Epitrope (e-pi’-tro-pe): A figure in which one turns things over to one’s hearers, either pathetically, ironically, or in such a way as to suggest a proof of something without having to state it. Epitrope often takes the form of granting permission (hence its Latin name, permissio), submitting something for consideration, or simply referring to the abilities of the audience to supply the meaning that the speaker passes over (hence Puttenham’s term, figure of reference). Epitrope can be either biting in its irony, or flattering in its deference.

Boy George sang of the Karma Chameleon, pouring his heart out over the instability it injected into Boy’s already flimsy relationships. “You come and go” was the refrain capturing his inconsolable sadness and frustration with this creature’s changing colors, with “colors” referring to affiliations, like a football jersey or a flag you might pledge allegiance to. I don’t have to tell you what that’s all about: chameleons, colors, inconsistency in affections. At once shallow and deep, feckless and faithful, cosmetic and natural.

But what about karma, as in “karma chameleon?” Karma: what goes around, comes around; you get what you give. Karma is like a rubber ball bouncing back at you off the wall of fate. Nice begets nice. Mean begets mean. Generous begets generous. Stingy begets stingy.

I tried an experiment with my non-Hindu Christian friends. I was really mean to three of them. I told one of them that they smelled like an elephant cage. She said: “I forgive you. You know not what you say.” I told her I knew what I was saying, and I meant it. I held my nose, and waved the other hand. She said “I forgive you your trespasses.” I thought, “Wait a minute. She’s a karma deflector, maybe it’s more complicated than I understand.” I was confused. So, I pushed my other friend down a flight of stairs. As they were loading him in the ambulance, he looked me directly in the eyes, smiled, and said “I forgive you brother.” I yelled “Karma thwarter” at him. He gave me the peace sign.

So far, as far as I could see, there was no negative consequence to doing evil to these people. Karma was null. My last friend, Ralph, might come through for me. I tied him to a chair and beat his face and head with a rubber hose. He said, “Forgive him father for he knows not what he does.” What? In all three cases nobody looked for revenge. They just wanted to forgive me. They were walking invitations to violence and humiliation. Were they Karma Chameleons? Did they take on the “color” of forgiveness as a temporary means of confusing their assailants while secretly planning their revenge? Were they so-called plaster saints? But it seemed on the surface, at least, that they were thwarting karma, and I was escaping retribution for what I had done. “Ha ha!” I thought—I had beat the rap. I went to bed with a shit-eating grin on my face.

I woke up smelling like an elephant cage. I could not wash off the smell. I got dressed and intended to go to the drugstore to get some kind of medicated soap. As I stepped out my door I realized my smell was karmic. Then, I fell down the stairs. As I was fishing for my cellphone to call 911, a masked person came out into the stairwell and started beating me in the face with a rubber hose. I pulled at his mask and saw the familiar face, albeit swollen and bruised, of my friend I had beaten to test my karma theory. “What about the forgiveness?” I sobbed through the blows. He said, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”

I got out of the hospital today. I wish I had never heard of Boy George. Although “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” still appeals to me with its mysterious summoning of “really” to query the motive of his abuser. Is it possible to do something you “really” don’t want to do, as Boy seems to be asking?

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).

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