The mirror cracked

Нет будущего — нет и искушения выходить из башни

The mirror cracked

Нет будущего — нет и искушения выходить из башни

City Vadim Veterkov

The first tablet with live broadcast capabilities, as it turns out, belonged to a lady from Shalott, who lived during the reign of King Arthur. Tennyson’s literary classic has made well-known the legend of the lady’s fate, and it has even seeped into our time. In his column, Vadim Veterkov gives the tale an ironic, contemporary twist, one that causes such anxiety that the reader is tempted to close every computer window, turn off every device, and go out into the real world. Just to make sure it’s still there.

Like most interesting things, this text began with a conversation.

One Friday morning, my friend and I were on our way to the Church of the Beheading, in Dyakovo, drinking coffee from paper cups. I complained: “I want to send this editor something about Tennyson and The Lady of Shalott. But I’m having a hard time coming up with a conclusion.”
“A conclusion, a conclusion… Yeah, that’s a problem. The only conclusion I can offer you would be that the citizens of Russia ought to love Vladimir Putin (my friend serves, with varying degrees of success, the state’s line of propaganda — author’s note.), but how can The Lady of Shalott help citizens to love Putin?” Indeed, Tennyson’s Lady is poorly suited to this task. She would be equally useless in making sense of the victory of Donald Trump, oil prices, invitations to meet with the Minister, or any of the vast number of things that concern decent folk.
If Queen Victoria’s favourite poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and the text of this poem is to be believed, the Lady of Shalott led a rather melancholy, though really quite tolerable, and even comfortable life in a tower, on an island, in the middle of a river, which bustled with shuttles and barges. These aquatic vessels, by and large, were en route to Camelot, King Arthur’s capital, a place of honourable knights, fair ladies, amusement, and tales of heroism.



Though the island of Shalott, as far as we can judge, was about the same distance from Camelot as Biryulyovo is from Patriarch’s Ponds, for the Lady, leaving the tower was impossible, for an evil curse hung over her. Surrounded by servants, she was forced to weave a tapestry from her only images of the world, the visions coming through her magic mirror. What echoed therefrom was but a shadow world, a pale, frightening distortion of events. And for quite some time, this was how the Lady saw all that lay beyond her tower. Until, one day, a charming knight rode by on horseback. Clad in armour, with lance and shield in hand, Sir Lancelot of the Lake, as the story goes, was quite impressive to behold. Confronted with his striking visage, the cursed mirror, for once, was unable to cloud its picture with sufficient bleakness to keep our heroine confined.

Surrounded by servants, she was forced to weave a tapestry from her only images of the world, the visions coming through her cursed mirror. What echoed therefrom was but a shadow world, a pale, frightening distortion of events 

Something in the Lady snapped — she could bear it no more. She ran out of the tower, looked towards Camelot, climbed into a boat, and sailed after the knight. The mirror cracked. Yet the Lady never made it to Camelot alive. The relentless curse caught up with her. When her lifeless body was discovered by King Arthur’s knights, Lancelot noted, with sadness, that the woman had been quite beautiful.

What a moron! She should have stayed in the tower, biding her time. And then some knight, maybe one a little shabbier than Lancelot, sure, but not too bad, would realise that tower was there for a reason. And maybe he would have helped her lift the curse, or at least they would have passed a marvelous evening together, playing checkers. Or maybe if the Lady would sit down and think of a way out of this lousy situation, this story would actually be of use. Hordes of peasants, working through the night and whispering the tale to themselves, would gladly have traded their meagre lives, so plagued by giants, dragons, and heroic, armour-clad butchers of their own, for the sweet opportunity to snooze in a warm tower, even one with a cursed mirror. However, Tennyson’s poem is one of symbols, phantasmal allusions, and the gothic anguish of the Industrial Revolution era — this postmodern irony and coarse, prudent mindset of ours wouldn’t have done much for the Lady of Shallot.

And how can you judge the girl? We hear so many stories in which the protagonist, by rejecting fate, seeks adventure and triumphs, finding a new, happy life. The characters are different: a geek becomes a billionaire, a stock broker quits to open a hotel in the Himalayas and raise yaks, a housewife sings on TV and becomes a star. The temptation is too great. Nobody remembers the losers — the geek who remains a bespectacled geek, going bankrupt having invested and lost all the money from the sale of his apartment; the broker who falls into a chasm on the second day, having gorged on his sour yak milk; the housewife who makes a joke of herself and then, for years, overhears her neighbours giggling. Only Tennyson’s genius was able to give the Lady’s rather moronic demise such a heroic hue. Yet there’s nothing heroic in her actions. Her death is pointless, and it’s not even edifying. The thing that drove the pre-Raphaelites to churn out one painted rendition after another, and that has spurred writers to include lines from the poem in the epigraphs of their books, is their desperate reluctance to look at the world through a magic mirror, and their irrepressible need to act, even at the cost of their own destruction.

I myself have experienced a similar temptation, and once was involved in civic action. Though less tragic, the outcome was comparable to that of the Lady. A large youth movement to which I belonged just quietly fell apart, vanishing like Fata Morgana, leaving many of us deeply disillusioned. One even committed suicide.

In the current state of things (after all, The Lady Of Shallot is well suited for politics), some hope remains. In the apt words of another friend of mine, in Russia, the future doesn’t exist (or rather, it is not spoken of), because we already live in the best of all possible Russias. There is no future — consequently, there is no temptation to leave the tower. For some, that will be painful to accept, but doing so certainly reduces casualties.