THE WRITER AS DEVIL
JOHN to the audience.
QUESTION: Are writers visible in mirrors?
This goes back to the Christian notion that any creature lacking a soul would not produce a reflection in a mirror. But, actually, with a few exceptions (and I think we all know who they are), writers are visible in mirrors, although interestingly enough, they are often quite discomforted by their own reflection.
He changes to sign on the easel to read: THE WRITER AS DEVIL.
John returns to the laptop again…almost trance-like.
In his 1966 movie, Persona, Ingmar Bergman explored the symbiotic relationship that evolves between an actress suffering a breakdown and the nurse in charge of her as the actress recuperates at an isolated, island cottage.
As I watch it now, its reflections begin to haunt my life.
An actress—played by Liv Ullman—freezes up in the middle of a theatrical performance of Electra, thereafter refusing to speak. We aren’t told why. She watches as the nurse, Bibi Anderson, chatters away about her troubled sex life. Then comes the weird moment on the screen in which the two women physically merge into one.
Bergman said that making the movie saved his life. Most of its significance, I believe, centers around the photographic combinations of their faces while at the same time in a way transferring personalities between the mental patient and her lonely nurse.
For a while the two women really seem to become intermingled. Suddenly, through the silence of the other woman, the nurse is able to put herself in that actress’s place and understand the world with its senseless violence through the other woman’s eyes.
That sounds much like something a writer would do, doesn’t it?
I now live in the country with my second wife who one day meets a younger woman, Liviana, who resembles Liv Ullman a little. She is walking to town, a mile and a half away. At first she seems mildly retarded to Talia, my wife, but in reality she has a severe hearing problem. Liviana’s speech is garbled and she consequently says very little. For some reason my wife thinks this is profound.
What I don’t understand is that when my wife spends time with tLiviana, she comes to believe that the silent young woman may have a spirituality she has been searching for in herself.
All of her life, ever since my wife was a little girl, she has had a deep and profound love for God. She sees this as about changing consciousness in our lives and unhinging and unlimiting ourselves so that we can be all we can. She believes that ultimately that is the reality of God awakening in human form.”
John shrugs his shoulders.
He is oblivious to where Talia is going with her words.
In any case…what I really want is something about Bergman and Persona or, even better, some kind of insight into the creative process.
Bibi Andersson had been Bergman’s mistress, now Liv Ullman was assuming that role. The plot of the movie makes no sense in itself. Movie critics have been arguing over its meaning for nearly 50 years. But as a symbolic representation of Bergman’s evolving relationship with the two women, it is as sharp and clear as a writer’s image in a mirror. What we in the audience are seeing is not the characters played by Bibi and Liv but the artist’s projection of his own feelings onto them.
…Is this just another case of a male projecting his feelings onto females?
Maybe, but maybe it’s more, and even goes beyond this film. What if a soul must navigate this world of suffering before reaching its ultimate destination? What if a person must embrace pain as intimately as someone would a lover? Meet pain and be annihilated by it? Make pain, illness, sickness and the diseases of humanity their own?
…To recognize this passage is necessary to the divine process by which all things are born, all things die, and all things are once more made new.
So for me, Liv, or should I say Liviana, came to represent…
…One who steps forward, not to console, but to complete the devastation—to destroy all vestiges of false hope. I’m not talking about Liv or Liviana now, I am talking about something beyond them. What I have in mind is a female with fiery eyes, pointed teeth and a sharp, lolling red tongue.
She carries a sword in one hand which she wields with abandon. She lops off the heads of both angels and demons. She drinks the blood of the vanquished. All things are transformed in her and returned to the earth. They are rendered harmless in her…in time. She is time. She is Kali, destroyer of false hope.
She is the Hindu figure named for kala, which means “time”?
She was first born from the forehead of the goddess Durga during a battle in which this, the Great Mother, was called upon by the male gods— Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva—to protect the earth and all its inhabitants from the forces of evil.
Kali steps forward, not to console, but to complete the devastation that has already started.
Follow her into the mouth of the wolf. Through its enormous jaw. Past its razor teeth is a tunnel that leads down into darkness.
She is naked because she is ultimately pure and unashamed. And, she has three eyes in order to see past, present and future in one glance…to pierce through illusions. She is dark because she is not separate from the ultimate void out of which all things are born and into which all things die. Her tongue is extended because she desires blood and the life force of sex
She wears a skirt of severed arms because they are instruments of power. And her hair is untamed, because each hair represents one of her followers, all of whom will run wildly in different directions trying to find their way back to her. We must chop off the head of illusion. Through art we must know that life and death are one.
John as if he is reading an historic account.
In that original battle, Kali had not stopped with slaughtering demons. She continued her rampage, threatening to devour everything on earth. That’s when the gods sent down Shiva himself—the lover to the Divine Mother in her many forms. Shiva laid himself down on the battlefield in Kali’s path. She stepped on him. She felt his power under her feet. She stopped, looked down, smiled. The balance of the primordial Feminine with the primordial Masculine had been restored.