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

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

📙 Song of Solomon

REFERENCE
Morrison, T. (1977). Song of Solomon. New York: Alfred Knopf, Inc.

Oh. My. Word! We’ve Toni Morrison’s 1977 Song of Solomon

and, The Old Testament’s “Song of Solomon” c. 700 BC.

A coincidence? I don’t think so.

The title’s linkage to the Bible’s chapter of the same name may serve to underscore the fact that Morrison’s novel addresses age-old themes — underscoring this contention is the fact that there is a lot of allusion to Homer’s Odyssey in Song of Solomon as well. The biblical book “Song of Solomon” by the way, depicts a conversation between two lovers, Solomon and a beautiful, dark-skinned Shulamite lady.

Furthermore, not only is Morrison’s Song of Solomon full of characters with biblical names but also, “Song of Solomon,” a.k.a. “song of songs,” happens to be the most erotic section of the Bible; indeed it champion’s the majesty of lovemaking (elsewhere in the bible sex is treated as a sinful act unless it is for the express purpose of reproduction). In Morrison’s Song of Solomon sexual gratification, lack of sexual satisfaction, and sexual rejection are key subtexts: one female protagonist for example is bereft of conventional sexual pleasure leading to a hinted at, somewhat unconventional, form of self-pleasure (think titillation from breastfeeding — according to the Ministry of Happiness: “A lactating mother may become sexually aroused during breastfeeding […] and this is not abnormal”).

Some say Song of Solomon is designed to spell S.O.S. (Save Our Soul) this too could equally be true — they are not mutually exclusive. (In terms of word play, just see how Morrison so expertly disects “cannon fodder” in her 1988 essay, Unspeakable Things Unspoken.)

In this summary and analysis of Song of Solomon, I’ll point to the following:

01. — Key facts & Characters
02. — Synopsis
03. — Analysis
04. — Chapter by chapter

But first I shall dwell a bit on “Song of Solomon,” the otherwise austere, erotica-wise, Bible’s momentary lapse into Arabian Nights, Carnal Prayer Mat, Karma Sutra, Perfumed Garden -style poetry & prose. I say austere erotica-wise but let’s be frank! remember what Lot and his daughters got up to 😉 Never mind that though because we can more categorically say this: within this Hebrew and Greek tome, the pleasures of sex are rarely celebrated; all too often sex is equated with depravity, not ecstasy.

“Song of Solomon” is the anomaly. According to Ben Christian (2016), it contains, “unbridled horniness.” Examples include, “Going down to the nut orchard” (Song of Solomon, 6:11) and, spooning etc. (Song of Solomon, 2:6-7, 3:4-5 & 8:3-4). In one part of the Song, one can clearly visualise the progression as a lover progresses up the body of their beloved:


[feet & legs]
How graceful are your feet in sandals, O queenly maiden!
Your rounded thighs are like jewels / the work of a master hand.

[between the legs & belly]
Your navel is a rounded bowl / that never lacks mixed wine.
Your belly is a heap of wheat / encircled with lilies.

[breasts]
Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.
[neck & face]
Your neck is like an ivory tower.
Your eyes are pools in Heshbon, / by the gate of Bath-rabbim.
Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon, / overlooking Damascus.

[head & hair]
Your head crowns you like Carmel,
and your flowing locks are like purple; a king is held captive in the tresses.


— Song of Solomon, 7:1-3

In it, lovers spend a night among flowers that are blooming and blossoms that are opening. Part of the song is about pomegranates, which are swollen and red when ripe, and about mandrakes, which were considered the strongest aphrodisiac in the ancient world (O’Neal, 2018). Think the implication of the image of doors opening to every delicacy:


[4]
Your neck is like a tower of ivory,
your eyes like pools in Heshbon
by the gate of Bath-rabbim.
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon
looking toward Damascus.

[5]
Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel,
the hair of your head like purple cloth—
a king could be held captive in your tresses.

[6]
How beautiful you are and how pleasant,
my love, with such delights!

[7]
Your stature is like a palm tree;
your breasts are clusters of fruit.

[8]
I said, “I will climb the palm tree
and take hold of its fruit.”
May your breasts be like clusters of grapes,
and the fragrance of your breath like apricots.


— Song of Solomon, 7:4-8

She responds following the “W” in verse 9, completing his sentence and echoing her mutual desire:


[9]
Your mouth is like fine wine—
W flowing smoothly for my love,
gliding past my lips and teeth!

[10]
I belong to my love,
and his desire is for me.


— Song of Solomon, 7:9-10

In verse 11, according to Coogan (n.d.), the act of lovemaking has begun:


[11]
Come, my love,
let’s go to the field;
let’s spend the night among the henna blossoms.

[12]
Let’s go early to the vineyards;
let’s see if the vine has budded,
if the blossom has opened,
if the pomegranates are in bloom.
There I will give you my love.

[13]
The mandrakes give off a fragrance,
and at our doors is every delicacy—
new as well as old.
I have treasured them up for you, my love.


— Song of Solomon, 7:11-13

The imagery contained in those verses penned two and a half millennia ago are eloquent and enchanting; a world away from puritanical absenteeism.

“Song of Solomon” Digested

01. — Key facts & Characters

Genre
Fiction; a mix of social commentary, magical realism and bildungsroman (a novel dealing with one person’s formative years and/or spiritual education).

Narrator
Omniscient narration (a literary technique of writing a narrative in third person, in which the narrator knows the feelings and thoughts of all the story’s characters).

Setting
Most of the story unfolds between 1931 and 1963 in an unnamed city in the State of Michigan and in (Part II) the States of Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Main protagonists
“Milkman” (Macon Dead III) & “Pilate” (Milkman’s paternal aunt — his dad’s sister).

Opening Action
Milkman’s mum witnesses the death of a delusional man — Mr Smith — who thinks he can fly… he jumps from a hospital roof but instead of flying with his homemade blue silk wings, he falls to his death.

Major theme
Milkman wants to be independent and leave the family home [he wants to ‘fly’] but this is difficult because he’s used to his luxury lifestyle at home.

Rising Action
Wanting to escape his restrictive family home, Milkman plots to rob the gold he thinks his Aunt Pilate has… she doesn’t have gold.

The Climax
After traveling from Michigan to Pennsylvania, Milkman finds a cave in which there was meant to be gold… there isn’t.

Falling Action
After finding no gold, Milkman focuses on a journey of personal self-discovery. He travels to Shalimar, Virginia, and unearths his family history.

Final Action
Milkman himself (we are led to think) jumps from a cliff and tries himself to fly… does he live or die? That’s left up to us to decide…

Characters

Milkman’s family tree; his roots; his origin story.

“Milkman” *
The main protagonist (a.k.a. Macon Dead III), born into a sheltered, privileged life, “Milkman” lacks compassion, is full of self-pity, and alienates himself from the African-American community. However, his discovery of his family history gives his life some purpose.

“Pilate” *
Milkman’s paternal aunt and the novel’s secondary protagonist. Born without a bellybutton, “Pilate” is physically and psychologically unlike the novel’s other characters. She is fearless and always cares for and looks after others (she as responsible for Milkman’s safe birth — his dad wanted him aborted).

“Macon Jr.”
Milkman’s father (a.k.a. Macon Dead II) is obsessed with money and emotionally dead; he dislikes his sister Pilate and is never sexually intimate with his wife.

“Guitar Bains”
Milkman’s best mate (in Part I of the novel) grew up in poverty and hates white people — whom he sees as responsible for all evil in the world. In Part II “Guitar” becomes Milkman’s enemy and seeks to murder him.

“Hagar”
Pilate’s granddaughter and Milkman’s lover (for a while). “Hagar” devotes herself to Milkman, even though he loses interest and frequently rejects her. Like her biblical namesake — a servant who, after bearing Abraham’s son is thrown out of the house by his barren wife, Sarah — Hagar is used and then abandoned by Milkman (she ends up dying of a broken heart). Her plight demonstrates a central theme in Song of Solomon: the inevitable abandonment of women who love their man too much.

“Macon Dead I”
Milkman’s grandfather (a.k.a, Jake) was abandoned as a small boy when his father, Solomon, flew back to Africa and his mother, Ryna, as a result went insane. Macon Dead I’s story ends up motivating Milkman’s quest for self-discovery.

“Ruth Foster Dead”
Milkman’s mum. “Ruth” feels unloved by everyone except her deceased father, Dr. Foster (she’s accused of being sexually intimate with him) and was also rather fond of breastfeeding Milkman way past the age of three — hence his nickname.

“Dr. Foster”
The first black doctor in the novel’s unnamed city (the father of “Ruth”). He was a self-hating racist who called other African-Americans “cannibals” and checks to see how light-skinned his granddaughters are when they were born.

“Reba”
Pilate’s daughter (a.k.a. Rebecca) she has a strong sexual drive but is attracted to abusive men.

“First Corinthians Dead”
Milkman’s sister.

“Magdalene”
Milkman’s sister (a.k.a. Lena).

“Circe”
A maid who worked for the wealthy Butler family and acted as the Midwife to delivered Macon Jr. and Pilate. In her later encounter with Milkman, Circe plays the same role as her namesake in Homer’s Odyssey — the Ancient Greek account of a lost mariner’s ten-year voyage home. Just as Homer’s Circe helps Odysseus find his way back to Ithaca, Morrison’s Circe provides crucial information that reconnects Milkman with his family history.

“Sing”
Milkman’s ‘grandmother’ who helps him connect the missing links of their family history through Solomon’s song.

“Solomon”
Milkman’s great-grandfather, who supposedly flew back to Africa but dropped his son Jake (“Macon Dead I”) shortly after taking off. Solomon’s flight is a physical demonstration of the liberation that is felt when a person escapes confining circumstances. However, Solomon’s crying wife, Ryna, and traumatised children (including Milkman’s grandfather) show that such escapism tends to have negative consequences also.

“Sweet”
A prostitute with whom Milkman linked up with off and on; demonstrate that the most gratifying relationships are those in which both partners treat each other as equals.


02. — Synopsis

Song of Solomon (SOS) is about searching for one’s origins.

Based on the African-American folktale about enslaved Africans who escape slavery by flying back to Africa (in an era before airplanes ✈️ were invented), SOS tells the story of “Milkman,” a young man alienated from himself and estranged from his family, his community, and his historical and cultural roots. He later goes on an odyssey to find these roots; ‘his’ roots.

The moral of this novel seems to be this:

One should know one’s roots, but should not get too fixated on the past at the expense of the here and now.

According to Toni Morrison, SOS is about the ways in which we discover who and what we are. She also suggests that fathers are integral to the survival of black families and the black community, “Fathers need to be physically and emotionally present in their children’s lives.” She points out however, that in contemporary American society, black fathers are often absent, leaving the demanding job of raising children to the mothers. Interestingly, to a certain degree, she depicts these men not as traitors or deserters but as strong, adventurous spirits responding to a powerful urge to move on and be free even if their children must ultimately pay the price for their fathers’ wandering ways [fly away, be free… mothers need not apply].

As Morrison said in a New York Times interview that touched upon SOS:


The fathers may soar, they may leave, but the children know who they are; they remember, half in glory and half in accusation.

Indeed, this is one of the points or main themes of SOS:

All the men have left someone, and it is the children who remember it, sing about it, mythologise it and, make it a part of their identity.

The novel’s narration comprises two distinct sections:

Part I — Chapters 01-09
Set in an unnamed town in the State of Michigan, It traces Milkman’s life from birth to the age of 32 and focuses on his aimless life as a young man. Mailman is caught between his father’s materialistic lifestyle and his Aunt Pilate’s traditional values. These chapters have a number of flashbacks for various of the book’s characters. We read that Milkman’s father, Macon, and Macon’s sister, Pilate, ran away from home after their father was murdered for protecting his land. However, after a disagreement between them, they each went their own way. Although both Macon and Pilate eventually end up in the same unnamed Michigan town, Macon refuses to speak to his sister, whom he feels is an embarrassment to his social position in the town. Part 1 ends with Milkman’s decision to leave Michigan in search of Pilate’s illusory gold — Milkman’s “inheritance” — which Macon is sure his sister hid in one of the many places she lived prior to coming to Michigan [including a cave].

Part II — Chapters 10-15
The second part of the book starts with Milkman’s arrival in Pennsylvania, where his paternal grandfather had built Lincoln’s Heaven, a prosperous farm for which he was killed. Unable to find Pilate’s gold there and prompted by the mysterious stories surrounding his ancestors, Milkman traces his ancestry to Virginia, where he meets his father’s “people” and discovers the true spiritual meaning of his inheritance. The novel’s ambiguous ending centers on Milkman’s “flight” across Solomon’s Leap — does he die like the delusional guy who thought he could fly in SOS’s opening lines… ?

In a nutshell:

1st

Song of Solomon opens with the death of Robert Smith, who jumps of off the hospital roof (that Milkman was born in the following day) believing he could fly… Smith’s attempt at flight and his subsequent death function as the symbolic heralding of the birth of “Milkman.” A crowd of people had gathered to watch the attempted flight, including Milkman’s mother, his two sisters, his aunt Pilate, and his friend, later in life, Guitar.

2nd

Milkman is now four years old. He is disinterested in family life and that of the community around him too. Also, at four years of age, Macon is given his nickname, “Milkman.” This is a result of his mother still breastfeeding him at this age — she seemingly gets a form of pleasure and/or escape – when she gets caught in the act, the nickname results.

3rd

Discovering at age four that humans cannot fly, Milkman loses all interest in himself and others. He grows up nourished by the love of his mother and his aunt, Pilate. He is taken care of by his sisters, First Corinthians and Magdalene, and adored by his lover and cousin, Hagar. Milkman does not reciprocate their kindness and grows up bored and privileged. In his lack of compassion, Milkman resembles his father, Macon Dead II, a ruthless landlord who pursues only the accumulation of wealth.

4th

Milkman’s grandfather, Macon Dead, received his odd name when a drunk Union soldier erroneously filled out his documents (his grandfather’s given name remains unknown to Milkman). Eventually, his grandfather was killed while defending his land. His two children — Milkman’s father and his Aunt Pilate — were irreversibly scarred by witnessing the murder of their father and became estranged from each other. Pilate has become a poor but strong and independent woman; Milkman’s father on contrast spends his time acquiring more and more money.

5th

By the time Milkman reaches the age of 32, he feels stifled living with his parents and wants to escape to somewhere else. Macon Jr. informs Milkman that Pilate may have millions of dollars in gold wrapped in a green tarp suspended from the ceiling of her rundown shack. With the help of his best friend, Guitar Bains, whom he promises a share of the loot, Milkman robs Pilate. Inside the green tarp, Milkman and Guitar find only some rocks and a human skeleton. We later learn that the skeleton is that of Milkman’s grandfather, Macon Dead I. Guitar is especially disappointed not to find the gold because he needs the funds to carry out his mission for the Seven Days, a secret society that avenges injustices committed against African-Americans by murdering innocent whites.

6th

Thinking that the gold might be in a cave near Macon’s old Pennsylvania farm, Milkman leaves his hometown in Michigan and heads south, promising Guitar a share of whatever gold he finds. Before he leaves, Milkman severs his romantic relationship with Hagar, who is driven mad by his rejection and tries to kill Milkman on multiple occasions. After arriving in Montour County, Pennsylvania, Milkman discovers that there is no gold to be found. He looks for his long-lost family history rather than for gold. Milkman meets Circe, an old midwife who helped deliver Macon Jr. and Pilate. Circe tells Milkman that Macon’s original name was Jake and that he was married to an Indian girl, Sing.

7th

Encouraged by his findings, Milkman heads south to Shalimar, his grandfather’s ancestral home in Virginia. Milkman does not know that he is being followed by Guitar, who wants to murder Milkman because he believes that Milkman has cheated him out of his share of the gold. Milkman finds that Jake’s father, his great-grandfather, was the legendary flying African, Solomon, who escaped slavery by flying back to Africa. Although Solomon’s flight was miraculous, it left a scar on his family that has lasted for generations. After an unsuccessful attempt to take Jake, his youngest son, with him on the flight, Solomon abandoned his wife, Ryna, and their 21 children. Unable to cope without a husband, Ryna went insane, leaving Jake to be raised by Heddy, an Indian woman whose daughter, Sing, he married.

8th

Milkman’s findings give him profound joy and a sense of purpose. Milkman becomes a compassionate, responsible adult. After surviving an assassination attempt at Guitar’s hands, Milkman returns home to Michigan to tell Macon Jr. and Pilate about his discoveries. At home, he finds that Hagar has died of a broken heart and that the emotional problems plaguing his family have not gone away. Nevertheless, Milkman accompanies Pilate back to Shalimar, where they bury Jake’s bones on Solomon’s Leap, the mountain from which Solomon’s flight to Africa began. Immediately after Jake’s burial, Pilate is struck dead by a bullet that Guitar had intended for Milkman.

9th

At the end of the book, Milkman re-enacts his great grandfather Solomon’s escape by choosing to fly [jump off a cliff] — whether his flight is successful depends on whether one judge’s his great grandfather’s escape as successful or mere whimsical myth.


03. — Analysis

THEMES

Themes are the key ideas explored in a given literary work.

Theme #1: Flight as a Means of Escape

While flight can be an escape from difficult circumstances, it may also harm and traumatise those who are left behind.

➥ Solomon’s flight allowed him to leave slavery in the Virginia cotton fields to go back to Africa was to fly Eastward across the Atlantic Ocean, but it also meant abandoning his wife and children.

➥ Milkman’s flight frees him from his depressive home environment, but it is selfish because it causes Hagar to die of heartbreak.

➥ Smith’s flight (or suicidal jump); the metaphorical flight of Pilate, who transcends the arbitrary boundaries of society.

➥ Other allusions include references to birds (hens, chickens, ravens, peacocks) and to characters whose names allude to birds (Singing Bird, Susan Byrd, Crowell Byrd).

*** Song of Solomon’s Epigraph — Morrison’s non-fictional philosophical introduction — seeks to break the connection between flight and abandonment: Pilate is able to fly without ever lifting her feet off the ground, she has mastered flight, managing to be free of subjugation without leaving anyone behind [she does end up being shot dead but, never mind that].

Theme #2: Abandoned Women

The repeated abandonment of women by men in SOS highlights how the book’s female protagonists suffer a double burden: oppressed by racism and paying the price for men’s freedom [their flights of fancy]. e.g., after suffering slavery, Solomon flew home to Africa without warning anyone of his departure… his wife, Ryna, who was also a slave, was forced to remain and raise the children.

*** In Song of Solomon, Milkman is told that black ‘men’ are the unappreciated workhorses of humanity, but the novel’s events demonstrate that black women more correctly fit this description.

SYMBOLS

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colours used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Symbol #1: Artificial Roses

First Corinthians and Lena — Milkman’s two sisters — make artificial roses that represent the stifling life of the upper class and the oppression of women. The roses do not bring in much money; the true purpose of the activity is to provide a mindless distraction from their boredom.

➥ Typically in literature, living roses symbolise love, thus the artificial roses symbolise the absence of love in Macon Jr.’s household.

Symbol #2: Gold

Gold represents Macon Jr.’s obsessive pursuit of wealth — he spends a lifetime pursuing gold without any greater goal than getting more of it.

➥ Typically in literature gold is depicted as being irresistible to man. Gold makes them forget right from wrong: Milkman robs his aunt, Pilate, because of Gold; Guitar’s desire for gold motivates him to try and murder Milkman.

MOTIFS

Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Motif #1: Biblical Allusions

Toni Morrison gives her characters biblical names. Various characters in SOS carry with them not only their own personal history as described in the novel, but also the history of a biblical namesake. A good example is the biblical Hagar. She was is Sarah’s handmaiden, who bears Sarah’s husband Abraham a son and is then banished from his sight. In a similar way, Hagar in SOS is used by Milkman.

Motif #2: Names

In SOS, names show the effects of both oppression and liberation. Before Milkman uncovers his grandfather’s true name, he is known as Macon “Dead,” the same name that white oppressors gave his grandfather. When Milkman finds out his grandfather’s true name he begins to feel proud of himself and his family.

➥ “Milkman” shows (1) the connection of the son to the mother — breastfeeding — and (2) that the family live off of the rent of others, they, as landlords, milk others…

➥ “Circe,” for instance, shares her name with an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey who provides Odysseus with crucial help for his voyage homeward. Likewise, Morrison’s Circe directs Milkman toward his ancestral home and allows him to bridge a gap in his family history.

➥ Guitar’s last name, “Bains,” which is a homonym for “banes,” or sources of distress. His name suggests both the oppression he has suffered and his profession as an assassin.

➥ “Pilate” is a homonym for “pilot.” She guides Milkman along his journey to spiritual redemption.

Motif #3: Songs

In SOS, singing and songs are shown to be an important way to link the present with the past in terms of one’s roots and family history.

➥ For Milkman, Solomon’s song contains the secrets to his inheritance, the path back to his “people.”

➥ The songs Milkman hears about Solomon and Ryna inform him of the mysterious fate of his ancestors and keep him on the path to self-discovery.

***
Understanding the significance of Solomon’s song is a key to understanding the novel. This is because it is the language of the song that eventually reveals the secrets of Milkman’s past. Once Milkman understands this he is able to view his life not simply as a series of random, disconnected events but as part of a vital link between the past and future.

LANGUAGE

Throughout Song of Solomon, characters’ abilities to manipulate language reveal their abilities to cope with reality. Note, for example, Pilate’s language, which incorporates puns, proverbs, parables, and folk sayings, and which flows freely from standard English, to black vernacular, to the poetic/sermonic language of the Bible, as opposed to Macon’s language, which is marked by literal statements, nonstandard English, and racial epithets.

Homeric epithets are compound adjectives, such as “wine-dark sea,” “bright-eyed Athena,” and “rosy-fingered dawn.”

Morrison’s use of Homeric epithets, underscore the message that this story of one young man’s quest for identity is part of the universal quest for identity common to all humanity. Examples used in SOS include: “the cat-eyed boy” and “the baked-too-fast sunshine cake.”

SUBTEXT

Toni Morrison expects us readers to note not only what is being said but what is left unsaid in Song of Solomon. As she points out in here 1988 essay, Unspeakable Things Unspoken:


Invisible things are not necessarily ‘not there,’ [and] a void may be empty, but it is not a vacuum… Certain absences are so stressed, so ornate, so planned, they call attention to themselves.

➥ Think of Pilate’s missing belly button, which is conspicuous by its absence.


See more analysis here
📙 Song of Solomon (in depth)


04. — Chapter by chapter

Chapter 1

The first chapter of Song of Solomon sets the stage for the rest of the novel and points out its central elements: the theme of flight; the complex interplay of class, race, and gender; the significance of (Biblical) names and main characters.

— Also, the narrative’s unique structure: a mixing of the present, the past, and the future and presents numerous stories from various characters’ perspectives is introduced to us readers. Because the narrator functions only as a detached observer who simply reports things as they happen, the characters tell their own stories, and the community comments on or responds to these characters’ actions. This call-and-response pattern between the characters’ individual voices and the community’s collective voice originates in the African oral tradition.

— Moreover, we readers learn that Morrison demands ‘participatory reading.’ Readers of SOS are expected to fill-in the spaces of the narrative, connecting various seemingly unrelated details as they are revealed. [as a consequence, readers get apparently disjointed fragments of stories that are understandable only in retrospect — by additional information in later chapters.


See the remainder of the chapter by chapter analysis here
📙 Song of Solomon (in depth)



Set me like a seal on your heart,
like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as Death,
passion as harsh as Sheol:
its sparks are sparks of fire,
flames of the divine.


— Song of Solomon, 8:6

 


END NOTES

Christian, B. (2016). Biblical Foreplay. Card Play.
Coogan, M. (n.d.). Sex in the Song of Songs. Bible Odyssey.
O’Neal, S. (2018). The Sexiest Chapter in the Bible. Learning Religions.
SparkNotes Editors. (2002). SparkNote on Song of Solomon. SparkNotes.
Washington, D. A. (n.d.). Song of Solomon. CliffsNotes.

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

Rosie Lee


On quiet afternoons when others are at work or taking their siesta, I like to spend some quality time with my Rosie Lee, she’s hot…
…she never fails to wet and satisfy my whistle, I cup her gently and draw her slowly to my parted lips and expectant tongue.

tea
Some like it hot…
Tea is one of the most popular drinks in the world – whether it is drunk ‘English style’ in the morning (strong with a splash of milk) or with a slice of lemon or lime in the middle of the afternoon.


Assam tea
A strong, full-bodied black tea with a malty flavour, grown in north east India.


Darjeeling tea
High-grown tea from the foothills of the Indian Himalayas with a delicate flavour.


English breakfast tea
A blend of black tea from Sri Lanka and India with a full bodied and brisk flavour.


real_rainbow_02


real_rainbow


real_rainbow_03

⁓Total Control⁓

of our movements & mind

It is coming. Total control is coming. It is coming in the form of facial recognition, machine learning and the extant desire of man to control other men and, almost needless to say, to control fauna, flora, natural resources & women too.

Within this — within Facial Recognition (FR) — I’m including iris & fingerprint scans (which are now sort of ‘old-school’), one’s gait, one’s heartbeat, one’s breathing and one’s vocal idiosyncrasies (the grammatical structures & lilt one unwittingly employs and deploys). With FR, AI can now lipread effortlessly and almost without flaw. Perversely, oh irony of ironies, the last recourse for libertarians may well be to don a loose-fitting abaya and adopt the shayla with a niqab to boot (yet, letter-box style, such garb will be forbidden in due course in the name of national security; just look next door to KSA to see what I/m on about).

When I say Total Control is coming, I more accurately mean that it is basically already here. But I consider it latent and laying low for now. Under the radar, it is biding its time, it is potent, it has portent, it will be omnipresent and predominant. Men of good fortune, you see, they have all the time they need (after all, they’ve us where they want us to be and we are dancing diligently to their drumbeat).

Faces open phones
Snapchat has filters
Instagram takes selfies
Facebook now 'auto' tags
TikTok takes the bloody lot

Total Control you see, and the men of good fortune behind it, have us by hook (line & sinker) and, they have us by crook too (because if liberal state entities desist, your invisible-hand, capital-seeking company sure as night follows day won’t hold back and refrain). It is already in situ at our shopping malls,[1] retailers use Bluetooth to detect our smartphones as we roam around, allowing them to proffer us with real time special offers [sic]. They also track us to see where we linger to ascertain what’s hot and what’s not (i.e., in front of which product do we stand and look longingly at for the longest). There’s no real recourse to escape Total Control’s clasp, only the off-grid recluses have yet to succumb to its virtually all encompassing G P S enabled digital creep and seep.

Karen Hao et al.[2] suggests that while it is fashionable to fret about the prospect of super-intelligent machines taking over the world by say 2050, we should rather concern ourselves about the actual dangers that FR etc. do now present:

A.
FR is a formidable way to invade people’s privacy. AI tech.’s superhuman ability to identify faces has led countries to deploy surveillance technology at a remarkable rate. We know well that FR enables us to unlock our phones and automatically tags our photos on social media. It moreover enables anyone to find out about us via software such as Amazon Rekognition — take or get a picture of anyone, in the lecture theatre, in the mall, then feed it to Rek, it’ll tell you who it is and once you’ve their amalgamated social media profiles and web postings, you’ll — in seconds — know rather a lot about them. They could be sitting their listening diligently to the professor’s lecture on logical positivism and borne of boredom you silently photograph them and moments later you could be swiping through their Snapchat twerks and their Pintrest tips on yoga poses for better posture (and never quite getting the import of Wittgenstein’s change of mind).

B.
The fact that AI tech. is used by political manipulators like Cambridge Analytica to alter election and referendum results, undermine healthy debate and, isolate citizens with different views from one another has been with us for a good six years now. Our media feeds are tailored and we all exist in echo chambers whose outer walls are soundproofed padded cells.

C.
The proliferation of “deepfake” videos is another real and present danger. Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), which involve two competing neural networks, can generate extraordinarily realistic but completely made-up images and video. Nvidia recently showed how GANs can generate photo-realistic faces of whatever race, gender, and age you want. Forget fake celebrity porn and idle tittle tattle, think: virulent political smear campaigns and claims based on false science. Think of The Tango, Rude Guliano, alternative facts and fake news.

Big Hands
^ my case in point

Many demand there to be appropriate safeguards in place and for a moratorium on biometric FR technology ((so, so true but capitalism’s been unleashed, the greed and ego of man is both clear and obvious, the proverbial genie’s been let out of Pandora’s box)) so while certain jurisdictions may halt their own agencies using FR tech., multinationals and nefarious individuals are hardly going to pay heed. It is known that presently FR tools generate many of the same biases as humans do, but with the false patina of technical neutrality, we are less likely to call out or even notice such biases. Greater accuracy is not however the only or even main bone of contention. No. It is that Total Control will soon rob us of our liberty and ability to think freely. As Kate Crawford says, “this technology will make all of us less free.”[3] Unfortunately, the idea, frankly, of us harnessing technology is, and I quote, “fanciful.” To hold that we can keep technology in check and use it only for the common good, may with hindsight, be seen as having been a rather naive contention. As I hear it said, be careful what you wish for, and in the lab, be careful with what you develop. No… that sounds wrong! Wish (in a daydream like way) for anything your heart craves and don’t hold back on any form of experimentation whatsoever but, ‘but,’ it is critical we think things through; ‘think before you speak.’

You know what’s the motto of America’s New Hampshire, don’t you: “Live Free Or Die.” Well, it is as moving as it is quaint. It was previously used by the French during their revolutionary years — Vivre Libre ou Mourir. This motto is so me… so much so I want it to be so . but alas no , I did all I humanly could but it wasn’t enough ; it could never ever be close to being enough unless the result is all of you, every sinew every single second : it is all {or} it is nothing at all . I am left with nothing and I feel not free but I have not yet been able to will myself to die. The Greeks said a similar thing and carry it today: “Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος” (“Freedom or death”), I’m with them in mind, I am with them in desire but (1) I am alone [yet I’ve still not been able to consciously force myself to pass away] and (2) I am knowingly under Total Control’s auspices as much as every other person I know, if not even more so: I scroll, I refresh, I obsess [& again, I’ve not mustered the willpower to self-combust and abscond this mortal coil].

According to Anna Mitchell et al.,[4] China is perfecting a vast network of digital espionage as a means of social control ((and don’t we all just love cheap Chinese product nowadays)). In China, it is said, when you step outside your door, your actions in the physical world are swept into the dragnet: the government gathers an enormous volume of information by way of C C T V. According to some, one hundred percent of Beijing is now covered by surveillance cameras ((it ain’t just China, where I live there are cameras on every traffic light and all over the university campus)). As is so most everywhere, the main stated goal is to capture and deter criminals. Yet, the massive risks to privacy are there in plain daylight. As Anna Mitchell paints it and I paraphrase it:

Imagine a society in which you are rated by the government on your trustworthiness. Your “citizen score” follows you wherever you go. A high score allows you access to faster internet service or a fast-tracked decision on a welfare payment or a hospital appointment. If you make political posts online or, for instance, question or contradict the government’s official narrative on current events, however, your score decreases. … To calculate such scores, private companies in partnership with government agencies will unceasingly trawl through vast amounts of your social media and online shopping data alongside your G P S movements and hangouts; you may be allowed to know your score but certainly wont be allowed to know the heuristics upon which it is derived.

In such ^^ scenarios ^^ — which I submit to you are basically underway if not yet overtly rolled out and, when they are rolled out will be, on the grounds of national security, bellicosely championed by state-backed sycophants and media outlets — citizens will refrain from any kind of independent or critical expression for fear that their data will be read or their movements recorded and their citizen score reduced. Indeed, my dear reader, this is the whole point and purpose of it. While we should monitor and denounce this sinister creep toward an Orwellian world, we… me… we mostly just do nothing at all.


Relevant past posts:
Poetry & ProseBooks1984
Poetry & ProseBooksBrave New World

Orwell's---1984


Live Free Or Die

— General John Stark (1809)


p.s.

Bellicose
Demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight.


Bide one’s time
This phrase means to wait quietly for a good opportunity to do something. — “She patiently bided her time before making her bid to escape and roam free.”

* Read the Nature magazine 2019 article by Kate Crawford,

Editable PDF: “Regulate facial-recognition technology”

which comes with the wonderful pull-out quote:


These tools are DANGEROUS when they fail and HARMFUL when they work.

— Kate Crawford (2019)

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.

A while ago I wrote a post about how Instagram etc. is changing the way humans interact with the wilderness and sites of beauty and/or historic importance:

Wilderness-Lost--02

Wilderness-Lost--03


Wilderness Ruined

Today, I read a bit more about Instagram and how it seemingly deeply interferes with a great many of our psyches:

“Infinite scroll: life under Instagram”
by Dayna Tortorici (31 January, 2020)
The Guardian
 
“Why the New Instagram It Girl Spends All Her Time Alone”
by Dayna Tortorici (16 October, 2019)
The Atlantic
 
Tavi Gevinson’s Life on Instagram
by Lauren Starke (16 September, 2019)
New York Magazine

Here’s an interesting thing…

psyche means the human soul, mind, or spirit.
 
psychology means the scientific study of the mind.
 
Psyche [Ψυχη] however, is a name too. Only now did I know.

Psyche Abandoned, by Jacques Louis David (1795)
“Psyche Abandoned”
by Jacques-Louis David (1795)

^ look at her eyes, I mean, gaze into them and wonder the reason for why — my man’s eyes are a gorgeous green / my woman’s eyes are a beautiful brown — once you’ve done your wondering, I’ll tell you the reason for Psyche’s tear weary eyes. It is this: the flight of Cupid. Unfortunately, his sudden departure was something that she unintentionally caused. You see, despite having been forbidden as a mortal to look upon the god, Psyche could not resist discovering who her nighttime lover was and what he looked like (she knew well his sublime amorous moves and sweet wettening whispered words). So as Cupid slept, she gazed upon him by the light of an olive oil fueled lamp (Moby Dick wouldn’t be for another two millennia…). Mesmerised by his beauty, she accidentally spilled a drop or two of that warm frankincense incensed Kalamata oiive oil upon his naked torso. As a consequence, Cupid — for that was his name — woke and was compelled by God’s command to retreat back to the heavenly abode from whence he cometh.

Good thing is — I guess, yes — our dear Psyche became a god and lived happily ever after:

“Psyche Receiving Cupid’s First Kiss”
by François Gérard (1798)

I love

& I hate

Some may wonder how…

“How can it be both, Anna?”

Alas, I know not the why nor the how.

Anglophile? Me? You’re dreaming Darlin’

7c1a50cc49167d7198906c401778e3df

1217-magna-carta-heritage-visit-britain-poster-landscape