started up again – and with a change of attitude. He’s no longer wooing them, entertaining them; he’s telling them, briskly, authoritatively. It is the voice of a judge, summing up and charging the jury.
“Huxley’s general reason for choosing this title is obvious. However, you will have to ask yourselves how far it will bear application in detail to the circumstances of the story. For example, the fifth Earl of Goniar can be accepted as a counterpart of Tithonus, an: ends by turning into a monkey, just as Tithonus turned into an insect. But what about Jo Stoyte? And a Obispo? He’s far more like Goethe’s Mephistopheles than like Zeus. And who is Eos? Not Virginia Maunciple, surely. For one thing, I feel sure she doesn’t up early enough.” Nobody sees this joke. George sometimes throws one away, despite all his experience, by muttering it, English style. A bit piqued by their failure to applaud, he continues, in an almost bully tone, “But, before we can go any further, you’ve got to make up your minds what this novel actually about.”
They spend the rest of the hour making up their minds.
At first, as always, there is blank silence. The class sits staring, as it were, at the semantically prodigious word. About. What is it about? Well, what George want them to say it’s about? They’ll say about anything he likes, anything at all. For nearly all of them, despite their academic training, deep, deep down still regard this about business as a tiresomely sophisticated game. As for the minority who have cultivated the about approach until it has become second nature, who dream of writing an about book of the own one day, on Faulkner, James or Conrad, proving definitively that all previous about books on that subject are about nothing – they aren’t going to say anything yet awhile. They are waiting for the moment when the can come forward like star detectives with the solution to Huxley’s crime. Meanwhile, let the little ones flounder. Let the mud be stirred up, first.
The mud is obligingly stirred up by Alexander Mong. He knows what he’s doing, of course. He isn’t dumb. Maybe it’s even part of his philosophy as an abstract painter to regard anything figurative as merely childish. A Caucasian would get aggressive about this, but not Alexander. With that beautiful Chinese smile, he says, “It’s about this rich guy who’s jealous because he’s: afraid he’s too old for this girl of his, and he thinks this young guy is on the make for her, only he isn’t, and he doesn’t have a hope, because she and the doctor already made the scene. So the rich guy shoots the young guy by mistake, and the doctor like covers up for them and then they all go to England to find this Earl character who’s monkeying around with a chick in a cellar -“
A roar of joy at this. George smiles good-sportingly and says, “You left out Mr. Pordage and Mr. Propter – what do they do?”
“Pordage? Oh yes – he’s the one that finds out about the Earl eating those crazy fish -“
“That’s right. And Propter” -Alexander grins and scratches his head, clowning it up a bit -“I’m sorry, sir. You’ll just have to excuse me. I mean, I didn’t hit the sack till like half past two this morning, trying to figure that cat out. Wow! I don’t dig that jazz.”
More laughter. Alexander has fulfilled his function. He has put the case, charmingly, for the philistines. Now tongues are loosened and the inquest can proceed.
Here are some of its findings: Mr. Propter shouldn’t have said the ego is unreal; this proves that he has no faith in human nature.
This novel is arid and abstract mysticism. What do we need eternity for, anyway?
This novel is clever but cynical. Huxley should dwell more on the warm human emotions.
This novel is a wonderful spiritual sermon. It teaches us that we aren’t meant to pry into the mysteries of life. We mustn’t tamper with eternity.
Huxley is marvelously zany. He wants to get rid of people and make the world safe for animals and spirits.
To say time is evil because evil happens in time is like saying the ocean is a fish because fish happen in the ocean.
Mr. Propter has no sex life. This makes him unconvincing as a character.
Mr. Propter’s sex life is unconvincing.
Mr. Propter is a Jeffersonian democrat, an anarchist, a Bolshevik, a proto-John-Bircher.
Mr. Propter is an escapist. This is illustrated by the conversation with Pete about the Civil War in Spain. Pete was a good guy until Mr. Propter brainwashed him and he had a failure of nerve and started to believe in God.
Huxley really understands women. Giving Virginia a rose-colored motor scooter was a perfect touch.
And so on and so forth….
George stands there smiling, saying very little, letting them enjoy themselves. He presides over the novel like an attendant at a carnival booth, encouraging the crowd to throw and smash their targets; it’s all good clean fun. However, there are certain ground rules which must be upheld. When someone starts in about mescaline and lysergic acid, implying that Mr. Huxley is next door to being a dope addict, George curtly contradicts him. When someone else coyly tries to turn the clef in the roman – Is there, couldn’t there be some connection between a certain notorious lady and Jo Stoyte’s shooting of Pete? – George tells him absolutely not; that fairy tale was exploded back in the thirties.
And now comes a question George has been expecting. It is asked, of course, by Myron Hirsch, that indefatigable heckler of the goyim. “Sir, here on page seventy-nine, Mr. Propter says the stupidest text in the Bible is ‘they hated me without a cause.’ Does he mean by that the Nazis were right to hate the Jews? Is Huxley anti-Semitic?”
George draws a long breath. “No,” he answers mildly.
And then, after a pause of expectant silence – the class is rather thrilled by Myron’s bluntness – he repeats, loudly and severely, “No – Mr. Huxley is not anti-Semitic. The Nazis were not right to hate the Jews. But their hating the Jews was not without a cause. No one ever hates without a cause….
“Look – let’s leave the Jews out of this, shall we? Whatever attitude you take, it’s impossible to discuss Jews objectively nowadays. It probably won’t be possible for the next twenty years. So let’s think about this in terms of some other minority, any one you like, but a small one – one that isn’t organized and doesn’t have any committees to defend it….”
George looks at Wally Bryant with a deep shining look that says, I am with you, little minority-sister. Wally is plump and sallow-faced, and the care he takes to comb his wavy hair and keep his nails filed and polished and his eyebrows discreetly plucked only makes him that much less appetizing. Obviously he has understood George’s look. He is embarrassed. Never mind! George is going to teach him a lesson now that he’ll never forget. Is going to turn Wally’s eyes into his timid soul. Is going to give him courage to throw away his nail file and face the truth of his life….
“Now, for example, people with freckles aren’t thought of as a minority by the nonfreckled. They aren’t a minority in the sense we’re talking about. And why aren’t they? Because a minority is only thought of as a minority when it constitutes some kind of a threat to the majority, real or imaginary. And no threat is ever quite imaginary. Anyone here disagree with that? If you do, just ask yourself, What would this particular minority do if it suddenly became the majority overnight? You see what I mean? Well, if you don’t – think it over!
“All right. Now along come the liberals – including everybody in this room, I trust – and they say, ‘Minorities are just people, like us.’ Sure, minorities are people – people, not angels. Sure, they’re like us – but not exactly like us; that’s the all-too- familiar state of liberal hysteria in which you begin to kid yourself you honestly cannot see any difference between a Negro and a Swede….” (Why, oh why daren’t George say “between Estelle Oxford and Buddy Sorensen”? Maybe, if he did dare, there would be a great atomic blast of laughter, and everybody would embrace, and the kingdom of heaven would begin, right here in classroom. But then again, maybe it wouldn’t.)
“So, let’s face it, minorities are people who probably look and act and – think differently from us and hay faults we don’t have. We may dislike the way they look and act, and we may hate their faults. And it’s better if we admit to disliking and hating them than if we try to smear our feelings over with pseudo liberal sentimentality. If we’re frank about our feelings, we have a safety valve; and if we have a safety valve, we’re actually less likely to start persecuting. I know that theory is unfashionable nowadays. We all keep trying to believe that if we ignore something long enough it’ll just vanish….
“Where was I? Oh yes. Well, now, suppose this minority does get persecuted, never mind why – political, economic, psychological reasons. There always is a reason, no matter how wrong it is – that’s my point. And, of course, persecution itself is always wrong; I’m sure we all agree there. But the worst of it is, we now run into another liberal heresy. Because the persecuting majority is vile, says the liberal, therefore the persecuted minority must be stainlessly pure. Can’t you see what nonsense that is? What’s to prevent the bad from being persecuted by the worse? Did all the Christian victims in the arena have to be saints?
“And I’ll tell you something else. A minority has its own kind of aggression. It absolutely dares the majority to attack it. It hates the majority–not without a cause, I grant you. It even hates the other minorities, because all minorities are in competition: each one proclaims that its sufferings are the worst and its wrongs are the blackest. And the more they all hate, and the more they’re all persecuted, the nastier they become! Do you think it makes people nasty to be loved? You know it doesn’t! Then why should it make them nice to be loathed? While you’re being persecuted, you hate what’s happening to You, you hate the people who are making it happen; you’re in a world of hate. Why, you wouldn’t recognize love if you met it! You’d suspect love! You’d think there was something behind it – some motive – some trick…”
By this time, George no longer knows what he has proved or disproved, whose side, if any, he is arguing on, or indeed just exactly what he is talking about. And yet these sentences have blurted themselves out of his mouth with genuine passion. He has meant every one of them, be they sense or nonsense. He has administered them like strokes of a lash, to whip Wally awake, and Estelle too, and Myron, and all of them. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Wally continues to look embarrassed–but, no, neither whipped nor awakened. And now George becomes aware that Wally’s eyes are no longer on his face; they are raised and focused on a point somewhere behind him, on the wall above his head. And now, as he glances rapidly across the room, faltering, losing momentum, George sees all the other pairs of eyes raised also – focused on that damned clock. He doesn’t need to turn and look for himself; he knows he must be running overtime. Brusquely he breaks off, telling them, “We’ll go on with this on Monday.” And they all rise instantly to their feet, collecting their books, breaking into chatter.
A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood, 1964
Escolhi esse trecho em específico porque é meu favorito, em poucos parágrafos Isherwood mostra o limiar entre o caos e tolerância de ser professor, tendo muitas vezes de assumir uma posição hipócrita fingindo poder ensinar alguma coisa para alunos que não dão a mínima e, por isso, sequer sabem ler. É o mesmo que tentar ensinar uma criança a ler através de um livro de colorir figuras, ela está pouco ligando para as letrinhas miúdas, ela só quer usar o seu giz de cera. E não é preciso ir até a sala de aula para ver isso no dia-a-dia, é só se dar conta da quantidade de paraquedistas atrás do livro de colorir e que não vão além – quando a função do mesmo é ser chamariz para o salto em outro tipo de livro, o que faz pensar se a geração de daqui cinquenta anos conseguirá ler uma frase com mais de cinco palavras e se Dostoevsky e Proust estarão enterrados em algum monte de poeira. Isso soa por demais ao final de After Many a Summer, isso soa àqueles estudantes que não buscam compreender o sentido implícito (muitas vezes até explícitos) das coisas como pontua este Isherwood.
A transposição deste fragmento pelo Tom Ford? Foi interessante, optando por uma perspectiva singular (o mais interessante a ser feito no caso de uma única cena em um longa), ao focar sobretudo na questão da intolerância que é o mote principal desse trecho (no caso, a sexualidade do protagonista está sempre em jogo) e, mesmo que ser professor e querer ensinar já constitua por si só uma minoria de otimistas desacreditados, o protagonista estava frustrado em diversos setores de sua vida e essa decepção permanente era apenas uma das facetas de sua depressão, lembrada através da edição mostrando a cara de cu de alguns estudantes (ao passo que outros poucos demonstravam grande admiração) contrapostos ao olhar do Colin Firth. A verdade é que só este trecho já dava para se tornar um curta, troque o George pelo Wittgenstein e pode até virar filme de terror.