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Monthly Archives: October 2014

I wonder which is more tragic – Blanca’s abusive marriage or her inability to express and defend herself. Time and again, Blanca finds it “hard […] to talk, because it [is] hard for her to say what [is] oppressing her” (Appelfeld 41). I find this rather peculiar: Blanca excelled as a student, one of the brightest even, and was an aspiring mathematician. Yet, shackled by marriage – not that she isn’t intelligent – she fails to exhibit her brilliance. Her academic passion and aspirations are dulled and eventually buried beneath her fear and “muteness” (Appelfeld 167). The fact that someone as bright as Blanca is afraid to fight for her own salvation puzzles me. I cannot comprehend why she chooses to endure. She is far more capable than her husband, Adolf, and has no reason to endure his maltreatment. Then, why does she let fear suffocate her? What makes her so terrified that she submits fully to Adolf’s abusive torture? Even though she kills him in the end to avenge her sufferings, I cannot help but wonder why she does not free herself from his torture immediately. Is it out of love, or because she has Otto? But still, she had plenty of time to escape before she was even pregnant.

Marriage, apparently, sacrificed Blanca’s verbal clarity. In the presence of Adolf’s overwhelming presence, her “tongue cleaves to the roof of [her] mouth and [she] can’t think of a single sentence with which to answer him” (Appelfeld 167). Adolf oppresses Blanca, yet she endures, for reasons I can never understand. The thing is, Blanca is intelligent and supposedly logical and pragmatic – seeing as she was gifted in solving mathematical problems – but why does it take and encounter with Ernst to momentarily emancipate her from her “muteness” (Appelfeld 167)? She is capable to exercise eloquence, but fails to do so. And her fluctuating bravery baffles me even more. Every  time someone lights a mutinous flame in her, it is automatically extinguished by fear. What is her problem? Cowardice, perhaps? Or is Adolf terrifying to the extent that she is convinced to lead an “amputated life” (Appelfeld 66)?

Reading this novel left me with many questions and I do sympathize with Blanca, but her subservience is beyond any logical comprehension. (Maybe as a convert, returning to her old Jewish ways is impossible? But still, who would want to live under constant tyranny?)

Apparently, according to Socrates, “everything that comes into being must decay” – no matter how perfect a constitution is, “dissolution” is an inevitable event that will occur. In Book VIII, Socrates takes us through the degradation of aristocracy by paralleling the four types of (bad) constitutions with four corresponding individual characteristics:

1. Timocracy: the first stage in the devolution of aristocracy, the mid-point between aristocracy and oligarchy; a “mixture of good and bad”, due to the “predominance of the spirited element” (which is the love of victory and the love of honor). This constitution inclines towards “money-making and the acquisition of land, houses”, etc, but the overall structure remains similar to that of aristocracy. The difference is that “wise people” will be less likely to be appointed as rulers. Timocracy corresponds with a person who is secretly “money-loving”, “proud  and honor-loving”.

2. Oligarchy: a constitution “based on property assessment”, meaning that the rich dominates and the poor have no right to be involved in ruling. This occurs because the aforementioned honor-loving and victory-loving people become attracted to money-making to the extent that “money-lovers” – those that are rich – are revered while the poor is oppressed. In an oligarchic city, people other than the rulers are mostly beggars, which reflects the extreme disparity between the rich and the poor. Oligarchy results from the deterioration of timocracy.

3. Democracy: in which everyone in the city has an equal share in ruling the city, but this is a faulty constitution, as power tends to fall into the hand of those without the knowledge of politics and of ruling for the benefit of the others; of course, in this system, the majority thrives. Democracy corresponds with a man who is overwhelmed by unnecessary desires.

4. Tyranny: the constitution Socrates deems worst of all, which results from democracy degenerating in terms of the effectiveness of laws. The rulers of tyranny are driven by lawless and unnecessary appetites, subduing their people through dictatorship. The citizens are oppressed and are likely to detest the rulers, for they would unflinchingly deploy violence and brutality. Tyranny is the ultimate stage of the entire devolution from aristocracy.

Last week, there was a question regarding why people should bother to create an ideal constitution when it is bound to deteriorate. I believe that as human beings, we will always strive for the better, for perfection, for invincibility. Unfortunately, a part of humans, no matter how small, is corrupted and malicious. This reminded me of a Chinese philosopher (Xunzi) who argued that people are born evil and corrupted – it is through education that we develop our morals and learn to restrain our innate evilness. In an environment in which justice prevails, malice grows in the darkness, easily slipping through our scruples, for in the height of stability, people are more likely to succumb to their inner darkness. And with the accumulation of individual darkness, the city as a whole degrades, as the corruption of a soul is contagious.

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