Current Issue
Web Exclusives
Browse the Archives
Search the Archives





Rita Hayworth at Yale, or Education is For the Weak
Eve Tushnet • 1999

“It was my first night in the Argentine.”
Johnny Farrell, a man who has shoved off his past and left his country, comes to South America to gamble. He falls in with the Baron, a man who may soon control the world (through tungsten, if that’s important to you). And he meets a woman, for the second time. 

This is the plot of Gilda, a movie that the Yale Film Society showed last month in an attempt to prove that they know more about the purpose of a Yale education than Richard Levin does. Gilda is Rita Hayworth, playing a switchblade knife. She is an American, like Johnny; she declares, as he does, that she was born the day she met the Baron. Throughout the movie, love is presented as an exchange of cruelties. Gilda tries to get her dignity back through sex, Johnny through power—the same trophies many of us seek at Yale, the former on couches and the latter in classrooms. But in Gilda, at least, neither substitute makes up for the loss of love. 

The movie has all the toppings Charles Vidor, its director, could fit on the ice cream cone. There is an airplane crashing into the sea. There is a Mardi Gras masked ball, and there is a Victory in Europe celebration complete with surly German expatriates. Punches are thrown, as are lines like, “There are more women in the world than anything else. Except insects.” Most viewers seemed content to lick up the toppings, and leave the stronger food behind; seriously-meant lines got chuckles, as if the audience thought that in the 1940s people really lived in balck-and-white but since the advent of Technicolor we know better. We’re fond of ambiguities (and Gilda is full of those, mostly on the shifting surface) but feel embarrassed in the presence of stark contrast—statements of total dedication, of sacrifice, of irrevocable acts. We think that anything can be undone if we will it hard enough. Gilda, like most film noir and certain movies featuring Katharine Hepburn, is about how much in the world we cannot control or undo. We can’t resurrect the dead, or make anybody love us at all. And are there any interesting stories except those? 

“And then I came to Carthage.” 
Walking out of the Whitney Humanities Center, I experienced what Walker Percy calls “re-entry problems.” In Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, he describes the difficulty that authors have when, upon completing their works, they must return to the everyday world. Dostoyevsky, he tells us, spent three days at the roulette tables after he finished writing The Idiot. To a much lesser extent, the audience of a work of art undergoes the same re-entry. The world outside the theater, of dimly-Technicolored shadows and bright drunken daughters of Eli, is insufficient. The girls seem like so many cut-paper silhouettes, making crashing and clattering noises when they laugh. The things they talk about, the snatches overheard about classes and hangovers, are so tiny in comparison to Rita Hayworth’s actual-size movie-queen despair that one experiences a form of vertigo. They seem so far away. 

But in reality, our situation may not be so different from Gilda’s and Johnny’s. We have come to Yale, and most of us have scraped off all the residue of our pasts (or as much as we could reach). We are offered an education which could allow us to gain vast sums of money and power—even if i-banking doesn’t have a cool name like “tungsten”—or even become a man who could blow up the world. 

But a technical or pre-professional education will not help us with death, in the few moments when we can believe in it; or with lovelessness. There are things at Yale which can. Most of them will not be found in classrooms, but what we find in classrooms can deepen our understanding of the people we meet and the desires we have for their friendship or love. King Lear and Measure for Measure will teach you about the corrupting rancidity (to poach a word from Harold Bloom) of sex; Philip Larkin’s “Aubade” and The Brothers Karamazov really will teach you about death and suffering. Nothing is known until it is experienced. This is why the Fall occurred when man gained the knowledge of good and evil, and why, as Ecclesiastes says, “He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” Nonetheless, experience alone is not enough; we must interpret it before we can fully understand what we have done. 

You don’t need to come to Yale for that interpretation—at least, not everybody does. Most people, I confess I don’t know how, follow relatively steady moral compasses and do all right by their friends and loved ones and the people they meet. Some of us need more. Some of us are weak enough that we need Augustine to tell us about our sins and hopes, or Nietzsche to tell us about our strengths and subtleties. And, for a reason which again is mysterious to me, those who begin with these appetites and weaknesses can rise, like Augustine, high above the ordinary plain. 

It is out of weakness, and the desire for strength, that we should come to Yale. It is Carthage, “a cauldron of illicit loves”; but it is also the Argentine, where, perhaps even when we are not looking, the uncontrollable forces of the world will educate us. Even among the clutter of job-worries and job-training, this is a place where we can learn that money and power, the things we can control, are vastly less important than the things we cannot. 

—Eve Tushnet, Editor-in-Chief 


The Yale Free Press is published by students ofYale University. 
Yale University is not responsible for its 
contents. By the same
token, The Yale Free Press is not responsible for the contents of Yale



Return to Top