When I wrote my first column for the Literary Yours byline, I could not have imagined that I would still be doing the same thing seven years on. The erstwhile David Biggs wrote for the Cape Argus daily for 38 years. The mind boggles.
He must have been thoroughly exhausted by the time he hung up his boots.
I am neither sage nor savant. At the same time, I do not tap into the stream of the doomsday prophets. I try to steer a course that uplifts, empowers and, hopefully, entertains.
And it has become a difficult task, less satisfying than the first time I deliriously saw my name in print, accompanied by a flattering photograph of myself in my heyday.
These days, I crawl to the computer once a week, biting my nails, agonising over what I could construe that could possibly justify my expectation that readers will pause from more important activities in order to read, albeit for a few minutes, the octogenarian musings of my mind.
Which brings me to the point of this week’s effort. The most famous “shall I, shan’t I” dilemma is articulated in the quiet desperation of
Hamlet’s “To be or not to be”.
The agony lies in the contemplations of the consequences of his choices.
The echoing injunction of his spectral father to “Remember me” sits heavily on his soul. But how can he kill the evil uncle while he is at prayer? Surely that would facilitate his admission to heaven, the last place Hamlet wishes for him? And so, he hesitates.
And as for his mother, he says, on the advice of the Ghost, to: “Leave her to heaven”, which became the title of a very good film starring Cornel Wilde, Jean Crain and Vincent Price.
The agony of her conscience would be enough punishment.
We recognise that this agonised young man is in desperate need of a dose of ethics from Aristotle. At bottom, man’s highest state lies in his access to a choice. The decisions we make are influenced by our concern for the nature of human well-being. This requires justice, courage, temperance and integrity.
It is not learnt from books. We need to experience the value of friendship, pleasure, virtue, honour and wealth as a whole. Actions should be supported by reason.
We must acquire, through practise, the deliberative, social and emotional skills that will put our general understanding of well-being into practice in ways that are efficacious and salubrious to one and all, without exception.
What am I going on about? I am bewailing our own indecisions in respect of the dastardly way we are treated by the powers that be.
We want to boycott the electricity supply source, the petrol brands that milk us to the extent that they can pay billions in compensation for oil spills while reaping copious revenue.
We are not sufficiently moved to question prices in shops which are halved during inevitable “sales”. In other words, we have become as ambivalent as poor Hamlet. Polonius asks: “What do you read, my lord?” Hamlet replies cryptically: “Words, words, words.”
Does he mean the exercise is useless? Does the thrice-repeated signifier mean that it’s all futile, all words and no action? I attended a Bee Gees concert the other day (it was really three guys performing songs from that super-group). One of the most beautiful songs is, in fact, called, “It’s only words”.
Perhaps we are all playing the part of Hamlet, over and over, futilely, hopelessly, while the charade of cruelty, neglect, mismanagement, non-compliance and all the other neglects, which have become par for the course, are enacted shamelessly.
One minister did come clean and admit to receiving a bottle of gin as a gesture of his moral, social and political integrity. Another, that she had received a house from Cuba. But what have they done to address our daily dilemmas?
Like poor Hamlet, nothing.
* Alex Tabisher.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.