Posts Tagged ‘literature’

The Deep

May 26, 2018

As we grow older in this world, we gain a deeper understanding of  what is going on here. But it can be discouraging. In many ways, what we find is not pretty, and it makes no sense.

The disconnect between the way the world is and the way we think it should be becomes an existential crisis for those of us who are sensitive to such issues.

Attached to this dilemma we find a long historical trail of people attempting to deal with the problem. Along that path we find tragedy, depression, pathos, melancholia, despair, existential crisis, schizophrenia and a myriad of other assorted travesties.

But there’s a favorable output that sometimes arises through this conundrum. It’s called art.

And music, and literature.

I’ll not get into the specifics of it; but we discern, threaded through our long, strung-out history, an overwhelming human opus of emotional and soulful profundity. It  has been woven through the sad, dysfunctional and tragic tapestry of our apocryphal struggle for meaning. It has been sounded forth and sculpted continuously even as our very survival is perpetually  called into question.

The depth of this existential crisis is expressed by the poet when he desperately cried out:

“O my God, my soul is in despair within me;

therefore I remember you from the land of the Jordan,

and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls unto deep at the sound of your waterfalls;

all your breakers and your waves have rolled over me.”

From the mountaintops of human awareness, and from the turbulence of many wanderous shore epiphanies, we homo sapiens somehow manage to  bring forth as offerings a cornucopia of creative endeavors; they are birthed in desperation, and they are often borne in desperate attempts to somehow attain hope.

You catch a hearing of that struggle to which I allude, in this music, composed in Spain in 1939 by Jaoquin Rodrigo:

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9RS4biqyAc

You can catch a glimpse of it in Picasso’s mural, composed in Spain in 1937, after the Luftwaffe bombing of Guernica:

  GuernicaPic

But in my exploration of these matters, the most profound expression of the pathos curse is manifested in the life of one person who, by his laborious struggle, imparted the purest and most enduring message of love ever etched upon the parchment of human history; but his great gift was rejected through our judgmental travesty: a sentence of crucifixion.

ChristCruc

Yet out of that most extreme humiliation there arose an even greater opus of creative, persistent love : resurrection.

If you can even believe it.

Smoke

at The Cradle of Western Civilization

January 26, 2015

Back in the 1960’s days of my youth I began what eventually became a lifetime study of history and literature. While studying classic English literature in college (LSU) I sometimes wondered why the great writers of British literature had such a fascination, almost obsession with, ancient Greek literature.

Yesterday I began to understand why.

When you actually go to a place like Athens and walk around for a day, your definition of literacy changes. You see how far back our quest for knowledge goes. You notice  how different that quest was then, even though it now seems to be somehow the same pursuit.

While ambling on foundations (literally) of Western civilization established in Athenian ground 2500 years ago, you get an unfamiliar sense of time-travel, especially if you’re an American like me. I grew up in a national identity that was only hundreds of years old instead of, you know, thousands of years old.

This sense of getting deep insight into the origins of constructive thought is probably similar to what the classic English writers–Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, Keats, Shelley, etc. etc.–felt when they came here.

It is a sense of this Culture thing that’s going on in the annals of mankind–it goes back a long, long way!

What I want to do here is present to you three examples of this experience that I had yesterday.

1.

Pat and I  stumbled upon (with a little help from a map) an ancient theatre, thousands of years old, where actual people who lived during that time came to see and hear actual plays being acted, like we would go to plays or movies today.

It was in this place:

TheatrDion2

In this very place, in this grandiose structure, playwrights of ancient Athens were amused as they watched ancient Athenian actors acting out on stage the dramas that they–the playwrights– had written.

When I dabbled in classic literature, back in the day, in college, I read selections from very old plays or poems written by long-dead Greek guys like Aeschylus, Euripides, or Homer. When I was reading, on printed pages, their old dramas and stories–like Oedipus Rex or The Odyssey or whatever–the reading experience was rather shallow.

To see the place where those ancient Greek stories were recited or acted out–there’s just something about it that propels the awareness of human story-telling into a new reality, a new appreciation for history that I never understood before.

Doesn’t that resemble a theater of auditorium in which you have been seated, having been perhaps assisted by an usher?

So that you see and hear some old story acted or sung about.

The urge to watch drama–plays or musicals of whatever fashion–goes back a long way! It’s nothing new.

There’s nothing new under the sun, as the ancient (even older than these Greeks) Hebrew poet Ecclesiastes noted.

What I am seeing is that, while the content of the narrative may change with time and fashion, the fundamental means of dramatic story-telling has changed not so much.

2.

This is true not only of literature, but also of military conquest and politics.

Pat snapped this picture of the antiquated structure called Hadrian’s Arch. You see me standing there beneath the architecture.

HadrArchCare

What’s funny about this is, on one side of the arch the citizens of Athens had inscribed (only barely visible) this statement:

“This is Athens, the city of Theseus.”

A few centuries later, the Romans came through and took over Athens. The Romans conquered the Greeks, or subjugated them, or threw their weight around in such a way that they wanted to demonstrate to the Athenians that  they–the Romans, new kids on the block of civilization– were now in charge of things around here and so now we pre-Italianos would be running the show and things would be different around here and you better know who’s calling the shots, if you know what I mean. And so, to make their point in an impressively architectural way, the Romans inscribed on the other side of the arch a new statement:

“This is the city of Hadrian, not Theseus”

I thought that was quite funny when Pat read it to me in the guide book.

3.

Here’s a time-travel appointment with one more  event that had happened in Athens, almost two thousand years ago. We were at a stony hilltop called Aereopagus.

AeropRoc

Yesterday I was standing here, looking at the marbly rocks of geological and historical time; the stones were worn smooth by millions of human feet that had trod there since the tree of knowledge was first encountered. Here, Greeks of long ago would gather to talk about the meaning of life, and probably drink coffee or wine, while discovering among themselves great thoughts of philosophy, history, politics, sports and bullshit and war and whatnot.

One day a zealous proponent of a new movement called Christianity came to town. He had come on a boat from Israel.

Paul had wandered in Athens for a day or two, and had heard about the serious pursuits of knowledge and nascent Western civilization that were taking place up on Aereopagus. So he went up there to listen, and to deliver a message to those sages. Here is (as recorded in a book, Acts of the Apostles) the beginning of what he told them:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man . . .”

But that was only another new beginning, even though it was in the middle of everything.

More to come. News at 11.

Glass Chimera

Allegorical vs. Real Characters in Fiction

June 29, 2012

Now I’m writing a third novel, Smoke.

My son said my fictional characters are formed too heavily upon allegorical concepts instead of real people. I think his assessment is correct. What am I going to do about it? That is the question.

As if that wasn’t enough, my dentist was drilling away on my novel bridgework as well. A few weeks ago, he remarked that the first novel had “a lot of characters.” That’s true. I’m all over the place with these imaginary people, which renders my novel narratives, it seems, too complicated, or scattered, opaque, and therefore not easily accessible to mainstream readers.  All true, as I am discovering. I probably knew it all along, to tell the truth, just too stubborn to do anything about it.

But hey, what about the wild-penned luminaries of the past who were venerated, yeah I say unto thee, even catapulted to bookish success, for their obscure story-telling style? I’m talking about Faulkner, Joyce, and. . . well you know the type. Novelists who would cloak all their rambling opi-opuses in arcane symbolism, subtle literary allusions, and stream of consciousness genius run-on sentences which, when read  aloud by contemporary poets, always end each phrase with a rising voice intonation as if the speaker had just declared or questioned the most profound literary utterances ever laid out bare and naked for all the world to read and all the New York editors to puzzle over to their hearts’ content.

Not to mention their protagonists, who are really dysfunctional savants whose character developments reflect societal manifestations of every misfit’s compulsion to prove to the world that the deepest desire of modern men and women is simply to go crazy, flinging off the envelopes and tethers of slavish conformity/morality, and then post the video on Utube.

Speaking of which, video images are taking over the world of communication. Text is dead, unless you want to be one of the elite who actually think. I suppose this very rant is evidence of our literary degeneracy. I’m a drowning man here.

But I digress. Need to get back to the heart of the matter.  I need to make my fictional characters more like real people, less like allegorical constructs. I’m working on it.

And good story-telling–I need to work on that too, which is why I just read Robert Louis Stevenson’sTreasure Island–a great story by a master storyteller.  Its a book that steadily intensifies suspense from beginning to end while cultivating reader involvement all along the voyage.

I have learned something valuable from Mr. Stevenson.  Maybe now the Europe-crushing clash of 1930ish big ideas (as my son calls them) that I’ve taken on in the new novel, Smoke, can artfully fade into back story support; then Philip, Nathan, and Tabitha will navigate, in a very believable tale, the perils of a world  hung upon the edge of communo-fascist disaster in 1937.

We’ll  see if I can sail this ship back into the trade winds of reader accessibility. Have a nice day.

This here’s for the Rule of Law!

June 24, 2012

Whether or not they actually could, the people of the British empire sought to civilize the world. One could say, perhaps, that on a good day those loyal subjects of the realm were sauntering forth to bring to unruly distant lands the rule of law, the benefits of a well-constructed language, and good manners, not to mention cricket.

Or one could say that, on a bad day, those John Bull limeys were exploiting the indigenous peoples, robbing them of their ancient heritages, playing contractual tricks to abscond their homelands, and getting rich in the process.

And one would be correct on both counts. Such is the dual nature of civilized man: he is a scoundrel, even as he strives, or pretends to, follow his so-called better angels.

Ditto for us Americans, their bratty little brothers in this saga of colonializing world history. But hey, it is what it is, and that’s all that it is, so be that as it may, today or someday.

Nevertheless, one beneficial concept that the world has, IMHO, derived from the hegemonizing Brits, is the rule of law. Like the Romans before them, far-flung British representatives of the Crown have, in recent centuries, carried to the four corners of their known world the idea that justice should prevail, and men should be accountable, in a duly-appointed court of law, for their actions.

Therefore anarchy and mayhem are not permitted.

In British literature, a residual benefit of this principle is demonstrated by Robert Louis Stevenson in his classic story, Treasure Island.  I’ll not tell thee the tale, as thou must read it for thyself, or find a video of it somewhere online haha, as if there were such a thing.

Nevertheless, I’ll take thee in thy imagination, as author Stevenson did, down to a little island in some distant sea wherein lies a hidden treasure that was left behind during a dispute between some gentlemen of fortune, some of them honest, some of them not, but which is which, I’ll tell thee what–on second thought–suffice it say, some men were killed, and some got caught.

Years later, as the story is told, having obtained a map that could lead to the buried booty, a band of reputable fortune-seeking men have returned to the island to uncover the misplaced gold, which is a considerable weight of what’s called pieces of eight. And if’n you don’t know what that is, matey, go look it up on your wikipedia slate.

By and by, I’m a-comin’ to my point, lads n’ lassies, about the civilizing effects of the British empire. And this is how it happened:

There was, to state it plainly, a mutiny among the men. I don’t know how else to say it except that certain dirty/rotten scoundrels were led by their wolf-in-sheep’s clothing leader, Long John Silver, into the perfidy of lawless rebellion against the good Captain and the owners of the ship who were with him. And there was among the loyals the good lad, Jim Hawkins, cabin boy, who lived to tell the tale, whose account enables me to write it to thee.

Pirates is what they were, pure and simple–Long John Silver and his mutineers.

During the course of the dispute, an actual battle broke out between the two sides. The Captain and his loyal men had managed to occupy an old stockade. The contemptible buccaneers were planning to overpower them with muskets and swords and the ship’s cannon offshore, which they had occupied.

Immediately upon taking the stockade, the Captain had made it his first order of business to raise the Union Jack–the British flag– on a log-pole above the fort, although it might seem there could be more productive ways he could have spent his energy and precious time at that perilous moment.

Very soon the scumbag pirates began firing cannonballs at the stockade. This turn of events is told near the end of chapter 18 in the book. A ship’s owner speaks to Captain Smollett:

“Captain,” said the squire, “the house is quite invisible from the ship. It must be the flag they are coming at. Would it not be wiser to take it in?”

“Strike my colors!” cried the captain. “No, sir, not I”; and as soon as he had said the words, I think (the ship’s doctor is writing this. -ed.) we all agreed with him. For it was not only a piece of stout, seamanly, good feeling; it was good policy besides and showed our enemies that we despised their cannonade.

The good Captain, in so doing, was proclaiming to the scoundrels, and to the very world: This here ground we have taken is now for God and King! This here’s for law and order! We’ll not tolerate mayhem and rebellion! That’s our stand and we are stickin’ to it.

Now this particularly resolute act of the Captain had good effect, even beyond the mere declaration of it. Young Jim Hawkins, who had been separated from the ship’s loyal men, was out in the island somewhere, among the scrubby shrubs and sandy spits, trying to get to the stockade to rejoin his mates. And he had found, long story short, a wild island man who was not actually wild– though he appeared to be so with the scruffy beard and raggish coverings. This character, name of Ben Gunn,  had been marooned on the island by the former buccaneers, the ones who had left the treasure somewhere in the vicinity.

So, meanwhile, back at the outback part of the island where Hawkins and Gunn are dodging cannonballs and musket shots, old Ben says to young Jim, at the beginning of chapter 19:

As soon as Ben Gunn saw the colors he came to a halt, stopped me by the arm, and sat down.

“Now,” said he, “there’s your friends, sure enough.”

“Far more likely, it’s the mutineers,” I answered.

“That!” he cried. “Why, in a place like this, where nobody puts in but gen’lmen of fortune, Silver would fly the Jolly Roger, you don’t make no doubt of that. No, that’s your friends.”

Which is to say, the ringleader of the mutineers would not be flying the Union Jack. He would not be claiming ground for God and King. He would not be declaring by such actions: This here’s for the rule of law. Come ye to this flag and you shall find order, and justice, not mayhem and rebellion!Ben Gunn knew this, and he assured the cabin-boy that the Union Jack was reliable, and so. . .

It could come about that the ship’s doctor would later write:

“And I ran to the door in time to see Jim Hawkins, safe and sound, come climbing over the stockade.”

Thus had this incident made known, in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, the sanctuarial power of Brittania. God save the King, and the Queen, too!

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress