There be dragons!

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Macbeth and the cascading analog



Sometimes when thinking about literature or art you have to coin a phrase to capture the idea you are thinking about.  I don't know, pardon my lacuna of knowledge, any phrase to describe the use of successive symbols to create relationships of ideas in a work.  Consequently I'm using the term "cascading analog" and opposing it to "horizontal analog".  

Analog is the use of one thing to signify another.  It is the connecting of ideas, saying "this equals this" leading to greater understanding.  So for instance, saying that Thomas Jackson is "like a stone wall" doesn't mean that he is low to the ground or that he has loam on him but that he is impenetrable like a stone wall.  This is an analog called simile.  When we say "She's as sweet as Tupelo honey, like honey from the bee" we are using simile.  

When on the other hand we say, "Ted is a mule" we don't mean that he has four legs and grey fur - rather that Ted is stubborn and ornery.  This is the analog called metaphor.  

Simile and Metaphor are the two major forms of analog in human language and thought.  Our whole process of thought, in fact, is based upon analog since we create mental images to comprehend anything & build a network of mental images when trying to make sense of something new.  

Sometimes when a poet or artist uses such analog they extend it over the length of a soliloquy, poem, or entire work.  So for instance Shakespeare compares his beloved to a summer's day in sonnet 18.  Similarly, George Herbert in "The Pulley" uses the metaphor of being pulled up and pulled down by our strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes the analog is explicit (obvious) as in Robert Burns' "Red, Red Rose" or the Rolling Stones' "She's a Rainbow".  Sometimes the analog is implicit (hidden) as in Wilbur's "Death of a Toad" or Melville's "Moby Dick" (which if you've read it before you are 30 you probably have read it wrong!).  

"Horizontal analog", therefore, is when a series of related images appear over the course of a (longer) work.  This type of analogy operates similar to how a dream might unfold, presenting the same idea in various forms.  Plato, for instance, uses horizontal analog in his work “The Republic” presenting his idea of justice (as a ratio between the lesser and the greater) in one form after another.  Here the artist says that justice looks like this, but more than that it looks like this, and again it looks like more than that, it looks like this, and &c.

“Cascading analog” operates like a waterfall of images, not seemingly related to each other and happening in quick succession rather than drawn out over the course of a long work.  This series of quick flowing images normally occurs with a monumental event of some kind and indicates that the speaker is trying to deal with something new and overwhelming.  Monumental experiences in life tend to overwhelm us and inundate us with new and difficult to process impressions.  Like a combat veteran trying to explain to civilians what warfare is like, or like a survivor of cancer or someone who has experienced a natural disaster like a tsunami, they express the immensity of the event by trying to connect it to the experiences they already have and with which they are familiar.

Shakespeare uses horizontal analog throughout his play, “Macbeth”, connecting images of water, darkness, sleep, dismemberment throughout the play.  The real question of the play is not whether Macbeth is a murderer, or what a bad king looks like, or even what damnation looks like.  Rather it is the question of the loss of meaning or purpose in life.  How does one fight against purposelessness?  For Shakespeare this seems to have been a perennial question appearing in numerous different works.  Next to Hamlet, Macbeth is probably the bard’s greatest answer to this nominalist question.

During the course of the play Macbeth chooses to act in such a way to secure a permanent hold on happiness through power.  His choices, however, lead him deeper into blood, chaos, and madness.  By the end of play he has lost everything including even the “eternal jewel” of mankind (his soul) which he seems to have “Given to the common enemy of man” (Satan).  With his wife dead, his friends and allies fleeing from him (“fly false thanes and mingle with the English epicures”), and a massive army besieging his gates Macbeth seems to be at the end of his tether.  This might appear to be for most an obvious consequence of the choices leading to damnation & might evoke in some audience members a schadenfreude and self-congratulation that they, at least, are not damned.

In a masterful use of images, however, the poet suggests that such a response is shallow, unreflective, and not the point of Macbeth’s final trajectory.  The Bard uses cascading analog to symbolize the overwhelming finality of Macbeth’s ultimate destruction.  Faced in Act V, scene 5 with the reality of Lady Macbeth’s death and the loss of his entire life going into the sewer he utters the great “tomorrow” speech.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

At first read the comments on life seem a jumble of unrelated images.  But as a cascading analog they work to describe the immensity of what Macbeth is finally realizing in the play; the ultimate conclusion of the path he has chosen.  Each image relates to each successive image analogously.  First, the pace of the opening line hangs on the drudgery of the word “and” – yet again waking up to another tomorrow w/o hope, change, or forgiveness.  This series of tomorrows sets up a triune relationship between images (similar to the trinity of the weird sisters, the murderers, and the three major assassinations of the play).  Days creep by in a petty pace (notice the dental alliteration like spitting; p,p – d,d); time is likened to a record book (the Domesday book) of syllables already set down by fate (or “wyrd” in Anglo-Saxon).  Past history is then compared to a candle or lantern leading fools to their death (again the dental alliteration of d,d; “day to day” “dusty death”).  Humans are all fools, in this vision, if they follow this lantern, namely the pattern of human history w/o providential redemption.  Indeed, the examination of human history w/o the lens of salvation (“The fool in his heart has said, ‘there is no god’” says the Psalm 14) seems to indicate a bleak and violent emptiness to our existence. 

Macbeth’s utterance of “Out, out, brief candle!” then echoes (in a use of horizontal analog) Lady Macbeth’s earlier utterance of “out, damned spot! Out, I say!” in Act 5, scene 1.  The utterance also ushers in the final three analogs of the soliloquy wherein Macbeth compares life to

  1. A walking shadow
  2. A poor player (actor)
  3. A tale (told by an idiot)

This leads a reader to question “how is life like a walking shadow?”  “how is life like an actor?”, “how is life like a tale?”  Shakespeare uses metaphorical analog here, not simile suggesting that the intensity of Macbeth’s vision.  Life, for him, has become a mere phantom of what it should be; a ghost, the place where the sun is not.  Though it moves around and walks, nevertheless it is as ephemeral as the thaumatapoioi, the shadows, in Plato’s cave image.  Such an empty, dark, lifeless existence resembles a bad actor who struts and frets a brief time (an hour) on the stage of the world (“all the world’s a stage” – “As You Like It” Act II, scene 7).  The double meaning is that the poor player is also a bad sport; someone who in losing is petty, small-souled, pusillanimous in his paces.  If life doesn’t get its way it takes its ball and goes home.  Instead of the brilliant and joyful experience of life which we each hope for (honour, love, obedience, troops of friends) this vision of life in the septic tank of hell becomes an empty repetitive tale full of noise and anger but meaningless.  The vision expressed also implies that the maker of the world, God, makes only shadows, writes only bad plays, is an idiot in his creations.  The end of such a vision is itself, hell, nothingness, the Tartarus or cave of shadows.  It is an overwhelming vision of existence without life so immense that Macbeth cannot succinctly express it. 

His is a vision that has abandoned salvific realism for materialistic nominalism.  Whether he fights against this vision is the real crux of the play the outcome of which is ambiguous.  Does Macbeth realizing that he has been “tied to the stake and cannot fly” defiantly reject the deep damnation of his own taking off?  Even realizing that, “Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane, / And thou (MacDuff) opposed, being of no woman born,” Macbeth proclaims that, “I will try the last.”

Indeed, there is something valiant and almost salvific when Macbeth proclaims

Before my body
I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff,
And damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'

Is “the last” which MacDuff defies the “last syllable of recorded time”?  is it the last obstacle to his own damnation?  Or is it the last thing opposing his attempt at total rule?  It is at least, or so it seems, a return to martial virtue where Macbeth so excelled at the beginning of the play.  Though his bitter statement that he 

will not yield,
To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet,
And to be baited with the rabble's curse

Might be the ignoble and damning utterance of Satan’s “non serviam” it might also prove his salvation.  He refuses to submit to his doppelganger and adversary, MacDuff, and in that at least he is not damned.  His rejuvenated martial prowess offers him some sense of meaning or purpose to life.

Perhaps the play is not suggesting that Macbeth represents an obvious or explicit metaphor for what damnation looks like.  Instead, perhaps the play is offering a vision of one man dealing with the consequences of his own horrible choices, loss of manhood and meaning in life, and being “cow'd (of his) better part of man” – an experience so overwhelming that it defies being captured in words.  Against such a tsunami of horrors, whether they be of our own making or others, perhaps the only noble response is defiant endurance and opposition and in that sense perhaps Macbeth finds salvation after all.


Thursday, April 22, 2021

The City of God and the city of men (or immanentizing the eschaton)

One of  the most significant works of European culture has to be De Civitatis Dei (The City of God) by Saint Augustine of Hippo.



The Roman Empire was at its height in 117AD. Roman culture, language, mannerisms, law, architecture, food, government, military permeated the culture so deeply that Europe remained essentially "Roman" for the next 2000 years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Empire...

In 293 Diocletian split the Empire into four quadrants, each ruled by an Emperor. This was called the Tetrarchy and was a bureaucratic decision made to better manage the immense empire.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetrarchy

It didn't work, though, and the Empire eventually dissolved into an Eastern hemisphere & a Western hemisphere. The East remained strong and survived until the 1400s, but the West began to fall apart.



At the same time a movement called "The Way" began to gain great support from the lower classes of Roman society. Followers of "The Way" professed the Good News (Gospel) that all people were loved by God regardless of sex, wealth, power, class, or past sins & that all had been redeemed by the sacrifice of the blood of Christ (the anointed one). They wrote down their accounts of Christ's life sometime in the 2nd century AD but had no official creed, doctrine or churches and were deemed illegal by Roman society.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel

Christians suffered great persecution under Roman law, especially during the reign of Diocletian. Followers of the way were constantly insulted (called "Christians" which at the time was a put down), barred from office and denied jobs, arrested, fined, or executed in the Colosseum by gladiators or beasts. It was rumored even that Christians participated in cannibalism in their secret (mysterion) rituals.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diocletianic_Persecution



In 313, however, Constantine rose to power as ruler of the whole Empire & he issued the Edict of Milan which made Christianity legal within the Empire.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Milan

Strands of Christianity professing different beliefs continued within the Empire until the need arose to define what Christians actually believed.

In 325, Constantine called the Council of Nicaea which clarified what Christians believed and produced the Nicen Creed which we still say today.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Council_of_Nicaea

Romans blamed Christianity for the steady decline of Roman values in the West, invasions by barbarians, and general economic decline citing both that Christianity sought to overturn the social system and exalt the lower classes and that it angered the gods and drew down their disfavor. This was confirmed for Romans in 410 when Alaric sacked the city of Rome.

Our normal picture of the sack of Rome by Alaric is of blue painted pagan barbarians with great horned helms and forked beards slobbering their way toward a massive destruction and rape of the city.  But it seems that Alaric and his men were neither pagan NOR barbarian as they were all Roman military trained; spoke Latin, wore Latin dress, employed Latin mannerisms. They were part of the auxilii (I think it was called) = the "native" troops trained to protect and police the area under Roman command. According to worldhistory.org -

"He (Alaric) commanded the Gothic allies, fighting alongside the Romans at the Battle of River Frigidus in 394 CE, a battle waged between the eastern emperor Theodosius I and the western usurper emperor Eugenius."

So Alaric seems to have been a Romanized Arian Christian who supported Theodosius (the legit emperor) against Eugenius (the usurping emperor) and the Franks. After his service he was not recognized by the Senate in any meaningful way even though he was the only real player in the Balkans at the time.


Hilaire Belloc writes that the whole "sacking of Rome" thingummy was that they descended on the capitol to demand back pay (hadn't been paid in months) but were denied by the elitist and bureaucratic senate and told to go home. They didn't (or at least, not until they had gotten their pay in local goods stripped from the city - perhaps a few bonfires were involved, too).

 It makes for a great read:

Alaric sat patiently, waiting for Stilicho to join him. Despite his good intentions, Stilicho, however, was delayed due to problems elsewhere in the west: the Gothic king Radagaisus invaded Italy; the Vandals, Alans, and Survi invaded Gaul; and the future emperor Constantine III (a viable threat to the throne) emerged victorious from Britain. These setbacks made money scarce and negotiations impossible. Alaric's patience wore thin, and his demand for 4,000 pounds of gold (payment for his waiting) went unheard. As a result, he began to slowly move his army closer to Italy. Although Stilicho wanted to pay the demands, the Roman Senate, under the leadership of a war hawk named Olympius disagreed, and the Senate considered Alaric's actions a declaration of war.

With Olympius' urging, the emperor decided to invade the east. Stilicho warned against the emperor leading the army, choosing to lead an army himself. With Stilicho away, Honorius and Olympius traveled to Ticinum, an Italian city just south of Milan, supposedly to review the troops; however, Olympius, without the permission of the emperor, ordered the killing of thousands of Gothic allies - an action that further angered Alaric. A final fatality of this massacre was Stilicho himself, who was accused of plotting with Alaric. As a result of this treachery, over 10,000 soldiers defected and joined Alaric's army. In 408 CE the Gothic army sacked the cities of Aquilea, Concordia, Altinum, Cremona, Bononia, Ariminum, and Picenum, choosing, however, to avoid Ravenna, the capital of the western empire and home of Emperor Honorius. Instead, Alaric set his sights on Rome, surrounding all 13 gates of the city, blockading the Tiber River and forcing widespread rationing; within weeks decaying corpses littered the city streets.

As additional forces came to Alaric's side, Emperor Honorius did little to help the city and oppose Alaric. The Goths were still viewed as barbarians and no match for the armies of the empire. Although the treasury was virtually empty, the Senate finally succumbed, and wagons left the city carrying two tons of gold, 13 tons of silver, 4,000 silk tunics, 3,000 fleeces, and 3,000 pounds of pepper. 

He had tried everything, even attempting to name a sympathetic senator named Attalus appointed as a new Roman emperor failed. He took Honorius's sister Galla Placidia hostage but to no avail. An alliance asking for an annual payment of gold and grain, as well as the provinces of Venetia, Noricum, and Dalmatia, was refused. Alaric had few choices left, and on August 24, 410 CE, Alaric prepared to enter the city; Rome had not been sacked since 390 BCE. When the Salarian Gate was opened by an unnamed sympathizer, an army of “barbarians” entered Rome, and a three-day pillage began. While the homes of the wealthy were plundered, buildings burned, and pagan temples destroyed, St. Peter's and St. Paul's were left untouched. Oddly, when Honorius heard that Rome was perishing, he feared the worst - not because of his love of the city, but because he believed his beloved fighting cock named Rome had been killed.


Romans blamed Christianity for the sack of the city, however, and for a great many other things.

In response to this calumnious censure Saint Augustine wrote his great work "The City of God" in which he defined two competing visions of the world:

1. the city of men - in which power, success, wealth are the markers of a good life; but this city remains involved in an eternal rotation of power in which decline and destruction are inevitable

2. the city of God - in which love, forgiveness, and flourishing are the markers of a good life; this city is eternal and will outlast all cities of men.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_City_of_God

The next 2000 years of European history (Medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment & Modern eras) will essentially be a constant struggle between these two competing visions.

As Eric Voegelin would phrase this struggle in the 20th century, “We must not allow them to immanentize the eschaton”.  Most of the major events in European history can be read through this lens of the struggle between the city of God and the city of men.  To attempt to bring about (immanentize) heaven on earth (the eschaton) terrible and horrifying events have been justified.  Perhaps it is necessary to re-evaluate whether trying to make the city of men into the city of God is even a possible thing.


Monday, February 15, 2021

Mark 7:34 - Ephphatha







There is an odd linguistic moment in today's reading from Gospel Mk 7:31-37 that sticks out like a giant stone in Ohio, displaced by a glacier.

Jesus left the district of Tyre

and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee,

into the district of the Decapolis.

And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment

and begged him to lay his hand on him.

He took him off by himself away from the crowd.

He put his finger into the man’s ears

and, spitting, touched his tongue;

then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,

“Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)

And immediately the man’s ears were opened,

his speech impediment was removed,

and he spoke plainly.

He ordered them not to tell anyone.

But the more he ordered them not to,

the more they proclaimed it.

They were exceedingly astonished and they said,

“He has done all things well.

He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

That Aramaic word "Ephphatha" is particularly fascinating to me as it seems so out of place.  It is used only once in the entirety of the Bible, only by Mark.  

Strong's Number G2188 matches the Greek εφφαθα (ephphatha), which occurs 1 times in 1 verses in the Greek concordance of the KJV

Why?  Most commentators I've read suggest either

a. the evangelist was present at the scene and took play by play notes on everything Christ did...
b. the evangelist was emphasizing the original language of Christ in order to give some sort of meaning to his Greek speaking audience

These explanations seem weak to me.  A better explanation might be that the author was including the word in a larger ritual of some sort and/or making a literary reference which we miss.

Why for instance, does the Christ “put his finger into the man’s ears” and why does he spit, touch his (the man’s) tongue, and then look up to heaven?  There is some sort of ceremony going on here to which we are not party.  Here is the Greek:

καὶ ἀναβλέψας εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν ἐστέναξενκαὶ λέγει αὐτῷ Ἐφφαθά ἐστιν Διανοίχθητι:

Here is Easton's Bible Dictionary

The Greek form of a Syro-Chaldaic or Aramaic word, meaning "Be opened," uttered by Christ when healing the man who was deaf and dumb (Mark 7:34). It is one of the characteristics of Mark that he uses the very Aramaic words which fell from our Lord's lips. (See 3:17; 5:41; 7:11; 14:36; 15:34.)

and

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

EPHPHATHA

ef'-a-tha, ef-a'-tha (Ephphatha):

Aramaic word used by Christ (Mark 7:34), the 'ethpa`al imperative of Aramaic pethach (Hebrew pathach), translated, "Be (thou) opened"; compare Isaiah 35:5. The Aramaic was the sole popular language of Palestine (Shurer, History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, IIg, 9) and its use shows that we have here the graphic report of an eyewitness, upon whom the dialectic form employed made a deep impression. This and the corresponding act of the touch with the moistened finger is the foundation of a corresponding ceremony in the Roman Catholic formula for baptism.

and this from the Wikipedia entry of "Language of Jesus"

Ephphatha (Ἐφφαθά)

See also: Healing the deaf mute of Decapolis

Mark 7:34

Once again, the Aramaic word is given with the transliteration, only this time, the word to be transliterated is more complicated. In Greek, the Aramaic is written ἐφφαθά. This could be from the Aramaic ethpthaḥ, the passive imperative of the verb pthaḥ, 'to open', since the th could assimilate in western Aramaic. The pharyngeal ḥ was often omitted in Greek transcriptions in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and was also softened in Galilean speech.

Lamar Williamson writes that this is the last unit in a series of miracles concerned with the identity of Jesus, as subsequently confirmed by the Apostle Peter's christological affirmation in Mark 8:29, where Peter exclaimed: "You are the Messiah".

Two good commentaries can be found here

https://catholicexchange.com/key-jesus-ministry-one-word-ephphatha?fbclid=IwAR02Fen8a3V-03cKca6klq2-W8Cv6GTPuBaR9ypzBooYYrhKifY5akrRyGg

and here

http://www.turningtogodsword.com/ephphatha/?fbclid=IwAR1z9GMwTa1zxtH_e9sWtaYnRPwWNW4BKPBQ6Npt9OjzcH-xogXa9V9mzd 

But looking at the text more in detail why does the Christ first “look up”, ἀναβλέψας, which is also to “open his eyes”?

And why “look up to heaven”, τὸν οὐρανὸν?  Is it b/c “God” is in heaven?  The same image appears in the play of Euripides, the Bacchae, when the blinding madness of the queen/mother Agave leaves her and she realizes her crime of prolicide.

Kadmos
Alas, alas! When you realize what you have done you will suffer a terrible pain. But if you remain forever in the state you are in now, though hardly fortunate, you will not imagine that you are unfortunate.

Agave
But what of these matters is not right, or what is painful?

Kadmos
First cast your eye up to this sky.

Agave
All right; why do you tell me to look at it?

Kadmos
Is it still the same, or does it appear to have changed?

Agave
It is brighter than before and more translucent.

Kadmos
Is your soul still quivering?

Agave
I don't understand your words. I have become somehow sobered, changing from my former state of mind.

Was the act of looking at the heavens something of a panacea for the “crime” of madness? 

Ziony Zevit, in his article, "The Common Origin of the Aramaicized Prayer to Horus and of Psalm 20," has suggested that Psalm 20 has a close connection to a prayer to Horus in Egypt.  https://www.jstor.org/stable/604527

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2020&version=NIV

Perhaps there are similar connections here.

Is ethpthaḥ any relation to the Egyptian “Ptah”? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ptah#Representations_and_hypostases

Is the “cleansing of the eye” at all related to the Egyptian concept of the Wadjet; the eye of Horus, god of the sky?

Is the “cleansing, or opening of the eye” related to the “opening of the mouth” ceremony from Egypt?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opening_of_the_mouth_ceremony

https://egyptcentrecollectionblog.blogspot.com/2020/06/ritual-and-magic-in-ancient-egypt.html 

Parts of this ceremony certainly appear in the Bible; Psalm 51, for instance

O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+51&version=KJV

and Psalm 119

Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+119&version=KJV

Why then does he “sigh”, ἐστέναξεν?  The same image of breath coming forth from the body is the ruah of YHWH working to create the world in Genesis.  God breathed life into the nostrils of man.  Yet this ruah is ascending to heaven almost like a votive smoke of some kind.

Then comes the imperative, Ἐφφαθά, “be opened”.


Thursday, July 2, 2020

Men and Minotaurs



Dr. Jordan Peterson has always been very adamant about the idea that we have to refrain from isolating bad men and evil actions as something other than ourselves; to approach our own self-examination with caution and w/o the tendency to think of our own lives as pillars of virtue or exemplars of civilized men.  "There but for the grace of God" - exactly.  

"Gnothi seauton" as the Greeks quipped; "know yourself".  The task of paradox (as our man, Chesterton wrote) is a difficult one, though, b/c at the same time we have to refrain from such siloed and Pharisaical thinking, don't we also have to be able to recognize evil in the world?  Do we not have to be able to spot monsters as monsters?  For instance, to say that Kermit Gosnell is monstrous recognizes the evil in which he was engaged (in aborting babies) and yet to spot that Gosnell was probably like B.N.Nathanson = a deeply wounded man who suffered as every other human suffered seems to contradict this monstrous quality to his personality.  Norma McCorvey, whose convictions about Jesus and about abortion developed over time, engaged in monstrous actions too - suffered for it - recognized after time how she also had been used and converted.  

Humans are never simple.  "Of all strange things in the world, mankind is the most strange."



I just finished watching "One Child Nation" about the Chinese abortion/forced sterilization program that resulted in murder, violation of basic rights, and human trafficking on a global scale.  Yet everyone interviewed expressed their own helplessness and sorrow at the same time as professing the goodness of the program.  What?  Even at the end of the program the narrator/interviewer/producer equivocated the Chinese program with the US program that prevents women from choosing abortion.  That seemed a very odd conclusion to make, but humans are never simple.  

"What is man that you should care for him?  Mortal man that you should come to him?"



THAT I think is the power of artwork - to make us reflect on ourselves, how we fit into this human thing, and what the scope of strangeness the human thing covers.  

Anagogy.  (ἀναγωγή), a "climb" or "ascent" upwards. 
...facilis descensus Averno;

noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;
sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
hoc opus, hic labor est.  

My father used to say that, of the four levels of meaning in art, anagogy was the real goal; "the goal of all art is anagogy" - prompting us to reflect on our own role in similar situations (and thus the realism in art).  I think both highly symbolic art (such as Beowulf) and highly realistic art (such as Crime & Punishment, or Emma, or Grapes of Wrath) and even hyperbolic art (such as A Good Man is Hard to Find, or The Trial, or even The Jungle or Lord of the Flies) prompt such reflection.

If such prompting, though, is accident and force rather than reflection and choice, we have a problem.  This is the point about "symbolism" I was trying to get at during our discussion.  The action of one man killing another is an action (whether he be a white cop killing a black man, or a black haberdasher killing an oriental deli worker) - it becomes symbolic when it is recorded (in paint, song, artwork or video), edited (so we see only what the editor wants us to see) and repeated (until we utter it as mantra that two legs are bad and four are good).*  

In that case the "mighty upheaval" that breaks the historic tectonic plates apart is more damaging than helpful - more Krakatoa than continental drift.  And though the upheaval may be in response to unloving choices, or to government oppression, or to injustice of some kind, it may also be orchestrated upheaval designed to scour away the old way and usher in the new glorious revolution of next Tuesday; the spark to ignite the preconditioned powder keg.  Who orchestrates, I wonder?  Who prepares the way?  Yuri Bezmenov has some distinct ideas in answer to such questions prompting us to look a bit further than what might have been mere incompetence or racism:

Truth can speak to power and bring about an end to the injustices of the world; a standing up to the tanks, a defiance of the demand to join the Nazi army, or a regret of having only one life to give for your country.  And though sometimes the event that leads to "the mighty upheaval" might result in a better world (though whether a better middle east now exists is another subject of discussion) a Manchurian incident, or a dismissal of Necker, or a shooting of vam Rath might also result in a Rape of Nanking, a Reign of Terror, or a Kristallnacht.  

A multitude primed for inflammation is a dangerous multitude indeed & if we are to ask "who would I be, Chauvin or Floyd?" we must also ask "who would I be, Guan Guangjing or Japanese Imperial army?  Marie Antoinette or Danton? Ruth Winkelmann or Joseph Goebbels?"  It is easy enough to rejoice in Sidney Carton's self sacrifice and claim affinity and nobility of how we would act in a similar situation.  It is far harder to wrestle with the idea that, if we had to choose between betraying our family & convictions and saving our own hide we might prove more like the Minotaur than the Man from Athens.  Perhaps this is why Tiresias says to Oedipus "You.  You are the man.  The source of all pollution."


Lord Jesus, let me know myself and know You,

And desire nothing save only You.
Let me hate myself and love You.
Let me do everything for the sake of You.
Let me humble myself and exalt You.
Let me think of nothing except You.
Let me die to myself and live in You.
Let me accept whatever happens as from You.
Let me banish self and follow You,
And ever desire to follow You.
Let me fly from myself and take refuge in You,
That I may deserve to be defended by You.
Let me fear for myself, let me fear You,
And let me be among those who are chosen by You.
Let me distrust myself and put my trust in You.
Let me be willing to obey for the sake of You.
Let me cling to nothing save only to You,
And let me be poor because of You.
Look upon me, that I may love You.
Call me that I may see You,
And forever enjoy You.

Amen.
St. Augustine of Hippo


*read John Berger and Marshall MacLuhan on this subject

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Wasteland part V: What the Thunder Said




The humors of whiskey



Let your quacks and newspapers be cuttin' their capers
And curing the vapors the scratch and the gout
With their medical potions, their pills and their lotions
Upholding their notions, they're mighty put out

Who can tell the true physics of all things pathetic
And pitch to the devil, cramp, colic and spleen
You'll know it I think if you take a big drink
With your mouth to the brink of a jug of poteen

So stick to the cratur' the best thing in nature
For drowning your sorrows and raising your joys
Oh what moderation gives hope to a nation
Can give consolation like poteen me boys

No liquid cosmetic to lovers athletic
Or ladies pathetic can give such a bloom
As the sweet by the powers in the garden of flowers
E'er gave their own bowers such a darling perfume

And this liquid so rare if you willingly share
To be taking your hair when it's frizzled and dead
Oh the sod has the merit to yield the true spirit
So strong it will shake all the hairs from your head

So stick to the cratur' the best thing in nature
For drowning your sorrows and raising your joys
Oh since its perfection, no doctor's direction
Can cleanse the complexion like poteen me boys
As a child in me cradle, the nurse from her ladle
Was swillin her mouth with a notion of Pep
When a drop from her bottle fell into my throttle
I capered and scrambled right out of her lap

On the floor I lay crawlin' and screaming and bawling
'Til me mother and father were called to the fore
All sobbing and sighing they feared I was dying
They found I was only crying for more

So stick to the cratur' the best thing in nature
For drowning your sorrows and raising your joys
Oh lord how I'd chuckle if babes in their truckle
Could only be suckled on poteen me boys

Through youthful digressions and times of depression
My childhood's impression still clung to my mind
And at school or at college, the basis of knowledge
I never could gulp 'til with whiskey combined

And as older I'm growing times e'er bestowin'
On Erin's potation, a flavor so fine;
And how ere they may lecture on Jove and his nectar
Itself is the only true liquid divine

So stick to the cratur' the best thing in nature
For drowning your sorrows and raising your joys
Oh lord, 'tis the right thing for courting and fighting
There's naught so exciting as poteen me boys

Come guess me this riddle: what beats pipes and fiddle?
What's hotter than mustard and wilder than cream?
What best wets your whistle? What's clearer than crystal?
What's sweeter than honey and stronger than steam?

What will make the dumb talk? What will make the lame walk?
The elixir of life and philospher's stone
And what helped Mr. Brunel to dig the Thames Tunnel?
Wasn't it poteen from ould Inishowen?

So stick to the cratur' the best thing in nature
For drowning your sorrows and raising your joys
Oh lord, it's no wonder, if lightning and thunder
Was made from the plunder of poteen me boys.