Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Idol"

Good to be home, here, on OUR blog, Toby.
I got.. wandering too far from home, checking out new blog universes (partly because of your shoulder, but don't feel guilty...).
I promised a safari, a big game hunt in the jungle of idolatry.
An ENORMOUS jungle. With lots of undergrowth, overgrowth..
...
This is a word with layers and layers of Pullmanian dust around it.
A.. word of WORDS. Like.. "THE WORD", right ??
Remember : "den alles Fleisch es ist wie Grass, und alle Herrlichkeit des Menschen wie das Grasses Blumen. Das Grass ist verdoret, une die Blumen abgefallen sind.
ABER des Herrn WORT.. BLEIBET IN EWIGKEIT." (Then all FLESH is like unto grass, and all the happiness of men like unto ... LEAVES OF GRASS (??). The grass has withered, and the flowers have fallen. BUT... the Lord's WORD REMAINS for ALL ETERNITY." Isaiah, I think. I am quoting it from Brahm's "Ein Deutsches Requiem", as I.. sang it, way back when.
Think about it... IF you take out (!!!...) the WORD "GOD", you STILL have : the WORD remains for all eternity (while the flesh decays and dies).
And THAT IS CERTAINLY TRUE, according to my human experience.
A lifetime love affair with words has led me to believe now, more and more that we do not speak "the Word(s)".
They speak US. They INCARNATE in and through us. They lead the dance.
Humbling, and frankly terrifying at certain times.
An inescapable TRUTH of our human condition, this linguistic YOKE we have around our necks from the womb, even. That is bound up into our flesh.
On to "idol".
You may not think about this word very often. Maybe not even at all.
But it STILL is at the heart of some of the most violent intellectual debates we are having now. In ways that are not immediately apparent.
For example.. a few hours ago, a fellow blogger backhanded a remark to me, sneering at my... "literalist" manner of approaching certain history texts.
"Literalist" ? What do you associate with this remark, dear reader ? The.. BIBLE, maybe ??
Many readers do not know that rabbinic Judaïsm which has perfected the ART of INTERPRETATION to a level that American founding fathers/Constitution writers would have been envious of, distinguishes SEVEN levels of textual interpretation, ALL of which must be considered while READING (interpreting, right ??) the biblical TEXT.
I will not take sides in THIS debate ever, maybe, at least UNTIL we have looked at the "idolatry" word.
End of introduction.
From the Oxford English Dictionary, 1971 edition (the OED is NOT TRUTH, and I will offer myself the luxury of a little DISAGREEMENT with it today or next time, maybe...)
(By the way, this is damned uncomfortable, and a sacrifice for YOUR edification (and mine) dear reader, because the OED weighs A TON, and is very cumbersome to handle while typing on the computer..)
.....
"Idol" from "ydele", MIDDLE English and Old FRENCH, "idolum" in Prudentius, cerca 400, Sedulius, 470, "IMAGE, form spectre, apparition in ecclesiastic use. And GREEK "eidolon" : IMAGE, phantom, IDEA, FANCY, LIKENESS, also from.. EIDOS : FORM, SHAPE... The current FRENCH "idole" was adapted in 13th century from Latin "Idolum".
"The order of appearance of the senses in English does not correspond to their original development in Greek, where the sequence was apparently : "appearance, phantom, unsubstantial form, image in water or a mirror, mental image, fancy, material image or statue, and finally, in JEWISH and CHRISTIAN use "image of a FALSE GOD". In English, this last was, under religious influence, the earliest, and in Middle English, the ONLY SENSE, hence(as also, in French) came sense 2. These are the only popular uses of the word. The other uses are 16th century adoptions of earlier Greek senses, often however coloured by association with sense 1 (strict RELIGIOUS sense, me)."
Whew, and I haven't even got to the DEFINITIONS of the word yet.
Can you see all that DUST already ?
First remark : an etymology is really an extremely condensed short cut that does NOT FLESH OUT some aspects of human life that disappear behind.. the words...
Behind this etymology, there is over two thousand years of history, which stretches over 3, 4 ? different cultures : Greek culture, Greek culture as it impregnated and colonized its Roman colonizer culture. Jewish culture. Jewish culture as it informed the succeeding Christian culture. Roman/Greek culture as it gradually fused with Christian/Judaic culture and reached outside of the Meditteranean to touch other cultures, with very DIFFERENT IDEAS AND BELIEFS (the so called... barbarians that swept over the decaying Roman Empire).
And.. in spite of the decline of the Roman and Greek empires, the decline of the dominant Christian "empire" in the medieval period... the WORD "idol" is STILL with us.
Spoken by US, and spoken by 4th century Latin church authorities, too.. (A WORLD of difference, certainly between THEIR worlds/words (meanings) and ours...)
All that flesh that has decayed, and the WORD is still standing, eh ??
Something else that should be apparent is that this word is POLYSEMIC. That means that ONE word has the possibility of conjuring up... LOTS OF DIFFERENT IMAGES (!!!) in our minds, and at the SAME TIME TOO. Images... that CAN go in the direction of our Jewish and Christian ancestors, and THEIR culture.
And images that can go in the direction of our Greek ancestors too. In addition to the directions of all our ancestors in the years up until NOW.
AND.. think about it... since GREEK was the initial language of THE NEW TESTAMENT, look how that FACT ties Greek culture and Jewish culture TOGETHER in an inextricable KNOT.
They are.. INSEPARABLE in our minds now. The way that the Middle English meaning was tied up into... the Old French meaning, too...
And THIS FACT has consequences for us. Inescapable consequences that it is important for us to understand. IF we are going to manage... to be perhaps... a little less SPOKEN by our words, and more SPEAKING them ??
I think there is an extremely important aspect of this problem that we need to keep in mind as much as possible. These... transfers of meaning, these intrications, are all the RESULT of the physical movement of our flesh and blood ancestors who were... moving from place to place, in conquest, in colonizing, in wandering, whatever. Men and women who inevitably brought their culture with them wherever they went.
Because.. we CAN'T DO ANYTHING ELSE.
Remember.. THAT YOKE ??
That's all for now. We will continue. Next time. Promise.
Just to throw out a teaser... NEXT TIME.. we will continue, looking at the POLYSEMIC WORD.. "false" too. It has momentous bearing on the idolatry question...
(LOOK how the words are bouncing off each other here, right ?? A regular BIG... CHAIN REACTION, in my book. ;-) )
(P.S., Toby, or a Germanist friend passing through the saloon, could you correct my German, if necessary ? I am quoting from memory, cannot find my copy of "Ein Deutsches Requiem"...)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Those earnest young men (?) in their pressed polyester suits

Yeah, that's my new title. You got it...
BEFORE I launch into my encyclopedic (no, not Wiki, I'm referring to the ORIGINAL encyclopedia, like, Diderot, right ??) take on "idolatry", which will occupy a fair amount of my time, I felt like... LIGHTENING UP (but the subject is NOT conducive to lightening up, as we shall see...) a little bit.
This morning I took a little stroll into another blog (no names, it's not nice...) and stopped by a table where somebody was congratulating himself ? the blog "members" ? along the lines of.. "OUR comments are" (better/bigger/sexier/more intelligent/cuter, you get the idea) "than THEIR comments are".
Ho hum.
If there is one thing that I have definitely noticed on the blogs, it is this almost SOPHOMORIC dedication to reducing all language to the less than one page essay with intro/development (don't forget to mark those paragraphs, please) NOTHING but clear cut, ten syllable words that NObody can understand, and, of course.. ON TOPIC all the time. (Yes, I know, I'm exaggerating, it's what I do best.)
...
YOU may not realize this, dear reader, but this particularly TOTALITARIAN slant on language, and speaking ("communication" is a word that I have banned from my vocabulary) stems directly from the idolatry ( you'll have to wait for the next installment, dear reader, for more info on that one...) of the scientific method, and the SINGLE MINDED insistance that, since more of a good thing is always better (...), we should ALL talk like the dictionary ALL the time in order to be understood, and eliminate ALL ambiguity in our relations with others. World without end, amen.

i do not share that world project, nor do I WANT to eliminate all ambiguity in my relations with others.

WHAT KIND OF A WORLD WOULD WE LIVE IN IF ALL AMBIGUITY WERE ELIMINATED ?
Maybe... the world that we're trying to live in these days ? A black and white one, with so little room for shades of grey that many of us have forgotten what grey used to look like.
And... HOW MUCH FUN would we be having ?? Personally, I don't have lots of fun with 10 syllable words put together in the format of a scientific abstract.
In true, pain in the ass fashion, I say... WHY CAN'T WE HAVE OUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO ?
Why can't we have fun while talking intelligently on the blogs ?
Why can't we occasionally.. take off those pressed polyester suits, LET OUR HAIR GROW (crew cuts are NOT sexy...) and ENJOY our intellectual activity ?
This also means breaking out of the single minded insistance on a particular type of logic, the immediately apparent logic of the scientific abstract. WE have OTHER kinds of logic, too : the ones available in FREE (catch that word...) association. (Dixit Sigmund. HE discovered this, and he was absolutely right on this one. I believe.)
What's wrong with THEM ?
In countries where mucho tiempo is spent doing a good deal of self congratulation about the end of all sexual hang ups and inhibition, we SEEM to be particularly... INHIBITED STILL about the possibility of having fun.
COULD WE BE LESS "LIBERATED" than we THINK we are, maybe ?
Having fun is the ultimate no no for most of us. IT is STILL tinged with an undercurrent of unease.
And.. FREE association ? I don't even think that we know what this means.. Many of us. (Volumes could be written to expand on THIS observation, but space will not permit. Readers shall have to.. associate on their own.)
i feel qualified to say that it's the equivalent of PLAYING.
Have fun.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Extremism

It's probably not the first time, nor the last that I will treat this subject, which is an extremely important one for me.
On a little trip through blogland, I stopped by for a visit at a place where I occasionally hang out.
I have been there before. Several times. Over a period of one or two years, but I am NOT a regular.
One of the things that struck me today was the increasingly strident, agressive rhetoric of this author, who resorts to scapegoating more and more often, as his disillusionment, frustration, feelings of helplessness, even despair, increase in the current U.S. economic and political crisis.
I have warned him that he is beginning to sound like someone who had a volcanic impact on 20th century Europe : Adolf Hitler. An extremely intelligent man, Adolf, with pertinent and perspicaceous political and economic analysis about the maelstrom crisis HE was caught up in. A man who, contrary to current public opinion, fought... earnestly and hard against the... EXTREMISM and RADICALISM that was eating away at his spirit. A man who fought against the all too human tendancy to scapegoat, to find a flesh and blood person, or class of people : Jews, but perhaps also.. Roms ? or.. the rich ? to INCARNATE the bad guy, the OTHER responsible for OUR predicament.
A man who... LOST that fight. With the consequences that WE can LOOK BACK ON, and SEE NOW, over 70 years later, from a point of view that DEFINITELY was not that of... Adolf or the millions of OTHER PEOPLE, Germans, Jews, communists, Roms, Christians, homosexuals, French, whatever, who were affected by this PERSONAL (to Adolf...) and COLLECTIVE tragedy (because it could NOT have happened without, shall we say... THE HELP of lots and lots of people in addition to Adolf. People who were.. LIKE ADOLF, caught up in a maelstrom of seething, raw emotion, despair, rage, hate that made the appeal to reason... inaudible).
If I say this today, it is because, Heraclitus notwithstanding, I am ill at ease with what appears from my vantage point to be an increasing radicalism, and extremism in the U.S. social body in response to a relatively new economic situation for the country : massive unemployment in spite of increased "objectified" productivity.
The situation that Western Europe, at least France, my home, has known for quite some time now, and which is eating away at ALL of our spirits, causing frustration, despair, and a desire to scapegoat almost EVERYWHERE these days, I'm afraid.
I think that it is extremely important to say these things because...
Well, the very idea of history, of locating something in the past has some unfortunate, and unintended consequences. Among which... the consequence of making us feel that no way in hell could WE ever behave the way those people back there in 1939 behaved.
THAT was the past. WE are not in the past. WE could NEVER do the things the GERMAN people, those INHUMAN, ANIMAL, BRUTISH NAZIS did from 1939-45...(!!!!)
THAT was then. THIS is NOW. WE have made PROGRESS since then.
See ? Look at.. all those LAWS, those declarations, those INSTITUTIONS we have set up to INOCULATE OURSELVES against THE IDEA that WE could behave like our ancestors did.
(In France, this is particularly true, how about in GERMANY, TOBY ??)
This particularly... RATIONAL way of looking at the metaphysical problem of HOW AND WHY WE can commit atrocities (REAL EVIL) WILL NOT stand up ALONE to the beating that it is getting right now.
Unless we can find a way to REINTEGRATE, REINTRICATE reason AND emotion, for example.
Unless we stop telling ourselves lies about what WE (not "they"...) are capable of BECAUSE WE ARE HUMAN, and this is a part of being human.
Unless we learn to become an INCLUSIVE society, NOT an exclusive one. Not one that labels... "Jews", "the rich", "homosexuals", and slants people off into little boxes to keep them.. outta sight and outta mind in some instances, or... the constant objects of our hate and attacks in others.
Unless we ALSO learn to CONTROL OUR tongues, our speech, and learn how to BELIEVE IN something/someone ? to give meaning to our lives. Using our tongues and speech to GIVE HOPE. To comfort, for example.
Unless we REALLY learn what it means to become.. MEN and WOMEN. Fully human.
With our weaknesses, that we can look in the face without turning away, or sweeping under the carpet. With our STRENGTHS, AND OUR BEAUTIES that we can also see, and not disparage.
I tremble for my fellow Americans these days...
There is so much at stake.
For US all.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Asking...

Sorry, guys and gals, but I can't help it. Toby has got me going. (And Toby, CAREFUL WITH THAT SHOULDER NOW (she says smugly...).)
About two years ago, I was sitting in the general assembly of my cultural, artistic association, which is manned by several women, and one man, all practicing Christians who are living together as laymen, a decidely marginal way of living AND doing business these days that inspires a lot of mistrust in our current society.
(By the way, I COULD do a post about the peculiar status of the ASSOCIATION loi 1901 in France, which allows people to band together to do business WITHOUT MAKING A PROFIT on their activity. I suspect that the Association loi 1901 is ONE aspect of French society that is at least temporarily protecting it from the implosion that is going on in some Anglo Saxon countries that we won't name. But I COULD be ignorant on this subject. I am VERY IGNORANT. Lecter emptor. (Does that work ? I never did Latin in school...))
And while I was talking (this happens...) it suddenly HIT ME what Jesus meant when he said.. "Ask and you shall receive."
He wasn't telling people to get down on their knees, and pray to God to receive what they needed or desired. (Or at least if he was talking about that, he wasn't JUST talking about that.)
No, Jesus was A GREAT PSYCHOLOGIST (among his numerous other talents).
Because... he KNEW (and I KNOW TOO) that IF YOU ASK YOUR NEIGHBOR for what you need, and I mean REALLY ASK, putting yourself into that HUMBLE POSITION of saying to your neighbor that YOU ARE IN NEED, and that you think that HE can help you, well, and if you ASK HONESTLY, not for the moon, but sometimes you can EVEN ask for the moon, anything is possible FOR MAN (with God, I should say...), YOU WILL RECEIVE.
(You can connect with Rifkin now about empathy, if you want, Toby, although I prefer OTHER WORDS...)
Because... your neighbor really needs and wants... TO FEEL NEEDED.
It is an intimate part of all of us, this need to be needed. To protect. TO BE OF SERVICE.
It is a VERY STRONG part of every one of us, and one that it is very very dangerous to mess with, or thwart.
And... when we DELEGATE our capacity to serve to FACELESS, UNEMBODIED INSTITUTIONS, well, we THWART our individual day to day NEED to be needed, by the way. And it gets out of hand elsewhere. Like... among other areas, that ENORMOUS INSTITUTIONALIZED AND FACELESS SECURITY BUILDUP THAT IS ALL AROUND US RIGHT NOW. To... protect. To serve us (among other things, admittedly.)
Back to ASKING.
The ironic thing was that when I said this TRUTH about asking to my Christian friends, they smiled politely at me, like, I was some tiresome and naive child who really didn't know how the world worked.
As CHRISTIANS... they didn't believe me about what Jesus said.
That's really sad, you know.
Because.. asking to receive WORKS IF/WHEN you BELIEVE and WHEN YOU TRUST YOUR NEIGHBOR. When you have faith in HIM. (Careful... it doesn't always work, it's not a formula, and you can't PREDICT it all the time, there's no LAW to it. If it ALWAYS WORKED, well then you and I would not be FREE then, to GIVE or not give, would we ? But it works a lot.)
Otherwise it doesn't work.
I think that this is probably the most important post that I have written here YET.
There are some very very difficult and unpleasant things that need to be said about belief, and trust, too.
The ultimate symptom of decadence is unbelief.
Dixit Herbert, who could just about be another Bible for me. (But he's not as talented...)
I am one of the few people I know (!!!) to have read all the way through the Dune books.
Edifying.





Money, post number 2,000,000 ($,€,£, you pick..)

Toby, I have NOT FORGOTTEN your request on the meaning of the word "idolatry", ALL of my religious resource books are STILL boxed up because we are doing our bedroom over, so they are INACCESSIBLE for the moment, and "idolatry" is a subject that requires CAREFUL ATTENTION (and probably 2,000,000 posts too) to do it justice AS A COMPLEX in the Freudian sense, A BIG KNOT, or hub through which countless strands of ideological discourse from different sectors MEET for our civilization. (I'm sure that one (hé hé) could use physics models to treat this, but I am not savvy enough on physics to do it...) (Just last night I was skimming through Shakespeare's sonnets, and my eyes rested on sonnet 105, of which the subject matter is... "idolatry", maybe I will stick it down next, who knows...)
Now that I have overspent half this post talking about "idolatry" when the original subject was MONEY, let me settle down into topic.
I think I mentioned in my comments a while back that I spent a day in the London reconstruction of the Globe Theater, looking at all the STUFF, the beautiful WORK that a dedicated COMMUNITY of people are doing to resurrect Shakespeare's contribution to humanity for OUR time, to give life to the bard and his words, to EMBODY THEM in such a way as that they will still speak to OUR minds and imagination, and those of our children too. All the while maintaining and creating CONTINUITY between our past and the present, continuity without which ANY society is ultimately doomed. (I'm harping, I'm harping...)
This venture stems from the project of an American actor, a man who spent the greater part of his life BRINGING ABOUT the creation of this structure, initially in the face of British indifference to it, and CONSTANT WORRIES ABOUT WHERE TO FIND THE MONEY TO GET THE PROJECT OFF THE GROUND.
But that is not the subject of my post....
During the visit, there was a handwritten list of THE PROPERTY of Shakespeare's company (the companies were TRUE DEMOCRATIC ORGANIZATIONS ; everybody had his say in what was produced, etc etc) around 1600 or so.
On that list was... a cloak purchased for £20.
Ho hum, right ?
What comes into your head when you read that ?
In 2010, £20 EXCHANGES FOR (just barely...) a night in a cheap youth hostel in the U.K. A bite to eat in a middle class restaurant for two people (nothing fancy, careful).
But in 1600... £20 PAID FOR a hand worked, embroidered, velvet cloak that TODAY would exchange for... £10,000. And in the 1600's, £20 was a LOT OF MONEY.. It was EXPENSIVE.
Yeah, that's right.
I SHOULD ADD that £10,000 OF TODAY'S MONEY COULD NOT BUY a cloak like the one made in Shakespeare's time. Because CLOAKS LIKE THAT ARE NOT MADE ANY MORE. The INITIAL FABRIC that goes into the clothing (for the aristocracy, essentially, but not just...) IS OF MUCH BETTER QUALITY. The weaving is much tighter ; there are more strands to the centimeter, it is woven DENSER than NOW. The CRAFTMANSHIP is better. The work is individualized. And, of course... it was all made from hand. NO MACHINES.
Let's try to draw together some lessons from this, now, according to my brow beaten hypothesis that IT ALL HANGS TOGETHER.
LESS MONEY bought (MORE) STUFF of BETTER QUALITY in the 1600's. (This is a sweeping generalization ; it may be wrong, but I think not.. IF YOU LOOK at what money is worth over a very long period of time, and not just the past 50-100 years or so.) Please remember that we have been talking about repetition of cycles, (classic economic theory, I think) and that THIS cycle is a bigger, and longer cycle than the ones we usually see. In my opinion.
Let's think about scarcity (one of Toby's big subjects...).
Let's think about it as a psychological phenomenon, for a change. (Classical economics MADE A BIG MISTAKE DENYING the psychological aspects of money, but then, I seem to remember that classical economics has been in heavy duty denial of the nature of money ITSELF for up until very recently, dixit Bernard Maris, my favorite (marginal) economist.)
When you go into the mass produced box store, a carbon copy of other box stores or department stores all over the country or world, and see MULTIPLE identical copies of the SAME poorly OR well made (relatively) item of clothing, what goes off in your head ??
Don't you tend to get THAT HUNG OVER FEELING that comes from being force fed ?
Force feeding creates a JADED appetite IN THE LONG RUN.
And the MULTIPLICATION (like loaves and fishes..) of IDENTICAL items, of clothing, of food, of computer components (think uniformization again), whatever, generally MACHINE MADE , goes hand in hand with...
the exponential multiplication of the NUMBERS attached to MONEY.
We are churning out anonymous, indifferentiated SHIT on a very large scale.
Now I fall back on my Freud.
We KNOW we are churning out anonymous, indifferentiated shit on a very large scale, and we KNOW it is worthless too, BECAUSE WORTH is intimately associated in our own eyes with the quality of IRREPLACEABILITY.
The shit we are churning out is light years away from being.. UNIQUE and IRREPLACEABLE.
And so... our money reflects our own knowledge of how WORTHLESS our stuff is.
OUR MONEY TOO, is worth LESS AND LESS.
The MORE we churn out worthless, undifferentiated SHIT, THE LESS our money is WORTH, in our own eyes...
I welcome your comments.
Back to the Globe.
The good news is... there are people who are interested in resurrecting the OLD, HAND MADE techniques of WORKING. Resurrecting these techniques gives new luster to the word "work", by the way. Working, NOT SOLELY to make money or to earn a living (yuccky), but to make beautiful, ENDURING things. With our hands.
The people who are WORKING in THIS adventure are HAPPY TO BE WORKING.
AND... they are putting meat and potatoes on the table.
Good... JOB, huh ?