Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Bull at the Edge of the Woods

I was hiking between Bellaire Drive and the Chisholm Trail Parkway along the south side of the Clear Fork of the Trinity River (la clara tenedor del río Trinidad) when I heard a swoosh through the riparian woods. 

I caught a glimpse of a cow moving at a clip from left to right; then, just as it was turning to glare at me, a bull. This bull.

Holy Zeus! Was it Apis, conduit to the gods of Egypt? Or was it Dionsysus or the Original Zeus, chasing after a nymph-turned-into-a-cow?  Or, perhaps it was Donn Cúailnge, the Brown Bull of Cooley, gone to Black?  
This bull is a fine symbol of today's American pickle, the Great Voting Pickle of 2016. 

El encierro will nearly half of American voters now Run with the Bulls in the shape of a man?  

Will the Trumpenproletariat drink Red Bull while indulging in fifty shades of phobia?

Luckily we may have an inkling, for a Sacred Bullhorn has provided the visible names of the first fifty phobic hangups of T-Bull-Woshippers: as evidenced in Cleveland on this very day and night: 

xenophobia, homophobia, neophobia, bogyphobia, hobophobia, sinophobia, tropophobia, porphyrophobia, kosmikophobia, bathophobia, medorthophobia, pantophobia, eurotophobia, xenoglossophobia, francophobia, hylophobia, zeusophobia, euphobia, stygiophobia, athazagoraphobia, lyssophobia, dikephobia, gnosiophobia, philemaphobia, geliophobia,  sophophobia, sarmassophobia, erotophobia, scelerophobia. psychophobia, selenophobia, euphobia, nudophobia, prosophobia, metrophobia, harpaxophobia, hellenologophobia, monophobia, spectrophobia, wiccaphobia, graphophobia, islamophobia, ecophobia, obamaphobia, hillaryphobia, fairnessphobia, compromisophobia, wisdomophobia, reasonablenessphobia and realityphobia. 

And if you don't believe it, see here for further cape-waving. Unfurl at your own peril. As for me, I will not be running with the bulls -- but I will be keeping my eyes on them, most assuredly.  I consider this one bull quite enough, as a sign and prelude to the shapes of things to come.

Today's Rune: Initiation.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Plautus: Amphytrion, The Pot of Gold, Casina

Three comedies by Titus Maccius Plautus (circa 254-184 B.C.): Amphytrion, The Pot of Gold, Casina. I read from this version: Plautus, Amphytryon and Two Other Plays, translated and edited by Lionel Casson, N.Y.: W. W. Norton & Company, 1971 paperback edition. 

After a quick go through these one comes away with a good idea just how much contemporary situation comedies rely on ancient plots, characters and themes. Anyone who's seen Three's Company (1977-1984) will find themselves at home. 

Amphytrion involves doubles and mistaken identity. The God Jove (Jupiter, Zeus) wants to spend a night with Alcmena while her husband Amphytrion is off fighting a war, so he masquerades as Amphytrion and posts his son Mercury (Hermes) to keep people away, masquerading as Sosia, a servant. The comedy revolves around thwarting all threatened disruptions to Jove's desire to have his way. The highlight is Mercury/Sosia keeping the "real" Sosia at bay.

The Pot of Gold is a ludicrous comedy showcasing human greed and tomfoolery. There are sneaky servants, idiotic rich men and cagey women. The coolest elements in this one are the house spirit and the Temple of Trust. The silliest aspect is having to see the great lengths to which miserly Euclio goes to safeguard his little pot of gold, never able to conquer his constant fear of losing it. 

Casina (aka The Lot-Drawers) is a more involved but still clownish elaboration involving a rich older married man who seeks access to a younger woman by arranging her marriage with a dependent who will share her but is simultaneously threatened by another suitor -- and so on. The wife and her servants see through all of it, and plot to refashion the endgame. 

If you've seen or know of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Fawlty Towers (1975-1979), Three's Company (1977-1984), The Benny Hill Show (1955-1991) or Seinfeld (1989-1998), you know of Plautus.  

Finally, it is notable in these three plays that Plautus shows both empathy and fond sympathy for women. He aims his sharpest barbs of mockery and satire at the foibles and hubris of men high and low. 

Unfortunately, once Christians gained control of Rome and its territories, most of the comedies of Plautus were destroyed by some of the more puritanical and joyless zealots among them. Perhaps more of Plautus' 2,200-year-old plays will be revealed again in due time -- another pot of gold at the end of a future rainbow?

Today's Rune: Protection.   

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Anita Nair: 'Ladies Coupé' (2001)

Anita Nair's Ladies Coupé (2001) gives readers a glimpse into some of the workings and manners of India in the late twentieth century. It's really a series of tales related by different women traveling on a train to Kanyakumari.  They are interrelated but could also work as stand-alone stories. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Reminds me somewhat of Tosin Otitoju's Three Sisters (2015) which can be found via here.

Akhila, the main character in Ladies Coupé, has been a primary caregiver for her family. Now in her mid-forties, she's philosophical about life. On the train early on, she chats with a fellow passenger: "'As far as I'm concerned, marriage is unimportant. Companionship, yes . . . The problem is, I wish to live by myself but everyone tells me that a woman can't live alone. What do you think? Can a woman live by herself?'" (page 21). In this way, Anita Nair, the author, also happens to be directly engaging her readers with interesting questions like these. 

Akhila's friend Margaret at one point says: "'Akhila, if there is one virtue I have, it is immunity to what people think of me. Naturally this makes them dislike me even more. People don't like to think that their opinion of someone means nothing to that person. And when it is a woman . . . the thought is intolerable" (page 136).

A couple more quips. "Often Akhila had to remind herself that this woman who gnawed at her nerves like a relentless mouse was her sister" (page 160).

"It seems to me more and more that I know nothing" (page 190).

Given the sometimes long names and nicknames of people, places and things, including foods, I found it helpful to jot down notes to more easily keep track of everything. Now I'd like to eat some Tamil food and think about social expectations and reincarnation. Cool beans!

Today's Rune: Initiation. 

Friday, July 01, 2016

The Sum of All Parts: First Battle of the Somme, 1916-2016

     The Sum of All Parts
You are interested in the arc of your life, your history
In how you are now, why you are here
Where you are going, how you came to this place
What to put on, what to take off
What to cover and what to bare
What to forget and how to bear witness
You are interested in history.

You are interested in family, in friends,
In those who came before you
And in those who will come after.

You are interested in what was, in what is, 
And in what is to come
You are interested in history
You are interested in history because
You are interested in life.

A hundred years ago today, July 1, 1916, there began in Northern France the First Battle of the Somme amidst what we often now call the First World War. Among the participating troops of the British Empire, and those of France and Germany, casualties came to some 94,000 -- in one day.  

From around the British Empire, some 19,240 men were killed on that day. For Americans, one might want to consider the bloodiest of American wars of the past fifty years, the US-Vietnam War. Fifty years ago, for the entire year of 1966, the US lost 6,350* killed in Vietnam, or about 18 men per day. In Iraq (2003-2010), the US lost 4,489 killed and in Afghanistan since 2001, the US has lost some 2,346 troops. Total casualties at the First Battle of the Somme amounted by its end to perhaps 1.3 million, or closer to the total of Vietnamese deaths (on both sides, North and South) suffered between 1964 and 1975. 

Think of the impact of each and all of these casualties, individually and collectively, still reverberating, everywhere on this earth. 

A touch of poetry: "Guerre" / "War" (1918) by Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), who before he died could see well into the future.

Rameau central de combat
    Contact par l’écoute
On tire dans la direction «des bruis entendus»
Les jeunes de la classe 1915
Et ces fils de fer électrisés
Ne pleurez donc pas sur les horreurs de la guerre
Avant elle nous n’avions que la surface
De la terre et des mers
Après elle nous aurons les abîmes
Le sous-sol et l’espace aviatique
Maîtres du timon
Après après
Nous prendrons toutes les joies
Des vainqueurs qui se délassent
Femmes Jeux Usines Commerce
Industrie Agriculture Métal
Feu Cristal Vitesse
Voix Regard Tact à part
Et ensemble dans le tact venu de loin
De plus loin encore
De l’Au-delà de cette terre

With great ambivalence and irony, perhaps. A snippet from Roger Shattuck's translation in Selected Writings of Guillaume Apollinaire. New York: New Directions, 1971, page 175:

Yet don't cry about these horrors of war
Before it we only had the surface
Of the earth and of the sea
After it we shall have the depths [i.e. with submarines]
The underground [deep bunkers] and free space overhead [aeroplanes, zeppelins, etc.]
Men at the tiller . . .

Voice Light Touch . . .
And together in the touch of distant things
Of the great distances
Beyond this earth even.

Today's Rune: Harvest. *A host of information about US casualties during the US-Vietnam War is here. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

That the Witch of Atlas Knew

"Under Ben Bulben" (1939)

Many times man lives and dies
Between his two eternities,
That of race and that of soul,
And ancient Ireland knew it all.
Whether man die in his bed
Or the rifle knocks him dead,
A brief parting from those dear
Is the worst man has to fear.
Though grave-digger's toil is long,
Sharp their spades, their muscles strong,
They but thrust their buried men
Back in the human mind again. 
Under bare Ben Bulben's head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
(-- William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939).
Today's Rune: Harvest. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Widening Gyre

William Butler Years, "The Second Coming" (1919, 1920). 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Today's Rune: Wholeness.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Divina Commedia: Inferno II

Wallace Fowlie's A Reading of Dante's Inferno (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1981).

Having finished reading this guide, here's another handful of memorable insights.

". . . a man may lose his soul before he dies . . . and then, on earth, a devil inhabits the body until its natural death . . ." (page 207).

"The medieval world cultivated and protected a sense of mystery . . ." (page 220).

"No poet, no writer exists alone . . . they are one and many . . . Their art is not unique but comes from others who proceeded them and will be continued in others who come after . . ." (page 226).

"A river is eternal, and thus designates the permanence of man [humankind]. A river flows by and is never the same, and thus designates the mutability of man" (page 228). 
"In the unfolding of the Inferno, of [James Joyce's] Ulysses, and [Marcel Proust's] A la recherche, one human failing in particular is condemned, one trait that returns over and over again in the pages of the poem and the novels: the human will to power. When a man [person] finds himself in a position of power, he finds at the same time in those people who wait upon and for him both clear and disguised signs of suspicion and hatred. Power inevitably brings about its own collapse. To offset this insidious drive, Dante makes it clear that he needs Virgil, and that Virgil likewise needs Dante. A similar pattern of restriction and control is visible in Joyce's Stephen and Bloom, and in Proust's Marcel and Swann" (page 229). 

The poem underscores "the struggle of free will against forces that attempt to nullify it" (page 21). 

And finally: "These two themes, the unseen God and the development of selfhood, will never be lost sight of . . . " (page 21). 

And thus ends today's salute to Disco Inferno

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune. Illustrations by William Blake and Sandro Botticelli.