September 2023

Revenge is a Dish Best Tasted Cold

Brian George

Rudolf Hausner, Adam, the Unloved Son, 1990, (detail)

Before being kicked out, I attended a parochial high school for two years—two years of Hell, or of preparation for the arcane tortures of the Apocalypse. An "education in the Classics," as they say. The mind is a muscle, which one would never be allowed to use—or else. Self -knowledge was regarded as a form of masturbation. Just see where that would lead. And, once you got started, then how would you ever stop? It might one day become impossible to distinguish between one's intellect and an orgasm. No exclamations of "Eureka!" were allowed. One's flash of sudden intuition might disrupt the Pre-Game Pep Rally.

Such intellectual "exercise" as there was—and the use of this term strains language to the breaking point—was like the watching of an aerobics video: The instructor shouts like a drill sergeant. It is good for you, somehow. Although sitting on a couch, one feels virtuous by the end. St. Thomas Aquinas had corrected the few small mistakes of Aristotle. He was smarter than you! In this age of genetic recombination, he was the thinking Darwinian's modernist. He had determined how many angels should be allowed to dance on a pin. No more need be said. Even now, those angels are too petrified to get off.

No doubts need mar one's contemplation of the shadow of the atomic bomb.

Usurping the right-of-way on Main Street, we were forever staging marches with felt banners and singing songs with choruses like, "And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love."—Ugh. Such sentiments are among the few things that can inspire me to hatred. Even now, the sight of a flaming dove can cause my stomach to turn over. They are not cute; they are evil. When a few football players judged my hair to be too long, such love didn't stop them from hacking it off with a Polish cavalry saber. And yet, mystery of mysteries, both in their own minds and to school administrators, these thugs were more devout than I. Cosmic love can be difficult, if not in theory then in practice. It is more of a rare element than the evidence-free chorus of a song. Cosmic love is not for beginners, but the basic idea of forgiveness is a sound one.

"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against

Christ—yes; Christians—no. How many devotees of the cross have ever shouldered the full weight of this pronouncement? The first part they take seriously, yes; the second part they ignore. To want to be forgiven doesn't mean that one forgives. I too do my best to set my enemies free, on certain days, if I am in the mood. "Bless those who curse you," said He Whose Name I Will Not Speak. "Only connect," said E.M. Forster. Both injunctions point us toward the fact of our radical interdependence. The web on which we pull is inconceivably complex. We have no way to extract ourselves. The web breathes us, even as we argue that our breathing is our own. In the Cloud of Unknowing, forgiveness may prove the only method of dead reckoning that will work.

From the seed of nothing to the shore of nowhere, we do our best to mark an X upon the fog, to search our pockets for a spark from a dead sun. How strange that our shadows hate us. How strange that we trade enemies from one life to the next.

Some hard kernel of insight has survived my scorched-earth war against the "Savior," who, as an omniscient god, should have known better than to hang around with Christians. "Thank god that I am Jung, and not a Jungian!" exclaimed Jung, in a tone that we can imagine to be incredulous with disgust, or perhaps relief. A foreknowing Christ should have followed Jung's example. I would argue, too, that a Monotheist is the greatest enemy of the One. They have named "G-d," though in a somewhat generic form. To make an idol, they have shrunk the haunted oceans of the Void. They have cut down the Tree of Life. Omphalos is now horizontal. They have literalized the interdependent meanings of the Ur-Text.

* * *

Zdzis艂aw Beksinski, Untitled, 1981

To what extent is consistency the hobgoblin of small minds? There may be times when cosmic love is quite different from the human sort, when the one is set violently in opposition to the other. In the morning of the world, in a language where words could mean a half-dozen things at once, we had vowed to act as the protectors of the Whole.

Yes, it may be practical to take back our emotions from our enemies, those emotions we have all too eagerly invested, but when is it better to judge than to forgive? Should we go easy on the murderous salesmen of forgiveness, whose love is only for their own beliefs? If the people that we have symbolically forgiven continue to hurt others, to lie about the most obvious of facts, to bend the law where they can and make new ones when they can't, when the richest 26 people control as much wealth as the poorest 3陆 billion, when those in charge shrug at the destruction of an ocean, of what use is our act?

Social justice may demand that we make use of our anger. In its time, the guillotine was a perfectly reasonable invention, designed to right many centuries of wrongs. What should we do with our list of malefactors, other than add names? Some, we can teach to regurgitate our theories. Those not subject to improvement we should kill. The only problem is that our anger can turn into a life-form. An egregor might add our own name to the list.

"Revenge is a dish best tasted cold," or "Living well is the best revenge ." I would argue for a third alternative, a non-dual one: Forgiveness dares us to imagine the soulless sociopath as guide—not to actions but to self-divisions, not to ends but to obstructions. Let us follow where he points while we strategize his death. There is a form of love as vast as it is merciless. There is a theater, beloved by alchemists, where Strife is the true hero. There is a fire that transforms what it destroys. The I is Other, irrevocably—but in a way that makes no sense, in a way that we must stretch the self beyond the breaking point to grasp.

In Shakespeare in Love, the plans of the young Shakespeare and his friends are always just about to collapse. In one scene, all of London's theaters have been shut down by the plague, and the Rose's owner, Philip Henslowe, is about to be tortured by moneylenders. He says, "Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster." Fennyman then asks, "So what do we do?" Henslowe answers, "Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well." Fennyman asks, "How?" Henslowe answers, "I don't know. It's a mystery." The town crier then announces, "The theatres are reopened, by order of the Master of Revels!" Forgiveness may depend upon a similar sense of mystery. To forgive, we must trust that the play will get produced, whether or not our ideals may turn out to be toxic, whether or not our love may be less pure than we intend.

To see may demand the hardening of our hearts. To know may demand their opening. We must play more than one role. We must reconceive the theater of our actions. A well plunges from the Pole Star to the City of the Oppressors. A well leads from the City of the Oppressors to the Pole Star. It is one and the same well. More than personal animosities block our movement towards forgiveness. To touch the green light of the Pole Star, we may be forced to exchange one body for another. We must see with our first eyes, as with the eyes of a whole species. If the act of saying does not make our forgiveness so , if there are leaders—fill in blank—whom we would still choose to defenestrate, we may nonetheless commit our invocations to the depths.

As we cast our darkness off, those we killed may clatter from the future to assault us, even we, the most innocent of all. What a racket! Why did no one tell the dead they were forbidden to make noise? Why did no one tell us these were our good friends? There, in the Olam Ha-Ba, the "future world," in that world on which all others have been written, we may once more contemplate the record of our crimes.

There, we may remember why we chose to burn our houses. We may remember why we let our children starve. There, we are not we, not are the others they, and all may feed on the light of the Green Sun. There, in that world beyond the curve of the horizon, we may grasp how our story differs from the one our rulers told, how love is not just a feeling, how joy is far more durable than pain. There, we may judge the judges. There, we may dance in the skins of the accused. Once again, the spheres may ring, for no particular reason, for the sake of simply ringing. The teachers who have supervised our progress may appear. An archaic smile may then tug at the corners of our lips.  


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Brian George is the author of two books of essays and four books of poetry. His book of essays Masks of Origin: Regression in the Service of Omnipotence has just been published by Untimely Books at He has recently reactivated his blog, also called Masks of Origin at He is a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art, an exhibited artist and former teacher. He often tells people first discovering his work that his goal is not so much to be read as to be reread, and then lived with.
For more of his writings in Scene4, check the Archives.

©2023 Brian George
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine





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