Monday, December 15, 2008

Flattened Time In Barry Lyndon, IX

Proper aesthetic comport is structurally determined by the relative amount of positive alignment of a character to a shared, social mode. Barry’s success with Lady Lyndon is measurable by his capacity to apply a courtly manner to situations necessitating it and to transcend that manner when needed. There is a certain daring and disregard when Barry and Lady Lyndon are walking together in a courtyard, soon after their initial meeting, and they step together over a partition of lawn. All other people in the scene are definitely on the designed paths. Barry and Lady Lyndon are together carrying courtliness beyond its said limits. Like Lady Lyndon, when she brings the Schubert out with her onto the balcony, they carry their courtliness inside them. They embody it, in so far as they have made its aesthetic system their ostensibly natural system.

Barry elsewhere carries more courtliness than members of an aristocratic hierarchy who, presumably, should more naturally bear that aesthetic inside them. The duel scenes are an example of this. In both scenes, but especially in the latter, Barry, the “insolent Irish upstart, [of] lowness [of] birth and general brutality of manners... this lowbred ruffian,” as Bullingdon describes him, exhibits greater stamina and sprezzatura than Bullingdon, who, due to the nobility of his birth, should be calmer and more in control. As Bullingdon vomits and trembles in terror, Barry stares unabatedly at his opponent. Barry takes his opponent’s shot without a shake of insecurity. He is, in short, more courtly and aesthetically in keeping with the measure of the situation. The quality of certain manners is completely subsumed into and sensible by the extent of those manners’ alignment to an aesthetic exhibition. Barry simply looks better in his station than Bullingdon. And Barry’s capacity for comport is qualitatively natural: He exhibited as much relative stamina and sprezzatura in his first duel with Quin.

There is, however, a quantitative growth, or cultivation, of this natural capacity as the film progresses. Barry enters the Prussian army because he was idiotic about the extent to which he could manipulate his comport and language to his benefit. He oversteps his aesthetic, pretending to Captain Potzdorf that the British Ambassador in Berlin is his uncle, with the preposterous name of O’Grady, even going so far as to offer the Captain a letter of introduction, and further describes the English king and his ministers as if he were intimate with them. Potzdorf thus determines that Barry is an imposter and a deserter. And Barry must consequently volunteer for the Prussian army to save himself from prison. In this capacity, he saves Potzdorf’s life and is awarded two Frederic d’or as the Colonel says to him:

Corporal Barry, you're a gallant soldier, and evidently have come of good stock but you're idle and unprincipled. You're a bad influence on the men. And for all your bravery, I'm sure you'll come to no good.

At which Barry replies:

I hope the Colonel is mistaken regarding my character. I have fallen into bad company, it is true, but I've only done as other soldiers have. And, above all, I've never had a kind protector before to show that I was worthy of better things. The Colonel may say I'm a ruined lad, and send me to the Devil. But, be sure of this, I would go to the Devil to serve the Regiment.

Barry has gone from ostentatious fabrication to artful manipulation. His lies have become more artfully absorbed into his language. The plane of Barry’s falsity could be described as less bulging, less adjunct, and its smoothness more ingratiating to Potzdorf, who soon commissions Barry to the capacity of prevaricator and fabricator, as a counter-spy in the city of Berlin. Barry’s equivocation is nearly flawless as he machinates a counter-counter-espionage, by revealing himself to and collaborating with the Chevalier de Balibari. There is a sense that Barry is determining a character that has always been within him. Bazin on this kind of character development:

As for the characters themselves, they exist and change only in reference to a purely internal kind of time… Let us not say that the transformation of the characters takes place at the level of the “soul.” But it has at least to occur at that depth of their being into which consciousness only occasionally reaches down. This does not mean at the level of the unconscious or the subconscious but rather the level on which Jean-Paul Sartre calls the “basic project” obtains, the level of ontology. Thus [this type] of character does not evolve; he ripens or at the most becomes transformed…

Bazin indexes this kind of characterization by its ‘vertical gravity,’ as opposed to a development by ‘horizontal causality.’ Barry’s growth comes from a character that rises upward from inside him. In regard to character development in relative alignment to the situational mandates of the film, this film’s character development is horizontally flattened and contained. Barry’s cultivation of character contained within him is the ontic measure by which I identify aesthetic comport. His being comes to be by a bringing forth through aesthetically structured behavior. And it is more distinguished in Barry because he seems to be the only personage in the film that conscientiously cultivates and applies his aesthetic comport. I have already discussed this in regard to the determined posture he assumes in his courting of Lady Lyndon.

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