Dispersing All Complexity

Both Adrienne Rich and Tony Kushner address the importance of recognizing the complexity of life in its totality, of recognizing not just the end, but the means—life is, in chemical terms, a not a state function but a path function. On page 44 of Kushner’s “Angels in America,” Louis explains to Prior his philosophy on judgement and justice. Louis says “…It’s not the verdict that counts, it’s the act of judgement…it should be the questions and shape of a life, its total complexity gathered, arranged and considered, which matters in the end, not some stamp of salvation or damnation which disperses all the complexity in some unsatisfying little decision.” One’s morality should be viewed in the context of their entire lived experience before judgement is bestowed. If life is a math problem, it should not be multiple choice. There should not simply be “correct” or “incorrect.” We should be graded on the work we show, and we deserve the opportunity to be awarded partial credit—the estimation of our success or failure should not weigh solely upon our final answer. As Louis described it, relying on the verdict without regard to the judgement process “disperses all complexity,” minimizing the validity of what we have overcome to get to where we are. In other words, the whole is lesser than the sum of its parts.

In Rich’s poem “Fox,” she similarly emphasizes the process by which a life is shaped or formed, the importance of recognizing in others the circumstances or “briars” that lacerate the skin over the course of our individual histories. However, in Kushner’s play, Louis is addressing this topic to make a comment about justice and judgement, and how it is more complicated than simply giving someone a “stamp of salvation or damnation.” Alternatively, Rich is primarily concerned with how recognizing the path or shape of one’s entire life can help validate her own existence and her own life. I think this difference highlights Tony Kushner’s purpose in writing this play. The entire book serves as a commentary on society at a specific point in time. It is a period piece on 80’s and 90’s. Rich’s poem is much more focused on the individual, on internal struggle. Louis’s words highlight Kushner’s intention to make broader comments on society, and how the LGBTQ community fit into society leading up to the turn of the century.

3 thoughts on “Dispersing All Complexity”

  1. You raise really interesting points about recognition and choices within the texts, especially comparing Angels and Fox. Your language is really engaging, particularly the lines about life not being a math problem. I thought your point about Rich’s view of experiences as “briars” vs Kushner’s more complicated view of life was great. You’re right, this does highlight Kushner’s views in the book: he sees life as something that happens to us, taking into account everything we are.

  2. Rich’s Fox poem and the excerpt from the scene with Louis are very much intertwined and have this overlapping theme of a holistic life. However, I also think that Louis is challenging the dichotomy of what is right and what is wrong insofar as to say that “salvation or damnation” for one’s life shouldn’t define the ending of a life, completeness of one’s life. Instead both “salvation and damnation” occur, manifest throughout one’s life in order to reflect to come to that fulfilling conclusion.

  3. I really enjoy your analysis here. Your comments on the life as a whole, focusing not on the end but of the means, or how the life is lived, reminds me a lot of Aristotelian ethics. In my philosophy senior seminar, the author of the main text we are reading emphasizes a morality that judges the human life on how much it strives to achieve the human good. The best life to live, according to Aristotle, is one in which an individual tries to live each moment and act in every situation with the best intentions in mind. To strive for the complete, virtuous life shares some similarities with what Louis calls the good life, the means and its complexities taken into consideration.

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