Posted by: Harold Knight | 02/05/2010

Clockwork Orange, Die Walküre, Norns, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Grief

Too ego-centric even for me:

Last night a friend mentioned Wagner’s Die Walküre in conversation. It’s the second of the operas in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). More accurately, he mentioned the ride of The Valkyries (Die Walküre)—you know the music: Elmer Fudd singing, “Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit!”—after I had mentioned going under duress to my first Ring (to please my partner). 

Yes, I’ve now seen the entire set of operas (17-18 hours’ worth) four times, twice in a “festival” productions, the four operas in one week. I’m hoping to see at least one of the American festival productions taking place in the next year or so. I love it. I didn’t always. Believe me, it’s a required taste. Unless you love special effects, wild music, bizarre stories, fast-paced action (except for the fourth opera in which the first hour is spent with one person singing a recap of the entire twelve hours that’s gone on the last three nights), and bloody intrigue. Sounds like a good TV series to me. 

Three sisters (aren’t there always three in theater?) play a small part in the last of the operas,  Götterdämmerung.  The Norns are the Norse version of the fates. The last production I saw had them miraculously emerge from a wall (what modern technology hasn’t done for theater) and start weaving their “rope of fate.” It was cute. Well, too serious to be cute, but you get my drift. The Norns have only a small singing role, but, of course, they’re in charge of everything. 

The Norns in Shakespeare are the witches in Macbeth, of course (I played Banquo once and used to be able to recite that entire scene, but age and too much vodka—or is it Lamictal?—have ended that). They are called the “Weird sisters.” 

In the past week I have erred in saying to three different people that all my life I have felt weird. Oh, no! they say. Don’t judge yourself that way. You might be “eccentric,” but not “weird.” “Weird” is too negative. Never mind that the Weird Sisters rule Macbeth’s world. gives the first definition of “weird” as “involving or suggesting the supernatural; unearthly or uncanny.” I make no claim to being involved with the supernatural. If an angel or a ghost visits me, I will simply tell it to go away. My seizures do not bring me into the presence of the Cherubim and Seraphim, thank God! 

No, my weirdness is of the garden variety: “fantastic; bizarre: a weird getup.” More bizarre than fantastic, however. 

That’s not a negative characteristic, is it? Especially for someone who has spent much of his life with his brain feeling detached from his skull, his skull off in the next room, a high B-flat ringing in his ears followed by white noise and a sense of calm that would be delightful if it were not so “weird.” But my guess is that every human being on earth, if they had interest in doing so, would have to admit they have had experiences as weird as mine. What do think your brain is? Some mechanical device that functions exactly as programmed by DNA? I doubt it. 

So the next time you’re feeling weird, go for it. Feel it. It won’t kill you. At least, as I’ve said here before, it hasn’t killed me yet. Or maybe it has and I’m lingering around here caught in the Rope of Destiny because the Norns haven’t done with me yet. 

Here’s the point (oh, you thought the point was that I was once again being self-absorbed; that may be true, but it’s not the point of this writing). 

Sometimes I wonder if I decided some time in the past to be weird. Surely my wearing my J.S. Bach sweatshirt to school at Central High in Omaha was a conscious decision. It may well have simply been teen-age rebellion. Sure. And the way I dress now may simply be a conscious decision to be off-beat.  The fact that I have a pipe organ in my living room doesn’t make me weird, just sort of unique. And lucky! The fact that I have been sitting here at my computer since 4:30 AM writing a bunch of stuff and finally drifting into whatever this topic is.

But let’s get real. Maybe the only thing weird about me is my eccentricity, and maybe more of it is conscious decision than I want to admit.’s first definition of “eccentric” is: “deviating from the recognized or customary character, practice, etc.; irregular; erratic; peculiar; odd.” So am I irregular, erratic, peculiar or odd? I suppose so. At least some of those are the way I feel most of the time. 

I much prefer the second definition: “not having the same center; not concentric: used esp. of two circles or spheres at least one of which contains the centers of both.” This use is a term in geometry: “from Gk. ekkentros ‘out of the center’ (as opposed to concentric), from ek “out” + kentron ‘center’.” Not having the same center. 

What a concept. Richard Wagner was not concentric. His center was barely inside the circles of the rest of society. The Norns and “Kill the Wabbit” exerted a pull on him that moved his center away from the norm. Even the other musicians of his day were not concentric with him. He had to build his own opera house to insure the proper production of The Ring

Stop! I’m not comparing myself to Richard Wagner. The most obvious center he and I share is a view of politics that is far outside the mainstream circle. All I’m saying is that I am grateful that, for whatever reason, I have been weird, eccentric, all my life. Most of it is not intentional. 

I’m grateful because that gives me a view of the world I think everyone ought to try to develop. Nothing is what it seems. Concentric circles only radiate out from each other. The same thing bigger and bigger or smaller and smaller. It’s the off-center circles that make interesting patterns. Get rid of your credit card. Memorize the dialogue of Clockwork Orange. Walk to work. Leave your dishes unwashed for a week. Don’t assume that any politician is telling the truth—even the ones you agree with. When you feel like you’re having an out-of-body experience, go with it! 

Try some little things. Suddenly you might understand how fragile your life is, how strange everything is, how you might as well believe in the Norns as in the Pearly Gates. Nothing is what it seems. All of your adherence to what is concentric, all of your fear of planting the center of your own circle in your own place may be more rewarding, exciting, if you pick that tiny dot of your center up and move it a fraction of a millimeter to the left. Read Clockwork Orange and then watch the movie. Study free will as opposed to conformity. 

This is not a sermon. I’m not saying I live that way. I’m not advising you to do anything the way I do. 

This is born of grief. My heart breaking. What is this ridiculous rope of destiny the Norns are weaving for my friend who understands, rejoices in ex-centricity? 

          No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
          Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
          –From “The Windhover,” (To Christ our Lord), 1918. –Gerard Manley Hopkins


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