‘SINGULARITY’ Explained

Music: Robert Fripp—New York, New York, New York

(After six weeks of toil I have finally finished exams, so even though schoolwork is mounting again, I have time! Yay!)

WARNING: long post. Can I excuse it on the grounds that Saturday was my blog’s one-year anniversary?

 

Miss Alexandrina asked me the other day whether SINGULARITY, the title under which I entered CAPTAIN’S PAPER/TRUMPING HEARTS/Drina’s story in PitchSlam, is a Shakespeare reference.

Here I attempt to explain the tenuous links which led to that title.

 

  1. Star-Cross’d Lovers (Shakespeare)

I studied Romeo and Juliet at GCSE, so multiple references crept into the first few drafts of Drina’s story. One passage in particular, when I was brainstorming titles last year, came back to me. Romeo meets Mercutio and Benvolio (finally) and they tease him by insinuating that the ‘important business’ that had delayed him was of a sexual nature.

The exact quote (Act II, Scene IV):

ROMEO         Why, then is my pump well-flowered.

MERCUTIO   Sure wit, follow me this jest now till thou hast worn out thy pump, that when the single sole of it is worn, the jest may remain, after the wearing solely singular.

ROMEO         O single-soled jest, solely singular for the singleness.

Note that ‘pump’ is a double entendre, as are the ‘flowers’. Beyond that, Mercutio is saying the joke is poor and no longer amusing. Romeo then invokes the low joke and I like to think he is berating Mercutio not only for the joke but for assuming he was with Rosaline (or any girl, for that matter). In the event, Romeo is planning his wedding to Juliet, has just received a hate note from Tybalt, her cousin, and is keeping his marriage secret from his best friends.

How in the world does this sordid passage relate to Drina, besides her tendency to bandy about words?

"O Garden Clogs!" - yeah, they're so wasted in the daily trip to the compost heap and back

“O Garden Clogs!” – yeah, they’re so wasted in the daily trip to the compost heap and back

First the play. Garden Clogs are one of my motifs (‘pumps’). In Drina’s very first scene they are broke-soled, but it is implied that the antagonist will salvage them. Later they reappear as a threat (pretty much a hate note), and as an icon of corrupted richness, with sexual connotations.

Like Romeo, Drina engages herself to someone she’s only recently met, and conceals it for fear of the repercussions. A major plot-point is her crushed, inebriated deal with her fiancé’s brother, and the speculation surrounding it. Assumptions being one of the two major themes, joking over something so untrue—yet, notice, undenied by Romeo—seems apt.

Regarding other Drina-Romeo parallels, Act II, Scene II is the famous balcony scene, in which Romeo begins to mature from the antisocial, melancholy Rosaline-lover. Similarly, Drina begins to mature after meeting Chas—realising the Captaincy isn’t the glory everyone made it out to be, foreshadowing how many times it will betray her over the coming months. Chas, like Juliet, is the more mature member of the pair—though Drina, like Romeo, likes at least to feel that she’s the dominant.

A young DiCaprio opposite Claire Danes in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation.

A young DiCaprio opposite Claire Danes in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation.

Drina and Chas’s families are old friends; not feuding factions. However, with Chas’s mother’s dementia and Drina’s mother’s problems (I’m beginning to think PTSD), there’ll never be a good time for the young ones to prioritise elsewhere.

Then there’s the famous line about a rose of any other name still having the essence of a rose. This exemplifies Drina’s dilemma: she feels inextricably bound to her mother’s history and fate, which I believe come under ‘name’. The definition of a Montague is one who fights with Capulet, and that of Capulet fights with Montague. Juliet denies that the ‘children’s teeth be set on edge because their fathers have eaten sour grapes (Jeremiah), opening up the debate that our forefathers are not responsible for our actions as we are not responsible for theirs—we have no obligation to repeat our ancestors’ successes (or failures). ‘Independent’ Drina likes this idea, but struggles to free herself of liability to her mother’s state; like many children in such home environments, she half-believes the instability is her fault, whether directly or indirectly.

Anyway, the cyclic nature of generation: good or bad? #2 suggests another approach thereto.

 

2.   The Singularity of Life (Shakespeare)

Is it not the singularity of life that terrifies us? Is not the decisive difference between comedy and tragedy that tragedy denies us another chance? Shakespeare over and over demonstrates life’s singularity — the irrevocability of our decisions, hasty and even mad though they be. How solemn and huge and deeply pathetic our life does loom in its once-and doneness, how inexorably linear, even though our rotating, revolving planet offers us the cycles of the day and of the year to suggest that existence is intrinsically cyclical, a playful spin, and that there will always be, tomorrow morning or the next, another chance.” ― John Updike, Self-Consciousness

What can I add? Tragedy and comedy are two fundamental layers of this life—intermixing the two is allegedly a ‘British’ habit. That’s one of the things Shakespeare does best: in King Lear, one daughter refusing to admit her father’s ego leads to half a dozen bodies on the floor. I hesitate to use the word ‘comedic’, but there is something acutely disturbing about the boundary between life and death: it is not nearly so solid and straight as we like to think. Perhaps amusement is my coping mechanism when it comes to such realisations.

Drina’s demise begins with her best friend insinuating that perhaps she’s just as arrogant as gossip tells. From there, an arrogance complex develops into distrust and withdrawal, prompting Drina into a series of progressively less wise decisions. One parallel relates her mother’s similar fall from glory—through an accident, it is worth saying, coupled with her inability to accept the singularity of life—though in fact it is Drina who gets the second chance; there’s something satisfyingly sacrificial about the climax, if I say so myself.

Anyway, unlike a Shakespearian tragedy, Drina gets another chance, flinging away the ‘solely singular’ Garden Clogs. There’s a reason it begins with Chopin and ends with Mendelssohn.

 

3.   Infinite Compression to Infinitesimal Volume

In terms of physics, the idea of an infinitely dense, infinitely voluminous point excites me. Lots of people believe black holes are some kind of portal to oblivion. A singularity is a point; sometimes it’s described as a ring. Get this: gravity deforms space-time to prevent ANYTHING from escaping. (Also, singular matrix in mathematics is an arrangement of terms with no inverse. That basically means it’s difficult to manipulate.) Contrary to #2, this singularity is infinite.

so beautiful

so beautiful

Drina is fundamentally self-interested, so you could be forgiven for thinking Drina is the singularity, the dense point at the centre of everything—gosh, Drina herself thinks so! She believes her success will attract her mother’s love.

Midway the set-up is flipped. Realising she’s just another galactic object, Drina alters her trajectory to accelerate her travel towards the black hole that is her mother’s ruination.

Warping space-time

Warping space-time

There’s something so cool about an inevitable path of fate, and a horizon only crossed in one direction. So, singularities warp space-time and quantities become physically infinite, they are weighty, powerful and at the pinnacle of destructive efficiency; ambitious physicist Drina, in the race for power, would definitely aspire such qualities—and definitely fall short of her aspirations.

 

 

4.   Individuality versus Community

A singular is a distinguishing quality or a peculiarity. Drina’s is that she has the capacity to become School Captain, and nobody else has that. In fact, that’s all she has that can possibly win her mother’s affections. But it also ignites the conflict between individuality and community, which composes the second major theme—not just in terms of whether to please oneself or those for whom one has responsibility, or grappling with standing out from the mob (or not!), but reliance on a significant other.

Drina’s self-esteem is dependent upon fulfilling her mother’s aspirations. The first act charts the drift and unvoiced betrayal of Drina and her best friend. While fearful of placing her welfare in the hands of another, whom she cannot control, Drina gradually surrenders to romantic love. Everyone might fancy her superwoman (including herself, at the beginning), but by the end she realises she can’t survive without other people—her power is not intrinsic, but channelled through those with whom she associates.

 

5.   Singularity and Suffering (Austen)

Singularity often makes the worst part of our suffering, as it always does of our conduct.’—Persuasion, Jane Austen. So that is our crudeness, single-mindedness, egotism, independence, vanity, conceit, ambition, obstinacy and power, our cyclic, infinite perception of life, both our overestimation and underestimation of our own significance. Maybe she’s even talking about singleness; her very voice seems to exalt the kind of community Immanuel Kant called the ‘Kingdom of Ends’ (I can’t think of another way to describe it). Austen ridicules society and abhors human selfishness, but there’s something undeniably unifying about reading her work.

You can almost breathe this guy's ego. (Oh, it's Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot, to whom the Persuasion quote applies.)

You can almost breathe this guy’s ego.
(Oh, it’s Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot, to whom the Persuasion quote applies.)

Anyhow, I like to think Austen’s equating singularity to suffering, and blaming both upon our conduct, but there are many many interpretations.

 

BONUS: ‘trick of singularity’, the Twelfth Night quote Alex was thinking of originally, is equally pertinent; when I first plotted the story, back in 2011, the tenor-changing plot-points matched the thirteen tricks of a bridge hand, and one of them I named ‘singularity’ (as discussed in #4). Sparknotes tells me ‘singularity’ in this quote means ‘free and independent’.

Hey. THE TRICK OF SINGULARITY. That might even work…

 

I may just have written an analysis of my own novel’s alternative title, and for that I very genuinely apologise! To make up for it, I’ve written another post for today. I promise it’s short!

 

 

 

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Narrowing Down

I knew when I chose my GCSEs I’d hanker after everything I didn’t choose, and envy anyone who chose differently to me. I knew I’d regret what I did choose, in the end. I found it incredibly difficult, but in the end I settled on Business Studies and History—boring, perhaps, but the most useful to a general academic not stretched in any particular direction. (Writer, mathematician, marathon runner, musician, lawyer, bridge master, director of a large financial company, fluent speaker of ten different languages, iconic movie villain, film director and screenwriter…I fancied myself as at least that many things. Stupidly arrogant, isn’t it?)

Now it’s worse. Well, it’s what I feared. A friend asks me for help with her Biology homework and I’ve never even heard of half the words she throws at me. But then she asks for help with her French and even though I don’t understand any of the vocabulary I’m using I can still construct a grammatically-passable sentence. Sort of.

Yet we’ve only had five teaching days (yes, I began this post three months ago). Soon I won’t have a clue. And that’s partially good, because I will no longer be plied with questions by people who don’t even care about what they’re supposed to be learning. It’s a relief.

And also a torment, to relinquish so many disciplines in one fell swoop.

I’m overly jealous and competitive, I suppose. I want to do things by the whole. Know everything, or know nothing.

SO WHAT DID I CHOOSE?

English Literature. Although it’s not said to particularly increase a writer’s chances of whatever, and loads of writers never did study English Literature, I thought I might as well take it. It could teach me a few things, and is so well-respected it certainly won’t be a waste of time whatever I end up doing with my life. And my sanity requires a creative outlet. Couldn’t forget that. It must be said I preferred Lang at GCSE, but Lang involves speaking, and that doesn’t appeal! At the beginning of the year I had no friends in my English class; it’s good now, though. I prefer strangers, because I’m interested in how they prejudge me, and gratified when they do on the terms I try to impress.

Philosophy and Ethics. Now, I wanted both this and Psychology, because they both interest me, but Philosophy and Ethics won out in the end because as a religious and idealistic person, I want to learn about theories and concepts relating to the Big Questions of this universe. I want to learn how to form and argue a point of view, and I’m hoping to procure story inspiration from this subject.

How is it in practice? I’m not sure whether I made the correct decision. I already knew all about Plato the dualist, his Cave, his Republic, his everything. In the first month I learnt nothing. And the teacher seems slightly ‘clueless’. She didn’t know whether ‘A priori’ and ‘A posteriori’ were Latin or Greek—and it confuses me why anyone wouldn’t look at them and immediately desire to know! (Latin, by the way.) But I’ve already told that story.

Plato again, ALWAYS WATCHING *Ros voice* from a 'better place'

Plato again, ALWAYS WATCHING *Ros voice* from a ‘better place’

On the first day I also found myself sandwiched between two hardcore atheists, which both excited and unsettled me. Both of them are old friends of mine, fortunately, and the one I used to delight in teasing for his atheism has moved seats since I reminded him of my religious views. Honestly, we can’t have a conversation without his thinking I’m trying to impose my awful Catholicism upon him. Recipe for disaster, it seems. The atheist on my other side has a hyperactive influence on me, so I can foresee Philosophy being a rowdy lesson.

Three months later… Philosophy is my comedic relief of the day. Crazy class. At first I thought it was really difficult to get the marks; now I ‘get’ the technique it’s going better. I still don’t know how useful it’ll prove to be, since most of the theories we’ve studied have already occurred to me in one form or another over the years. But yes. Crazy class. We have a book of the random things that have unwittingly (or otherwise!) been said between us.

 

Finally—and these the two subjects I knew I’d take even before I took my first GCSE exam in March 2011, aged thirteen and a half—I’ve chosen Maths and Further Maths.

It either surprises people or it doesn’t. Usually they make faces so hideous I know I can never justify my enthusiasm in their minds. This subject satisfies my ambition. Not wholly, but sufficiently. It tides me over. I couldn’t do without the challenge, the stress, the impression.

But…maths…! My passions work together: mathematics and writing. Without one I lose the other, as happened in the summer when I couldn’t write for fear of it driving me insane. And without writing I lose my creative outlet and lose sight of my aspirations. I can’t solve equations if I can’t write. They’re totally the opposite pursuits, but that’s just why they work. There are two sides to me and for nothing would I give up either.

 

On Tuesday someone asked me what my favourite subject was. I answered something senseless and unprepared, but in truth, I can’t take a broad view like that. They’re too different; they each fulfil a different need in me, and each as important as each other. I have no favourite; I like them for different reasons–and mayhap I can apply that to a whole spectrum of collectives.

Allow Me to Explain Myself

Let me explain my absence—the absence of an entire month, I am not unaware. And in the process, let me have a good moan about everything that’s stressing me out at the moment.

Indifference kept me away from all thought of writing for an entire fortnight. Another fortnight I spent entertaining my cousins, who come over to stay with me every holiday. They’re no burden, but they do snatch me from the internet world for a time. A good break, sometimes, methinks. This week I began Sixth Form, and stress and painkillers have both overpowered and deadened my senses to the exclusion of all other concerns.

On Wednesday I accustomed myself to sharing a yeargroup with two hundred and fifty other students, at least half of whom were strangers to me.

On Thursday I embarked on our first teaching day. Embarrassment and disappointment clouds much of the day, but no more than the anticipation of hard work to come. I’ve never had to work hard, and the very idea of it terrifies me. I received scarcely any homework, and what I had was simple, but the helpless inactivity of every breaktime, knowing work would soon inundate me, but knowing simultaneously I could do nothing about it but wait in idleness, plagued my every thought. I’ve been more stressed this week than I was throughout my GCSE exams.

And since the Sixth Form Centre refectory was built to accommodate a mere hundred and fifty students, there’s no respite from the noise and bustle and strange disinterested faces.

Friday was better; in tutor groups we adopted a theme (ours was ‘army’), dressed up and participated in a day of team-building activities. Unfortunately my tutor is very quiet and not very interested in creating a team identity based upon mutual trust and combined value. There being only three boys in my group, they were forced to do all the manual work. The girls just squealed and said nothing.

And the very first event of the day prophesised well for the rest. We were instructed to cross a web of string interposed between two tree trunks without touching the string, more points awarded for the more remote holes in the web. Before nine o’clock I was bodily swung into the air by a seventeen-year-old boy, lifted a metre and a half into the air and bunged through the gap worth the most points. Being tall, skinny and light, roles such as these were mine throughout the day. So though I’m glad I wasn’t the guy doing the lifting, it disconcerted me to spend an entire day being manhandled by a boy I’ve hardly addressed in all the five years we’ve been at school together.

teambuildingday

(If anyone desires this to be removed, I am willing to comply.)

I’d looked forward to that first week. I’d hoped to make a better stab at deceiving people into thinking I was a nice person: make new friends (all the people I normally ‘hang out’ with are doing the International Baccalaureate instead of A-Levels, and thus have no free periods—I haven’t spoken to them above twice all week).

Instead I’ve renewed acquaintances in an awkward and abrupt manner—acquaintances that were broken painfully and ought to have been renewed with a shaking of hands. My tense hyperactivity on Wednesday earned me the post of loudest person in tutor on Wednesday (that’s saying a lot, for me), and estranged me from an old friend on Thursday. A girl who did better than me on her GCSEs has joined the Sixth Form from another school, and her appearance of good sense and efficiency as she moved away the doorstop and closed the door of the Maths classroom convinced me I’m probably going to hate her. Out of jealousy, of course. And that in itself is a nasty thought.

Personal and family worries have kept me awake half the week, and when I last slept I dreamed I killed thirty people.

Even yesterday (Saturday) was no relief. At nine I returned to school for my music groups (the awesome angst of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor has flooded my mind ever since); at eleven some of us left early and ran down to church to play at a wedding. Since we couldn’t see or hear anything from where we sat, and ten verses of Amazing Grace destroyed our interest in the music, that proved duller than expected.

The evening constituted the highlight of my week so far: some of my friends from my youth group came over on a whim and we put the hot-tub at my ‘new’ house to good use. One of them, and one of the most active, committed and valued by all of us, is going off to university in less than two weeks, and we mayn’t see him again before, so that was great.

Except the evening finished with their pressing me to tell them who I fancied, which wasn’t so great. Not that I don’t trust them—my Catholic friends are the kindest, most accepting people I know, whose judgement of me does not affect their behaviour towards me—but it’s a question I tend to shun at all possible costs. And now I feel bad for turning them away.

Today? I stayed in bed till midday, still shuddering at my dream. Then I watched the 2007 version of Persuasion, which upset my nerves for inexplicable reasons. (Seriously, my hormones are on a riot this week.) But the comparative quietness has improved my spirits to some extent, despite the looming threats of the week to come.

In the meantime, I have a decade of unfinished blog posts sitting in My Documents, have been nominated for two blog awards by two wonderful and inspiring bloggers, and have shockingly neglected just about everything I promised myself I’d complete before school recommenced.

But having got all this off my mind, and probably bored any kind and conscientious readers witless, I feel a lot better.

And by the way, my blisters still haven’t healed. My feet are scarred. I dread October half-term, when I do my qualifying expedition…