Friday, July 30, 2010

From Elizabeth to Nina: Stick to Your Guns, Baby

No sooner had Elizabeth I of England ascended to the throne than the House of Commons urged marriage upon her. Here is a portion of the speech she offered in response, her first speech before Parliament, given on 10 February 1559, in her 25th year:
“. . . As concerning instant persuasion of me to marriage, I must tell you I have been ever persuaded that I was born by God to consider and, above all things, do those which appertain unto His glory. And therefore it is that I have made choice of this kind of life, which is most free and agreeable for such human affairs as may tend to His service only. From which, if either the marriages which have been offered me by divers puissant princes or the danger of attempts made against my life could no whit divert me, it is long since I had any joy in the honor of a husband; and this is that I thought, then that I was a private person. But when the public charge of governing the kingdom came upon me, it seemed unto me an inconsiderate folly to draw upon myself the cares which might proceed of marriage. To conclude, I am already bound unto an husband, which is the kingdom of England, and that my suffice you. And this,” quoth she, ”makes me wonder that you forget, yourselves, the pledge of alliance which I have made with my kingdom.” And therewithal, stretching out her hand, she showed them the ring with which she was given in marriage and inaugurated to her kingdom in express and solemn terms. “And reproach me so no more,” quoth she, “that I have no children: for every one of you, and as many as are English, are my children and kinsfolks, of whom, so long as I am not deprived and God shall preserve me, you cannot charge me, without offense, to be destitute.”*
But what, pray tell, has this to do with Nina Paley, who is not a monarch, nor even a monarch-in-waiting, but merely an artist, a cartoonist and film-maker? What has such a royal speech to do with Ms. Paley, who, after all, was once married?

Sita heads for home.
Let’s take another look at Sita Sings the Blues. At the beginning of the film, Nina is married. A bit over halfway through the film her husband dumps her: disaster. What happens then? Well, in principle, and often enough in Hollywood practice, Nina could meet Mr. Right, fall in love, get married, and move to a mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, where she would birth little sons and daughters of Mr. Hedge-Fund Manager. But that’s not what happens in the film, not at all.

What happens is that Nina ends up in bed, with her beloved cat, reading Valmiki’s Ramayana. No husband, no mansion, no babies. From that certain Hollywood POV, that’s No Nuthin.’ But really, do you believe that? I mean, yes, Katherine Hepburn married Cary Grant at the end of Philadelphia Story, but in real life she never married (though she carried on a long-term affair with Spencer Tracy). She had her art, and splendid art it was. That would seem to be where Nina’s headed at the end of Sita Sings the Blues, on the way to making a feature-length cartoon about her life and Sita’s, and then . . .

But where I’m really headed is to the cosmological element in Sita Sings the Blues, all the myth and ceremony. Not only does it provide the context which allows Nina’s and Sita’s stories to intermingle, as I’ve previously argued, it also supports and sustains Nina’s decision to become a self-sufficient artist, rather than wife and mom. When she was married, Dave was her link to the world; he WAS her world. Now her art is her link to the world; it IS her world. And the cosmology sustains that link.

Not that I’m suggesting that Paley takes that cosmology at face value, that she’s a Hindu. On her Facebook page Paley lists her religious views as “Lapsed Atheist.” Whatever THAT is, it’s not Hinduism, orthodox or heterodox, though perhaps it stretches to paradox. Rather, Paley uses Hindu cosmology as a way of extending her artistic vision to the edges of human experience and to the ends of the cosmos. It is a way of affirming her artistic responsibility to the world. That’s what sustains her and joins** her to the world.

Now we can return to young Queen Elizabeth. Her speech was, of course, a political act and, as such, was designed to give her room to act as she felt she must. Elizabeth stated her justification in terms of the cosmology available to her. She served her god, and the nation’s. In terms of that cosmology, she was married to that nation. The nation of England was and is, of course, a real entity, but an entity of an abstract kind.

And so it is with the cosmos to which Paley has committed herself. It is real, there really is a universe out there (and also within), but it is abstract in conception and apprehension. She has chosen, as her vocation, to make that cosmos visible, palpable, and comprehendible through means of her craft and artistry.

* * * * *

*Leah S. Marcus, Janel Mueller, and Mary Beth Rose, eds. Elizabeth I: Collected Works. University of Chicago Press: 2000, pp. 58-59.

The Sanskrit word yoga has many meanings, and is derived from the Sanskrit root "yuj", meaning "to control", "to yoke" or "to unite". Translations include "joining", "uniting", "union", "conjunction", and "means". It is also possible that the word yoga derives from "yujir samadhau," which means "contemplation" or "absorption."

No comments:

Post a Comment