All that glitters

Pyrite / an iron sulfide / FeS2

Please allow me to introduce to you, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, by James Frazer (1st ed. 1890; 2nd ed. 1913). (📙 The Golden Bough.)

You know, when we English Lit. students dream of being writers, we somehow think we’ve something to add to the canon, in some ways, we all have, but the more I dig, the more I scan Project Gutenberg (e t c .),* the more I realise that countless thousands who’ve lived (read, thought, written) and died before I was pushed out into this world, have probably (no ‘definitely’) thought what I think (far more deeply), have set out to articulate what I abstractedly and dreamily plan to one day articulate (& they’ve actually done so in concrete codex form). I feel I’m in the dead calm at the very centre of a tropical vortex –((( it’s wondered off course, North, for I reside in The Pearl; a multi-story complex built beside an artificial lagoon on a peninsula that juts out into the tepid seawater of the Arabian Gulf. Languid in largesse the panoramic view is beset by an unrelenting, near blinding, shimmer — the sun bleaches and becalms vigour. Maritime scenes are confused by midday mirages, mercury in colour — oil money stymies gainful endevour. )))– for I’ve scedules and to-do-lists, ambitions and passions, but I’m laying here listless. And while all is swirling tumultuously around me I’m strapped down by paralysis, I want to write, I want to let it bleed, I so dearly want “writing to be my therapy” as we’d say to each other it would be. We’d say such things in abstract ways mulling over a potential future parting of ways that neither you or I, back then, could seriously contemplate as a possible eventuality. // The whirlpool’s walls tower up indeterminately, they seem to be leaning in, this could be an optical illusion, but more likely it is nature’s way via the force of gravity; you sea, once I had it all; now I’ve nothing at all. \\ They’d say things like “he’s a man of letters” — I’ve read it said — and I’ll update that to be s/he, but yes, in the days before swiping right and switching swiftly between screens, writers on their typewriters (or with paper and gravity aloof pencils), would certainly have been better readers and thus better writers. I was born less than half a dozen years before the millennium, iPads were out before I was into my teenage years. I can’t compare the past to now from knowledge of both, but I’m confident that reading (in say the Victorian/Edwardian way/day) is increasingly a rarity today. On my bloody fucking university campus most key text books are only supplied to us as eBooks (I ain’t even lying . . . I will walk and I will talk).

Here’s an extract — the Preface to a follow-on work The Aftermath (1936) the language, I think, is sublime:

When I first put pen to paper to write The Golden Rough I had no conception of the magnitude of the voyage on which I was embarking ; I thought only to explain a single rule of an ancient Italian priesthood. But insensibly I was led on, step by step, into surveying, as from some specular height, some Pisgah of the mind, a great part of the human race ; I was beguiled, as by some subtle enchanter, into inditing what I cannot but regard as a dark, a tragic chronicle of human error and folly, of fruitless endeavour, wasted time, and blighted hopes. At the best the chronicle may serve as a warning, as a sort of Ariadne’s thread, to help the forlorn wayfarer to shun some of the snares and pitfalls into which his fellows have fallen before him in the labyrinth of life. Such as it is, with all its shortcomings, I now submit The Golden Bough in its completed form to the judgment of my contemporaries, and perhaps of posterity.

Here is another one:

The advance of knowledge is an infinite progression towards a goal that for ever recedes. We need not murmur at the endless pursuit:
 
Fatti non foste a viver come bruti
Ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza.
**
 
Great things will come of that pursuit, though we may not enjoy them. Brighter stars will rise on some voyager of the future—some great Ulysses of the realms of thought—than shine on us. The dreams of magic may one day be the waking realities of science. But a dark shadow lies athwart the far end of this fair prospect. For however vast the increase of knowledge and of power which the future may have in store for man, he can scarcely hope to stay the sweep of those great forces which seem to be making silently but relentlessly for the destruction of all this starry universe in which our earth swims as a speck or mote. In the ages to come man may be able to predict, perhaps even to control, the wayward courses of the winds and clouds, but hardly will his puny hands have strength to speed afresh our slackening planet in its orbit or rekindle the dying fire of the sun. Yet the philosopher who trembles at the idea of such distant catastrophes may console himself by reflecting that these gloomy apprehensions, like the earth and the sun themselves, are only parts of that unsubstantial world which thought has conjured up out of the void, and that the phantoms which the subtle enchantress has evoked to-day she may ban to-morrow. They too, like so much that to common eyes seems solid, may melt into air, into thin air.


Foot notes

* Project Gutenberg is the world’s oldest digital library. It places books into the public domain — most are older works that are thus out of copyright. This altruistic endevour began with the efforts of American writer Michael S. Hart in 1971. See for example: 📙 The Golden Bough. A similar project is called The Internet Archive. It provides free access to researchers and the general public. It’s mission is none other than to provide universal access to all knowledge thus far accumulated by human kind. See for example: 📙 Aftermath, a Supplement to the Golden Bough

** “You were not made to live as brutes / But to follow virtue and knowledge.”
— From Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Mayday, ((m’aider))

venez m’aider (“come and help me”)

The Handmaid’s Tale stresses the importance of reading to our freedom…

This book is usually, and quite rightly, placed in the same category of dystopian fiction as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, but has a particular focus on the tyranny of patriarchy (the Aunt’s being the lapdogs so to speak). **I do though get confused by Offred because, well, yes you’ve gotta adapt to survive, but she seems somehow accommodated to her trysts with Commander fRed and in to her dalliances with the driver. What happens to Molly? how exactly did her daughter get wrested from her bosom up by the cold river?** The book’s ending pleasingly open-ended, because come on — dear J — there ain’t no such thing as black — 000000 — and white — FFFFFF. __Context — our sub-text & reading in between the lines my Only.One — is everything; ain’t it m8? Atwood stresses this by emphasising how changes in context impact upon behaviours and attitudes. We read the phrase “Context is all” in the book several times: Think scramble. And yeah, I loved it how our Ofred believed that she’d won round one and let him take the second, but after several “games nights” realised his superiority at this particular board game.__

… it also stresses the trap that academics may fall into: the risk of misreading and misunderstanding historical texts.

Snippets


There is more than one kind of freedom. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy it was freedom to, now you are being given freedom from. (p. 24)

⁓Total Control⁓


Men are sex machines, said Aunt L, and not much more. They only want one thing, you must learn to manipulate them. Lead them around by the nose, this is a metaphor. This is nature’s way. (p. 143)

⁓Total Control⁓


So there it was. Out in the open: his wife didn’t understand him. That was what I was there for then. The same old thing. It was too banal to be true. (p. 156)

⁓Total Control⁓


The moment of betrayal is the worst, the moment when you know beyond any doubt that you’ve been betrayed: that some other human being has wished you that much evil. (p. 193)

⁓Total Control⁓


“Nature demands variety, for men” he says. “It stands to reason, it’s part of the procreational strategy. … Women know this instinctively … they buy so many clothes to trick the men into thinking they are several different women.” (p. 239)

⁓Total Control⁓

B02BACD9-6C87-42CC-AA9A-FA6A6FCA7008
George Orwell’s “1984” is often juxtaposed with fellow English author, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”

Who controls the past controls the future /
Who controls the present controls the past.


p. s.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday”
Mayday is an emergency procedure word used internationally as a distress signal in voice-procedure radio communications. The “mayday” procedure word was originated in 1921, by a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London. The radio officer—one Frederick Stanley Mockford—opted for “mayday” from the French m’aider (“help me”)—a shortened form of venez m’aider (“come and help me”)—because he had a thing at that time for a fine young thing from Paris.

My hero: George Orwell by Margaret Atwood
I grew up with George Orwell. I was born in 1939, and Animal Farm was published in 1945. I read it at age nine. It was lying around the house, and I mistook it for a book about talking animals. I knew nothing about the kind of politics in the book – the child’s version of politics then, just after the war, consisted of the simple notion that Hitler was bad but dead. To say that I was horrified by this book would be an understatement. The fate of the farm animals was so grim, the pigs were so mean and mendacious and treacherous, the sheep were so stupid. Children have a keen sense of injustice, and this was the thing that upset me the most: the pigs were so unjust. The whole experience was deeply disturbing, but I am forever grateful to Orwell for alerting me early to the danger flags I’ve tried to watch out for since. As Orwell taught, it isn’t the labels – Christianity, socialism, Islam, democracy, two legs bad, four legs good, the works – that are definitive, but the acts done in their names. Read on…

Lust and Lambast
A hand left poignantly unshaken; a republican party, quite unstirred.

Writing concisely is not my style yet, as column inches for anything other than celebrity gossip, consumer reviews and self-help are now such a precious commodity, I must be succinct. Even if I were allowed to go wild with the word count, it would probably demonstrate only the validity of the Law of Diminishing Returns. Nowadays smartphone shortened attention spans need to be taken into account. In order to gain wide readership on matters of current affairs, being parsimonious with prose is a necessity. Gone are the days when waxing lyrical in verbose flowery language on issues of international political economy was considered a mark of distinction. Read on…

Reading is key

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Charlie Cook

Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book
— Axel Scheffler & Julia Donaldson (2005).



Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.

John Locke


Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

Sir Francis Bacon

Book Art (02)
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
John Steinbeck
Bookcover Art (13)
“Love and work… work and love, that’s all there is.”
Sigmund Freud
Bookcover Art (16)
“When we are not sure, we are alive.”
Graham Greene
Bookcover Art 14
“Many artists and scholars have pointed out that ultimately art depends on human nature.”
Steven Pinker
book___03
Joseph Conrad also wrote The Secret Sharer (oh Jay)
Book Art (01)
“Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”
Franz Kafka


If you do not like to read, you have not [yet] found the right book.

— J. K. Rowling

Fiction as truth

or, vice versa?

This is a review of sorts of Robert Lane Fox’s 1991 The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible.

REFERENCE
Fox, R. L. (1991). The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible. London: Viking.

Robin Lane Fox, in The Unauthorized Version, sets out to discover how far biblical descriptions of people, places and events are confirmed or contradicted by historical fact: external written and archaeological evidence. As Penguin the publishers do say, “the bible is inspirational and endlessly fascinating but, is it true? From a rather different viewpoint Richard Dawkins — author of The God Delusion (2006) — says that “the God of the [bible’s] Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Dawkins also says:


We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in.

With regard to The Unauthorized Version, Barton (1993) writes, anyone who hopes that this book will totally ridicule the bible and mock the religious establishment for continuing to propagate its stories as ‘gospel truths’ will be in for disappointment. I would say that Fox does his best to be objective and not offend those who still believe in religion. Another reviewer wrote that Fox’s work, “brings many examples that will help neophytes to probe the historical veracity of the bible” and that, “it is clear that there are lots of contradictions within and in between the bible’s stories.” I note that various reviews of this book consider that it is poorly organised — I myself would have liked a clearer chronology and for chapters of the book to follow the chapters of ‘The Book.’ Joel Swagman (2013) in his review of The Unauthorized Version provides the following sound advice to all wannabe book reviewers (a.k.a., me, Anna, Anna Bidoonism) and it is this:


The cardinal rule of book reviewing is to review the book you’ve read, not the book you want/wish to have read.

Now, I won’t even pretend that I’ve read all of this book and I am defiantly new to all of this (I’m a neophyte). I have tried a few times and I have dipped in and out. But what I see from this book is that a lot of the Bible is actually from stories that occurred well before Christianity itself was born. In fact, I am fascinated by the subject of this book because so much art and literature is based upon biblical stories. As an English Literature student, I see no alternative but to gain a good working knowledge of the bible, as it has become — for the Western canon — the most influential work of scripture… I mean, I mean, ‘literature.’ As they say, don’t shoot the messenger…


Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.

John Locke

Knowledge is key (and need not be value-laden)…


The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.

Anaïs Nin

In light of this, here are some interesting audios (along with partial transcripts, hats off to Yale) — I am talking well over 50 hour’s worth. I’ll say this, these audios are organised in a fully chronological way, not that Fox’s work was ever designed or meant to be. However, for me to one day be able to actually appreciate The Unauthorized Version and critique it in any meaningful way, I must first listen to, and read along with, these:

THE OLD TESTAMENT
39 parts: c. 1200–165 B.C.
•   •   •   •   •   •
Divided into three groups: (A) ‘The Law’ or ‘Pentateuch’ which covers ‘Genesis’ to ‘Deuteronomy’ (B), ‘The Prophets’ and (C), ‘The Writings’ which includes ‘the Psalms’ (songs and prayers), ‘the Proverbs’ (sayings of wisdom) and ‘Job’ (the nature of suffering).
THE NEW TESTAMENT
27 parts: c. 50–100 A.D.
•   •   •   •   •   •
Divided into two groups: (A) ‘The Letters’ or ‘The Epistles’ and (B), ‘The Gospels’ which includes the story of Jesus, ‘Revelation, ‘the Battle of Armageddon’, the tale of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the tale of the ‘Hideous Beast no. 666’ and, ‘the End of Days…’

THE OLD TESTAMENT
01. — The Parts of the Whole
02. — The Hebrew Bible in Its Ancient Near Eastern Setting
03. — The Hebrew Bible: Genesis 1–4
04. — Doublets and Contradictions: the Historical-Critical Method
05. — Critical Approaches
06. — Stories of the Patriarchs
07. — Israel in Egypt
08. — From Egypt to Sinai
09. — Cult and Sacrifice
10. — Biblical Law: JE (‘Exodus’), P (‘Leviticus’ & ‘Numbers’) & D (‘Deuteronomy’)
11. — On the Steps of Moab: Deuteronomy
12. — Deuteronomistic History: Life in the Land (‘Joshua’ & ‘Judges’)
13. — Deuteronomistic History: Prophets and Kings (1 & 2 ‘Samuel’)
14. — Deuteronomistic History: Response to Catastrophe (1 & 2 Kings)
15. — Hebrew Prophecy
16. — Literary Prophecy: ‘Amos’
17. — Literary Prophecy: ‘Hosea’ & ‘Isaiah’
18. — Literary Prophecy: ‘Micah,’ ‘Zephaniah,’ ‘Nahum’ & ‘Habbakuk’
19. — Literary Prophecy: Perspectives on the Exile
20. — Suffering and Evil
21. — Biblical Poetry: Psalms and Song of Songs
22. — The Restoration: 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah
23. — Visions of the End: ‘Daniel’ and Apocalyptic Literature
24. — Alternative Visions: Esther, Ruth, and Jonah

THE NEW TESTAMENT
01. — Why Study the New Testament?
02. — From Stories to Canon
03. — The Greco-Roman World
04. — Judaism in the First Century
05. — The New Testament as History
06. — The Gospel of Mark
07. — The Gospel of Matthew
08. — The Gospel of Thomas
09. — The Gospel of Luke
10. — The Acts of the Apostles
11. — Johannine Christianity: the Gospel
12. — Johannine Christianity: the Letters
13. — The Historical Jesus
14. — Paul as Missionary
15. — Paul as Pastor
16. — Paul as Jewish Theologian
17. — Paul’s Disciples
18. — Arguing with Paul?
19. — The “Household” Paul: the Pastorals
20. — The “Anti-household” Paul: Thecla
21. — Interpreting Scripture: Hebrews
22. — Interpreting Scripture: Medieval Interpretations
23. — Apocalyptic and Resistance
24. — Apocalyptic and Accommodation
25. — Ecclesiastical Institutions: Unity, Martyrs, and Bishops
26. — The “Afterlife” and Postmodern Interpretation


More books by Robin Lane Fox:

Other books & ephemera:


REFERENCES
Barton, J. (1993). The Good Book and True. The New York Review of Books.
Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. London: Bantam Books.
Dawkins, R. (2011). The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. London: Bantam Press.
Fox, R. L. (1973). Alexander the Great. London: Allen Lane.
Fox, R. L. (1991). The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible. London: Viking.
Fox, R. L. (2005). The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian. London: Allen Lane.
Fox, R. L. (2008). Travelling Heroes: Greeks and Their Myths in the Epic Age of Homer. London: Allen Lane.
Hayes C. (2015). What’s Divine about Divine Law? Early Perspectives. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Martin, D. B. (2004). Inventing Superstition. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Martin, D. B. (2010). Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press.
Swagman, J. (2013). The Unauthorized Version. Random Book Reviews.

POST SCRIPT

Bloodthirsty
Having or showing a desire to kill and maim. — “He really was nothing more than a bloodthirsty dictator.”


Capricious
To have sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behaviour. — “A capricious and often brutal administration.”


Filicidal
The killing of one’s son or daughter.


Genocidal
Relating to or involving the deliberate killing of a large group of people of a particular nation or ethnic group. — “He really was nothing more than a genocidal dictator.”


Homophobic
Having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people. — “Most religious texts contain homophobic tracts.”


Infanticide
A person who kills an infant, especially their own child.


Malevolent
To have or show a desire to do evil to others. — “There was a flash of dark malevolence in his eyes.”


Megalomaniac
A person who has an obsessive desire for power. [and/or] A person who suffers delusions of their own power or importance.


Misogynist
A person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women. — “Donald Trump is a renowned and unrepentant misogynist.”


Neophyte
A person who is new to a subject or activity.


Pestilential
Relating to or tending to cause infectious diseases. — INFORMAL: annoying — “What a pestilential man!”


Sadomasochistic
Characterised by or deriving sexual pleasure from both sadism (the tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others) and masochism (the tendency to derive sexual gratification from one’s own pain or humiliation).


Vindictive
Having or showing a strong desire for revenge. — “The way he criticised her was far too vindictive in my view.”


Veracity
To conform to facts; to be accurate.



Download selected sections of The Magic of Reality (Dawkins, 2011):
pp. 12-13, “What is reality? What is magic?”
pp. 32-52, “Who was the first person?”
pp. 118-139, “What is the sun?”
pp. 246-265, “What is a Miracle?”

Better the 😈 u no /

But is it, for I’m now drowning in disquiet /
Charybdis to the left, Scylla to the right //

We have little recourse but to strike a “Faustian bargain” — we’ve to forge, in other words, “a pact with the devil.”

DEF.
A deal whereby a person exchanges something of moral importance, e.g., their values (or their soul), for something more tangible like say knowledge, power and/or riches.

Who the hell’s this “we”? I hear absolutely nobody ask, but they continue: Is it a literal or a Royal ‘we’? No, I reply to the void that’s devoid of humankind of any kind, it is an allegorical we used only to illustrate and introduce the phrase that’s under the lighthouse’s glare today:

Faustian bargain.
A Faustian bargain

According to traditional European beliefs — like those held in the Middle Ages and the Elizabethan Era — such bargains were between a person and Satan and have been linked to the quaint pastime of hunting witches (see 📙 Hammer of Witches). Based on some age-old folklore stuff, such pacts came to form a cultural motif — one of a myriad really that carry over from Europe’s medieval past to today’s globalised world. Pacts may have been entered into under duress but also, we may suppose, voluntarily (out of let’s say boredom or a desire for the darker more debauched modes of worldly gratification). Where then to start? When seeking to understand this phrase, where should we begin? With love (amour) possibly [sic]:

Love is, after-all, the great destroyer (and the great healer) the Master of the game of thrones (and the supreme leveller). Love is, after-all, the root of all that\s bad (and the root of all that’s so damn good). It gnaws our nerves and forbids us our sleep. It is elemental, it is fundamental. But no. It would be better to begin with the Polar opposite (lexically speaking). We would be better off focusing on hate and hatred. I mean to say our penchant for loathing, licentious lust and diabolical debauchery of the dirtier kind are what epitomise our desire for the (so-called, loaded and pejorative) dark side. Our poetic nude *muse* both loves and hates [that autocorrect I’m gunna leave!] Oh life! It’s a love/hate relationship isn’t it so? In this dimly lit regard — on the side where lights flicker, fade and die — allow me to introduce the devil — for it’s him or her that comprises part of the synonymous phrase: “to make a deal/pact with the Devil.” The devil, you see, is said to be the (conceptual) entity that sent the snake to seduce Eve, the thing that shoulders the blame for ‘making’ us (or tantalisingly tempting us) to permit a hand or two to wander South every once in a while.

The devil (Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Satan, Shaitan) is a key protagonist in the three religions of the book and the one that seduces humans into committing sinful doings (oh how convenient a scapegoat). The story implies that the devil may have been a fallen angel (good turned bad) and/or some form of ghostly Jinn, who was once all sweet and cherub-like, but then rebelled and’s turned aquiline n chiselled… (why this entity is allowed to exist — within the mythical fairy tale — and wreak his/her havoc upon us is a question for another post; why’d the creator not simply expunge him/her?). As a kind soul wrote in their contribution to the Wikipedia canon, “in the Synoptic Gospels, The Devil tempts Jesus in the desert and is identified as the cause of illness and temptation” (emphasis is my own). In the Elizabethan Era Satan’s significance greatly increased as beliefs such as demonic possession and witchcraft came to the fore (became the fashion, were en vogue). In the Quran, Shaitan (شياطين/Iblis), is an entity made of fire who was cast out of Heaven because he refused to bow before Adam… As the same or another kind soul altruistically contributed, the devil, “incites humans to sin by infecting their minds with evil suggestions” (وسواس/waswās).

LUCIFER…
(Forgive me, I digress)

Lucifer is a Latin name for the planet Venus (that itself stems from the Ancient Greek name Ἑωσφόρος, ‘dawn-bringer’ or ‘light-bringer’). In Greco-Roman civilization, it was often personified and considered a god — a similar name used by the Roman poet Catullus for the planet in its evening aspect is “Noctifer” (‘night-bringer’). Ovid, in Metamorphoses, writes:

“Aurora, watchful in the reddening dawn, threw wide her crimson doors and rose-filled halls; the Stellae took flight, in marshaled order set by Lucifer who left his station last.”

However, interpretations of “Lucifer” from Latin and English versions of the Bible led to the tradition of applying the name, and the associated stories of a fall from heaven, to Satan (see e.g., Isaiah 14:12) — that this is now known to be a misinterpretation matters not.

Lucifer_from_Petrus_de_Plasiis_Divine_Comedy_1491“Lucifer”
A plate from an early print of Dante’s, 📙 The Divine Comedy (c. 1491).

ParadiseLost
“Lucifer arousing rebel angels”
An illustration by William Blake in an 18th c. volume of John Milton’s 1667 Paradise Lost.

u1_978-3-596-16403-5Delta of Venus (Analogous with Crimson Doors?)
Written in the 1940s, published posthumously in 1977.

The devil you see, and how we deal with temptation and how we reconcile with moral responsibility in relation to our actions are integral to the curious case of Faust (the case ain’t so curious but references and claims to it are, for me at least, somewhat confusing). (Dr.) Faust(us) and the figure of Mephistopheles (the devil or his/her envoy — the German word is derived from the Greek: he who shuns the light) are said to best be able to articulate this bargain — indeed, it’s in the phrase’s name! The thing is, and this for me is the initially confusing part, there’s Marlowe’s, Goethe’s and Mann’s Faust. In fact, there’s a Faust for every era and — should you decide to believe it so — there’s a Faust in each and every one of us.

Faust entered the German canon in 1587 — The Historia von D. Johann Fausten that was, one can but logically assume, based on the life and times of an actual alchemist Johann Georg Faust (c.1480–1541). Faust is documented as being a traveling astrologer and alchemist who attracted tales of demonic association, “as if by inter-molecular force.” In the Historia, Dr Faust conjures up Mephistopheles in the woods and makes him an offer: his soul in exchange for 24 years of absolute power and knowledge. ((Why 24?)) With the devil at a poodle dog side-kick Faust wines and dines with the greats of his times and previous millennia, pompous popes to the sumptuous Helen of Troy. After his 8,760 days of total power etc. The devil takes his dues (gets his/her side of the bargain) in the hours after dawn on day 8,761, Faust’s innards are discovered splattered around his bedroom, the remainder of him is scattered around his garden. ((But come on, how many of us would turn down such a pact outright? two dozen years of everything in exchange for a grizzly end? I’d bet that in 24 years you’ll have sated every desire and whim imaginable; seen it all, experienced it all and knowing all there is to know would mean that on the eve of your death you’d be able to tranqualise yourself with the requisite levels of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin to take the edge off of things and ease the impending goddamned pain.))

Christopher Marlowe

Less than a decade on from the publication of The Historia von D. Johann Fausten in Germany came the English version as a play written by Christopher Marlowe: The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (which premiered in 1594 to one hell of a lot of puritanical condemnation — you know, the sort of condemnation one gives after experiencing all of the titillation first!). According to Simon (2016), the Puritan pamphleteer and ideologue William Prynne (1600–1669), in his massive 1633 anti-theatrical tome Histriomastix, recounted diabolical legends surrounding this most infernal of plays. One story has it that at the Rosie Lee Theatre in London — amongst the pubs, brothels, and bear-baiting pits — that today sits under a car park and a budget hotel, the devil himself was spotted in the audience.

In Marlowe’s play, the protagonist — Dr. Faustus — is torn between faith and doubt, insignificance and omnipotence, sin and salvation, and particularly between freedom and fate. ((Yes we might take the 24 year unadulterated headonism bargain but, known again, in the dead of night, we surely will feel guilt and remorse etc.)). As Simon (2016) parallels, “Dr. Faustus is a creature, and in part a creator, of our world. (What could be a more Faustian bargain than ours, in which we gain immense technological power under the perennial threat of complete ecological collapse?”

If Dr. Faustus is one of the first modern men, then so was Marlowe. He certainly lived by the sword, kept fast company — meeting with Sir Walter Raleigh and the astrologer John Dee in graveyards to discuss forbidden things — and died young. He is aid to have shared a bed with Thomas Kyd, and allegedly said, “they that love not tobacco and boys are fools.” More shockingly — for the Elizabethan Era — he was also meant to have mentioned to a memoirist that, “Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest.”

😈 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Faust (worked on for some 50 plus years: 1772–1830) is a tragic play in two parts by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It is considered by many to be the greatest work of German literature. As I recently read this neat comparison: in the 16th c., Faust bartered mortality for knowledge; in the 19th c., he made a gentleman’s wager to achieve Romantic transcendence.

As Giovetti (2019) paints it, Goethe became the grandmaster of the Frastian bargain legend after his work and the plays of it became known. However, by now the tale was more nuanced than it was in Marlowe’s day. Goethe’s Faust bemoans in Part I, “Two souls are locked in conflict in my heart/They fight to separate and pull apart.” This chronic dissatisfaction, rather than the specifics of his contract, becomes Faust’s downfall — as well as the downfall of Marguerite, a love interest he seduces once he regains his youth, but is incapable of fully loving. His bargain with Mephistopheles becomes a bet: He’ll serve the Dark Lord if and when he finds pure, unadulterated happiness within the totality of the human experience. Until then, he’ll take a particularly Romantic reward: “a frenzied round of agonising joy, loving hate, of stimulating discontent,” and “the whole experience of humankind, to seek its heights, its depths.” Goethe’s Faust is one of the first to become relatable rather than revilable. In the wonderfully put words of Giovetti:

In Goethe’s Faust, we can see our own desires and dissatisfaction, as opposed to a cautionary tale that reminds us to suppress those same desires.

😈 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈

Thomas Mann

Winner of the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature, Thomas Mann was born in Germany in 1875. After his political writings were burned in 1933, he emigrated from Nazi Germany to Switzerland… from there it was to ‘Merika but as a result of numerous essays, lectures, and tours, that denounced tyranny in all its forms — including McCarthyism – led him to emigrate once more to Switzerland. Thomas Mann took the mantle and Faust with his 1947 work, Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn, as Told by a Friend.

The legend of Faust is born of the Western ambivalence toward individual responsibility.

What can we say? We can say this: each telling of Faust is a telling of the times — think of the dystopian novel, it tends to tell us of contemporary fears ported to future dates — As Mann’s Devil says, “how I look… happeth… according to the circumstances…” In Mann’s, work, the protagonist laments that nothing remains in heaven or earth of which he has not already mused about and so decides to (metaphorically) sell his soul to Mephistopheles in exchange for knowledge and power. In reference to the populism of the Trump era, Crain (2019) suggests that another phrase for “Make America Great Again” might be “Reaction as Progress” — this is how Mann, borrowing from Nietzsche, described the ethos of Germany’s Third Reich.

😈 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈


REFERENCES
Crain, T. (2019). “Making Faust Great Again.” Epiphany
Giovetti, O. (2019). “‘Faust’ Was the Original Viral Content.” Electric Lit.
Simon, E. (2016). “One Devil Too Many.” The Paris Review
 
References

Un flâneur, c’est moi

me, my dog n bone and i

^^^ A “modernist” trilogy by British author Will Self consisting of Umbrella, (2012) Shark (2014) and Phone (2017) is notable in several ways, one being that for the most part, James Joyce-style, it does away with prosaic literary norms like punctuation and paragraphing. As impressive as this style of prose may be, Boyd Tonkin of The Financial Times, along with many other literary critics, caution that Self’s refusal to lay down anchors in his sea of words — chapters, sub-headings and even blinking full stops for the most part — may let inattentive passengers drift over syntactically sunken treasures of lexically lucid insights on the human condition in the era of the internet, self obsession and mass consumption; in other words, some readers may sail on obliviously by as say, just below the translucent aquamarine waves of a balmy coral sea, Neptune is meticulously choreographing a highly nuanced and graphically mesmerising (if only you’d been paying attention and reading methodically) mermaid ménage à trois: 🧜🏻‍♀️ 🧜🏻‍♀️ 🧜🏻‍♀️. In a neat little nutshell, this trilogy tells us of how state-sponsored violence and capitalism have been bedfellows for the past hundred years (no solitude; no satisfaction) and how technology is disrupting our lives whether or not we are awake/woke or slumbering (most likely in a fitful way from all that screen-time prior to nod off with, more probably than not, Alexa or Cortina or Siri passively recording our breathing, heartbeats per minute along with our REM dreams and transferring this binary data to digital farms for marketing executives — their minions more like — to mull over in the present Quarter, for government and media corporation agencies to feed into social engineering and manipulation algorithms and for posterity too — we really are just numbers in a system now, an almighty long string of fucking zeros and ones). Another notable thing is the extent to which this trilogy has been able to harmoniously marry the personal to the political.

In Phone our perennial protagonist, Zechariah Busner — who has spent half a century investigating the minds of others — is starting to lose his own marbles. Previously he ran a mental-health commune in Shark and managed to wake a sleeping-sickness patient from a 50-year coma in Umbrella but by the naughty nihilistic noughties he is, as Tim Martin of The Spectator so eloquently and succinctly paraphrases it: “standing in the breakfast bar of a Manchester hotel without any trousers on, comparing his penis to an ‘oiled and wooden-looking’ sausage. ‘I’ve no desires to speak of — not any more,’ he tells the security guard. ‘I’ve attained Sannyasa, y’see — the life-stage of renunciation.’”


WHATEVER YOU DO hang on to your phone
. . . . . . !
Feel the smoothness of its beautifully bevelled screen
. . . . . . !
Place your thumb in the soft depression of its belly-button
. . . . . . !
A £500 worry bead – and your main worry? Bloody fucking losing the phone


— Will Self (2017) & I (2020)

As stated, Self’s labyrinthine trilogy covers the modern ways of madness, love and death (the personal psyche) alongside how we are governed and controlled by big tech and self-help gurus and their paid-for solutions to the problems they themselves have conjured up and tell us, via surreptitious social media feeds, we are ailed with — but me, me, I’m fucking depressed in the very realist of senses and I know well the reason for why — you, you my dear one&only — and no mindfulness mumbo jumbo is gunna fix that (the political). Like the actual umbrella, and like the physical sharks of the seven seas, the phone becomes the medium — figuratively, literally and metaphorically — in which all of the characters in the last of the trilogy’s instalments play out their deepest desires, erotic fantasies and heartfelt hatreds.

J. P. O’malley, of The Independent, writes that characters in the trilogy often blend and merge into and out of one another and while it is all fictional after a fashion it is — like in reality — hard to distinguish between fantasy, madness and drug-induced hallucinations 😜 👻. Self isn’t inventing the wheel but simply borrowing from his cultural heroes: Joyce and R. D. Laing. The latter, in his time, challenged the militant orthodoxy of psychiatry and rejected labels such as mad/sane and normal/abnormal. As Self, himself says, anybody who’s lucid can apprehend that the world we live in is a large-scale and inherently chaotic system in all sorts of ways. In particular it is the consequence of technology on society writ large that is the constant motif of these three novels.

On the subject of technology and the mediums for reading prose, it makes me laugh a bit because Self himself is adamant that the codex — from the Latin, ‘caudex’ meaning the trunk of a tree or a block of wood or indeed a book constructed of a number of sheets of paper, vellum, papyrus, or similar materials — is dead but who really can imagine that many a millennial (or younger) picking up a trio of books and reading them? Okay, so they’ll read Will’s work online, but come on! Online reading is hampered by tab/app switching. Nevertheless (or should I say Notwithstanding?) it is — as some might say — what it is. Some of us youngsters do read actual books in between wanking and worrying oh and some of us oldies do too, again, in between worrying and wanking. And what the bloody hell do I mean by saying “it is what it is” because I’m not comfortable with the demise of the art of reading nor the closure of library after library nor the contention that we no longer need to learn how to use a pencil because all we’ll ever do in the future is touch type on ultra thin film Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode screens.

Anyway, according to Jon Day of The Guardian, Self is mostly interested in the ways we have come to be constrained by the technologies that once promised to free us. This is, he writes, evident in Self’s “Kittlerian trilogy” * which ultimately is a commentary on the interplay between minds, madness and technology across the 20th c. As overaching protagonist Zechariah Busner muses, the problem with modernity is that we are all “attempting to make our way across this new wasteland using the same old ways.”

Umbrella — 1 of 3.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2012 this work is a so called ‘stream-of-consciousness’ novel; written in a flowing fashion without chapters and very few paragraph breaks between scenes. Umbrella tells the story of a psychiatrist Zack Busner and his treatment of a patient at Friern Hospital in 1971 who has encephalitis lethargica and has been in a vegetative state since 1918. The patient, Audrey Death, has two brothers whose activities before and during WWI are interwoven into her own story. Busner brings her back to consciousness using a new drug called, L-Dopa. In the final element of the story, in 2010 the asylum is no longer in existence and the recently retired Busner travels across north London trying to find the truth about his experience with his patient.

Shark — 2 of 3.
This book turns upon an actual incident in WWII — mentioned in the film Jaws * — when the ship which had delivered the fissile material to the south Pacific to be dropped on Hiroshima was subsequently sunk by a Japanese submarine with the loss of 900 men, including 200 killed in the largest shark attack ever recorded. When the Creep, an American resident in the 1970s at the therapeutic community in north London supervised by our dear maverick Zack, starts to tell rambling stories of thrashing about in the water while under attack from sharks, Zack has to decide whether they are schizoid delusions or some sort of reality.

Phone — 3 of 3.
Much of Phone takes place during the premiership of the “Narcissist-in-Chief”, TeeBee A’s Will puts it and Tony B.lair as my woman likes to call him. All of the books key characters have had maverick careers in hierarchical institutions such as the EffSeeOh, and the EmmOhDee (translations: FCO [The U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office] MOD [The U.K.’s Ministry of Defence]). For the four protagonists at the heart of Phone, the £500 worry bead in their pocket is both a blessing and a curse. For our now elderly but still dear Zac it is a mysterious object – ‘NO CALLER ID’ – How should this be interpreted? Is it that the caller is devoid of an identity due to some psychological or physical trauma?’ – but also it’s his life line to his autistic grandson Ben, whose own connection with technology is, in turn, a vital one. For Jonathan De’Ath, a.k.a., ‘the Butcher’, MI6 agent, the phone may reveal his best kept secret of all: that Colonel Gawain Thomas, husband, father, and highly-trained tank commander – is Jonathan ‘s long time lover. And when technology, love and violence finally converge in the wreckage of postwar Iraq, the Colonel and the Spy’s dalliance will determine the destiny of nations.

As O’malley says, almost every second sentence in this book is a double entente, where the Freudian metaphor is never far away. The phone could and in certain contexts and quintessential quarters does represent a myriad of different things: a penis, the military industrial complex, or a symptom of a violent-dysfunctional-collective-psychosis in contemporary western culture. Self goes well beyond personal grief, and analyses a pathological ­politick where “intervention” is now the default first option — strike fast, think later.

As Stuart Kelly of the New Statesman sees it, Phone is yes about the intersection of technology and psychosis but also too about the intersection of the amatory * and the military industrial complex. As Self himself obsesses about, the naming of our distressed parts is all psychiatry consists of nowadays – that, and doling out the drugs which allegedly alleviate these symptoms. In other words, every freshly manufactured malady comes flanked with a team of would-be experts at the ready, pumped n primed to fleece you of your Euros and Riyals, they accept PayPal and occupy daytime TV and those tailored adds that troll your every move on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. (Tailored, not off-the-peg, oh they see and treat us as individuals…)

Uniting our most urgent contemporary concerns: from the ubiquitous mobile phone to a family in chaos; from the horror of modern war, to the end of privacy, Phone is, according to Penguin, “Self’s most important and compelling novel to date.” Notwithstanding such accolades, and while Phone may well constitute a glorious trove of sinister marvels, it might nevertheless send the incautious reader slightly mad — just like the world wide web accessed via that gleaming data-rocket in your pocket probably will do too. Mark my words.

Will Self has actually written a load more books in addition to the trio of novels just discussed, I’ll mention one more here, Dorian. It is is a tainted love story and a stated ‘imitation’ of Picture of Dorian Gray, by the vainglorious (?) Oscar Wilde. According to the blurb on the back-cover:

In the summer of 1981, aristocratic, drug-addicted Henry Wooten and Warhol-acolyte Baz Hallward meet Dorian Gray. Dorian is a golden adonis – perfect, pure and (so far) deliciously uncorrupted. The subject of Baz’s video installation, Cathode Narcissus, and the object of Henry’s attentions, Dorian is launched on a hedonistic binge that spans the ’80s and ’90s. But as Baz and Henry succumb to the disease du jour, how is it that Dorian, despite all his sexual and narcotic debauchery, remains so unsullied – so vibrantly alive?
 
‘Chilling, hysterical, tasteless and haunting. A Gothic thriller complementing and enriching its original.’Independent on Sunday
 
‘Brutal, savage, infinitely readable.’The Observer

2019_48_will_self


A creative life cannot be sustained by approval any more than it can be destroyed by criticism.

— Will Self

2019__will_self


Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.

— Will Self

 

From who and by what means, I’ve no fucking clue 😉


p.s.

* Flâneur
Via French from the Old Norse verb flana “to wander with no purpose,” flâneur means, stroller, lounger or loafer. And, flânerie is the act of strolling — walking slowly — with all of its accompanying flâneur associations (the female equivalent to the flâneur). It was Walter Benjamin, drawing on the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, who made the notion of Flânerie the object of scholarly interest. A near-synonym is: ‘boulevardier.’ A boulevardier is an ambivalent person who seeks to detach themselves from society in order to be an acute observer of society.

* Amatory
Relating to or induced by sexual love or desire. — “John’s amatory exploits put me on cloud nine well over that pale lunar moon.”

* Kittlerian
Friedrich A. Kittler (1943–2011) was a literary scholar and focused mostly on the media, and technology.

* JAWS

REFERENCES
Self, W. (2009). Dorian. London: Penguin.
Self, W. (2009). Dr Mukti and Other Tales of Woe. London: Penguin.
Self, W. (2009). How the Dead Live. London: Penguin.
Self, W. (2009). Liver (And Other Stories). London: Penguin.
Self, W. (2012). Umbrella. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Self, W. (2014). Shark. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Self, W. (2017). Phone. London: Viking.

Edward Saïd

& “Orientalism”

“Humanism is the only resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.”

Read “Orientalism”

Read the full review (& download a PDF copy) here:
BooksOrientalism.


Edward Saïd’s seminal work, Orientalism, has, according to one academic, “redefined our understanding of colonialism and empire.” If you come across the term post-colonial studies whilst u r reading or delving off on an internet-based, whimsical knowledge building journey, soon enough you’ll encounter Saïd. In Orienrltalism, Saïd surveys the history and nature of Western attitudes towards the East, and contends that “orientalism” is a powerful European ideological creation – a way for writers, philosophers and Western political powers (alongside their think tanks) to deal with the ‘otherness’ of eastern culture, customs and beliefs. Drawing on his own experiences as an Arab Palestinian living in the West, Said examines how these ideas can be a reflection of European imperialism and racism. He traces this view through the writings of Homer, Flaubert, Disraeli and Kipling, whose imaginative depictions have greatly contributed to the West’s romantic and exotic picture of the Orient.

Paraphrasing from the book’s introduction, orientalism is the amplification of difference, the presumption of Western superiority, and, “the application of clichéd analytical models for perceiving the Oriental world,” from the perspectives of Western thinkers and scholars. According to Said, orientalism is the key source of the inaccuracy in cultural representations that form the foundations of Western thought and perception of the Eastern world {نحن نعيش ، نموت}. The theoretical framework that orientalism covers has three tenets:

(1)
— an academic tradition or field [see, maybe my posts on: Wilfred Thesiger and Sir Richard Burton];

(2)
— a worldview, representation, and canon / discourse which bases itself upon an, “ontological and epistemological distinction made between “the Orient” and the West;

(3)
— as a powerful political instrument of Western domination over Eastern countries {عاشت فلسطين}.

Praise for the book

“Beautifully patterned and passionately argued.”

New Statesman

“Very exciting … his case is not merely persuasive, but conclusive.”

— John Leonard, New York Times

Them ‘n’ Us

“who knows which is which and who is who”

— Dark Side of the Moon

It’s an ‘Us & Them’ thing (I’m one of the ‘them,’ dear reader). The West may objectify us…

But, they do themselves too:

Le Sommeil (Sleep) by Gustave Courbet (1866).
Le Sommeil (Sleep) by Gustave Courbet (1866).

Jupiter in the Guise of Diana, and the Nymph Callisto, by François Boucher (1759).
Jupiter in the Guise of Diana, and the Nymph Callisto, by François Boucher (1759).
Et nous aussi nous serons meres, by Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1794).
Et nous aussi nous serons meres; car……!, by Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1794).


p.s.

Epistemology
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that focuses on ‘knowledge.’ It is the study of the nature of knowledge, justification, and the rationality of belief. It relates to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.


Humanism
[1]  A rationalist outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.   [2]  A Renaissance cultural movement which turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought.   [3]  (among some contemporary writers) A system of thought criticised as being centred on the notion of the rational, autonomous self and ignoring the conditioned nature of the individual.
— From Latin “homo” – a person, “humanitas” – human nature.


Ontology
[1]  Ontology is the branch of philosophy that focuses on ‘the nature of being.’ It focuses on concepts that directly relate to being (in particular: becoming, existence and, reality.)   [2]  A way of showing the relations between the concepts and categories in a subject area or field of study.


Orientalism
[1]  Style, artefacts, or traits considered characteristic of the peoples and cultures of Asia.   [2]  The representation of Asia in a stereotyped way that is regarded as embodying a colonialist attitude.   [3]  “Orientalism,” as defined by Edward Said, is “the Western attitude that views Eastern societies as exotic, primitive, and inferior. Basically, an Orientalist mindset centers the Western (European/American) world and views the Eastern world as ‘the Other.'”