Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Cicero Subrubreo, anti-prophet and historian

If you seek after the origins of the pharaonic Monocracy, do not be deceived by the self serving, sycophantic musings of the imperatorial scribes. It is an old saw, but true nonetheless, that history is written by the victors; seldom do the vanquished earn, or take, the right to tell their side of the story. The only history that exists is in the imperatorial archives. There is not one book, not one data store, not even a letter written with ink and quill that exists in the whole interstellar expanse of the Monocracy which does in any way deviate from the history as it is told. Every new research, every fellow historian’s perusal of the vast store of official documents, every millennia-old record, every last Monocratic shopping list confirms the official story.

And yet, no-one thinks that this is strange, least of the all the subjects of the Monocrats. Not one word of dissent is spoken. Not one word voiced in disagreement. All concur, no other interpretation is possible. Is this not then the truth? Does this not constitute the only truth? The word of the divine creator who speaks through the mouth of his chosen one, the Monocrat? And thence his scribes, his biographers, his analysts, his historians?

Does there exist, can there exist, another path to another truth? A different truth which is not to be found in the writings and transcriptions of the official scribes? Perhaps. However it can only be found in the spoken tales handed down from generation to generation; tales told in guarded whispers lest the Monocrat should come to hear of them. These are the tales told by the vanquished.

However one should be as guarded in assessing such oral traditions as exist, even those of ancient provenance, as one should with the official histories. There is always a reason for telling a story which is other than a mere recounting of a tale, however heroic or mundane. One, as a historian, must be mindful of all the possible interpretations which can be attached to a tale, both intended by the writer or minstrel or unintended by its audience. For is it not so that the truth can mean different things to different men, however much the Monocrat may wish otherwise? And does not the intended or unintended audience give forever new and wondrous meanings to a tale, meanings undreamt of by its author?

You have all heard the tale of Osirisu from whom all Monocrats claim descent. How he sprang fully formed out of the coupling between the Creator and the Queen of Kareliar, a small principality on the planet Ganth. How, by dint of his Creator-given power, he was able to subdue first the continent, then the planet, then the solar system and so forth. A Demi-God amongst men! Destined to rule a vast empire; an empire whose borders would know no bounds.

The fisher folk of Ganth however tell a different story of the rise of the Monocracy.

The fishermen of Ganth tell of how the young Queen of Kareliar became great with child from a adulterous coupling with one Horusui, a retainer at the King’s court. Handsome he was, so it was said, and much in demand for the services he provided for many an unwed maiden; and oft-times the wedded ‘scarce-a-virgin’, both at court and without. The Queen maliciously deceived the old King as to the child’s heritage, pretending it be the contrived intercourse between them both shortly after the adulterous infamy.

She had high hopes of the child and bought (and bedded) the finest tutors in the land to school the child in mathematics, in physics, in literature, in the arts of war. The child, Osirisu, was an apt pupil and most studious in his lessons, mastering all of the arts befitting a king, though in truth that right was not his. The paths of the stars in the heavens, the stately hexameters of the Master Poets of Kareliar, the infinite possibilities of the Aleph cubed; all were imbibed by the child, as is blood sucked by a leech.

However the Queen slowly but surely poisoned the child’s mind with thoughts of kingship, grandeur, conquest. How he would be named ‘Osirisu the Golden’, ‘Osirisu the Mighty’, ‘Osirisu the All-Conquering’.

Slowly, in steps too small to notice, the child, in becoming the man, grew shallow, wanton, cruel, base. Under the influence of his mother, he turned from scholar to bloody warlord, if yet only in thought not in deed, until, finally, he began to plot the King’s downfall and his ultimate takeover of the reins of power.

Little did the Queen realise what she had come to wrought.

When all of Osirisu’s plots had come to full ripening, he poisoned the old king with a draught of antiminium mixed with the King’s favourite wine. Upon the King’s death, slow and painful as it was, Osirisu immediately proclaimed himself King, this bastard son of deception, and took the name ‘Osirisu the Golden’, as his mother had foretold.

After the coronation had taken place and the people of Kareliar had thronged the streets to usher in a new order, Osirisu the Golden had every one of the now dead King’s retainers murdered. All bar one. His biological father! He had him brought to his chambers and, in the presence of his mother, Osirisu, the knife in his own hands, cut off that organ which had been so dear to Horusui and had boiling pitch poured to staunch the wound. The new king furthermore cut off Horusui’s nose and hands, sliced his cheeks many times, to the very bone, and had pitch poured onto those wounds also.

“No more will you father offspring with your debauching, scum! All will look upon you now and turn away with horror at the very sight of you!” Osirisu said. “I banish you to the far wilderness! I will have no rival sired by your seed!”

Yet, still was Osirisu not done with his schemes, his plots. As his mother screamed and wailed at the plight of her erstwhile lover, carried away between the arms of two guards, Osirisu raped and sodomised his mother. Amidst her howls of pain, he silently ripped open her belly. Two deep slashes, one up and down, one side to side. It is said that as she lay dying, violated by her own son, her entrails spilling out on to the floor, Osirisu knelt by her side and gently whispered in her ear: “No more brothers shall I have, I wager. The time of your spawning, my dearest mother, has come to an end. Yet I pity you for you shall not see the greatness of light that will shine from your golden one!”

He later had her corpse, her entrials obscuring her face, nailed by the feet to a tree in the courtyard, her uterus between the palms of her now, limp, hanging hands. Such is the wisdom, and mercy, of the Monocrats!

The truth? Or just the wishful thinking of the vanquished? A sop to the pride of the people of Ganth cowed into submission by the actions of a matricidal, blood-thirsty tyrant? A tyrant that would stop at nothing, even the violation of his own mother; the maiming of his father. How could anyone hope to stand against such evil as this?

To disentangle the truth, if there be any, from the fiction of such tales, that is the work of the historian.

Cicero Subrubreo, anti-prophet and historian, 'On being an historian - the collected essays', CE 110,354.

Interdicted by Monocratic decree, 1.545.453.761, CE 110,355.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Emails, Biedermann and 'Should I stay or should I go?'

I got an email today. Yes, really! A whole one email! Well actually more than one but this was the only one (so far) which didn't tell me about all the amazing bargains on offer at places where I have, somewhat stupidly, bought things on-line before. Don't you just love spam? Especially when it's of the "You recently bought 'Advanced Toad-Sexing' from You may be interested in the following titles: 'Toad-Sexing: beyond the text books', 'War with the Newts'*, 'Salamanders: a marxist-lesbian-feminist perspective'." Google and its bloody search algorithms have got a lot to answer for, if you ask me.

Well contained in this email was: "Carl Orff...I've always liked his work despite the fact that he was a Nazi...." Yes, see, I do get the occasional cultural reference, not just endless scatological 'jokes' and links to the latest 'viral' on YouTube.

Well it got me thinking. No surprise there, then. About all the people, intelligent, cultured human beings who stayed behind in Nazi run Germany in the 1930's. The people who should have known better than to allow their country to be run by a bunch of pseudo-scientific, myth obsessed, anti-clerical, expansionist thugs with a predeliction for 'Jew-baiting' (We won't go into the involuntary euthanasia of the mentally ill, the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Racial Purity laws, the scapegoating of Marinus Van der Lubbe, Kristallnacht, the Star of David etc etc etc). But then again, hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it?

Shortly after the war, people in Germany, and elsewhere, started to question the whole preceding 25 years; as well they might given that they acquiesced in the annihilation of 6,000,000 Jews, 20,000,000 Soviets (oh alright, Stalin and his Commissars no doubt 'did' for a proportion of those), a quarter of a million Romanies and in the case of the British and Americans (lest we forget), the fire-bombing of civilian targets with little or no strategic or tactical value.

One of the upshots of this was the birth of a kind of 'navel-gazing' radio play. It all started with a play called 'Biedermann and die Brandstifter' (Biedermann and the arsonists - 'Biedermann' is the name given, in German, to a typically middle-class male {usually}, 'bourgeois' to borrow from yet another European language) by Max Frisch. The basic plot is that Biedermann allows two arsonists to rent his attic, all the while completely oblivious to the fact that they are 'fire-bombing' the city where he lives. Even after it is pointed out to him, amongst other things, that there is no necessity for them to be storing gallons and gallons of petrol in the attic.

Whatever Frisch may protest, and the same goes for 'Andorra', which stems from the persecution of the Jews, this is quite clearly, on one level, an indictment of German society's blindness to the horror of what was actually going on, both before and during the war in Germany. It can obviously be seen as more generic than that - it is also 'swiping' at the Swiss themselves for sitting on the fence, but nonethless......

It is also, however, on another level, blisteringly funny!

Frisch did however make one mistake. He was Swiss! And therefore resolutely neutral during the whole episode. (It did not help either that the Swiss were happy to salt away in 'numbered accounts' all the looted art treasure, money, knick-knacks hoarded by Nazis who had the wherewithall to do so.) Who was some arty-farty Swiss playwright who didn't even speak proper German to be telling the Germans how they should have behaved? (To be fair to Frisch, he did write the play in 'High' German - but possibly out of necessity. I defy anyone to understand Swiss German who's not Swiss. Even the Bavarians, closest geographically, just the other side of the Alps, have problems!)

So, piqued by this upstart, the Germans started their own little movment and it was a (very) brief extract from one of these, 'Der Besuch des Fremden' - 'a stranger's visit' - by Walter Jens that I chose to illustrate my reply, such as it was. Jens' little radio play was about a University Professor (Hartmann) who decamps from Nazi Germany and who returns after the war with no money, no job and having lost his family; his children died fighting on the American side. He meets a former colleague (Lauenfels) who stayed put in the University and retains most of his 'prestige', money, position etc post-war as pre-war.. However he too has lost his sons to war.

Hartmann asks why his former colleague did what he did when all around could see what was coming.

Lauenfels: ”I had to stay.... for the children’s sake.”

Hartmann: “You’re wrong, Lauenfels. It’s all the same, whichever side your children die on. The only thing that counts is, they had to die; that alone is important. And they didn’t have to die, if only everyone had broken their oath (to Hitler - ed).”

(Author's translation. Hell the text doesn't appear to be in print in German, let alone English!)

(Everyone in a university had to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler, otherwise you were kicked out.)

So what would you do? Hartmann's argument, taking the moral highground, is clearly that if Hitler wasn't supported; if everyone reneged on the oath, then Hitler would have fallen and there would have been no war and their children would not have had to die, pointlessly, as it turned out. But, how can Lauenfels be sure that everyone will act the same, and deny the oath? After all, Hartmann merely runs away. What would happen if everyone ran away? Those that disagreed with Hitler. Wouldn't that have still left those that did agree with Hitler, a very sizeable number? (In the last election held in 1933, the Nazi party polled around 43% of the vote)

So what would have been different?

The war would still have happened. 6,000,000 Jews would still have been gassed. Dresden, Hamburg, Munich, Berlin would have been destroyed. Millions of civilians would still have died. What would have been the point? To 'revolt'? To suffer and still have nothing to show for it!

It's a very difficult question to answer, unless you are the type that thinks ideas, whether political, religious are worth dying for, alone. And there's the rub. To fight in a war, with your comrades, friends, with your fellow man, that is not being alone. You fight, if needs must, in defence of your way of life, whatever that may be, with your fellows and there is possibly comfort to be had there, I think.

But alone? Potentially, the only one? For an idea? A principle? To be a martyr for a cause? Potentially for nothing?

Something tells me that few of us are made this way. It is perhaps why we revere martyrs so much. Why we vaunt heroism so much. Because we know that we are not like them.

Do we have the right to criticise Orff, Strauss, Furtwaengler because they stayed? And laud Brecht, Einstein, Mann because they 'ran away'. I can't help thinking that if we condemn the former, we have no choice but to condemn the latter!

I don't normally do this but the post is dedicated to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Sophie Scholl who chose to stay and to fight in whatever way was open to them. And to the October '44 Sonderkommando in Auschwitz who chose a bullet rather than the gas.

* War with the Newts - a real book, by Karel Capek, and a damn fine book it is too!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Breasts, Zulu and the strange case of Buckingham/Nicks

Curious film, 'Zulu'. It's hard to watch it without expecting Michael Caine to shout to the serried ranks of soldiers: "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"* (Instead of "First rank, fire!" - In a cod upper class accent.) What was even stranger, given the time it was made, 1963/64, was the massed ranks of half naked Zulu women in the opening scene. Ni**ples and all! In full view! Lovingly shot in close-up! The nearest that one got to nudity at the time was 'Health & Efficiency', a naturist magazine, with air-brushing all over the shop and naked tennis playing ladies! And during a supposed mass marriage ritual! It didn't take two guesses to work out what everyone was going to be doing after that was all over!

Now this was at a time in British movie history when 'a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, heaven knows, anything (most definitely not) goes' and piano legs were still covered up in case they displayed 'piano ankles'. But, I suppose, with Empire only recently on its death bed, it was OK to picture naked breasts on film in a mainstream movie, so long as it was colonial, black breasts, not white ones! After all National Geographic could get away it all the time, why not 'Zulu'?

It does betray a certain mindset tho', doesn't it?

And I do not for one second believe that the Director was aiming at veracity. God, they didn't even get Jack Hawkins to make a stab at a Swedish accent (he plays a Swedish missionary) even after they cast a Swede (with one hell of an accent, Liv Ullmann on speed) in the role of his daughter! So much for veracity.

Tits and ass! Nothing more! As much as you can get away with! I'm surprised they didn't go further. I can, however, confirm that the dancers were all wearing 'knickers' under the ornamentation (I checked. What I do for research to help mankind, ay? In slow motion!). No, I wouldn't have put it past them. Exploitation is only ever a matter of degree.

Interestingly, Chief Buthelezi, Head of the Inkatha party in South Africa, makes a brief appearence in the film; as the elder who exhorts his men to attack, I think. I wonder what he thought about it? Bit like getting Sarkozy to play Napoleon in a film about the Battle of Waterloo. Still dollars is dollars when you're a penniless African chieftain trying to make his way in an apartheid coloured (no pun intended) world.

Talking of exploitation.

The American public, but curiously not the European public, I think, have a strange fascination with the idea that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks are going to finally realise that it was 'true love' (to quote the 'Princess Bride') and after 40 years are going to get back together again!

Now LB and SN joined Fleetwood Mac (as a couple - LB's stipulation) back in the early seventies and as a result of their song-writing skills propelled the jobbing rythmn section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (and his wife on keyboards - no good in Chicken Shack and no good in the Mac) to mega stardom, lots of dollars, millions of them, and a shed load of cocaine. Alright a studio-load full of cocaine!

Shortly after this jet-propelled rise to mega stardom SN and LB broke up, somewhat acrimoniously. (You can find out the names they called each other on Google) Ever since then, succeeding generations of 'fans', not just the original fans, have resolutely looked for signs that it's all going to end 'happily ever after' and 'our Wesley will find, at last, his Buttercup'! Even to the extent that one 'fan' posted on you tube that they were sleeping together again!

Now this would be adolescent nonsense, wishful thinking, as anybody knows who's dealt with 'water under the bridge'. However, Buckingham/Nicks whether unconsciously or consciously since the reformation in 1997 promote this very idea in their fans heads with every gig! The way they look at each other, the duets on one microphone, the way they wrap around each other, especially when LB plays a solo, the songs they do it to.

The only trouble is, they've always done it! Even when they were not mature enough to get over it properly! (I'm hoping they are now.) When you have to imagine that they hated each other's guts! (Personally, whatever HE did, to find your 'old lady' taking up with the drummer in the band, well that would have done for me with the band, I think! And yet it still took more than 5 years. 'The lure of easy money, it has a very strong appeal.') They still did it.

So are they exploiting the fans 'wish list'. I think so. But to be fair to both, they are performers. On stage, like any actor, they perform. To give the audience what it wants, needs. No-one would suggest that Helen Mirren as Pheadra has anything but an actor's 'affection' for whoever, and it is 'whoever', plays Hippolytus. It's what acting, performing, is all about. So why should LB and SN be any different?

They're not. But as Borges pointed out, art lies at least 50% of the time in the reaction/perception of the reader, listener, viewer.

Dream on, kids. It ain't ever gonna happen! But the coffers of Fleetwood Mac Ent. will continue to grow!

* A reference to 'The Italian Job'. A 1963 film featuring Caine, Noel Coward and some Mini Coopers!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Anjin-sama, the 47 Ronin and a Universal History of Infamy

Fascinating the Japanese, don't you think? For a European, or someone of European descent? Not so much post-war Japan, but earlier times. Medieval, the era of the Tokugawa shogunate, the time of Bushido; the 'way of the warrior'. We don't have much to compare with it. Even the 'Age of Chivalry', the age of the Minnesaenger; the age of Sir Launcealot, Sir Galahad, Arthur and the tales woven by Mallory don't quite measure up to the code of the samurai.

And yet, it is a mind set far removed from what we can imagine; we of the twentieth century. Victory or defeat is of no consequence, only that you fight (and die) with honour. To die, merely because of shame. It is hard for us to think in this way, I feel. And yet, it holds an endless fascination for us Westerners. 'Shogun', the novel and the 'film'; the cinema of Kurosawa, Yojimbo, Kagamusha, Ran; the tale of the 47 Ronin. All these involve a different way of thinking, a different interaction with the social order and yet we somehow desire to make the effort; to understand this strange culture, far removed from what we know.

Perhaps we have inherited this from our parents, our grandparents, who struggled with comprehending the Japanese attitudes in the second world war; understanding Bushido which still formed a way of life for the elite.

I was reminded of this when I re-read the tale of the 47 ronin as told in 'Tales of Old Japan', by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, a diplomat (crazy name, crazy diplomat) better known as A B Mitford. The story goes something like this:

A minor feudal Lord (daimyo), Asano Takumi no Kani, was to be instructed in court etiquette by one Kira Kotsuke no Suke. (It didn't pay to unintentionally insult the Shogun, however innocently). Now whatever the specific reason, lack of respect, on both sides, lack of a bribe to Kira, accusations of stupidity by Kira, Takumi and Kira did not get along, at all! Matters came to head when Takumi attempted a ham-fisted assassination on Kira, in the Shogun's palace! Now given that bowing incorrectly in the Shogun's presence could have you executed or dispossessed, or both, or worse, the Shogun didn't exactly take this lying down.

He ordered Takumi to commit seppeku and his entire fiefdom to be dissolved. The upshot of which was that Takumi died, his whole family were disinherited and all of his retainers became unemployed. (Such unemployed retainers, samurai, were called ronin and were not looked on favourably in feudal Japan.)

Needless to say the the retainers were not happy about this! One, they were unemployed ronin; two, they had little prospect of gaining future employment (they were after all retainers of a disgraced daimyo); three, they felt it was all Kira's fault anyway for dishonouring their daimyo.

So they hatched a plan.

They would become dissolute ronin until such time as Kira let down his guard (he was obviously well aware of the potential for retribution) and then they would strike to avenge their daimyo. Well that part of the plan took 18 months. The leader of the ronin sank just about as far as was possible to get, even allowing a native of Satsuma to spit in his face, calling him a coward for not avenging his daimyo. Eventually they deemed the time was right. They assaulted Kira's home, saw off his retainers and eventually cornered the 'master of etiquette' and asked him to commit seppuku in atonement for the shaming of their daimyo.

Kira, according to the story, refused many times, on his knees, quaking and trembling the whole time, until the leader of the ronin, Oishi Kuranosuke, in frustration, cut off his head. The severed head was brought to the grave of Takumi and the head placed on the grave. The ronin then gave themselves up to the Shogun; Takumi's honour was restored.

All were commanded to commit seppuku. And 47 did. Except one, who had been sent on an errand by Oishi at the time of the assault on Kira's home. He was, as the story goes, pardoned by the Shogun, on account of his extreme youth.

The ronin were buried before their daimyo.

Now, to modern eyes (and ears), this begs the question: 'Why did the ronin wait so long?' If Bushido lay no weight on success or failure; if Bushido merely asked for the vengeance to take place, whether successful or not, why did the ronin wait so long? Perhaps they felt they had something to gain? Perhaps they felt that the Shogun might be lenient; after so long to wreak their vengeance. Perhaps they just waited until they were certain they outnumbered the defenders of Kira. Who knows?

But doesn't the question reveal a mind set which we cannot eradicate? Might this not demean the samurai who fought, and died, to save their master's honour and reputation? Is is possible that it mattered so much? That self interest didn't even occur to them?


Jorge Luis Borges writes (in the 'Universal History of Infamy', 'The Insulting Master of Etiquette, Kotsuke no Suke'):

"Among those who come is a boy, dusty and weary, who must have travelled a long way. He prostrates himself before Oishi Kuranosuke's tombstone and says aloud: 'I saw you lying drunk by the door of a brothel in Kyoto, and I did not think you were were plotting to avenge your lord; I thought you to be a faithless soldier, and I spat in your face. Now I have come to offer atonement.' So saying he performed harikiri. (seppuku. ed.).

The abbot of the temple, feeling sympathy for his deed, buried him alongside the retainers.

This is the end of the story of the forty seven loyal men - except that it has no end, for the rest of us, who are not loyal perhaps but we will never wholly give up the hope of being so, will go on honouring them with words."


Seppuku (often called harakiri): ritual disembowelment. In practice, all that was required was that the knife, short sword, was inserted into the abdomen; at which point your 'second' took your head off with a clean sweep of the sword. (Making sure he left a flap of skin still attached to your body so your head didn't wing its way into the audience as a football might on a 60 yard pass to the running back!)

Anjin-sama, anjin-san - the name given to William Adams, an English sailor, by the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, on whose story the Clavell novel 'Shogun' was based.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Churches, Churches and then more of the same

Despite being a card-carrying atheist, I have an endless love affair with churches; those monolithic testaments to men's faith in stone or brick. From the small Norman churches of rural England to the architectually-mixed giant cathedral in Seville; to the baroque village churches in Bavaria to the giant, towered edifices of the late-gothic flowering in Europe, such as Cologne (Koeln) or Chartres.

I was at Vicoria Station in London on Wednesday for a meeting over coffee (boy, did the Victorians know how to build a railway station) and I had the a sudden urge to visit the Army & Navy store in Victoria Street. It is alas no longer the 'Army & Navy', merely another in the long line of 'House of Fraser' clones, but still. It was, as expected, nothing special and certainly not as I remembered it, little is, but on walking back to the station, I passed Westminster Cathedral.

Now Westminster Cathedral should not be confused with Westminster Abbey, much older and a cathedral of the protestant church, as all churches became after the reformation. Westminster Cathedral was built in the late nineteenth century following the return of the Catholic Church to England. (It was not however the first, that goes to St Patrick's in Soho, but it is certainly the biggest.) What struck me, as I walked past, was that I could not recall ever having been inside. I was not even sure that it was Catholic.

Now in bear in mind that nearly all of the great churches in Europe were (and in many cases still are) Catholic. Either they were built prior to the Reformation and only later got 'turned into' Protestant churches or they were the product of the Counter-reformation and resolutely maintain their Catholicism to this day. Just as importantly, Catholic churches are, by their very nature, celebrations of the 'Glory of God' in architectural form. Chartres Cathedral, perhaps, is the best example. Built entirely by artisans and penitents from the surrounding villages over a period of more than two hundred years, the cathedral stands testament to the people's faith. Most of the workforce would never live to see its completion; and knew it.

I think I was always repelled by Westminster Cathedral owing to its brick faced exterior 'skin', which somehow jars. It somehow never fitted my idea of a Cathedral. However, on checking that it was truly a Catholic church, times of Mass and Confession on the noticeboard are a dead giveaway, I went inside. I have never been so disappointed in a church, much less a Cathedral, in all my life. True, it was big; it had marble in all the right places; it had all the all the little niches, altars, so beloved of the church. The places dedicated to the most little-known saints; St Jude the Obscure, St Joan the Burnt; St Pancras, patron saint of railway stations. But it had no soul! It was as if two thousand years of history, two thousand years of tradition, at least a tousand year of architectual brilliance had been flushed down the toilet! Horrible place! And I'm never going back!

Something else happened that day. I'd forgotten the feeling that I get, as an atheist, in entering a Catholic church, almost like I'm intruding on something personal. Someone's home, someone's living room, uninvited. Catholics, for the most part, visit Catholic Cathedrals and all perform the same ritual on entering; the sign of the cross, on bended knee, before the altar. I don't, but I often wonder whether I should. Make me less of outsider. But perhaps that's just my paranoia!

Besides which, it would make me (very) hypocritical, no? To do something in which I don't believe, just because everyone else does. And would it not be insulting to any bona-fide Catholics?


I just can't get over the fact that I should!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Lucifer, Satan and the Bringer of Light

Just in case you're wondering what the new widget is, it's Miranda's little run to raise money for cancer research. Every little helps, as Tesco would say!

It seems to me that one of the hardest and easiest things to do is to put yourself in somebody else's head. Think what they're thinking. Determine what their motivations might be. Why they do, say, act the way they do.

We do this all the time. We don't always necessarily get it right but the fact that we can do it at all is testament to it's survival value; and most times we do in fact get it right. It's a fundamental part of the 'glue' that binds societies like ours together. The ability to draw a distinction between altruism and self interest, between deception and honesty, between love and hate, in someone other than yourself. True, it is not unique to humans, most apes and monkeys seem to have the same sense, albeit at a lower, reduced level but it seems to be a crucial part of what holds us together; in kin groups, extra-kin groups (friends, acquaintances, colleagues), religious or political groupings and so forth.

However this only has survival value if we are dealing with contemporaries; after all being able to empathise with a long dead relative is likely to be of only marginal survival value unless the circumstances with relate to the contemperous also relate to the historical. So we find this difficult.

I was reminded of this in researching why 'Lucifer' became an alias for Satan/Shaitan. We won't go into the reason why I was researching this except in so far as to say that it was tenuously connected with a hoax perpertrated in the late nineteenth century by one Leo Taxil against Freemasonry. (Interesting how my brain works, ay? The Penguin and I have a lot in common!)

Now the reason I became interested was 'Lucifer' means 'light bringer', from the Latin 'lux, lucis' meaning 'light', and ferre, 'to bear, bring'. I was intrigued. How did the 'Bearer of Light' suddenly, or not so suddenly, come to refer to 'the evil one', the 'fallen angel', Satan? After all, is this not a contradiction in terms? Satan can, in Judaic/Christian terms, only bring darkness, loss of enlightment, loss of God's glory; it is no accident that Sauron in LOTR is named 'the Dark Lord'. In what sense could Satan be termed a 'Bringer of Light'?

I traced it back to a translation of the Old Testament (Isaiah 14) in which the King of Babylon (never the Israelites' favourite person whoever individually he happened to be) is referred to as 'How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn!', as a 'taunt' which the Israelites could use when they finally overcame said King. It is also referred to in Ezekiel but in this case it is the King of Tyre who is subject of the insult. (Makes you wonder, did the Israelites get on with anybody? Do they now? Except as an expedient to acquire high-tech weaponry?)

Now Lucifer is Latin for the planet Venus, as it appears as the 'morning star'. All fine and dandy so far; it is a literal translation of the Hebrew. So how did it get metamorphosed from the King of Babylon, who must have seemed to the Israelites a pompous, power-hungry, repressive tyrant, to Satan. This is the bit which I find hard to fathom.

At some point (likely in the first or second centuries CE), a learned theologian came up with the idea that was represented in Isaiah's little rant was not the King of Babylon per se but the 'power behind the throne', Satan. After all, if Satan was the root of all evil in the world it stood to reason that he was blame. The King of Babylon is evil, ergo he has been corrupted by Satan. Quod erat demonstrandum!

One reason could be that Satan was traditionally seen as being cast out of Heaven, the fall. However Middle Eastern kings of the period, and before, were often revered as 'Gods', either when they died or at times when still alive, ancient Egpyt, Sumeria etc. Why is not Isaiah seen to be referring to this, which it seems to be exactly what he was doing, ie you will be 'laid low' (as a false 'God' just as soon as the real 'God' (of the Israelites) shows you what real omnipotence is!)

I am quite sure it all made sense to the 'theologian' at the time, and to subsequent theoologians, in the early part of the Christian era. I just can't seem to get my head round the mind set! After all, Satan was already blamed for everything anyway, why rub it in?

So, from a bringer of light, we now have a bringer of darkness. Funny how words twist and turn over the centuries; most times, I think, through sheer happenstance,

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Dear Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

(I know who you are! :)

I am all right, truly, I am. In myself. Or, at least as all right as I have always been or seemed, at least to myself, if not to others!

Mayhap, I am being over-melodramatic (not for the first time! And not for the last, surely!:) but it's difficult not to consider one's fate, one's past, one's future when you have have been through what I have been through.

It's not the enormity of it, it's not the seriousness of it; on a sliding scale of 1-10 it does not even merit a '3'. It, statistically speaking, does not even rate '1' on the 'potentially lethal scale'. It's not lung cancer! In truth, let's be honest, it is a minor inconvenience. However, strokes are enormously variable; and there is no way to predict how variable. That is the frightening thing about something; its unpredictablity.

Just what brain cells might be affected? Maybe, less important ones; no more than a very minor inconvenience; maybe important ones, brain cells that define your existence, at least in your own mind. And who's to tell, before it happens? Maybe God, the supreme deity. Maybe Krishna, Zarathustra, Allah? Unless one is omnipotent, no-one can know! Each cerebral blockage, each blood vessel(s) that block(s), becomes congested, cause(s) something different! Same name, same physical phenomena, different result! Always.

And yes, people suffer more (in their own mind, in the collective conscience) but that is where it becomes frightening. What might have been lost? What might I have spent years trying to achieve, only to have it taken away, denied me, for a chance occurance; not some divine intervention. Perhaps, less booze, less nicotine, perhaps less stress, perhaps eating more, more healthy eating? Might I have avoided all this?


Maybe this might not ever have happended. But, if it nonetheless did?

What might have been taken away? If fate had not decreed otherwise?

My right arm, hand; paralysed, beyond recall? Never being able to paint again? Without relearning how to paint with my left hand? Or my feet? At my age? Never being able to argue again, for word blindness. Not being able to articulate that which was always so easy? In debate. Not being able to to articulate 'continually' without, in Wilfred Owen's words, 'an ectasy of fumbling'. Is that all I can look forward to?

To such as I, to be so inarticulate, in speech, in words. To be so inept at painting a 'Harpy Eagle'; this is a loss of life, a loss of the meaning of life! And I don't want to find a new one! A new meaning! I was perfectly 'happy' with the old one!

I want my old one back!

So if I am maudlin (or magdelaine), it is but a transitory phase. I will get my old purpose back, by hook or by crook; or I will find a new one (or three). Just takes time! That's all!

Allow to me the grace, at least, to wallow in such self-pity as I can glean; in the meantime. In 'the alone of my time' :)

Just for a short time! :)

For 'I know what I'll do in the alone of my time......cos I'll still have a taker for the leftover wine....')

Melanie Safka might have thought it was the audience, but we, oh we, know better!

Malcolm Goodson

April 2010

PS It never fails to amaze me just how many takers for the leftover wine there are; for which I thank you all!

Dear Anonymous

What I am I going to do with you?

'Murder,' she cried.

'Thank you!' he replied sofly.