Friday, October 14, 2005



Gawain (2003)

Today's image is a quaternian fractal made with QuaSZ -- a fractal generator designed by Terry W. Gintz. Although I tweaked the image some, the basic fractal structure was not changed. I am usually not so kind to "my" fractals -- which I usually use as a "base" picture that then gets exploded and collaged and thrashed within an inch of its parameters until something reconstituted appears and pleases me.

I'm guessing many of you already know the story of Gawain. If not, here's the skinny from the luminarium:

Written in the late fourteenth century, Sir Gawain is made up of two stories, one (the testing at Bercilak's castle) set inside the other (the beheading of the Green Knight at the beginning and the return blow at the end). That is not to say it is a cut-and-paste job; it is thought by many to be the finest literary work of the Middle Ages. It is also the rarest of tales : a love story that isn't, really, as well as one of the funniest tales of the Middle Ages, rivaling anything written by the anonymous poet's more famous contemporary, Geoffrey Chaucer. (The author also wrote a fine religious poem in the form of a dream vision, which we call Pearl.)

In the first episode at King Arthur's castle, you must bear in mind that no one knows what is going on. Like Grendel, the Green Knight is a sort of creature never seen before by men. Sir Gawain is, throughout the poem, marked by absolute courtliness, that is to say, he is always courageous, honorable (he keeps his word), devout, loyal, and gracious toward all men and (especially) women (pay special attention to the pentangle). He thinks it is his courage that is being tested (wouldn't you?). He does not realize that the incidents in his bedroom at Bercilak's castle, which parallel the hunting scenes...are actually another kind of test. Thus, when he arrives to face his test at the end, he discovers that he has already been tested -- that his test is, in fact, over. Wouldn't you be angry at being tricked this way?

Not me, Mr. Narrator. I guess I'm numb to the sex and violence and deception after a steady diet of The Sopranos and Deadwood and now Rome. And why does nearly every female lurching about on the WB seem to have the scruples of Bercilak's wife? Our boy Gawain, however, is a nomad and turns up in more tales than Michael Caine. From the Camelot Project:

Gawain is generally said to be the nephew of Arthur. His parents are Lot of Orkney and Morgause (though his mother is said to be Anna in Geoffrey of Monmouth). Upon the death of Lot, he becomes the head of the Orkney clan, which includes in many sources his brothers Aggravain, Gaheris, and Gareth, and his half-brother Mordred. Gawain figures prominently in many romances. In France he is generally presented as one who has adventures paralleling in diptych fashion but not overshadowing the hero's, whether that hero be Lancelot or Perceval. In the English tradition, however, it is much more common for Gawain to be the principal hero and the exemplar of courtesy and chivalry, as he is in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the other Arthurian romances of the Alliterative Revival. In Malory's Morte d'Arthur, however, he has a role similar to that in the French romances, in that Lancelot is the principal hero.

See what I mean? Gawain flips his visor in more Middle Age retro sitcoms than the cast-off cast of Buffy. There's Gawain and Marjorie and Gawayne's Ghost and The Last Love of Gawaine (appartently, no one can remember how to spell the poor knight's name) and even The Marriage of Sir Gawaine. For someone with a mythical rep for honesty and devotion, the guy gets around.

Worse, the poor schmuck doesn't even get to write his own dialogue. It seems that certain medieval fanboys wanna fanfic Gawain. Partake of a snippet of an "imaginary monologue" found here:

Bercilak's wife was so insistent! I was constantly conscious of her feelings, and I tried to rebuff her with the utmost courtesy. After all, I did not want to be rude. Yet I could hardly be disloyal to her husband after he had welcomed me into his home. And so, after being pursued for three days, it seemed that I could somehow accept her gift, possibly save my own life, and not offend Bercilak either if I only kept the girdle gift a secret. I knew it was wrong, but my desire to live got the best of me. I only hope that now that I faced it, this will make me a nobler knight.

Racy stuff. Don't quit your day job, Sir G. That career as a gangsta rapper looks iffy. And what's up with the Green Knight anyway?

Do you know the way to San Jose...?

Maybe you should have that gangrene looked at?
[Illustration by John Howe]

From Dorothy Everett's "The Alliterative Revival":

Indeed, a mystery surrounding the Green Knight is essential for the effect of the poem, which is to show Gawain being submitted to the unexpected -- not to the test he expects, but to one he does not expect. He expects (and we expect with him when we first read the poem) that the real test he has to nerve himself for is meeting the Green Knight at the Green Chapel and receiving a presumably mortal blow from his axe. But when, after a tremendous effort of will, he does bring himself to face the Green Knight and accept the blow, it turns out that this is not the test itself; it is only the symbol of a previous test which was carried out by the Green Knight's wife, and which Gawain has already failed.

When he resumes his quest for the Green Chapel and leaves the luxurious castle behind there is room once more for heroism in his behavior, and indeed he shows heroism of a particularly touching kind -- not the kind that knows no fear, but the kind that overcomes a fear to which all the senses are sharpened. He proudly turns aside the suggestion of his guide that he should go back to Camelot, and nobody would know that he had not faced the Green Knight, saying that if he did that, even though nobody found out, he would still be a "kowarde."

So...he's a hero because he did the unexpected and flip flopped. He didn't "turn the corner" and refused to "stay the course" even through he could have slacked off and slipped away by saying the Green Knight was in his "last throes." Hmmmm.

I think someone could learn a lesson from reading this tale...if he could ever finish staring at My Pet Goat. Maybe some of you will consider dropping him a line, advising that he read more, join a book club, pick up a newspaper now and then, and rely less on his inner gaggle of cringing, suck-upping toadies. Here. I'll make it easy for you by even providing the stamp:

Please Return to Sender

I would have just hitched up my codpiece and told that Green Knight: "Mission Accomplished. Now watch this drive...home."
[Image seen on]


I think every Friday I'll put up a short list of sites and blogs I've enjoyed reading each week. Why not? After all, who's gonna stop me?

Friday Faves:

Fractal Site:
Drop in and visit Eleny. Lush, exquisite fractals and digital art that show a keen eye for composition and an absolutely perfect sense of color.

Political Blog:
Call on The Heretik. Political commentary with a heart yet wielding a knife that cuts through the clutter and bullshit. Hang out and share a cyberdrink with friends. Best of all, enjoy his seamless, masterful images. Photoshop is his weapon.

Cultural Blog:
Lounge around BibliOdyssey -- my current favorite surf-hole. Wonderful art blog featuring eclectic and archival bookart and illustrations. Stunning images -- surreal, hilarious, and sometimes very moving -- often grouped thematically and exhaustively researched and documented.


The Heretik said...

Nice bit on Gawain. You are too kind with the props.

Anonymous said...

Green Knight Revisited

Gawain prays to stay away from temptation

Gawayne doesn't want the lady to rub her tits in his face

Gaweighn doesn't try too hard to stop her, on the other hand

Gaiwehn pulls his pants up quick when the lord gets home

Gawane agrees to go hunting with the lord

Guwayn lets the lord take a whack with his ax, once he's been busted

Gawaan tells the lord it wasn't his fault, that whore wife of his had her tits all in his face, and he had prayed for strength and chastity but the devil made her pull his pants down and some evil succubus or something pushed him into her crotch and--

Gawains head rolls around on the enchanted forest floor

--Jack Kerouac-job

cruelanimal said...

All right. These Gawain variants remind me Jet Li's The One. In one world, Gawain A gets whacked. Meanwhile, in another world, Gawain B gets the tits in his face. Just the luck of the inter-dimensional draw.

Anonymous said...

To become a royal
knight, the vassal
must learn how to slay

nature: both the natural order
outside him as well as
natural bodily needs within.

Eyeballs rolling back into the skull,
mediating all power into a forceful
drive down through any Saracen's skull,

Western proselytes hone their will
to power. With these knights, command
and control take precedence

over the Eastern mysticism of living
in balance or harmony with nature.
Such Eastern passivity can only

make an acolyte vulnerable to the frenzy
of conflicting passions. Better that the mind
be squeezed into one grain of salt and hurled

like spittle into the dragon's eye.

Anonymous said...

Flint may spark
Or sandpaper erode

But steel rings
Torque around the throat

Dr. Mike

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