Archive | May, 2014

JUDGES 5 – REDUX.

30 May

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Deborah and Jael – a Biblical retelling

(A CANAANITE PERSPECTIVE)

 

A rainy day in Canaan. Two charioteers of King Jabin’s army enjoy a couple of beers in a local pub. One of the men has just returned from battle and relates his tale to his comrade.

               “Once again we had to deal with those bloody Hebrews and their new-fangled god. One god to take care of that lot; how’s that even possible. Everybody knows they breed like rabbits and live for donkeys years. We never seem to learn do we? What with their disrespect and unwillingness to integrate and accept our gods and traditions, we continue to take them under our wing and instruct them in the ways of the true faith. It’s like banging your head off a pyramid for all the good it does. There’s no helping some tribes – there really isn’t!”

               The comrade nods – the charioteer continues.

               “Rebellion seems to be the curse of their nation. Never trust a Hebrew that’s what I say. Look where it gets you. Nowhere that’s where! Though we allow them to enjoy our  lands and to partake of our culture, imbibing them with the wisdom of modernity, and allowing them to move freely amongst us, they just can’t help themselves. More blood is spilt because of one god than any other reason I can think of. In fact, I would go as far to say that every war we fight is about religion.

               The comrade nods sagely.

               “A more deceitful, warlike, blood lusted, people has never before inhabited these lands. I swear to you, that so long as the Hebrew and their God persists in these provinces there will never be peace. Never – not till the end of time!”

               The comrade looks up briefly, ogles a bar wench, and then goes back to his beer.

               “There we were servicing those new metal chariots – which by the way seem to be far more problematic than the old wooden ones we had – when out of the blue we were surprised by a band of Hebrew insurgents. There was probably a couple of hundred of them at most, but given the condition of our equipment and the suddenness of their ambush we were forced to flee. Gave a good account of ourselves though. I tell you comrade, that after the battle the plain, although soaked in our own blood, was steeped in theirs. They won’t be back in a hurry. They claim to be freedom fighters, but anyone who turns on their adopted nation and kills their brothers is little more than a terrorist in my scroll. Crucifying is too good for them if you ask me.

               The comrade as though in pain, grimaces agreement.

               “A vagabond group led by some she-devil called Debbie, and a half breed by the name of Barak. Why they let women into the service I’ll never know. It will be the ruin of the Army, mark my words. They were a motley bunch, I tell you, little more than land-pirates out to feather their own nests at the expense of hard working, law abiding, gods fearing Canaanites.”

               The charioteer continues.

               “Anway, discretion being the better part of valor we withdrew up by Mount Tabor to regroup. They’ll be sorry the next time we meet. Accompanied by our idols, soothsayers, and true gods we’ll give ‘em hell. Bit of a blot on the old copy-book though as we left a couple of the boys on the field, and you know that’s a bit of a no-no. Not good for the old esprit de corps to leave the wounded behind. In our haste old Sissera sprung a puncture, fell out of his chariot, and was captured by the blaggards.”

               The comrade looks up mildly interested, belches and goes back to his beer.

               “Taken prisoner he was, but given their professed Christian values we expected there would soon be a parley and an exchange. Little did we know that it would be the hand of a woman that did it for him. Tricked and lured by some witch called Jael he was. As I heard it he was sleeping in a tent when the old woman sneaks in while he’s sleeping, and sticks him in the head with a spike. Bloody murder that is! And they pretend to be better than us. A bleeding liberty’s what I call it. Goes to show, that once a bleeding Hebrew always a Hebrew. There ain’t no changing them animals. Go ask the Palestinians if you don’t believe me. They’ll tell you the same thing!

               The comrades eyes glaze over as he slowly slips from his bar stool.

 

 

 

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The Book Of Samuel – Bronze Age reality in two parts.

29 May

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The Divine Comedy, which is the Bible, relates the trials and tribulations in exactly the same way a contemporary reality show is portrayed on television. The actors are given a definitive set of rules that must be obeyed. If they adhere to those rules then life will run smoothly, but not necessarily easily. As soon as there is deviation from the plan, or suddenly the actors think they know better than the producers then enmity ensues. We then as viewers are allowed to enjoy twelve weeks of ordinary people trying to survive together, who can’t even live together, in glorious Technicolor. This is analogous of God’s curse. Without the spirit of God, there’s nothing but mayhem, confusion and ultimately retribution.

Saul is a chosen man rather than an anointed King. Selected not because of his heart or spirit but because he fits the idea of what a king should be. Saul is the Charlton Heston of the Hebrews, who thanks to his good looks, stature, and possibly dimpled chin, is elected. God takes offence at the notion of earthly kingship, as being the jealous Supreme Being that he is declares himself the true monarch, and therefore the only one his people should worship. God uncharacteristically relents, knowing as he does that the tribes should be careful for what they wish, and so through Samuel allows Saul to become god on earth. As always total power – even where sky gods are concerned – corrupts totally, and we see Saul suffer the slings and arrows of human folly, demonstrating himself to be a vain, jealous, malicious mortal – not dissimilar in fact, to the Christian God himself! God as we have seen in the past chooses those he sees fit to advance therefore Saul, in classic Bronze Age foreshadowing, is doomed before he ever wears the crown.

Saul is the traditional flawed character whom we all love to hate. He cannot suffer the military successes of his son Jonathon and who despite his initial love for David eventually comes to hate him as well. A “Napoleon” figure who thinks he knows best, who time and again ignores the will of God, and who eventually loses God’s spirit; a presumptive Mafia boss whose lack of respect for the god-father eventually leads him to sleep with the fishes.

God it would appear is neither fair nor unfair; it is simply his way or the highway. Pressured or perhaps disenchanted by the will of the people he allows them an experience of totalitarian power in order to teach them a lesson. Saul is the fall guy, who as in most tragic literature offers darkness in order that people can recognize the light when they see it. Without Saul there wouldn’t have been a David, and therefore in God’s infinite wisdom it was necessary for the Hebrews to suffer before they could finally find grace. It is Saul who is the biggest loser and who is voted off the island, and David who is invited to come on down. It’s God’s casino and one chooses to play the tables at one’s own risk.

 

 

ROBINSON CRUSOE – A MODEST PROPOSAL?

28 May

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Just as Crusoe wanders his island in order to reveal its various assets and to explore the nature of his new world, so he revisits time and again old arguments that allow him to discover, discard and then reanimate pre-possessed beliefs. The Crusoe story is a circuitous argument posing difficult questions that are accepted, reevaluated and then forgotten, only to be resurrected later in the novel.

               In particular Crusoe has to endure the loneliness of the island, where he yearns to be in contact with his fellow man, yet must suffer isolation to the point of domesticating house pets and teaching “Poll” to talk. By bending nature to his own will – God Like – he is able to tolerate what otherwise would be an untenable existence. “Providence which had thus spread my table…I’d learned to look upon the bright side of my condition.”(p.103) His wanderlust takes him to all parts of the island and even back into the ocean revealing just how desperate he is to reconnect with humanity; a Biblical analogy perhaps, to the loneliness of Adam in Genesis.

               The discovery of the footprint throws his ordered universe into disorder where once again Defoe demonstrates to his audience that they should be careful for what they wish. Crusoe’s life is suddenly turned upside down, and instead of the carefree Eden-like existence he has come to enjoy, suddenly becomes a recluse and prisoner of his own mind. “O, what ridiculous resolution men take, when possess’d with fear.”(p.126) The realization that his island is being visited by “savages” renders him from the paragon of brotherly love, “…that I might have that have one companion, one fellow creature…”(p.148), to that of a murder-revenge figure. His reaction given that he’s found human remains is understandable, the instinct for self-preservation being the strongest. Then, just when we’re prepared to accept that Crusoe must defend his own life we are sermonized on the prospect of the cannibals being no worse than ordinary men except – not having enjoyed the benefits of religious instruction – are simply outside of God’s lore. To kill them would be unjust and unchristian, and so Crusoe waxes lyrical on the value of human life and “allows” them to live. “…these people were not murtherers in the sense that I had before condemned them.”(p.134)

               This argument is unusual as instead of offering God as the great savior Crusoe himself has become God. “I was absolute lord and law-giver.”(p.190) It is he who decides who lives and dies, who is subject to the master-slave relationship and what is permitted to happen on the island and what isn’t. Perhaps the circuitous argument is meant to demonstrate that without an omnipotent eighteenth century God man’s fallibility is only to be expected. Although, forgotten on a deserted island, Crusoe – despite God’s reluctance to enlighten non-westerners – will ultimately reveal his own true path.

               Defoe, in what appears to be an appeasement to his audience, is apt to pose contrary positions only to later discard them in favor of quotidian doctrine and religious dogma. From the abhorrence of Crusoe as a white slave, to him setting sail from Brazil to capture slaves, and then ultimately dreaming of a savage to do his bidding, it’s clear that Defoe is playing to both sides of the house. Defoe demonstrates the fickleness of humanity by offering illogical solutions to impossible situations. As in Swift’s “Modest Proposal” Defoe creates a serious of elephant-traps that cause his audience to rethink that which they took for granted by putting themselves in the position of his castaway. Clearly it is the readership that is adrift and Defoe that is the island.

Who Done It- Rappaccini or God?

24 May

             

“RAPPACCINI’S DAUGHER AND GENESIS”

Initial Letter of Genesis, The Wenceslas Bible c. 1389

 

  In attempting to examine a father’s love Hawthorne uses Biblical analogy to compare and contrast the intermingling themes of “Genesis” with his own work “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” There is no malice aforethought within either story, simply an unintended consequence of short-sighted beneficence that once initiated is unpreventable.

               Both fathers want the best for their offspring despite the questionable conditions to which they are subjected. Beatrice grows to maturity within the confines of the poisonous garden and so is ignorant of the outside world. For her the garden holds no danger, unlike Rappaccini who must protect himself from his own creation and use his daughter to perform certain tasks. He is aware of the perils – dressing in protective clothing – and therefore unlikely to jeopardize his daughter. He creates for his child an immured Eden, a walled paradise where no harm can befall her. It is the interaction of exterior forces beyond his control that cause Paradise to fall rather than Rapaccinni’s own negligence.

               Could he have perceived of what would happen, and if so does that make him responsible? These are questions which Hawthorne deliberately leaves unanswered. By drawing comparisons with “Genesis” and God’s creation of man he causes the reader to not only formulate a personal conclusion but to question that which they may hold to be true; a literary test of faith perhaps?

               Adam is created and given the freedom of an earthly paradise – not unlike Beatrice in her garden – where he is free to live and roam in safety. It’s for the love of his creation that God creates woman, and therefore unwittingly – although perhaps with forethought being that he is God and not an Italian scientist – brings about the destruction of his own child. Despite creating all things necessary to enhance the life of Adam, it is the one thing the garden lacks that eventually destroys it.

               Hawthorn marries the “Genesis” story with his own but rather than ascribing direct relations with any one character, he creates a mélange in which different traits can be found in different people. God, to some degree, is recognizable in all of the characters, just as Beatrice is recognizable in Adam. Hawthorne deliberately takes a well-worn myth and applies it in a modern context where the mistakes and faults of man can be examined alongside those of original sin. Although not deliberately pointing the figure at any of his characters, it is left to the reader to employ Biblical association in defining who is guilty and of what crime. Likewise in “Genesis” it is the ambiguity of misconduct that causes one to question the complicity of Eve or the faithlessness of Adam. Hawthorne by using “Genesis” to color his own story strengthens what in essence is a morality tale if not a Christian “who-done-it.”

Voltaire v Johnson

15 May

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Candide – Rasselas

Voltaire’s “Candide” is a wild, improbable, picaresque that takes an innocent protagonist of the same name around the world, exposing him to a multitude of dangers and extraordinary experiences. The novel is a satirical pilgrim’s progress, containing a catalogue of happen-stance meetings, unlikely friendships and coincidences. Although a work of fiction it contains allusions to much of the period in which it was written and would’ve been viewed as topical reading in its day. The deadly earthquakes that occurred in Lisbon in 1755 killing thousands of people would have been the equivalent of a 20th century tsunami disaster, having the same repercussions on a modern internet browsing audience as they did on Voltaire’s 18th Century readership. Voltaire didn’t just write a novel, he wrote about his world; its quotidian minutia as well as its major events.

               The satire lavished throughout the novel is cutting in context and although one might suppose that present day society differs greatly from Voltaire’s, it would seem that modern inhabitants differ little from those of two hundred thirty years ago. The satirical characters Voltaire introduces us to and the heinous crimes they commit are still to be found in what we laughingly call the civilized world. The excesses of the vice-ridden priests in Lisbon and their penchant for whores can be equated to the excesses of the “modern” Catholic Church and their sexually deviant priests. Alternatively the historical abuse of international resources by gunpowder savvy nations is equivocal to the Western imperialism perpetrated on third world nations today. In fact, it would be fair to say that if it involves sex, money or power, humanity hasn’t progressed at all and Voltaire, if resurrected, would very easily adjust to the antique vice of our modern society. “Candide” is a contemporary novel which, with only the names changed to protect the innocent and its author from libel, could be published succesfully today. Nothing has altered and as “Pangloss” reminds us, “There are no effects without cause,” and no matter what, “this is the best possible of all worlds.”

               Voltaire’s novel is juxtaposition from Samuel Johnsons “Rasselas,” an apologue that leads from one insipid adventure to another without ever discovering perfect happiness; a clichéd “grass is always greener on the other side” tale and nothing more. It contains none of the spurious adventures or miraculous resurrections of “Candide” and is only comparable in vintage and a tenuous nod to satire. The tale is weak, predictable, and without depth; the characters created by Johnson, two dimensional.

               Rasselas, a young Prince dissatisfied with what he considers imprisonment is forced to live in the “Happy Valley” where all is in abundance, no wars or conflicts occur and all nature is in concord. Despite being heir to the throne of Abyssinia he believes that there’s more to life, and with his sister and his faithful poet “Imlac” – a man of the world who considers that he’s already found happiness in the valley, and who pities Rasselas for his ignorance – decide to dig a hole to escape the valley after observing rabbits burrow through the same earth. When comparing this to Candide who’s abducted and forced to endure the horrors of war by marauding armies, sails to foreign countries narrowly avoiding death, and eventually travels half way around the world to discover Utopia, there really isn’t any comparison.

               Given that Johnson wrote “Rasselas” in a week to garnish funds for his mother’s funeral, there’s little wonder that comparisons are few and far between. Voltaire develops a thesis of discovering “Pangloss’s” better world, whilst Johnson, through “Rasselas,” pursues the possibility of human happiness. Both novels describe the adventures of young men accompanied by companions in search of a better life and there, unfortunately, the comparison ends. “Candide” endures because of its insight into the human condition, the wit of Voltaire and its merits as a satire. “Rasselas” survives onlybecause Johnson was more noted for his other works as a novelist, essayist, lexicographer and biographer. Unfortunately it isn’t an example of his finest work and represents the lesser end of a broad satirical, literary spectrum.

 

 

 

Humphry Clinker- Tobias Smollett

13 May

              

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“Humphry Clinker” begins in disharmony and ill health, a collection of travelers who for the perceived betterment of themselves undertake a circuitous progress through Britain. The journey takes them from their home in Wales through England and onto Scotland. Their dissimilar experiences are related in an epistolary, where their varied descriptions and shared adventures juxtapose one another. The novel is a didactic quest; a journey filled with new experiences and self-realization. Smollett’s underlying insinuation is the application of modern thinking, with the inclusion of tried and tested wisdom in order to achieve the “best of all worlds.”

             Mathew Bramble, the principle letter writer, initially complains of the gout and ineffective medication and upon the the advice of his doctor seeks the antidote that fresh air and exercise will hopefully provide. To his horror the town of Bath, rather than a center of well-being and purification, displays all the characteristics of modern excess and a stark realization that the pastoral sublimity of Wales is now far behind him. Bramble, just as progress and society, must move forward – there’s no going back. In contrast his fellow family members are charmed by the expanding city, of it extravagances and entertainments, representative of a generation growing up in the modern era. Even Tabatha, the man-hungry sister, is charmed by the excesses of the city, or rather the men it contains. Smollett cleverly shows divided opinion and therefore doesn’t state that modernity is an evil to be avoided; rather it brings both good and bad in its wake.

               London is expanding beyond its ancient boundaries and the lucrative trade with the colonies is detrimental to Bramble’s experience of the English way of life. Class is hardly recognizable, quality unavailable and the experience intolerable. Despite this Bramble recognizes innovation and comments on the quality of streets, squares, lights and buildings and even marvels at Westminster Bridge. Everywhere there is disharmony and this is the crux of Smollett’s treatise; the creation of a harmonized society with all the benefits and none of the problems. This idea is introduced to us incrementally through the character of Clinker, who although initially taken on as a beggar turns out to be the son of Bramble himself; a diamond in the rough, not unlike the England of the eighteenth century. Smollett intentionally alludes to disharmony through the search for husbands, the star-crossed lovers, and the appreciation of Scotland and distaste for England. Scotland is an Arcadia where the old ways are still practiced, where Edinburgh is the seat of all genius, and yet even Bramble recognizes that the Scots are lagging in progress. Smollett describes via his picaresque the benefits of unity, and in particular intimates to the possibility of union between England and Scotland that eventually occurred in 1707.

                             Through husbandry – a clever pun – and various marriages, nations and societies are brought together. Tabatha marries the Scot Lismahago, demonstrating international union. The Dennisons move from the city, to farm the North, bringing with them the necessary farming practices whilst incorporating the pre-existent ideals of communal living. Bramble’s daughter marries into the Dennisons, implying an international and generational union as well as a move towards modernity. Baynard’s adoption of Dennison’s husbandry alludes to societal division, the benefits of unification, and therefore the betterment of each. Bramble, initially alienated from family, health, and even society, by the end of the novel achieves personal satisfaction through the happy marriages of his sister and niece as well as good fortune thanks to Clinker’s revelation, and even an improved constitution.

               Smollett denigrates England with his descriptions of filth, avarice and all that modernity brings with it, and by comparing it to a retarded, pristine, pastoral of Scotland is able to showcase the best and worst of both societies. His employment of marriage as an international unifier and the use of husbandry to exemplify social change, although amusing, is didactic. The journey taken by Smollett characters is really a progression of British society undergoing great change and espouses the myriad problems facing an emerging nation. Bramble’s health and that of the nation are intertwined.

 

Just watch it….

11 May

You don’t have to agree – heck I don’t care if you think it’s ridiculous. Just watch and see where your mind takes you.

Awakening,  its a wonderful thing…

 

 

 

 

 

Health to all.