Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Way of Gaining Control.

05:20:00 Posted by Lara Clayton , , , , , 4 comments

By Heather Peterson


Superstition
BY MARIN SORESCU TRANSLATED BY MICHAEL HAMBURGER


My cat washes
w
ith her left paw,
there will be another war.

For I have observed
that whenever she washes
with her left paw
international tension grows
considerably.

How can she possibly keep her eye
on all the five continents?
Could it be
that in her pupils
that Pythia now resides
who has the power
to predict
the whole of history
without a full-stop or comma?

I
t’s enough to make me howl
when I think that I
and the Heaven with its souls I have
shouldered
in the last resort
depend
on the whims of a cat.

Go and catch mice,
don’t unleash
more world wars,
damned
lazybones!


This poem by Marin Sorescu, a Romanian poet, explores superstition as a need to feel control in a life ruled by chaos and forces far out our hands. Superstition comes from a need to feel that we control our destiny. If we wear our hat tipped at this angle, our team will win. If we wear black socks, our plane won’t crash. Chaos is the only thing encompassing everything, and it is the thing we fight most. Through trivia and habit we try to convince ourselves that we have agency – that our fates are in our hands. Sacrifices to the gods, songs, and prayer: all are efforts to harness the wind, call the rain, weaken our enemies and strengthen our armies.

Superstition comes from a thirst for agency in a world bigger than we are. Notice, though, that while the narrator of this poem begins by saying that the cat can predict war, he comes to blame the cat for her predictions, as if she is causing the war with every lick of her paw. This cat’s “whims” come to decide the fate of all five continents; in this way, the cat becomes like God, on whose caprice all of our destinies are said to rest.

At the end, Sorescu begs the cat to go catch mice, calling her a “damned lazybones”. In a way, superstition is laziness. Rather than making active attempts to change our futures, we imbue minutiae with the power to decide our destinies. Sorescu sits and watches his cat lick her paw rather than doing something.

The word “hubris” comes from arrogance in the face of the gods. Oedipus’ parents, in attempting to manipulate their fate, actually sealed it; had they not left Oedipus in the woods, he would have known them as his mother and father, and Freud would have had to come up with something else to blame for all of our problems. In a way, superstition is a form of arrogance. We believe that some small effort on our parts can have some kind of cosmic effect on the world. We think that dancing with a stick will bring the weather we need, that kissing our finger and tapping the roof of the car will get us safely through the yellow light. But we are just tiny human beings on a giant piece of rock hurtling through space, and wearing our lucky underwear won’t change that.

Religion comes from the need to feel in control, as does art. The early humans painted horses and bison on the walls of barely reachable caves. They didn’t do this for decoration – they did it because they felt that capturing the likeness of something helped give them power over it. Knowing a horse well enough to replicate it on a wall meant knowing it well enough to catch it.

In a similar way, writing is about control. When we can describe something perfectly, so that someone else can read it and know exactly what we mean, we have a certain power over it. By exploring the mysteries of life through words, by capturing the world in all its complexities on the page, we feel we are somehow shrinking it to a manageable size. In Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner compares life to a horse. We might have the illusion of control as we ride atop it, feeling the reins in our hands, but in the end the horse is stronger than we are: if it decides to throw us off, there is nothing we can do. In the meantime, though, we just sit tight in the saddle and tell ourselves everything will be all right.


Today’s guest post was written by HEATHER PETERSON. Heather recently received an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and is currently studying for an MFA in Fiction from the University of Florida.

Reactions:

4 comments:

Lara Clayton said...

Hi Heather,

I loved your post. It really questions superstition and looks at the reason behind the actions / beliefs. The connection with control is an interesting one, and ties in with what Lindsay was saying on Friday about OCD.

I particularly liked the way in which you brought the subject back to writing: "[...]writing is about control."

Brilliant post - and thank you for joining us on the blog.

Lar x

Ashley R Lister said...

Heather,

I love the image of us standing on a giant rock hurtling through space whilst we're all wearing our lucky underwear.

As Lar says - a brilliant post. Insightful and thought-provoking.

Ash

vicky ellis said...

I can only mirror the comments above and add that obviously the cats are the cause of most of the world's woes. Thanks for joining us Heather. I really enjoyed this post :)

Curt Peterson said...

I like the unanswered question Heather points out: That chaos is the only universal factor, and to not embrace chaos is insanity, while to not try to control chaos is laziness. That angst sums up the question of our very existence, the "pushmepullyou" of life.
Great, insightful post of a fun but meaningful poem.