The Social Cell: Conspiracy & Religion in Society

THE SOCIAL CELL:


I

Conspiracy theories and social mythology are not a recent phenomena, nor invented to make the most enlightened of unemployed internet connoisseurs look “ridiculous”. The world isn’t about you, Mark. Conspiracy theories, government plots, back door dealings, high profile deaths, have been a part of many societies, and in the histories of many peoples. English Students are no doubt familiar with Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. What might be less familiar is the social climate in which the play was written. There was a long secession crisis during the 1560s1 and the possibility of civil war was very real2. With no heir and obvious successor, it’s not hard to imagine that Elizabeth I sensed plots all around her, with the Parliament standing in for the senators of Rome in Shakespeare’s drama. There were plots all around Elizabeth I, denounced by the Pope as a heretic, there were factions underground in Rome, France, and Spain, all intent on putting Mary Steward on the throne.3

        The interesting thing about the way conspiracies is in how they motivate people. Conspiracy theory is a popular, secular mythography. In ancient cultures, beliefs and cultural identity came from traditions, traditions in storytelling or ritual. Of particular interest is how the Greek and Roman historical myths came together to form a social cell. Heads of state capitalized on the popularity of these traditions: Caesar claimed to be a descendant of Aeneas, the hero of Virgil’s national epic the Aeneid, as recorded by Livy.4 Virgil’s Aeneid also gives the Roman people a virtuous civic model, in Aeneas, someone to be admired for his personal sacrifices for the great good of Rome.4

        A civilization is more properly a social cell, and its interaction between other cultures and social cells determines its growth or diminishment. Historically, an organized society as a social cell has survived by overtaking smaller, undefended social cells, or cells that are pre-social, or in the process of an establishing, social myth. Conspiracy theorists have branched off from their parent social cell, either out of foundational failures of individual trust, or the failure for a cultural construct to ensure the contentment of all its individual parts. A conspiratorial group, with specific aims and intents, can overturn a parent cell and replace it with a new, more motivational alternative ideal.

II

INTERSOCIAL MYTHMAKING

Oral literature refers to traditions of storytelling that survive through cultural tradition and word of mouth before being written down. Roman myths, such as the Aeneid, inspire citizens, with the courage of their warriors and the nobility of their deeds. These ideas of heroes and traitors were a model of social behavior, and the traditions they represent was an inexorable part of the national identity and social conscience. Though Rome, as a social cell, did absorb and take on the Greek traditions and mythology, many of them were given a unique Roman flavor. The creation myth remains the same, though the names change. Greek heroes like Odysseus and Achilles struggle against their personal limitations and learn from their failures to become better people, to grow, to look at the pillars differently, as Gilgamesh did upon returning to Uruk in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Odysseus’ struggles to return home, though it gives him added appreciation for home, and the comforts of hearth and family, of domestic calm and marital tranquility. While Greek heroes are models of behavior and virtue by their personal quests, Roman heroes were distinctly nationalistic, fiercely loyal to their great city of Rome.1

        What myth offered pre-scientific revolution societies were explanations for what they otherwise saw as inexplicable or unsettling. Any force beyond control capable of disturbing social order like famine or natural disasters, if the social cell is wiped out, its mythology is often survived by a microbe of a social cell, one of an individual bound by family and tradition, each of which works as a coping device against the uncertainties of change. By finding a non-personal social idea, it is all that is sometimes left of large and once prosperous communities. Clinging to the notion of tradition is a sense of permanence, giving us footing in a world of harsh conditions, in times of scarcity and plague.

        A given social pantheon could be considered the anthropomorphic library of human faces projected onto abstract forces of nature. Concepts of the seasons are given personality and intent; faces for river gods or names for the god of thunderstorms. We see the sea swells eddied on by Poseidon’s great trident. And winter was explained as Demeter’s despair, knowing her daughter Persephone, is bound for a season in the underworld.2 Autumn comes and plants die; trees become barren and the leaves fall away. This was a personal relationship of interactive social forces. 

        For the Norse they saw an avalanche of boulders and rock as the rumblings of giants.3 Sometimes those boulders would take out entire settlements, leaving a few microbes behind; sometimes they had almost starved before they could plant again. There were great quarrels between powerful, unimaginable forces, throwing the contentment of daily rhythms into disarray, portending the end of the world, Ragnarok, armageddon, etc. It's not about you, Mark. 

        Cultures of great scarcity have severe gods, but to be a part of that curiosity of what’s behind the skin and motivational factors we give to the forces of nature, humanity’s endurance in times of great confusion and chaos is reflected in the horrors of their myth, the monsters they despised, more accurately a representation of them as a social people than of abstract nature, then. To give randomness over to a personality, benevolent or malevolent, frightening shapes are less frightening than the shapeless. And we project onto it, sometimes our worst, sometimes our best, which determines the character of the surviving social cell as a social people; a. A people who understand their fellows, empathize with them and laugh, talk about the great myths and legends and take strength from the cunning goddess Athena, or inspiration from the deeds of Heracles. Sharing a mythology and culture of consistency among people is the sharing of thought, and social thinking, connecting an individual’s misfortunes with that of the social cell, motivating itself by the example of great heroes or mystical beings.

        This is an important element of civilizing by social, mutually agreeable history and the values they impart. It is an agreement of a myth created through interactive sharing over fires and on travels, a way of consenting to our ability to understand nature or the mysteries of the gods. the mysteries of gods, whether there is a beauty contest among goddesses for an apple from the garden of Hesperides [or? No resolution to sentence]. There is truth in our understanding of fiction.understood fiction. There is a German word that expresses our frustration at being deeply unaware of not understanding, or being flat out wrong: Erklärungsnot – literally, a distress at not having an explanation. A compound word for explanation and crisis. It is a deeply meaningful word, with a range of meanings attached, but the largest is that of cosmic unawareness, and the implication of how distressing it is to have no explanation. This can sometimes lead to weltschmertz – a world sadness, a way to respond to pervasive and lasting melancholy.  

        These words are often behind social discontent. A rebellious cell is a dissenting outgrowth of an established mythology, that one might not understand, organized by shared opposition to other, disagreeable social cells, those with which one may feel that world sadness, the weltschmertz of aging or loneliness. Social cells that are larger tend to absorb smaller, less organized, less socialized cells of human tribes. A myth helps us to understand what we don’t understand. A conspiracy is a social project that allows us to discover.

         A conspiracy in theory is a shared dissenting myth, not as much rallied around agreement as much as a group of social-minded individuals rallied around a principle, often with an aim that is political or social thinking, or a political apolitical social disharmony. In Rome, they shared all the Gods they stole. Sometimes the dissent within a myth, a schism between religious sects during times of reformation and reforms, leads to a reactive, responsive social cell in itself. Sometimes the denunciation of a previously established social ideal becomes a social cell itself. It can be seen as a rebellious cell’s attempt to force agreement for survival upon a possibly weaker separate social cell. As with Rome and Greece, a larger social cell absorbed a smaller one. A post-industrialized social cell is a modern social language, different than these pre-modern social cells, especially those unable to be socially or interpersonally interactive.

        When there is stagnation, the human mind rebels, and the imagination sees things it has no’t seen before. These individual organizers are akin to a designer of a social cell. Non-social, -personal interactions within cells can change the nature of the social sphere, the space between the inner and outer walls. The outer wall is our organizing impulse, maintained by social-interpersonal agreements. Social thought is a cohesive structure for maintaining a stable society. These transformations of abstract into persona take many forms, and vary from place to place, influenced by local culture and environs, social mores and tradition.

        The practice of making sense of chaos and of tragedy is a recognizable primordial form of conspiracies. Powerful forces behind the scenes, mighty and awesome beings of immense influence and empires, capable of holding empires beneath the whims and caprice of invisible hands – the use of anthropomorphic gods as stand-ins for natural abstracts – makes them more familiar; and there is comfort in familiarity.

is an imprint of what individual lives within the cell were like; it is a social thumbprint

        Etiology4 is the ennobling of one’s past and allows for something in the social sphere to mean something, rather than it be a senseless loss, or unpoetic, cruel human loss. In the case of a conspiracy, the subsequent imparting of meaning somehow adds our non-social person to the material relationship within the social cell.

        As ancient civilizations build their myth and culture around the powers that held them in thrall, each reckoned as an abstracted quality given human form, modern conspiracy theory often contains many of these elements. From the prevalence of powerful groups manipulating events from behind the scenes, to a small group of recurring powers with control extending like long filaments into every orifice of the worlds, until they’re omnipresent

        The relationship between the building of myth and conspiracy is not superficial. Both attempt to explain the inexplicable; each are populated by an attempt to give meaning to and find solace in a tragedy by giving it a familiar, recognizable face. Further, the modern conspiracy culture is an ever expanding group, with a founding myth that gives purpose to their efforts, with the task of giving a human face to these unseen forces and ascribing meaning to the innumerable questions conspiracy theories generate. With a human face and a sense of meaning, a group has an identity and , a purpose, with their actions ennobled.

        With a foundation myth and history, groups are formed around a shared belief. As an organizing principle in conspiracy theory communities, the motivation is rather similar to those who made sense of winter by explaining Demeter’s sorrow over the loss of her daughter Persephone: in conspiracy, groups evolve into societies, and often share many beliefs as it pertains to individual theories, while something more specific may have brought them together.

        Finally, as a myth is bound to reinforce a sense of cultural identity through the organizing principle and build bonds through a new, shared understanding, like the pantheon of Roman gods, by looking closely at them and seeing their fears, their idea of heroism and virtue, of villainy and vice. In short, it is the window into the anatomy of an ancient and long-lived human tendency to look for meaning, to look for patterns in nature and in human behavior.               

        The manner of a founding myth’s stability for a civilization and larger society comes from much older processes in the human brain, not limited to human beings. Connecting the dots, pattern recognition, seeing causal relationships between nature and material action. In pre-industrial social cells, the inclination to conspiratorial thinking and designs of competing social cells, cells competing within with out-growths or at war with a foreign, differently organized and motivated cell, allowed for individuals to have a sense that they were a part of something larger than themselves, and that it wasn’t all meaningless. Sometimes that’s enough for a society to survive, as long as some part of it becomes a part of a future socio-organizational myth.

3

In a Times article in 20141 Here’s Why We Believe in Conspiracies, prominent conspiracy scholar Jan-Willem van Prooijen, associate professor in social and organizational psychology at VU University Amsterdam, said, “Conspiracy theories often crop up during times of uncertainty and fear: after terrorist strikes, financial crises, high-profile deaths and natural disasters. Past research suggests that if people feel they don’t have control over a situation, they’ll try to make sense of it and find out what happened. The sense-making leads them to connect dots that aren’t necessarily connected in reality,” van Prooijen says..”

        After reviewing JFK, Roger Ebert was approached by Walter Cronkite for his review.2 “There is not a bit of truth in it!” Cronkite said. The late film critic later wrote in his review that he felt that Stone was capturing a pervasive mood in the counter-culture about the assassination, that it was a film that captured the way some Americans felt, about the need for answers in the days and then years after the assassination.

        Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison worked well enough, and his patriotism and passion for the truth is understandable. He is sympathetic, seen as an individual against an established social cell. To seek the truth is a heroic act, to expose crime in places where the abuse of power is most possible, as Woodward and Bernstein did in All the President’s Men3 by uncovering the break-in at the Watergate hotel and working to get to the bottom of a case. They follow their leads, doggedly pursue each of them, and work hard. They are physically and morally courageous.

        JFK perverts this in a way, historically, but emulates the formula well enough to appear to start with a morally defensible perspective on your mission, motivation, and what the end result looks like. Seeking the truth despite the establishment is heroic, patriotic even, and benefits from having a morally defensible argument. Where it becomes social mythmaking, is in providing questions and then answering them selectively. It is informative in showing the process of popular myth and belief as it is being made.

        A small group of patriots are pitted against the endless bureaucracies of the US Government, and they have their phones tapped. Team members betray the group (an evolving rebellion cell against an established social cell). The film’s world is a small group of men who are behind the major events, while we little people, can’t even begin to comprehend the vast and inexplicable subtleties of this grand design.  It is a tale of betrayal and personal sacrifice, but it’s for the sanctity of American traditions, for the truth. I, in a way, it is Jim Garrison playing Octavian in the Final War of the Roman Republic4, following Caesar’s assassination in Shakespeare’s play – something Garrison mentions to a team member who’s having doubts.

        But, not to digress. Garrison sees everything that touches something else. , if one person knows another through an event prior to the assassination, it is followed up. They talk to prostitutes, male and female – which was progressive for its time – and then Tommy Lee Jones is made Ssuspect Nnumber One1. This attempts to set it up for the trial of Clay Shaw, which is less a trial than a repudiation of the Warren Commission Report, here and there bringing Clay Shaw back into the picture, and they focus on Oswald after the assassination, as we have never seen him before.

        Though Wwith the way the argument is presented, the evidence amounts to an accusation without any direct link and amounts to Clay Shaw giving his name as Clay Bertrand, which was kept out of court because he did not have his lawyer present. Garrison protests.             Shaw is presented as an effete, frivolous man, while Garrison is shown trying to be a good father and still fight for justice. Again, his advantage is that his goals are admirable: he believes there has been injustice, and he intends to right it. And Stone, with the final summation at the end of the film, gets to offer his personal, Figaro-esque indictment on the social oppressive behavior of a self-destructive establishment. Garisson compares Lee Harvey Oswald to  He mentions Oswald being as Josef K.5 in Franz Kafka’s The Trial, suggesting Oswald was a timid, neurotic man, forever under the control and purview of powerful forces surrounding him, forces which he cannot recogonize personally or comprehend. , moldable to who never quite knew what was going on, while all of this drama and intrigue goes on around him, never knowing what he’d done wrong. [redundant and tense change]

        In JFK, Oliver Stone is attempting to present a widespread discontent American’s had in the Warren Commission Report, though a smaller percentage disagreed with its findings after the movie was released. The majority of Americans now believe that there was a conspiracy involved, and a cottage industry of books has sprung from it. This is common in cases of social thinking, or individual-social ideation – where a single person is influencing through social means the thoughts of a significant amount of people.

        As a legal historical drama, JFK works as a film, but only by using ahistorical composite characters, such as X. X is important because he supplies the foundation myth for the generation of anti-social cells, as Oliver Stone’s personal experiences shaped his social thinking. has been criticized by or [of or for?] sensationalism, creating composite characters to avoid discredited sources (a witness who claimed that Garrison had given him truth serum and under hypnosis he had made incriminating statements), and ignoring some of the more easily refutable claims of the film in regards to the Warren Commission. The foundational and motivational aspect of this particular story for Oliver Stone is tinged by his personal experience in Vietnam.

        Oliver Stone joined the United States Army in April of 1967. He would be emotionally scarred by his experiences, writing that he was “very mixed up, very paranoid, and very alienated”6 upon his return to the States. The Death of Kennedy therefore to be an issue that touched the director’s life in a significant, foundational principle.

        The foundational myth of the government, or elements within the government, CIA & FBI plots to assassinate Kennedy are grounded in the belief that it was Kennedy’s intention to withdraw from Vietnam. At the time of his death, the audience learns out, he was in the process of withdrawing troops. This information comes to us from the character X, a composite character loosely based on L. Fletcher Prouty, but this creates a number of problems.

        X tells us that he spent much of September ’63 working on planning and drawing up National Security Action Memorandum 263. The plan is represented as the strongest and most important paper to come out of the Kennedy White House. The first 1,000 troops had been ordered home for Christmas. In his book, JFK: The Cia, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy7, L. Fletcher Prouty, “X” in the film, Prouty summarizes the cover letter accommpanying Presidential Action Memo 263. . [whose book & what’s the actual title?]

        While X accurately summarized the cover letter accompanying the action memo 263:

        Perhaps more than anything the key toIn order to understanding Oliver Stone’s perspective in evaluating this film and its legacy, one might attempt to ‘solve’ it, or at least draw an inference based on our understanding of conspiratorial groups as potential societies / social cells wherein a rebel cell might at any time attempt majority, and grow, based on how many social objects reject the official explanation, from once trusted foundations. By our study of myth as etiology, the case against Oswald is itself an aside to ever larger, more expansive machinations. What i’s going on may be hiding in plain sight.

        One of the most prominent reasons given for the question as to what would compel the government or its agencies to murder a sitting president is that he planned to withdraw from Vietnam. This is the founding myth of the Kennedy Assassination, and surely something that would be understandably appealing and motivational for Oliver Stone, himself a disillusioned veteran, another young man whose innocence died in the jungles far away. It i’s easy to understand how it appeals to Stone, if it is a misconception, and it doesn’t make one more prone to dismissal or disparaging of what gives an artist the drive to search for truth and meaning.

        For many, the tragedy of the JFK assassination is compounded by the tragedy of the Vietnam War, in which millions would be killed or wounded, and millions more shocked and sobered by the horrors of war. To take JFK from the people by this assassination, from the people he might have otherwise spared the traumas of this divisive, ignominious war, is a greater tragedy than that of a lone assassin. This is how a social event can directly affect someone on a non-social level, and motivate them to try to somehow affect the event.

        From the perspective of Stone and many, an entire generation – a lost microbe of what may have become foundational and contributed to the stability of the national/cultural – to look at this film as fact, the conspiracy theory turns JFK into more than a victim, shot while the world looked on, in broad daylight – it gives us a martyr, someone who died for a cause, giving meaning to his death beyond the event itself, but, as we’ve seen, gives us closure, stability, and a chance to get our bearings. 

        When a rebellion cell achieves majority, the record is distorted. History is viewed through a warped lens, and when the social majority of individuals within a social cell, succeed in conversion of a given society, particularly the foundational, outer layer of the social cell, [1] from which they spring as [2] rebellious cells, [3] for want of a better word, as each directly rebels against [4] the established cell. In such a case, the social cell’s outer membrane loses cohesion and assumes the identity of the rebel cell, wherein the filters of conspiracy are placed atop the historical record.

        Our socio-personal development of conspiratorial thinking is an early stage of social-cognitive development, where we begin to consider others as social objects, with intent, motivation, belief, and purpose as oneself. R, recognizing that someone can exist outside of the self as an independent object in a social environment, we can look at scenarios and project more or less how we would act if put in the same situation.

        As we gradually become aware of another person as a thinking agent, the first step towards psychological, motivational inference i, as in reading someone’s intent by an examination of their actions. Our ability to infer the inner thoughts of another person is problematic; as we first acknowledge the common Rashomon effect, based on the famous film by Akira Kurosawa9, with the aforementioned effect coined to describe the subjectivity of the storytellingstory telling structure, which recounts the same event from a number of individual events, and represents the truth as each character saw it, despite irreconcilable variations between one perspective to the next. It is the personal, limited perspective of a wider view, which is the totality of the whole of each socially orienting object. 

        In Cognitive Development by professor of developmental psychology John H. Flavell,10 he outlines a series of developmental stages, each a part of social cognition’s complexities as we interact with others. The first stage is the mere recognizing of another person, or persons,’ as social phenomena within the realm of interactive possibility. To think sociably, one considers that others, as individuals and groups, and among groups, have different ideas, beliefs, and unique perspective.

        The next stage of social cognition is need, which amounts to individual attempts at understanding and acting with awareness of others’ feelings and experiences. Inference concerns a capacity to carry out social thinking successfully, though the thinking need not be strictly defined as inference, but more broadly as any social cognitive process, the discussion of personal ideas between individuals on a given subject. If you have the disposition to rely on inference as an act of social cognition, for example, you might look at a conversation and find a specific remark that is indicative of a broader range of beliefs and personal feelings.

        Social cogitation is the sharing of inferences about the relationship between people and , events, and the collective process of social cogitation is an organizing principle behind social groups, persons and individuals. I, as interactions between one person engaged in social cogitation and another influence anyone else involved in the social sphere capable of further inferences from these micro-interactions, or interactions among groups. , discord. “Non-social concepts can be concrete or exact … in some cases we may have trouble deciding whether the object of our cognition is a social or non-social one.”      

Surprisingly, non-social cognition can be seen in the social sphere of cognitive development. What is developed in private may spread, through literature such as this, literature and film, and participate in the act of social cogitation. Another aspect of cognitive development Flavell11 discusses is the awareness of another person’s possible benefit from deceiving you.11

With the development of a rewards-punishments manner of social-thinking we attempt, by social interaction, the correction of socio-personal discord. An important realization is that any cohesive society is an active social cell, one among many in the world, one that is the product of socially cognitive objects in a realm of possible actions. Social thinking is the cogitation of many different perspectives engaged in one social-object or part of the inner-core of the social cell, what I would call the beginning tale, the recounting of the cell’s formation as a celebration, as a means of its ensured perpetuation and survival.

        It could be argued that the microbe of the eventual majority myth of the JFK assassination has an historical disconnect unlike anything to be found elsewhere in the American character, nor an American film that so biased us and put the fire in our hearts to rebel against such outrages of the state. But our next story , it brought down a kingdom, as one social cell in discord was an amorphous, fluctuating membrane of rebel cells attempting to absorb and wrest change for the establishment of the new.

IV

In France in the 1780s the theatre could be a political space.1 Ordinary people got involved in the questions before the government. The new ideas of enlightenment philosophes, books that were banned by Royal Censors. Works that undermined the monarchy or the clergy, like Voltaire’s Candide and Rousseau’s The Social Contract were in prison. Literally, the books themselves were locked up for the ideas they contained, contributing the public political foment.

        Beaumarchais wrote The Marriage of Figaro in the 1780s. Reading it now, it seems tame. But at the time it was so radical that the censor took it to King Louis XVI himself. Louis said: “This shall never be played. It would be necessary to dismantle the Bastille itself before this could be played without consequences. This man mocks at everything in the government which ought to be respected.”2

        Despite being formally banned, the play was an enormous hit in private salons. And when the ban was lifted, Figaro became one of the smash hits of the century. It broke records. It did 73 nights in its first year and netted 350,000 French livres. What was it that made it so popular? It had the Royal Censor, which was sure to bring a crowd. But on the other hand, it was cheap, and accessible to a wide class of society,. fFrom the madams and monsieur in the boxes to the often illiterate peasants in the pit.

        The subversion that cut so deep into the traditions of old regime France aren’t noticeable today. But in a society of rank inequality between the classes, the rich and the poor, its egalitarian message, its winks to the clever and scrappy princes of Spain, Beaumarchais undermined the very foundation of French society.

        (Emphases mine)

        “Nobility, rank, position, how proud they make a man feel! You think because you are great nobleman you are a genius? Put yourself to the trouble of being born, nothing more. Nobility, fortune, rank, position! How proud they make a man feel! What have you done to deserve such advantages? Put yourself to the trouble of being born—nothing more. For the rest—a very ordinary man! Whereas I, lost among the obscure crowd, have had to deploy more knowledge, more calculation and skill merely to survive than has sufficed to rule all the provinces of Spain for a century.”

        Nobility, rank, and position determined to a large degree what kind of life you could expect in old regime France. The word privilege means private law. And historically, certain classes had special rights before the law. Rank, position and , fortune , were largely hereditary gifts rather than that of wit or talent, and Beaumarchais pokes this structure in the eye, by the not-fooling-anyone substitution of Spain for France, as everyone knew when the words were spoken, this ordinary man, had to use more knowledge and skill just to survive than that that has been used in the governing of France for a hundred years.

        The play opens by toying with the idea of an old medieval tradition, prima nocta, which allowed a seigneur to replace the groom in the marriage bed. This barbarous custom (and similarly still existing customs) was the order of things: hierarchy was written into the traditions of state, just as a king was above his subjects, lords were above their peasants, as a man was over a woman. Traditionally, society was divided into three estates. The first was the clergy, those who pray; the second was the nobility, those who fight, and these two groups had special rights and tax exemptions. The third estate was those who work, and they paid the bulk of the royal taxes, including the salt tax. It was impossible for someone of non-noble birth to become a noble, not even when nobility was put up for sale in the debt crisis.

        A seigneur or seigneury upon taking up residence in their parish takes their special pew at the front of the church, usually adorned by their coat of arms. The peasants of the lands pledge to work so much and dedicate so much barley and grain over the year. Traditional seigneurial dues allowed them to make bizarrely specific requests and demands of their peasants: for example, one nobleman’s list of dues was a number of ornamental feathers, a quota of olive oil and wine, a chicken, and a pair of leather gloves. 

        This all seemed natural. God had sanctified the king, Louis XVI was the head of a dynasty of the Capet family (the King would later be addressed as Louis Capet when he was put on trial for conspiracy and treason) and according to the divine right of kings, in theory his power was absolute. But the clergy, the Ccatholic political arm of the old regime, they weren’t only exempt from royal taxes, but got to impose a tithe on the peasants, while the seigneurial dues were owed to landowners by all peasants who worked in the lord’s bakery, or who made wine in the lord’s press.

        The ritual was a simple one. Whenever a new lord or madam took possession of their parish, a peasant signed their oath to work the land, always signing promises to work but to provide anything the nobleman or lady would demand of them. A commentator quipped, “Over time, a seigneurial title was less than that of a landlord and more that of an investor.”12           

The King between his heavy breakfasts and hunting would mediate between these three estates. The hierarchy had lasted d, well, forever, a. As far back as anyone knew. A recent ritual had fallen out of touch, however. The royal touch was performed by the King to cure victims of the skin disease scrofula. “The King touches you, God heals you,”3 was the traditional ritual performed by the French kings upon their ascension, but that was an old rule, and Louis XIV had stopped performing the Royal Touch entirely. When Louis XVI came to the throne in 1863, . Louis’ performed the ritual, but changed it a bit. “The King touches you, may God heal you.”4

        Society was not seen as a collection of individuals with legal or civil rights before the law. For poor peasants, the possibility of an education was slim, and the opportunity to advance based on personal talent, merit, or strength of character was astronomically slim. Life among the aristocrats, on the other hand, is a life of balls and luxuries, whilst t, the peasants tended their land and coughed up their dues and royal taxes. The struggle to survive, as we find at the center of Figaro’s most famous soliloquy, was very real. In 1709, the winter was so harsh that Louis XIV’s wine froze in his glass – and a million people died in France that year.5    

Life in the cities was a dramatic contrast between the highest lords and women selling tea on black roads. Visitors to Paris were shocked by what they saw. O as opulence rubbeding shoulders with squalor and filthy streets where beggar women sold tea, a place where regular men and women rubbed shoulders with the wealthiest nobles in the land. Half of Paris was too poor to make the roll of taxpayers, while the top 1% were too rich to make this roll. Just above the poor were the shopkeepers, artisans and, skilled woodworkers, and they had a little bit more money than the farmers, but virtually no rights. Justice was carried out by local seigneurial justice courts, where local seigneuries would rule on legal matters.6

        The question that has been asked is why revolution broke out in an economically dynamic country. And while the answer isn’t a simple one, the peasants of France got to see themselves as just as deserving of natural rights as all the other citizens of France. Figaro stirred up a social cell and gave it egalitarian social goals, inspired by the great philosophes of the Enlightenment such as Diderot, who compiled the first encyclopedia, and his great compilation of articles intended as a future repository of the basics of human knowledge, systematizing it, and getting the people to think about these freedoms made them extremely motivated; s. Sometimes motivated by the latest discussion of the new ideas, sometimes by brandy mixed with gunpowder and heads lopped off with fruit knives, with the Swiss Guard firing into the crowd with cannon.

        Between the years 1792 and 1815, the attempted establishment of a new social foundation swung wildly between differently inspired and reasoned motivations within a former social cell, that of old regime France, and the rebel cell as attempted foundation, such as that of the revolutionaries during the French Revolution, and even those of the American Civil War, though the moral sphere of etiological foundation is not done as much violence by the possible social foundations of a society that wanted to pull itself into a new, more scientific, and reasonable world.

        This amorphous sense of identity would lead to the age most habitable to suspicion and conspiracy theories, because there was less agreement among those attempting to lay a foundation than in any other instance we’ve discussed. The social cell took one identity after another, changing with the will of the crowd, and without being able to establish a sense of a shared socio-cultural cell, the first French Republic was unable to remain viable, as the task the revolutionaries set before themselves was to set a new foundation on a ground that keeps moving.

        Yet somehow, some microbe from the former social cell, of the old regime, always reemerged, as attempting to wash one shirt stained with blood with a load of clean shirts. Because it goes into the spin cycle together, the stain spreads from one to another, and motivation that’s not towards foundation and stability is by nature perpetual, and the comforts provided by the celebration of tradition extend to one’s sense of identity, one’s values, one’s fears, virtues, and aspirations.

Epilogue
Religion in a World With Lasers: The Social Cell in Rebellion

While JFK’s posthumous reputation has done to glorify him and lament the loss of promise shown by the handsome, young president and charming wife, o. Only time will tell if this interactive social mythmaking keeps majority as a rebel cell, and further, how long a traditional social cell can remain cohesive with an alternative majority within a wider cultural consensus. One needs to look only to Nero, or to the irony of Lee Harvey Oswald, the person to whom all evidence points as the assassin, has been pardoned, with many within the conspiracy community believing in his absolute innocence. To contrast that, it’s a popular myth that the Emperor Nero ‘fiddled while Rome burned’.1

        Cassius Dio’s account of the Great Fire and Nero’s Role in it can be found in his Roman History. Cassius Dio’s account is unflattering to say the least. He begins with the claim that “‘Nero set his heart on making an end of the whole realm dying during his lifetime.”2 Dio’s account continues as Nero sets about sending out men pretending to be drunk or engaged in general hooliganism while setting fire to different parts of the city. After several days and nights of destruction and deluge, the wailing of children and lamentations of the women fill the air. Nero ascends to the roof of the palace which offered the greatest view of the conflagration. And assuming his lyre player’s garb he sang the Capture of Troy, as he styled the song himself.

        Suetonius’ account of Nero in The Twelve Caesars3 is similarly unflattering. In this account, Suetonius states that Nero pretended to be disgusted with the drab old apartments and the narrow, winding streets of Rome. H, he brazenly set fire to the series. Suetonius adds that two ex-consuls caught Nero’s attendants with tow and blazing torches trespassing on their property but did not interfere. Nero also used the fire to take over several granaries he coveted, solidly built of stone.

        Suetonius claims the terror lasted for six days and seven nights[5] , as people were forced to take shelter in monuments and tombs while Nero’s men destroyed apartment buildings as well as mansions that once belonged to famous generals, still decorated in their triumphal trophies; temples, dedicated and vowed by the Kings and others during the Punic & Gallic wars – in fact every ancient monument that had hitherto survived. Here’s where Suetonius deviates from the account of Cassius Dio:

        “‘Nero watched the conflagration from the tower of Maecenas, enraptured by ‘the beauty of the flames”4. Then Nero put on his tragedians’ costume & and sang the sack of Illyricum. This is an example of a social myth in progress, though not quite congealed yet as a hardened part of the social cell. The thorough establishment of this socio-political myth is interrupted by Tacitus’ accounts from Annals.

        In this account Nero was staying at his country estate at Antium and didn’t even return to the capital until the fire was nearing the house by which he had connected the Palatine with the gardens of Maecenas. After the fire proved unstoppable, before it could engulf the Palatine and the house and all their immediate surroundings, Nero continued to work to save property and lives. In this account, instead of singing (just yet) Nero worked hard to provide relief for the homeless and fugitive populace, opening the Campus Martius, the buildings of Agrippa, even his own gardens and threw up a number of extemporized shelters to accommodate the helpless multitude. The necessities of life were brought up from Ostia and the neighboring municipalities, and the price of grain was lowered to three sesterces.

        With all of this effort, how did the Emperor become the suspect and ultimately accused of starting the fire? Tacitus gives us a hint at how tales, like those of Cassius Dio and Suetonius, were “‘the subject of few substantial conversations, but many earnest whispered accusations.”4’ Nero’s measures may not have been as popular as their moral character might be, having failed in their effect to reassure and console; for the report spread that at the very moment when Rome was aflame, he had taken to his private stage and, typifying the ills of the present by the calamities of the past, he had sung of the destruction of Troy.

        The hint he gives for why this rumor might have caught on was that, after the first fire was finally brought under control at the edge of the Esquiline by demolishing the buildings over a vast area and opposing the great unabated fury, a clear tract of ground opened on the horizon. But the fears had not been allayed, nor had hope returned to the people when the fire resumed its ravages.

        Here we have a massive tragedy, again, the conspiratorial fountain of youth, confusion and chaos are in the blood, and social thinking has been blanked by fear; the loss of home and shelter and, the second flame according to Tacitus caused the greater controversy as it had broken out on Aemilian property of Tigellinus and appearances suggested that Nero was seeking the glory of founding a new capital and endowing it with his own name.”5

        The ensuing national trauma was naturally a breeding ground for conspiracy theories, instead of reconciling their lot with the type of senseless tragedy this would be without some agency behind it, the people are left with nothing: no home or property, and no totem, or fear ikon on which to concentrate their exasperation. In the instance of natural disasters, humanity has the seemingly natural inclination to give intent and personality to the forces responsible. They gave Zeus the lightning bolt and virtue, Demeter weeping in the winter over the departure of the summer and her daughter. T, this instance of a human being given human traits is unique, as – at least as far as absolute power was concerned – an Emperor of Rome had as much power as was capable of being concentrated in two hands in the world at the time, a type of power less than a thousand people have historically wielded, and in front of this type of human power we have the same fear response. It is, as ever, a social definition that runs contrary to the official record. Instilling such fear in a populace can be beneficial for a ruler like Caesar Augustus, the longest uninterrupted ruler of Roman in its history at that time. And after Nero, there would be no heirs to the Julio-Claudian family, and again, there would be civil war.6

Suetonius himself was born in the Year of the Four Emperors, a society in which generals and pretenders vied for the Imperial title7 the first civil war since the assassination of Julius Caesar, which we discussed in the very first chapter. As it was with Figaro, poking at the structure of a long lived social cell can cause it to deteriorate. Over and over we’ve looked at conspiracy as an organizing principle, but organizational principles are operative when there is first separateness. The organizing principle of conspiracy theorizing and socio-mythography among individuals coming together is the motivational tendency toward civilization and culture.

        We’ve also looked at cells within social cells, minority cells that can, with enough prodding, can impart agency to individuals within social cells not as cohesive as the individuals would like for it to be, and attempts to consciously hold together a specific sociocultural cell or culture, the more it leads to stagnation. A relationship structure can be socio-hierarchal, as it was in old regime France7, or it can be what the revolutionaries spilled so many tears and blood drops for – a conscious personal-social agreement, in mutual agreement and of like devotion, dedicated to improving the cohesion and strengthening the core of the social cell’s character.

        A social conscience and shared culture is easy to take for granted; all the movie references our friends make , we are able to share in a social moment only because in being saturated by the same pop culture, and as we share meanings we can move onto share meaningful things.

        Social cognition is the necessary condition of a conscious social cell. Discontent with the foundations of an established cell in a time of stagnation is the outgrowth of displacement or reform, that of the rebel cell. During an outgrowth of a potential replacement cell – when a rebel off-shoot obtains majority – we can see how people form into groups and how groups and civilizations tend towards collective villains and heroes, shared favorite songs, which ultimately adds up to a group sharing perspectives, rather than the limitation of inference and suspicion, a motivating principle of shared means and ends would be collective thinking, in which people imagine together.

        The social cell is the end result of the mechanism of cultural exchange involved in the faces of snow clouds, the personalities of a violent sea, and within the American social cell we have our founding myths, as well as Rome, and our heroes. Our heroes have moved from abstractions into more humble forces. To understand an age, look at what’s inside its social cell. In America, the inner walls are filled with books and movies, thrillers and supernatural thrillers, and unique in the American social scale is its welcome addition of those from other social cells to bring a piece of it with them, to enrich the social cell intended to be a place of many cultures, towards the idea of a multi-social cell, in which the individual foundational principles of other cells that mix without malcontent. To get past suspicions, of which conspiracy theory is now the formal disbelief, the inter-social exchange should be encouraged, when a social cell can interact with others and incorporate without absorbing, then the multisocial cell construct becomes possible. 

A multisocial cell is the achievement of a society that can survive the attempts of anti-social opposition from without and rebel cells from within. This is a national stage of social development, as our first tribes were strictly isolated and xenophobic, our most modern social cells run the spectrum of hated, tolerated, supportive in its willingness towards socially acceptable multiculturalism without turning into a Nazi. It’s not about you, Mark.

In the anti-social cell, the tradition is a collected is the collection of traditions the individual social objects reject. But, as a rebel cell can only survive amid opposition, it cannot outlast the multisocial cell; for the cell in rebellion must be in rebellion to survive. And it can sometimes take odd shapes just to fit the times, after all. In the end, we must remember, it’s not about you, Mark. Life is not a science fiction movie. It’s better, but like my old friend always says: Truth is stranger than fiction, but it has pacing problems.

 

5 February 2017

Ithaca, New York

CITATIONS

I. Murley, J. A., Sutton, Sean D. Perspective on Politics in Shakespeare. P. 41

  1. Culbertson, Katherine E. “Elizabeth I: The Most Elusive Bride in History.” Hanover Historical Review.
  2. Ives, Eric William. Faction in Tudor England. No. 6. Historical Association, 1979.
  3. Childs, Jesse. “God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England.”

5 Adams, Simon. “Elizabeth’s Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War that Saved England. English Historical Review 2008; CXXIII (501): 457-458. doi: 10.1093/ehr/cen048

  1. Schama, Simon. A History of England, pt 7. “The Body of the Queen.”
  2. Menzies, James W. “Joseph Campbell and Myth.” In True Myth: C.S. Lewis and Joseph Campbell on the Veracity of Christianity, 88-141.

II

  1. Ward, Stephen J. A. “Patriotism and Global Ethics.” In Global Journalism Ethics, 213-38
  2. Beveridge, Jan. “Giants.” In Children into Swans: Fairy Tales and the Pagan Imagination, 90-102. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14bs0gg.16.
  3. Shengold, Leonard. “The Myth of Demeter and Persephone.” In Haunted by Parents, 65-70.
  4. Farmer, Paul. “Blame, Cause, Etiology, and Accusation.” In AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame, 244-51

III

  1. Oaklander, Mandy. “Here’s Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories.” Time Magazine, 14 August 2015
  2. Ebert, Roger. “JFK Movie Review and Analysis”. 1991 – http://rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-jfk-1991
  3. Harrison, John M. “A Crusade and Its Problems.” The Review of Politics 37, no. 1 (1975): 122-25. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1406147.
  4. Holland, Tom. “Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic”
  5. Kafka, Franz. “The Trial”
  6. military.com “Famous Veterans: Oliver Stone”

7: L, Fletcher Prouty. “JFK: the Cia, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy” (1992)

8: Stone, Oliver, Sklar, Zacharcy. “JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992) p.106

9: Kurosawa, Akira. “Rashomon” 26 December 1951

10: Flavel, John H. “Cognitive Development” 2nd ed. P. 129-44

11: Flavel, John H. Ibid.

IV

I. Meeker, Kimberly. “Politics of the Stage: Theatre and Popular Opinion In Eighteenth-Century Paris” https://www.binghamton.edu/history/resources/journal-of-history/stage-politics.html

  1. Smith, Tim. “Frothy ‘Figaro’ Sets Stage for the French Revolution” SunSentinel, December 1995

3. Nielsen, Wendy C. “Staging” Rousseau’s Republic” Vol. 43, no. 3, pp.268-285

4: Lambe, Patrick J. “Biblical Criticism and Censorship in Ancien Regime France: The Case of Richard Simon.” Harvard theological review, 78(2-2 (1985) pp. 149-177

5: Darnton, Robert. “The forbidden books of pre-Revolutionary France. Month (1991): 1-32

6: “The Living Age” vol. 119, p. 83


Epilogue

1. Schama, Simon. “The Power of Art: Jaques-Louis David”

2. Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin. “The Marriage of Figaro” act V, scene III

3. Sargent, Thomas J. Velde, Francois R. “Macroeconomic Features of the French Revolution.” Journey of Political Economy 103, no. 3 (1995) pp. 474-518.

The Oldest Shitpost in Human History

Turmoil in ancient Egypt? Lol Queen is banging her advisor

The ancient world was a dangerous place, full of marauding bands of thin, hungry people one meal short of eating the first dude to fall asleep. So, in times like these, people have to be careful, and when we think about the past, it’s hard to imagine that people dicked around like we do today, but dick around they did and gloriously at that. 

Our first example is perhaps the world’s oldest example of political satire, pornography and vandalism all in one explicit image carved onto the side of an Egyptian monument. At the time it was carved, there was some instability following the death of the great warrior Pharaoh Amenhotep III and when his sister / step mother took over as King of Egypt, this was a sign that shit was on the slippery slope to hell. 

One of only a few female pharaohs to rule Egypt in her own right, Queen Hatchetsup was married to her brother at a young age like the rest of the royalty of antiquity, because incest was wincest before Christ. But she was not happy in her marriage, and when Amenhotep died she took over and put on the Sacred Beard of authority, proclaimed herself the Female Falcon, and ruled the shit out of Egypt for several decades. 

Not only was she a competent administrator in her own right, but the first images of a visit to sub-Saharan Africa and the first depiction of Elephantitis, the queen of Punt was depicted as a huge bitch in a relief at der Al-ba-ahery; yet Queen Hatchepsut established the first zoo and botanical garden in history, bringing back the seedpods for myrr and all kinds of oils and shit. And how was she rewarded? 

The Shitpost

She was famously in love with her advisor, so much so that underground tunnels between their respective tombs met between one another so, once they died, they could meet and grind bones. The Egyptians believed that, essentially, the next world was just like this one but with air conditioning. While it was not proper for the Queen/King to cavort with commoners, it is worth remembering she had the power of legitimate violence on her side and, though people mocked her at a distance, drawing her with exaggerated, balloons as breasts coupled with a stick-figure whose erect phallus is half his body length, that legend, and experts know it is the Pharaoh because of the head gear; the Airaius, the buzzard and cobra, huge boobies and coupled with a stick figure with a mighty phallus protruding towards Her majesty. Whoever did this was probably put to death for his contribution to the intellectual, shitposting heritage of humankind. 

            Der al-Bahe-ery means ‘united in eternity’, and the graffiti this homie painted showed the two stick figures, the royal highness getting it right in her royal arse sure enough. 

NIKASITMOS WAS HERE AND MOUNTING TIMIONA — get it bro! 

How common is it for a guy to boast of his sexual exploits? Chances are the last five dudes you talked to, of them at least three spoke of wanting to do what the ancient Greek Nikasitmos did to Timiona, only this was found by archeologists working on the Greek island of Astypalaia and it is beleved to be the world’s oldest erotic graffiti, not withstanding the stickfigure fuckery of our previous entry, and this depiction of a pair of dicks dates to the 5th century BC and is accompanied by our Greek dudebro whose sexual conquest shall stand for all time, a 2,500 year old testament to the unchanging, unflinching persistence of testosterone through time. 

This is not unique for Greeks, however, as it seems that wherever they went they had to carve some demeaning shit on whatever they could find. Another traveler was visiting Egypt and, unimpressed by the massive, hulking old ruins of the Pyramids – which were built at a time more distant to Cleopatra than Cleopatra to the premier of Spy Kids in 3D. This Greek asshole made it clear that he was not impressed, writing: 

            “I VISITED AND I DID NOT LIKE ANYTHING EXCEPT THE SARCOPHAGUS!” 

Take that, Egyptians! You cat worshiping fucks!

So, who was this Queen famously portrayed in the world’s oldest graffiti as ‘stick figure pegged against a wall’?

the queen of Egypt, Hatschepsut did not style herself as Queen, but ‘the Female Falcon’, with the falcon being symbolic of the God Osiris. During her reign, her husband and younger brother Amonhotep III was raging boner mad for war and all things human pain and anguish, but from accounts remaining to us Hatschepsut know only unironically wore a beard, a ceremonial bit of dress like the queen’s salary. The Sphinx in egypt, by the way, if the British Museum would return half of its mustache, could be put back together. One half of the Mustache of the Sphinx is in Cairo’s Museum of Antiquities and the British Museum. There is probably enough for a Wikipedia page on the potential items in that gigantic warehouse, and an equally long wikipedia page for all the best shit on earth – that the best british technology could steal at the time.
The crown diamond, a big shiny ass rock to be honest, sparkled so much it gave everyone in the land the respect to the Queen and her impact on tourism. The sphinx’s mustache, alas, was ancient by the time the Female Falcon started fucking her advisor, behind her husband/step-son’s back. And, since he’s training with the military to coup/murder her Maluk Htschpst journeyed to punt, met a woman who had a gross disfurement of elephantitis, and is the first depicition of swole disorder in historical record. The British Museum’s ‘Excised Human Fat” gallery shows how this ailment was thought to make women mad fucking thicc, and so the most attractive of all. In Egyptian art, the queen of punt is so fat her horse is said to have woken up and went to sleep screaming.

Queen in a Maluk’s world.

In her lifetime, The Female Falcon would create the world’s first zoo, or, the world’s first prison if some vegan historians claim. this queen brought back seeds for myrrh, an item so precious a wise man famously gave it to one Jesus H. Christ, who has nothing at all to do with this story, and though the same is true for the old testament, where there is no jesus you simply insert the jesus. Like where there is no opium, you insert the opium and take over Hong Kong. God save the Queen!

Though she ruled as Maluk, a relative to the modern semitic languages of Arabic, “mamaluk” and the hebrew “malekh”, the portrait that emerges from the walls of her mortuary temple is that of a three dimensionn human being, with a love for zoology and animals, fine taste in art as is depicted in a fresco painted during her reign “The Tomb of the Two Pipers”. And this deeply complex woman, whose step-brother became an ex-husband and ran off to tilt at windmills with the army, she ruled Egypt with an iron fist, this woman was a force of nature and among the commoners, what better joke than to paint onto their holy relics and propaganda an image of them being profaned by a stick figure?

The egyptians thought the next world was pretty much just like this one, except there was air conditioning. And the highlight of their life was finishing their transport chamber to the air conditioned next world, where hopefully enough slaves would await them to spare the dearly departed a 9-5 in the afterlife for fuck’s sake.

In the time of Queen of Egypt, the monarch, the king or queen was worshiped. And for the extremely religious people of egypt for a queen to have a side piece raised eyebrows. Or woud, rather, since historians have long known that egyptians shaved every hair on their body. Also they had two names, one only your mother knew and one for the public so someone couldn’t gain power over you by speaking your name. Sensible fucking insurance, and a sensible people; while the queen fucked her boy toi at the world’s first botanical garden, scribes wrote of her conquests and of the construction of Der al-Bahery, the temple of eternity, and there beneath the temple was found a tunnel. This was not known until modern times, and further excavations showed that a tunnel between the tomb of Queen Hatschupsut and her lover, a prominent fuckboi at court and lucky not to have already been murdered by the queen’s military man of a step-brother and husband. But he didn’t coup her when he had the chance, if he wanted the chance, as these monuments were found and the dick drawings came to light, we found a tunnel also at her tomb in the Valley of the Kings, with a K, since she wore a beard without irony and no one among her eunuch staff had the balls to tell her she looked stupid.

The Female Falcon’s memorial, an important symbol for the Pharaoh as they didn’t believe in reincarnation, not per se; but resurrection, that the body would just pass through some mystical barrier and things would be pretty much the same. People are fishing on the nile, selling fish in the markets brings trade, and under the tomb of the queen of egypt is a tunnel, meeting her advisor; and at the center they were buried side by side, connected from her tomb, a mortuary temple monument which described her many deeds and peoples she enslaved, hands she took (in this case, people she murdered; the way to properly count hands in antquity was to cut off everyone’s right hand and then count them.)

So, the crude shitpost with the female falcon, wearing her beard and getting pegged by a commoner at the Temple to Eternity, and the walls are covered in floral art and arabesques of teal, opal and turqoise.

On Family, an Orphan’s Perspective – 31 July 2021

As an orphan I thought that I was lucky inasmuch as I could choose my family, my brothers and sisters, those to whom I could lean against when the winds made me wobble near to falling … in my illness, in my neuroses, my tortured artist skin I have yet to shed and cast off … and I was wrong, as it is no choice but yet an understanding of acceptance that, though you entered the dark chamber of the cocoon blind as the caterpillar, only to remain in that darkness alone, thinking that you might never emerge, only to come out more vibrant than before, taking flight … it is family that keeps you aloft when the wind gives no lift, and the waves give no mercy, they remain when those tidal forces of blind nature and chaotic consequence might threaten to knock you over or erode you to the bone; they remain, to steady you and make sure that, though you may have been worn down, as the rocks by the ages of waves that carve them year by year, family is what you have when you look around and see nothing else, yet you see that they have given you what you need to fly.

appreciation is a poor gift to offer to someone who stands before the tide beside you, or risks the fire to pull you from it — but if that were a motive in the solidity and solidarity necessary, family would be a poor word to describe such a person. Family need not be asked, they insist to be — and what can an orphan boy do but be comforted by the accumulation of such brothers, such sisters who have, through many seasons of monsoon and whirlwinds, hurricanes and williwaws, stand there, as they dare not let you fall?



What remained, though remnants exist, that skin that clasps and holds you in such mold that contorts you into socially recognizable shape — it is the form of the pupae, and we should not weep for the loss of prior forms, as the metamorphoses has given more to those who have transformed, who have grown and learned and seen, more than the blind caterpillar who emerges, once an insect, now with wings.

An imagining of myself as a pair of scissors, charcoal on Pizza Hut Box, 2001; from a short distance meant to be seen as a scissors, up close as a child with legs inward, shutting off the world through this gesture, cutting off the world.

The romantics had it wrong, that the sentimental life was one that rewarded the artist with grist for the potter’s wheel. The grist in this instance is more valuable by far than whatever works of pottery should come from the forge of potter or glazier.

The notion of romanticg suffering is romantic until you suffer, and to seek it out as a means to enlightenment is as rational as skydiving with a passport so you won’t get stuck at customs before they let you into Heaven.
Be all my sins remembered,
From the authentic bastards lot,
legitimate, in original packaging, aged but yet the skin has yet to be shed …
Though it’s time I molt.

Once I thought as an orphan I would have no brothers and sisters. Now I know I can and do have as many as I would like.

I have to hurry off now and find a place to circumcise my daughter on short notice.

The Shame of Franz Kafka – 15 July 2015

Kafka was painfully earnest, in all moods, but never as intensely as in defense of himself. Not his looks, his sense of masculinity, but the defense against his right to existence, and each time one of his stand-ins dies, he’s letting these personalities, so vividly abstracted allegories, become a way of accepting judgment of himself. Kafka wasn’t unsuccessful, not by modern terms. He held a series of jobs in law offices, but was as naturally talented as Schiller and Goethe, and more intensely naked. He exposes himself and allows, beckons the jeering of the crowd, as he does in his final story A Hunger Artist. It is the most kafkaesque thing Kafka ever created.

It is not his most popular story, but in it, a performer fasts for a record number of days, and this is much to the enjoyment of fans. A hunger artist went days without eating, showing their strength. A drop of water daily, not a bit of food, and his features become emaciated and rigid as stone, as a corpse, and it is his greatest thrill for those watching to be entertained by his self-mutilation and starvation. It is an allegory of his fans.

While he wrote this story, Kafka was unable to eat anything without great pain from what eventually killed him, laryngeal tuberculosis. He died 4 days after his hunger artist reveals the truth about his performance, his public performance of his acceptance of death and nothing and the long intensity of silence, he admits that had he only found something to eat, he would have been more admirable. He simply didn’t have an appetite, and was not to be admired. Indeed, he is replaced by an animal, a panther, that is voraciously hungry and full of rigor and vitality. The hunger artist died while a crowd cheered for his dumb replacement, the blood and devouring of flesh over simple, existing without need for approval or admiration, it is, in the face of death, saying, death cannot bring this much pain to me. Take me, you Coward of a god, take me if you dare. He said this to everyone, the judges, his father, though he deeply wanted his approval, or at least his sympathetic understanding. I have no father figure as degrading and imposing as Herman Kafka. No, mine was a Noble man. Herman, sharing a name with Kafka’s abusive father. My father Herman is in no sense the obvlious, insensitive father Franz had to endure, but there are specifics that are uncanny. Kafkaesque.

He is that rarely genuinely gifted writer of great drama amidst a period of utterfluff in Europe (with few exceptions) and he was worthy of recognition, every bit as much as Goethe’s tiresome, Romantic Sorrows of Young Werhter whose titular young Werther, a stand-in for Goethe, (Gerh-deh, is one way to say it) and Werther, (pronounced Ver-tah), a mary sue if you will. He devotes his life to a vain, arbitrary opportunist who hangs on while he devotes himself utterly and flatters the object of romantic obsession. When the relationship turns sour, he simply understood and Goethe, unlike Werther who killed himself over the woman who had spurned him, he grew up; he was accepted, his work was the first true international best-seller, praised by commoners and royalty, even Napoleon, bragging of how many times he read it. Had the conquerors after Napoleon (long dead by the time Kafka was writing) read the works of Kafka, the greatest Czech writer in history, perhaps their romantic notions of war and themselves as great powers and conquerors would have been deflated, showing them as tiresome, arbitrary statues incapable of understanding the suffering of another, seemingly meek man.

There is a nagging need in all writers, I think, to be a type of performer, to hear applause and to read praise, and it is that nagging need of validation that Kafka has for his fathers approval, or just to hear him say, “It’s okay you’re you, that is more common than you would think, and not just with fathers, with anyone worthy of your love, unlike Franz’s. One of the turning points of his life was a rather common one: one night the young Franz cried out for water. His father exploded. He pulled him from his bed in nothing but his night shirt and took him onto the patio and left him there all night in nothing but his night-shirt, alone, afraid, and freezing. After this, he wrote, “I was quite obedient.”

This episode works its way into his work, too, with remarkable emotional poignancy and depth. Over and over in his work are figures of arbitrary power, judges and trials, and the family who decided he should just go off and die in The Metamorphosis — after they see him as perhaps saw himself, a bug, akin to a bedbug, meek and powerless, but always obliging. He had this persistent fear that some great power, under which he was significant to the point of less than mattering, less than being of consequence, but arbitrarily existing in its sphere of influence and authority. Kafka always relented under these figures, in The Judgment when the narrator’s father is sickly, his son is praised and adored as a great caretaker. But upon his recovery, he realizes, he didn’t need his son after all. He commands him to commit suicide, and Kafka, ever obedient, duly obliges.

My relationship with my father has no such moment of arbitrary cruelty, but there is a moment that stands out. Well, a few, and these symbols creep into my fiction over and over. It is a type of reverse allegory, projecting your life in a distorted mirror to tell an essentially, emotionally true story as confession disguised as fiction. I have avoided the moment, as you would’ve seen from reading that last paragraph, because I’m trying to go through a series of moments, to see which one is comparable to that of Herman Kafka leaving Franz on the patio in his nightshirt. There are three candidates for this moment of arbitrary horror, but the following has been the most long lasting and traumatic.

When I was 13, my brother and I would sometimes sneak a cigarette from a pack lying around the house and hang out the back door and smoke during the night, my brother standing lookout while I leaned out of the back door blowing smoke into the wind. If our father got out of bed, my brother would tap twice on the kitchen door and I’d drop the cigarette in a cop of water (we’d been found out by a flickering ember from a tossed cigarette that by chance landed on a bag of trash), slide the door against the sock in place, lock it, and move as quickly back into the bedroom as possible. He just as good as caught us that night, as he was on the threshold of our bedroom (the kitchen and backporch just beyond), and claimed to smell smoke in the air. That night we decided we wouldn’t sneak and smoke out the back door anymore: we would cut a hole in the mesh of our bedroom windows so we’d be able to fling the cigarette and be back in bed before he, with his limp and emphysema, could make it to our room and catch us.

Two days later, after using a boxcutter to cut out the mesh just beyond the raised window – we’d found out it was more than just a mesh screen, as we had thought, as the air came rolling in when we opened the window, quietly as to not wake our sleeping father on the other side of the house. It went well. We both got to smoke in relative peace, finished, dropped it in a bottle of water, and then dumped the water and cigarette into the toilet, flushing it away. We left the window up, hoping the smell of smoke would be out by the time he got up the next morning. We fell asleep with the window up, and in the summer in the South it is often chilly in the morning, or at least cold enough that it wasn’t uncommon to see young boys and girls with jackets on in the morning and tank-tops and t-shirts by the end of the day. I was awake when my father passed the window the first time. I closed my eyes as he passed, doing that “pretend to sleep” face all children must learn, and waited on the sound of the percolator and his breakfast. Shortly after sitting down, he stood, I could hear the chair being slid back ever so slightly against the polished linoleum floor. The feet drew closer – he was at the window, I could sense his presence there in the room, and – strangely, I realized then what I should have the before: the tell-tale window was confessing our crimes for us, as we lay just a few feet away. The sound of his labored walking trailed off toward the living room, ah, I remember sighing with relief. He had gone back to bed. I was tired, and suddenly less anxious, and I closed my eyes to go to sleep. For real. My brother asleep beside me, I got comfortable and closed my eyes.

Just as I relaxed, the covers were pulled from me, and then my father got me by the leg and swinging a leather belt beat me over the back for a couple of minutes until my little brother woke up. He started whipping Kyle while he was still asleep, waking him up to a confusing ogre of a man beating him, and unaware of what crime could bring this about. What had he done, the younger Nobles with the cigarette at the window, to wake to the sound of leather cutting the air and only slowly recognizing the brutality of the blows as they fell upon him? He would develop insomnia and anxiety after that, as did I. It persists, the anxiety and the insomnia. I sometimes imagine closing my eyes and relaxing my guard only for, at that moment, a beast of a man to appear above me just to beat me for my crime.

It’s easy to say this is common, the disciplining of children, but this gave me this almost unconscious fear of allowing myself to be seen exhausted for the very reason that sleep is something I put off, for when I dream I wake to the blows of an elderly man, a good man by all accounts, beating two sleeping children with the strength natural to an army officer. My father was a Private first class and sent to boot camp at Ft. Jackson; he was not unique among army men for their trust in spanking, disciplining, or otherwise intentionally inflicting harm in children for their misdeeds. My father believed in this very passionately, often, but more rare than his father had beaten him. My mother’s father committed suicide on his patio near the bus-stop where my mom and her sister Virgnia (my aunt Jenny) got off the bus to walk the alley-way through the apartments to their trailer behind the mill, where they found him dead, still holding the gun but feebly. My mother has this terrible sort of face whenever she sees a schoolbus, and I think that when she does she remembers walking up those steps to find her father — what had been her father — with a gaping wound in his head and one half-opened eye, peering at her in death. To see a schoolbus and have that sort of Proustian memory of a father’s suicide must, at least, be considered somewhat Kafkaesque in its arbitrary horror.

I am not comparing myself to Kafka as a writer: I have no comparable talent, wit, imagination, or even the pride of Kafka, but I share his sense of unworthiness, shame, and lack of pride; his style of allegorical confessional is a great and cathartic way of excising personal demons (as I have tried to do here) and surviving judgments one might not otherwise survive. Kafka is a monument in world literature, but during his lifetime he struggled to sell his stories, publishing one collection of short stories before his death. The rest? He tore them apart because he was so displeased with them. Now, not all people deeply unsatisfied with their work are secret Kafkas, but statistically speaking, there may be a living Kafka now, so ashamed of his own material he’d never show the world. Perhaps he’s failed to have some books published, or he never really got on with his father. Perhaps forced to live a life of unsteady jobs utterly beneath him. Perhaps, but it is not me.

Kafka is one of humanity’s great cultural heroes, and the Kafkaesque not just a byword for weird; it is the great eye of alienation that one recoils from in all bouts of true, existential crisis, when one finds themselves in an emasculating, alienating, deeply paranoiac, deeply confusing, judgmental world, with eyes and verdicts and pointing fingers in every mirror and window; everywhere a judge waiting to render a verdict on whether or not you deserve to exist. You do; you don’t need your father’s approval (or mother’s, or your friends’) anymore than Kafka did. It is a great tragedy that in his brief life on this Earth very few realized his genius, his talent, and above all, his generosity: he gave the world some of the best stories in centuries, including short stories such as The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and The Hunger Artist and his novels The Trial, Amerika, and The Castle. He is a monument to anyone who ever felt slight in regards to a terrifyingly large and arbitrarily cruel world, for anyone every utterly embarrassed of their writing and deeply unforgiving of their own failures, imagined or not. For that we must be grateful of his many gifts and be sure to take the time to read his work.

“A book must be the ax for the frozen seas within us, ” – Franz Kafka, 3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924 (aged 40).

How to Create Conspiracy (Reason, Rhetoric, and the Art of Persuasion) 16 June 2016

The Language of Argumentative Reasoning &
Rhetoric and the Language of Persuasion 

In the proper use of rhetoric, an early idea or notion in a speech or argument must be resolved by the end. This can be done by returning to, and expanding upon, prior notions in an argument toward the end. This tidies up an argument in a satisfying way. It allows for a finality and closure, allowing the primary thrust of an argument to come full circle. That sense of completion and resolution is intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

When a notion remains unresolved the argument may seem unsatisfying or lacking to an audience or jury. Tying a later notion to an earlier idea allows for an audience to follow your reasoning, evaluate the chain that links each successive point, and decide for themselves if the logic behind thet conjecture is sound. Your job as an orator is to make sure that each successive link follows logically from each point to the next in a manner that is understandable and gradual. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion.

For Aristotle, there were three elements of rhetoric necessary for the practice of persuasion as it relates to argument. As Dr. John R. Edlund describes in his essay Ethos, Logos, Pathos: Three Ways to Persuade:

” Aristotle says that if we believe that a speaker has good sense, good moral character, and goodwill, we are inclined to believe what that speaker says. Today we might add that a speaker should also appear to have the appropriate expertise or authority to speak knowledgeably about the subject matter. Ethos is often the first thing we notice, so it creates the first impression that influences how we perceive the rest. Ethos is an important factor in advertising, both for commercial products and in politics.”

The first element is ethos and is important to consider first, as it must establish the image of credibility of the speaker or writer by creating and maintaining an ethical character; the second is pathos, the appeal to emotion and telling pathological characteristics in the specifics of individual notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, shame and pride; the third is logos, the use of the argument’s own language as the means of persuasion, logic. Only in the fulfillment of each element, Aristotle thought, could rhetoric be considered truly persuasive.

Pathos relies on the amplification feelings known to force someone into a position of choosing honor or shame, into making an amoral decision as opposed to an emotional response. This is important to understand in practicing persuasion, as it relates to creating conspiracy, as appealing to base fears and the sense of pride, by their understanding a unique truth that allows them to rest assured in their own deductive abilities — the best way to convince someone is to give them a way to convince themselves, rely on confirmation bias to run its course, and watch the newly converted. It isn’t always necessary, if the issue hinges on a more morally lax issue; to waste logic on a juror who has built in responses is unnecessary, as logos is not the language of the rhetorical capacity intended for the proud. In such instances, you are dealing with someone for whom proposed or traditional credible sources have failed to persuade them and in response, understandably betrayed, may resort to the persuasion outside of logos, and through ethos they can be more properly persuaded.  Connecting emotionally may help overcome a particularly weak argument, or work to the detriment of an otherwise logically sound narrative.

In the sciences, dispassion and emotional detachment are valued aspects of one’s approach to a proof, in chemistry or physics, for example. But in philosophy and psychology, it is important to show emotional awareness and sensitivity, to make sure someone’s pride is not on the line; to make sure that it does not dishonor or otherwise shame someone to accept a proof, and to err on the side of being humane whenever such questions arise. You will more easily reach someone with a smattering of humanity than with a mountain of intelligence and logic. To insult the intelligence of someone you wish to persuade will do you no favors, and only make a proof that much harder to accept.

On the acceptance of proofs

OF THE SCIENCES PRACTICED BY SCHOLARS AND HISTORIANS, physics is perhaps the most observation based and dependent on empirical data. Proofs in physics without observation data, without an experiment that might replicate the results, or proofs without a means by it may be tested, are considered worse than proofs that are demonstrably wrong. In classical physics, the models and theories were shaped by observation and the tedious collection of data over time. Johannes Kepler published his theory on ellipses in Harmony of the Spheres based on the observation data of another astronomer, the Danish nobleman Tycho Brahe. This would be the first accurate model of the solar system in human history.

In instances where data or observation is impossible, approaches are developed to take probabilities of all possible outcomes into consideration in equations. This is known as the path integral formulation of quantum physics. Classical physics can give definitive answers to questions such as,

If a particle starts at time tA at location A, will it reach location B at time tB? Depending on the particle’s initial velocity and the forces acting on it, the question can be answered. In quantum physics, it’s possible to give the probability that the particle will reach location B at tB. Because of the infinities inherent in probabilities, the sum over histories approach was born, or created rather, to produce valid mathematical proofs.

An invention of American physicist Richard Feynman, path integral is used to calculate quantum mechanical probabilities. To do this, first you consider all the probabilities for the particle traveling from point A to point B. Not just the straight line approach, but all approaches. From the possibility of a particle going through a lethargic stage and making desperate detours to its possibility of going to New York or Rome or Proxima Centauri before going to point B. This seems improbable, sure, but is it improbable that particles will take other paths from point A to point B, and not always straight lines? I don’t think so. After all, between the straight line and the round-about path through New York and Rome there are infinite possibilities. Further, that path may be descriptive but it does not give information about velocities. In short, for the first step, take into account all ways of traveling from A to B, however outlandish they may seem.

The second step is to associate a number with each of these possibilities (not quite the kind of number we’re used to from school, but we will not bother with the difference here). Finally, the numbers associated with all possibilities are added up – some parts of the sum canceling each other, others adding up. (Readers whom this makes think of waves are on the right track – it is an example of an interference phenomenon.) The resulting sum tells us the probability of detecting the particle that started out at A at the location B at the specified time. Physicists call such a sum over all possibilities a path integral or sum over histories.

Calculating such path integrals can be tricky, in particle physics, for example; there, theories are combination of quantum theory and special relativity. Path integrals are an important tool to calculate the probability of particles interacting in a given way. In order to do this, you have to use a time coordinate (t), assigning a time coordinate gives an extra factor (i) – the “imaginary unit”, an algebraic symbol that squares to minus one, i2=1. The resulting pair i·t is sometimes called imaginary time. After a path integral calculation, you reverse the substitution.

This might seem arbitrary and implausible but it has the added benefit of transforming a time coordinate with a special coordinate, which is how it works to give the right answers with Feynman’s approach. An exact proof was found by two mathematicians: Konrad Osterwalder from Switzerland and Robert Schrader from Germany. Their theorem showed that the properties of a quantum theory formulated in the space-time of general relativity can indeed be reconstructed exactly by using Feynman’s recipe on an imaginary-time axis of that same space-time.

Proofs in other areas of academia are not as precise or obvious. Problems in philosophy are never solved to everyone’s satisfaction. Questions on ethics and morality, of good and evil, and anything else in the realm of metaphysics – it is unlikely these questions will ever be satisfactorily defined or proven in a way that would be accepted in the same manner as the above mathematical proof. Whether there is a god or if there is good and evil, these questions have been around as long as questions have been asked.

It is through reason that arguments are settled. And only temporarily then, as they will be asked again. This will be dedicated to the methods of argumentative reasoning more than to advocating for one answer over another. Argumentative reasoning is split into four necessary elements: connection, correlation, conjecture, and conclusion. The connection stage is how you connect your two subjects, showing that the overall idea is based on the logical inferences drawn at each stage when presented with new information. The second step, correlation, is the demonstration of why two subjects are connected. The meaning behind events linking them together, how this reinforces the overarching point, and how it allows for you to present the conjecture that allows for your conclusion.

Conjecture is the part of your case where you argue the evidence. In legal terms, it is the defense’s final summation, or final argument, and it lets them present their inferences, based on the evidence, as part of a reasonable inference from that reference. There is more license in this area, as it is more the story of the evidence than a recapitulation of it. That’s a popular way of refreshing a jury of the main points without going into too much detail, condensing it and making it easier to be pigeonholed in someone’s memory. This is where you tell the story of your own discovery, of how you came to the conclusion you have, and why it precludes any other conclusion.

A conclusion is something that must proceed logically from the conjecture. It allows you to show the stages from the first step of connection and the final step. A conclusion is what everything else is in service to: all of the steps and foundational ideas within the connection and correlation, as surmised in the conjecture. This is your point, the main thrust, and the popular way of doing this in legal terms, again, is in the final summation, or final argument, as well as a way of preempting possible questions and unresolved issues that run contrary to your interpretation of the evidence.

Those are the four main steps in argumentative reasoning as it applies to constructing an academic argument. The point, for me, behind this paper is to demonstrate the methods of constructing and sustaining a conspiracy; the creation of a conspiracy theory follows each one of these four steps very deftly: first the connection, then the correlation, the conjecture, and finally the conclusion. Embedded in the conjecture should be a preemptive answer or deterrent to points important to the proof;

First, anticipate and prepare for detractions. An active deterrent built into the logic of the conjecture will have a longstanding effect on questions as it relates to proof, negating the best attempts at discrediting an argument. Attempts to preempt difficult questions as pertaining to your conclusion are vital points to build into the logic, especially in conspiracy. In case after case, you need to prepare for any and all attempts to pick apart the logic of your argument. ‘The Man’ is disseminating false information; a fundamental establishment as a source of truth is abolished, as that establishment may urge conclusions to the contrary of your own. ‘They’ don’t want the truth to get out. This makes an idea bullet-proof if successful, because it shuts down objections before they can be used and allows you to dictate the flow of the debate. It is of monumental importance in argumentative reasoning to discredit and preempt objections to your arguments. There is much to learn from this type of couched deterrent, one that is prominently built into the logic of conjecture.

In presenting an argument, the first point of business is to rehash and recapitulate the facts as you know a jury to know. Thereby getting them to side with you in the first series of agreements, because it means agreeing, first, with themselves. You need juror empathy, acknowledgement of credible sources, and a shared standard for the measure of truth as it relates to proof. In a legal case, this can be done as a general summation, outlining what you know the jury has seen, detail major points in the abstract – to reinforce important points, points that have empirical proofs, in measurement, for example, or any a demonstrable way.

It is through reason that arguments are settled. And only temporarily then, as they will be asked again. This will be dedicated to the methods of argumentative reasoning more than to advocating for one answer over another. Argumentative reasoning is split into four necessary elements: connection, correlation, conjecture, and conclusion. The connection stage is how you connect your two subjects, showing that the overall idea is based on the logical inferences drawn at each stage when presented with new information. The second step, correlation, is the demonstration of why two subjects are connected. The meaning behind events linking them together, how this reinforces the overarching point, and how it allows for you to present the conjecture that allows for your conclusion.

          Conjecture is the part of your case where you argue the evidence. In legal terms, it is the defense’s final summation, or final argument, and it lets them present their inferences, based on the evidence, as part of a reasonable inference from that reference. There is more license in this area, as it is more the story of the evidence than a recapitulation of it. That’s a popular way of refreshing a jury of the main points without going into too much detail, condensing it and making it easier to be pigeonholed in someone’s memory. This is where you tell the story of your own discovery, of how you came to the conclusion you have, and why it precludes any other conclusion.

          A conclusion is something that must proceed logically from the conjecture. It allows you to show the stages from the first step of connection and the final step. A conclusion is what everything else is in service to: all of the steps and foundational ideas within the connection and correlation, as surmised in the conjecture. This is your point, the main thrust, and the popular way of doing this in legal terms, again, is in the final summation, or final argument, as well as a way of preempting possible questions and unresolved issues that run contrary to your interpretation of the evidence.

          Those are the four main steps in argumentative reasoning as it applies to constructing an academic argument. The point, for me, behind this paper is to demonstrate the methods of constructing and sustaining a conspiracy; the creation of a conspiracy theory follows each one of these four steps very deftly: first the connection, then the correlation, the conjecture, and finally the conclusion. Embedded in the conjecture should be a preemptive answer or deterrent to points important to the proof;

          First, anticipate and prepare for detraction. An active deterrent built into the logic of the conjecture will have a longstanding effect on questions as it relates to proof, negating the best attempts at discrediting an argument. Attempts to preempt difficult questions as pertaining to your conclusion are vital points to build into the logic, especially in conspiracy. In case after case, you need to prepare for any and all attempts to pick apart the logic of your argument. ‘The Man’ is disseminating false information; a fundamental establishment as a source of truth is abolished, as that establishment may urge conclusions to the contrary of your own. ‘They’ don’t want the truth to get out. This makes an idea bullet-proof if successful, because it shuts down objections before they can be used and allows you to dictate the flow of the debate. It is of monumental importance in argumentative reasoning to discredit and preempt objections to your arguments. There is much to learn from this type of couched deterrent, one that is prominently built into the logic of conjecture.

In the language of legal argument 

In the Kennedy assassination, conspiracies began before the body was even back in Washington at Bethesda Medical Hospital. It is a violent, random act; the suggestion that chaos rules over the everyday lives of men and women is a bit much, and replacing chaos with something planned and precise gives us a type of comfort, a type of comfort we’d never have in knowing that anyone, including the most powerful and beloved people on Earth, can lose their lives so publicly and violently. It’s understandable [in the JFK case] to bend toward conspiracy, as most of the American population does. If someone, acting alone, can kill the president, does that not make one uneasy in their own lives, unassured by the safety traditional law enforcement provides? Of course it does. A conspiracy gives meaning where there is none, but where it is badly needed.

          Vincent Bugliosi is a famed lawyer and non-fiction author, best known for his public prosecution of Charles Manson – popularizing the Helter Skelter aspects of those killings – and his true crime novels, Outrage, about the acquittal of OJ Simpson, and Reclaiming History – about the conspiracies surrounding the JFK assassination. In one of his public appearances after the book’s release, he gave a speech at the 5th floor museum in Dallas. At the beginning, he put forth two statements that must be true in order to think intelligently about an issue:

          You must be aware of both sides of a story, first and foremost,

          And you must read, for yourself, any document that other documents purport to discredit.

          His next point was to ask, “How many of you have seen the Oliver Stone film JFK? A lot of hands go up.

          “Now, how many of you have read The Warren Commission?”

          Very few hands remain up.

          “Now, can you think intelligently about an issue without hearing both sides?”

          It’s a very precise demonstration of the built-in biases we all have towards official reports. The Warren Commission is couched in legal language, and can extremely long and exhaustive for the most attentive reader. Such a document is probably not suited for popular entertainment, even an abridged version would leave out too much that is necessary. The Oliver Stone film is exciting and dramatic, full of memorable images and quotes, and it follows the four steps of argumentative reasoning very closely. The first step is the connection and then correlation of events, with a correlation that suits the conjecture and ultimately the conclusion.

          The idea of couching rebuttals and anticipatory in the argument is important for the longevity of an idea. In the vernacular of conspiracy theory, you have surely noticed, there is always some element painted as inherently untrustworthy. Such as official, government reports in conspiracy and scientific instruments of measurement and observation in religion. The success of religion and the propagation of conspiracy are interchangeable, as both provide a human comfort, a comfort that inhuman instruments have traditionally been unable to confer.

          In religious writing, refuting possible objections before they arise is a common practice. It’s something that is conversely practiced in legal argument, the anticipation of objections and their preemptive refutation, and when done properly these anticipatory remarks can do damage to an opponent’s case before they have a chance to argue their interpretation of the evidence in conjecture.

          In reason, there must be reconciliation of irrationalities. In number theory, pi is considered an irrational number because ultimately it doesn’t roll over, instead spiraling on into forever. This has led to a lot of work in number theory, and the intention is to reconcile irrationality. The same is true in rhetoric, whereby the returning to an earlier idea toward the end of a phrase ties it together, rationalizing the statement and giving it a completeness. You see this in literature a lot, often in the form of recurring themes and symbols. Early in a text you may have unresolved elements intentionally left open by an author, which encourages participation on behalf of the reader, allowing them to reconcile open threads of thought ret to be resolved by the author.

 

Literary essay: Shakespeare – Choice & Fate, Fathers & Sons, 15 May 2016

9
On Shakespeare’s Drama,
Choice & Fate, Fathers & Sons

SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS ARE ALL INTRINSICALLY Shakespeare plays; yet with MacBeth, Shakespeare taps into a deeper madness, a madness rarely pulled off with lucidity in literary history. Shakespeare unravels MacBeth in much the same manner as he did with King Lear. Piece by piece the layers shed, layer after layer of human skin.

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At one point he was an honorable man, but is tempted by powers, and what justifies the need or want of power. This is a common reading, but I think the witches intend to be a sort of externalization, a way of seeking validation for the kind of the desires already there. As he rose to power, through each step, he deteriorated morally. The deterioration was such that another theme of internal / external heaven and hell becomes very apparent in the fact that he can’t even enjoy his kingship because of his internal struggle—in this he is much like King Henry IV, unable to enjoy the glory of his usurped throne.

Although Macbeth deteriorates slowly and becomes more and more vicious, his soliloquies, such as the one before murdering Duncan, invoke a sense of pity and awe in the audience simply because of how much he suffers. The great take-away for me is simple: Even monsters suffer. There is great ambition for social heights in MacBeth, but to gain it his morality is more and more cast aside.

MacBeth was once a highly respectable general in Scotland. He even witnesses to some degree the deterioration of his character as he notices his own choice for the social climb over moral goodness. He was respected by the soldiers and even King Duncan while in Scotland; however, this externalization of his greed and desire, the witches, will tempt him with the Throne of Glamis and Cawdor—and propose it will be Banquo, his good friend, soon to be a father of a dynasty of kings, and not he.

MacBeth’s ambition is the heroic flaw, a common theme in theatre,

“My thought, whose murder is yet fantastical, shakes my single state,” he reflects, regarding the prophecy. At first he rejects the idea of murder, shuddering as the witches mention what is to be his fate; he says, “If chance will have me king, chance may crown me, without my stir.”

Again the three witches, an internal peer pressure of sorts, make concentrated his murderous intentions, which he had yet to express. Again it is ambition goaded by temptation that drive him further when Duncan announces his intentions to make Malcom heir to the throne.

MacBeth says,

“That is a step on which I must fall upon, or else o’erleap, for in my way it lies. Stars hide your fires; let not sleep my black desires: the eye that winks at the hand, yet that be which the eye fears, when it is done to see.”

In the end his ambition gets the better of him and his moral deterioration is complete; in the role of a desperate murderer, he doesn’t wish for the light to shine upon what he has done—it is too evil to be seen, and far too much for him to see, to be confronted with the evidence of your crime so graphically, as Claudius was in Hamlet.

The inner conflict that acts inside Macbeth from evil and moral virtue carries on through the entirety of the play and the struggle against the prophecies and temptations become weaker and weaker. The self-fulfilling prophecy is another popular trope in theatre. He reasons after multiple aversions to kill Duncan, showing his complicit choice at each stage, aware of the risks, and then, because of what it took to get there, is unable to enjoy his rule. His slow fall covers a noble man falling from the favor of fortune, through temptation and gradual capitulation to desire, until he is a base creature, in complete service to his indulgences.

Methought I heard a voice cry

“Sleep no more!

Macbeth does murder sleep,”

the innocent sleep,

Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,

The death of each day’s life,

sore labour’s bath,

Balm of hurt minds,

great nature’s second course,

Chief nourisher in life’s feast.

Of many the recurring themes in Macbeth, sleep is focused on intensively. Macbeth thought that sleep made life worth living and thought that by killing the king in his sleep, that he had murdered sleep itself. This, of the many points in Macbeth, is probably the most provocative and widely discussed. He thought it to be soothing, “like a bath after a long day’s work.” In the passage, which is common to modern English’s “Sleep on it” – Macbeth is frustrated and distraught and sees no end to his troubles. Though he has a lot of troubles, he relates this with. “A ravell’d sleeve” – this is the metaphor he uses for having a tangled mesh, or string – or skein – of thread and yarn. Not unlike the tangled yard of the Weird Sisters (something else Shakespeare inherited from Holinshed’s Chronicles.

Before Macbeth murders king Duncan, Banquo says, “A heavy summons lies like lead upon me, and yet I would not sleep: merciful powers.” Something, though as of yet he doesn’t reveal it, is keeping him from sleep. Banquo shows beforehand that he is suspecting that Macbeth may have ulterior motives when Macbeth bids him a “Good repose” – which is the same thing as a good night’s sleep.

In one of the most popular of all the scenes in Macbeth, Macbeth hallucinates seeing a bloody dagger suspended in the air pointing towards King Duncan’s chamber; he thinks it’s appropriate to have the hallucination at that time of night and says, “Now o’er the one half-world, nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse that curtain’d sleep.”

Sleep, as he says, was curtained because many of the noblemen and personages high in the social hierarchy used four post beds and hung up curtains to keep out cold air. Macbeth believed the air of night could see through the curtains and through sleep itself.

“There’s one did laugh in’s sleep, and one cried murder,” – After King Duncan is murdered, he tells his wife this as he leaves the chamber and believed that the people, even though all were asleep, could see the blood on his hands.

****

Tragedy is of two popular forms now in the West. Modern tragedy and Greek tragedy. Greek tragedy is tied to the ideas of fate and the gods, and sometimes regular people too. A hero defies the gods, often due to fatal flaws which is the reason behind their eventual downfall; and English playwriting, in its early years, follows this tradition. In Shakespeare’s plays, tragedy is also identified as a story that ends unhappily due to the flaws of the protagonist, the tragic hero.

Romeo and Juliet – a broadstrokes tragedy – In Shakespeare’s other tragedies, such as Macbeth and Hamlet, although those characters are fated to die, this type of tragedy is different. Romeo and Juliet is a domestic type of tragedy, a tragedy of fate, despite the fact that other characters influence the result of the final tragedy; however only a few people are affected. In most of his work, the microcosm (Hamlet) along with the macrocosm (The fiefdom of Denmark) are affected equally, making the tragedy in microcosm and macrocosm, personal and universal.

Shakespeare tries to break down the rivalry and feud between two families; the Capulets and Montagues Many tragedies are been presented in the play including that of Paris, Mercutio, Tybalt, and Romeo, Juliet, and Lady Montague. These figures all lead to each other, each building up and abetting the next death or tragedy, which could have been caused by rivaling senses of authority, codes of honor, masculinity, rebellion, ambition, and – again, fate.

From the very beginning of the play, fate is constantly referenced, starting with the prologue,

“A pair of star crossed lovers take their life.”

This is Shakespeare working on a different type of tragedy, a tragedy in the face of time and destiny. Romeo and Juliet were meant to die, in that sense, because it was their destiny.  Therefore this is what fate had planned for their lives. So the audience recognizes even further that the tragic death of Romeo and Juliet was something which was definitely happening, something inherent and inevitable. Shakespeare’s job in convincing the audience this was due to fate was easy. As the audience at that point of time would have believed in fate.

Shakespeare tried to showcase the idea that to fulfill destiny and prophecy, you have to believe in destiny. Like prophecies, inasmuch as they are ultimately self-fulfilling, Romeo was shown to believe, saying, “I fear too early for my mind misgives, some consequences yet hanging in the stars shall bitterly begin this fearful date.”

Romeo knew—to that degree of belief, it transcends idea and becomes a physical reality—that his actions were not under his control;

“…He that hath steerage over my course, direct my sail.”

By believing that one’s actions are out of one’s control, one avoids responsibility and, for Romeo to believe this, he tried to defy what was already a self-imposed idea, to go against the tide that swept him to his end was to go against a tide he put in motion.

Fate was used by a number of playwrights, and Shakespeare used it well as a dramatic device, showing what fruit there is in believing one’s life out of one’s hands. Shakespeare was central to the progress of the play and its outcome; an example could be Romeo’s banishment and Paris’s engagement to Juliet. Both a modern and an Elizabethan audience would, despite the knowledge of the plays outcome, be interested in the play, and keep watching, and in a way Shakespeare uses the audience’s knowledge as a dramatic device.

Despite his own ambition, Shakespeare has a madness for condemning it; like MacBeth, Friar Lawrence could be an example of an ambitious person, believing that by marrying the lovers the feud would stop, alleging that the only reason he is marrying the two is to bring an end to the rivalry. Despite how well intentioned this action is, The Friars decision to marry Romeo and Juliet indicates his naiveté more than anything. The Friar is ultimately responsible for the ending. To persuade Juliet to fake her death, he attempts to reverse nature—to heal the wounds of the feud—but only succeeds in making everything worse.

The Friar was a man who did not believe in fate. As such, his decision-making leads to chaos. The unpredictable direction of events help to keep the audience attentive. Shakespeare used these techniques to build tension and make scenes more dramatic.

Youth’s Romantic Rebellion.

Romeo and Juliet both rebel against their families, as most young men and women do. They enhance and exacerbate the rivalry between them by marring one another, rather than taming it. The play presents numerous examples of youthful rebellion. Juliet disobeys her father by refusing to marry Paris, something unheard of in a society where fathers are the ultimate source of patriarchal authority, and authority in all things, moral and spiritual. As both rebel against their parents through their continued association, Juliet not only disobeys her parents, she encourages Romeo to do the same, saying,

“…deny thy father and refuse thy name.”

Things did not end well. For anyone, really.

Cont.

Shakespeare could turn out plays like Romeo and Juliet in his sleep. In Hamlet and perhaps more so in MacBeth, however, he pushes himself higher and higher. In Hamlet by bringing the drama closer to the personal and neglecting archetypal tragedy; Hamlet, the character, is proof of this, as his mental anguish is the subject of the entire play. Perhaps it was due to the death of his own son Hamnet, that Shakespeare’s interest would become deconstructing the relationships between fathers and sons.

After his son was carried away by the plague, we have the character Hamlet, a consonant shy of having the same name of his deceased son, looking into a mirror, contemplating suicide. ‘To be or not to be,’ is just a fancy way of asking, ‘Should I kill myself or what?’ That’s the question. It’s the same question Camus pursued in his philosophy of the absurd, in works such as The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus; and Camus stated,

‘There is one principle issue in philosophy, and that is suicide.’

Shakespeare’s own anguish and regret seeps into his characters, who, even when seemingly on top of the world – as Shakespeare had been himself, showing up to a coronation decked out in red velvet – find ways to bemoan the everyday life of the depressive:

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

The way to dusty death

Out! Out, brief candle!

Life is but a walking shadow,

A poor player that struts and frets

His hour upon the stage

And is heard no more.

It is a tale told by an idiot,

Full of sound and fury –

Signifying nothing.

Shakespeare’s characters are all saddled by one form of loss or another in this period, and they deal with grief in different ways. His later work is a dissection of grief. Hamlet’s deliberation on his life, Macbeth’s lethargy and disdain for the noise and futility of the mundane, day to day, what is real and lasting, and what is ephemeral, just a passing storm, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Shakespeare’s guilt over his son’s passing seeps into his greatest play, King Lear, as the King mistreats his one honest daughter while at the same time giving lavishly to his other daughters, who are sycophantic and gratifying, incurring his good favor by building up his self-esteem, so when it’s time to parcel out the kingdom, Cordelia doesn’t get as much as those other assholes.

It’s hard to pin Shakespeare down and say with definitiveness what he believed, or wherewith he is speaking in his own voice, as himself. He used the past as a prism through which to enlarge the issues of the present, such as the problems with the monarchy and the many religious schisms of his age. But in his later works, the character of Hamlet is in keeping with more reflective, pensive melancholy – about the loss of his father – and his ghost is who tips him on to what Claudius has done; MacBeth might be a reflection of Shakespeare’s own transformation. From the highest of the playwrights in England to a grieving father; he had money and fame at a time when it meant less than it should have.

At the time King Lear was written, Shakespeare was English playwriting. Kip Marlowe, Robert Greene, and Thomas Kyd, his detractors and contemporaries did well, but fell out of favor, gradually. Kip Marlowe has retained a popularity that the former did not, but even his doesn’t rival that of Shakespeare, the Bard, inventor of words like puke and queasy. That’s a legacy.

When one considers the popularity of Hamlet’s conversation with the mirror and his thoughts of suicide, it’s easy to see one’s self before that same mirror thinking the same thing: what have I to lose by losing everything? Will it mitigate my loss? Will destruction save me from the torments of my conscience? These are natural questions to ask, to wonder if there is providence, and to wonder if we can actually defy fate on any meaningful level. If there be providence in this world, must this be the greatest lack of mercy? This denial of consolation the grave offers us all? No grace, no word of condolences from that undiscovered country. To ask these questions during a time of religious upheaval were questions in need of asking. It is no consolation that the dead stay silent, and grace is a spectre over our noblest endeavors.

The dead may silent, sure, but they may find their voice again; if the proper necromancer restored these spirits to our world, to live out their days in one folio or painting or another, this preserves the voice of voices we can’t hear and is unless by a proper necromancer restored to live forever in the folio or painting of a fine dramatist or artist. This is among the finer qualities of art—the preservation of what we are as individuals struggling with self-definition. Shakespeare was one of the first writers to give the English a hint at what that definition could be.

A Critique of Criticism, 12 May 2016

A look at the varying methods of literary criticism

In popular criticism, a critic may give a paragraph or so his attention as an initial reaction, to get the reader to see his perspective and set the tone, jot down something in the night to summarize it all, and post a review online sometime the next day. That’s the extent of the responsibility: check off some minor beats you expected to find along the story, correlate them with something you may have seen somewhere else, write derivative in your 6×9 yellow pad and underline it.

          In order to be objective, a critic will look at it from other points of view, get some contrary statements to cover the populist angle, and, noting how bad the dialogue was, how the action was tame and the ending uninspired. And the film/novel gets a score out of 5 or 4, or a thumbs up or two, and that’s it.

This was not always the approach to critiquing literature or art. Literary criticism, then, would be indistinguishable from what we today call literary analysis. It is the intentional probing of a manuscript, beckoning, Speak to me, ye words! And when they don’t, it’s not uncommon to feel left out of the joke. Many students have finished a copy of The Great Gatsby or The Fountainhead and thought, did I just not get it?

Lots of students feel that way about certain books they’ve been told are important for so long that, when they finally finish the story, there’s just something not there that you thought would be, something to justify the reputation of the novel. Literary criticism was born out of this idea, this idea to understand how stories were best told and structured, and how to explain popular curriculum books in a way that would best resonate with individual readers.

Literary criticism as literary analysis/exegesis made it to the popular conscience around the height of Athenian culture, where each year a tragedy contest would be held, accepting works from some of the biggest names in theatre history – Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes – who brought about a certain need in the public sphere to understand their entertainment, as a way to more wholly enjoy the performance, by identifying with the hero or heroine.

Tragedies submitted by Sophocles and Aeschylus would be judged against each other, with the critics weighing the pros and cons of such works as Antigone (the greatest of Sophocles’ plays) and The Libation Bearers, masterwork of the poet Aeschylus. This is the opposite of the original intention of critics; as they were more likely to be expounding upon the virtues of Epicurus or Aristotle, bringing their ideas to wider audience by condensing them and packaging them as beauty.

Though the popular appeal of condensed, Cliff Notes version of the Gospels, it worked in a much different way: instead of simplifying the idea, they simplified the presentation of ideas quite complex, especially for a young child, and through paintings on vases, the frescoes, and even the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, communicated the ideas behind the faith, ideas of mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.

This was a type of criticism, where a critic is used in the sense of someone who was there to appreciate art and communicate its most important ideas to a broader audience.

We have many in the theologian tradition to thank for modern textual and literary criticism; and the works of Martin Luther and Thomas Hobbes are a valuable contribution to the academic community. These include Vladimir Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature and Proust Was a Neuroscientist. While each of those books detailed by Nabokov don’t tell traditional stories of their own, or the stories they told themselves, they nevertheless draw our attention to some of the more sublime moments in literature and art, something a sometimes impatient mind may miss. These works are valuable for popularizing the notion that the studiousness of academia can be a worthwhile pursuit. To somehow prune new insights from the texts of Seneca and Chuang Tzu is a magic of its own.

The critics of the other type began as spectators in the Roman playhouses, noting the flaws of the heroes, often missing the point, while condemning Epicurus for his supposed debauchery in his philosophical exploration of human happiness.

This search for patterns, and for meaning, in thematic or philosophical language, the language used throughout the text serves to reinforce an important bit of subtext, or act as the harbinger of something to come. In music this is called a leit-motif, a pattern that repeats in different places to emphasis different, but similar structures and characters. As there must be experts, there must be experts to certify experts as experts, and so grew the community of theatre critics towards the end of the 19th century. In popular culture it leaned more toward the thumbs up/thumbs down or 3 out of 4 stars type reviews. These reviews are reminiscent of our schooldays of recapitulation, a tenuous rundown of the events, followed by comparing and contrasting positive and negative aspects of a film or novel. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this approach, and for those who use this method of criticism, I’m not here to critique.

The critique of studiousness often leaves out the critique built into the experience, and it is often more natural to let the cards fall as they might, as long as you’re right; or even let it unravel. The lesson is that you are criticizing something as it is against the standard of what it would be if somehow made perfect. To Epicurus, this was a recipe for sadness. Instead, the critique of romanticism puts the pieces of a story together by attempting to put the romantic hero back together.

The sentimental critic doesn’t necessarily look to judge the quality of a work, but more or less put it into a context that allows students and other academics to look at an old work in a new way, a way that allows us to connect the struggles of the characters with those of the modern world, like us, and use the lessons learned to improve our performance in our own world, towards prestige or financial success.

The question of quality commercial commentary is predicated upon the wisdom of a select few being sufficient to guide a great many to what makes the work under analysis transform into a malleable, transmutable metal in hands of a great metallurgist. The classical approach to literature and storytelling instruction has been through the demonstration of good literature by our teachers and professors throughout our life; we have been trained, through so many courses, to look for meaning, and to connect one idea to another, and hope to not be worse than wrong – which is to simply be uninteresting.

Many social and literary critics remain outside of the world of publishing, neglecting personal projects, such as fiction or non-fiction, as the academic discipline of analysis and comparative philology, which teaches you how recognize the structure of languages and their development and morphology, puts you in a perpetual comparative mood, even when looking at the organic, biological development of stories, how they’re put together, and how important themes are stressed again and again. The point behind literary criticism is not to tear a work to pieces, not for destruction, but for putting it back together.

When I was studying as a linguist, we often read books in their original language, then a prominent translation, and finally we’d go in for finals honors to try a more fitting translation of a given work, Tolstoy more often than not. When you work within the medium of teaching English composition, you begin to see a machinery at work, one that you can’t believe you’ve never see before.  As you begin to recognize the obvious cynicism behind the construction of what was supposed to be spontaneous, you can take solace in the fact that all stories, conscious or not, set out to reach you on an emotional level, to try to teach you something in the best of times, and to admonish and condemn in the worst. But once you see the skeleton and the scaffold, you know how a narrative is likely to unfold, looking at it as another in a series, as Sherlock Holmes said,

“If you know how the past 1,000 crimes were committed, it stands to reason you wouldn’t have a pretty good idea of what happened on the occasion of the 1,001st.”

The comparison may not seem readily obvious, but when you consider that all literature and art are, essentially, mysteries, all of them, even Jane Eyre. The mystery of art is not how the story ends or how a finished painting looks, but what the mystery there is in the shared imagination of mutual completion and appreciation. The mystery of literature is not how the unlikely hero manages to save the world in the end, but what such stories unintentionally reveal about their creators, like a real life Picture of Dorian Gray.

Though the mysteries of art are endless, the most striking is the almost instinctive human capacity to communicate through expression, through words and poetry, for sensual art and language.

It doesn’t manner what form of criticism you pick, it’s easy to point out the shortcomings of a truly disappointing story, but it is equally important to appreciate with the same fervor a relativity minor work by a relatively unknown author, an author who gets everything right. It’s hard to pinpoint anything in particular that makes Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther so charming. And being a part of Goethe’s early romanticism, it’s hard to look at it critically, to peel back the onions so to speak, and finds Goethe’s own great disappointment with romanticism.

While in the modern romantic age, it’s not too difficult to find yourself agonizing over the decisions made by writers, opting for the romantic. And though it is easy to spot the unremarkable in film and television, a lot of young students grow up thinking they failed somehow, when they didn’t fully understand an assigned book.

The horror of this realization is that, while many people can recognize the obvious problems in a bad film or TV series, far less know when a book is bad or good; a book requires a lot more dedication and belief in the author.

In the final analysis, art and literature remain interesting and sacred because of the natural sort of voodoo they offer up to us; the mystery of our own needs and feelings, and our need to have resolution and closure; to try to get to know these characters in fiction and grow up with them is to risk as much as having any friend, and they share so much of our imagination that they become another voice in us, participating in our inner lives. We can see glimmers of ourselves in the oldest stories of gods and monsters.

More importantly, presenting a reader with a character not much different from them, and make them relatable so it allows us to identify with the character, activating our mirror neurons as we see ourselves in them, our failures and struggles are also tied to them.

Why Art Matters, 10 May 2016

This brief essay is a response to a question I get a lot, most often from young men and women just starting college, but a question I feel is worth dedicating some time to: 

Why does art matter?

Think for a moment about the world around you. Your immediate surroundings. A chair, a monitor, a bookshelf, desk and a settee. But because of artists, like those who line our bookshelves, each dusty volume is a portal into the world of the author. And their unique magic takes us back to their time and lets us look at the world through their perspective, through their eyes, the portal being that of the entering of another mind. As the character’s enter John Malkovich’s head in Being John Malkovich 
I want you to think for a moment about the world around you. The immediate world; the world of bookshelves and desks and an old fireplace, and an old stolen Hotei Buddha by the grating. And on the manlepiece, a hundred or more books, each in some branch of philosophy more dull than the last, lot’s of ‘ologys’ – phenomenology, ontology, gynecology.

Think for a moment: how much of what you know to be true about the world is largely in part to dedicated to historians and their information hoping to communicate the complex ideas of history through the formal language of bookkeeping. But the preservation of a culture through numbers will never give the humanity to the past necessary for us to empathize. The preservation of culture and the communication of ideas are noble goals, and both should be encouraged. But there is a different side to art — therapeutic, fulfilling, and has the effect of refining us.

The preservation of a culture is one of the most noble, if unintentional aspects of art; forever framing a quaint scene, say a flower underneath a thunderstorm alone in a field of long dead flowers; something that might otherwise be unnoticed by someone in too much of a hurry to appreciate the, celebrating in the simple, day to day occurrences which, when stripped of routine, spring back to life with a unique, infectious youthful abandon. Think also, how little the world would know of the world if not for the preservation of ancient documents, the Bayeux Tapestry, the holy books of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. All of these messages were thoroughly communicated through art long before the art of the spoken-word sermon became popular in post-Reformation society, beginning, perhaps, in the Dutch Republic, where artists such as Rembrandt and

Think for a moment how little we  know about the beliefs and histories of foreign cultures without the spread of art, through the Celebration of the Dionysia to the works of Sophacles, Euripides, and Aeschylus Without artists, we’d have little knowledge about the rest of the world and the cultures of which it is comprised. The world our own eyes would never (or could never) find in our own lives. It gives us new perspective, and not only that – but new eyes, the eyes of the artist, with which we view the totality of the world and vastness of impulses and feelings that comprise what academics and philosophers call the human condition.

We get firsthand accounts of experiences otherwise out of range of our daily lives. We may now look at a sky in 19th century Amsterdam with the same tumultuous passion as Vincent van Gogh, seeing it pulse and breathe and come alive with natural magic.

starry_night_over_the_rhone

We can live vicariously through following of great heroes of legend and myth. We can experience the mystical and transcendental in the reading of Buddhist Sutras and looking at the art, learn from the preserved cultural wisdom in The Dhammapada and other Eastern Philosophers, such as Laozi, Confucius, Chuang Tsu, and new perspectives and experiences give rise to new understanding, and understanding, with time, becomes wisdom.

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Very little in our life can provide the same emotional consolation and intellectual stimulation provided by art. We can experience the far off vistas of ancient Arabia through the Arabian Nights, and follow the adventures of the great hero Sinbad. We can learn about the political climate of ancient Greece through the writing of Plato and Aristotle, which gives us a healthy historical breadth of view in our consideration of the modern world. We can use Proust’s eyes to look at the political and emotional upheavals in France in the early 20th century through his great work In Search of Lost Time. We can look at the intellectual climate of late 19th century Russia through the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Turgenev.

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We can also cast off the shackles of realism by taking ourselves off to worlds of absolute fantasy, such as in the works of Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. We can still bring back valuable lessons from works of high fantasy, lessons just as valid in our own world and daily lives, the kind of lessons we absorb as children when we might otherwise be unaware of their intentional instruction. We learn best when we’re unaware someone is intended to instruct us, as we are naturally hesitant to cooperate with someone we know to be attempting to teach us.

The_Olivetan_Master_Monks_Singin_the_Office

Art is valuable in traditional religion in the West as well. Our view of the Christian faith is highly reliant on works of art, the artwork of the Renaissance for example, which served to communicate complex ideas in a way that might not be readily obvious. During the Protestant Reformation in England, the great religious paintings were being whitewashed, dismissed as vulgar and profane.

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The argument offered by the Protestants was that all a Christian needed was the Word, the Gospel Truth in black and white. And yet for the millions who couldn’t read, in Catholic Rome for example, the mysteries of the Gospel and some of the more complex ideas about mercy and consolation were just as effectively communicated through the paintings of Caravaggio and architecture of Bernini as they were through the printed King James Bible. There is consolation and catharsis in art, with each painting and novel being unique guides toward our moral and intellectual education.

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Art serves us in many capacities, but perhaps most importantly is its capacity to allow us to use new and interesting ways to examine the human condition in all its forms, through all of time, and through science fiction into the future. It lets us become more complete people by understanding the nature of other peoples and their traditions more completely. An artist’s education is never over, as one always seeks to attain ever greater glimpses of larger truths only apparent when looked at from afar.

Outside of its moral and intellectual capacity, art also serves as a means of preservation. We may have lost crucial information about history, as well as our biological and cultural heritage, if not for the intense work of preservation artists work to deliver to posterity. It is the basis of what the French author Gustave Flaubert called a sentimental education.

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It refines us by demonstrating our own coarseness, it scandalizes us in a way that teaches us about our own ethical and moral compass, and it lets us begin to appreciate the most noble of philosophical goals: to know who we are and what made us that way. Art and philosophy go a long way towards answering the former question, and gives us the tools necessary for answering the latter.

From The November Letters: Academia, philosophy, and subjectivity

1

Philosophy & academia

Despite my education or what my writing may suggest, I am not a philosopher. I have more in common with the prolific serial writers of Astounding Fiction! than I do with a traditional philosophers like Immanuel Kant or Rene Descartes. I feel that I must point this out, as there is, I think, a difference between a philosopher and a scholar, and a modern academic.

A philosopher is someone who, historically, works outside of science, traditionally – though science has been extended to include topics more at home in metaphysics – and treats subjects that are, in their time, unanswerable through measurement or devices that could give them data. In the absence of empirical evidence to suggest one thing or another, the realm of philosophy approaches such problems from varying schools of thought and disciplines.

In the west, Classical philosophy goes back to Plato in the his accounts of the trial of Socrates’ in The Apology, The Republic, a historical treatise, and later Aristotle would become the most prolific, if most problematic, contributor to academia. We have Aristotle to thank for the prevalent assumption that there are 5 senses (Taste, touch, hearing, vision, smell) is common sense, or thought of as such, when sense is rarely common and what is sensible is rarely common. Most people have a sense of time, a sense of balance, and a recently discovered genetic trait that endows us with the awareness of knowing when we’re being watched. A sense of shame, some of us. Pride, paranoia, power, seeing dead people (who don’t know they’re dead).

But Aristotle’s practicality and rigidity was necessary for the split between moral absolutists and later moral relativists. There was another popular field of study for Greek philosophers, however, and the wisdom of Archimedes’ On Sphere Building, and the propositions of Euclid, which includes the working model for geometry as we know it. There were more materialists like Democritus and Eratosthenes, pragmatic application philosophers; Rene Descartes, for example, invented a system of coordinates (Cartesian coordinates) that are still used in city planning. These are natural philosophers, academics whose insights into one field bring about the creation of others. Such as Michael Faraday, an uneducated visionary and Charles Darwin, a pigeon breeder and naturalist whose studies ab the HMS Beagle, would lead him to publish On the Origin of Species, in 1859, introducing the world to evolution through natural selection,

Isaac Newton, professor of mathematics and Cambridge, creates calculus (which he called fluxions, and it has been contested that contemporary mathematician Leibniz – himself a philosopher – may have publications predating Newton’s publication of Principia Mathematica. The foundation of his laws of motion, F=ma, the outline of the theory of gravitation – many of these proposals would not be corrected until Einstein’s general theory of relativity redefined gravitation and extended it to include the behavior of time.

1 What is a philosopher?

A philosopher in science is someone who, let’s use the ancient Greek mathematician Eratosthenes as an example, applies one skill set to solve a problem in another field. Such as the circumference of the Earth, which Eratosthenes measured by calculating the time it took shadows to move from one spot to another, and finally how long it took to go from overhead a designation shadow-caster (an obelisk) and return to be right overhead again. By using math and calculation, the size of the Earth was correctly (within reasonable approximation) derived by the observation of shadows and sticks.

Another example of this is the solving of the riddle behind the make-up and consistency of Saturn’s rings by preeminently gifted mathematician and father of electromagnetism, James Clerk Maxwell. His publications on the electromagnetic spectrum were the final word on the behavior of light in the 19th century, and would not be severely called into question until the development of quantum mechanics, which itself was resolved by Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, whose publication The Strange Theory of Light and Matter is the final word – for now. These are practical philosophers. A practical philosopher is someone who is presented with a problem that is novel and uses their intuition and training to come up with new ways to solve problems, such as the volume of a curve – which Newton’s system could accurately calculate. These philosophers are the driving force behind the development of new technology and work in fields of application, where a hypothesis, such as one in chemistry about the combination of two elements, can be proposed in the morning and, by measurement, proved correct or incorrect by lunch.

Poetics and practical philosophy

The other philosophy is the philosophy Aristotle called Poetics. Poetics is the philosophy of the armchair, philosophy that evaluates moral or metaphysical issues not subject to measurement, such as the nature of good & evil – though science has looked into the inheritance of certain characteristics common to the amygdala of criminals convicted of murder: a smaller and less attune antennae that doesn’t pick up on limits imposed by fear and rationality, but the nature of evil and how it may be dealt with is not something a natural philosopher can propose an equation to test. The poetic philosopher is more of a teacher of different disciplines and a student of classicists and the subjects of interest in their work: Socrates’ skepticism, for example, is an assault on the assumption of academia’s inherent rightness by association – with institution, school, or clan.

It is a serious question and a pressing one: what lends credibility to one person’s ideas and beliefs and what leads to the dismissal of a person’s evaluation of facts? I guess we all like to think, that somewhere in our stomach, or in somebody’s stomach, there is a right answer, dammit. If the competing ideas are those of two people, people of equal standing and repute, how is the conflict resolved?

Subjectivity in empiricism

Well, consider the following conflict and how revealing it is: you wake up in the middle of the night, let’s say it’s in November – as it is now – and you’re cold. You decide to get out of bed to turn up the thermostat in the living room. But when you get there, you find a friend or loved one at the dials. They’re burning up, sweat beading off their forehead; it’s too hot and they can’t get to sleep, so they’ve decided to turn on the air condition. The thermometer reads the same for both observers: 60 degrees.

There are different ways to approach this problem. Do you let your friend get some relief from the air condition for a while, make yourself some cocoa and get another blanket, or do you insist that it is cold, refuse to turn the heat down, and hold out for an expert’s opinion? The temperature is 600 degrees. Both sides agree. And yet, the problem remains.

Now enlarge the issue, put it in the hands of the public, and leave it up for the news to relate this to the public, the court of public opinion, with one media outlet playing prosecution and the other defense: one source sides with the cold woman, insisting that warmth is important and going to sleep cold can lead to cough and a runny nose. The competitor surveys an anonymous group of an undisclosed number of survey participants and claim that 84% of all news stories involving percentages are pulled from their collective assholes to push a story, and 76% of News A readers believe it is more dangerous to be too hot than to be too cold, because dehydration can lead to hallucinations and delusions, even stroke and death. The reports take shape and independent outlets take sides. Newspapers and websites run special editorials on the importance of warmth and cool air, as opinion pieces on why being hot is good for burning calories and Dr. Oz endorses freezing as an excellent way of strengthening your immune system. The token religion authority piece calls into question the measurement and suggests that it’s flawed.

So, when each source of information exists solely to reinforce one point of view or the other, when both are objectively true to each independent evaluator, but also when both are subjectively incorrect in their describing of the weather as applicable to what is felt by someone else. The point isn’t to convince someone that cold is really hot or hot is cold. How do you decide what is in need of being decided, if anything? You start with humanizing the individuals, stressing individual pressures and stresses unique to them, their fear and desire – all very real, all very unrelated to getting objective truth on something that is, by its very nature, inexplicable of dual definitions, or consensus definition. You give them faults, you tear their character apart, and you do it without facts – but with questions: the best way to manufacture news is to use a declarative sentence and add a question mark, disguising the subtle lie with the trappings of inquiry:

Allegations heating up! Could drug withdrawals be to blame for Cold Woman’s inexplicable coldness?

Could meth use explain explicable midnight suffering?

Blam! They’re no longer people experiencing normal human emotions; they’re talking points to be pulled from the shelf from time to time to make a point, only to be put away. Not only have they lost human dimension, but makes them abstract pieces in a question that has become about something else. Whether the thermometer is accurate, what led to one person being hot or the other being cold, and all this noise becomes a convoluted, incestuous echo chamber, and what is invariably lost in the details are the people most affected by it. One person is hot. One person is cold. And they’re waiting on a population of disaffected, disillusioned apostates of academia to settle the point of it all. To those not hot nor cold, the best thing to do is decide what will benefit them the most, in earning their professional opinion. Now imagine this conflict is something more serious, something involving, say, hydrogen bombs, and instead of two people waiting on the Parakeet Jury’s verdict, and there are millions – to be told whether it is hot or cold, a sensation they cannot feel, one way or the other, and, if they could, would not be solved by consensus.

The reason for this, and yes, dammit, there is one, is to establish that this line of thinking, of unresolved / ultimate subjectivity, in which a response can’t be simultaneously correct, is meant to establish a concept in fiction, and is best described as the lack of resolution in defining based on subjectivity and alternative perspectives, which extends to the largest elements of a story to the smallest, and could be called the unresolved discontinuity – a resolved clause without a resolved thread from competing beliefs that can be boiled down to multiple perspectives of debating whether 60 degrees is hot or cold.

The presumption of expertise

Experts are similarly arbitrary, despite the hypnotism of pomp and gravitas, and are commonly those of repute and influence, demonstrating understanding and the recognition of practical application in a given field: someone who has demonstrated their understanding and survived the pressure of peer-review, the sorting hat for new writers that separates the fuckin’ wheat from the chaff, I’ll tell you that shit right now. So, after the peer review process, once they have the esteem of a university or publication, how do we accept such an argument without skepticism, if all ideas are made great only by their bearing the brunt of the most vicious application of Occam’s Razor. We look to the foundation of what makes a structure reasonable by degree, putting the structure into a tangible format you can see how the skepticism of legitimate expertise drives an industry of opinion professionals.

The presumption of expertise often comes with the backing of a prestigious organization or academic community. For each expert’s idea or philosophy, the wise response to something that requires reason and evidence is the rigorous application of skepticism, as the questioning of the obviously false is the beginning of a life-long self-education, which gives the newly minted scholar keys to the pragmatic process of tearing down the proposed theory from the bottom up, starting at the assumptions that underlie the actual postulation. To test the strength of an idea, you test its foundation, the principles behind the methodology used to arrive with such a hypothesis, as was the case with Darwin, for example, and later Watson and Crick, all with theories with the evidence presumed to be discoverable in nature (which have been).

          Skepticism is the crucible through which all ideas and theories are submitted to, and earlier attempts at a natural explanation for the diversity of animals on Earth had been shredded to piece by the dispassionate teeth of doubt an inquiry. And anyone confident enough in their proposal to submit to skepticism and inquiry participates on the perpetual renewal of knowledge in academia. If an idea doesn’t seem like it works, scrutinize it to the greatest extent necessary, and try not to impose or otherwise import an unrelated understanding and apply it to a novel problem. Don’t let the presumption of title or prestige ever shortcut your natural inclination to evaluate passionately, nor let someone shortcircuit your critical faculties by attempts to annul attempted criticisms, such as an idea’s built in defenses against claims against it.

          The application of practical philosophy is observation, deduction, commonality or abundance of supporting themes, prediction and the ability to explain, before their discovery, how such discoveries will be measured – such as the completion of the Periodic Table before all of the elements that are now firmly nestled into it were even found (or, as in some instances, artificially created), and intermediate forms between species of animal – such as the closest living relative to the blue whale – have been proposed and subsequently found.

Scholarship and philosophy

A scholar, of literature or history, can be as rhetorically gifted and thoughtful as a philosopher, and just as instructive; but, more than anything, an academic is the messenger, the intermediate between an artist or a subject of study and the student. A natural philosopher in the literary tradition looks at common elements of human nature as represented in fiction (or nonfiction) and acts as an intermediate, much in the same way, a voice of some authority turning the commentary into a peripheral, an adjunct to communal learning in popular culture. It is not right by consensus, as truth is not measured by popular appeal but, ultimately, by historical favor: the community of opinion will, as the event gets closer and closer to falling over the edge of living memory, at its least vibrant and potent in our mind, , at least in the public arena, is the judgment of history.

Popular literary criticism and interpretation

And history has given us unique and, well, perplexing interpretations of the art and culture that has shaped human civilization. The thing about history, you see, consensus is hard to come by; as much for modern political issues as it has been forever, because humans have the stubborn capacity of trusting in the benevolence of those of learning who may stand to profit by misleading them.

What kind of influence a persuasive philosopher may have over the discovery, that’s only half the battle: the connection between relevance and meaning in a work of fiction is as dependent upon the reader as the writer, as that is what makes literary criticism the non-exact science it is. As individuals we decide what a work of art means. As a culture we develop an interpretation and the rest of the details emerge gradually.

There are very clever and astute people out there; people who understand subtlety, subtext, and thematic elements. You know the type, stuffy and pretentious academics who sniff their own socks when no one’s looking. Ahem. In my studies of writers and writing, I’ve noticed one thing that writers hate more than anything—with the possible exception of outright plagiarism—and that is popular,  enduring misinterpretation.

Pareidolia is a phenomena defined by the failure of a person’s natural capacity for pattern recognition. Pareidolia is a type of apophenia—as we begin to see patterns and meaning in randomness; perhaps project would be a better way to describe how we can find a face on Mars—this is how pareidolia happens: constellations, the imagined forms we use to connect the stars and form from those connections recognizable human shapes and patterns. Every constellation we see is apophenia. It’s fun to come up with theories and meaning to enrich our favorite stories and usually no one gets hurt. Let me give you an innocent example, an example which appeals to the mid-90’s child we all are. Ahem.

It is a popular theory among the gamers of my generation that The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is about the five stages of grief. It could be an example of pareidolia, yet it’s understandable. It’s an interesting look at the storytelling techniques of a uniquely modern medium. It’s harmless and has no social ramifications. But sometimes, when a full moon is out, misinterpretation can lead to terrible, terrible things indeed.

Submitted for your approval, exhibit A: The popular Beatles song Helter Skelter upon release had no definitive or band confirmed meaning and therefore what it meant was largely dependent on what we brought to it as listeners; the final verdict being the decision made by the beholder, by the interpreter. That’s one of the greater qualities of music; as it is, more-so than many forms of art, an intentionally subjective consideration. For people who are not cult leaders on LSD who think they’re Jesus, like Charles Manson, it doesn’t prophesize a coming race war. Yet that interpretation culminated in the Tate-LaBianca murders in California, August of ’69.

Exhibit B: The Catcher in the Rye is a famous coming of age novel by J.D. Salinger. The tale, told in the first person, is recounted by an angry, unreliable narrator named Holden Caulfield. He goes to bars, talks to hookers, and rants about posers. For reasons unknown, there have been many murders and crimes related to The Catcher in the Rye—so much so that the bewilderment surrounding this bizarre phenomena has its own Wikipedia page—the true measure of cultural significance.

In fact—this should be noted—Mark Chapman, John Lennon’s murderer, was arrested with The Catcher in the Rye in his hands. He claimed the text of the book would serve the law in determining his reasons for the crime. John Lennon, who performed Helter Skelter, which, because of misinterpretation, led to the Tate-LaBianca murders, was murdered by Mark Chapman, himself operating under a misinterpretation of a work of art.

Objectivity in practice

Objective meaning in literature too is rare and this leads to less objectively true interpretations. Most of the time the interpretation is based on coincidence and correlation. A good example is reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as an allegory for World War II. But, it could be argued that the various races in the Lord of the Rings are intended to represent the different religions of the world? The masked men with the Arab chic were Arabic, the Dwarves were Hebrew, and Tolkien imported perceived characteristics (racism) to give their people a desire for hoarding gold (racism), and yet they are the stand-in for Judaism. The men could be said to be those who turned away from God, or Illuvatar, agnostics and atheists; but, where pray are the Christians? Well, the Hobbits are obviously linked to paganism, living off the land, being in love with all the things that grow, and their paganism is tinged with passive pacificism, being (for the most part) content to not meddle in the affairs of men, and elves – the wise, the immortal, and most beautiful race? They could be Tolkien’s stand-in for Christianity. Gandalf and Frodo and Bilbo get to go to the Elvish heaven with them, in the end, leaving Sam’s pagan ass at home, having to deal with Rosie.

Now, that might seem ridiculous. And it’s understandable: a parallel can be drawn between the one ring and the one race. What we see depends on the eyes we have and what our knowledge allows us to see. If this was the work of armchair philosophers it wouldn’t have the same lasting, negative effect as sometimes the very people upon whom we rely to instruct us in proper interpretation and textual criticism fail us and generations to follow, cultivating a culture of misunderstanding.

I was in high school when I first read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. To me it seemed to be the definitive manifesto for the right to freedom of speech and expression. It is interesting to note that the book was first serialized in Playboy magazine. Suck it, censors! A then spry, youthful 196 year old Hugh Hefner managed to secure the serial rights to Fahrenheit 451 during an important period in American culture, a period in which real censorship was on its last leg, made of steel and ivory though it was. Books now considered classics, such as Ulysses had been put to trial for obscenity, as did Naked Lunch. The importance can be compared to the making of Casablanca during the actual Second World War. The book burning in Fahrenheit 451 is as iconic to English speaking readers as is the thought-police and Big Brother from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s not even subtle.

It’s obviously about censorship. Right right? Right, right!

What’s it going to be then, eh? 

In Bradbury’s cooky, imagined future, America has outlawed books and freedom of the press; free thought and intellectualism were treated the way in which Pol Pot treated it in Cambodia. Censorship is a political mob-process and it’s treated like business as usual. The people are partially to blame for this; for their blasé reaction to the suppression of basic human rights and dignity and they, through this process, forget what it is to be free. They forget what it is to be human.

Fahrenheit 451 seemed so obvious when I first read it, obvious to the point of insult, I thought, to the reader’s intelligence. Even my English teacher Mrs. [Willnotbesued] believed in and espoused this traditional interpretation; an obvious allegory, a philosophy intended to presage the day to day realities in a world where the individual is defeated by state sponsored censorship. The title is even a reference to book burning! That’s classic censorship! Right? Right?! F@#%!

As Sherlock Holmes said in The Boscombe Valley Mystery:

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”

So I had it wrong, as did my teacher, and, because of her, the entire class. I would later learn that nearly everyone, except the author, had it wrong. That particular interpretation is incorrect and implicitly incorrect. And when he attempted to set the record straight while lecturing at UCLA, Ray Bradbury was told by students that he was mistaken; the author’s interpretation of his own material was wrong. (This is not impossible.) So what did the author do that fateful day at UCLA? He was proper pissed and walked out. So what did Ray Bradbury think his book was about? Television. Television and the ancient evil from whence it came (Cathode ray tubes, it would seem.)

In reality Bradbury was more concerned with literature having to compete with television for primacy in the war for the imagination of the world. I guess that makes Fahrenheit 451 less Nineteen Eighty-Four and more Video Killed the Radio Star. You see, Ray believed that television would somehow lead to the shortening of the attention span. He thought that complex social and economic issues would be compressed for time and later used by powerful conglomerations to spin the truth to their benefit through mass manipulation and … oh, wait.

But none of that is as absurd as the trial of the German philosopher and noted mustachio Friedrich Nietzsche, who’s book Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra, ‘zarathustra’ being the German for the Persian Zoroaster) was initially published in separate installments, individual installments, over the course of a couple of years, between 1883-85 and was only published in a single volume in 1887.

At the time of his death, the fourth part remained unpublished. In the first run, forty copies were printed, not counting copies set aside by the author for friends and family.  And since then the most common version is the portable collection – with a fourth segment, the now annotated Intermezzo, which was unfinished, was published; and had a limited commercial run and went out of print.

Nietzsche died before he could finish the Intermezzo and rearrangement for a singular work, and his sister thought, if only if there were Nazi overtones in the book. And it was so.

Despite the application of allegory and its ambiguities, it is my hope, and the hope of every writer, save for perhaps James Joyce, to be understood. But to make it more interesting for the reader, there is ambiguity, subtlety, and authors rely on their readers to join them, to be their partners in creation. As the American abstract artist Mark Rothko once said in reference to his art:

A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky, and unfeeling act, to send it out into the world.

Rothko, 1956, committing Art.

Religion, Freedom, Fear & Panic (George Orwell) – 17 March 2016

THE ART OF OPPRESSION

AS MUCH AS ART AND LANGUAGE HAVE ENRICHED our lives and culture, it can be used as a means of personal advancement or attainment, and can be used, has been used as a tool to subdue and keep mute an illiterate public. As the best literature and music can be liberating, there is a darker side to this, something more nefarious. George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a future where literature does not set free the soul was as fantastical as it was grounded. Because, despite seeing its absurdity, we saw echoes of Orwell’s themes, if but vaguely, in our own lives — Big Brother is the judging eye that watches, an eye that judges, a figure that enforces law against thinking the wrong way. Wilson gets sent to the worst hotel room in history outside of a Holiday Inn, Room 101.

Big Brother is Watching You — everyone is familiar with the popular phrase from [Orwell’s] most popular work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, but its interpretation has often been limited to political interpretation. If you cast big brother as an abstract and put the entirety of creation under his charge, what do you get? An all seeing figure who’s always watching, always careful to ensure the rules laid forth are observed, and in waiting to punish if a tenet of the Law is broken. Big Brother, as an abstract, is more than a satire of the culture of personality which, like Boy Bands and iPhone releases, always seem to spring up despite all sensible people knowing how objectively terrible they are.

Nineteen Eight-Four appeals to the same sensibility to which ‘God is watching over us’ appeals. Except, by inverting the All Seeing Eye, by showing us the perversion of thought crime, the crime of love, the arbitrary torture — it’s easy to see Orwell is telling a story on two different thematic levels: the microcosm (the singular Big Brother and the singular idea such a figure represents. And there’s a perversion of this, and it’s happening now, right in the modern, progressive world: but not through the silent, watchful judgment of one centralized authority figure, we’ve cast ourselves as indignant,flattered voyeurs in the drama of the watchful, attentive eye presiding over the most mundane of our activities, whether it is a friend who follows you on Twitter.

John Taylor’s Seven Lesson Schoolteacher has a different approach to handling an authoritarian edifice and his lessons are the bricks in the edifice of the mind’s sometimes voluntary enslavement. It is a poignant testament to the quality of individuality and warning against subscribing to a belief system structured to control. When the information provided comes from the same body enacting the law, it is, no matter the brand of information—literature, media, radio—designed to control by fear and recruit by a promise such law givers are unable to keep.

In The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher, Gatto shows us what Dostoevsky, in Notes from Underground, called the ‘edifice of glass.’ Gatto shows the reality of totalitarianism in a distorted yet eerily similar America.  To paraphrase, a centralized order must not be questioned. No possible objections, logical, sensible or otherwise are to be taken seriously and those who make such objections do so to their disadvantage.

Mr. Gatto, as he wished to be called, was a school teacher who had taught for twenty-six years, winning many awards in the process. He outlines a subconscious and hidden curriculum that is unconsciously transmitted to every student in every school in the United States. These rules aren’t acknowledged, written, or made apparent but, as Mr. Gatto suggests, this is the only way students can be turned into functioning member of society—as he sees it.

What does it mean to function in a society if one has to be manipulated as a child to be able to do so? The seven universal lessons perpetuate what has done more to harm people throughout history, though it helps a select few, and could be interpreted as a list for the pros of making war upon your own government, as Shakespeare famously questioned in his treatment of the character in Richard II: is it ever right to overthrow a monarchy? When it is necessary for the following traits to be drilled into children in order to keep them in check, it most certainly is; I fall into another category on this position, which Leon Trotsky expressed so well in Literature and Revolution. 

‘Mechanical centralism is necessarily complemented by factionalism, which is at once a malicious caricature of democracy and a potential political danger.’

Mr. Gatto’s entire structure is built on factionalism. His seven universal lessons are meant to strengthen some factions to invite membership and conformity, and others are intended to keep those ‘unworthy’ are those for whom the rest of the rules were written. The seven universal rules are: confusion, class position, indifference, emotional dependency, intellectual dependency, provisional self-esteem, and an admonition against anyone who notices the slavery of a system that confuses intentionally, gives to one side it created for itself, and addicts the rest to scraps because class position can only exist in a society confused and emotionally dependent. You can’t hide. Big brother is watching you. Take your soma and fall in line: this is the literature of enslavement. And the author of this material is a real man and really believes in these universal ‘laws’ of education.

Students are often taught a barrage of information, none of which is important to their lives, intended to work as an assembly line towards an end, a goal: to college, to graduate school, and finally to a job. This sort of cynical approach by a life-long teacher is disheartening; it is disheartening not because of one man’s belief, but those who rally behind his ideas of slavery are highly influential. Behind all the useless information is what the intended goal of this system is: there is this centralized element abhorrent to Trotsky, an element that might have made Shakespeare rethink his ideas of overthrowing a monarch.

The central command structure of knowledge reaches into the deep past of western philosophy. It’s in Plato’s The Republic, St. Augustine’s City of God, even Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. Although it wasn’t published in his lifetime, Hobbes’ much better work, Behemoth, was forbidden by a king, a king who probably would’ve endorsed it, had he read it. Satires like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Huxley’s Brave New World were considered, in their time, to be ridiculous. These were not instant classics. And the writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four nearly killed George Orwell; this brings us to what gave the English their first clear vision of totalitarianism.

AN HOMAGE TO ORWEL– On the Cult of Personality and Altar of Fear

BEFORE A SOCIAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL ANALYSIS of Orwell the man, writer of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, I would first like to say that I believe he was at his best in his non-fiction account of the Spanish Civil War—Homage to Catalonia.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

Sixty years after the publication of Orwell’s mostly widely cited and read work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, that crystal first line sounds as natural and compelling as ever. But when you see the original manuscript, you find something else: not so much the ringing clarity, more the obsessive rewriting, in different inks, that betrays the extraordinary turmoil behind its composition.

Probably the definitive dystopian novel of the 20th century, a story that remains eternally fresh and contemporary, and whose terms such as ‘Big Brother,’ ‘doublethink,’ and ‘newspeak—all of which having become part of the everyday currency in the English lexicon, Nineteen Eighty-Four has been translated into more than 65 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide, giving George Orwell a unique place in world literature.

The circumstances surrounding the writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four make a haunting narrative that helps to explain the bleakness of Orwell’s dystopia. Here was an English writer, desperately sick, grappling alone with the demons of his imagination in a bleak Scottish outpost in the desolate aftermath of the Second World War. The idea for Nineteen Eighty-Four, alternatively, The Last Man in Europe, had been incubating in Orwell’s mind since the Spanish civil war.

His novel, which owes something to Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian fiction We, probably began to take a definitive shape during 1943-44, around the time he and his wife Eileen adopted their only son, Richard. Orwell himself claimed that he was partly inspired by the meeting of the Allied leaders at the Tehran Conference of 1944. Isaac Deutscher, an Observer colleague, reported that Orwell was “convinced that Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt consciously plotted to divide the world” at Tehran.

Orwell had worked for David Astor’s Observer since 1942, first as a book reviewer and later as a correspondent. The editor professed great admiration for Orwell’s “absolute straightforwardness, his honesty and his decency,” and would be his patron throughout the 1940s. The closeness of their friendship is crucial to the story of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Orwell’s creative life had already benefited from his association with the Observer in the writing of Animal Farm. As the war drew to a close, the fruitful interaction of fiction and Sunday journalism would contribute to the much darker and more complex novel he had in mind after that celebrated ‘fairy tale.’ It’s clear from Observer book reviews, for example, that he was fascinated by the relationship between morality and language.

There were other influences at work. The atmosphere of random terror in the everyday life of wartime London became integral to the mood of the novel-in-progress. Worse was to follow. In March 1945, while on assignment for the Observer in Europe, Orwell received news that his wife Eilee, had died under anesthesia during a routine operation.

Suddenly he was a widower and a single parent, eking out a threadbare life in his Islington lodgings, and working incessantly to dam the flood of remorse and grief at his wife’s premature death. In 1945, for instance, he wrote almost 110,000 words for various publications, including 15 book reviews for the Observer.

Then Astor stepped in. His family owned an estate on the remote Scottish island of Jura, next to Islay. There was a house, Barnhill, seven miles outside Ardlussa at the remote northern tip of this rocky finger of heather in the Inner Hebrides.

Initially, Astor offered it to Orwell for a holiday. Speaking to the Observer last week, Richard Blair says he believes, from family legend, Astor was taken aback by the enthusiasm of Orwell’s response.

In May 1946 Orwell, still picking up the shattered pieces of his life, took the train for the long and arduous journey to Jura. He told his friend Arthur Koestler that it was ‘almost like stocking up ship for an arctic voyage.’

It was a risky move; Orwell was not in good health. The winter of 1946-47 was one of the coldest of the century. Postwar Britain was bleak and Orwell always suffered from a chest pains and other anxiety-related pains. At least, cut off from the irritations of literary London, he was free to grapple unencumbered with the new novel. ‘Smothered under journalism,’ as he put it, he told one friend, ‘I have become more and more like a sucked orange.’

Ironically, part of Orwell’s difficulties derived from the success of Animal Farm. After years of neglect and indifference the world was waking up to his genius. ‘Everyone keeps coming at me,’ he complained to Koestler, ‘wanting me to lecture, to write commissioned booklets, to join this and that, etc.–you don’t know how I pine to be free of it all and have time to think again.’

On Jura he would be liberated from these distractions. The promise of creative freedom on an island in the Hebrides, however, came with its own, unique price. Years before, in the essay Why I Write, he described the struggle to complete a book: ‘Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist or [sic] understand. For all one knows that demon is the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s personality.’ It ends with the popular adage: ‘Good prose is like a window pane.’

From the spring of 1947 to his death in 1950 Orwell would re-enact every aspect of this struggle in the most painful way imaginable. Privately, perhaps, he relished the overlap between theory and practice. He had always thrived on self-inflicted adversity.

At first, after ‘a quite unendurable winter,’ he reveled in the isolation and wild beauty of Jura. ‘I am struggling with this book,’ he wrote to his agent, ‘which I may finish by the end of the year—at any rate I shall have broken the back by then so long as I keep well and keep off journalistic work until the autumn.’

Barnhill, overlooking the sea at the top of a potholed track, was not large, with four small bedrooms above a spacious kitchen. Life was simple, even primitive. There was no electricity. Orwell used Calor gas to cook and to heat water. Storm lanterns burned paraffin. In the evenings he also burned peat. He was still chain-smoking black shag tobacco in roll-up cigarettes: the fug in the house was cozy but not healthy. A battery radio was the only connection with the outside world.

Orwell, a gentle, unworldly sort of man, arrived with just a camp bed, a table, a couple of chairs and a few pots and pans. It was a Spartan existence but supplied the conditions under which he liked to work. He is remembered there as a spectre in the mist, a gaunt figure in oilskins.

At the end of May 1947 he told his publisher, Fred Warburg: ‘I think I must have written nearly a third of the rough draft. I have not got as far as I had hoped to do by this time because I really have been in most wretched health this year ever since about January (my chest as usual) and can’t quite shake it off.’

Mindful of his publisher’s impatience for the new novel, Orwell added: ‘Of course the rough draft is always a ghastly mess bearing little relation to the finished result, but all the same it is the main part of the job.’ Still, he pressed on, and at the end of July was predicting a completed ‘rough draft’ by October. After that, he said, he would need another six months to polish up the text for publication. This does not happen.

Part of the pleasure of life on Jura for George and his young son was the outdoor life—fishing, explore the island, and potter about in boats. In August, during a spell of lovely summer weather, Orwell, Avril, Richard and some friends, returning from a hike up the coast in a small motor boat, were nearly drowned in the infamous Corryvreckan whirlpool.

Richard Blair remembers being ‘bloody cold’ in the freezing water, and Orwell, whose constant coughing worried his friends, did his lungs no favors. Within two months he was seriously ill. Typically, his account to David Astor of this narrow escape was laconic, even nonchalant.

The long struggle with The Last Man in Europe continued. In late October 1947, oppressed with ‘wretched health,’ Orwell recognized that his novel was still ‘a most dreadful mess and about two-thirds of it will have to be retyped entirely.’

He was working at a feverish pace. Visitors to Barnhill recall the sound of his typewriter pounding away upstairs in his bedroom. Then, in November, tended by the faithful Avril, he collapsed with ‘inflammation of the lungs’ and told Koestler that he was “very ill in bed”. Just before Christmas, in a letter to an Observer colleague, he broke the news he had always dreaded. Finally he had been diagnosed with TB.

A few days later, writing to Astor from Hairmyres hospital, East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, he admitted: ‘I still feel deadly sick,’ and conceded that, when illness struck after the Corryvreckan whirlpool incident, ‘like a fool I decided not to go to a doctor – I wanted to get on with the book I was writing.’

In 1947 there was no cure for TB; doctors could only prescribe fresh air regular diets. However, there was a new, experimental drug on the market, streptomycin. Astor arranged for a shipment to Hairmyres from the US.

Orwell’s son Richard believed his father was given excessive doses of this new drug. The side effects were horrific (throat ulcers, blisters in the mouth, hair loss, peeling skin and the disintegration of toe and fingernails; but in March 1948, after a three-month course, the TB symptoms had disappeared. ‘It’s all over now, and evidently the drug has done its stuff,’ Orwell told his publisher. ‘It’s rather like sinking the ship to get rid of the rats, but worth it if it works.’

As he prepared to leave hospital Orwell received the letter from his publisher which, in hindsight, would be another nail in the coffin. ‘It really is rather important,’ wrote Warburg to the star author, ‘from the point of view of your literary career to get it [the new novel] by the end of the year and indeed earlier if possible.’

Just when he should have been convalescing Orwell was back at Barnhill, deep into the revision of his manuscript, promising to deliver by ‘early December,’ and coping with ‘filthy weather’ on autumnal Jura. Early in October he confided to Astor: ‘I have got so used to writing in bed that I think I prefer it, though of course it’s awkward to type there. I am just struggling with the last stages of this bloody book [which is] about the possible state of affairs if the atomic war isn’t conclusive.’

This is one of Orwell’s exceedingly rare references to the theme of his book. He believed, as many writers do, that it was bad luck to discuss a work-in-progress. Later, to Anthony Powell, he described it as ‘a Utopia written in the form of a novel.’ The typing of the fair copy of The Last Man in Europe became another dimension of Orwell’s battle with his book. The more he revised his ‘unbelievably bad” manuscript the more it became a document only he could read and interpret. It was, he told his agent, “extremely long, even 125,000 words.’ With characteristic candor, he noted: ‘I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolutely dissatisfied… I think it is a good idea but the execution would have been better if I had not written it under the influence of TB.’

And he was still undecided about the title: ‘I am inclined to call it NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR or THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE,’ he wrote, ‘but I might just possibly think of something else in the next week or two.’ By the end of October Orwell believed he was done. Now he just needed a stenographer to help make sense of it all.

It was a desperate race against time. Orwell’s health was deteriorating, the ‘unbelievably bad’ manuscript needed retyping, and the December deadline was looming. Warburg promised to help, and so did Orwell’s agent. At cross-purposes over possible typists, they somehow contrived to make a bad situation infinitely worse. Orwell, feeling beyond help, followed his ex-public schoolboy’s instincts: he would go it alone.

By mid-November, too weak to walk, he retired to bed to tackle ‘the grisly job’ of typing the book on his “decrepit typewriter” by himself. Sustained by endless roll-ups, pots of coffee, strong tea and the warmth of his paraffin heater, with gales buffeting Barnhill, night and day, he struggled on. By 30 November 1948 it was virtually done.

Now Orwell, the old campaigner, protested to his agent that ‘it really wasn’t worth all this fuss. It’s merely that, as it tires me to sit upright for any length of time, I can’t type very neatly and can’t do many pages a day.’ Besides, he added, it was ‘wonderful’ what mistakes a professional typist could make, and, ‘in this book there is the difficulty that it contains a lot of neologisms.’

The typescript of George Orwell’s latest novel reached London in mid-December, as promised. Warburg recognized its qualities at once (‘amongst the most terrifying books I have ever read’) and so did his colleagues. An in-house memo noted ‘if we can’t sell 15 to 20 thousand copies we ought to be shot.’

By now Orwell had left Jura and checked into a TB sanatorium high in the Cotswolds. ‘I ought to have done this two months ago,’ he told Astor, ‘but I wanted to get that bloody book finished.’ Once again Astor stepped in to monitor his friend’s treatment but Orwell’s specialist was privately pessimistic.

As word of Nineteen Eighty-Four began to circulate, Astor’s journalistic instincts kicked in and he began to plan an Observer Profile, a significant accolade but an idea that Orwell contemplated ‘with a certain alarm.’ As spring came he was “having haemoptyses” (spitting blood) and ‘feeling ghastly most of the time’ but was able to involve himself in the pre-publication rituals of the novel, registering ‘quite good notices’ with satisfaction. He joked to Astor that it wouldn’t surprise him ‘if you had to change that profile into an obituary.’

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published on 8 June 1949 (five days later in the US) and was almost universally recognized as a masterpiece, even by Winston Churchill, who told his doctor that he had read it twice. Orwell’s health continued to decline. In October 1949, in his room at University College hospital, he married Sonia Brownell, with David Astor as best man. It was a fleeting moment of happiness; he lingered into the new year of 1950. In the small hours of 21 January, George Orwell suffered a massive hemorrhage in hospital and died alone.

The news was broadcast on the BBC the next morning. Avril Blair and her nephew, still up on Jura, heard the report on the little battery radio in Barnhill. Richard Blair does not recall whether the day was bright or cold but remembers the shock of the news: his father was dead, aged 46.

David Astor arranged for Orwell’s burial in the churchyard at Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire. He lies there now, as Eric Blair, between HH Asquith and a local family of Gypsies.

Cont.

Why ‘1984’? 

Orwell’s title remains a mystery. Some say he was alluding to the centenary of the Fabian Society, founded in 1884. Others suggest a nod to Jack London’s novel The Iron Heel (in which a political movement comes to power in 1984), or perhaps to one of his favorite writer GK Chesterton’s story, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, which is set in 1984.

In his edition of the Collected Works (20 volumes,) Peter Davison notes that Orwell’s American publisher claimed that the title derived from reversing the date, 1948, though there’s no documentary evidence for this. Davison also argues that the date 1984 is linked to the year of Richard Blair’s birth, 1944, and notes that in the manuscript of the novel, the narrative occurs, successively, in 1980, 1982 and finally, 1984. There’s no mystery about the decision to abandon The Last Man in Europe. Orwell himself was always unsure of it. It was his publisher, Fred Warburg who suggested that Nineteen Eighty-Four was a more commercial title.

Freedom of speech

The effect of Nineteen Eighty-Four on our cultural and linguistic landscape has not been limited to either the film adaptation starring John Hurt and Richard Burton, with its Naziesque rallies and chilling soundtrack, nor the earlier one with Michael Redgrave and Edmond O’Brien.

It is likely, however, that many people watching the Big Brother series on television (in the UK, let alone in Angola, Oman or Sweden, or any of the other countries whose TV networks broadcast programmes in the same format) have no idea where the title comes from or that Big Brother himself, whose role in the reality show is mostly to keep the peace between scrapping, swearing contestants like a wise uncle, is not so benign in his original incarnation. Apart from pop-culture renditions of some of the novel’s themes, aspects of its language have been leapt upon by libertarians to describe the curtailment of freedom in the real world by politicians and official—alarmingly, nowhere and never more often than in contemporary Britain.

Orwellian

 Room 101

Some hotels have refused to call a guest bedroom number 101—rather like those tower blocks that don’t have a 13th floor—thanks to the Orwellian concept of a room that contains whatever its occupant finds most impossible to endure. Like Big Brother, this has spawned a modern TV show: in this case, celebrities are invited to name the people or objects they hate most in the world.

Thought police

An accusation often levelled at authoritative governments, or arenas in public in which ideas or speech are being restricted; any conglomeration designed to bleep or blur, remove or ‘correct’ literature, hide and suppress ideas.

Newspeak

For Orwell, freedom of expression was not just about freedom of thought but also linguistic freedom. This term, denoting the narrow and diminishing official vocabulary, has been used ever since to denote jargon currently in vogue with those in power.

Doublethink

Hypocrisy with a twist. Rather than choosing to disregard a contradiction in your opinion, if you are doublethinking, you are deliberately forgetting that the contradiction is there. This subtlety is mostly overlooked by people using the accusation of ‘doublethink’ when trying to accuse an adversary of being hypocritical—but it is a very popular word with people who like a good debate with their beer. If I may: everything is good with beer—if you have the beer first.

IN THE BHAGAVAD-GITA, THE HINDU HOLY BOOK, we find the great archer and warrior, Arjuna, with his charioteer, and avatar of Vishnu, Krisha—of questionable fame stemming from an event earlier in life, having been caught stealing butter–allegedly. They are poised between two massive armies lined up to fight one another. He looks at both sides and finds relatives, fathers and sons, ready to slaughter one another in this battle. In his confusion and anguish, he cries out for guidance. To guide him, Krishna speaks to him as the supreme God of Gods, almighty Time, and instructs him the way of the Yoga.

The war, like so many of what is herein discussed, is an externalization used to illustrate the conflict inside oneself, the kind of conflict that every person has when it comes to choosing, when it comes to differentiating between what is right and what is wrong. Krishna appeared before him as a beacon of light in a time of darkness. He has since appeared to millions as the same light, to lead people from eternal return (For modern comparison, consider Groundhog Day) from what Krishna calls ‘the transient world of sorrow.’

The main thing that appealed to me about this ancient text is just pure beauty. Transience, I believe, is the major theme, the mortality of everything alive on the earth. In describing this to Arjuna, the transience of life and its luxuries, Krishna consoles and reminds Arjuna of his purpose, thereby escorting him out of darkness. What Krishna reveals to him cripples Arjuna and he is left shaking with fear and awe, saying, ‘Thy tears are for those beyond tears; and are thy words words of wisdom? The wise grieve not for those who live; they grieve not for those who died. Life and death will pass away.’

By this I believe he was saying that emotional and physical states exist in finite space, unable to last forever, and reasons that life, like death, will someday pass away into another sphere of existence, beyond eternal return.

‘Because we have all been for all time, I, and thou,’ he says. ‘We all shall be for all time, forever, and forever more.’

It appears in his words that Krishna relates the human body to be nothing but a vessel, like a physical ship to carry the ships’ captain, then, when the physical ship is no longer set afloat, the captain moves on to find another ship, only to be imprisoned again, like smoke inside a bottle until reincarnation, where we’re trapped again inside a body in the miserable cycle of eternal return.

Krishna appears before him as all powerful Time, with, ‘…multitudes rushing into him and pouring out of him as he devours them all, destroys everything.’

Krishna says, “I am all powerful time, and I have come here to slay these men. Fight, or fight not; all these men will die.”

After the mortal body is shed, ‘As the spirit of our mortal body wanders on in childhood, and in you and old age, the spirit moves to a new body,’ Krishna believes the evaluating mid-mind, the mind behind the body, passes in and out of light and dark, between worlds, reliving one cycle of life and death without ever finding something that lasts forever, something that is forever tangible. The spirit, however, is forever to him; this is a good idea, as death is relegated to nothing but a temporary shedding of a body: ‘Interwoven in [his] creation, the spirit is beyond destruction. No one can bring an end to the everlasting spirit or an end to something which had no beginning.’

Once someone escapes the transient world, Krishna instructs, he will dwell beyond time in these bodies, though our bodies have an end in their times, but we remain immeasurable, immortal. With these words, Krishna tells us to carry on our noble fight and noble struggles against the depreciating forces of all of life.

The highest goal for him is a goal familiar to Buddhists: asceticism. ‘From the world of senses,’ Krishna says, again beautifully illustrating transience, ‘comes fire and ice, pleasure and pain. They come and go for they are transient. Arise above them, strong soul.’

These words have encouraged and inspired millions of people; from east of the globe to west, every day for thousands of years, this has the quality of liberation. As the Persian poet wrote: A king wished to have a phrase that would cheer him when sad and sadden him when joyful:

This too shall pass.

 The tone of the piece is intended to convey a liberating, lasting peace—an acceptance and eagerness to dispel disillusion and ignorance, to grow closer to the laws of the world and universe, a universe that is god made manifest—this is, in essence, what is called Brahma. It is a call for people to be honorable and kind to others. I’m not a religious person. I am however not ignorant of what this gives to culture and the arts. From a secular perspective, The Bhagavad-Gita is one of the greatest works of literature ever produced by mankind. There is much to take away, to learn, to believe. Acceptance of the supernatural is not necessary to learn and benefit from this cultural jewel.

The Bhagavad-Gita is a beacon of light, a candle in the dark. All cultures in some form or another produce these spiritual and religious texts. The dependence on the supernatural varies, but the message is universal: good for the sake of goodness and kindness for its own sake, while it will earn you no medals or honorary titles, is what lasting peace demands. If the world worked in this way, if everyone was motivated to not only improve themselves but the world around them, a peaceful world becomes possible. In a free world, there is no need to govern, or for government. Government is a euphemism for organized, demanded control.

Confucius, the proverbial wise old man, is credited with the composition of The Analects. In it, Confucius believed himself to be nothing more than a carrier of knowledge. Nothing divine, nothing unique or supernatural, not an inventor but a curator in the museum of our artistic history. Confucian intended to ‘reinvigorate’ what is called the mandate of heaven. Although he claimed to be but a messenger, he is, nevertheless, credited with the most famous of all axioms: “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”

With great subtlety and emphasis on learning and growing, Confucius left behind a legacy that has had a lasting impact on the world for thousands of years. The Analects are not the only source for Chinese philosophy: Lao Tzu’s Tao te Ching, The Teachings and Sayings of Chuang Tzu, and the iconic I-Ching, or Book of Changes, are cultural treasures, and inherently consistent in tone and content, giving this brand of Eastern philosophy a unique consistency in an otherwise muddled, frustrated series of contradictive versions.

‘Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.’

Lines like this are the sun, the light to the lofty and pretentious little quote-loving moth in us all.

In keeping with the tone and aloofness of Eastern philosophy, generally speaking, The Analects echo the Book of Changes, Confucius says, ‘The only constant is change.’

This axiom is but a small notch above pandering tautology; yet we’re still drawn to it. Quotes in this vein are uniquely popular and for good reason. Sometimes one can, without true effort and study, get a good summary or imbibe the essence of a work of art with a cursory glimpse and partial, sometimes non-representative quote. However, this quote is representative and conveys a valuable message. The intention is to raise awareness, to make us more aware of ourselves and changing moods and their relation to the seasons, the cycle of life and death, destruction and renewal. As with The Bhagavad-Gita; it is another mantra urging us to accept the inevitability of the transient, the ephemeral among what is truly immortal, or never-changing.

In the religions of independently evolving cultures, we find, over and over, a connection, a branching out across time and space; in this there is a surprising consistency in the essential message, ‘It is only he who is possessed of the most complete sincerity that can exist under heaven, who can give its full development to his nature. Able to give its full development to his own nature, he can do the same to the nature of other men.’

Confucius’s philosophy is a call to the most ambitious of our characters to look for wisdom and sincerity.

‘Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles. Then no friends would not be like yourself (all friends would be as loyal as yourself.) If you make a mistake, do not be afraid to correct it.’

This is unique among quasi-religious texts: this is a eukaryotic idea within, what is by nature, a prokaryotic art-form.

In all the philosophies and religions produced by mankind, within each is some sort of promise, some hint of shelter from whatever storms in which we struggle—and a promised liberation, a refuge to come, a refuge for each moment needed.

History and Conspiracy, Jacopo’s Pocket Watch – 6 January 2016

THE GREAT ABRAHAM LINCOLN POCKET WATCH CONSPIRACY
By Jacopo della Quercia

*****

BY LOOKING THROUGH THE LENS OF CONSPIRACY, WE AFFORD ourselves an illusion, an illusion of possibility, prediction, and control. Casting the horrors and intrigue of history in the light of conspiracy is a comfort, and to wield these elements so cleverly, as Jacopo della Quercia does in this novel, his debut, we are allowed to look at the present through the artifice of exploring the past. In one of the most memorable scenes (which I won’t give away here), the overtones of our need to control the popular perception of history is pervasive – as there is a lifeless, heartless attempt at changing history in the Oval Office.

            It is this character that lets the author reprogram an element of known history and use it in service of the story, and the identification of this character with another greatly popular and historic literary character further illustrates the need for people to feel like they’re in control of their lives, and ultimately their future, and the will to hold onto this control through will; it is this will, I think, that defines the struggle of the characters within the story, and the struggle for self-definition in the greater scope of history. This is a great quality of the novel, the author’s understanding – not only of the history – but of the present’s comfort.

            The work is a testament to Jacopo’s substantive education in American and world history. Despite the mixed-bag genre, none-of-which are truly capable of properly categorizing it, the characters are a high-point of the story. The relationship between Taft and his wife has a lingering sadness, a sadness that manifests as a crisis of conscience, the sadness of sickness being a catalyst for the presumption to make changes to the actual writing of history. It betrays a more human look at the development of connected events, no matter how loosely, and peoples, places, and the multitude of intersecting strings [Jacopo] manages to keep in hand.

            The story, in my reading, is more about the way that the passions and the sorrows and the love and sadness of people shape the world, despite their status. We see the most powerful of men succumb to the discomfort of despair; the way another prominent Bull Moose of a character walks among his people in disguise, in one of the many call-backs to Shakespeare, the first being a character’s defining himself as ‘the Falstaff of his era.’

            The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy not only takes you on a ride through the reality of history, but the reality of characters interacting with history as it’s happening; and by using conspiracy as the catalyst, it highlights another unique aspect of our nature: the curiosity and community built around assumed truths in history, the community conspiracy, which is itself a dodge, a comfort, a way to skip a more difficult and pressing issue: that of mindless action, unpredictable chaos without deeper meaning. By uncovering deep and all-encompassing conspiracies, it gives us the comfort of being able to see some sense in a world of randomness; it allows the world to be held accountable in breathing together (the definition of conspiracy), as all thoughts and persons in our world become more easily linked and associated, Jacopo shows a world of connected people, by narrative or company, doing what people have done since people were people: try to take a part the biggest balls of tangled cables, the tangled wires of prominent historical characters behaving poorly.

            The Pocket-Watch itself, I thought, was a source of light, something that drew the curiosity of its characters, bringing their prejudices and predispisitions with them in their attempts to divine its origin and mechanism of action. That mysterious pocketwatch, with dual transcriptions, is itself an image for a history stuck in the loop of time, or an era in which time stands still; the focus on the watch puts us into the story as another character, allowing us to be in on the conspiracy and history, allowing us to breathe together around that baffling fob watch.

            An object of wonder, of mystery, this watch — full of strange connections, bringing people together, in wonder, in awe: it demonstrates how people, who otherwise might have never crossed paths, become entangled in a web whose spider is that watch: around which the mystery and characters perform in this brilliant, clever, ersatz roman de clef. It is the anatomy of wonder and togetherness, and how it is easy for so many to reject the love of friends and community when contronted with intriguing symbols and puzzling events, embracing the solitude of skepticism and melancholy.

            In this book, you become a part of the unfolding story; as people have a natural capacity for pattern recognition (and pareidolia for when it fails us) and we – as readers – get to participate in the mystery. using our own impressions and experiences to try to crack the mystery, but in the end we prefer it, to keep that unique, blended version of history. We’re more voyeur than reader here, as our minds turn as well with mystery as those within the story. We go with each clue around the world, from Brussels to Paris to New York, as each new connection informs us of a larger and more complicated world, a world more strange and beautiful for it.