Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Dispersit Superbos

Friday evening I went to a concert with my father. Four Germans sang 16th-century polyphony. The first half passed breathlessly: mostly Passion music from the early Lutheran tradition (and some Bach). There was much laughter and applause during the caperings, mimicry and odd voices of the madrigals of the second half. John Dowland was introduced as the ‘master of melancholy’, but I suppose he was so in a Renaissance English sort of way, much subtler than German Romantics or other loud acolytes at the marriage of Eros and Thanatos.

As we filed out during the pause, I found myself shuffling forward next to a Muslim girl of presumably Dutch ancestry: glasses, white skin and a light blue headdress. Unlike most of the visitors, she wasn’t much older than I. Both of us seemed too shy to say anything, but I was struck by how natural and happy she looked: at ease without the mask of happy sociality, at peace without the defensive artillery of extroversion. Religion, discipline and decency do much to contribute to happiness.

A certain Rutger, who recently achieved notoriety, is a Dutchman without religion, without discipline and without decency; it is a lack he compensates by clutching a microphone with both hands like a scepter, and keeping the company of a camera. He is an insistent and often disrespectful interviewer. The majority of his prey feels forced either to play along or to ignore him. Being harassed is unpleasant, but better than creating a scene and appearing embarrassingly rude to the general public.

Recently Rutger singled out a woman with a partner who had no such qualms, vetted by years of political engagement, arduous physical training, and experience teaching philosophy of law: Prof. Kinneging. When Rutger rang, Kinneging opened. After it became clear that the annoying journalist was not going to leave, Kinneging decided to open the door, turn the camera away, and impress certain facts on the callers, such as:

- If they would return unannounced, he would throw them into the canal, camera and all.
- He might be the first to react this way, but not the last.
- No, he was not going to discuss or argue his point.

The entire exchange can be seen here.

I have to say, I admire the way Kinneging stood his ground. All the forgotten emotions from the playground (and the cinema) have come back to me now, in particular the surge of joy at finding a self-assured person confronting the dominators. It reminds me of the ‘Get off my lawn’ scene in Gran Torino. Sometimes the timorous sons and daughters of the polis need the old men with the anger management problem to teach the wheedling, malicious bullies the meaning of fear. Better to strike up an uneasy alliance with the wrathful God in the desert than to stay with Egypt’s fleshpots, helping the cruel Pharaoh fortify himself.

Some say that the oldest part of the Bible is the Song of Miriam, of God as fighting against the forces of a cocksure civilization: ‘Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.’ Or as her humbler namesake would put it, centuries later: ‘He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats…’

Or, nineteen centuries later, Chesterton (since the Road goes ever on and on):

For riseth up against realm and rod
A thing forgotten, a thing downtrod,
The last lost giant, even God,
Is risen against the world.