Making more progress on the Clemmie sequel. Other than my brother and sister, who’s my audience for this? Maybe nobody. Does it matter? My writer ego thinks I should create product for a wider distribution. But there’s a necessity to this writing in its ability to purge trauma and honor trumpet playing. Isn’t that enough?
Last night in the writing group, Lawrence asked me a really good question about the quote from Hamlet. His perception was that the character was being sarcastic in talking about the nobility of man, when he was pretty much fed up with humanity. I took issue with his use of the word sarcasm; I said I thought Hamlet was being ironic. Irony: characterized by often poignant difference or incongruity between what is expected and what actually is. Then, very badly, I tried to explain why I put it in my essay about The Star Baby.
I blame coronavirus brain for my inarticulate explanation. Basically, what I tried to say was these days the only thing you see on the news is coverage of how badly the government is handling the virus, or images of protests caused by an unspeakable act by a police officer in Minneapolis. Nonetheless, we have to see beyond today and believe we will get through these troubled times and continue to strive as a civilization to be better than we are. For if we don’t, we’ll never even get close to achieving extra-terrestrial colonization. We’ll just end up like everyone else that tried and clearly failed.
But in the light of day and further thought, I’d like to take another crack at it. Here, let me repeat what I wrote that was at issue.
Kubrick was an optimist; so am I. We will choose to visit the moon again, maybe to mine Helium-3 to eventually power our space crafts to Mars and beyond. Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Von Braun, Hubble: they were all optimists too. Their efforts got us this far. The infinity of the cosmos is calling us to leave these earthly bounds. Shakespeare knew this. Hamlet said,
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in
reason? how infinite in faculty, in form, and moving
How express and admirable in Action,
How like an Angel
in apprehension, how like a God?
How like an angel in apprehension (the star baby). How like a God? Only when we’ve harnessed the power of that galaxy far, far away.
Why do I think Shakespeare was an optimist about humankind, when he put these words into the character Hamlet’s mouth? Maybe it helps to look at the lines just before and just after this part. First, the lines before:
I have of late–but
wherefore I know not–lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
Hamlet praises the earth in this section, but can’t enjoy its greatness. He praises man in the next section, but can’t value men because of his anger and grief. I often feel that way. But then we have the last bit:
This quintessence of dust. Genesis talks about man being made from dust, just as our universe was made from stardust at the big bang. Quintessence means the essence of a thing in its most pure and concentrated form. It also refers to the fifth and highest element in ancient and medieval philosophy that permeates all nature and is the substance composing the celestial bodies. Man is dust; the earth is dust.
We are frail, imperfect beings, on a frail, imperfect planet. But we’re the only ones that can write these thoughts down, invent machines that can carry us to other nations in short order, and dream about traveling to distant moons and planets, and then build rockets to make those dreams come true. The earth has rained fire on us with volcanoes, swept us up to Oz with its tornadoes and blown away our houses with hurricanes. But, as far as I can tell, it’s the only planet containing people who survive to talk about those cataclysms. That makes me a believer that we will continue to survive and make it to Mars and beyond. If the Bard was alive today, I’d bet he’d agree with me.