Monthly Archives: March 2013
Medieval Christian liturgy, sung hauntingly by Andrea Navratil from Transylvanian Csango folk group, Zurgó. This recording appears on the album Szíve járását hallod az időnek (You can hear the heartbeat of time).
Find out more about the history and patchwork origins of the Greek phrase Kyrie eleison HERE.
björk – prayer of the heart
John Tavener composed this specifically for Björk. She chants a prayer from the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition, “Prayer of The Heart”, accompanied by the Brodsky Quartet.
“Prayer of The Heart” is a short, simple prayer that has been widely used, taught and discussed throughout the history of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. It is, for the Orthodox, one of the most profound and mystical prayers, and is often repeated endlessly as part of personal ascetic practice. It is particularly used in the practice of the spiritual life known as hesychasm. Based on Christ’s injunction in the Gospel of Matthew, “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray”, hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God. The prayer is particularly esteemed by the spiritual fathers of this tradition as a method of opening the heart.
Greek: Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με (τὸν ἁμαρτωλόν).
English: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me (a sinner).
More info from Wikipedia HERE, and from Orthodox Wiki HERE.
love is stronger than death
givan lötz – quiet
Like being in church without the creeps:
“I am an artist because I am uncertain. My art-objects are, first and foremost, results of a philosophical inquiry – critical thinking about what it means to be human. The moments of obsession involved in this process of art-making aspire to achieve a mood of catharsis. I have a desire for innovative and dislocating descriptions of life through a willingness to confront it in all its contradiction and complexity.”
Check out more of this Gauteng-based artist’s “Trash-Worship Party-Pooper Snore-Core Buzz-Kill Uneasy-Listening Shoe-Gaze Dream-Brown Drop-Out Dead-Beat Geek-Grind Mind-Melt Kewl-Vybz” on Soundcloud.
stephen levine on growth
“The process of growth is, it seems, the art of falling down. Growth is measured by the gentleness and awareness with which we once again pick ourselves up, the lightness with which we dust ourselves off, the openness with which we continue and take the next unknown step, beyond our edge, beyond our holding, into the remarkable mystery of being.”
— Stephen Levine
capital children’s choir – shake it out
Capital Children’s Choir tribute to Florence And The Machine – “Shake it Out”
Orchestrated, arranged and directed by Rachel Santesso
Drum Coach: Nick Marangoni, Recorded and mixed by Andrew Dudman at Abbey Road Studios (2012)
lana del rey – chelsea hotel no 2
Music video by Lana Del Rey performing Chelsea Hotel No 2. (C) 2013 Lana Del Rey, under exclusive licence to Polydor Ltd. (UK). Under exclusive licence to Interscope Records in the USA.
shintaro kago – mermaid
goldfish forget, this is what they do.
silverfish eat books;
they cannot help themselves.
i love silverfish.
the tragedy of first position
This is so, so beautiful.
laurence binyon – the burning of the leaves
Now is the time for the burning of the leaves,
They go to the fire; the nostrils prick with smoke
Wandering slowly into the weeping mist.
Brittle and blotched, ragged and rotten sheaves!
A flame seizes the smouldering ruin, and bites
On stubborn stalks that crackle as they resist.
The last hollyhock’s fallen tower is dust:
All the spices of June are a bitter reek,
All the extravagant riches spent and mean.
All burns! the reddest rose is a ghost.
Sparks whirl up, to expire in the mist: the wild
Fingers of fire are making corruption clean.
Now is the time for stripping the spirit bare,
Time for the burning of days ended and done,
Idle solace of things that have gone before,
Rootless hope and fruitless desire are there:
Let them go to the fire with never a look behind.
That world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.
They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring.
Thanks to Karolina O’Donaghue for this poem.
moon river – from “breakfast at tiffany’s”
“But there were moments when she played songs that made you wonder where she learned them, where indeed she came from. Harsh-tender, wandering tunes with words that smacked of pinewoods or prairie. One went: Don’t wanna sleep, Don’t wanna die, Just wanna go a-travelin’ through the pastures of the sky; and this one seemed to gratify her the most, for often she continued it long after her hair had dried, after the sun had gone and there were lighted windows in the dusk.”
Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
audrey hepburn, reading
t.s. eliot – the cocktail party
It will do you no harm to find yourself ridiculous.
Resign yourself to be the fool you are.
You will find that you survive humiliation
And that’s an experience of incalculable value.
That is the worst moment, when you feel you have lost
The desires for all that was most desirable,
Before you are contented with what you can desire;
Before you know what is left to be desired;
And you go on wishing that you could desire
What desire has left behind. But you cannot understand.
How could you understand what it is to feel old?
We die to each other daily.
What we know of other people
Is only our memory of the moments
During which we knew them. And they have changed since then.
To pretend that they and we are the same
Is a useful and convenient social convention
Which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember
That at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.
There was a door
And I could not open it. I could not touch the handle.
Why could I not walk out of my prison?
What is hell? Hell is oneself.
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from
And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.
Half the harm that is done in this world
Is due to people who want to feel important.
They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them.
Or they do not see it, or they justify it
Because they are absorbed in the endless struggle
To think well of themselves.
There are several symptoms
Which must occur together, and to a marked degree,
To qualify a patient for my sanitorium:
And one of them is an honest mind. That is one of the causes of their suffering.
To men of a certain type
The suspicion that they are incapable of loving
Is as disturbing to their self-esteem
As, in cruder men, the fear of impotence.
I must tell you
That I should really like to think there’s something wrong with me —
Because, if there isn’t, then there’s something wrong
With the world itself — and that’s much more frightening!
That would be terrible.
So, I’d rather believe there’s something wrong with me, that could be put right.
Everyone’s alone — or so it seems to me.
They make noises, and think they are talking to each other;
They make faces, and think they understand each other.
And I’m sure they don’t. Is that a delusion?
Can we only love
Something created in our own imaginations?
Are we all in fact unloving and unloveable?
Then one is alone, and if one is alone
Then lover and beloved are equally unreal
And the dreamer is no more real than his dreams.
I shall be left with the inconsolable memory
Of the treasure I went into the forest to find
And never found, and which was not there
And is perhaps not anywhere? But if not anywhere
Why do I feel guilty at not having found it?
Disillusion can become itself an illusion
If we rest in it.
Two people who know they do not understand each other,
Breeding children whom they do not understand
And who will never understand them.
There is another way, if you have the courage.
The first I could describe in familiar terms
Because you have seen it, as we all have seen it,
Illustrated, more or less, in lives of those about us.
The second is unknown, and so requires faith —
The kind of faith that issues from despair.
The destination cannot be described;
You will know very little until you get there;
You will journey blind. But the way leads towards possession
Of what you have sought for in the wrong place.
We must always take risks. That is our destiny.
If we all were judged according to the consequences
Of all our words and deeds, beyond the intention
And beyond our limited understanding
Of ourselves and others, we should all be condemned.
Only by acceptance of the past will you alter its meaning.
All cases are unique, and very similar to others.
Every moment is a fresh beginning.
Excerpted from T.S. Eliot’s 1949 play, The Cocktail Party
from “before sunset” – taxi scene
“There’s gotta be something more to love than commitment”…
… “Why are you telling me all this?”
goal: a world without gender. mission: possible.
goal: a world without gender. mission: possible.
In a world where gender norms are too often rigidly controlled by tradition, religiosity and politicking – iconoclasts are disrupting the norm. Abroad these take the form of parents who’re choosing to bring children up gender-free, while locally an emerging artist and political author questions the legitimacy of limiting local gender constructions. By MANDY DE WAAL.
from “before sunset” on connection
the new social
free screening tonight: the ballad of genesis and lady jaye
Screening today at 20h00 at Bolo’bolo, the new anarchist infoshop and vegan café at 76 Lower Main Road, Observatory, Cape Town.
Here’s a full synopsis:
Genesis P-Orridge has been one of the most innovative and influential figures in music and fine art for the last 30 years. A link between the pre- and post-punk eras, he is the founder of the legendary groups COUM Transmissions (1969-1976), Throbbing Gristle (1975-1981), and Psychic TV (1981 to present), all of which merged performance art with rock music. Celebrated by critics and art historians as a progenitor of “industrial music”, his innovations have transformed the character of rock and electronic music while his prodigious efforts to expand the boundaries of live performance have radically altered the way people experience sound in a concert setting.
But that’s just the preamble to the story. Defying artistic boundaries, Genesis has re-defined his art as a challenge to the limits of biology. In 2000, Genesis began a series of surgeries in order to more closely resemble his love, Lady Jaye (née Jacqueline Breyer), who remained his other half and artistic partner for nearly 15 years. It was the ultimate act of devotion, and Genesis’s most risky, ambitious, and subversive performance to date: he became a she in a triumphant act of artistic self-expression. Genesis called this project “Creating the Pandrogyne”. Influenced, like so much of Genesis work, by Brion Gysin and William Burroughs Cut Ups , it was an attempt to deconstruct two individual identities through the creation of an indivisible third.
This is a love story, and a portrait of two lives that illustrate the transformative powers of both love and art. Marie Losier brings to us the most intimate details of Genesis’s extraordinary, uncanny world. In warm and intimate images captured handheld, Losier crafts a labyrinthine mise-en-scene of interviews, home movies, and performance footage. The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye documents a truly new brand of Romantic consciousness, one in defiance of the daily dehumanization of the body by the pervasive presence of advertising and pornography, conveying beauty, dignity and devotion from a perspective never before seen on film.
julian redpath – shipwrecks
Keep an ear out for this talented songwriter based in Johannesburg. I saw him tonight at Carnival Court in Long Street, Cape Town and was deeply moved by some of his writing… The tune I loved most is not on Soundcloud, but this one is pretty fine too.
danielle leduc – the anti-preneur manifesto
I don’t want to be a designer, a marketer, an illustrator, a brander, a social media consultant, a multi-platform guru, an interface wizard, a writer of copy, a technological assistant, an applicator, an aesthetic king, a notable user, a profit-maximizer, a bottom-line analyzer, a meme generator, a hit tracker, a re-poster, a sponsored blogger, a starred commentator, an online retailer, a viral relayer, a handle, a font or a page. I don’t want to be linked in, tuned in, ‘liked’, incorporated, listed or programmed. I don’t want to be a brand, a representative, an ambassador, a bestseller or a chart-topper. I don’t want to be a human resource or part of your human capital.
I don’t want to be an entrepreneur of myself.
Don’t listen to the founders, the employers, the newspapers, the pundits, the editors, the forecasters, the researchers, the branders, the career counsellors, the prime minister, the job market, Michel Foucault or your haughty brother in finance – there’s something else!
I want to be a lover, a teacher, a wanderer, an assembler of words, a sculptor of immaterial, a maker of instruments, a Socratic philosopher and an erratic muse. I want to be a community centre a piece of art, a wonky cursive script and an old-growth tree! I want to be a disrupter, a creator, an apocalyptic visionary, a master of reconfiguration, a hypocritical parent, an illegal download and a choose-your-own-adventure! I want to be a renegade agitator! A licker of ice cream! An organiser of mischief! A released charge! A double jump on the trampoline! A wayward youth! A volunteer! A partner.
I want to be a curator of myself, an anti-preneur, a person.
Unlimited availabilities. No followers required. Only friends.
~ Danielle Leduc
First published HERE (thanks to Emma Arogundade for sharing it on Facebook).
Note from the author:
I actually didn’t write this as an ‘anti-preneurial manifesto’ – it was more of a poetic rant written in frustration from combing through the online job market. I meant it as less of a takedown of capitalism and more of a critique of how we are told to sell ourselves as brands, to self-promote, in order to make it in this world, and as such we allow our job titles to define us to a certain extent. I think all of us are many of the things I listed towards the end, but these things don’t appear as marketable skills in a neoliberal economy with a tight and precarious job market. We are not our resumes, is all.
the spiders – furi furi
Totes cray Japanese garage band recorded in 1966 – this is the English version. Essential Monday morning listening!
salt, pepper, or cyanide?
barthes on the other-ache
The subject experiences a sentiment of violent compassion with regard to the loved object each time he sees, feels, or knows the loved object is unhappy or in danger, for whatever reason external to the amorous relations itself.
1. “Supposing that we experienced the other as he experiences himself — which Schopenhauer calls compassion and which might more accurately be called a union within suffering, a unity of suffering — we should hate the other when he himself, like Pascal, finds himself hateful.” If the other suffers from hallucinations, if he fears going mad, I should myself hallucinate, myself go mad. Now, whatever the power of love, this does not occur: I am moved, anguished, for it is horrible to see those one loves suffering, but at the same time I remain dry, watertight. My identification is imperfect: I am a Mother (the other causes me concern), but an insufficient Mother; I bestir myself too much, in proportion to the profound reserve in which, actually, I remain. For at the same time that I “sincerely” identify myself with the other’s misery, what I read in this misery is that it occurs without me, and that by being miserable by himself, the other abandons me: if he suffers without me being the cause of his suffering, it is because I don’t count for him: his suffering annuls me insofar as it constitutes him outside of myself.
2. Whereupon, a reversal: since the other suffers without me, why suffer in his place? His misery bears him far away from me, I can only exhaust myself running after him, without ever hoping to be able to catch up, to coincide with him. So let us become a little detached, let us undertake the apprenticeship of a certain distance. Let the repressed word appear which rises to the lips of every subject, once he survives another death: Let us live!
3. So I shall suffer with the other, but without pressure, without losing myself. Such behaviour, at once very affective and very controlled, very amorous and very civilised, can be given a name: delicacy; in a sense it is the “healthy” (artistic) form of compassion. (Ate is the goddess of madness, but Plato speaks of Ate’s delicacy: her foot is winged, it touches lightly.)
~ Roland Barthes, from A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments pp. 57-58
the innocence mission – bright as yellow
(A&M Records, 1995)
“scrape”: it’s brilliant – go and see it!
This play is on for two more nights at the Intimate Theatre on UCT’s Hiddingh Campus. I went last night. It is an absolute tour de force – insightful, brutal, awkward, compassionate, hilarious. If you are in Cape Town, GO, GO, GO!
Scrape is the story of an everyday woman suffering from an unusual condition.
After falling and scraping herself, Beth discovers that not only does skin heal, it can sometimes do so with a vengeance.
This one-person show, performed by Amy Louise Wilson, is presented by writer Genna Gardini and director Gary Hartley. It features sound design by musician and performance artist SIYA IS YOUR ANARCHIST and set design by 2011 ABSA L’Atelier and Sasol New Signatures finalist Francois Knoetze.
Scrape is presented by the new theatre company Horses’ Heads Productions. The production will preview at the Intimate Theatre from 19 – 24 March 2013 and go on to feature as part of The Cape Town Edge programme at this year’s National Arts Festival. Scrape will then return to the Mother City for a run at The Alexander Bar in August 2013.
Scrape, 19 – 24 March 2013, 20:00
The Intimate Theatre on UCT’s Hiddingh Campus
R50 general/ R40 students
To book tickets, contact 0827765490 or email@example.com
Gary Hartley is a theatre-maker, performer and television producer based in Cape Town. In 2007 he graduated from Rhodes University with a distinction in Drama. His production, WinterSweet, made in collaboration with The Runaway Buni Collective and writer Genna Gardini, won a Standard Bank Ovation Encore prize at the 2012 National Arts Festival. He currently works as a writer and producer at Greenwall Productions and has produced for shows such as The Showbiz Report, The Close Up and Screentime with Nicky Greenwall.
Genna Gardini is a writer based in Cape Town. Her play WinterSweet was produced in collaboration with Gary Hartley and The Runaway Buni Collective for the 2012 National Arts Festival and won a Standard Bank Encore Ovation Award. She has curated The Readings Upstairs, a monthly series of play readings held upstairs at the Alexander Bar, since 2012. Her work as a poet has been published widely both locally and internationally. Gardini has presented papers at the 2012 AFTA Annual International Conference and GIPCA Directors and Directing: Playwrights Symposium. She also works as a freelance arts writer for various publications, including the Cape Times and Art South Africa magazine. She is currently completing her MA Theatre-making (Playwriting) at UCT.
Amy Louise Wilson is an actress living in Cape Town. She has studied Acting and Contemporary Performance at Rhodes University; Processes of Performance and Shakespeare Studies at the University of Leeds and Theatre and Performance at the University of Cape Town. Recent performances include The Petticoat Chronicle (dir. Lynne Maree), Voiced (under Clare Stopford) and 2012’s Standard Bank Encore Ovation Award winning Wintersweet (dir. Robert Haxton). She will be presenting her paper ‘Performance, Persona and Identity in the work of Die Antwoord’ at the New Directions in South African Theatre Today: Circulation, Evolutions, Adaptations symposium in France later this year.
Francois Knoetze is an artist based in Cape Town. Having recently completed his Honours in Fine Art at Rhodes University, he is currently pursuing his MFA at Michaelis. His work is multidisciplinary, incorporating performance, assemblage sculpture and film. In 2011 he was a finalist in both the Absa L’Atelier and Sasol New Signatures competitions. Last year he was named one of Art South Africa magazine’s Bright Young Things. He has been involved in numerous theatre productions as set designer and puppet-maker, including works by the UBOM! Eastern Cape Theatre Company.
Writer, journalist, musician and filmmaker SIYA IS YOUR ANARCHIST has written for publications like the Sunday World, The Event and The Callsheet. He has performed at the National Arts Festival and written several plays. He has also worked for TV shows such as Rhythm City (E-TV), Font (SABC 3), Breaking New Ground (SABC 2). He directed an SABC2 documentary on Aids activist Zackie Achmat called His Husband in 2011 and has exhibited multi-media installations for Goodman Gallery Cape Town and GIPCA Live Art Festival. He now works for Entertainment Africa as a features writer and is combining writing, music, art and media for the release of his upcoming musical EP.
For more information, see:
Scrape Facebook event
Horses’ Heads Productions Facebook page:
Horses’ Heads Twitter
joan didion – on self respect
Once, in a dry season, I wrote in large letters across two pages of a notebook that innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself. Although now, some years later, I marvel that a mind on the outs with itself should have nonetheless made painstaking record of its every tremor, I recall with embarrassing clarity the flavor of those particular ashes. It was a matter of misplaced self-respect.
I had not been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. This failure could scarcely have been more predictable or less ambiguous (I simply did not have the grades), but I was unnerved by it; I had somehow thought myself a kind of academic Raskolnikov, curiously exempt from the cause-effect relationships which hampered others. Although even the humorless nineteen-year-old that I was must have recognized that the situation lacked real tragic stature, the day that I did not make Phi Beta Kappa nonetheless marked the end of something, and innocence may well be the word for it. I lost the conviction that lights would always turn green for me, the pleasant certainty that those rather passive virtues which had won me approval as a child automatically guaranteed me not only Phi Beta Kappa keys but happiness, honor, and the love of a good man; lost a certain touching faith in the totem power of good manners, clean hair, and proved competence on the Stanford-Binet scale. To such doubtful amulets had my self-respect been pinned, and I faced myself that day with the nonplussed apprehension of someone who has come across a vampire and has no crucifix at hand.
Although to be driven back upon oneself is an uneasy affair at best, rather like trying to cross a border with borrowed credentials, it seems to me now the one condition necessary to the beginnings of real self-respect. Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception. The tricks that work on others count for nothing in that well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself; no winning smiles will do here, no prettily drawn lists of good intentions. One shuffles flashily but in vain through one’s marked cards the kindness done for the wrong reason, the apparent triumph which involved no real effort, the seemingly heroic act into which one had been shamed. The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others – who we are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation, which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something people with courage can do without.
To do without self-respect, on the other hand, is to be an unwilling audience of one to an interminable documentary that deals one’s failings, both real and imagined, with fresh footage spliced in for every screening. There’s the glass you broke in anger, there’s the hurt on X’s face; watch now, this next scene, the night Y came back from Houston, see how you muff this one. To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, the Phenobarbital, and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting up the sins of commissions and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice, or carelessness. However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.
To protest that some fairly improbable people, some people who could not possibly respect themselves, seem to sleep easily enough is to miss the point entirely, as surely as those people miss it who think that self-respect has necessarily to do with not having safety pins in one’s underwear. There is a common superstition that “self-respect” is a kind of charm against snakes, something that keeps those who have it locked in some unblighted Eden, out of strange beds, ambivalent conversations, and trouble in general. It does not at all. It has nothing to do with the face of things, but concerns instead a separate peace, a private reconciliation. Although the careless, suicidal Julian English in Appointment in Samara and the careless, incurably dishonest Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby seem equally improbably candidates for self-respect, Jordan Baker had it, Julian English did not. With that genius for accommodation more often seen in women than men, Jordan took her own measure, made her own peace, avoided threats to that peace: “I hate careless people,” she told Nick Carraway. “It takes two to make an accident.”
Like Jordan Baker, people with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things. If they choose to commit adultery, they do not then go running, in an access of bad conscience, to receive absolution from the wronged parties; nor do they complain unduly of the unfairness, the undeserved embarrassment, of being named co-respondent. In brief, people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of mortal nerve; they display what was once called character, a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to other, more instantly negotiable virtues. The measure of its slipping prestige is that one tends to think of it only in connection with homely children and United States senators who have been defeated, preferably in the primary, for reelection. Nonetheless, character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self-respect springs.
Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts. It seemed to the nineteenth century admirable, but not remarkable, that Chinese Gordon put on a clean white suit and held Khartoum against the Mahdi; it did not seem unjust that the way to free land in California involved death and difficulty and dirt. In a diary kept during the winter of 1846, an emigrating twelve-yaer-old named Narcissa Cornwall noted coolly: “Father was busy reading and did not notice that the house was being filled with strange Indians until Mother spoke out about it.” Even lacking any clue as to what Mother said, one can scarcely fail to be impressed by the entire incident: the father reading, the Indians filing in, the mother choosing the words that would not alarm, the child duly recording the event and noting further that those particular Indians were not, “fortunately for us,” hostile. Indians were simply part of the donnee.
In one guise or another, Indians always are. Again, it is a question of recognizing that anything worth having has its price. People who respect themselves are willing to accept the risk that the Indians will be hostile, that the venture will go bankrupt, that the liaison may not turn out to be one in which every day is a holiday because you’re married to me. They are willing to invest something of themselves; they may not play at all, but when they do play, they know the odds.
That kind of self-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth. It was once suggested to me that, as an antidote to crying, I put my head in a paper bag. As it happens, there is a sound physiological reason, something to do with oxygen, for doing exactly that, but the psychological effect alone is incalculable: it is difficult in the extreme to continue fancying oneself Cathy in Wuthering Heights with one’s head in a Food Fair bag. There is a similar case for all the small disciplines, unimportant in themselves; imagine maintaining any kind of swoon, commiserative or carnal, in a cold shower.
But those small disciplines are valuable only insofar as they represent larger ones. To say that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton is not to say that Napoleon might have been saved by a crash program in cricket; to give formal dinners in the rain forest would be pointless did not the candlelight flickering on the liana call forth deeper, stronger disciplines, values instilled long before. It is a kind of ritual, helping us to remember who and what we are. In order to remember it, one must have known it.
To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out – since our self-image is untenable – their false notion of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Helen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan; no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous. At the mercy of those we cannot but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the urgency of divining and meeting the next demand made upon us.
It is the phenomenon sometimes called “alienation from self.” In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game. Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something as small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question. To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves – there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.
This essay first published 1961 in Vogue; reprinted 1968 in Slouching Toward Bethlehem, included in Didion, Collected Works (Norton, 2006).