Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review of Girard's I See Satan Fall Like Lightning

This review is a continuation of my review from Goodreads.

Part 3: The Victory of the Cross
Ch. 9: The Uniqueness of the Bible
103: modern critics of Christianity tried to show similarities to myths (relative and dismiss-able), but postmodern critics suppress resemblances (no unifying structure)
104: underlying structure for myths is the same as biblical stories (mimetic cycle): crisis, collective violence, and revelation (deification of the victim); the Gospels expose and condemn the mimetic contagion, which myths try to suppress; primitive cultures continue to function because of continuous ritual sacrifice (expelling victims and restoring order)
105: Girard wants to determine if the Gospels (which promote nonviolence) really are unique, when compared with myths; some Christians mistrust Girard's anthropological approach because anthropology has often weakened the view of Christianity's uniqueness
106: both myths and Christianity have mimetic cycles, so how are they different?; Girard will start with the Old Testament, which all true Christians should be devoted to; OT accounts have only parts of the mimetic cycle (no deifying the victim)
107: "God is never victimized, nor is the victim divinized" (the OT God isn't the product of the scapegoat process); Girard compares/contrasts the story of Joseph with the story of Oedipus; both begin with a crisis (double expulsion: beginning and end of the Oedipus story, and twice early in the Joseph story [mimetic rivalry of brothers—p. 112])
108: both make it to the top of the social ladder as foreigners (often suspected); the many similarities help us see a significant difference
108–09: the biblical story refuses to justify collective violence; in myths, the victims are guilty, but often in the Bible (which often identifies with victims), the collective persecutors are guilty
111: Joseph puts his brothers through a temptation that they had succumbed to earlier (abandoning a young brother, this time Benjamin); Judah resists [he had promised Jacob to care for Benjamin, etymology of Jew, Jesus is from Judah's line]; Joseph radically replaces vengeance with pardon
112: postmodern deconstructionists kill meaning by denying that any one theme emerges from multiple stories; but the biblical critique (in Joseph's story) of the mythic attitude can't be accidental, and though the Joseph story isn't responding directly to the mimetic contagion of the Oedipus story, it's at least responding to mimetic contagion in other myths
113: mythology lies, but biblical stories tell the truth [n2: even if the Joseph story were imaginary, it would be more true than the Oedipus story]
114: Nietzsche and Marx complain that biblical stories favor Jewish victims
115: "The Bible refuses to demonize or deify the victims of violent crowds"; ordinary speech correctly equates myths with lies; whether the biblical story ends happily (Joseph) or not (Jesus, at first), the perspective regarding barbaric mythic practices is the same (biblical stories interpret the mimetic war of all against one as evil)
115–17: psalms are the first place in history to legitimize a victim's lament (victims are heard, and persecutors are not); wearing a fur coat inside out—visible evidence of a skinned animal; Job as an extended ("super") psalm
118: the Bible undercuts the power of myths by questioning the innocence of violent crowds; Lévinas cites this Talmudic principle: if a violent crowd unanimously condemns a victim, the victim is likely innocent (unanimity is often mimetic tyranny)
118–20: the Bible refuses to demonize or deify Joseph (his Jewish brothers don't deify him); "Joseph is humanized" and idolatry is rejected; Girard wants to separate the divine from violence (see p. 21); polytheism may look jolly, and Nietzsche may want to paint monotheism as joyless, but polytheism proliferates gods only by sacrifice (as Heraclitus said, Dionysos is Hell)

Ch. 10: The Uniqueness of the Gospels121: the Gospels include the third part of the mimetic cycle (the OT doesn't), where the victim is divinized (Jesus)—this raises the suspicion (for some) that the NT is regress back to mythology
121–22: Trinity issues (Judaism and Islam)
122: Christianity losing ground as pluralism gains ground
122–23: Christianity isn't a regression toward mythology because both the NT and the OT defends victims; Marcion wanted to separate the OT and the NT, but Christian orthodoxy refuses to do so; Christian revelation is unique in that the apostles reject the mimetic contagion (the crowd violence isn't unanimous); myths hide mimetic contagion, and the Bible reveals it
124: more than any other literature, the Gospels expose the mimetic war of all against one
125: women didn't have much authority in the historical setting of the Gospels; the resurrection subverts and unmasks mythology
126–27: because of ignorance, persecutors think that they're on the side of justice
127: hostility is an irrational product of mimetic contagion
128–29: modern scorn for prophecy; unfortunately, Pascal sees prophecy as a mechanical code that just needs the right key
130: the OT God is good and doesn't emerge from the single victim mechanism, but rather exposes it
131: true transcendence reveals the poison of mimetic contagion
132–36: the Gospel writers juxtapose false and true resurrection stories without fear of confusion, because the false resurrections show their own ineffective nature even in their impressiveness
134: no flashbacks in the Gospels except in the Matthew/Mark episode about the death of John the Baptist

Ch. 11: The Triumph of the Cross137: notes (1–2) on representation (includes reflection) and interdividual (re: others and personal free will); Christianity reveals what the myths concealed—mimetic contagion and the single victim mechanism
137ff.: Col. 2 and the "triumphalism" of the cross
138: this revealing renders mythology powerless
139: Dante/Inferno/Satan (nailed to a cross)
139–40: background of the Roman triumph, which was a ritual after victory (e.g., Caesar's exhibition and execution of Vercingetorix); progressive Christians are proud of their humility (and they like to talk about "triumphalism" and the Church's obligation of humility)
140–41: paradox/irony of Christian "triumph" (Christ submits to violence); the rage/fury of violence is turned against itself as it's revealed
142–43: Satan is deprived of his power to expel himself—that destroys him; Paul's claim in 1 Cor. 2:2 that he wants to know nothing but Christ crucified is not "anti-intellectual"; "the powers are defeated because they are put on display"
144: Freud and Nietzsche think of Judeo-Christianity as having a "slave morality"; the Bible is the first revelation/exposing of mythic violence
145–46: the Dreyfus affair and anti-Semitism (19/20c)
147: Christianity gets blamed for talking too much about victimhood, but that's like shooting the messenger (myths are not innocent in their lack of violence—they are guilty for their concealment of violence)
149–52: Origen and other Greek Fathers refer to the duping of Satan, as if the Crucifixion were a trap laid by God (some think that this is a treacherous tactic that is beneath God); medieval and modern redemption theories make God too central a player in the Crucifixion (see pp. 21, 119), but the real cause is sinful humanity's mimetic contagion; in reality, Satan duped himself by not being able to conceive of self-sacrificial divine love

Ch. 12: Scapegoat
154: the mimetic cycle depends on participant ignorance—and the Gospel shatters that ignorance with its revealing/revelatory narrative; wherever Christianity spreads, sacrificial rites disappear
154–55: scapegoat from Leviticus 16 (cf. pharmakos); goat has a bad reputation (e.g., bad odor and high sex drive)
156: Christ is never called a scapegoat, but He is the "lamb of God" (sounds more innocent than a goat)
157: we hide our scapegoating today and feel guilty for "letting off steam" (p. 51)
158: our scapegoating is second-degree scapegoating—we condemn (hunt for) those who hunt for scapegoats
158–59: Hitler's extermination of European Jews
159: we get creative in our criticism so as to avoid be attacked for the same thing
160: three definitions of "scapegoat"; the barrier between archaic and modern societies isn't absolute; scapegoats multiply when people lock themselves in an identity (e.g., nationality, race, religion, etc.)

Ch. 13: The Modern Concern for Victims161: lots of medieval church have a statue of an angel holding scales (weighing souls); "Our society is the most preoccupied with victims of any that ever was"
162: Voltaire had to invent an ideal society for Candide
162–63: social justice and modern humanism (developed first by Christians); Nietzsche hated hypocrisy; loving neighbors is a Christian virtue
164: Jesus (preaching about the kingdom of God) speaks against violence; paradoxically, concern for victims has become a competition (and we use that concern to condemn our neighbors); Peter and Paul condemned their own persecution first; Christianity always seems to be a scapegoat (the charge, "in a nobly suffering tone," that Christians haven't done enough)
165: it's ironic that our world has more victims today than ever before, yet we are more concerned with victims today than ever before; we seem to enjoy condemning ourselves for our lack of concern for victims (could be feigned humility)
165–66: "globalization"; giving aid is a source of pride
167: Christian charity and the origin of hospitals (houses of God) that don't discriminate based on any identities (see n1); "Ecce homo"
167–68: human rights
169: at least we are, unlike other societies, aware of our ethnocentricity; Montaigne's essay on cannibals; mammals mark their territory with excrement, and humans mark borders with scapegoats (human excrement)

Ch. 14: The Twofold Nietzschean Heritage170–71: colonial conquest and 20c wars (the worst was the murder of the Jews by Hitler's German National Socialism—an attempt to eradicate the concern for victims); foundation for this genocide is Nietzsche
172–73: Nietzsche's insight is remarkable (Christianity is unique in its defense of victims), but when he pushes past that insight, he gets crazy; Nietzsche connected the lower class status of early Christians and said their sympathy for victims fed their resentment of the pagan aristocrats ("slave morality"); but the Christians are not prejudiced in their favoring the weak—they are heroic in their resistance to mimetic contagion; Nietzsche went insane
174: Christianity has made real advances in the world; Nietzsche justified human sacrifice (social Darwinism [survival of the fittest])
175: Nazis wanted Nietzsche's Overman now—no waiting peacefully through history; it's possible that Nietzsche's irresponsible rhetoric has been misinterpreted, but his followers are using his own words (he really is the spiritual essence of the Nazi Party); Heidegger as Nietzsche's successor
176: twofold heritage of Nietzsche's thought: concern for victims is both accelerated and demoralized; 18/19c optimism and 20c pessimism; abortion debate is about who the "real" victims would be, children (who get aborted) or women (who can't have abortions)
178–79: concern for victims has turned into a new totalitarianism; our world is increasingly anti-Christian (especially in universities); people are proud of their ability to sniff out hypocrisy in Christianity, but these "fine bloodhounds" are somehow unable to smell the rank violence in myths
180–81: to really escape Christianity would mean renouncing concern for victims; the new totalitarianism has appropriated Christian values in its concern for victims—it takes over this concern and paganizes it (and denounces Christians for not caring enough about victims); "totalitarianism presents itself as the liberator of humanity" (Christ is imitated, the way a rival wants to defeat his model)—see NT language of "Antichrist"; Antichrist boats of bringing peace, but really re-introduces pagan practices: abortion, euthanasia, sexual undifferentiation, etc.; "Faithful observance of the moral law is perceived as complicity with the forces of persecution that are essentially religious"; neo-paganism idolizes desires and suppresses prohibitions

Conclusion182: Simone Weil sees no role for the OT, but she thinks the Gospels have more of a theory of humanity than a theory of God
182–84: recap of how Christianity exposed the mimetic cycle of mythology
184: theme of apocalypse in the NT
185: Satan falls like lightning (Luke 10:18); Satan falls to earth and is active, but his end isn't immediate [I thought Girard would say that the Satan-falling-like-lightning = the-exposing-of-the-mimetic-cycle]
186: two types of peace (the kind Jesus gives, and the false peace from scapegoats); Bultmann thought that demythologizing was necessary because of cars and electricity, but we are truly demystified by religions that lead us to idolatry
186–87: it's not unfair/intolerant (or offensive to the pluralists and multiculturalists) to say that Christianity has a unique key for understanding violence, because this "cognitive key" does not mean that we're better (all humanity has been affected by this)—we can't sacrifice truth for a false peace that temporarily halts religious wars
188: summary of how the mimetic cycle is broken in Christ's Passion
189: the only solution for mimetic violence is supernatural power (ancient society's weren't stupid for viewing the mimetic cycle as semi-divine)
189–90: the Holy Spirit is our Paraclete (defender), and He specifically defends us from the accuser, Satan
190–91: parallels between Peter's conversion and Paul's conversion (picture on front cover)
191–93: Girard's theory expands anthropology and takes nothing from theology (and really adds to it too); 1 Cor. 1:18–25 (the cross is a scandal)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Rossetti and Donne on death

On September 8, 2016, I read the poem "Miss Me, but Let Me Go" at my maternal grandfather's memorial service in Pennsylvania.
When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom-filled room.
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little—but not too long
And not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that we once shared,
Miss me—but let me go.
For this is a journey that we all must take
And each must go alone.
It's all a part of the Master's plan,
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick of heart
Go to the friends we know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds.
Miss me—but let me go!
Apparently, this version is adapted from a poem by Christina Georgina Rossetti.

Compare with one of John Donne's sonnets on death:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Best religious joke of all time?

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" 
He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"
He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?"
He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?"
He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?"
He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912."
I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.
Here are a few more of Emo's religious jokes:
So I'm at the wailing wall, standing there like a moron, with my harpoon . . .
I'm not Catholic, but I gave up picking my belly button for lint.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

When an exceptional storyteller comes along...

From David Lyle Jeffrey's Christianity and Literature (Ch. 3 on "Our Literary Bible"), p. 110:
From a purely literary point of view, a loss of cultural memory is as disastrous as a loss of future hope and tends to go along with it. It means that, effectively, there is nothing much in many readers' minds for a great author to build upon, apart from a variety of ephemeral, diverting, typically ambiguous images. And if the images dominant in our imaginations are disconnected, or worse, mutually contradictory, it can seem that we live in a world that has lost its story. Nevertheless, even in such fragmented times, when an exceptional storyteller with a rich store of cultural memory comes along and creates a parallel story of human redemption, an instance of fictional grand narrative with inevitable obligations to the ideas, structure and ultimate truths of the biblical grand narrative, the work can meet a profound register of felt need in readers and authors alike. The extraordinary popularity of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is perhaps the greatest illustration of this principle in twentieth-century literature.

Dirtbag Beowulf

Adapted from The Toast:

Hrothgar: ah, Beowulf
welcome to Heorot and the land of my people
we have heard of your deeds from across the sea

Beowulf: yeah it's no big deal I pretty much swam here

Unferth: Is't so?
I heard you were bested by Breca in a swimming match not three w—

Beowulf: yeah actually I once held my breath for like a million hours
it was crazy
my friends weren't even worried because I fight guys underwater like all the time
until it had been like two days
and then they were kind of nervous because I'd never held my breath that long before
but it was no big deal, I was just holding my breath

Unferth: I—

Beowulf: yeah so I only lost to Breca because I was too busy beating up sea monsters
instead of swimming

Unferth: well
I suppose I—

Beowulf: so how many Grendels have you killed so far, Unferth
anyone here who's killed a Grendel raise your hand
that's what I thought

Grendel: more like Blasé-owulf

Beowulf: hey Grendel
say hi to your mom for me

Beowulf: anyone here who's killed a Grendel raise your hand
[he raises Grendel's torn-off arm]
raise the hand of however many Grendels you've killed
hey Unferth
stop hitting yourself
stop hitting yourself with Grendel's hand

Unferth: my lord, I never should have doubted you
and I'm sorry I—please stop doing that

Beowulf: im not doing anything
im not even touching you
Grendel's touching you

Beowulf [skateboarding out of the mead-hall]: Hwaetever


Dragon [dying]: more like
[coughs weakly]

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Death and glory in the Iliad and Beowulf

Here, in Homer's Iliad (Book 12, ll. 359–81), is the locus classicus for the Greek Dark Age lust for glory in battle (emphasis added):
[Sarpedon] quickly called Hippolochus' son: "Glaucous,
why do they hold us both in honor, first by far
with pride of place, choice meats and brimming cups,
in Lycia where all our people look on us like gods?
Why make us lords of estates along the Xanthus' banks,
rich in vineyards and lowland rolling wheat?
So that now the duty's ours—
we are the ones to head our Lycian front,
brace and fling ourselves in the blaze of war,
so a comrade strapped in combat gear may say,
'Not without fame, the men who rule in Lycia,
these kings of ours who eat fat cuts of lamb
and drink sweet wine, the finest stock we have.
But they owe it all to their own fighting strength—
our great men of war, they lead our way in battle!'
Ah my friend, if you and I could escape this fray
and live forever, never a trace of age, immortal,
I would never fight on the front lines again
or command you to the field where men win fame.
But now, as it is, the fates of death await us,
thousands poised to strike, and not a man alive
can flee them or escape—so in we go for attack!
Give our enemy glory or win it for ourselves!
Compare with these lines from this rendering of Beowulf (ll. 1385–93; p. 52; emphasis added):
Bold Beowulf replied, that brave son of Ecgtheow
"Sovereign king, do not sorrow—it seems better to me
To finish the feud as friends wreaking vengeance
Than sorrow in silence
. We simply decide
To abide and endure and exert valor always,
To find dignity in death. When his days are all done,
The worthiest warrior is well-remembered.
Arise, royal king, let us realize glory,
And tail the tracks of this terrible mother. . . ."
Compare with Heaney's translation (ll. 1384–89; p. 97; emphasis added):
. . . It is always better
to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.

For every one of us, living in this world
means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
win glory before death.
When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Reading to your children

James Nance describes, in brief detail, the bedtime routine for his children, particularly as it relates to reading books. He lists, among other things, the importance of reading aloud, reading through the Bible, and singing. Some of his favorites are Watership Down, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. It is important to remember that these books, although predictable favorites, are predictable favorites for a reason.

I particularly resonated with Nance's feelings of nostalgia regarding reading to his children, even though my oldest is only 5 and starts Kindergarten on Tuesday. I have enjoyed reading to my children, and I have enjoyed keeping track of what I have read, as Nance did, though not in the same way.

I keep track using Goodreads, and while it may seem like a hassle to organize and record all of these details, I have found it to be an enjoyable and worthwhile practice, and I have already looked back with fondness as I remember what we read at various points in their lives. You can see what books I've read to our oldest daughter here.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Shippey on Tolkien and Beowulf

From Tom Shippey's "Tolkien and the Beowulf-Poet" (in Roots and Branches):
"The 1936 lecture is generally accepted as the starting-point for almost all modern criticism of the poem, and may well be the most-often cited scholarly paper in the humanities of all time . . ." (4).
"The Lord of the Rings is one of the most successful single works in the whole history of fiction, having sold hundreds of millions of copies – no-one knows the exact figure, in any case now much inflated by the number of viewers of the recent film versions – and was visibly if not prodigiously successful from the moment it was first published" (5).
"To put it bluntly, almost all critics now agree, following Tolkien, that it [Beowulf] is the work of a literate, Christian, Englishman. But the poem, to general embarrassment, never once mentions England, or Britain, or anyone English, apart from two doubtful and marginal cases – the characters Hengest and Offa – about whom one thing is certain, which is that they are still living on the mainland of Europe, whatever may happen to them later or whoever their descendants may be. Furthermore, though the poem refers to the Bible, and frequently to God, the references are always to the Old Testament, never the New, and there is no mention of Christ or any of his standard Old English epithets, such as 'the Redeemer,' 'the Healer,' etc. Specifically Christian reference seems to have been deliberately avoided" (6).
"On internal evidence, then, the poem was not written by a literate Christian Englishman, but orally composed by one or more illiterate pagan Scandinavians. Almost no-one has believed this since Tolkien's 1936 lecture, but before that time variations on such an opinion were common" (6–7).
Tolkien was convinced "that he knew exactly when the [Beowulf] poet was writing . . . . Tolkien says that he will 'accept without argument throughout the attribution of Beowulf to the 'age of Bede'" (Essays, 20), that is to say approximately 700–730 AD. There has been much argument about this, and the general consensus as the moment puts the poem as much as 250 years later. [note 4: I think Tolkien was right, and the modern consensus is wrong, for reasons given in part in Shippey 2005d.] But Tolkien thought that the poem must have come from a time when conversion to Christianity had taken place, and the new religion was solidly established, but not so solidly that memory of pagan times had faded – and, though Tolkien does not say this, perhaps there were still memories of grandparents who had died as pagans and so, in a strict view, had no chance of salvation. Tolkien keeps on calling this a 'time of fusion,' 'a fusion that has occurred at a given point of contact between old and new,' 'a pregnant moment of poise' (Essays, 20, 23). Quite when this was would depend on where this was, for conversion took place at different times in different parts of England, roughly 600-700 AD, and Tolkien offers no opinion on that, but he is quite clear about 'the mood of the author, the essential cast of his imaginative apprehension of the world' (Essays, 20); he was 'looking back into the pit [...] perceiving [the old tales'] common tragedy of inevitable ruin, and yet feeling this more poetically because he was himself removed from the direct pressure of its despair" (Essays, 23). The poet was, then, looking backwards; aware of a kind of anachronism, a contrast between his own time and the time he was writing about; and he was, in particular, a Christian looking back with love and sympathy at people he knew to have been pagans, and whom he would have liked to view as 'virtuous pagans'" (7–8).
"[I]n Tolkien's view the old poet was a Christian, looking back with admiration and pity at a heathen age, and (though he did not know it), on the brink of a new and much more dangerous heathen challenge" (8).
For a related essay, see here (also available in this book).

Monday, July 4, 2016

The paradox of building layout and institutional collapse

Parkinson's Law is a popular British book from the 1950s. This excerpt is from pp. 84–87:
It is now known that a perfection of planned layout is achieved only by institutions on the point of collapse. This apparently paradoxical conclusion is based upon a wealth of archaeological and historical research, with the more esoteric details of which we need not concern ourselves. In general principle, however, the method pursued has been to select and date the buildings which appear to have been perfectly designed for their purpose. A study and comparison of these has tended to prove that perfection of planning is a symptom of decay. During a period of exciting discovery or progress there is no time to plan the perfect headquarters. The time for that comes later, when all the important work has been done. Perfection, we know, is finality; and finality is death.
Thus, to the casual tourist, awestruck in front of St Peter's, Rome, the Basilica and the Vatican must seem the ideal setting for the Papal Monarchy at the very height of its prestige and power. Here, he reflects, must Innocent III have thundered his anathema. Here must Gregory VII have laid down the law. But a glance at the guide-book will convince the traveller that the really powerful Popes reigned long before the present dome was raised, and reigned not infrequently somewhere else. More than that, the late Popes lost half their authority while the work was still in progress. Julius II, whose decision it was to build, and Leo X, who approved Raphael's design, were dead long before the buildings assumed their present shape. Bramante's palace was still building until 1565, the great church not consecrated until 1626, nor the piazza colonnades finished until 1667. The great days of the Papacy were over before the perfect setting was even planned. There were almost forgotten by the date of its completion.
That this sequence of events is in no way exceptional can be proved with ease. Just such a sequence can be found in the history of the League of Nations. Great hopes centred on the League from its inception in 1920 until about 1930. By 1933, at the latest, the experiment was seen to have failed. Its physical embodiment, however, the Palace of the Nations, was not opened until 1937. It was a structure no doubt justly admired. Deep thought had gone into the design of secretariat and council chambers, committee rooms and cafeteria. Everything was there which ingenuity could devise—except, indeed, the League itself. By the year when it Palace was formally opened the League had practically ceased to exist.
It might be urged that the Palace of Versailles is an instance of something quite opposite; the architectural embodiment of Louis XIV's monarchy at its height. But here again the facts refuse to fit the theory. For granted that Versailles may typify the triumphant spirit of that age, it was mostly completed very late in the reign, and some of it indeed during the reign that followed. The building of Versailles mainly took placed between 1669 and 1685. The king did not move there until 1682, and even then the work was still in progress. The famous royal bedroom was not occupied until 1701, nor the chapel finished until nine years later. Considered as a seat of government, rather than a royal residence, Versailles dates in part from as late as 1756. On the other hand, Louis XIV's real triumphs were mostly before 1679, the apex of his career being reached in 1682 itself and his power declining from about 1685. According to one historian, Louis, in coming to Versailles, 'was already sealing the doom of his line and race'. Another says of Versailles that 'The whole thing . . . was completed just when the decline of Louis' power had begun.' A third tacitly supports this theory by describing the period 1685–1713 as 'The years of Decline'. In other words, the visitor who thinks Versailles the place from which Turenne rode forth to victory is essentially mistaken. It would be historically more correct to picture the embarrassment, in that setting, of those who came with the new of defeat at Blenheim. In a palace resplendent with emblems of victory they can hardly have known which way to look.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Tempest notes

Notes (by John Tydeman) for Shakespeare's The Tempest:
When I was writing the synopsis of The Tempest for these notes it was enforcedly borne in upon me that the play, unlike all of Shakespeare's other dramatic works, doesn't really have a plot. It tells a story, it has events, it even has plots within it—Antonio and Sebastian plot to kill King Alonso and steal a brother's crown; Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano plot to kill Prospero, establish Stephano as King of the island, with Miranda as his consort and the jester and the bully-monster as viceroys. Magic overcomes motive and has mastery over character.
It is magic which defines events, from the raising of the storm in the first act to the reconciliations of the last act and the promised marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda and the restoration of his Dukedom to Prospero. He tells us in narrative, after the dramatic and naturalistic-seeming shipwreck, the story of all that has happened in the past which really is the main action and the dramatic plot. From the moment we meet Prospero with Miranda in Act 1 Scene 2 he is in control of the present and we know that he can forsee the future after he has broken his staff (wand), buried his books and abandoned the practice of magic. Because of Prospero's control over events and people there is no real danger, no dramatic conflict, just a progression of controlled happenings leading to a preordained conclusion.
Rarely for Elizabethan/Jacobean drama The Tempest observes the three classical Unities of Time (the events of the play occur within a limit of three to four hours); Place (the island); and Action (things happen continuously). One has some sympathy with the French critic who observed that "Shakespeare finally succeeded in preserving the Unity of Time only by eliminating action altogether".
The Tempest, which is the last play Shakespeare wrote as sole author (Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen were collaborations with John Fletcher), differs from the rest of his dramatic work. To anyone familiar with the canon it just 'feels' different. It has a different texture and symmetry. It aspires to the discipline of music and it is no accident that it has inspired numerous musicians—Beethoven, Purcell, Berlioz, Tippett and Tchaikovsky. At the time of his death Mozart was contemplating making it into an opera.
It has about it the qualities of a pome, a 'sea-poem' some have called it. It has inspired numerous other works of art—W.H. Auden's The Sea and the Mirror, Milton's Comus, Shelley's Ariel to Miranda, Browning's Calban upon Setebos, Marina Warner's novel Indigo. It has inspired films by David Jarman and Peter Greenaway—even the science-fiction film Forbidden Planet. Dryden and Davenant rewrote the original play, introducing new characters and a changed ending, and called their work The Enchanted Isle. It was in this form the The Tempest was played for over 150 years into the 19th century—and even afterwards many liberties were taken with the text.
That text was first published in the Folio edition of 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, and appeared as the first play in the volume. There were no problematic Quarto editions or pirate editions and we can be assured that the play comes down to us much as Shakespeare intended. Whether he actually meant the play to be taken as a kind of personal statement, as a sort of farewell to the theatre by the greatest poet-dramatist of the age (and of all time—but he wasn't to know that!) is a moot point. Such was taken to be the case by sentimentalists for several centuries and there may well have been some such stirring in the creative subconscious of a successful man of the theatre who has made his money and wishes to retire to the country from the hurly-burly of London. I like to think so and can easily read such an intention into the script.
One fact is certain—the play is about a magus, a practitioner of magic, who says farewell to his Art. Shakespeare was certainly such a one.
The play is unlike any other of Shakespeare's insofar as the story is concerned. It is a tale entirely of his own devising. All his other plays were adaptations of other people's work, by they histories, romances, comedies or tragedies. He was to the theatre of his day was Andrew Davis is to television of today—a dramatiser. But The Tempest is special. It is original.
Of course there are references to the works of others—Ovid's Metamorphosis in the 1567 Arthur Golding translation (which he dipped into for many of his works), Virgil's Aeneid and John Florio's translation of Montaigne's Essays. Most interestingly and uniquely, the trigger for the play was an actual incident that occurred in 1609, accounts of which were published in 1610. A ship, the Sea-Venturer, under Sir William Gates, one of a small flotilla taking would-be colonists to the brave New World, was wrecked in the Bermudas and all aboard were considered lost. Then, months later, passengers and crew miraculously (it seemed) turned up on the coast of Virginia unscathed. This dates the writing of the play as being 1610/1611, for it was performed at court before James I on 1st November 1611 and later as part of the celebrations for the marriage of his daughter Princess Elizabeth in 1613.
The fact that it was always performed indoors affected the nature of the play's form and structure. The masque, with much music and elaborate scenery, was the Jacobean fashion and The Tempest conformed to this fashion, which was more restrictive than the boundless space offered by the Elizabethan theatre in playhouses such as The Globe or The Rose.
This was also a period of much new colonisation, particularly in the Americas, and a considerable amount of debate on the subject was available in print. There is no doubt that someone such as Shakespeare was aware of the discussions and made reference to them in this play. Some have even suggested that the name 'Caliban' is an anagram of 'cannibal'.
Whilst The Tempest may be short on plot, in theme it follows the preoccupations of Shakespeare's last romance plays—Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale. Vengeance turns to forgiveness, servitude to freedom, peace and reconciliation are all. The message is very much in line with Christian philosophy and teaching and all are given their freedom, even Prospero who frees himself.
But what of the actor trapped within his role? In the medium of sound alone he and the writer have fired the listener's imagination, created visions within 'the kingdom of the mind', and the actors too, those spirits, need setting free. That is the request made by Shakespeare in the Epilogue when the 'insubstantial pageant' has faded. Your indulgent approbation as audience creates its own form of liberation and whilst we may not be able to actually hear your response—we hope we will, somehow, sense it.