Every story has a hero and a sympathetic point of view, and in the tales of our personal mythology that hero is us. There is no conflict (and therefore not much of a plot) without opposition, sometimes in the form of an adversary, antagonist, competitor or rival who either actively or passively subverts our easy path, and who throws challenge and difficulty our way.
To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he is doing is good, or else that it is a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. – Aleksandr Solzenitsyn
There’s really no such thing as a villain in the cartoon sense – the leering, cackling black-coated evildoer with nothing better to do than twirl his moustache and spend all his time, energy and resources in foiling whatever it is you want to accomplish. But that’s often the image we’re presented with when we’re young, whether it’s based on an old stage melodrama, a book of classic mythology, Sunday cartoons or blockbuster movies. Then we mature. We realize that there are usually only other people with problems, desires and dreams, striving just like you and me, even when the person we’re at odds with seems to be acting out of pure malice or greed (or in terms of psychology, out of some neurosis).
From the true antagonist, illimitable courage is transmitted to you. – Franz Kafka
What’s important to us, though, is the idea of an adversary. The mythic patterns of hero against villain, protagonist and antagonist are stories about testing ourselves, our ideas and our strength. Without something to push against, what good is our ability to do something, or to know anything? How can we know or even define ourselves, without the resistance of the world?
Without conflict we remain superficial, we are strangers to ourselves.
I still think of the everyday childhood struggle against my mother’s anger and bitterness which often culminated in rage. I think about the popular athletic homecoming queen in my graduating class, how she shoved me on the softball green and abused me lewdly to my peers. I think of my stepsister, only twenty days apart from me in age but suddenly the oldest child, the brutal bossypants left in charge of the rest of us, and her daily schemes to demoralize and discredit me. I think of the sharp-tongued and ever-critical general counsel who truly had it in for the team of writers who once worked for me.
Thinking of them, I must also think about myself. When I am at my most honest, I can suddenly see myself in each one of them, and how I have in turn been an adversary to others.
We’ll talk about the concept of the shadow in a future prompt, which is closely related to today’s.
If you don’t tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people. – Virginia Woolf
For today’s poem:
* Write about an early fairy tale, myth or fable you identified with a situation of your own, with an adversary that seemed familiar to you.
* Write about a real adversary. If the antagonism between you was never resolved, try resolving it in the poem.
* How are you your own best antagonist? Or adversary to someone else? Can you see yourself as a villain?
* Who stops you from writing? Who opposes your poetry?
* Think of your childhood play-acting – did you ever play the bad guy?
* Try writing a sympathetic poem from the point of view of a well-known villain from myth, history or popular culture. (For example, the Wicked Witch of the West who only wants her family’s property back after some random teenager commits involuntary manslaughter on her sister.)