Saturday, February 10, 2024


Rape involves total disregard for the autonomy and worth of the person assaulted, reducing the victim to the status of a malleable object.  Something of the same attitude obtains when it comes to the deconstruction of history and literature.  Historical facts or the integrity of a piece of literature are approached with only the desire to make them conform to the violator’s druthers--no dialogue allowed.

Whatever one thinks about the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, for most Americans their thoughts are likely shaped more by Oliver Stone’s mendacious film, JFK, than by the most rudimentary facts of the case:  Lee Harvey Oswald worked at the Texas School Book Depository; he bummed a ride to work that day holding a long object wrapped in brown paper that he told the driver contained curtain rods; Oswald had created a shooting blind with book cartons on the sixth floor where he worked; three shell cartridges and the aforementioned brown wrapping paper were found there after the assassination; several parade attendees saw a sixth floor shooter and one, Howard Brennan, provided a detailed description; Oswald was the only person who left the building after the assassination; Oswald then jumped on a bus and traveled to the Oak Cliff area of Dallas, but before ducking into the movie theater where he was apprehended, Oswald shot and killed Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit (a fact confirmed by twelve eyewitnesses and ballistic evidence).

These facts only scratch the surface of what is known about the Fidel Castro loving loser whose “horrifically spelled Historic Diary” provides all one needs to know about this mentally unstable individual who had previously defected to the USSR, attempted suicide, and seven months prior to  Kennedy’s assassination tried to kill a prominent conservative Texas politician, General Edwin Walker.  A concise overview of these and other facts are still obtainable via a 1992 Commentary article by the late American Studies Professor Jacob Cohen, a piece composed in response to Stone’s assassination fantasy.  Gerald Posner’s Case Closed (1993) goes over much the same evidence and also provides information about Jim Garrison that’s 180 degrees opposite the heroic portrait acted by Kevin Costner.   In short, Oliver Stone’s deconstruction of history treats his subject matter like a completely malleable object. 

Literature, of course, is a different animal from history, but if one treats it with respect, a Shakespeare play, for example, will be read and acted giving primary attention to the integrity of the work itself—a task that involves familiarity with the language, customs, and beliefs of the time.  Dr. Gideon Rappaport provides just such an example of this Herculean task in his work, Hamlet, a book that displays both his dramaturgical experience and scholarly expertise vis-à-vis the works of Shakespeare.  (Cf. also his Appreciating Shakespeare, which provides an eye-opening description of Shakespeare’s significant education.)

Like most non-experts, what I knew of the play was pretty much on the same level as what most Americans know about the Kennedy assassination, uninformed observations concerning the Prince’s inability to act. If, however, one pays attention to the words and ideas articulated in the play itself and takes seriously what both Shakespeare and his audience doubtless believed (namely, a Christian view of God and the afterlife) a much different drama emerges.  As Rappaport often mentions, quoting Hamlet’s words in the play, the actors “cannot keep counsel, they’ll tell all.”  And what confronts a modern audience or reader when  the words of Hamlet and Shakespeare are taken seriously isn’t an existentialist or Freudian drama but rather a “Christian tragedy” that exhibits the consequences of exceeding human limits and taking upon oneself decisions properly left to God.  In Hamlet’s case the usurpation of a divine prerogative wasn’t in exacting vengeance on the reigning King for his father’s death, but rather in also seeking to determine his murderous uncle’s eternal destiny.    

This exceeding of proper limits (a theme often repeated in Hamlet via conversations where various golden means are recommended) is certainly a concept worth pondering whatever one’s take on matters theological.  The hubris involved in, for example, deconstructing traditional social and political institutions (as “institutionally racist”) or even manipulating language itself (e.g. a Supreme Court justice unable to define the word “woman”) is likely to lead to consequences more tragic than the death-filled final scene in Hamlet (e.g. the French Revolution, the Soviet Union, Cambodia’s killing fields).

Hamlet’s ill-fated send-Claudius-to-hell scheming is mirrored and magnified in the hubris exhibited by Davos billionaires who view themselves as demigods capable of shaping the economic, political, and even meteorological future of the entire globe.  If they could listen with humility to the lessons of history, literature, or even climatology, their illusions of grandeur would be tempered.  But alas, humility is a virtue that has given way to private jets and caviar-sated spreads at destinations where outsized egos plot the future of proletarians consigned to miniature apartments, no private transportation, and diets consisting of fried insects when solar- or wind-powered electricity happens to be available.   

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?"  is also available on Kindle    

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