Last time out, this space was occupied by a brief tale from art history. It wasn't at all what I was thinking about when I started writing it, but that's what I ended up with, and I figured the least I could do was explain where I was planning to go.

Not that I was following anyone's example or anything, but there is precedent for this sort of tangential deflection. Just ask Mark Twain:

I had seen a picture of a youthful Italian "freak" or "freaks" which was — or which were — on exhibition in our cities — a combination consisting of two heads and four arms joined to a single body and a single pair of legs — and I thought I would write an extravagantly fantastic little story with this freak of nature for hero — or heroes — a silly young miss for heroine, and two old ladies and two boys for the minor parts. I lavishly elaborated these people and their doings, of course. But the tale kept spreading along, and spreading along, and other people got to intruding themselves and taking up more and more room with their talk and their affairs. Among them came a stranger named Pudd'nhead Wilson, and a woman named Roxana; and presently the doings of these two pushed up into prominence a young fellow named Tom Driscoll, whose proper place was away in the obscure background. Before the book was half finished those three were taking things almost entirely into their own hands and working the whole tale as a private venture of their own — a tale which they had nothing at all to do with, by rights.

Unlike Twain, I can't blame my own departure from the intended topic on a handful of wayward characters; but I understand now, a little better than I did in the 1960s when I first read both those stories, how he got so far afield.

Then again, this exposition has nothing to do with the actual intended topic.

So I'll start again. Originally, I was thinking, not in terms of the Three Ages of Man, but in terms of Three Ages of Woman, as reflected in the neopagan concept of the Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother, and Crone. It seemed to me that there was no comparable male triad, or at least none that could be defined in terms of chronological age; the closest approximation I could find was, in fact, that particular Titian painting. (Hans Baldung had also done a "Three Ages of Man," but his "Death and The Three Ages of Woman," dated 1510, about two years before Titian's "Three Ages of Man," is a little more blatant, containing as it does a figure of Death holding an hourglass. Over a woman's head, yet.)

The point, as I saw it, was that the three female Ages, beyond their chronological specificity, denoted clearly-defined roles as well, but no such roles seemed to be applicable to the male Ages, whatever they might be. The Riddle of the Sphinx ("What creature walks on four legs in the morning, on two at noon, and on three in the evening?") was about as close as I was going to get, and man in the Riddle is distinguished only by being more or less ambulatory.

None of this, as it happens, did much to address my own dilemma: is it time, then, to acknowledge my position in whatever Third Age there be for men, and when did I actually cross the line from the Second?

Briefly, I contemplated embracing the concept of Plato's sophos, the sage, but I decided that I did not wish to flatter myself so, and that I lacked the level of wisdom appropriate to such a role. Besides, the sage is not so distinguishable from the crone, except to the extent that the crone is supposed to be excluded from the realm of sexuality, on the basis of "Been there, done that." And having apparently exiled myself from that particular land, I saw even less difference between the two.

Which may ultimately be the whole point, or as much of a point as I'm going to get. Maidens and crones are presumed to be "outside" sexuality. Whatever Ages One and Three might be for men, they aren't so presumed: see, for instance, "Stacy's Mom" by Fountains of Wayne, or almost any May-December romance of the last eight or nine decades. So: do I get to claim some sort of philosophical superiority on the basis of physical celibacy? I suspect the answer is somewhere between "No" and "Hell, no."

(I apologize for the disjointed nature of whatever the hell this is, but it accurately reflects my thought processes at this point in life. I suppose I should be grateful no one's going to demand that I defend a thesis.)

The Vent

  1 October 2010

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