‘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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Eloquence, Confidence and Power (bonus points if you note all the ironies)

Music: Radiohead – Life in a Glass House (some damn good trombone!)

A few evenings ago I was beneficiary to an observation about eloquence, confidence and POWER. “You can be the cleverest person, but if you can’t express* your intellect, you have no power,” thus the observer (WTTE). I blushed and said something stupid, perhaps proving his point.

Upon reflection, it seems even more alas! plausible than it did to my subconscious psyche in those few seconds. People in power, sure they’re clever, but politicians have that ‘sparkle’, that intensity: instinct or even the art for rhetoric. It’s not knowledge that empowers you (scientia potentia est, as attributed to Sir Francis Bacon), but application thereof.

For example, education over recent decades has made a significant shift from fact recall to structured analysis. My mother spent her schooldays learning every precise geographical feature of a series of maps she was expected to be able to hand-draw—dimension and all, to the last contour. Now they’d give you the map and tell you to analyse it: what does this feature mean and how might it impact the surrounding environment (or whatever; I’m no geographer)? We are expected to THINK.

The few truly eloquent teenagers I meet are instantly my favourite people. I’m not impressed by wit, necessarily (especially not the snitzy tumblr kind, though that can be mildly amusing for a short period of time), but an insight into the world and its ridiculousness, a fine vocabulary and the deft conduction thereof will surely ‘win my heart’. Indeed, that ain’t me.

And with that I wonder about positing a different formulation of the eloquence-power relation. I find, myself, that associating with these superior verbalists as described above somewhat dissolves every particle of wit and interest from my own ego. If I have not already proved myself confident and eloquent (neither of which I’d call myself, thus I falter at the first clause) to a word-wielder, I genuinely cannot do so thenceforth.

Through no fault of his own, the person who gave me the subject of this post is one such creativity-sapper (as far as I’m concerned). Why, I ask myself, when I get on so very well with people who don’t use my beloved words like he does?—and there it is. Other people (and this isn’t meant to sound swanky) I can outwit, out-math, out-music, out-vocab, out-mock, out-run, out-age. Even if all else fails, I can mention God or church (again) and get an exasperated glare. POWER. The only power I have over this person is that I can write a damn good blog post (1. when I stop talking about myself; 2. when I can be bothered; 3. ahem, I need your support, to cover this ugly boasting), and even then, I’ve never read his writing. All fails!

My point, ladles and jellyspoons, is that one may have eloquence, but without also that beautiful gift of confidence-regardless-of-whatever-power-you-have-or-don’t-have-as-the-case-may-be, you will not have POWER.

‘Blind confidence’, my observer called it. ‘Well-judged confidence’, I corrected him. In retrospect, ‘blind confidence’ is pretty much it, except I’ll change ‘blind’ to ‘unconditional’.

So, POWER is internal and external, and without the former you can’t have the latter**. That’s why earnest compliment-fishing only earns pissed-off stares. Alas for me and many! insecurity gets you positively nowhere.

What a failing: that I love to assert myself, but am so petrified of failure that those against whom I’ve ‘already’ ‘lost’ never get to know I can assert myself. Hierarchy turned on its head, if ya like.

Lesson over. Add your thoughts; contradict mine 😉

 

*vocal expression and execution, that is

** I wouldn’t wish to pose that as a rule. ‘Confident’ people may be less respected than those quiet people who necessarily have weight (though it could be argued that they do have inner power, but don’t externalise it consciously; other only people ‘feel’ it). And, of course, there are ‘confident’ people who are everything but inside (this is the hard one, and it might involve a redefinition of POWER—yeah, should’ve done that before I began talking about it. Your call!).