Ilankai Tamil Sangam

23rd Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

On Waiting

Simple Lessons from Bogart, Bergman and Mandela

by Sachi Sri Kantha

The LTTE was designated as a ‘foreign terrorist organization’ by the US bureaucrats in 1997. Eelam Tamils have been waiting for a reversal of this designation, and they would be ever grateful if Mr. Blake can make any sincere effort (based on ground realities) to reverse this bureaucratic fiat. The only criterion which need to be considered is whether during this ten year period, the LTTE has “terrorised” any American lives or properties or faced conviction in a court of law.

 

Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca

Count me in as one of the thousands Humphrey Bogart’s fans, who marked the 50th death anniversary of Bogie silently. Bogart bid permanent adieu to his adoring fans on January 14, 1957. To remember Bogie, I re-read the 50th Anniversary Commemorative volume of ‘Casablanca: As Time Goes By’ (1992) authored by Frank Miller, and also Ingrid Bergman’s autobiography ‘My Story’ (1981).

So much has been written about Casablanca the movie and the lucent on-screen chemistry between the two lead stars – Bogart (1899-1957) and Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982). Even 65 years after its release in 1942, Casablanca - the black and white movie, with only 100 minutes of running time - still ranks in the top five of millions of movie fans’ lists. The plot is deceptively simple and the moral in the plot is also faultless; the hero and heroine sacrificing their personal affection on the altar of a higher ideal of fighting the threat of the Aryan Nazis.

For this movie fan, Casablanca also shines as a lucid example of the ‘waiting’ phenomenon. Ilsa Lund (played by Bergman) was waiting for her husband Victor Lazlo (played by Paul Henreid), who was the leader of the anti-Nazi underground movement, to return. Then, she falls in love with the cynical American Rick Blaines (played by Bogart) in Paris. One of the touching moments in the movie was Rick waiting for Ilsa at the Paris station, but he finds out from the farewell letter-note delivered to him by Sam (played by Dooley Wilson), that she has deserted him. The note says:

“Richard,

I cannot go with you or ever see you again. You must not ask why. Just believe that I love you. Go, my darling, and God Bless you.

Ilsa”

Rick reads the letter while being drenched in rain. Michael Curtiz, the Hungarian-born director, who was known to mangle English, was a master in using objects to pour emotion, and it showed up in this particular frame shot. Rain drops doubled as Ilsa’s tears, smearing the letter. The popularity of Casablanca also lies in the simple fact that, all around the world, millions of Ilsas and Ricks would have experienced the same emotion of waiting for their lovers in a station, only to feel that they had been deserted by intervening circumstances.

Rick then starts his new career in Casablanca as a café owner. And to his surprise Ilsa, his old flame of Paris, turns up in his café with her husband Victor Lazlo. It’s the same woman who had passed the farewell note to him with the curt rejection “I cannot go with you or ever see you again.” To express his annoyance, Rick utters one of the classic lines of the movie; “Of all the gin joints in all the cities in all the world, she walks into mine.” Following the landing of Victor and Ilsa in Rick’s Café, the story spins around their attempt to escape. Many other refugees, like the Victor-Ilsa couple, were also anxiously waiting around Rick’s Cafe to begin a new life in a new continent, and were waiting for transit permits/ exit visas.

The prevailing confusion during the shooting of the movie was neatly summed up by Ingrid Bergman. On any day of the shooting, the actors were waiting for the delivery of their script lines. To quote Bergman, “…There had to be all sorts of changes in the script. So every day we were shooting off the cuff: every day they were handing out the dialogue and we were trying to make some sense of it. No one knew where the picture was going and no one knew how it was going to end, which didn’t help any of us with our characterization…”

Bergman continued,

“It was ridiculous. Just awful. Michael Curtiz didn’t know what he was doing because he didn’t know the story either. Humphrey Bogart was mad because he didn’t know what was going on, so he retired to his trailer…”

With all the confusion during shooting, Bogart, Bergman and director Curtiz were able to turn out a Hollywood classic; which only proved beyond doubt that they were professionals of supreme caliber.

There are more ‘waiting’ themes associated with the Casablanca movie. Until the last day of Casablanca shooting, Ingrid Bergman was agonizingly waiting to land her next movie role. And Bogart, until he signed up for Casablanca, had starred in ruffian roles for over a decade, and this was his first opportunity to play a romantic lead opposite to a top ranked actress. Thus he was also waiting to prove his mettle as a romantic Hollywood hero.

Mandela Waiting in Prison

Depending on the special value one attaches to concepts, property and persons, the waiting time may last from minutes to years. Just think for a while that Nelson Mandela (b.1918) waited for his dignified freedom from the White Man’s prison for more than 26 years. He felt in his heart that it was worth the wait, rather than receiving a conditional freedom he was offered by his oppressors, after being held captive for 20 years.

Mandela’s statement delivered on February 10, 1985, in response to the then South African President Botha’s offer of ‘Conditional Release’ is a beauty for its poetic cadence. Here is an excerpt:

“What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people remains banned?

What freedom am I being offered when I may be arrested on a pass offense?

What freedom am I being offered to live my life as a family with my dear wife who remains in banishment in Brandfort?

What freedom am I being offered when I must ask for permission to live in an urban area?

What freedom am I being offered when I need a stamp in my pass to seek work? What freedom am I being offered when my very South African citizenship is not respected?

Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts…”

Waiting for a de jure Eelam

For whatever its worth, how many bothered to read the revalatory comments on Feb. 25th of Robert Blake, the American ambassador to Sri Lanka, to the New Delhi correspondent of Indo Asian News Service (IANS). He was quoted as saying:

“I don’t think a military solution is possible without a parallel political strategy. The LTTE has significant capability to attack, using terrorist means. We should not underestimate that. I think there would be costs (to pay) to a military strategy. The most important thing in our view is to come up with a credible (political) process.”

One cannot fault Mr. Blake’s common sense about the LTTE’s military vigor, since it is based on ground realities which he would have assessed since he began his ambassador assignment in September 2006. But Mr. Blake can be well assured that nothing “credible” in the way of a political process will be presented by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his coterie to satisfy the Eelam Tamils and the LTTE by September 2009, when Mr. Blake completes his nominal three year assignment. On this, he can check with his predecessors.

My pragmatic suggestion to the American ambassador is that, though he cannot change the mentality and the world view of the Sinhalese political leadership (which is akin to straightening a dog’s tail), he should contemplate issues which are within his parish. The LTTE was designated as a ‘foreign terrorist organization’ by the USA bureaucrats in 1997. Eelam Tamils have been waiting for a reversal of this designation, and they would be ever grateful if Mr.Blake can make any sincere effort (based on ground realities) to reverse this bureaucratic fiat. The only criterion which need to be considered is whether during this ten year period, the LTTE has “terrorised” any American lives or properties or faced conviction in a court of law?

South African visionary leader Mandela’s case should be a pointer for American policy-makers. Until his release from prison in February 1990, Mandela also was designated by the blind-sighted American Poo-Bahs as a “terrorist.”

Arnold Goldberg’s 1971 Essay: ‘On Waiting’

Life is a process of waiting, beginning with the pregnant mother waiting for the delivery of her child, the child pushed along the conveyer-belt of life processes at appropriate junctions and ultimately the old soul waiting for relief in the form of death to escape from the worn-out physical carcass. Between birth and death, we wait and wait and wait. We wait for everything from A to Z; appointments, births, children, deaths, elections, freedom, garbage truck, health recovery, ideas, judgements from superiors, kudos, letters, mates, name recognition, opportunities, peace, quality time, relief, sleep, transport, university entrance, visas, wound healing, yield in [one’s] investment, the zenith of [one’s] career.

More than five years ago, I read a 1971 essay entitled ‘On Waiting’ by Arnold Goldberg, which appeared in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, and was captivated by its charm and its metaphorical allure to the Eelam scene. Since it’s a lengthy 9-page essay with in-depth details on psychoanalysis, I provide below only excerpts in which the general thoughts about waiting have been covered.

Excerpts from Arnold Goldberg’s Essay:

[courtesy: International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 1971; vol.52, pp.413-421]

The intent of this essay is to examine the experience of waiting or the subjective sense of time passage by the psychoanalytic method….

The Psychoanalytic Aspect of Waiting

All of us wait. Some tolerate it well and some poorly. It is sometimes considered a virtue and sometimes a necessary evil. In countries such as England it is quite common for people to line up to wait in an orderly and dignified manner for a bus or a service; but, on occasion, in the United States we push and shove and cannot wait for what we want. We do feel we have to learn to wait, that it is something that comes with time and perhaps maturity; however, there is, in all of us, a lurking antagonism to waiting. We bear waiting, but we probably rarely try to understand it…

Waiting as such is not usually considered in the psychoanalytic literature, but associated phenomena such as timing and the sense of time, impatience and urgency are focal concepts…

The developmental continuum of waiting

Waiting is an act of suspension. Langer (1967) states:

“The principle of waiting is clearly exemplified in the conjoint actions of multi-enzyme systems, in which not the fastest but the slowest catalyst involved in a transformation is the ‘pace-maker’, since chemical reactions are not driven by successive impulses, but require their own exact times, so that complex cycles are possible only if the faster reactions can be suspended until the slowest is completed.”

She further quotes Ephraim Racker as saying: ‘When a steady state is established the rate of the overall process is governed by the rate of the slowest reaction. Then each step proceeds at the same rate.’

In parallel fashion we may hypothesize that the development of the psyche involves multiple repeated suspensions to allow the slower reactions to be integrated and that the inability or incapacity to wait can indicate both the very issue of change and its resulting (temporary) lack of integration as well as indicating (at times) primitiveness and its absence of integration.

The infant who cannot wait to be fed and literally cries until the food reaches his stomach is considered the prototype of impatience. However, the infant may be considered as multiple non-integrated aspects of psychic functioning which discharge at different rates and at different times. The slowest part of the system that the hungry infant’s psyche cannot wait for, the slowest reaction that governs the rate of the entire system, is the mother who has to prepare the food. In this system the pacemaker is outside of the psyche and not properly a psychoanalytic model of impatience but rather a two-party social phenomenon.

Freud (1926) postulated the hallucinated breast as the intrapsychic component which completes the wait…

The observation of infants and children reveals that often the sight of the mother preparing the food allows for waiting. The growing child experiences the feeling of omnipotence and control which in effect is the precursor of his own capacity to gratify himself. As the child sees the mother prepare food he experiences his own fantasied or imagined control over food preparation…

One sees the manifestation of waiting as pleasure in the variety of experiences which involve the building up of tensions, the lengthening and drawing out of the tensions and the careful regulation to the point of discharge.

The Anguish of Waiting

For some people waiting is intolerable. Even brief periods of waiting cause discomfort and prolonged waits are unbearable. They ‘climb the walls’ or ‘crawl out of their skins’ or are ‘about to burst’. The end of waiting is not a pleasure but a relief and thought hey may somewhat masochistically get involved in waiting episodes, they experience such periods with anxiety and dread. There is another and different quality added to that of the building up of drive tension. Based on the model of development it would appear that this torment is related to an external source needed to afford relief. The person not only depends on someone else but is literally at the mercy of another…

No doubt the variable estimates of how long one has waited or how long a given period of time is judged to be has no unitary explanation. Phenomena such as novelty or pleasure versus boredom play a significant role…

The Benefits of Waiting

Shakespeare has Iago say:

How poor are they that have not patience

What wound did ever heal but by degrees

Thou know’st we work by wit and not by witchcraft

And wit depends on dilatory time

This quotation serves well as an analytic credo because the mainstay of analytic insight is the slow accumulation of fact and connexion. Waiting involves a process which is allowed to finish, is seen to its end. Certainly we allow for our own arbitrary choices of beginnings and ends, but within any enormous or infinite process there are subcycles or processes with limiting boundaries.

Wounds take time to heal, children take time to grow and knowledge takes time to accumulate. There is no doubt that the very quality of the passage of time has a salutary effect on these processes. Such principles as organizing, integrating and maturing are those involving slow gathering together, arranging and hierarchical regulation. Children learn by the organizing of words into sentences, into integrative jumps of conceptual thinking.

Emerging nations develop by fits and starts, by integrative jumps and by a kind of maturational process peculiar to themselves but certainly requiring time. Mature nations often take longer to make decisions or to respond to provocations and hopefully have more positive qualities such as patience…

Some Aspects of Applied Psychoanalysis of Waiting

Waiting and patience are such ubiquitous themes in art, music and literature that no survey could be exhaustive. We are all familiar with the build-up of tension of musical themes as we wait for the release that never comes. The fade-out in motion pictures has taught us all that we need not wait and time has passed in that brief black space. In the theatre, Beckett has beautifully demonstrated the dilemma of a man in Waiting for Godot. This play and its sequel, Endgame, illustrate (for some in a slow, boring and unending manner) the issue of man as he waits for his meaning or his fate or his death…

Another illustration that may be of interest is that of the person in confinement. The prisoner waits to be released or else resigns himself to a life of incarceration. The initial anxiety of waiting for release subsides and then returns as the date approaches. This is equally true of the confinement of pregnancy. The serenity of the pregnant woman (sometimes used to explain the Mona Lisa mystery) is that of the women who waits in a beautiful and controlled manner when she feels her self-continuity and self-control are heightened. She knows when and how long she must wait, and anxiety only returns with the indefiniteness of the final hours. Women with a shaky feeling of self-continuity are more terrified than pacified by pregnancy, which is but another threat to holding themselves together.

The act of creation per se, either in a work of art or in a pregnancy, consists of organization and arrangement over a time period, with waiting playing a unique role…”

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