"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, December 6, 2021

Knights, Maidens, Romance, And Shining Armor–Gone And Forgotten In An Age Without Valor

“Perhaps it is because there are too many lawyers”, said Parsons Davey, professor of Medieval Studies at a well-known Eastern University, teacher of Petrarch and the great chivalric myths of King Arthur, Lancelot, and Sir Gawain. Where had the valor and Christian patriotism of the Crusades gone?  Where were the parades, the flowers, the smiles and promises of fair maidens at their heroes’ return?  Where was the long-awaited bower of bliss for which knights in shining armor fought the infidel?

Image result for images the crusades

“Where indeed?”, he said, looking out his window at the students assembled in the quadrangle protesting one thing or another.  The cause seemed to change daily but the protestors did not.  It was like a swarm of bees buzzing back and forth from the hive, or like angry rodents sent out to gnaw and chew at injustice. 

Parsons heard only snippets of protest from behind the tracery of windows which had been re-leaded, re-paned, and re-set to last another hundred years.  Adolescents still in their infancy bawling for their mother’s teat, demanding, insisting, not satisfied and throwing a temper tantrum with five hundred other babies still in diapers beneath Davenport Hall.  He returned to Petrarch, reading about the poet’s love for Laura, a pure love that transcended pedestrian affairs.

My Laura, my love, I behold in thine eyes
Twin daystars that Mercy has given,
To teach me on earth to be happy and wise
And guide me triumphant to heaven….

Image result for images petrarch

A loud cheer went up in the courtyard followed by the chants of “Dagger, Dagger, Dagger” calling the name of the leader of all campus protests as he climbed the makeshift stage.  He extended his arms in a gesture of appreciation and a request for quiet. 

Parsons returned to his volume of Petrarch, a rare book he had borrowed from the university archives and read only under optimum conditions – his study could never be more than 65F, with no direct sunlight, at a humidity of only 35 percent; and his hands had to be scrubbed and nails clipped before every reading; but before he could go on, the loud, hoarse, angry voice of Dagger Fipps echoed off the college walls, muted somewhat by the wisteria that covered them. 

His voice rose and fell in crescendos and diminuendos, playing the crowd like a master, inflaming them, then appeasing them with words of hope, solidarity, and progress.  Fipps had a deliberate rhythm to his words, and once Parsons felt he had gotten used to it, he returned to his verse

Their lessons of love thro' a lifetime have taught
My bosom the pureness of thine,
They have roused me to virtue, exalted my thought,
And nerved me for glory divine:
They have shed on my heart a delightful repose,
All else it hath barr'd from its portal,
So deeply the stream of my happiness flows,
I know that my soul is immortal.

‘So deeply the stream of my happiness flows, I know that my soul is immortal’, he repeated, smiling to himself at the beauty and resonance of the line – interrupted by a change in Fipps’ cadence and more cheers from the crowd.  Getting up, Parsons looked out his clerestory window, smelled the sweet scent of wisteria and caught a faint hint of lilacs from an interior court, and looked down at Dagger Fipps, his students, and the flags, banners, and signs they carried. 

“Come up here, Brandy”, said Fipps, extending his hand to a large woman in the front row.  The crowed applauded and cheered and shouted her name in cadence.  “Bran-dy, Bran-dy, Bran-dy”.

Brandy acknowledged their cheers, grabbed a rainbow flag from a demonstrator and held it like a Marine guard, upright, stiff, and ceremonial.  “I am here”, Brandy began in a surprisingly gravelly, deep male voice, “to thank you for your support in my journey”.  More cheers and applause. “I couldn’t have done it without you”.

From there she went on to describe her coming out, her frustrated search for medical support, and then the details of her sex change operation.  The crowd, fully supportive of transgender modification in principle, went quiet and a bit squeamish at the gory details.  Men unconsciously felt themselves to be sure everything was still there – maybe she did the thing, but they would hold on to theirs.

More cheers when she was gently guided off the stage by Dagger Fipps, far sooner than she in her prepared speech had anticipated, but all smiles nonetheless.

Parsons closed the window, returned to his book, and replaced it in its protective case.  His delicacy, soft touch, and respectful gestures were like those of the priest at high mass at St. Matthew’s cathedral that Parsons attended every Sunday. The cleansing of the chalice with a silk cloth, the dusting of the paten so that the motes of communion could be replaced in the tabernacle.  Parsons was aware of the simile and embraced it.  Petrarch and all he stood for was more than just an early romantic poet, he was a literary and social saint.

Image result for images priest cleaning chalice after consecration

Parson’s era – the Medieval – was as disparaged as any by his students and young faculty who reviled the very notion of dependent maidens and testosterone-fueled, patriarchal knights of a racist court.  Crusades? Ha! Genocide of the first order.  Jousting? The lances were nothing but stand-in, wooden penises used not to defeat one’s opponent but to metaphorically penetrate his holy of holies, a sexual display of misplaced machismo.

Petrarch was laughed at, and only literature majors who, according to the academic committee who by fiat decided on approved curricular studies, took Parsons’ course under duress.  He was sure that this would be the last year for his course, one more act of literary cleansing to appease the woke mob now in the majority on campus.  Their term papers were angry screeds against European imperialism, Christian hegemony, the fallacy of myths as culture, and the championing of discredited heterosexuality – the naked fantasy of the the Medieval male mind.

He asked his chair – a young woman with a recent PhD from Duke and a Deconstructionist scholar – how he should grade these papers which not only were off-topic but nowhere near it.  The Chair smiled at him – a kindly old man out of his element, bypassed by history, flummoxed by the new wave of social relevance, and soon to retire and asked politely but firmly to consider an Emeritus position; i.e. to be removed from the classroom once and for all.

“Grade them as you see fit”, the Chair said.  “Fairly and with understanding”.  This was all she was about to say to this academic supernumerary whose days were numbered.

Parsons knew that this particular end was coming, but like most men of his age, position, and former reputation, could simply not accept it.  Of course he would go gracefully to the applause and warm embraces of his older colleagues and his career would be briefly noted in the Alumni Magazine, but he was for all intents and purposes over and done with.

Perhaps it was better this way.  He was in no condition, mentally or spiritually, to have to deal with the wicked sexual deformations of the day.  Edward Albee, no fan of marriage, suggested that it was ‘the crucible of maturity’, that the plays of his predecessors from Shakespeare to O’Neill told of the torture and torment of the institution but never once denied it or wanted out of it or ever considered a single, untethered sexual life.  

Petrarch may have been a hopeless romantic and indeed ushered in the idea of romantic love, an idea brand new to royalty whose marriages were arranged for influence and resources; and to peasants who cared only for an abundantly fertile wife to produce arms and backs for the fields.  Yet he signaled something new in sexuality – the  unexpected discovery of maleness and femaleness divorced from reproductivity and authority. 

Image result for images elizabeth taylor richard burton who's afraid

As importantly maternity can never be divorced from family dynamics.  Two men with a child from an unknown surrogate can never even begin to understand the primal dynamics that occur between a biological mother and her offspring and then between her and her husband.

The episode in the the courtyard was an example of biological revisionism to the nth degree - identity, rank individualism, and hysterical reformism. 

What was wrong, Parsons considered during his last days at the university, with a king and his courtiers, knights and maidens, the patronage of arts, literature, philosophy, and science? The inseparability of church and state? The fealty and devotion to God and King?

He considered a reference or two to all this in his farewell address to the Department, but thought better of it.