Why Colonel Sartoris?

Allow me to explain the puzzling title. Colonel Sartoris is William Faulkner's greatest character. He exemplifies those values that his society cherishes, namely tradition, patriarchy, courtliness, and courage. Though modernity's slow march tries to strip him of these things, Sartoris continues to live as he always has, knowing that "the past is never dead. It's not even past." He seeks order in the honorable folkways and mores of his forbears. Let us not forget his example.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Opening: Ceremony, Silliness, and Superciliousness

I must confess that I have no idea what to make of the Opening.  My gut reaction was that I did not like the last half, and I'm still trying to digest why I didn't like it, what about it I did not like, and how the multitudinous patchwork of Britannica was selected and deployed.  And, frankly, I am at a loss but will try to make sense of it all.

First, all of those questions are really re-phrasings of the same theme.  My anglophilia makes this all the greater perplexing; I should have loved the British-ness of the ceremony.  And, I think, I have arrived at my answer: it as not what I would call "British."  Hence I loved the first half, culminating with the Queen's arrival, and disliked the last half.

I liked the sense of progress, place, and pride that obviously framed the first half of the British narrative.  They did two things: captured the idyllic countryside of an Edwardian Downton Abbey and Georgian England and also her dynamic surge into an industrial giant, whose newfound capacity for industry coupled with its ingrained sense or order and devotion to duty allowed a small island nation to rule much of the world for a century.  I liked that England.  Notably absent, of course, was any hint at its colonial rule (which allowed Canada, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Hong Kong, etc. to become the stable democracies they are today) or its coolheaded courage/"stiff upper lip" (Dunkirk, the Blitz, the Spanish Armada, Omdurman, etc.).

It focused on hard exports that the country produced (iron, coal) and the "soft" ones, notably children's literature (J.K. Rowling, J.M. Barrie) and music.  I have no quibble with that.  But the National Hospital Services bit (nightmares, etc.) totally threw me.  And Boyle's second half, what with its social media and love-story plot was completely lost on me.  I have no idea how that story is quintessentially "English."  It's perhaps human, but it does not really celebrate British identity, nor did it give a unique twist (British or otherwise) on a common trope.

Tragically, the ceremony did not celebrate England's greatest virtue: tradition.  It hinted at tradition (the Chelsea veterans), but it was largely uncelebrated.  In my mind, that is what England has above all other countries.  England's tradition (a la Tevye's ode in Fiddler on the Roof) is what binds its people together and engenders its triumphs.  It is embodied in the monarchy and its trappings, indeed, the entire social order, but it is useful because of two reasons: (1) it allows people to have both a personal and national identity; and (2) it allows people to understand their roles in society.  It is a stabilizing, cohesive force that has goaded England far beyond the capacity it might otherwise have had.

Yet while I regret that the Ceremony did not sufficiently extol and reflect the glorious tradition that the country operates on, the Ceremony showcased a quintessentially English trait: understatement.  Understatement?  With fireworks, and a parachuting James Bond and a 100-foot-tall Voldemort?  Indeed.  While the spectacle registered on a grand scale, England did not take it upon itself to portray whatever grave virtues she thinks it possesses.  England doesn't beat you over the head--at least intentionally--with its notion of how things are done.  It is understated about it.  Even the Queen's address did not rely on fanfare or bravado.  She simply stated that the games were now opened.  Instead, England focused on the little things that enliven the and lift the human spirit.  And while I think the focus on social media, love story, children's nightmares all got out of hand and reflected maybe trying too hard not to be stodgy, it was somewhat refreshing to see such a tradition-bound people so creatively share the pride they have in their small island.

Even if I liked it only about 50%.

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