In our time the task of understanding ourselves is perpetually frustrated by the almost instinctive blending we make of two contradictory modes of being: the mechanical and the spiritual. Because we are short on spiritual reality we are long on mechanical models. We confuse the instantaneity of the computer with the timelessness of genuine insight. We think of memory as a form of storage, learning as efficient programming, education as the acquisition of skills and techniques, harmony as smooth functioning, self-development as the accumulation of isolable and multiple capacities like a Black & Decker kitchen-center or a Swiss Army knife, self-expression as a kind of accelerator-pushing to burn off excess fumes. And — the cardinal sin — we consider spirit itself as the free exercise of charity in exactly the same way as a mechanism must be used from time to time without a designated purpose in order not to jam with rust or dust. Our attitude to the super sensible is basically hygienic. We live the disenchantment of the world.Am I completely crazy or is David Solway endorsing the behaviour of the Duke here? Solway down in comments:
When the Duke in Browning’s “My Last Duchess” says that he refuses to stoop to indicate to his wife just what adjustments to make in her conduct in order to settle his doubts and so preserve the marriage, he is articulating a fundamental humanism. Today we merely visit a counselor, a.k.a. a gender reconciliation facilitator, who listens, ruminates, tinkers, and offers recommendations to repair a marriage gone on the blink — much as a garage mechanic puts his ear to the hood, plays with the engine, quotes various alternatives, and concludes by replacing a few parts to get the buggy on the road again. What we have done is assimilate the evangelical mystery of marriage to the intricate functioning of a twelve-tappet, fuel-injected turbo-Jag. Snafty and impressive as this may be, it is still just a metal case with a lot of repetitively moving parts.
[...] And bak, Don and physicist, as for Browning’s poem: I regard Browning as one of my cherished poetic mentors and have taught this poem for years in my classes. A few years back I published a lit/crit book, Random Walks, which contains a chapter on “My Last Duchess” called “Dukes and Duchesses,” in which I present an alternative reading of the poem in question. I was encouraged by the response of several Browning experts who admitted that they had never entertained such a revisionist analysis of the piece, based on solid evidence from the historical register and from the “shadow zone” of the poem itself. (A reading of Daniel Karlin’s book on Browning’s courtship with Elizabeth is also helpful.) I obviously don’t have the space here to present a thorough and would hope convincing exegesis–it required 17 close-packed pages in my book–but if you can get hold of the book from McGill-Queen’s University Press and glom the chapter, you might be surprised. Only if you are really interested, of course. But I do appreciate your comments.Buy my book, and you will understand why the wonder and mystery of friendship is best shown in the example of Dr. Heiter.