Sunday, 2 April 2017

On Life and Sentimentality.

I watched a Japanese horror film last night (which I do quite often because it’s something of an axiom among the horror genre cognoscenti that East Asians make the best ones.) At the end of it the reluctant and rather nervous hero is approached by a young undead girl who has befriended him. Her approach makes him even more nervous because he now has good reason to believe that she is possessed by a demon, and that if she gets too close she will bite a big hole in his jugular vein causing him to expire prematurely. In consequence of this he rebukes her approach and hits her over the head with a blunt object.

This is too much for a young girl of even the undead variety, and so she collapses to the floor and begins her own process of expiration. While there is still a little light left in her fading eyes, however, she looks up at her assailant without any semblance of malice. ‘I love you, big brother,’ she says plaintively (or so one most assume in spite of one’s ignorance of Japanese intonation), and her hand falls open to reveal the gift of an acorn which she was trying to give him. The assailant is mortified and struck dumb by self-loathing, but all he can do is cradle the young girl’s body and weep bitter tears of helplessness and self-reproach.

At this point I must explain that the scene was handled without a trace of the mawkishness which you might naturally presume from my inadequate telling of the story. The Japanese don’t do things that way; there is nothing of either Dickens or Disney about them. They tell it straight and they tell it cold, and that’s why it got to me.

I’m sentimental, you see, and I have no defence against that unfortunate trait if there is no mawkishness present to hand me the impenetrable cuirass of mockery. This was the Death of Gelert all over again, a fable which has brought cataracts of tears from the eyes of schoolchildren since the Middle Ages (or maybe the Victorians invented the tale, but it’s still a long time.) It’s that irresistible combination of suffering and injustice that does it. Both are bad in isolation, but combine the two and no dam has the strength to hold back the flood.

And now I should be sounding off about sentimentality, asking why it should be regarded as a weakness, a negative quality which is to be derided and suppressed because it’s a hard life and you’ve got to be hard to cope with it. I should be proposing the view that if we encouraged the sentimental side of our natures instead, the world would be a nicer place and the need to suppress it would fall.

But I’m not going to because it gets complicated. Many aspects of life, from government to big business, would still be ruled by psychopaths who win because they have no sentimentality to suppress. And then there are those who are selective in applying it, and that selectivity is usually based on prejudice and self-interest. And so on and so forth.

And that’s why writing a blog can be instructive because it teaches you that you can’t always be as dogmatic as you’d like. In the end you can only try to be authentic in your own dealings with life, and that means accepting the consequences whatever they may be.

No comments: