From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hurtin', Leavin' and Longin' (23)—Here in the Real World

Click here to read the introduction to the Round and Square series "Hurtin', Leavin', and Longin'..."
[a] "Reel" worlds RF
Alan Jackson has been hanging around the top of the Billboard country charts for two decades now, but this was one of his first hits. In fact, Country America magazine listed it among the top hundred country songs of all time—not bad for someone who was then a new artist. Jackson and Mark Irwin wrote the song together, and clearly play upon the idea of imagination (and celluloid) coupled with stark reality.

I have always been intrigued by the relation between "ideal" and "real" in our discourse. In 2005-2006, as a reader or two might remember, I taught a three-semester seminar investigating this very relation. You may (or may not) be surprised by the title of that almost fifty-week seminar—Round and Square. Alan Jackson explores at least a few dimensions of "ideality" crushed by stark "reality" in the lyrics below. Take a listen. Again, the video is not half-bad, but please read the lyrics first. Let them soak in as lyrics before watching the video. Please read the "advice" below if you aren't sure how to avoid the video on the first "read."

      Here in the Real World
          Artist: Alan Jackson
          Songwriters: Alan Jackson, Mark Irwin

          Cowboys don’t cry, and heroes don’t die
          Good always wins, again and again
          And love is a sweet dream that always comes true
          Oh, if life were like the movies, I'd never be blue


          But here in the real world
          It's not that easy at all
          'cause when hearts get broken
           It's real tears that fall
          And darling it's sad but true
          But the one thing I’ve learned from you
          Is how the boy don’t always get the girl
          Here in the real world

          I gave you my love, but that wasn’t enough

          To hold your heart when times got rough
          And tonight on that silver screen
          It’ll end like it should
          Two lovers will make it through
          Like I hoped we would 

          Repeat Chorus

          No, the boy don’t always get the girl

          Here in the real world

The song does not exactly push very hard against traditional gender boundaries, but that is hardly unusual in the genre. What it does do is play upon a motif that was very common in an earlier era. "Successful" movie stars were said (in the 1940s and 1950s, especially) to "get the girl." Yes, I know. Nonetheless, try to understand an earlier era, even if you are troubled by its language (and remind yourself that, even then, these matters were not monolithic—people railed against them, even "then"). If we can't hold our own views of the world while still engaging a rich historical imagination, we won't get very far. The cultural assumptions about a male star and female "goal" should be obvious enough. If you watch the video all of the way to the end, though, you might get at least a hint of irony from Jackson and the video makers.

Some of these gendered images persisted, sometimes long after popular culture called them into question. An example of this can be found from back when a certain Ronald Wilson Reagan was running for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976. When his rather mediocre acting career was noted, he would jovially reply that, although he made a lot of "B" movies, he "always got the girl." Hmmm. I am not sure whether to engage the embarrassing triumphalism of his gender imagery or just to point out that, at least once, he got a monkey.

***  ***
[b] World RF
How, then, can we proceed from real and imagined (not to mention male and female) to East Asian lyrics? This is not difficult. As was the case during the last few weeks, the "problem" lies in avoiding texts that too obviously "echo" the country song. Usually. This week I just can't help but pick a poem that, while speaking to issues of grief and longing, actually does echo the first line of Jackson's song. I can't help it. The poem is a brief, beautiful glimpse into longing, and might as well start with "Cowboys don't cry, and heroes don't die." In the world of the poem, the endless examination system took away the very vibrancy of love and life. The Pan Yue (P'an Yüeh) referred to in the last line was a poet of the third century known for his lyrics of lamentation.

       Replying to a Poem by a New Graduate 
       Lamenting the Loss of His Wife
          Yu Xuanji (c. 843-868)

          Immortals don't stay long in the world of men;
          You've passed another fall, already ten.

          Pairs of ducks on a curtain, beneath, her fragrance lingers;

          In the parrot's cage her words are not yet stilled.

          Morning dew pastes the flowers in a sad face;

          Evening wind bends the willows like dropping eyebrows.

          Colored clouds come once, then go away;

          P'an Yüeh, wistful, is going gray.[1]
                                                                —Translated by Geoffry R. Waters

[1]  Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo, Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1974),287.

Liu Wu-chi and Irving Yucheng Lo. Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1974.

Sunday, October 16th 
Don't Come Home A-Drinkin'
...with lovin' on your mind. We'll have a brief respite from pain as Loretta Lynn belts out her warning in no uncertain terms—next week on Hurtin' Leavin' and Longin'. 

No comments:

Post a Comment