Saturday, February 22, 2014

Rambles on Boundaries and the Edge

Having recently watched both film versions (1944 and 1984) of Somerset Maugham's novel The Razor's Edge, I thought about writing a post on either the films' theme ("finding oneself" and/or the meaning of life) or the relative quality of each film version. The novel's and films' title comes from a verse in the Katha-Upanishad. (The Upanishads are a collection of Vedic texts), and is translated as: "the sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard."

The Razor's Edge tells the story of an American guy traumatised by experiences in World War I. Back home after the war, he renounces the materialism around him to seek transcendent meaning in his life. Culmination of his search takes him to a monastery high in the mountains of India. I haven't read the novel, but from what I can gather it seems both films omit much detail of the main character's travels and adventures, as well as the way life is proceeding, in his absence, for the circle of friends he left behind. (Photographs: Tyrone Power in the leading role in the 1944 film version; Bill Murray took the lead in the 1984 version).

 Feast Before Altar of Terminus  (Castiglione 1642)
However, when I noticed that tomorrow, 23 February, was the date of yet another Roman festival, Terminalia, in honour of their god Terminus, an oblique detour from my original intentions opened up.

Terminus, Roman god and protector of boundary markers; his name was the Latin word for such a marker, in our world the milestone is the boundary marker's descendant. Sacrifices were performed to sanctify each boundary stone, landowners celebrated "Terminalia" in Terminus' honor each year on February 23, which was also their last day of the Roman year. The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill was thought to have been built over a shrine to Terminus, and he was occasionally identified as an aspect of Jupiter under the name "Jupiter Terminalis". I've already rattled on about Terminus, by the way, in an old post HERE. (Wikipedia HERE and HERE)

It might not seem so at first glance, but there is a loose link between The Razor's Edge and Terminus, Roman god of boundaries: knife-edge/razor's edge = an extremely narrow boundary.

So.. a ramble around the general topic of boundaries.

First thought was along the lines that all boundaries are man-made, defined by the power-hungry for purposes of profit and control. That's not accurate, of course, nature has her boundaries. Most basic of these: earth's continents are constantly moving due to motions of the tectonic plates, the border between two tectonic plates is called a boundary. All the tectonic plates are constantly moving — very slowly — around the planet, but in many different directions. Some are moving toward each other, some are moving apart, and some are sliding past each other. Because of these differences, tectonic plate boundaries are grouped into three main types......For more see HERE.

Astrologers define boundaries relevant to their profession. "Out-of-bounds planets" are any that have a declination greater than 23 degrees 27’. The declination is the angular distance of a planet north or south of the celestial equator. Out-of-Bounds simply means “outside of the boundary of the ecliptic”. Because of the tilt of the earth’s axis, the sun appears to stay within 23 degrees 27’ north of the equator and 23 degrees 27’ south of the equator. Anything “outside” of that is considered “out-of-bounds”.
More HERE.

Back to the original and more visible earthly boundaries.

An ancient custom of "beating the bounds" is still carried out in parts of England and Wales. Members of a community walk the boundaries of their parish, usually led by the parish priest and church officials. Purpose of this exercise, historically, was to share knowledge of where the boundaries lay, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands. In the past, knowledge of the limits of each parish needed to be handed down so that such matters as liability to contribute to the repair of the church, and the right to be buried within the churchyard were not disputed. The custom dates from Anglo-Saxon times, it's thought that it may have been derived from the Roman Terminalia, a festival celebrated on February 22 in honour of Terminus, the god of landmarks, to whom cakes and wine were offered, sports and dancing taking place at the boundaries. More HERE.

Combined thoughts of boundaries and English history brings to mind the enclosures of common and waste land on which parishioners had always been free to graze their stock. The enclosure laws sought to enclose common land and reduce and rearrange the long strips of land previously used for growing crops. From the late 16th century onward such change became common, often amid much protest. Under the open field system, several landowners had strips in each large field, probably arranged originally to give everyone a fair share of good and bad land. At enclosure, land was re-apportioned between the various landowners, in general putting land together and swapping it around, so that larger closes were formed within the larger fields to replace the smaller field strips. Wealthy inhabitants were likely to find the changes advantageous, but many of the smallholders and cottagers who had relied on common grazing were forced to move to towns and cities to find work. Enclosure made agriculture more efficient but at huge cost to many living in rural communities. See HERE.

Finally, while I cringe at the very thought of a dog ever being chained, there's this quote from an unfinished novel The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace (born 21 February 1962) . The novel was left unfinished because the author committed suicide in 2008 defining the boundary to his own life. The idea in this sad quotation puts acceptance of boundaries in a rather different light.

 Hat-tip to Wolfer Magic
What he'd do, he'd never go out to the length of the chain. He'd never even get out to where the chain got tight. Even if the mailman pulled up, or a salesman. Out of dignity, this dog pretended like he chose this one area to stay in that just happened to be inside the length of the chain. Nothing outside of that area right there interested him. He just had zero interest. So he never noticed the chain. He didn't hate it. The chain. He just up and made it not relevant. maybe he wasn't pretending--maybe he really up and chose that little circle for his own world. He had a power to him. All of his life on that chain..


DC said...

David Foster's writing is poignant for sure!
....such an adept analogy of how limitations (boundaries)of different sorts, upon the human or animal condition, are handled by the said humans or animals.
...the "chain of pain" referred to in Foster's writings about the chained dog is a chilling reference/analogy to all the things sentient beings are dominated by in their day and experience at nearly any given time....racial bigotry, religious or spiritual persecution, rights to freedom and/or happiness denied by the oppressive powers that be at any given time, (be it the gov't, corporations etc) the list goes on.....and then acceptance of the restrictions due to whatever reasons, (e.g. apathy, laziness, fear or sticking to the status-quo not voting thoughtfully in a democracy, all come to mind) equaling to a compliance or a self-deprecating existence, or non-awareness of one's own limitations (or in some cases strengths), then the limitations or boundaries, in this case, are somehow deemed acceptable....maybe even welcome, even though they are forced upon those without the will or consent of the individual. Power (i.e. power over a culture and/or it's participants)can and does corrupt absolutely in so many ways. And in a way that is so many times seen as allowed by those that HAD the power in the first place (ignorantly), but then after squandering it, no longer hold it. Much to their own demise of course.
Like I said...a poignant analogy of a power boundary. Great post Annie.

Twilight said...

DC ~ Thank you. I'm so glad you've written that, because when I tried I found I couldn't get my words around it clearly enough, kept tripping over myself - you've done it perfectly! :-)

mike said...

The two authors you mention had very strange lives...maybe most authors have very strange lives. A very high depression and suicide rate, it seems. I was saddened by Ned Vizzini's departure last December.

From the few novels by Maugham that I've read, sex and relationship boundaries are a common theme. "Of Human Bondage" has that in spades.

The residue of solipsism forces us to each perceive boundaries.

Twilight said...

mike ~ I know little, in detail, of the two authors I've mentioned, and nothing at all of Ned Vizzini, but a quick search indicated that both he and Wallace had suffered from depression. So sad!

I once read that writing (as a full-time occupation) can be seen as a 12th house kind of thing - spending long periods isolated as though in a cell, hospital or institution. In time, I guess this alone could bring about feelings of depression.

Somerset Maugham lived to be 91, is alleged to have enjoyed intimate relationships with both males and females - so he broke those boundaries, possibly not always completely joyfully, if "Of Human Bondage" is anything to go by - as being autobiographical.

Wallace and Maugham are both a bit "cuspy", astrologically.
Wallace born near the Aqua/Pisces cusp and Maugham with Mercury and Venus conjoined in the last degrees of Cap/Aquarius, some might even consider also conjunct his Sun/Saturn at 5 Aquarius (out of sign). ;-)

In a way we could say that all three authors broke boundaries, two broke the life/death boundary for themselves, one broke (or straddled) the male/female sexual relationship boundaries (hetero/homosexual).

LB said...

Twilight ~ Thanks for this post and also for including some of the writing of David Foster Wallace.

Reading his words, I get the feeling it was his profound awareness of the truth rather than his writing that isolated him. Most of the world shuns the truth as well as its messengers - knowing that, I think writing was like balm to his wounded soul, his way of making sense of the spiritual-social-intellectual isolation he often experienced and of using it to inspire others and create meaning.

Neptune, ruler of David Foster Wallace's Sun-Chiron-Venus conjunction in Pisces (which opposed his natal Pluto in Virgo and speaks strongly to the nature of his spiritual angst) was in Scorpio (spiritual truths as art and the need to transform materialism). Deep and dark (often painfully so) Neptune in Scorpio squared his more cerebral, detached and intellectually narcissistic, though also humanitarian placements in idealistic Aquarius.

He was that noble dog on the chain, with its short leash attached to a much wiser master who wanted only to teach him the value in humility, mindfulness and service to others. I've only just begun looking at his quotes, but already I found at least one place where he referenced the saying, "The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master."

Challenging as it was for his mind to accept, I think he recognized that it's in our willingness to surrender to something greater than ourselves that we're offered the greatest opportunity to transform our external limitations and attain true inner freedom - from all of the restraints, illusions, delusions and oppression of this world. He was a deep (and deeply troubled) guy.

Sometimes we don't choose isolation, it chooses us. It's what we do with it that makes the difference. I find it terribly sad he chose death instead of art as a way to finally escape his earthly boundaries and sense of aloneness.

“There's a kind of Ah-ha! Somebody at least for a moment feels about something or sees something the way that I do. It doesn't happen all the time. It's these brief flashes or flames, but I get that sometimes. I feel unalone—intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. I feel human and unalone and that I'm in a deep, significant conversation with another consciousness in fiction and poetry in a way that I don't with other art.”
― David Foster Wallace

Twilight, your post was very timely for me, which is why I mentioned it in a comment I left on Donna Cunningham's post on Saturn's transit through Scorpio:

Twilight said...

LB ~ I've been reading some quotes of Wallace's too. I can see why his writing and his thoughts continue to impress so many of his readers.

His sentiments and those of Somerset Maugham's character, Larry Darrell, in "The Razor's Edge" are something the same. Larry Darrell lost all sense of what life is really about due to experiences in World War I, needed to escape, eventually to solitude on a mountain top, where he found his answer. So far I haven't discovered exactly what his answer turned out to be. In the movie one of his lines, towards the end, speaking to one of his old friends, is something like "You don't understand do you - nothing matters." which hardly seems like a worthwhile answer after all the efforts he made to find it.

I'm happy you found the post timely, and thanks for the mention in an outside blog. It all helps. :-)

Twilight said...

To all ~~ Thinking that I ought to do a post about some aspect of Neptune, seeing as the Sun is about to meet Pisces ruler, at home in its own sign (and both will meet my natal Jupiter at 6 Pisces too as it happens, looking around for assistance I read a piece by Amanda Painter and Eric Francis :
Pisces Sun: Encountering Neptune at the Headwaters

A line therein says:

Neptune tends to dissolve things like boundaries, hence the increase in psychic sensitivity

So it's back to boundaries! I hadn't even considered that.

LB said...

Twilight ~ Next trip to the library, I might try to find one or both versions of "The Razor's Edge".

Whenever I hear the word "boundaries", I immediately think of the ethereal ones we can't see . . . a perfect subject during Pisces season.:)

mike (again) said...

I would agree that Neptune can assist in dissolving boundaries, but in a triune with Uranus and Pluto...all three planets are known for transcendence, freedom, and transformation, in their discipline. The boundaries are limits defined by Jupiter's expansion and Saturn's contraction. Neptune rules the nebulous and ill-defined, but that shouldn't be construed as boundary deconstruction in itself.

Twilight said...

LB ~ I shall look for a used copy of the novel also, to discover what the films left out. :-) There was a 40-year gap between re-makes 44/84.
If some producer decided to do a third around now they'd probably cast Brad Pitt in the lead role, he might be fine in it too - or maybe Edward Norton - he'd be a good choice. :-)

Twilight said...

mike ~ The word most often used in that connection is "dissolve"
rather than "deconstruct", a more subtle, gentle, melting away or liquifying, maybe even hardly noticeable at first. Or so I suppose.

Frankly, I'm a bit wary of all keywords attached to the 3 outer planets. We use them because that's what 'they' tell us to use and because the keywords have been seen to fit, loosely, in retrospect.
But I wonder if those responsible for dishing out keywords had offered different ones - would they have been capable of fitting just as well? I have a feeling they would, you know. I ponder on such things when feeling astro-cynical.

Some bright spark named Neptune 'Neptune' probably because it looks blue through a telescope, from our perspective on Earth. Is that a good enough reason to give a newly discovered planet a name, then attach traits to it in connection with the chosen name? I'm being awkward here, of course.