like a cuttlefish spurting out ink…

…when there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms.

📙 Politics and the English Language
 
The purpose of “Politics and the English Language,” it is said, is to inform people of how language used in ‘political writing’ is vague and incompetent so as to be abstract for the listener/reader. You see, ‘political language,’ according to George Orwell, is designed to make “lies sound truthful” and, “murder seem respectable.” As Joshua Castle says, Orwell’s classic essay, Politics and the English Language, should be any writers’ gold standard and that, “Orwell’s Six Rules should be hung from a wall in the office of every journalist, editor and academic; not to mention, every business consultant and political assistant.” He goes on to note, “alas my wishes will never materialise.” Nevermind (said with Leonard Cohen in mind), I’ll preface the essay below—served to you in both audio and type format—with those 1/2 dozen rules nevertheless:
 
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
 
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
 
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
 
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
 
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
 
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

 

Politics and the English Language — Orwell
Nevermind — Cohen

 


REFERENCE

Orwell, G. (1946). Politics and the English Language. Horizon, vol. 13(76), pp. 252–265.


 

📘 Politics and the English Language (PDF)

George Orwell
– –  – –  – –    – – –  – – –  – – –
POLITICS AND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language – so the argument runs – must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad – I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen – but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1.
 
I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien (sic) to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.
 
— Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression).

2.
 
Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.
 
— Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia).

3.
 
On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?
 
— Essay on psychology in Politics (New York).

4.
 
All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic Fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.
 
— Communist pamphlet.

5.
 
If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!
 
— Letter in Tribune.

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgels for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators, or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are: render inoperative, militate against, prove unacceptable, make contact with, be subject to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc. etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purposes verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved from anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

Pretentious diction. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up simple statements and give an air of scientific impartiality to biassed judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid processes of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien régime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, Gleichschaltung, Weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g., and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in English. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, sub-aqueous and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon opposite numbers.[1]  The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use a Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the -ize formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentatory and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.[2]  Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly even expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of régime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Pétain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit 3 above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations – race, battle, bread – dissolve into the vague phrase ‘success or failure in competitive activities’. This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing – no one capable of using phrases like ‘objective considerations of contemporary phenomena’ – would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyse these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains 49 words but only 60 syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains 38 words of 90 syllables: 18 of its words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (‘time and chance’) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its 90 syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier – even quicker, once you have the habit – to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences, since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry – when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech – it is natural to fall into a pretentious, latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash – as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot – it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in 53 words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip alien for akin, making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means. (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4) the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea-leaves blocking a sink. In (5) words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning – they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another – but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you – even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent – and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions, and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White Papers and the speeches of Under-Secretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, home-made turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases – bestial atrocities, iron heel, blood-stained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder – one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

While freely conceding that the Soviet régime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigours which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find – this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify – that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he ‘felt impelled’ to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence that I see: ‘(The Allies) have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.’ You see, he ‘feels impelled’ to write – feels, presumably, that he has something new to say – and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of fly-blown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence,[3]  to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defence of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a ‘standard English’ which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’. On the other hand it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is to surrender them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising, you probably hunt about till you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meanings as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose – not simply accept – the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impression one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

i.
 
Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

ii.
 
Never use a long word where a short one will do.

iii.
 
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

iv.
 
Never use the passive where you can use the active.

v.
 
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

vi.
 
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase – some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno or other lump of verbal refuse – into the dustbin where it belongs.

— § —


NOTES

[1] ^ (return)  An interesting illustration of this is the way in which the English flower names which were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning-away from the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific.

— § —

[2] ^ (return)  Example: ‘Comfort’s catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness… Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bullseyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bitter-sweet of resignation’. (Poetry Quarterly.)

— § —

[3] ^ (return)  One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.

— § —

n.b. The word Orwellian has turned the author’s own name into a capacious synonym for everything he hated and feared.

📙 Song of Solomon

REFERENCE
Morrison, T. (1977). Song of Solomon. New York: Alfred Knopf, Inc.

Oh. My. Word! We’ve Toni Morrison’s 1977 Song of Solomon

and, The Old Testament’s “Song of Solomon” c. 700 BC.

A coincidence? I don’t think so.

The title’s linkage to the Bible’s chapter of the same name may serve to underscore the fact that Morrison’s novel addresses age-old themes — underscoring this contention is the fact that there is a lot of allusion to Homer’s Odyssey in Song of Solomon as well. The biblical book “Song of Solomon” by the way, depicts a conversation between two lovers, Solomon and a beautiful, dark-skinned Shulamite lady.

Furthermore, not only is Morrison’s Song of Solomon full of characters with biblical names but also, “Song of Solomon,” a.k.a. “song of songs,” happens to be the most erotic section of the Bible; indeed it champion’s the majesty of lovemaking (elsewhere in the bible sex is treated as a sinful act unless it is for the express purpose of reproduction). In Morrison’s Song of Solomon sexual gratification, lack of sexual satisfaction, and sexual rejection are key subtexts: one female protagonist for example is bereft of conventional sexual pleasure leading to a hinted at, somewhat unconventional, form of self-pleasure (think titillation from breastfeeding — according to the Ministry of Happiness: “A lactating mother may become sexually aroused during breastfeeding […] and this is not abnormal”).

Some say Song of Solomon is designed to spell S.O.S. (Save Our Soul) this too could equally be true — they are not mutually exclusive. (In terms of word play, just see how Morrison so expertly disects “cannon fodder” in her 1988 essay, Unspeakable Things Unspoken.)

In this summary and analysis of Song of Solomon, I’ll point to the following:

01. — Key facts & Characters
02. — Synopsis
03. — Analysis
04. — Chapter by chapter

But first I shall dwell a bit on “Song of Solomon,” the otherwise austere, erotica-wise, Bible’s momentary lapse into Arabian Nights, Carnal Prayer Mat, Karma Sutra, Perfumed Garden -style poetry & prose. I say austere erotica-wise but let’s be frank! remember what Lot and his daughters got up to 😉 Never mind that though because we can more categorically say this: within this Hebrew and Greek tome, the pleasures of sex are rarely celebrated; all too often sex is equated with depravity, not ecstasy.

“Song of Solomon” is the anomaly. According to Ben Christian (2016), it contains, “unbridled horniness.” Examples include, “Going down to the nut orchard” (Song of Solomon, 6:11) and, spooning etc. (Song of Solomon, 2:6-7, 3:4-5 & 8:3-4). In one part of the Song, one can clearly visualise the progression as a lover progresses up the body of their beloved:


[feet & legs]
How graceful are your feet in sandals, O queenly maiden!
Your rounded thighs are like jewels / the work of a master hand.

[between the legs & belly]
Your navel is a rounded bowl / that never lacks mixed wine.
Your belly is a heap of wheat / encircled with lilies.

[breasts]
Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.
[neck & face]
Your neck is like an ivory tower.
Your eyes are pools in Heshbon, / by the gate of Bath-rabbim.
Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon, / overlooking Damascus.

[head & hair]
Your head crowns you like Carmel,
and your flowing locks are like purple; a king is held captive in the tresses.


— Song of Solomon, 7:1-3

In it, lovers spend a night among flowers that are blooming and blossoms that are opening. Part of the song is about pomegranates, which are swollen and red when ripe, and about mandrakes, which were considered the strongest aphrodisiac in the ancient world (O’Neal, 2018). Think the implication of the image of doors opening to every delicacy:


[4]
Your neck is like a tower of ivory,
your eyes like pools in Heshbon
by the gate of Bath-rabbim.
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon
looking toward Damascus.

[5]
Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel,
the hair of your head like purple cloth—
a king could be held captive in your tresses.

[6]
How beautiful you are and how pleasant,
my love, with such delights!

[7]
Your stature is like a palm tree;
your breasts are clusters of fruit.

[8]
I said, “I will climb the palm tree
and take hold of its fruit.”
May your breasts be like clusters of grapes,
and the fragrance of your breath like apricots.


— Song of Solomon, 7:4-8

She responds following the “W” in verse 9, completing his sentence and echoing her mutual desire:


[9]
Your mouth is like fine wine—
W flowing smoothly for my love,
gliding past my lips and teeth!

[10]
I belong to my love,
and his desire is for me.


— Song of Solomon, 7:9-10

In verse 11, according to Coogan (n.d.), the act of lovemaking has begun:


[11]
Come, my love,
let’s go to the field;
let’s spend the night among the henna blossoms.

[12]
Let’s go early to the vineyards;
let’s see if the vine has budded,
if the blossom has opened,
if the pomegranates are in bloom.
There I will give you my love.

[13]
The mandrakes give off a fragrance,
and at our doors is every delicacy—
new as well as old.
I have treasured them up for you, my love.


— Song of Solomon, 7:11-13

The imagery contained in those verses penned two and a half millennia ago are eloquent and enchanting; a world away from puritanical absenteeism.

“Song of Solomon” Digested

01. — Key facts & Characters

Genre
Fiction; a mix of social commentary, magical realism and bildungsroman (a novel dealing with one person’s formative years and/or spiritual education).

Narrator
Omniscient narration (a literary technique of writing a narrative in third person, in which the narrator knows the feelings and thoughts of all the story’s characters).

Setting
Most of the story unfolds between 1931 and 1963 in an unnamed city in the State of Michigan and in (Part II) the States of Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Main protagonists
“Milkman” (Macon Dead III) & “Pilate” (Milkman’s paternal aunt — his dad’s sister).

Opening Action
Milkman’s mum witnesses the death of a delusional man — Mr Smith — who thinks he can fly… he jumps from a hospital roof but instead of flying with his homemade blue silk wings, he falls to his death.

Major theme
Milkman wants to be independent and leave the family home [he wants to ‘fly’] but this is difficult because he’s used to his luxury lifestyle at home.

Rising Action
Wanting to escape his restrictive family home, Milkman plots to rob the gold he thinks his Aunt Pilate has… she doesn’t have gold.

The Climax
After traveling from Michigan to Pennsylvania, Milkman finds a cave in which there was meant to be gold… there isn’t.

Falling Action
After finding no gold, Milkman focuses on a journey of personal self-discovery. He travels to Shalimar, Virginia, and unearths his family history.

Final Action
Milkman himself (we are led to think) jumps from a cliff and tries himself to fly… does he live or die? That’s left up to us to decide…

Characters

Milkman’s family tree; his roots; his origin story.

“Milkman” *
The main protagonist (a.k.a. Macon Dead III), born into a sheltered, privileged life, “Milkman” lacks compassion, is full of self-pity, and alienates himself from the African-American community. However, his discovery of his family history gives his life some purpose.

“Pilate” *
Milkman’s paternal aunt and the novel’s secondary protagonist. Born without a bellybutton, “Pilate” is physically and psychologically unlike the novel’s other characters. She is fearless and always cares for and looks after others (she as responsible for Milkman’s safe birth — his dad wanted him aborted).

“Macon Jr.”
Milkman’s father (a.k.a. Macon Dead II) is obsessed with money and emotionally dead; he dislikes his sister Pilate and is never sexually intimate with his wife.

“Guitar Bains”
Milkman’s best mate (in Part I of the novel) grew up in poverty and hates white people — whom he sees as responsible for all evil in the world. In Part II “Guitar” becomes Milkman’s enemy and seeks to murder him.

“Hagar”
Pilate’s granddaughter and Milkman’s lover (for a while). “Hagar” devotes herself to Milkman, even though he loses interest and frequently rejects her. Like her biblical namesake — a servant who, after bearing Abraham’s son is thrown out of the house by his barren wife, Sarah — Hagar is used and then abandoned by Milkman (she ends up dying of a broken heart). Her plight demonstrates a central theme in Song of Solomon: the inevitable abandonment of women who love their man too much.

“Macon Dead I”
Milkman’s grandfather (a.k.a, Jake) was abandoned as a small boy when his father, Solomon, flew back to Africa and his mother, Ryna, as a result went insane. Macon Dead I’s story ends up motivating Milkman’s quest for self-discovery.

“Ruth Foster Dead”
Milkman’s mum. “Ruth” feels unloved by everyone except her deceased father, Dr. Foster (she’s accused of being sexually intimate with him) and was also rather fond of breastfeeding Milkman way past the age of three — hence his nickname.

“Dr. Foster”
The first black doctor in the novel’s unnamed city (the father of “Ruth”). He was a self-hating racist who called other African-Americans “cannibals” and checks to see how light-skinned his granddaughters are when they were born.

“Reba”
Pilate’s daughter (a.k.a. Rebecca) she has a strong sexual drive but is attracted to abusive men.

“First Corinthians Dead”
Milkman’s sister.

“Magdalene”
Milkman’s sister (a.k.a. Lena).

“Circe”
A maid who worked for the wealthy Butler family and acted as the Midwife to delivered Macon Jr. and Pilate. In her later encounter with Milkman, Circe plays the same role as her namesake in Homer’s Odyssey — the Ancient Greek account of a lost mariner’s ten-year voyage home. Just as Homer’s Circe helps Odysseus find his way back to Ithaca, Morrison’s Circe provides crucial information that reconnects Milkman with his family history.

“Sing”
Milkman’s ‘grandmother’ who helps him connect the missing links of their family history through Solomon’s song.

“Solomon”
Milkman’s great-grandfather, who supposedly flew back to Africa but dropped his son Jake (“Macon Dead I”) shortly after taking off. Solomon’s flight is a physical demonstration of the liberation that is felt when a person escapes confining circumstances. However, Solomon’s crying wife, Ryna, and traumatised children (including Milkman’s grandfather) show that such escapism tends to have negative consequences also.

“Sweet”
A prostitute with whom Milkman linked up with off and on; demonstrate that the most gratifying relationships are those in which both partners treat each other as equals.


02. — Synopsis

Song of Solomon (SOS) is about searching for one’s origins.

Based on the African-American folktale about enslaved Africans who escape slavery by flying back to Africa (in an era before airplanes ✈️ were invented), SOS tells the story of “Milkman,” a young man alienated from himself and estranged from his family, his community, and his historical and cultural roots. He later goes on an odyssey to find these roots; ‘his’ roots.

The moral of this novel seems to be this:

One should know one’s roots, but should not get too fixated on the past at the expense of the here and now.

According to Toni Morrison, SOS is about the ways in which we discover who and what we are. She also suggests that fathers are integral to the survival of black families and the black community, “Fathers need to be physically and emotionally present in their children’s lives.” She points out however, that in contemporary American society, black fathers are often absent, leaving the demanding job of raising children to the mothers. Interestingly, to a certain degree, she depicts these men not as traitors or deserters but as strong, adventurous spirits responding to a powerful urge to move on and be free even if their children must ultimately pay the price for their fathers’ wandering ways [fly away, be free… mothers need not apply].

As Morrison said in a New York Times interview that touched upon SOS:


The fathers may soar, they may leave, but the children know who they are; they remember, half in glory and half in accusation.

Indeed, this is one of the points or main themes of SOS:

All the men have left someone, and it is the children who remember it, sing about it, mythologise it and, make it a part of their identity.

The novel’s narration comprises two distinct sections:

Part I — Chapters 01-09
Set in an unnamed town in the State of Michigan, It traces Milkman’s life from birth to the age of 32 and focuses on his aimless life as a young man. Mailman is caught between his father’s materialistic lifestyle and his Aunt Pilate’s traditional values. These chapters have a number of flashbacks for various of the book’s characters. We read that Milkman’s father, Macon, and Macon’s sister, Pilate, ran away from home after their father was murdered for protecting his land. However, after a disagreement between them, they each went their own way. Although both Macon and Pilate eventually end up in the same unnamed Michigan town, Macon refuses to speak to his sister, whom he feels is an embarrassment to his social position in the town. Part 1 ends with Milkman’s decision to leave Michigan in search of Pilate’s illusory gold — Milkman’s “inheritance” — which Macon is sure his sister hid in one of the many places she lived prior to coming to Michigan [including a cave].

Part II — Chapters 10-15
The second part of the book starts with Milkman’s arrival in Pennsylvania, where his paternal grandfather had built Lincoln’s Heaven, a prosperous farm for which he was killed. Unable to find Pilate’s gold there and prompted by the mysterious stories surrounding his ancestors, Milkman traces his ancestry to Virginia, where he meets his father’s “people” and discovers the true spiritual meaning of his inheritance. The novel’s ambiguous ending centers on Milkman’s “flight” across Solomon’s Leap — does he die like the delusional guy who thought he could fly in SOS’s opening lines… ?

In a nutshell:

1st

Song of Solomon opens with the death of Robert Smith, who jumps of off the hospital roof (that Milkman was born in the following day) believing he could fly… Smith’s attempt at flight and his subsequent death function as the symbolic heralding of the birth of “Milkman.” A crowd of people had gathered to watch the attempted flight, including Milkman’s mother, his two sisters, his aunt Pilate, and his friend, later in life, Guitar.

2nd

Milkman is now four years old. He is disinterested in family life and that of the community around him too. Also, at four years of age, Macon is given his nickname, “Milkman.” This is a result of his mother still breastfeeding him at this age — she seemingly gets a form of pleasure and/or escape – when she gets caught in the act, the nickname results.

3rd

Discovering at age four that humans cannot fly, Milkman loses all interest in himself and others. He grows up nourished by the love of his mother and his aunt, Pilate. He is taken care of by his sisters, First Corinthians and Magdalene, and adored by his lover and cousin, Hagar. Milkman does not reciprocate their kindness and grows up bored and privileged. In his lack of compassion, Milkman resembles his father, Macon Dead II, a ruthless landlord who pursues only the accumulation of wealth.

4th

Milkman’s grandfather, Macon Dead, received his odd name when a drunk Union soldier erroneously filled out his documents (his grandfather’s given name remains unknown to Milkman). Eventually, his grandfather was killed while defending his land. His two children — Milkman’s father and his Aunt Pilate — were irreversibly scarred by witnessing the murder of their father and became estranged from each other. Pilate has become a poor but strong and independent woman; Milkman’s father on contrast spends his time acquiring more and more money.

5th

By the time Milkman reaches the age of 32, he feels stifled living with his parents and wants to escape to somewhere else. Macon Jr. informs Milkman that Pilate may have millions of dollars in gold wrapped in a green tarp suspended from the ceiling of her rundown shack. With the help of his best friend, Guitar Bains, whom he promises a share of the loot, Milkman robs Pilate. Inside the green tarp, Milkman and Guitar find only some rocks and a human skeleton. We later learn that the skeleton is that of Milkman’s grandfather, Macon Dead I. Guitar is especially disappointed not to find the gold because he needs the funds to carry out his mission for the Seven Days, a secret society that avenges injustices committed against African-Americans by murdering innocent whites.

6th

Thinking that the gold might be in a cave near Macon’s old Pennsylvania farm, Milkman leaves his hometown in Michigan and heads south, promising Guitar a share of whatever gold he finds. Before he leaves, Milkman severs his romantic relationship with Hagar, who is driven mad by his rejection and tries to kill Milkman on multiple occasions. After arriving in Montour County, Pennsylvania, Milkman discovers that there is no gold to be found. He looks for his long-lost family history rather than for gold. Milkman meets Circe, an old midwife who helped deliver Macon Jr. and Pilate. Circe tells Milkman that Macon’s original name was Jake and that he was married to an Indian girl, Sing.

7th

Encouraged by his findings, Milkman heads south to Shalimar, his grandfather’s ancestral home in Virginia. Milkman does not know that he is being followed by Guitar, who wants to murder Milkman because he believes that Milkman has cheated him out of his share of the gold. Milkman finds that Jake’s father, his great-grandfather, was the legendary flying African, Solomon, who escaped slavery by flying back to Africa. Although Solomon’s flight was miraculous, it left a scar on his family that has lasted for generations. After an unsuccessful attempt to take Jake, his youngest son, with him on the flight, Solomon abandoned his wife, Ryna, and their 21 children. Unable to cope without a husband, Ryna went insane, leaving Jake to be raised by Heddy, an Indian woman whose daughter, Sing, he married.

8th

Milkman’s findings give him profound joy and a sense of purpose. Milkman becomes a compassionate, responsible adult. After surviving an assassination attempt at Guitar’s hands, Milkman returns home to Michigan to tell Macon Jr. and Pilate about his discoveries. At home, he finds that Hagar has died of a broken heart and that the emotional problems plaguing his family have not gone away. Nevertheless, Milkman accompanies Pilate back to Shalimar, where they bury Jake’s bones on Solomon’s Leap, the mountain from which Solomon’s flight to Africa began. Immediately after Jake’s burial, Pilate is struck dead by a bullet that Guitar had intended for Milkman.

9th

At the end of the book, Milkman re-enacts his great grandfather Solomon’s escape by choosing to fly [jump off a cliff] — whether his flight is successful depends on whether one judge’s his great grandfather’s escape as successful or mere whimsical myth.


03. — Analysis

THEMES

Themes are the key ideas explored in a given literary work.

Theme #1: Flight as a Means of Escape

While flight can be an escape from difficult circumstances, it may also harm and traumatise those who are left behind.

➥ Solomon’s flight allowed him to leave slavery in the Virginia cotton fields to go back to Africa was to fly Eastward across the Atlantic Ocean, but it also meant abandoning his wife and children.

➥ Milkman’s flight frees him from his depressive home environment, but it is selfish because it causes Hagar to die of heartbreak.

➥ Smith’s flight (or suicidal jump); the metaphorical flight of Pilate, who transcends the arbitrary boundaries of society.

➥ Other allusions include references to birds (hens, chickens, ravens, peacocks) and to characters whose names allude to birds (Singing Bird, Susan Byrd, Crowell Byrd).

*** Song of Solomon’s Epigraph — Morrison’s non-fictional philosophical introduction — seeks to break the connection between flight and abandonment: Pilate is able to fly without ever lifting her feet off the ground, she has mastered flight, managing to be free of subjugation without leaving anyone behind [she does end up being shot dead but, never mind that].

Theme #2: Abandoned Women

The repeated abandonment of women by men in SOS highlights how the book’s female protagonists suffer a double burden: oppressed by racism and paying the price for men’s freedom [their flights of fancy]. e.g., after suffering slavery, Solomon flew home to Africa without warning anyone of his departure… his wife, Ryna, who was also a slave, was forced to remain and raise the children.

*** In Song of Solomon, Milkman is told that black ‘men’ are the unappreciated workhorses of humanity, but the novel’s events demonstrate that black women more correctly fit this description.

SYMBOLS

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colours used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Symbol #1: Artificial Roses

First Corinthians and Lena — Milkman’s two sisters — make artificial roses that represent the stifling life of the upper class and the oppression of women. The roses do not bring in much money; the true purpose of the activity is to provide a mindless distraction from their boredom.

➥ Typically in literature, living roses symbolise love, thus the artificial roses symbolise the absence of love in Macon Jr.’s household.

Symbol #2: Gold

Gold represents Macon Jr.’s obsessive pursuit of wealth — he spends a lifetime pursuing gold without any greater goal than getting more of it.

➥ Typically in literature gold is depicted as being irresistible to man. Gold makes them forget right from wrong: Milkman robs his aunt, Pilate, because of Gold; Guitar’s desire for gold motivates him to try and murder Milkman.

MOTIFS

Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Motif #1: Biblical Allusions

Toni Morrison gives her characters biblical names. Various characters in SOS carry with them not only their own personal history as described in the novel, but also the history of a biblical namesake. A good example is the biblical Hagar. She was is Sarah’s handmaiden, who bears Sarah’s husband Abraham a son and is then banished from his sight. In a similar way, Hagar in SOS is used by Milkman.

Motif #2: Names

In SOS, names show the effects of both oppression and liberation. Before Milkman uncovers his grandfather’s true name, he is known as Macon “Dead,” the same name that white oppressors gave his grandfather. When Milkman finds out his grandfather’s true name he begins to feel proud of himself and his family.

➥ “Milkman” shows (1) the connection of the son to the mother — breastfeeding — and (2) that the family live off of the rent of others, they, as landlords, milk others…

➥ “Circe,” for instance, shares her name with an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey who provides Odysseus with crucial help for his voyage homeward. Likewise, Morrison’s Circe directs Milkman toward his ancestral home and allows him to bridge a gap in his family history.

➥ Guitar’s last name, “Bains,” which is a homonym for “banes,” or sources of distress. His name suggests both the oppression he has suffered and his profession as an assassin.

➥ “Pilate” is a homonym for “pilot.” She guides Milkman along his journey to spiritual redemption.

Motif #3: Songs

In SOS, singing and songs are shown to be an important way to link the present with the past in terms of one’s roots and family history.

➥ For Milkman, Solomon’s song contains the secrets to his inheritance, the path back to his “people.”

➥ The songs Milkman hears about Solomon and Ryna inform him of the mysterious fate of his ancestors and keep him on the path to self-discovery.

***
Understanding the significance of Solomon’s song is a key to understanding the novel. This is because it is the language of the song that eventually reveals the secrets of Milkman’s past. Once Milkman understands this he is able to view his life not simply as a series of random, disconnected events but as part of a vital link between the past and future.

LANGUAGE

Throughout Song of Solomon, characters’ abilities to manipulate language reveal their abilities to cope with reality. Note, for example, Pilate’s language, which incorporates puns, proverbs, parables, and folk sayings, and which flows freely from standard English, to black vernacular, to the poetic/sermonic language of the Bible, as opposed to Macon’s language, which is marked by literal statements, nonstandard English, and racial epithets.

Homeric epithets are compound adjectives, such as “wine-dark sea,” “bright-eyed Athena,” and “rosy-fingered dawn.”

Morrison’s use of Homeric epithets, underscore the message that this story of one young man’s quest for identity is part of the universal quest for identity common to all humanity. Examples used in SOS include: “the cat-eyed boy” and “the baked-too-fast sunshine cake.”

SUBTEXT

Toni Morrison expects us readers to note not only what is being said but what is left unsaid in Song of Solomon. As she points out in here 1988 essay, Unspeakable Things Unspoken:


Invisible things are not necessarily ‘not there,’ [and] a void may be empty, but it is not a vacuum… Certain absences are so stressed, so ornate, so planned, they call attention to themselves.

➥ Think of Pilate’s missing belly button, which is conspicuous by its absence.


See more analysis here
📙 Song of Solomon (in depth)


04. — Chapter by chapter

Chapter 1

The first chapter of Song of Solomon sets the stage for the rest of the novel and points out its central elements: the theme of flight; the complex interplay of class, race, and gender; the significance of (Biblical) names and main characters.

— Also, the narrative’s unique structure: a mixing of the present, the past, and the future and presents numerous stories from various characters’ perspectives is introduced to us readers. Because the narrator functions only as a detached observer who simply reports things as they happen, the characters tell their own stories, and the community comments on or responds to these characters’ actions. This call-and-response pattern between the characters’ individual voices and the community’s collective voice originates in the African oral tradition.

— Moreover, we readers learn that Morrison demands ‘participatory reading.’ Readers of SOS are expected to fill-in the spaces of the narrative, connecting various seemingly unrelated details as they are revealed. [as a consequence, readers get apparently disjointed fragments of stories that are understandable only in retrospect — by additional information in later chapters.


See the remainder of the chapter by chapter analysis here
📙 Song of Solomon (in depth)



Set me like a seal on your heart,
like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as Death,
passion as harsh as Sheol:
its sparks are sparks of fire,
flames of the divine.


— Song of Solomon, 8:6

 


END NOTES

Christian, B. (2016). Biblical Foreplay. Card Play.
Coogan, M. (n.d.). Sex in the Song of Songs. Bible Odyssey.
O’Neal, S. (2018). The Sexiest Chapter in the Bible. Learning Religions.
SparkNotes Editors. (2002). SparkNote on Song of Solomon. SparkNotes.
Washington, D. A. (n.d.). Song of Solomon. CliffsNotes.

Unspeakable, unspoken.

young_americans
Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go

Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature
— by Toni Morrison


I planned to call this paper “Canon Fodder,” because the term put me in mind of a kind of trained muscular response that appears to be on display in some areas of the recent canon debate. Also I liked the clash and swirl of those two words. At first they reminded me of that host of young men — black or “ethnics” or poor or working-class — who left high school for the war in Vietnam and were perceived by war resisters as “fodder.” Indeed many of those who went, as well as those who returned, were treated as one of that word’s definitions: “coarse food for livestock,” or, in the context of my thoughts about the subject of this paper, a more applicable definition: “people considered as readily available and of little value.” Rude feed to feed the war machine. There was also the play of cannon and canon. The etymology of the first includes tube, cane, or cane-like, reed. Of the second, sources include rod becoming body of law, body of rules, measuring rod. When the two words faced each other, the image became the shape of the cannon wielded on (or by) the body of law. The boom of power announcing an “officially recognized set of texts.” Cannon defending canon, you might say. And without any etymological connection I heard father in fodder, and sensed father in both cannon and canon, ending up with “father food.” And what does this father eat? Readily available people/texts of little value. But I changed my mind (so many have used the phrase) and hope to make clear the appropriateness of the one I settled on.

My purpose here is to observe the panoply of this most recent and most anxious series of questions concerning what should or does constitute a literary canon in order to suggest ways of addressing the Afro-American presence in American Literature that require neither slaughter nor reification — views that may spring the whole literature of an entire nation from the solitude into which it has been locked. There is something called American literature that, according to conventional wisdom, is certainly not Chicano literature, or Afro-American literature, or Asian-American, or Native American, or… It is somehow separate from them and they from it, and in spite of the efforts of recent literary histories, restructured curricula, and anthologies, this separate confinement, be it breached or endorsed, is the subject of a large part of these debates. Although the terms used, like the vocabulary of earlier canon debates, refer to literary and/or humanistic value, aesthetic criteria, value-free or socially anchored readings, the contemporary battle plain is most often understood to be the claims of others against the white male origins and definitions of those values; whether those definitions reflect an eternal, universal, and transcending paradigm or whether they constitute a disguise for a temporal, political, and culturally specific program.


Read the full essay…

REFERENCE
Morrison, Toni. “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature.” (1988).

001_hw_dig_cropped
Artist Hale Aspacio Woodruff was commissioned to paint the Amistad Murals in 1938.
006_hw_dig_cropped
Here, Woodruff portrays the repatriation of freed slaves in Africa.
009_hw_dig_cropped
In this 1939 mural, Woodruff depicts the trial of the Africans aboard the Amistad.
007_hw_dig_cropped
In his 1942 mural The Underground Railroad, Woodruff shows slaves about to cross the Ohio River to freedom.
“Shotgun, Third Ward #1”
“Shotgun, Third Ward #1”
by John Biggers (1966)

Better the 😈 u no /

But is it, for I’m now drowning in disquiet /
Charybdis to the left, Scylla to the right //

We have little recourse but to strike a “Faustian bargain” — we’ve to forge, in other words, “a pact with the devil.”

DEF.
A deal whereby a person exchanges something of moral importance, e.g., their values (or their soul), for something more tangible like say knowledge, power and/or riches.

Who the hell’s this “we”? I hear absolutely nobody ask, but they continue: Is it a literal or a Royal ‘we’? No, I reply to the void that’s devoid of humankind of any kind, it is an allegorical we used only to illustrate and introduce the phrase that’s under the lighthouse’s glare today:

Faustian bargain.
A Faustian bargain

According to traditional European beliefs — like those held in the Middle Ages and the Elizabethan Era — such bargains were between a person and Satan and have been linked to the quaint pastime of hunting witches (see 📙 Hammer of Witches). Based on some age-old folklore stuff, such pacts came to form a cultural motif — one of a myriad really that carry over from Europe’s medieval past to today’s globalised world. Pacts may have been entered into under duress but also, we may suppose, voluntarily (out of let’s say boredom or a desire for the darker more debauched modes of worldly gratification). Where then to start? When seeking to understand this phrase, where should we begin? With love (amour) possibly [sic]:

Love is, after-all, the great destroyer (and the great healer) the Master of the game of thrones (and the supreme leveller). Love is, after-all, the root of all that\s bad (and the root of all that’s so damn good). It gnaws our nerves and forbids us our sleep. It is elemental, it is fundamental. But no. It would be better to begin with the Polar opposite (lexically speaking). We would be better off focusing on hate and hatred. I mean to say our penchant for loathing, licentious lust and diabolical debauchery of the dirtier kind are what epitomise our desire for the (so-called, loaded and pejorative) dark side. Our poetic nude *muse* both loves and hates [that autocorrect I’m gunna leave!] Oh life! It’s a love/hate relationship isn’t it so? In this dimly lit regard — on the side where lights flicker, fade and die — allow me to introduce the devil — for it’s him or her that comprises part of the synonymous phrase: “to make a deal/pact with the Devil.” The devil, you see, is said to be the (conceptual) entity that sent the snake to seduce Eve, the thing that shoulders the blame for ‘making’ us (or tantalisingly tempting us) to permit a hand or two to wander South every once in a while.

The devil (Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Satan, Shaitan) is a key protagonist in the three religions of the book and the one that seduces humans into committing sinful doings (oh how convenient a scapegoat). The story implies that the devil may have been a fallen angel (good turned bad) and/or some form of ghostly Jinn, who was once all sweet and cherub-like, but then rebelled and’s turned aquiline n chiselled… (why this entity is allowed to exist — within the mythical fairy tale — and wreak his/her havoc upon us is a question for another post; why’d the creator not simply expunge him/her?). As a kind soul wrote in their contribution to the Wikipedia canon, “in the Synoptic Gospels, The Devil tempts Jesus in the desert and is identified as the cause of illness and temptation” (emphasis is my own). In the Elizabethan Era Satan’s significance greatly increased as beliefs such as demonic possession and witchcraft came to the fore (became the fashion, were en vogue). In the Quran, Shaitan (شياطين/Iblis), is an entity made of fire who was cast out of Heaven because he refused to bow before Adam… As the same or another kind soul altruistically contributed, the devil, “incites humans to sin by infecting their minds with evil suggestions” (وسواس/waswās).

LUCIFER…
(Forgive me, I digress)

Lucifer is a Latin name for the planet Venus (that itself stems from the Ancient Greek name Ἑωσφόρος, ‘dawn-bringer’ or ‘light-bringer’). In Greco-Roman civilization, it was often personified and considered a god — a similar name used by the Roman poet Catullus for the planet in its evening aspect is “Noctifer” (‘night-bringer’). Ovid, in Metamorphoses, writes:

“Aurora, watchful in the reddening dawn, threw wide her crimson doors and rose-filled halls; the Stellae took flight, in marshaled order set by Lucifer who left his station last.”

However, interpretations of “Lucifer” from Latin and English versions of the Bible led to the tradition of applying the name, and the associated stories of a fall from heaven, to Satan (see e.g., Isaiah 14:12) — that this is now known to be a misinterpretation matters not.

Lucifer_from_Petrus_de_Plasiis_Divine_Comedy_1491“Lucifer”
A plate from an early print of Dante’s, 📙 The Divine Comedy (c. 1491).

ParadiseLost
“Lucifer arousing rebel angels”
An illustration by William Blake in an 18th c. volume of John Milton’s 1667 Paradise Lost.

u1_978-3-596-16403-5Delta of Venus (Analogous with Crimson Doors?)
Written in the 1940s, published posthumously in 1977.

The devil you see, and how we deal with temptation and how we reconcile with moral responsibility in relation to our actions are integral to the curious case of Faust (the case ain’t so curious but references and claims to it are, for me at least, somewhat confusing). (Dr.) Faust(us) and the figure of Mephistopheles (the devil or his/her envoy — the German word is derived from the Greek: he who shuns the light) are said to best be able to articulate this bargain — indeed, it’s in the phrase’s name! The thing is, and this for me is the initially confusing part, there’s Marlowe’s, Goethe’s and Mann’s Faust. In fact, there’s a Faust for every era and — should you decide to believe it so — there’s a Faust in each and every one of us.

Faust entered the German canon in 1587 — The Historia von D. Johann Fausten that was, one can but logically assume, based on the life and times of an actual alchemist Johann Georg Faust (c.1480–1541). Faust is documented as being a traveling astrologer and alchemist who attracted tales of demonic association, “as if by inter-molecular force.” In the Historia, Dr Faust conjures up Mephistopheles in the woods and makes him an offer: his soul in exchange for 24 years of absolute power and knowledge. ((Why 24?)) With the devil at a poodle dog side-kick Faust wines and dines with the greats of his times and previous millennia, pompous popes to the sumptuous Helen of Troy. After his 8,760 days of total power etc. The devil takes his dues (gets his/her side of the bargain) in the hours after dawn on day 8,761, Faust’s innards are discovered splattered around his bedroom, the remainder of him is scattered around his garden. ((But come on, how many of us would turn down such a pact outright? two dozen years of everything in exchange for a grizzly end? I’d bet that in 24 years you’ll have sated every desire and whim imaginable; seen it all, experienced it all and knowing all there is to know would mean that on the eve of your death you’d be able to tranqualise yourself with the requisite levels of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin to take the edge off of things and ease the impending goddamned pain.))

Christopher Marlowe

Less than a decade on from the publication of The Historia von D. Johann Fausten in Germany came the English version as a play written by Christopher Marlowe: The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (which premiered in 1594 to one hell of a lot of puritanical condemnation — you know, the sort of condemnation one gives after experiencing all of the titillation first!). According to Simon (2016), the Puritan pamphleteer and ideologue William Prynne (1600–1669), in his massive 1633 anti-theatrical tome Histriomastix, recounted diabolical legends surrounding this most infernal of plays. One story has it that at the Rosie Lee Theatre in London — amongst the pubs, brothels, and bear-baiting pits — that today sits under a car park and a budget hotel, the devil himself was spotted in the audience.

In Marlowe’s play, the protagonist — Dr. Faustus — is torn between faith and doubt, insignificance and omnipotence, sin and salvation, and particularly between freedom and fate. ((Yes we might take the 24 year unadulterated headonism bargain but, known again, in the dead of night, we surely will feel guilt and remorse etc.)). As Simon (2016) parallels, “Dr. Faustus is a creature, and in part a creator, of our world. (What could be a more Faustian bargain than ours, in which we gain immense technological power under the perennial threat of complete ecological collapse?”

If Dr. Faustus is one of the first modern men, then so was Marlowe. He certainly lived by the sword, kept fast company — meeting with Sir Walter Raleigh and the astrologer John Dee in graveyards to discuss forbidden things — and died young. He is aid to have shared a bed with Thomas Kyd, and allegedly said, “they that love not tobacco and boys are fools.” More shockingly — for the Elizabethan Era — he was also meant to have mentioned to a memoirist that, “Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest.”

😈 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Faust (worked on for some 50 plus years: 1772–1830) is a tragic play in two parts by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It is considered by many to be the greatest work of German literature. As I recently read this neat comparison: in the 16th c., Faust bartered mortality for knowledge; in the 19th c., he made a gentleman’s wager to achieve Romantic transcendence.

As Giovetti (2019) paints it, Goethe became the grandmaster of the Frastian bargain legend after his work and the plays of it became known. However, by now the tale was more nuanced than it was in Marlowe’s day. Goethe’s Faust bemoans in Part I, “Two souls are locked in conflict in my heart/They fight to separate and pull apart.” This chronic dissatisfaction, rather than the specifics of his contract, becomes Faust’s downfall — as well as the downfall of Marguerite, a love interest he seduces once he regains his youth, but is incapable of fully loving. His bargain with Mephistopheles becomes a bet: He’ll serve the Dark Lord if and when he finds pure, unadulterated happiness within the totality of the human experience. Until then, he’ll take a particularly Romantic reward: “a frenzied round of agonising joy, loving hate, of stimulating discontent,” and “the whole experience of humankind, to seek its heights, its depths.” Goethe’s Faust is one of the first to become relatable rather than revilable. In the wonderfully put words of Giovetti:

In Goethe’s Faust, we can see our own desires and dissatisfaction, as opposed to a cautionary tale that reminds us to suppress those same desires.

😈 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈

Thomas Mann

Winner of the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature, Thomas Mann was born in Germany in 1875. After his political writings were burned in 1933, he emigrated from Nazi Germany to Switzerland… from there it was to ‘Merika but as a result of numerous essays, lectures, and tours, that denounced tyranny in all its forms — including McCarthyism – led him to emigrate once more to Switzerland. Thomas Mann took the mantle and Faust with his 1947 work, Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn, as Told by a Friend.

The legend of Faust is born of the Western ambivalence toward individual responsibility.

What can we say? We can say this: each telling of Faust is a telling of the times — think of the dystopian novel, it tends to tell us of contemporary fears ported to future dates — As Mann’s Devil says, “how I look… happeth… according to the circumstances…” In Mann’s, work, the protagonist laments that nothing remains in heaven or earth of which he has not already mused about and so decides to (metaphorically) sell his soul to Mephistopheles in exchange for knowledge and power. In reference to the populism of the Trump era, Crain (2019) suggests that another phrase for “Make America Great Again” might be “Reaction as Progress” — this is how Mann, borrowing from Nietzsche, described the ethos of Germany’s Third Reich.

😈 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈


REFERENCES
Crain, T. (2019). “Making Faust Great Again.” Epiphany
Giovetti, O. (2019). “‘Faust’ Was the Original Viral Content.” Electric Lit.
Simon, E. (2016). “One Devil Too Many.” The Paris Review
 
References

Roman Love &c.

6Roman Love 😀 Let’s b Wild9


For Latin usage in Academic English including using: et al., ibid, op. sit etc., click here

&c. — (et cetera) = …and other things.

et al. — (et alii) = and others, used especially in referring to academic books or articles that have more than one author.

n.b., — (nota bene) = pay special attention to something.

… Because here, we shall focus on the four letter word (n.b., it’s not the ‘F word):

amor vincit omnia

“love conquers all”
* Inscribed on a bracelet worn by the Prioress in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales; and is originally from Virgil, Eclogues, 10, 69: omnia vincit amor: et nos cedamus amori (“love conquers all: let us too surrender to love”).


nunc scio quid sit amor

“now I know what love is”
* From Virgil, Eclogues, VIII.


nunc scio quid sit amor

“I hate and I love”
* The opening of Catullus 85; the entire poem reads, “odi et amo quare id faciam fortasse requiris / nescio sed fieri sentio et excrucior” (I hate and I love. Why do I do this, you perhaps ask. / I do not know, but I feel it happening to me and I am burning up.)


quos amor verus tenuit tenebit

“Those whom true love has held, it will go on holding”
* by Seneca


ubi amor, ibi dolor

— “where [there is] love, there [is] pain”


requiescat in pace

* R.I.P. “may he/she rest in peace.” Used as a short prayer for a dead person, frequently found on tombstones.


As Roman poet Sextus Propertius said:

Sine sensu vivere amantis, et levibus curis magna perire bona

— “Lovers live without sense and, great affairs perish because of petty concerns.”

I’ll end by focusing on Propertius a little bit. He was born around 50–45 BC and is thought to have died in around 16 BC. He was a contemporary of and friend of the poets Catullus and Virgil. I’ll focus on him because these following quotes are attributed to him:

Love can be put off, never abandoned.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Afflicted by love’s madness all are blind.

Propertius is known today for around 100 poems penned in the elegiac couplet. Like the work of nearly all the elegists, Propertius’ work is dominated by the figure of a single woman: Cynthia (which was/is a pseudonym)

Cynthia prima suis miserum me cepit ocellis / contactum nullis ante cupidinibus.

Cynthia first captivated wretched me with her eyes / I who had never before been touched by Cupid.


p.s.
See too, Greek ‘n’ Roman love

Academic referencing

When in Rome, do as Romans do.

Academic Referencing

Ladies of Rome! lend me your attention — If you use someone else’s work (i.e., facts and figures and/or opinions and thoughts), you really must acknowledge this; see it as saying “thank-you” and come on! who wouldn’t wanna say thank you to someone who gives/lends your something. Typically you’d do this both within the text (citations) and at the end of the text in a list of references.
n.b., a ‘List of References’ is not the same thing as a ‘Bibliography.’*

For my guide to APA, click here

For my guide to CMS, click here


End notes

* A reference list should only include the sources you have cited in the body of your work. Whereas a bibliography may list those cited sources as well as any other books that were relevant to your general argument/thesis.

Bibliography
1] A list of the books referred to in a scholarly work, typically printed as an appendix. — Similar: list of references / book list / catalogue
2] A list of the books of a specific author or publisher, or on a specific subject.
3] The history or systematic description of books, their authorship, printing, publication, editions, etc.


Reference
A mention or citation of a source of information in a book or article. — “Each chapter referenced the nooks she’d used to formulate her theory on Nature as God.”

Common oxymorons

…are they paradoxical?

  • Act naturally.
  • Alone together.
  • Amazingly awful.
  • Bittersweet.
  • Clearly confused.
  • Dark light.
  • Deafening silence.
  • Definitely maybe.

Oxymoron
A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (e.g. faith unfaithful kept him falsely true).


Paradox
1] a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true.
2] a statement or proposition which, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems logically unacceptable or self-contradictory.
3] a person or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities.


Black and White
Day & Night

French /&/ Latin

Française || Français
Latine || Latius

You’ll no that English is dead flexible and versatile and so on and so fourth. It is genderless but it isn’t written how it sounds phone should be fone but it ain’t so

Dominarum ex Roma, audi me!!

Audite me nimis 😉

2 b clear, I am saying, when you come to do background reading for your academic essays, and dissertations etc., you will see lots of French words and lots of Latin words in what your read. Therefore (not however / not moreover) you may like to see these two introductory guides I did made:

French in English

Latin in English

Read Rainbow

French in English

29% {twenty nine per cent}

Poetry & Prose

It is estimated that some 10,000 purely French words are used in English — around 29 per cent of the total. The focus here will be on a few French phrases that are seen as still being ‘French imports.’ These you will sometimes see in italics when used in English text (but the more frequently used, the less so). A great many of the other French words have become so ingrained into English that they are actually considered as English ones (e.g., voyeur, sabotage, entrepreneur, critique, ballet) and thus, aren’t italisised.


Latin words make up around another 30 per cent of today’s modern English vocabulary. For Latin terms used in academic English click here.


Apropos

preposition
With reference to something/someone. “Jameela remarked apropos the seminar, ‘It’s not going to cut ice with the other side.'”

adjective
Very appropriate to a particular situation. “The book’s reference to power politics is apropos for the current situation.”


Art nouveau

A style of decorative art, architecture, and design prominent in western Europe and the USA from about 1890 until the First World War (1914) and characterised by intricate linear designs and flowing curves based on natural forms.


Au fait

To have a good or detailed knowledge of something. “Jameela was fully au fait with English literature.”


Carte blanche

Literally: “white card” but means to be given the complete freedom to act as one wishes. “The architect given carte blanche to design the house.”


Cliché

A phrase or opinion that is overused (and therefore shows a lack of original thought).


Déjà vu

A feeling of having already experienced the present situation.


De rigueur

Required or expected, especially in terms of following fashion.


Détente

The easing of diplomatic tension. The reduction of problems/hostility, especially between countries. “The UK’s policy of detente acted to improve relations with Russia.”


Façade

The front view of an object (from the Italian facciata, or face). It can also mean a fake persona, as in “putting on a façade” (the ç is pronounced like an s).


Fait accompli

Literally: “accomplished fact.” Something that has already happened and is thus unlikely to be reversed; ‘a done deal.’


Faux pas

“False step”: A breaking of accepted (but unwritten) social rules.


Laissez-faire

(To) “Let do.” This term is often used within the context of economic policy or political philosophy, meaning: leaving something alone, or to not interference with something.


Objet d’art

A work of art, commonly a painting or sculpture; also a utilitarian object displayed for its aesthetic qualities.


Panache

Verve; flamboyance. To do something with panache, is to do that something with style.


Par excellence

“By excellence”: quintessential. The finest example of something.


Pastiche

A derivative work; an imitation; a cheap copy and paste job.


Per se

adverb
By or in itself or themselves; intrinsically. “It is not these facts per se that are important.”


Rapprochement

The establishment of cordial relations, often used in diplomacy.


Raison d’être

The most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence.


Riposte

A quick retort in speech or action, or in fencing, a quick thrust after parrying a lunge.


Tête-à-tête

“Head to head.” An intimate get-together or private conversation between two people.


Touché

Acknowledgment of an effective counterpoint; literally ‘touched’ or ‘hit!’


Vis-à-vis

“Face to face [with].” In comparison with or in relation to; opposed to.


Volte-face

A complete reversal of opinion or position, about face.


More cultural and less academic:

Derrière

Rear; buttocks; literally, one’s “behind.”


Dieu et mon droit

“God and my right.” Motto of the British Monarchy; appears on a scroll beneath the shield of the coat of arms of Great Britain.


Enfant terrible

A “terrible child.” A person who behaves in an unconventional or controversial way.


Femme fatale

“Deadly woman”: an attractive woman who seduces and takes advantage of men for her personal goals, after which she discards or abandons them.


Film noir

A genre of dark-themed movies from the 1940s onward that focus on stories of crime and immorality.


Ménage à trois

“Household for three”: a sexual arrangement between three people; a “threesome.”


Renaissance

Rebirth, a cultural movement in the 14-17th centuries.


Voyeur

Literally, “someone who sees.” Somebody who looks at someone without them knowing; a.k.a., a “peeping Tom.”


Sometimes
Sometimes it’s alright not to be alright

‘Damned if you do,’

(and) damned if you don’t.

While some will know the meanings of these adages:

Damned if you do, damned if you don't
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t
(Caught/Stuck/Trapped) between the devil and the deep blue sea.
(Caught/Stuck/Trapped) between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Between a rock and a hard place.
Between a rock and a hard place.
If you are like me, you’ll not have known that they all stem from:

Being between Scylla and Charybdis

…an idiom deriving from Greek mythology (but doesn’t so much seem to stem from Ancient Greece?!?). Being stuck between Scylla and Charybdis informs the more recent proverbial advice, that is, “to choose the lesser of two evils.” This is true too for the saying, “on the horns of a dilemma.” But nowadays, phrases like: (1) “between the devil and the deep blue sea,” (2) “between a rock and a hard place” and (3), “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” imply both evils are as bad as each other. In essence these phrases now mean having to choose between two equally bad choices which both lead (almost categorically) to disaster. Is this the same as a Hobson’s choice, well yes I think so, see this post: Hobson’s choice, explained. (I mean, there really isn’t a choice is there, take the left fork and you’ll be screwed, take the right fork and you’ll be fucked (either, or, not in any pleasurable sense)).

“Britannia between Scylla and Charybdis.”
A satirical cartoon/sketch commenting on a British political dilemma of yesteryear.
Scylla and Charybdis were mythical sea monsters/dangers noted by Homer in the Iliad. Scylla was said to be a rock shoal (described as a six-headed sea monster) on one side of a Mediterranean strait and Charybdis was a whirlpool off the coast of the other side (they were regarded as maritime hazards located close enough to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors)–would either mode of death be the lesser of two evils?

Are these, strictly speaking, allegories? Do they reveal a hidden meaning? Not really. Look here and decide if you agree of disagree: Allegorically speaking…

Anyway,

Now on to the point and purpose of this post:

I am damned if I do

because it was said to me

“If you love me, you’ll leave me the fuck alone”

and thus, by not contacting you, I am currently dying repeatedly on the inside; this occurs during every minute of every waking hour. Therefore, I am:

damned if I don’t.

Get me? Do you get what I’m saying to you my sweet succulent honey bee? I’m dead without you; you became and now are my:

raison d’être

/French noun/
— the most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence