June 29: marx brothers and my clan identity index

I had a dream a couple of nights ago. I was watching a Marx brothers film with a group of people and trying to tell them how funny Marx brothers films were. Of course, this being a dream, it was not a Marx brothers film but some kind of surreal programme where flower arrangements were augmented and diminshed on the screen in time to chocolate box music. It was quite boring. Nobody I was with in the dream was convinced about how this film was as funny as I was professing it to be, and I myself was dismayed to see that perhaps they were right. But still, my fidelity to what I remembered of Marx brothers films made me continue to argue, ever more desperately, that if we just persisted we would seen see an uproariously funny scene. But still flowers continued to make elaborate but boring patterns on the screen.

This issue of fidelity to a clan is fundamental. If after a few minutes a film, or a person, or a political party, or a family, disappoints our expectations, do we reassess and change our mind or is a committment to a belief a fundamental part of our identity that we seek at all costs to retain? Sartre famously criticised Camus for saying that entre ma mere et la loi je choisis toujours ma mere (if it comes to a choice between my mother and the law I will always choose my mother). For Sartre this was the thin end of the wedge on the road to nindless adherence to what you know. We should always be prepared to reject our clan to follow our belief. In the past it has been true that revisiting a film that I thought I liked, and now realized I didn’t  (I’m thinking some Tarkovsky, some Antonioni), I had to strike that detail of my cultural identity from my cultural passport because my critical faculty would no longer allow it. I’m not a great one for clans, but we all need a few certainties. I will have another look at A Night at the Opera over the next few days. If the Marx brothers are forced to bite the dust too, my clan identity index will be looking increasingly threadbare.



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