not in our stars, but in ourselves
One of the nice things about living in Boston and working for a big university is that some Pretty Cool People come to town sometimes, and I get to go listen to them and pretend I’m still a “scholar” (when we all know I’m just a hack). Last night, Murray Pomerance was at Boston University to talk about North by Northwest – specifically the final chase across Mount Rushmore, and how Hitchcock (and his team of artisans, technicians, actors, etc.) achieved it. Pomerance is a Big Deal among Hitchcock scholars, especially, and he didn’t disappoint. In fact, he never does: this is the second time I’ve been lucky enough to hear him speak. The first time was years ago and miles away, in October 2011 at the University of Melbourne.
I’ve felt a lot of funny pangs in thinking about that, about how everything comes back around again eventually. (Cue Rust Cohle: time is a flat circle, la la la.) In October 2011, I’d been in Australia for about six months. The novelty had worn off, but I still felt very much like an outsider, and so my homesickness levels were soaring out of control. Just hearing someone speak with a North American accent was like finding a $50 bill in my pocket while doing laundry – never mind what he was talking about (incidentally, electric light in The Lodger.) And, well, anyway. I stayed in Australia for a little under a year and a half after that, and left, and came back to America – which, by then, felt like a place where I didn’t belong.
Jump cut. Almost two years after leaving Australia, here I am, happy and functional and much better able to focus on a big-shot lecturer’s talk about a Hitchcock movie. One thing Pomerance touched on briefly last night, and that I believe he explores in considerable depth in one of his books, was how uniquely Hitchcock saw America. He was, after all, an outsider. Outsiders can’t help seeing things differently than “natives” do (I can’t think of a more precise way to say someone whose family has been here for several generations; I don’t mean Native American in the indigenous sense). Would an American-born director have thought to stage a chase scene down and across Mount Rushmore – or, for that matter, the Statue of Liberty (Saboteur) and a perfectly ordinary little merry-go-round at a fairground (Strangers on a Train) – don’t watch this if you haven’t seen the film, okay?
Answer: no, no American would think to do such things. Probably. I guess we’ll never know now.
This is all pretty unfocused and hazy, partly because I’m trying to keep from devolving into a long post about my self-diagnosed complex, but the take-away is: being an outsider can be immensely isolating (under all the gloss and glamour, you can see plenty of genuine pain and longing in most Hitchcock films), and it can also help you see more clearly; not belonging anywhere or with anyone helps you to figure out who you are – since you don’t have anyone or anything else to tell you; and, to tie Hitchcock to Nabokov yet again, life often works in funny spirals. Quoth Speak, Memory:
The spiral is a spiritualized circle. In the spiral form, the circle, uncoiled, unwound, has ceased to be vicious; it has been set free. I thought this up when I was a schoolboy, and I also discovered that Hegel’s triadic series (so popular in old Russia) expressed merely the essential spirality of all things in their relation to time. Twirl follows twirl, and every synthesis is the thesis of the next series. If we consider the simplest spiral, three stages may be distinguished in it, corresponding to those of the triad: We can call “thetic” the small curve or arc that initiates the convolution centrally; “antithetic” the larger arc that faces the first in the process of continuing it; and “synthetic” the still ampler arc that continues the second while following the first along the outer side. And so on.
I especially like the “and so on.” Oh, Volodya. Anyway – the vicious circle has been set free, and here I am in my synthesis; and, therefore, in my new thesis. It’s nice. I didn’t think I’d get here. But there was Murray Pomerance, acting as the opening and closing parentheses (give or take a few months on either side) to the antithesis. Life is funny. Life is nice sometimes, too.