Monday, June 30, 2008

Post Haste

As happens sometimes with small children, used vehicles that tend to break down, and heat pumps that are generous enough to fail when the weather is bearable in the DC area, I was drawn away from some parts of my life.

I want to return, briefly, to my June 25 post: I need to mention that, writing in haste, as notes to myself, I mischaracterized some of what Mr. Silliman said in his post on the Mongiu film.  Specifically, he did not intend, or say, that abortion is an heroic act, but rather, "a tragedy of bad choices & poor planning."  You can read his comment and correction to my remarks by clicking on the title of my June 25 post.   

To be clear, I was using his post as a springboard into my own thoughts.  While I don't want to spend a lot of time trying to talk around the language of a film I have not yet seen, it is still interesting to me that abortion becomes the heart/the story of a film based in an extremely oppressive period of Romanian history.  I couldn't say whether the acts of the central characters are "heroic," but certainly obtaining an illegal abortion is an act of disobedience, of resistance, against a state that fosters repression.  Does abortion represent liberation within that context?  Clearly, given some of the consequences to various characters, the emotional impact of such 'liberation' is dark, indeed.

We are used to the idea, in this country, I suppose, that "liberation" is connected with elation.  But liberation can be simply a release from one state into another.  If I look it up in my on-board dictionary, "liberation" is connected to the idea of freedom and the lifting of constraints.  Or the act of freeing something/someone from one status, which is different from "freedom" itself.  At least as far as George W. Bush might be able to articulate (oxymoron?) such things.

Can a child be "liberated" from the womb?  Can a woman be liberated from motherhood?  The act of parenting or being parented is related to constraint.  Am I liberated from my narcissism by having a child?  Or simply delivered from one state into another?  If freedom is the absence of constraint, is that desirable?  What is life, what is art, without constraint of some kind?  How do you know liberation, or, for that matter, happiness, without a knowledge of what constraint or despair feels like?  Can I have a child and make her or him or life "perfect," which I see often in magazines and other print media that caters to mothers?  Is perfection itself a form of constraint, as it creates impossible expectations?  Is perfection to be feared, rather than desired?  

Stepping sideways, the description of this dark film, in which, most likely, no one is at all liberated, makes me think of horror movies from the 1970s.  Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, The Exorcist, and, later in the 1980s, Alien.  Earlier, during the 1960s (?), there's The Bad Seed.  With the exception of Alien, you don't see this type of movie much anymore, at least not at the big theaters.  Children are villains in these films: objects of fear and loathing.  In Alien, of which I'm sure has been noted by others (I'm not a film critic, either, in addition to the long list of things that I am not), the scary non-human creatures gestate in the abdomens of both men and women, literally ripping them apart as they emerge at their maturity.  It takes a tough woman, Sigourney Weaver, to keep them at bay (there are sequels, naturally).  

I always wonder how this is connected to cultural anxiety about not only abortion (on the conservative side), but giving birth itself (on the liberal side)--you don't know what you'll get.  You might love it and it might destroy you.  Perfection is the moment most ripe for disaster, the moment one is most likely to taste the salt of mortality.  Does having an imperfect child release me from the constraints of perfection and into some alternate state of freedom?  Or does it simply release me from one set of constraints into another set?  Is my set better or worse?  Does choice or planning have anything to do with how my liberty or constraints are constructed, judged, or disassembled?  Does 'choice' imply that you willingly accept one state in full knowledge of the alternatives?  I'm not convinced that applies to the act of having children.  Because you don't know what the alternatives are--or, more precisely, the alternate states into which you might be placed.  You don't know what you're going to get, no matter how much you plan, no matter how much you seek to shape the outcome.

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