I ‘d better bring this fluffy angel stuff to its close now. Not good for my street credibility at all. Although, frankly, angels dó belong to the streets, as firmly as rap-artists and hard-boiled detectives. Where else but on these mean streets, will a solitary wanderer find accompaniment in many an angelic statue?
Sure, angels are kitsch. So what, just another argument for their non-elitist street credibility! Kitsch, after all , does address (exploit?) the most genuine & heartfelt of human longings.
Yeah – angels are definitely all-inclusive symbols and can be substantiated with quotes ranging from Pico della Mirandola (1) to Robbie Williams (2) !
But there’ s something very pessimistic and misanthropic about angels too…. There’s a whole brooding tradition which pitches angels & their qualities against the woeful limitations of mere men & women. Montaigne did that (3), Pascal (4) did it and even Robbie Williams (2) does it. (5)
Then again – angels in the Robbie Williams version are of course nothing but fantasies of outcasts looking for something to fix their spurned affections on. But darn you reader, if you’re going to be disdainful about that. Lookin’ fer sumtin’ an someone ta love in an unfriendly world – why, this is not merely about teenage tearjerkers!
Anyone who, for whatever reason, does not quite fit into the dominant discourse of his or her environment, knows the dilemma - either go for the full integrity of the self, go for the self-assertion of the right to be and to be as one is(6). No compromises. And remain a proud misanthropic minority of one.
Or compromise, be selective in what you show, do not flaunt the full self. Accept being loved not for your full self but rather despite your true self (and for everyone’s sakes, don’t be bitter about that). And (the single redeeming feature of this charade), seize the opportunity (however warped, however imperfect) to love back.
As James Baldwin movingly wrote (7) , in an altogether different political context of revolt against white Western dominance, (as if he had to justify any lapse in unwavering aloofness vàv the dominant system):
“Whoever is part of whatever civilization helplessly loves some aspects of it and some of the people in it”.
(1) See comments to part II of the Angel Trilogy
(2) See comments to part I of the Angel Trilogy
(3) « [les hommes], au lieu de se transformer en anges, ils se transforment en bêtes, au lieu de se hausser, ils s’abaissent » - « [men] instead of transforming themselves into angels, they transform themselves into beasts, instead of raising themselves, they lower themselves »
(4) “L'homme n'est ni ange ni bête, et le malheur veut que qui veut faire l'ange fait la bête. » - “man is neither angel nor beast, and as ill-luck would have it, he who strives to be like an angel, acts like a beast”
(5) Now, quite apart from my own angel-spielerei here – and speaking as the earnest humanist I am: Montaigne may be more of a pragmatic & tolerant humanist than the crypto-catholic Pascal… Indeed, to Montaigne man has his dignity, precisely as man, i.e. as neither angel nor beast. As he states in the introduction to his essais: “ ma conscience se contente de soi, non comme de la conscience d’un ange ou d’un cheval, mais comme de la conscience d’un homme » - « my conscience will stick to itself, not as the conscience of an angel, nor as that of a horse, but as the conscience of a man” - But on the other hand, how modern this observation of Pascal, that a fundamentalist striving for absolute virtue turns men into monsters …
(6) Think I am paraphrasing Pat Barker here.
(7) Found the quote in a New Yorker review