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Living Out “The Bacchae” (America Burns)

Part I – The Bacchae. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, writing in his Birth of Tragedy (1871), Euripides (480 – 406 BC), whose main activity coincided with the nihilistic destructiveness of the Peloponnesian Wars, betrayed “the public cult of tragedy,” to whose canons he merely pretended to adhere, while secretly doing everything he could to subvert them.  The power of myth attained its “most profound content,” Nietzsche writes, in the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles, and its “most expressive form.”  Then Euripides intervened, imposing the withering literalistic interpretation of “the typical Hellene,” or paltry rationalist, on the properly mythic material of the most sublime of poetic genres.  “What was your wish,” Nietzsche proposes rhetorically, “when you tried to force that dying myth into your service once more.”  Nietzsche means the Myth of Dionysus, which, as he addresses directly the playwright, “died beneath your violent hands.”  Euripides, or so Nietzsche claims, sacrilegiously “abandoned Dionysus,” substituting “sophistical dialectic” for the ancient Dithyramb, and giving to his characters “counterfeit, masked passions” and “counterfeit, masked speeches.”  Nietzsche’s accusatory phrase, “violent hands,” works a bold verbal legerdemain, especially considering Euripides’ final play, The Bacchae, which concerns itself with the same deity in whose cult and celebrations tragedy had its birth.  With his second person formal, his “you,” Nietzsche assumes the stance of a public prosecutor, pointing his finger of indictment at the defendant and calling out the cultural equivalent of a capital crime.  That crime is sacrilege.  Nietzsche even compounds his indictment: “Through [Euripides] everyday man pushed his way through the auditorium on to the stage.”  Euripides, a kind of coward and panderer, stirred the mob into profaning the sacred scene, so that he might deflect guilt from himself.  The district attorney knows better. He will bring home his charge.

Euripides’ Bacchae itself constitutes an indictment, not so much criminal as anthropological.  The last extant play in the Athenian Tragic Succession turns back to the origin of tragedy.  In his drama, Euripides would investigate the primal motives of the Dionysiac religion, and even of the Bacchic cult as the matrix of a religious genus that a fully conscious, fully moral humanity would do better to repudiate than to validate, revere, or conserve.  Nietzsche’s “violent hands” and his mob belong not to Euripides but to the god himself, as the dramatist has discovered, and as he reveals in his drama.  As Walter F. Otto writes in his Dionysus, Myth and Cult (1933), the lore represents Dionysus “as the god who comes, the god of epiphany, whose appearance is far more urgent, far more compelling than that of any other god” (Chapter 5).  The Dionysiac epiphany, Otto adds, “Reveals itself in the… phenomena which accompany the approaching and imminent god”; that is to say, “pandemonium and its related counterpart, deadly silence” (Chapter 7).  The epithet Bromios or “roarer” attaches itself to the god, who often appears as a theriomorph of one species or another, but typically a bull, but also a lion or a panther.  The god’s cultists greet his apparition with “wild shouts of joy” (Chapter 8).  As for Otto’s “deadly silence” – it follows the deeds of the maniacal worshippers, which invariably reach their climax in sparagmatic mayhem.  Even the perpetrators, having spilt blood, fall into awed quietude as though something other than their own hands had done the deed.  For Nietzsche, Dionysus provided the élan essential to creative endeavors.  Otto sympathizes with Nietzsche to an extent, but for Otto, Dionysus, when he appears, presides over a catastrophic descent from civilized order into pre-cultural disorder: “No single Greek god even approaches Dionysus in the horror of his epithets, which bear witness to a savagery that is absolutely without mercy” (Chapter 9).

Euripides gives the first speech of his play to the god himself.  Dionysus interweaves autobiography with motive.  He has returned to his birthplace, Cadmeian Thebes, ostensibly to avenge his mother’s death.  Semele lay with Zeus, he in disguise, and boasted to her sisters of her liaison.  They disbelieved and mocked her, suggesting that the so-called god should prove his status by self-revelation in his true form, which in the Chief Olympian’s case would be the lightning-bolt.  Semele used feminine wiles to put Zeus in a deadly (to her) double-bind.  When the divine effulgence consumes Semele, at least part of the blame falls on her girlish narcissism and inanity; but the rivalry of the sisters and the division of the family into factions figure as important details, too.  In the moral entanglement that Dionysus imputes to these events guilt spreads everywhere – and any vengeance that justifies itself based on that guilt must therefore strike everywhere.  Guilt becomes irrelevant.  Dionysus presents himself, not as the rectifier of a particular or differentiable offense, but as the power of general dissolution whose hatred extends to any manifestation of order, understood as an offense against the god wherever it prevails.  Lysios, one of the epithets that bedeck Dionysus, means “he who breaks things up.”  Order itself, the order of the family or of the city, affronts the mob and must atone.  Dionysus in his opening monologue speaks these lines (Davie’s translation): “I have spurred those same sisters to madness and driven them in distraction from their houses”; but it will only suffice that, “all the female seed of Cadmus’ people, all the women folk, I have caused to quit their homes in frenzy.”  Dionysus likewise turns his ire on his cousin by maternal descent, “Pentheus,” grandson of Cadmus and current King of Thebes, “who makes war on divinity in my person by thrusting me away from his sacrifices and making no mention of me in his prayers.”

René Girard’s Violence and the Sacred (French original, 1966) owes no small debt to Otto’s Dionysus, even though Girard only mentions that title, never quoting it, but, confusingly, quotes instead from Rudolph Otto’s Idea of the Holy (1917).  Girard places the Bacchic annunciation in the context of what he calls, in a chapter devoted to the topic, “The Sacrificial Crisis”; to which topic he returns in a later chapter entitled, simply, “Dionysus.”  In Girard’s anthropology, violence maintains a dis-relation with difference, and difference a relation with order.  Girard’s sacrificial crisis consists in the breakdown of internal differences in the community.  The result of this liquidation is the outbreak and metastasis of reciprocal violence.  Modernity idolizes the concept of equality and makes of it a policy-goal; modernity, under its allegedly liberal regime, abhors hierarchy (or so it claims) and seeks to abolish vertical structure.  This same modernity understands Girard’s exposition only with great difficulty or, in most cases, not at all.  Tragedy represents the clash of would-be powers through the stichomythia, whereby in Girard’s words “the resemblance between the combatants grows ever stronger until each presents a mirror image of the other.”  Girard writes, “The destruction of differences is particularly spectacular when the hierarchical difference between the characters, the amount of respect due from one to the other, is great.”  The differences between king and subject, adult and adolescent, citizen and foreigner, and male and female have drastically diminished in the contemporary social context.  A constant tension is therefore unsurprising.  “Wherever differences are lacking,” Girard asserts, “violence threatens.”  Prior to the outbreak of violence, the very signs of order dissolve in a process of “de-symbolization.”  Symbols provide the interface between the external order of the civitas and the internal order of consciousness.  Their disappearance belongs to the Dionysiac dementia because without them the individual can no longer make sense of the scene.

In the First Choral Ode, Euripides emphasizes the ontological link between undifferentiation and violence.  The Maenads sing, “Blessed is the man who has the good fortune to know the gods’ mysteries, who consecrates his life and makes his soul one with the throng, worshipping Bacchus in the mountains with holy purifications.”  The personality melts away, giving place to the crowd; the cultist “whirls his thyrsus,” a primitive weapon, “on high”; the chorus admonishes itself to “show reverence when you wield the wand with its violence.”  When the First Choral Ode concludes, Teiresias and Cadmus enter the stage dressed, each “in the costume of a Bacchant.”  Euripides thus illustrates the collapse of the Theban hierarchy into violent sameness.  The elders imitate the young; men accouter themselves in the garb of women; and royalty merges with the insurrectionary sub-commonality.  Pentheus sets himself to resist foreign incursion, but succumbs to the growing madness.  Euripides provides a textbook example of the stichomythia in his exchange of single lines pitting the king against the interloper.  The Bacchae anticipates every horror movie since George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead; or since Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Violent mimesis spreads like a plague; to the intoxicating sickness of it, everyone becomes assimilated.  Otto comments how, in The Bacchae, the Maenads “pounce upon a herd of cattle, fell the most powerful animals among them, and tear them from limb to limb.”  Is it a herd of cattle – or a band of men?  Agave, mother of Pentheus, will mistake her son for a lion; she will direct the mob to assault him and she will flaunt his severed head, which she herself dissevers, as a trophy.  The horror occurs offstage.  Attica in the Fifth Century BC had a different sensibility from Hollywood in the Twentieth.

For Girard, in his “Dionysus” chapter, Euripides presents “the Bacchic spirit… as indistinguishable from the infectious evil.”  Girard draws the parallel between the perfusion of deadly violence in The Bacchae and the perfusion of the pestilence in Oedipus Rex.  The theme of purification pervades both tragedies.  Teiresias says to Pentheus, “Your thought is unhealthy.”  Not the body, as if contaminated by disease, but thought, itself, is unhealthy.  Purity – and with it, peace – shall establish itself only when all resistance to madness ends and a delusionary unanimity obtains.  When the pan-dementia manifests itself in the unanimity-minus-one of Pentheus’ sparagmatic demise, delusion relinquishes its grip.  Cadmus slowly talks Agave out of her conviction that she has ripped the limbs from a wild beast until in self-condemning horror she recognizes the filial aspect in the token of her fell deed.  Cadmus has previously re-embraced the reality principle.  Girard intends more than a literary analysis of the Euripidean text.  He sees in tragedy considerate reflection on a primordial event that all rituals reenact at one stage of remove or another.  Ritual sacrifice originates in the spontaneous action of crowds when tit-for-tat violence marches through the community.  Ritual sacrifice imitates an originary murder in which the crowd focused its violence on a more or less arbitrarily selected scapegoat.  Culture has been stuck in endless cycles of violence since its beginning, no less today than in the Classical Century.  Euripides has an inkling of this truth, and so did Sophocles and both men anticipate the final anti-sacrificial insight – the Gospel declaration of the victim’s innocence and the mob’s unconsciousness.  Girard writes, “The Euripidean version of the myth emphasizes the spontaneous aspect of the ritualistic proceedings and thus affords us a fleeting glimpse – or at least a strong intimation – of a real relationship between the rite and a past event, grounded in fact and partially reconstituted by the dramatist.”

Part II – America Burns. When the Bacchants in First Choral Ode of The Bacchae assert that in order to experience divine ecstasy the participant must become of one mind “with the throng,” they refer, not to a super-mind, although they imply that, but to a sub-mind.  Girard emphasizes the unanimity common to mob action and ritual sacrifice – which, in his judgment, imitates a very real first mobilization of the enthusiastic all-but-one against the hapless one.  A number of writer-thinkers anticipated Girard, who stands indebted to them but, for some reason, rarely cites them.  Take Joseph de Maistre, or René de Chateaubriand, or Gustave Le Bon.  Maistre, surveying the landscape of the Revolution, saw in it a recursion from the codification of law into a resurgence of apotropaic bloodletting.  All three men, not Maistre alone, wrote with reference to the French Revolution.  Maistre and Chateaubriand lived through the Revolution while Le Bon drew much of his research from it.  In his Elucidations on Sacrifice (1827), Maistre derives immolation from the state of general disorder; he remarks, as does Girard, on the ubiquity of sacrifice in pre-modern societies.  “Up to twenty thousand human victims per year had to be brought to the Mexican priests,” Maistre writes, “and to acquire them war had to be declared on some people” (Lebrun’s translation).  Maistre compares Revolutionary violence to “the customs of the Iroquois and Algonquins.”  In his memoir (1850), Chateaubriand describes an incident of the July 1830 Revolution: A group of radicals parades down the street displaying the heads of their victims on pikes.  Le Bon, in his study of The Crowd (1895), argues of the throng that “its acts are far more under the influence of the spinal cord than the brain”; and thus that, “this mobility” of les foules “renders them very difficult to govern, especially when a measure of public authority has fallen into their hands.”  It belongs to Le Bon’s argument that the convictions of crowds invariably assume a religious shape.

In May 2017, signaling the mounting hysteria over the election in the previous November of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States, the self-styled comedienne Kathy Griffin publicized a photograph of herself holding a simulacrum of the President’s severed head.  The object had obviously been conjured in a special effects studio and reflected the realistic gore of contemporary horror cinema.  In a divided nation whose internal tensions were increasing day by day Griffin’s smug performance elicited chattering delight on the Left and generalized disgust on the Right.  Doubtless Griffin had no familiarity with The Bacchae, but the image that she offered might have come from Euripides’ play – Agave returning proudly to Thebes and brandishing the bloody capitus of Pentheus, her son, the enemy of Dionysus, her god.  Who was – or is – Griffin’s god?  Who is the god of the atheistic, anti-Christian Left, to whom Griffin’s mock-sacrifice paid homage?  If Maistre, Chateaubriand, Le Bon, Otto, and Girard trafficked in anthropological truth, there would be such a god.  In postmodern discourse this god manifests himself as “the other,” “the marginalized,” “the intersectional,” and generically “the victim,” all of whom seek vengeance.  These sociological categories, which are projections of the worshippers, exist in opposition to such demonizing classifiers as “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobe,” “transphobe,” “Hitler,” and “Ku-Klux-Klan.”  The triumph of the deity will consist in his liberation of the oppressed from their evil enemies in a permanent dethronement of Hitlerian tyranny.  Like the revolutionaries of 1789, the modern Left worships Liber, one of the Latin epithets of Dionysus; they act for Liber and when they do, they become Liber, just as the Bacchants, in conducting their rites, became Dionysus.  In Liber, the Left projects its hyper-antinomianism and its fantasy of being a superior species.

The rioting that began in Minneapolis after the death under police custody of a multiple-count felon and fentanyl addict, who, however, embodied the new sacrality, established a segué from the Wuhan pestilence, with its shutting-down of the economy and its regime of masks, to a phase of overt and, for its perpetrators, joyous mayhem.  As Girard argues, plague and civic unrest intertwine; they make themselves difficult to distinguish.  In his essay on “Plague in Literature and Myth” (1974), Girard writes how, “The distinctiveness of the plague is that it ultimately destroys all forms of distinctiveness.”  Otto reserves an entire chapter of Dionysus to masks.  He writes, “It is characteristic of the age-old gods and spirits who appear in masks that they appear with exciting immediacy before the faithful.”  The Olympians, in whom the principle of order resides, are by contrast remote.  Disease, including mania, obliterates differentiation, but so does by the apotropaic gesture of donning the mask.  For Otto, “Dionysus was presented in a mask because he was… the god of confrontation.”  Again – nothing signifies one-mindedness like the mask, which hides the person in the crowd’s get-out-of-jail-free anonymity and serves to intimidate any rival and all.  That is why bank-robbers wear masks.  Anonymity always-already constitutes a threat.  Every sane polity indeed outlaws the wearing of masks in public.  When an arbitrary regime mandates that the customer mask himself in order, say, to conduct business in a bank, perspicacity recognizes that law – and with it, civic order – has fled into suspension.  The appearance of maskless rioters thronging together in the street never contradicts the face-covering regime; it merely signifies the throng’s having exited the law so as to impose its delirium where and when and how it wants.

In Classical Civilization, Sophocles and Euripides wrought artistic representations of what Girard calls the sacrificial crisis, for presentation in the theater.  Christendom in the time of the Religious Wars had engravers like Dürer and Holbein to work up the equivalent, to see it published and distributed.  The current crisis relies on the subscendent medium of cell-phone-based videography for documentation.  This medium makes up in quantity for what it lacks in artistic penetration.  Consider this record of a masked BLM incursion into a Washington DC restaurant, where couples and families try to resume normal life under the relaxation of the plague regime.  Viewers witness the mob pressing sidewalk diners against the plate-glass of the restaurant itself.  Several details of this particular example of mob-behavior stand out.  The mobsters wear masks.  They have garbed themselves uniformly in black apparel.  Most are female, but the Corybantes are male.  The Corybante leaning into the trapped diner, a terrified woman in a pink t-shirt, is male and so is the Corybante standing behind him on a chair.  They heckle the victim, demanding that she execute the words and gestures that would signify solidarity with aggression.  In this particular video the BLM salute reveals an essential but hitherto unremarked trait: The upraised right arm with the hand contracted in a fist looks like ritualistic knife-wielding, only lacking in actual daggers.  It corresponds, in other words, to a sacrificial circle.  A chubby male with a skateboard, which he might at any moment convert into a bludgeon, angrily pounds the concrete with his wheeled device.  One of the females demands to know whether the seated woman is a Christian, a bizarre question which, however, reveals the mob’s own, immolatory religiosity.  It is, in fact, a sacrificial question, to which an affirmative response would redouble the justification of the aggressor.  The same question reveals the mob’s exteriority to anything actually Christian.  “Let him who is without sin…”

In another, deeply disturbing clipthis one from Portland a few weeks back, black-clad, masked female assailants attack an old woman who has presumably come out of her store to extinguish a fire set by the same miscreants in a trash can.  Girard notes in Violence and the Sacred and The Scapegoat (1981) that the crowd’s choice of victim in the sacrificial crisis corresponds to a pattern.  Mobs prefer victims who will not fight back, a category into which fall children, the elderly, cripples, and the isolated.  The victimized woman in the Portland clip satisfies three of these criteria, being aged, needing a walker to get about, and stepping out on the sidewalk alone.  A horror-movie atmosphere suffuses the action; it takes place at night, with the mob conjuring itself suddenly and surrounding the victim, as in the zombie or vampire scenario.  The Maenads trap the old woman against a blank wall.  One of them has looted a can of paint, which she bangs violently against the wall in order to free the lid.  With her accomplice making sure that the old woman cannot escape, the main perpetrator douses the victim with white tincture.  The perpetrator shouts, “This isn’t your world anymore.”  With a BLM ensign in evidence, the white paint assumes a sacrificial symbolism.  It articulates the Manichaean opposition between life, characterized as “black,” and death, characterized as “white,” and draws on the novel meaning that has inveigled the words white and whiteness in the context of what calls itself “Wokeness.”  The outburst of rioting takes its “rationale” in the claim that whiteness itself is a pathogen, one that selectively and ceaselessly kills black life.  Dousing the old woman with paint chastises her and marks her with her own evil essence.  By a supreme irony – as in the Washington DC confrontation – the assailants are majority white, and in the case of the paint-thrower, blonde.

The Adam Haner incident, which also occurred in Portland, and the clip of Senator Rand Paul and his wife under mob-harassment on leaving the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, tie contemporary violence to the sacrificial pattern established by Euripidean tragedy and analyzed by Otto and Girard in their Twentieth Century commentaries.  In the contagious violence of social breakdown, as Girard especially has remarked, differences, the source of order, become undifferentiated.  Both Otto and Girard call attention to the sexual ambiguity of Dionysus in The Bacchae.  When Dionysus takes human form, Euripides describes him as an effeminate adolescent with long curly hair, as though in him sexual dimorphism had become blurred.  The Haner video shows its protagonist coming to the rescue of a “trans woman” who probably wanted to join the crowd, on whom, however, the crowd had turned.  Haner sympathized with the BLM agenda, but he nevertheless saw gross injustice in the assault on the victim.  The rioters resented Haner’s appropriation of their targeted prey, the “trans woman.”  They chased Haner down, kicked him in the head, and left him seemingly lifeless on the asphalt where had fallen.  In Charlotte, when Senator Paul and Mrs. Paul exited the convention center, a waiting mob pounced on them.  The harasser-in-chief is a tall but scrawny male with hippy-like long hair who matches Euripides’ description of the incarnated Dionysus.  Paul’s attacker is far from harmless; he behaves viciously, screaming obscenities an inch or two from the senator’s face. He harasses Mrs. Paul in a similar way.  The police escort does very little.

Part III – There is No Conclusion. As I write (Sunday 30 August 2020), news comes from Portland of a man wearing a pro-police insignia felled by gunfire.  Haner will likely suffer long-term consequences from the knock-out blow that he incurred, but he survived his ordeal.  The Portland Patriot – a man named Aaron Danielson – not so much.  Bizarrely (31 August 2020), rumors circulate that Danielson’s killer was affiliated with an offshoot of BLM, namely “blacktranslivesmatter.”  America’s Reign of Terror seems ongoing, having already lasted three months, at least, and with no end in sight.  Recently, Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have publicly urged the rioters, whom they refer to as peaceful protestors, to sustain their mayhem, but mayhem is not amenable merely to being sustained.  An external force can quash it.  Absent that external force, however, mayhem escalates.  The homicide in Portland signifies such escalation.  And it spreads.  Now Kenosha, Wisconsin, pushes its way into the news.  The “Social Media Age” propels mimesis.  It makes mimesis continental, global.  To make use of a necessary paradox, social media organize anarchy.  The Insurrection of 2020 originates in the Left’s takeover of institutions, especially those of education, and more especially those of so-called higher education.  Cultishly Anti-Christian, the Left has done its best to undermine the Christian basis of traditional American society, or rather of Western Civilization.  By abolishing Christianity, however, the Left has “progressed” into nothing.  It has regressed, falling back into the sacrificial patterns of all Pre-Christian religions.  Under “cancel culture,” the Left destroys lives.  Under BLM and Antifa, the Left murders directly and enthusiastically.  The Danielson case in Portland exemplifies the Left’s murderous impulse – but so do the actions of blue-state governors like Whitmer of Michigan and Cuomo New York in forcing elder hostels to take in patients known to be infected with the COVID virus, turning those hostels thereby into disease-traps where, through contagion, thousands of the most vulnerable lost their vulnerable lives.

A Note on the Gallery. Violence fascinates.  In Girard’s anthropology the original, spontaneous act of scapegoating reproduces itself as ritual – and ritual reproduces itself in communal spectacle, and finally in art, as strikingly in Attic tragedy.  Strong traces of sacrifice yet permeated Classical Civilization in the age of the tragedians, but in staging a play, no one died.  Indeed, a central criterion of tragic production removed any violence from blatant representation on stage.  Direct violence struck the civic authorities as obscene, leaving the playwrights to represent it solely by verbal means.  In the Western tradition of painting, after the Renaissance, mythic events reappeared in the repertory of topics, hence the illustrations to this essay by Lazzarini, Gleyre, Bouguereau, and others.  In the oil-on-canvases illustrating Greek Myth, a paradox takes hold that should be kept in mind.  The artists draw beauty or even sublimity from violence.  In doing so, they tend to remove their audience from the reality of violence.  Auguste Vinchon’s Head of Feraud depicts an essentially sacrificial act, but because its subject was one, in its day, of recent history, it likely disturbed contemporary viewers more than Bin’s Death of Orpheus or Gleyre’s Danse des Bacchantes, both of which prettify and romanticize the savagery that they represent.  Vinchon’s canvas, which represents a moment in 1795 when the Revolution fed on itself, is nonetheless a romanticizing prettification in that it obeys the rules of color and composition basic to the painterly art, so as to balance its elements.  Nietzsche, the presumably atheistic arch-modernist, with a discussion of whose Birth of Tragedy this essay began, likewise romanticizes savagery.

Nietzsche knew full well the origins of the Dionysus Cult, brilliantly exposed by Euripides in the play that puts a period to the efflorescence of tragedy.  In The Bacchae, the proponents of “the god of lynching,” as Girard styles him, shout “Crucifigatur” and that from the first line of the drama to the last.  This makes of The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche’s first Anti-Christian tract, to be followed up by such as The Genealogy of Morals (1887) and The Antichrist (1888).  It is interesting that Nietzsche accused Euripides of substituting dialectics for drama. Socrates, the innovator of dialectics, suffers the same fate as King Pentheus. The collectivity makes him its scapegoat.  Nietzsche’s “Atheist Humanism,” as Henri de Lubac calls it, is one source of the current, radically debased anarcho-tyranny.  Perhaps I should not blame Nietzsche so directly, but rather a line of stupid misreadings of Nietzsche in the service of malicious ideologies. Nietzsche, despite his tendencies, offers some worthy insights into the crowd mentality.  I have posted the photograph of the old woman in Portland, who was surrounded by rioters and doused with paint, in order to furnish a graphic representation of actual violence – of actual scapegoating victimization — in contrast with the aesthetic transformations of the oil-on-canvas painters.  If apprehended, the old woman’s tormenters could probably not be charged with attempted murder, but only with assault and criminal harassment.  Nevertheless, the victim is an aged woman, no doubt with brittle bones and a weak heart.  She might at any time have faded from life under the frightening provocations that she endured.  One characteristic of Dionysiac violence that the painters cannot help but depict is its collectivity – its unanimity-minus-one structure.  One sees this in Bin’s Death of Orpheus, Lazzarini’s Orpheus and the Bacchantes, and Vinchon’s Head of Feraud.  At least three assailants team up against the elderly Portland victim.  The movements of the female assailants are dance-like in a hideous way, shifting and bouncing to keep the victim pinned against the wall.

Postscript January 2021. Despite its romanticizing prettification, Vinchon’s Head of Feraud efficiently sums up the current socio-political and anthropological situation of our former republic.  If one replaced Vinchon’s eponymous capitus with Kathy Griffin’s mocked-up decapitation of President Trump and the somber chair of the revolutionary committee with the current Speaker of the House, one would have put nothing amiss.  Vinchon’s image would still comment relevantly on the candid tendency in Leftist politics.  A mob is a mob is a mob.  In Congress, the difference between Democrats and Republicans has been liquidated.  The few defenders of Trump defended him flaccidly.  All others have become as one mind – and that a mind of the lower, god-of-lynching, species.  In the purity of its collective hatred, the House has instigated a second impeachment against the sitting President only days before his term ends.  Conservative columnists “explain” this procedure as an attempt to disqualify Trump from eligibility to run for public office.  That is too nuanced.  Assassination being, as yet, still a few inches beyond the pale, bringing vindictive charges against the Enemy must suffice.  The bloodthirsty second impeachment is connected with calls from Democrat congressmen to “investigate” Trump-supporters and even to apply totalitarian “re-education” to anyone who voted for Trump.  An obvious insurrection declares the pathetic opposition to be an insurrection.  The shadowy spectators in the upper-left corner of Vinchon’s composition would be the audiences of the cable news networks, and the followers of Internet media, whose vicarious pleasure in the Left’s persecution of anything not of the Left partakes in the ambient Grand Guignol of the times.  In every mob there are people on the periphery who want to collaborate with the bloody act but want, at the same time, to keep their hands clean.  If I were Dante, I would consign the peripherals to an even deeper circle of Hell than the active perpetrators – which is probably where they are headed under the Karmic Law.

In The Bacchae, prominent citizens of Thebes, including Teiresias and Cadmus, demonstrate their allegiance to the Dionysiac collective by donning the goatskin uniform of the Corybantes.  In the aftermath of the martyric death in Minneapolis, prominent Democrat members of the House and Senate convened a televised ceremony in which they added “African” exotica to their sartorial habit and had themselves videographed while bending a knee and bowing a head.  This narcissistic gesture signaled the showy religiosity of their psycho-social disposition and their solidarity with street violence even though, like the peripherals of a mob, they want to keep their hands clean.  The two impeachments of President Trump have a direct link to the sacrificial ethos embraced and implemented by the Left.  Consider that the second impeachment in particular charges Trump with incitement of insurrection and sedition, two crimes that, if brought against a defendant in a criminal trial, could occasion a capital sentence on conviction.  As if to underscore the death-penalty fantasy, film-actor Alec Baldwin “tweeted” the following: “I had a dream Trump was on trial for sedition… outside the courthouse, a noose was hung from a makeshift scaffold.”  If sitting representatives and senators had uttered those words they would have dirtied their mouths.  Their proxies substitute for them rhetorically in the public forum and praxiologically on the barricades.  Indeed, on inauguration day, BLM and Antifa returned to the streets of Seattle, blocking traffic, setting fires, and demonstrating that their mayhem has not ceased, but has merely taken a hiatus.  In Portland, the “woke” mobs attacked the headquarters of the local Democrat Party, suggesting that, in the next phase of violence, the cult will feed on its own.  Vinchon’s Head of Feraud will prove itself prophetic.

Thomas BertonneauThomas Bertonneau

Thomas Bertonneau

Thomas F. Bertonneau is an intellectual and professor and has been a member of the English Faculty at SUNY Oswego since 2001. His articles and essays have appeared in a diverse array of scholarly journals, including William Carlos Williams Review, Wallace Stevens Journal, Studies in American Jewish Literature, North Dakota Quarterly, Michigan Academician, Paroles Gelées: UCLA French Studies, and Profils Americains.

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