Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

“Beating a(n almost-) dead horse” in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

Monday, February 8th, 2010 by

A mule in Bolivia

Since writing about Jon Stewart’s banter with Congressman Anthony Weiner about “beating” Michael Bloomberg “like a rented mule,” I haven’t been able to distance myself from the images evoked by this phrase. While our language is replete with speciesist terms and expressions, I find this one particularly troubling. After much contemplation, I think I finally understand why.

When I was younger, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment was a favorite of mine. I first encountered the novel in either 10th- or 11th-grade English class, and it so appealed to my macabre, angst-ridden teenage sensibilities that I read it several more times over the years. I’ve long since forgotten all the story’s particulars, however, one scene has stayed with me, as if imprinted in my subconscious: protagonist Rodya Raskolnikov’s dream – related so vividly in the book – of watching his fellow townspeople beat an elderly and infirm mare to death in a drunken mob rage. While this scenario doesn’t quite line up with the idiom “I’d beat x like a rented mule,” the sights, sounds and emotions conjured up by the phrase are exactly the same – and horrifically so. (Ditto: “Beating a dead horse,” so charmingly illustrated on the Pocket English Idioms website.)

Adding another layer to the text is the dream’s symbolism:

Rodya’s dreams always have a symbolic meaning, which suggests a psychological view. In the dream about the horse, the mare has to sacrifice itself for the men who are too much in a rush to wait. This could be symbolic of women sacrificing themselves for men, just like Rodya’s belief that Dunya is sacrificing herself for Rodya by marrying Luzhin. Some critics have suggested this dream is the fullest single expression of the whole novel, containing the nihilistic destruction of an innocent creature and Rodion’s suppressed sympathy for it (although the young Rodion in the dream runs to the horse, he still murders the pawnbroker soon after waking). The dream is also mentioned when Rodya talks to Marmeladov. He states that his daughter, Sonya, has to sell her body to earn a living for their family. The dream is also a blatant warning for the impending murder.

After the jump, I’ve copied the entire dream sequence – but I should warn you that it’s extremely graphic and troubling. (And certainly nothing to laugh about, however much one may dislike Republicans who buy their way into public office.)

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Praise the Egg! New Musical by Mary Gage Premiers in State College, PA

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010 by

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: United Poultry Concerns – news [at] upc-online.org
Date: Tue, Jan 19, 2010 at 11:53 AM
Subject: [UPC] Praise the Egg! New Musical by Mary Gage Premiers in State College, PA

Praise the Egg! New Musical by Mary Gage Premiers in State College, PA
Experience Life from the Chickens’ Point of View in this Endearing Performance
The State Theatre, Saturday April 3. 2010: 3:00pm. 7:00pm

“I think you should tell your readers that you were the inspiration for the musical.” Mary Gage to UPC president Karen Davis

Praise the Egg! A New Musical is based on the bittersweet novel by prizewinning writer, Mary Gage, showing life through the eyes of chickens. The book, and now the musical, captures the drama and pathos of the chickenyard with a cast of characters that includes Prudence, Granny Black, England the cock, “X and Y” from a battery-cage hen facility, and Man and Woman, the chicken-keepers. The story of these chickens is based on a little flock of chickens Mary kept while living in Perth in Western Australia in the 1970s.

Mary Gage, who now lives in State College, Pennsylvania, is directly involved in the musical production of Praise the Egg: She tells UPC: “The music is being written by a composer who directs Broadway musicals for kids in State College. He is casting these kids as chicks – ideal for his school, as the chicks grow so fast that a new class can do each scene. The set and costumes are being done by an artist whose paper cutouts of grass and trees will be projected huge on the backdrop. Huge hands with buckets or hoses intrude whenever Man and Woman come with the food and water.”

So how did UPC’s president, Karen Davis, “inspire” the musical performance of Praise the Egg? In an email to Karen, Mary Gage writes, “Someone alerted me to your talk about chickens in which you quoted from my book at the Yale Chicken Conference, in May 2002. This person inquired about Praise the Egg! She wanted to know the rest of the story. At that point the producer of the State Theatre invited me to put on another play, so I decided to rewrite my Australian chicken story as an American musical. Thank you!”

Here is the passage I quoted at the Yale Chicken Conference from Praise the Egg! It appears at the beginning of Chapter Two in my book Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs:

Then they all settled down in the soft green shade of the lemon tree, with each little chick taking its turn to fly up to the best and softest seat on Granny Black’s back. And while they waited for the sun to go down again, she told them about the great big world outside the chick run, or the days when she was a chick, or the story they liked telling best of all – her Miracle story about Eggs. How the broken fragments they had hatched from were once smooth, complete shapes; how every chicken that ever was had hatched out in exactly the same way; how only chooks could lay such beauties; and how every time they did, they were so filled with joy that they could not stay quiet, but had to burst into song; and how their song was taken up by England the cock and echoed by every single hen in the Run. – Mary Gage, Praise the Egg

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