More in anger than in sorrow

In order to publish this post I had to go back and brush up on HTML. For some reason, the carriage returns weren’t translating into paragraph breaks. This was very frustrating after spending a couple of hours editing the post this morning, cooling turned off (after it had been on all night), and the temperature rising from its overnight low of 24. Very fitting to a post all about anger! Fortunately, the tablet is pretty solid, and showed no ill effects from being thrown on the floor. When I had cooled off, physically and emotionally, I learned that this is a known issue with WordPress – the first time I have struck it. Fortunately, there is an HTML editor that can be selected as an alternative to the WYSIWIG one. So now I know the combination of HTML tags required to keep the pars separate. (Apologies to anyone who was notified of a new post, and tried to click on the link, only to find that I had taken the post down while I figured out how to stop it publishing as one long paragraph.)

First, I do have some minor good news. When seeing the dermatologist last week, she took a couple of skin scrapes for biopsy. The results came back today – no skin cancer. I hadn’t realised that I was rather anxious about this, and found myself getting quite irascible about small things. I will be writing about anger later in this post.

I have been thinking about Elizabeth Wurtzel’s piece in the Guardian. When I read it, I knew it had enormous energy and impact. It left me feeling as if I had been in a fight. So I knew I had to leave some time for the impressions to settle.

For sure she is angry, and giving the middle finger to the world, cancer, the universe, and so on. I hear a lot of her piece to be her saying to herself “Hell, no, this doesn’t scare me: I’m a tough mother!”, and generally trying to cheer herself up. And I feel she is on to something in not wanting to be defined by having it. I think she also wants to get cancer out of the middle class, let’s-not-talk-about-that, just-expire-quietly, corner. I feel that is part of the experience of having prostate cancer, that it is seen as being somehow a rather shameful body part to be affected, in a way that having lung cancer, say, is not. This is part of the attempted hush up. (I hasten to add that none of my brilliant family, immediate or extended, has ever tried to head me in this direction. Being able to chat about it is so so important to me. I appreciate it: I really do.)

I think she is wrong to excoriate those who merely want to sympathise with her having cancer.  How else to talk about these things, other than saying sorry? People will not know magically what to say, any more than when talking to somone bereaved. However, Wurtzel isn’t trying to solve the problem, just to point out that (in her eyes) it exists. It’s a polemical shot across the bows. Agree with her, in whole or part, or not, but one has to concede the piece does have terrific oomph.

Some of that came from its anger. I think anger is a really complicated emotion. It is capable of being both incredibly destructive and highly energizing. It is one that also has gender and class aspects. Women historically have been encouraged not to express anger. The middle classes are similarly keen to avoid yelling at each other in a crude or “common” way. So middle class women have had a double burden. I am thinking of Julia Gillard as I write this, her rigidly calm and unflappable demeanour, and how strangulated she appeared as PM. I remember also the sexism speech, one of those rare occasions when she let the genie out of the bottle and spoke with controlled fury. That is the episode that I most remember from her time as PM. The reason it was memorable was because she spoke authentically, at a time when the political process seemed entirely manufactured.

So I found Wurtzel’s article thrilling in its anger, its fearlessness, and its preparedness to be ungracious. That doesn’t mean I agree with her.

I have been thinking also about anger in music. This is particularly evident in the Ring Cycle, where the whole plot grows out of Alberich’s fury at being rejected by the Rhine Maidens. (When Wotan steals the Rhine gold from him, Alberich utters a prophetic curse on the gods and all their works.) Anger features again when Wotan kills Hunding and casts out Brunnhilde, Siegfried murders Mime, and Brunnhilde allows Hagen to kill Siegfried by giving Hagen the information about Siegfried’s vulnerability. This last episode ends in the destruction by fire of Valhalla. Each of the Ring operas thus contains one or more episodes that illustrate anger. I think Wagner well understood its intoxicating qualities, as well as its destructiveness.

There is quite a lot of anger in Schubert, too, especially the later works. The A major piano sonata, D959, has an outburst in the slow movement that sounds extremely angry. Similarly, the final two movements of the String Quintet have quite a lot of anger. In all these cases, and in the Death and the Maiden quartet, I feel it is mixed with the fear of death. (From John Clarke’s guest stint on ABC FM, I learned that Schubert was Samuel Beckett’s favourite composer.)

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