I. The Danaid
Danaus had 50 daughters and his brother had 50 sons. He made his daughters marry their cousins, in order to acquire the neighbouring land. On their wedding night, they were instructed to kill their husbands; all did so, apart from Hypermnestra (aka Amymone), swapping the sex rites for mass slaughter. The shrieks of pain that emanated from the palace that night were spectacular. Hypermnestra, for her disobedience, was murdered by her father. She perhaps got the better deal; her spirit went upward to Elysium. Condemned either way, the 49 remaining sisters, whilst they may have lived out this mortal life, were afterward banished to Hades where they endured an eternity of punishment. The character of their punishment was that of unproductive labour: they had to fill up bottomless amphorae with sieves, forever and ever. This could also resemble reproductive labour in its invisible, intangible qualities; maintenance and restoration that produces ‘no tangible object’. Of course several mythical templates could be invoked in exploring this specific character of labour: Sisyphus or Tantalus, for example. In this case however the next part of the story will hopefully complete the allegory.
II. The Hydra
The Hydra is the beast that guarded the lake of Lerna, where the Danaid sisters were imprisoned in watery torture.
Central to the myth of the Hydra is its capacity to regrow any part of itself that is severed. In this case an understanding of the Lernean Hydra, slain at last by Heracles in the Argolid, represents a structural critique: the symbolic death of any of its heads cannot solve the problem, nor can it change the division or character of labour. Morphallaxis, the contemporary biological term for the phenomenon of tissue regeneration is today thought exclusive to two beasts: 1. The hydra, a genus of small freshwater grub and 2. Turritopsis nutricula, or (Oh,) immortal jellyfish. Anyone who understands the hydra knows that death is never mortal or real, it ceases to operate at that level and becomes symbolic. Nonetheless, we rejoice when one head appears to be severed, and especially in the gap between severance and regrowth.
III. State Funerals
In the case of enforced national remembrance – that is, not the subtle nuance of myths of inherited tales (and let the ‘14 year olds in crop-tops’ [BBC Radio 4 Lamentation] celebrate, for they have grown up with a justified hatred), but the state funeral – spectators are forced to consume the corpse. ‘Une Cadavre’ – the leaflet distributed by Breton, et al, to the spectators at Anatole France’s state funeral in 1924 brings this into light. Finding the situation a perfect theatre, the surrealists demanded to open the casket and slap the corpse, recommending the body ought to be thrown in the Seine before accumulating any more dust. Let us renounce consumption of the cadaver and turn our backs, or indeed, hopefully more violently push forward – break the line – forward and violently reject it, whilst rejecting also the radio djs and the Labour party MPs and the Conservative sycophants and the moderates. In the event of her death, the body rises, trembling on the airwaves in national séance, lilac effigies are conjoured in thin air, history is disavowed, mass misery suppressed, in favour of a sovereign who was not even beheaded.