I got into an argument with someone yesterday – an unusual circumstance for me, as I consider myself to be a relatively easy-going and even-tempered individual. Quick-fire humour is my trigger response; charm, my weapon of mass destruction.
And it was one of those situations where, once it kicked off, it was almost impossible to discern what the argument was actually about, least of all for those actually involved; misunderstandings on both sides, knee-jerk reactions and the stubborn refusal of either to concede that we didn’t know what the hell was going on.
Conflict is one of those areas of human behaviour that we largely fear and avoid; it covers all points from polite misunderstandings between strangers to betrayals of trust between intimates to bloody atrocities committed against nations.
We can be in conflict because we want different things from one another, we can be in conflict because we both want the same thing, we can even be in conflict with ourselves.
Yet it is a rich seam for exploration, especially for the writer or poet; characters and situations become infinitely more interesting when we put them under pressure. A writer is able to examine all kinds of human behaviour in his work, good or bad, justifiable or not; wring from them every drop of humour, pathos or emotion.
For example, in the unfortunate situation described above, a writer (of a certain disposition) may take malevolent pleasure from skewering foes at the end of a nib in viperish character sketches, jubilant in the knowledge that they did indeed have the last word – providing, of course, such exorcisms remain quietly unpublished in a drawer or at least heavily disguised, under ostentatious moustache and beard, lest your next conflict be with the victim’s solicitor.
Readers can live vicariously through characters, witness extreme situations, experience the tension or thrill, all while knowing themselves to be safe from the real-life consequences of such encounters. It is the stuff of slapstick comedy, it is the stuff of poignant human drama and psychological thriller.
Conflict is also a powerful motivator. It is how we learn about ourselves and one another – what we are capable of, where we draw the line, what we are willing to fight to protect.
We may fear it, but we all know it.
So my 3 for Thursday draws on 3 different ideas about conflict:
- Picasso’s Guernica (above), representing the devastation caused by the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War;
- a short poem of mine called, ‘Refugee’, examining the conflict created within, by holding onto past experience and pain, no matter how justifiable;
- the iconic chess scene from ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ (1968), where the mock battle across the board between Faye Dunaway’s insurance investigator and Steve McQueen’s criminal mastermind, mirrors the real cat and mouse game being played out between the characters, with sexual attraction thrown in, as an added spanner in the works.
And I go back, and again, test the point
of a long-dulled edge, find the pain and hold it –
bear witness. I am the only one left
who remembers – it was there, I was there,
I know; afraid even to look away,
that it might disappear and I, caught here
without reason, weigh an empty past,
a last stand, as the present slips; is slipping.