Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Round Table of Pick-Up Artists

Someone sent me a book to read over Christmas Break: The Game, by Neil Strauss. It's a memoir of how Strauss fell into a group of pathetic losers who decided to re-make themselves into "pick-up artists," and mostly follows his own arch of becoming a leading figure within that community to his epiphany of the emptiness that life.

Near the end, about the time that he's figured out that all the pick-up artist strategies have left him surrounded by insecure, manipulative men (rather than the women he'd hoped for), one of his friends tells him the fable about the scorpion and the frog (the one in which the scorpion stings the frog even though they'll both drown because it's in his nature). Strauss, though, sees his situation as more Arthurian than Aesopian:

I went up to my room, showered, and paged through a copy of the medieval legend Parsifal I had recently bought. People often read books to search for themselves and find someone who agrees with them. And, right now, the nature of Parsifal agreed with me a lot more than the nature of the scorpion.
As I interpreted the legend, it's the story of a sheltered mother's boy who meets some knights and decides he wants to be just like them. So he goes off into the world, has a series of adventures, and progresses from legendary fool to legendary knight.
The country, at the time, has become a wasteland because the grail king (who guards the holy grail) has been wounded. And it just so happens that Parsifal is led to the grail castle, where he sees the king in terrible pain. As a compassionate human being, he wants to ask, "What is wrong?" And, according to legend, if someone pure of heart asks that question of the king, he will be healed and the blight on the land will be lifted.
However, Parsifal does not know this. And as a knight he has been trained to observe a strict code of conduct, which includes the rule of never asking questions or speaking unless he is addressed first. So he goes to bed without talking to the king. In the morning, he wakes to discover that the grail castle has disappeared. He has blown his chance to save king and country by obeying his training instead of his heart. Unlike the scorpion, Parsifal had a choice. He just made the wrong one.
When I walked through the living room to get a drink from the kitchen, I saw Mystery nursing another cocktail in front of the TV. He was watching a video of The Karate Kid and crying. "I never had a Mr. Miyagi," he sobbed, wiping tears off his reddened cheeks. He was drunk. "My dad didn't teach me anything. All I wanted was a Mr. Miyagi."
I suppose we were all searching for someone to teach us the moves we needed to win at life, the knightly code of conduct, the ways of the alpha-male. That's why we found each other. But a sequence of maneuvers and a system of behavior would never fix what was broken inside. Nothing would fix what was broken inside. All we could do was embrace the damage. (p. 415)

The book is a bit tedious (over 400 pages for Strauss to figure out what most men figure out in their early 20s, of what he could have learned just by reading Proverbs), but here in the end we see the bond to the leige depicted as a desirable father-son bond, rather than a socio-economic bond. Mystery here is enacting the sorrow of Anglo-Saxon elegies like The Wanderer, cut off not just from family and friends, but also from the lord and mentor. Perhaps the real Grail quest is for a Mr. Miyagi.

1 comment:

  1. Quite a wonderful post. I am glad to see you writing in more depth.

    Perceval/Parsival/Parzival: In the past I have used the term "Perceval moment" to identify the opportunity to make a difference by speaking the truth that others, for whatever reasons, other are not. If you say what you see, it can make a huge difference, and not just for you. If you don't, you may wake in a deserted castle and end up wandering in a wasteland for years. Unlike Perceval, you may never get a second chance to speak up.

    I have lived this scenario.