May 6, 2004

Rearview Mirror

by Robert Morgan

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Poem: "Rearview Mirror," by Robert Morgan, from The Strange Attractor: New and Selected Poems. © Louisiana State University Press. Reprinted with permission.

Rearview Mirror

This little pool in the air is
not a spring but sink into which
trees and highway, bank and fields are
sipped away to minuteness. All
split on the present then merge in
stretched perspective, radiant in
reverse, the wide world guttering
back to one lit point, as our way
weeps away to the horizon
in this eye where the past flies ahead.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the man who wrote The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux, born in Paris (1868). He started out as a reporter for a Paris newspaper, covering events in Europe, Russia, Asia, and Africa. But what he really wanted to be was a novelist, and by 1903 he had started writing novels in his spare time. Eight years later, he published the book that everyone remembers him for today—The Phantom of the Opera (1911). He was inspired to write the novel after taking a tour of the basement of the Paris opera house, a maze of corridors and cellars that was used as a prison during the Franco-Prussian War.

It's the birthday of Orson Welles, born in Kenosha, Wisconsin (1915). He was a child prodigy. He started reading Shakespeare when he was three years old, and he had a role in Madame Butterfly the same year. While he was still in high school, he co-authored a textbook on Shakespeare that sold twenty thousand copies.

By the time he was sixteen he had been accepted to Harvard, but instead of going there he went off to Ireland, bought a donkey and a cart, and traveled around the country painting. When he got to Dublin he was completely out of money; he later said, "I guess I could have gotten an honest job, as a dishwasher or a gardener, but I became an actor." He posed as a professional actor from New York to get a job at the Gate Theatre in Dublin, and it was there that he made his acting debut, at the age of sixteen.

Nine years later, he made his most famous movie, Citizen Kane (1941). It was based on the life of publisher William Randolph Hearst, and Hearst was so offended by it that he threatened to sue. As a result, many theaters in America didn't play it, and even though critics loved it, it didn't do very well at the box office.

Welles said, "The essential is to excite the spectators. If that means playing Hamlet on a flying trapeze or in an aquarium, you do it."

It's the birthday of Sigmund Freud, born in Freiberg, Moravia (now Pribor, Czech Republic) (1856). He's the founder of psychoanalysis, and the author of the classic psychology books The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and Three Essays on Sexuality (1905).

He was the first person to argue that the unconscious mind is just as important as the conscious mind. His basic idea was that we all go through life with various unconscious drives, and that it's the struggle of these drives against each other and against our conscious desires that determines how we act. He said that the unconscious mind is filled with fears and desires that are repressed by the conscious mind. This idea caused a big controversy in the nineteenth century, because most scientists assumed that people had total control over their thoughts and actions. In effect, Freud said that we don't really know ourselves.

A lot of Freud's ideas had to do with sex. One of his most important theories is that every boy is born with an Oedipus complex—he's sexually attracted to his mother and hates his father, and since these feelings aren't socially acceptable, they're repressed into the unconscious. As we grow older, erotic desire, or Eros, becomes the single most important force in our lives. It's responsible not only for sexual attraction, but also for everything we do that's creative and constructive.

In one of his last essays, "Civilization and Its Discontents," Freud argued that the basic human desires that everyone has are dangerous to organized society, which exists partly to repress those desires. He wrote, "The liberty of the individual is no gift of civilization. It was greatest before there was any civilization."

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