My friend H. (who has told me, in the past, to distinguish more rigorously, in this blog, between H., which always refers to H., and Saddam H., which always refers to the meat monster) � my friend H., to begin again, has sent me a piece he wrote for the Iranian on allergies. It�s a clever bit of troping on that sneeze inducing topic, beginning with Juliet�s question, �what�s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.� This phrase has been so trampled over the centuries that it has become a clich� for clich�s. But H. actually sees something in it from an unexpected direction. Nobody that I know has made the connection between names, roses, pollen, and histamines before. H. does.
�Juliet's anxiety stems in part from the contradiction between a name and the reality it represents. Historical enmity between the Capulet and Montague families is an impediment to the desires unfolding in Juliet's body for a reality embodied by Romeo the lover. Juliet wonders: "what is Montague, it's not a hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man...tis his name that is Juliet's enemy."
Now, allergy is widely understood as a reaction caused by the mistaken perception of the body that an otherwise harmless substance is a threat. Once your mind perceives a substance as an invading allergen, then, the immune system tries to eliminate it in a process that makes life a living hell. Either the mind "suspects" and torments the body or the body "knows" and re-educates the mind.
The first reaction might be psychosomatic but it is no less real. What the mind thinks, the body acts on. Allergy is life writ large. Our reaction to a given "reality" -- our perception of it -- is very much linked to what that reality is named. Whether it is called Romeo or a Montague, liberty or licentiousness, a daisy cutter or an incinerator of human flesh, a martyr or a thug blowing up innocent kids, veal parmesan or butchered and mostly burned baby calf topped by her mother's milk -- names will have a lot to do with how we come to perceive a reality embodied.�
Oddly enough, allergies haven�t really figured in great lit like, say, tuberculosis. In fact, who among the great literary characters is seized with insupportable sneezing and watery eyes at just the wrong moment? Not even in Balzac, where all things are dared. Not even among the Russians. Although who knows � there is a back field of Russian literature that contains surprising things. Yes, the Magic Mountain of the Allergy set awaits its author.
It looks like H. will be intermittently essaying for the Iranian. Look for him. Click here for another of his pieces.