WRITING: Vanity, Dante and The Swedish Academy
For me reading and writing is an inescapable necessity. I cannot be without it. It is a source for harmony and joy. An escape valve. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time. If it provided me with an income my urge could easily be justified and my happiness would be complete. Not the least could it benefit my immediate surroundings if I could turn my craving into a support for my closest of kin. Sadly enough, my writing currently strikes me as a self-centred, shameful vice that constantly demands an outlet, but must be practiced in secrecy.
If I do not write and read I get restless. However, while I am doing it I am troubled by bad conscience. To me writers' block is an entirely unknown state of mind, it is maybe only professional writers´ whose living depends on their skills who suffer from that ailment. However, there must be a very limited number individuals who are able to support themselves and their families through their writing. I have read several biographies about writers describing how writers´ block have made them seek wanton solace in alcohol and drug abuse, turned them into wife- and child abusers, if they have not found peace and security in overpowering, though often short-lived, religious experiences. Being an amateur writer is probably safer than being a professional one.
For an amateur like me, there is an apparent danger in fantasising about a literary breakthrough, an acknowledgment that would allow me an existence where my writing skills provide me and my family with a decent income. However, celebrity and admiration, Andy Warhol's worn utterance about 15 minutes of fame, do not appeal to me anymore.
Occasionally, I have sent a novel to Swedish publishers, only to, like other aspiring writers, after a few months receive a standard rejection. From whatever publisher it may come it is generally worded in a similar manner:
We have now read your manuscript and must unfortunately inform you that we have decided not to publish it. Competition is great and only very few of the submitted manuscripts can be published.
Of course the rejection slips lack signature. Nevertheless, the message is clear and unmistakeable. It is written on the wall – Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin "you have been weighed and found wanting." Others are better than you, while you are no good. Do not ask us why, it will only hurt you and bother us.
Publishers assure us that all manuscripts are read, but "due to the large amount of manuscripts we receive, we can only exceptionally provide personal comments." This is obviously a lie. Even small publishers receive large amounts of both illegible and relatively agreeable manuscripts. Of course can a solitary publisher, or even a team of editors, only afford to dedicate a quick glance to each and every one of submitted manuscripts and spend more than a few minutes to determine their possible value, which generally is considered to be redundant.
Manuscripts submitted by established authors, or their agents, as well as by celebrities and personal acquaintances to publishers do of course receive proper attention. I have occasionally been a member of committees assessing submitted material, generally research applications. Since I have written and submitted quite a few myself and have had some approved while others were arbitrarily rejected, I used to read the requests quite carefully. When I was young and inexperienced I used to write well-thought-out and carefully crafted rejections, signing them with my name. That was a grave mistake. Most recipients of my polite dismissals grabbed these straws and immediately contacted me with repeated pleas, assuring me that they would make any improvements I could suggest and worst of all – grumpy entreaties, intimidations and insults, even thinly disguised suicide threats. Most painful was the fact that I understood the feelings of the refused researchers and could identify with their despair. Soon I restricted myself to curt rejections, clinically exempted from judgments and advice, confusingly similar to the example I presented above. The rejected unfortunates did not contact me and my life and conscience became considerably easier to cope with.
Almost as annoying as publishing refusals are the sententiousness advice provided to prospective authors, which may be found on publishing houses´ network sites, or offered by semi–shoddy authors at universities and colleges, whilst one or another passable author has written a book or two about his/her writing.
A disappointment with one specimen of that genre was The Art of Reading and Writing by one in his time appreciated and important trendsetter, Olof Lagercrantz, editor–in–chief and literary critic on Sweden's largest newspaper. On the contrary, I appreciated Stephen King´s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. King has a safe touch when it comes to find the right tone of voice to place him at his reader's level, an ability supported by his own fiction writing, which is quite uneven – from embarrassing lows to masterpieces. Kings' taste also has an admirable width – movies, music and literature along an entire scale from junk to classics. For King it is also comes quite natural to write about writing – a large number of his novels and short stories deal writers´ dilemmas, it may even be labelled as his most persistent theme.
Why did I not like Lagercrantz's book? It was a long time since I read it and it may happen that I change my mind if I re-read it, but then I felt it had a too strong scent of posturing. A role played by the author himself: "Listen to me … I am a successful and established author. I know how things have to be done. I am a professional. I have something to teach you." Boastfulness is a common writer's sin, in addition, it is one of the seven Deadly Sins – vanity/hubris (superbia), envy (invidia), wrath (ira), sloth (acedia) greed (avaritia), gluttony (gula), and lust (luxuria). Each and every one of us are guilty of all of them, to a greater or lesser extent. Such transgressions seem to form part of our human nature.
First on the list, and with good reson, stands Superbia. It covers and is part of all the other sins. I suppose my writing may be regarded as a form of hubris. A boastful demonstration of my knowledge. A weakness I share with most other teachers. Of course, I would like to consider it in quite another manner – an uncontrollable desire without any hidden agendas, an ongoing practice of my writing skills, a memory list that may be of use some day in the future, a struggle against memory loss and Alzheimer´s disease. However, at the bottom of any practice of the arts, there is a measure of vanity. Is it not a kind of arrogance to try to imitate, or even strive to surpass, something that already exists? To provide your own, pesonal version of existence?
Apparently have philosophers and writers for thousands of years considered vanity to be a grave offence. To strive at being better than others, feel more valuable, to behave like a god by appearing as all-knowing and powerful. To want to be immortalized through your actions, was by many of ancient Greeks considered to be a grave and dangerous sin. It threatened the established world order – Cosmos. Being humble was healthier for yourself and others. It was far better was to demonstrate reverence and submit yourself to the benevolence of gods and neighbours. Such behaviour purified your soul.
Aristotle defined hubris as an act of abasement of fellow humans, a conscious diminishing of their worth. A vain person use bragging as a means to dodge from threats and attacks. Aristotle assumed that such behaviour was merely a result of the pleasure you find in a feeling of being superior to others.
The original and exact meaning of the word hubris is difficult to trace, but it was obviously linked to ancient beliefs related to social status, i.e. an individual's position vis-a-vis members of a group. Hubris is thus intimately connected with concepts like power and value. The more valuable a group of individuals assumes you are, the greater is the honour and pride bestowed upon you, like the Fascist slogan The Duce is always right. To be admired, feared and powerful boasts your self-esteem enormously. Being the flock's dominant male, an alpha beast, is something that most flock animals seem to aspire to. Aristotle wrote:
The cause of pleasure for those insulting is that they think that by treating others badly they are themselves the superior (that is why the young and the rich tend to insult; for in their insults they feel they are superior); and there is a dishonouring in an insult, and to dishonour is to belittle.
Christianity generally emphasized that Superbia was a serious sin. Perhaps the mother of all sins. The doctrine of seven evil thoughts that occupy us, and which must be combated if we are to achieve salvation, seems to have arisen among Egyptian desert eremites, the so-called Desert Fathers. The one who first wrote them down seems to have been a certain Evagrius Ponticus (345–399 AD). He was born in a small town in the northern part of present Turkey, but he eventually ended up as an ascetic somewhere in the Egyptian deserts.
Evagrius had once been praised by a now forgotten clergy of Constantinople. They admired him for his eloquence and profound knowledge. According to Evagrius, vanity distorted his keen judgement. Self-aggrandisement brought him into the yarn of sin, caused him to fall and made him taste all the sins he later listed as being particularly grave. This was the reason to why he placed Superbia above all other sins. Plagued by feelings of disgrace and despair Evagrius ultimately embraced solitude and self-inflicted suffering in a desolate wilderness – though he could not refrain from writing.
During the Middle Ages, speculation about the Deadly Sins grew ever more intense and finally, like so many other Medieval ideas, it reached its most vivid artistic and intellectual expression in Dante Alighieri's Divina Commedia, which was written between 1308 and 1321. Presented as a detailed dream, the epic describes how Dante, accompanied by the Roman poet Vergil and later on by his dream woman Beatrice, travels through Hell (Inferno), the Purgatory and through the heavens all the way up to God.
Since it is a dream, I am inclined to assume that Divina Commedia may be said to take place within Dante´s mind. Like in a dream his speculations, reading, feelings of love, hate, sorrow, well-being and longing; his everyday experiences and disappointments; mythology and theology are all moulded into vivid depictions and transformed into a tale about Aldilá, the Far Beyond. As in a dream, thoughts and speculations are concretized and transformed into events. as well consequential meetings with various creatures – humans, devils, angels, monstrous beasts, saints, as well as personalized ideas and concepts. Dante's Purgatorio is thus both a place and a thought.
If Inferno is a place where malefactors for all eternity are punished for sins and abuse they have committed, Purgatorio is an abode where you are cleansed from your sinful thoughts and behaviour so that you finally may become worthy of entering Paradise.
Like all profound transformation processes, life on the immense Purgatory Mountain is protracted and painful, though it is nevertheless a completely different place than Inferno´s heavy darkness and endless despair, the abyss over which entrance it was written Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrarte, Leave all hope behind, you who enter here.
Purgatorio´s suffering differs from the one that engulf victims of Hell. At the Purgatory Mountain all suffering have a purpose, it is part of a therapeutic treatment. As in a facility for the curing of drug- and alcohol abusers your body and mind are cleansed from the harmful toxins of sin. Above the painful existence of the remedied souls there is an open sky where sun, moon and stars are moving as time passes; days are followed by nights, while in the enclosed caves and dungeons of Hell there reigns an everlasting, nauseous night and not the slightest hope for redemption and final deliverance can be found.
However, as in Hell, the burden of committed sins rests heavily on the penitents toiling upon the Purgatory Mountain. And above them all weighs the all-encompassing sin, the one who gave rise to all other misery – Superbia, which lurks behind contempt for others and our abuse of them for our own benefit, an attitude that is the mother of all sins.
Superbia is present in every nook and corner of Hell, permeating everything. This is the reason to why here is no specific place where the egomaniacs are plagued. On the other hand, there exists such a department on the Purgatory Mountain, which serves as some kind of rehabilitation centre for sinners who have been diagnosed as gravely contaminated by Superbia. The torment facility for self–centred megalomaniacs is the first department you come to while visiting the Purgatory Mountain. When the sinner has been cured from the worst symptoms of arrogance s/he is admitted to other treatment facilities – the departments dealing with invidia, ira, acedia, avaritia, gula and luxuria. The cure offered by the Purgatory Mountain is actually based on harsh, but efficient, treatment of the Deadly Sins, one by one.
In Hell, unchangeable and eternal retribution defines the suffering. However, even if sinners also are tormented on the Purgatory Mountain, love and compassion are ultimately governing the activities. The goal is to liberate love from harmful perversion, confusion and misunderstanding. To rectify urges. The first three and lowest departments treat thoughts and actions based on misguided love arising from self-love, jealousy and hatred. The following niche focuses on curing laziness and unconcern, sins preventing you from demonstrating love and doing good deeds. The last three treatment departments are devoted to misguided energy, like love focused on satisfying your own desires, without any consideration for the well-being of others (greed) or when love is obsessively and rampantly serving self-oriented physical needs (gluttony), or when consummation of sexual desire is the driving force behind love (lust).
In several of the places Dante visits, he confesses that he himself has been hard pressed and plagued by pride and vanity. He has considered himself to be better than others; better skilled, more knowledgeable and superior to his contemporary poets. For good reason Dante Alighieri was during his lifetime and even before he wrote La Divina Comedia an admired poet. Nevertheless, his inflated sense of worth plagued him, in any case he asserts over and over again, though the insistence makes the claim somewhat dubious. Dante´s journey through Aldilà, The Other Side, was maybe an attempt to remedy his own erroneous perceptions and misconduct. The main purpose may have been to make Dante Alighieri a more humble, human being, a better and more loving Christian.
After their demanding walk through Hell, Dante and Vergil do, in the bright and early morning of April 11, 1300, arrive at the foot of the Purgatory Mountain. They had reached it through an underground tunnel, passing the core of the earth and now find themselves on the other side of the globe.
Although his world view was Medieval, Dante nevertheless assumed that the earth was round and that the other hemisphere was covered by an ocean. The only land area that existed there was the immense Purgatory Mountain, which rose in the middle of the sea. Dante and his companion take deep breaths of fresh air, which proves to invigorating after they for so long had been forced to inhale Hell´s stale air. Vergil washes the soot, sweat and dirt from the face of his companion and together they look up towards the sky above them:
The tender tint of orient sapphire,
suffusing the still reaches of the sky,
as far as the horizon deeply clear,
renewed my eyes' delight,
now that I found myself free of the deathly atmosphere
that had weighed heavy on my eyes and heart.
Along the shores of the mountain, the two poets meet souls that have not yet been granted to undergo treatment within the Purgatory. These are sinner who just before death had confessed and regretted their sins and evil deeds, even those who had been forced to confess their transgressions and thus been forgiven by God. They have reached the foot of the Purgatory Mountain, but are plagued by uncertainty about their future and the long waiting time.
After passing through Puratory´s gates, Virgil and Dante climb through a narrow, winding and rocky path and around ten o'clock in the morning they reach a smooth thoroughfare that stretches upwards along Purgatory Mountain. The two visitors can now walk unobstructed along this not particularly wide road. Its width was three "man lengths", which according to the measurements of the time roughly corresponded to five metres.
As an inspiration for the sinner who struggles along this particular section of the mountain road, the cliff is covered by exquisite marble reliefs, depicting compassionate and good deeds of various heroes. After a while Dante is astonished by the fact that not only the cliff walls are covered by art, also the smooth surface of the road they walk on is covered by images, though these do not depicted any heroes but well-known mythological and legendary villains who have been punished for their pride and vanity. The reason for such art work is revealed when Dante is approached by a grey mass that slowly rounds a curve of the road. At first he does not understand what this approaching thing might be, it is when they pass to him by that Dante discovers that it is naked sinners weighed down by heavy rocks they carry on their lowered backs. By carrying the load of these bulky stones stubborn egoists learn humility.
Dante bends down to look into the people's tormented faces and it is then that he is recognized by a recently deceased friend, Oderiso from Gubbio, a once famous miniature painter who had had a workshop in Paris, but now is almost unknown, that he is ever mentioned is probably due to the fact that he is mentioned by Dante. It's almost as if Dante knew that his friend would be forgotten in the future. Oderiso regrets:
Your earthly fame is like the green in grass:
It comes and goes and He who makes it grow
Green from the earth will make it fade again.
Oderiso was well aware of the fact that his reputation would dissolve into nothingness and among the connoisseurs be replaced by the great master Cimabue, whose fame soon would be bleached alongside Giotto's excellence, which later would be overshadowed by future even more impressive. Dante realizes that the joy of being admired and well-known is transient and meaningless in view of the eternity that awaits us after death. He answers Oderiso:
Your words of truth have humbled
my heart; they have reduced my swollen pride.
Dante now understands that vainglorious sinners´ punishment consists not only of being weighed down by huge boulders, but also being forced to have their gaze fixed towards the ground, which imagery continuously reminds them of the meaninglessness of letting yourself become dumbfounded by a conviction of your own excellence. They are also reminded that their current suffering is only the beginning of a lengthy agony as the Purgatory Mountain contains a multitude of afflictions awaiting them along their torturous path towards the gates of Paradise. Unwarranted pride tends to be more common among youngsters than with old people, it resides by the beginning of our lifespan.
Youthful vanity is reflected in the introductory chapter of William Styron's novel Sophie's Choice, where the author's alter ego, Stingo, finds a job as publishing editor at McGraw Hill in New York. Like Styron, newly graduated from literature studies at Duke University in North Carolina, the twenty-two-year-old Stingo is initially awed by his role as appraiser of literature at a large, respected publishing house. With great appetite he throws devours the piles of manuscripts that litter his desk, rejecting them with gusto and scorn.
Stingo perceives himself as a refined aesthetic with an exemplary knowledge of what is good and bad literature, like the English nineteen-century poet Matthew Arnold, he regards himself as a distillate of English schooling, with a natural intuition about rhythm and content of a text and a clear sense of the linguistic magic of an author:
… at my age with a snootful of English Lit. that made me as savagely demanding as Matthew Arnold in my insistence that the written word exemplify only the highest seriousness and truth, I treated these forlorn offspring of thousand strangers´ lonely and fragile desire with the magisterial abstract loathing of an ape plucking vermin form his pelt. High in my glassed-in cubby hole on the twentieth floor of the McGraw–Hill Building […] I levelled scorn […] upon these sad outpourings piled high on my desk, all of them so freighted with hope and clubfooted syntax.
Stingo cannot remember if, during his five months at McGraw-Hill, he ever recommended a script for publishing. Every text that came in his way fell victim to his scrutinizing gaze
However, over time he was vanquished by the cruelty of his acts, especially after a weather-bitten peasant from North Dakota, with the strange name of Gundar Firkin, in person appeared in his module. Gundar had brought with him two dilapidated suitcases and an awe–inspiring script bundle with no less than 3,850 sheets, which proved to be an epic about the Viking king Harald Haarfager. Carefully and flawlessly handwritten in a hopelessly outdated, hyperbolic language.
The bewildered Stingo asked the hopeful Gundar to wait at a hotel while he read the bulky manuscript. After poring over a few hard-to-understand sentences of the epic Stingo realized that the manuscript was a catastrophic mess. After a couple of days, he reluctantly responded to Gundar's urgent phone inquiries with the harsh verdict that McGraw-Hill considered itself unable to publish Gundar´s epic and the desolate farmer disappeared from Stingo´s life never to be heard of again.
The drop that caused the cup to flow over and made Stingo realize that he could not act as publishing editor was when he had refused Thor Heyerdal's Kon-Tiki, which after being accepted by another publisher remained month after month as number one on the US bestseller lists.
However, William Styron's understanding and sympathy for rejected authors did not make him particularly humble when he eventually became a celebrated author. Styron's daughter has in a biography described how her father plagued his family through his alcohol fuelled mood swings, painful writers´ blocks and constant demand for respect and calm to be able to practice his writing.
When his organism unexpectedly responded to his alcohol abuse with violent allergies to all kinds of alcohol, Styron ended in a frantic depression. However, he finally managed to convalesce and wrote A Darkness Visible: A Memorial of Madness, a book that became popular not least by its observation that depression is a fatal state of mind that in many cases can lead to suicide. Although Styron believed that by retelling his horrifying malady he overcame his angst, he had during the sixteen years remaining of his life he had several relapses of severe depression, at the same time as he. Like so many other well–known writers and artists, continued to be self–centred and moody.
A lighter but no less gloomy depiction of the publishing world than William Styron´s is Terry Southern's autobiographical sketch The Blood of a Wig. Southern was a successful journalist and scriptwriter. He wrote, among other things, the script for Dr Strangelove and Easy Rider and a lot of comic tableaus for Saturday Night Live. In The Blood of a Wig, Sothern tells us how he in his youth had fallen deep down into an uncontrollable drug addiction. However, in all its misery, his depiction of the process is wittily and boldly written.
Before being submerged in a swamp of drugs and alcohol Southern ends up in a literary magazine where he is forced to assess "an incredible amount of manuscripts, about two hundred each day." They reach him classified according to two criteria: 1) scripts submitted by literary agents and 2) those submitted by the authors themselves.
The ratio was about 30 to 1, in favour of the latter – which formed a gigantic heap called ”the shit pile,” or (by the girl-readers) “the garbage dump,” These always contained a lot of return postage – so right away I was able to supplement my weekly wage by seven or eight dollars day in postage stamps. Everyone else considered the “shit pile” as something heinously repugnant.
When Southern offers to handle the shit pile, his colleagues say that he is crazy. No one who is in full use of his sense does voluntarily devote valuable time to reading such crap. However, Southern initially assumes that that despised pile might possibly hide a future Faulkner or Hemingway and he systematically labours through the unwanted manuscripts.
After a couple of days he gives up and after a while he refuses to read anything that comes his way. To begin with he puts aside manuscripts whose writers presents themselves with a "Mr", "Ms" or "Mrs" added to their names, then they are joined by authors who use titles – Ph.D. M.D. and similar. After a while Southern decides that all those writers who have middle initials in their names are worthless. At an early stage, he has already rejected all manuscripts that have idiotic or titles that are too “standard”.
Since Southern is paid for each written statement he produces, he begins to write fake assessments, based on author names and manuscript titles, well aware of the fact that it is unlikely that someone will read, or even look at, rejected manuscripts. Southern silences his conscience and disinterest with alcohol and drugs while his story changes into detailed descriptions of varied abuse of illicit drugs.
It is no wonder that several of authors who have been allowed to passed the rigorously or, just as often, randomly guarded gates opening up to the bliss of being a published author, or even more wonderful – the Wonderland of literary fame, come to regard themselves as superior to common scribblers. They may even among Parnassian giants, according to one member of the shrinking Swedish Academy
… an assembly point for geniuses where the country's leading writers, actors and musicians gathered to drink wine, mingle and listen to each other.
I wrote “shrinking” because the previously so prestigious, Nobel prize distributing Swedish Academy is currently falling to pieces due to an internal strife that has convinced several members to leave the illustrious congregation.
Without mentioning any names, I am convinced that several members of Sweden's cultural elite has fallen victims to vanity and baseless pride, while participating in the dance around the golden calf of scholarships and privileges. I have no idea if that activity is gender–related or not, I emphasize my opinion since a popular uprising against the male chauvinist culture of the Academy is on the rise among Sweden feminists, since it´s female director (or Permanent Secretary as the position is called within the Academic context) recently has resigned.
The reason for me assuming that the gender issue was not the decisive factor for the Academy´s disintegration, even if it was the #MeToo debate which triggered the crisis (cf. my blog entry “Not me”), is that I have encountered quite a lot of vanity and power abuse among both male and female bosses and directors. Though by stating this I do not assume that an earlier permanent secretary of the Academy, Horace Engdahl, who has been particularly vociferous in his attacks on the female permanent secretary, is exempt from excessive pride and vanity.
I am convinced that The Swedish Academy is important for the upkeep of the Swedish language, homogenising it by repeatedly issuing a glossary which serves as a criterion for the correct use of the language, as well as it is in charge of publishing a multi–volume, etymological dictionary, a project initiated in 1893, which now has reached the letter v. The Academy is furthermore administrating a wealth of scholarships and prizes supporting Swedish literature and linguistic research. However, I cannot ignore the fact that the Academy apparently is an exclusive organization and I assume several members have a soft spot for mutual admiration, nurtured by the Academy´s pomposity and wealth. In any case, I think that one and another member is suffering from Suberbia, not surprising if you have been admitted to an illustrious gang, which as its slogan has “Genius and Taste.” Does not that mean that you have been chosen because you are a person considered to be in possession those precious qualities?
Sometimes I wonder if one of the Academy´s former permanent secretaries is not a victim of vanity. In that case, he may be living dangerously:
Ooh, the harder they come,
the harder they'll fall, one and all.
Horace Engdahl's ex-wife, the influential feminist writer Ebba Witt-Brattström, who probably has her share of pride and vanity, has suggested that her powerful ex-husband suffers from exaggerated self-esteem:
When he later became what he called “elevated”, by being picked up by the Swedish Academy, I thought it was a good thing – now he got to shine. [...] I have been critical of the Academy throughout my life. I think it's sad that Sweden's cultural life is dominated by a small bunch of people in charge of 25 million SEK, to annually distribute among people they like. I never thought he would fall straight into that arrogant swamp.
Taylor Hackford describes in his movie The Devil's Advocate from 1997 how the Devil controls and manipulates humanity. The movie earn lot from Al Pacino, who shines in the role of a multi–skilled and undefeated Prince of Darkness. In the shape of star attorney John Milton, the Devil moves around like a fish in the waters of New York's glitterati, fed and respected by a fortune created by all manner of criminal activities, as well as other more widely accepted doings such as supporting the arms industry and environmentally hazardous food production. It is through his "favourite sin" – vanity – that the Devil attracts his employees and appoints their victims.
The film begins with how an unusually successful young lawyer, Kevin (played by Keanu Reeves), who never has lost a lawsuit, is defending a math teacher accused of sexually abusing teenage students. During the course of the process, Kevin is convinced that the teacher is guilty of his crimes, but not to lose confidence and reputation as an undefeated criminal prosecutor, the ambitious lawyer sticks to his skilled defence of the appalling teacher and eventually wins the case.
This opens up for the Devil´s entry, alias John Milton owner of New York's most successful law firm. The film is about free will. It is through our own choices you end up in the Devil's yarn. By sacrificing your conscience to the well-being of pride and vanity, you are lured into acting in a despicable manner. For your own benefit and that alone, you are prepared to hurt your fellow human beings:
You always hurt the one you love,
the one you shouldn't hurt at all.
You always take the sweetest rose
and crush it till the petals fall.
John Milton sacrifices one of his closest confidants, the corrupt and career hungry Eddie Barzon, when becomes detrimental even to the Devil himself and he makes a couple of demons, who in the shape of two drifters beat him to death. John Milton explains his deed to Kevin by stating that it is powerful men like him who attract and create vainglorious humans like Eddie Barzon, the bait is vanity and in the end it destroys both its victims and the entire world:
Eddie Barzoon – take a good look, because he's the poster child for the next millennium! These people, it's no mystery where they come from. You sharpen the human appetite to the point where it can split atoms with its desire, you build egos the size of cathedrals, fiber-optically connect the world to every eager impulse, grease even the dullest dreams with these dollar-green, gold plated fantasies until every human becomes an aspiring emperor, becomes his own god, and where can you go from there?
The film is becoming increasingly absurd while John Milton's true nature is revealed and the young lawyer's story evolves into a real horror show with real demons and a Devil who intends to create an Antichrist by coupling with ordinary women. Nevertheless, after a bloody climax we once again find ourselves again in a restroom in a Florida Court of Justice where Kevin decides not to represent and defend the girl-molesting teacher. Was the whole story nothing but a dream, a parallel story that did not unfold in real life?
Kevin returns to the courtroom and, to everyone's surprise, he gets his client convicted of child abuse and thereby exposes himself to the possibility of disbarred. In the final scene, Kevin hurries out of the courtroom. Along with his wife, Mary Ann, he runs down a staircase when they are halted by a journalist, Larry, who cries out to Kevin asking him to give him an interview.
– Kevin! … Hey! Listen, this story … this is the one, pal … this … is the one you dream about!
– There is no story.
– Bullshit. A lawyer with a crisis of conscience? You gotta be kidding. It's huge!
Mary Ann turns around and asks Larry:
– Wait a second, can they really do that?
– Not when I get through with the story! assures the journalist and pleads again:
– You gotta talk, Kevin. You gotta gimme an exclusive. This is wire service. This is Sixty Minutes. This is a story that needs to be told. It's you! You're a star!
Kevin shakes his head and laughs, somewhat flattered he pretends to be unwilling to agree to the enticing proposal. Mary Ann whispers pleadingly:
Kevin calls out to Larry:
– Call me tomorrow!
– You got it. First thing! shouts Larry back.
Larry smirks contentedly while his features change, transforming into John Milton´s face. Smilingly the Devil states:
– Vanity, definitely my favourite sin.
We are all in the danger of becoming victims to vanity. Many falls in its trap while looking for fame and glory – within sports, entertainment, literature. Many of us hope to distinguish ourselves from the crowd by becoming admired authors. Then the pearly gates of fame will open. Vanity is created or vanish depending on whether our scripts are accepted or rejected. I assume it is best to avoid the entire spectacle by considering my writing as nothing more than an innocent hobby, a means of relaxation no more dramatic than golf or fishing, then it will become a true pleasure.
Aristotle (1991) The Art of Rhetoric. London: Penguin Classics. Bosco, Umberto e Giovanni Reggio (2005) Dante Alighieri, La Divina Commedia: Purgatorio. Roma: Gruppo Editoriale L´Espresso SpA. Musa, Mark (1985) The Divine Comedy. Volume 2: Purgatory. New York: Penguin Classics. Southern, Terry (1967) ”The Blood of a Wig” in Shannonhouse, Rebecca (ed.) (2003) Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction. New York: Random House. Styron, Alexandra (2011), Reading My Father: A memoir. New York: Scribner. Styron, William (1992) Sophie´s Choice. New York: Vintage Books.