Friday, February 01, 2013

The call of duty. Unspeakable duty.

Some duties in life we choose. Some watches we take up intentionally, fully aware of the demands they will make on us, the sacrifices they will require.

Other duties, however, are thrust upon us. They seek us out on sneaking feet, and before we realize it we are press-ganged and enlisted, on the ramparts with a weather eye to the horizon, lives in our hands, like it or not.

The former is how I would characterize my interest in and cataloging of instances of fictional characters being compared to beloved movie bigman Sydney Greenstreet. It is but an expression of my Sydney Greenstreet–sized passion for that noble object of comparison.

The latter category? Well, that would include a beat to which I hadn't, until this week, even realized I'd been assigned: reporting on { . . . sidelong glance . . . . whisper . . . } grandmotherfuckers. Ahem.

I did, a few years back, report on D. J. Enright's inclusion of that--thankfully rare--category of person in his list of causes of vampirism:
The sins and misfortunes reckoned to lead to the condition have included some weird items: committing suicide, of course, but also working on Sundays, smoking on holy days, drinking to excess, and having sexual intercourse with one's grandmother; more innocently, those born on Christmas Day are doomed to the same fate in punishment of their mothers' presumptuousness in conceiving on the same day as the Virgin Mary.
That, I thought, 'twould be the end of it. Like many a horror movie protagonist, I was wrong.

Earlier this week, reading Tristram Shandy, I came upon an account of a complicated and nonsensical argument that concluded with a proof that parents are not kin to their children, in part because while their "blood and seed" are mixed in the child, his are not mixed in them. Innocently, I read on:
It is held, said Triptolemus, the better opinion; because the father, the mother, and the child, though they be three persons, yet are they but (una caro) one flesh; and consequently no degree of kindred--or any method of acquiring one in nature--There you push the argument too far, cried Didius--for there is no prohibition in nature, though there is in the levitical law,--but that a man may beget a child upon his grandmother--in which case, supposing the issue a daughter, she would stand in relation both of--But who ever thought, cried Kysarcius, of laying with his grandmother?--The young gentleman, replied Yorick, whom Selden speaks of--who not only thought of it, but justified his intention to his father by the argument drawn from the law of retaliation--"You lay'd, Sir, with my mother, said the lad--why may not I lay with yours?"
And with that, let us leave this topic and hope never to be called to vigilance regarding it again.

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