...a return to semi regular blogging (perhaps not).
The wisdom of the religious imagination: It's all poppycock, ultimately, but there are qualitative differences. The Greeks, I think, were the smartest of all--their theology is at least plausible, flexible, unlikely to be frozen in a text (as if purely human language could express infinity).
I began to suspect this some time ago, but the prejudices of youth are often difficult to overcome. We are taught as children (at least in the United States, or at least I was as a grade schooler in the early '70s, again as a junior high school student in the mid-70s, and as a high school student in the late '70s and early '80s) that the Greeks didn't really believe their myths (after all, Socrates didn't). Compared to the sophisticated Judeo-Christian poppyco--er, theology--Greek notions of gods personifying qualities, gods who are every bit as prone to human weaknesses like jealousy and vanity, but also capable of great passion and courage; they can be humbled and feel pain. I recall my teachers pointing out that, unlike the timeless classics of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Greeks had several different, contradictory versions of the same story (as if Judaism, Christianity and, for that matter, Islam, all didn't offer differing versions of the significance of the same fictional story).
Now -- think of how much more sophisticated the Greeks were. Take the subject of love. We are either to regard the romantic version as something sinful unless it is regulated through the rites of marriage, whereas the parental version is viewed as always being beneficial (indeed, it's the paradigm from which the whole Judeo-Christian-Islamic relationship between worshipper and worshipped--with the former being perpetual children to the latter).
For the Greeks, Eros could be destructive but also drove change and maturation. Storge, who personified parental love, could be both nurturing and smothering. The approach is far more sophisticated -- and far more believable.
I'll post some pictures tomorrow...
I am incredibly grateful for the technology that makes my life easier, and I'm always thrilled when it gets better. But sometimes I wonder about the knuckleheads who write about it. Here's an item averring that we'll soon have MP3 players and iPods capable of holding 500,000 songs or 3,500 films.
Assuming that the average song is three minutes long (this of course assumes we're not talking about classical music), 500,000 songs would last 1.5 million minutes, or 25,000 hours, or 1,041 days, or 2.8 years worth of music.
Assuming that the average film lasts about 100 minutes, 3,500 films would last 350,000 minutes, or 5,833 hours, or 243 days (full, 24-hour days) worth of film.
Who has the time?
Now, having something useful--say, the digital texts of every book in the Library of Congress, searchable by word or phrase or key terms, so I can type a few characters and find everything the LoC has on antitrust law or Sherman's March or Yezedis--well, that would be worth carrying in your pocket (and very close to the tricorders that Enterprise crew members carried around on Star Trek....)
Perhaps it makes sense to start with Piranesi...
Giovani Battista Piranesi wanted to be an architect; instead he is best known for engravings like the one above, but probably more for the ones he did of the ruins of ancient Rome...
His ability to draw is obvious, but what of his ability to plan? Philip Hofer, in the introduction to the lamentably out-of-print Dover edition of Piranesi's Le Carceri raises this issue:
No practical architect could possibly have made constructions such as these stand, let alone survive, which may be one of the many reasons Italian patrons had for rejecting the young Piranesi's pretense of being an architect. But as prints these edifices are the more powerfully suggestive for being so impossible. There is also a sense of spiritual and physical suffering that is almost an equivalent of hell.
Imagining this hell, Piranesi foreshadowed -- in the 18th century -- what we casually and inaccurately refer to as the correctional institutions in the 21st.
It's years since I read any Dylan Thomas. In addition to a few of his poems and his excellent Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (worth clicking that link just to see the cover of the book) I loved Adventures in the Skin Trade, which led me to buy up quite a few cheap volumes of Thomas' work in a used book store I used to frequent in Philly. So I when I noticed, on my bookshelf, a volume titled the "The Bridge of Falesa" but written by Dylan Thomas...
...it occurred to me that perhaps there's one more pleasure to enjoy before I launch myself in some different direction. The work is a screenplay, based on the Stevenson story.
...is really incredible. Over the weekend I picked up a bargain basement CD with something like 40 of his songs, and they're great fun, and rather suit my mood right now. I feel a bit adrift -- not sure what I want to read next, not sure what ideas I want to pursue at work, and fortunately not under any pressure to immediately decide.
So I exercise and listen to Fats Waller and study Bosnian vocabularies and practice magic tricks.
I also think of newspapers. Few things disturb me as much as the plight of papers (truth be told I couldn't care less for broadcast, with the exception of radio), and perhaps that's what my next project at work should be. After all, Daniel DeFoe, one of the first great journalists, was primarily a businessman.
...from another round of travel.
This time my companion, along with the latest New Yorker, was Robert Louis Stevenson's The Beach of Falesa. I remember Borges defining literary pleasure this way: If you don't want to know what happens next, the author has not written for you. Stevenson always makes me want to turn the page (perhaps I respond to his Puritan orientation, as I do with Bernard Shaw).
The trader Wiltshire ends up on a Polynesian island; for convenience, he faux marries a native girl (more to acquire a servant than a wife); he swears to himself he will treat her sternly, and won't make a fool of himself over her, but...
She was the first in the house; and while I was still without I saw a match flash and the lamplight kindle in the windows. The station was a wonderful fine place, coral built, with a wide and quiet verandah, and the main room high and wide. My chests and cases had been piled in, and made rather of a mess; and there, in the thick of the confusion, stood Uma by the table, awaiting me. Her shadow went all the way up behind her into the hollow of the iron roof; she stood against it bright, the lamplight shining on her skin. I stopped in the door, and she looked at me, not speaking, with eyes that were eager and yet daunted; then she touched herself on the bosom.
"Me--your wifie," she said. It had never taken me like that before, but the want of her took and shook all through me, like the wind in the luff of a sail.
Falesa is an undeniably racist story--but we should not judge Stevenson by the characters he portrays, or the time in which he lived. The novella was written just a few decades after a time when it was legal for Americans to own slaves, and intellectuals defended the practice by arguing that ending slavery would lead to miscegenation. By contrast, Stevenson's Wiltshire legally marries Uma, and recognizes that she's as noble and as much a lady as any European.
In any case, I'm (thankfully) grounded for a few weeks, and will write more on ideofact, including some entries on prisons.