Best & Co

My cousin Ruth worked at Best & Co, which is how I first heard of it. I don’t know what she did there, probably something in a stockroom, or at least behind the scenes, as she was, unlike her numerous sisters, exceedingly plain and physically awkward and her English would not have been up to sales or office work.


Perhaps it was the proto-existentialism of Hosea, that in choice itself is the hero constituted, whatever the choice and whatever the consequences. Or the related thought that love is not optional, not a random disposition, but something dangerous and unsettling. A commandment. The first commandment, in which all others are subsumed.


The danger in such a fantasy of withdrawal, if translated into present realities, is that it may amount to no more than idle distraction, gap-year pootling. Worse, a sort of workfare hell, the creation of a reserve army of redundant human leftovers doing useless things, a panic-response to the discourse of strivers-and-scroungers that animates much of the right.


The trouble with this is not that Wagner is made nicer than he really was, or that his intention is given a teleological spin, it is rather that we are likely to miss what he actually says about the present age. The burden of Parsifal—which Wagner called ein Bühnenweihfestspiel, A Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage—is that the path to maturity and wisdom for the exceptional individual, the Chosen One, the Redeemer, and, through him, to the redemption of the world of men and nature, must begin and end with religious consecration and utter spiritual isolation.


I took to daydreaming during these monologues, which Walsh, or Welch, took as a personal offence, and she was not long in spinning her revenge. She called me Brighteyes, after a Viking tale of H. Rider Haggard. It was her conceit that I was Swedish, and therefore thick, and it amused her to address me in a macaronic Scandinavian sing-song.


Haneke has, in interviews, remarked on his admiration for the Danish master, Carl Theodor Dreyer, whose film Ordet presents a religious parable culminating in a resurrection—one of the greatest moments in all of cinema. The analagous moment in Haneke’s film is perhaps not remarked on in reviews because it is more comfortable to explain the mysterious in psychological terms, or to assume there must be such an explanation.