Weekly round-up and open thread
4 days ago
[Men] lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all devils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace.Throughout European history there has been a feeling of nostalgia for this Age and it has manifested itself in many different ways. Abrahamic religion has of course its own version - the Garden of Eden and other cultures throughout the world have similar references to a simpler, more natural way of being. Ovid wrote of this time, echoing Hesiod that:
The Golden Age was first; when Man, yet new, No rule but uncorrupted Reason knew: And, with a native bent, did good pursue. Unforc'd by punishment, un-aw'd by fear.When Columbus first encountered native people in the Americas he wrote back to his sponsors, Ferdinand and Isabella:
His words were simple, and his soul sincere; Needless was written law, where none opprest: The law of Man was written in his breast.
So tractable, so peaceable, are these people that I swear to your Majesties there is not in the world a better nation. They love their neighbors as themselves, and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle, and accompanied with a smile; and though it is true that they are naked, yet their manners are decorous and praiseworthy.
I' the commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty;--...All things in common nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people....I would with such perfection govern, sir,
To excel the golden age.
...bless it so in this calm that when the tempest comes it may ride it
out. Safely bless it so with friends now that it may stand against
enemies hereafter. Prepare thy self a glorious harvest there and
give us leave to be thy labourers that, so the number of thy saints
being fulfilled, we may with better assurance join in that prayer
"come lord Jesus come quickly" and so meet all in that kingdom
which the son of GOD hath purchased for us with the inestimable
price of his incorruptible blood
(spelling and punctuation modernised)
Licence my roving hands, and let them go,
Before, behind, between, above, below.O my America! my new-found-land,My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d,My Mine of precious stones, My Empirie,How blest am I in this discovering thee!
(From Elegy XIX, To His Mistress Going to Bed)
When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.
Descending out of the grey
Clouds elephant trunk
Was not what I expected,
Joke it seemed to me;
'What about a levitation?' I had said,
Preening head for halo,
All alert, combed, sanctified,
I thank Thee, Lord, I am not like other men
Descending out of the grey
Clouds elephant trunk....
(and so ad nauseum)
Heart, my heart, what will you do?
There are five lame dogs and one deaf-mute
All of them with demands on you.
I will build myself a copper tower
With four ways our and no way in
But mine the glory, mine the power.
And what if the tower should shake and fall
With three sharp taps and one big bang?
What would you do with yourself at all?
I would go in the cellar and drink the dark
With two quick sips and one long pull,
Drunk as a lord and gay as a lark.
But what when the cellar roof caves in
With one blue flash and nine old bones?
How, my heart, will you save your skin?
I will go back where I belong
With one foot first and both eyes blind
I will go back where I belong
In the fore-being of mankind.
I have on many occasions found myself prone to the belief that I need to set my own spiritual house in order before committing to political action. There is some justification for this. I was fairly active in my youth but found that within the radical left there was a tendency to reproduce the old power dynamics of the the system we were ostensibly trying to change. It was difficult at times to determine whether the principal motive was to improve conditions or to simply become the "man at the top". It seemed that ideological purity was often more important than actually helping people. This scene in "The Life of Brian" is painfully accurate on this count:
Some people today argue that equanimity achieved through inner spiritual work is a necessary condition for sustaining one’s ethical and political commitments. But to the prophets of the Bible, this would have been an absolutely foreign language and a foreign view of the human. The notion that one has to achieve peace of mind before stretching out one’s hand to one’s neighbor is a distortion of our human experience, and ultimately a dodge of our responsibility. Life is a rollercoaster, and one had better buckle one’s belt and take the trip. This focus on equanimity is actually a narrow-minded, selfish approach to reality dressed up within the language of spirituality.
It is within imagination that we try to see what is invisible - bring it into the light of our meaning. This is the magic of which Leonard wrote and Buffy sings.I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. (R D Laing. Politics of Experience)
...pray for a possible land
Not of sleep-walkers, not of angry puppets
But where both heart and brain can understand
The movements of our fellows;
Where life is a choice of instruments and none
Is debarred his natural music,
Where the waters of life are free of the ice-blockade of hunger
And thought is as free as the sun,
Where the altars of sheer power and mere profit
Have fallen to disuse,
Where nobody sees the use
Of buying money and blood at the cost of blood and money,
Where the individual, no longer squandered
In self-assertion, works with the rest, endowed
With the split vision of juggler and quick lock of a taxi,
Where the people are more than a crowd.
(From Autumn Journal, xxiv)
The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could percieve.
And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity;
Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood;
Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
And at length they pronounc'd that the Gods had order'd such things.
Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.
Just what is lying underneath this statement? The only thing that could have prompted it is a desire to refute the suggestion that women are cleverer than men. He would not have bothered to do so unless there were contention over the matter and that there were some people who asserted female intellectual superiority. Such apparent superiority is, however, he explains due to a confusion in categories. Women's intelligence is of a different nature to men's due to a superfluity of water. Albert was of the strong, Aristotelian, position women were the result of a failure in intrauterine development and therefore imperfect men. They were, as he says, "misbegotten". As they are imperfect it is very difficult if not impossible for them to acquire true intelligence. Whereas they might appear to be intelligent, this appearance is deceptive. It is a diabolical imitation of the true glory of the intellect, driven by emotion rather than reason. It is cunning. Like a fox. A foxy lady. The connection between cunning and women still pertains to this dayWoman is strictly speaking not cleverer but slyer (more cunning) than man. Cleverness sounds like something good, slyness sounds like something evil. thus in evil and perverse things woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man.
Here the pun is double, depending on the secondary meaning of "dying" as "having an orgasm". In other words, Cleopatra's orgasms surpass all male imagining. (There remains, however, the initial meaning; that Cleopatra possessed a mental ability that was way beyond man's use of reason). Albert was, of course, writing in Latin, where to the best of my knowledge the pun does not apply. However, we still speak of the fox as being cunning and still speak of women as "foxes". Cunning, be it linguistically connected with the cunt or not, is still associated with the human being who owns it.ENOBARBUS: ...There's mettle in death which commits some loving act upon her, she [Cleopatra] has such celerity in dying.ANTONY: She is cunning past man's thought.
Experience, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, is right ynogh for me
To speke of wo that is in mariage;
For, lordynges, sith I twelve yeer was of age,
Thonked be God that is eterne on lyve,
Housbondes at chirche dore I have had fyve,
Experience, even if there were no Authority in the world, gives me the right to speak about the woes of marriage. For, sirs, since I was twelve-years-old, I have, thanks to God who lives in eternity, had five husbands at the church door.
Woman is less qualified [than man] for moral behaviour. For the woman contains more liquid than the man, and it is a property of liquid to take things up easily and to hold on to them poorly. liquids are easily moved, hence women are inconstant and curious. When a woman has relations with a man, she would like, as much as possible, to be lying with another man at the same time. Woman knows nothing of fidelity. Believe me, if you give her your trust, you will be disappointed. Trust an experienced teacher. For this reason prudent men share their plans and actions least of all with their wives. Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison with his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she herself cannot get, she seeks ot obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one's guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil. If I could say what I know about women, the world would be astonished... Woman is strictly speaking not cleverer but slyer (more cunning) than man. Cleverness sounds like something good, slyness sounds like something evil. thus in evil and perverse things woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man. Her feelings drive woman towards every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good. (Quaestiones super de animalibus XV q 11)He does not quite state in this passage his qualifications for saying all this. I assume he derived it from his predecessors in the Church and also from his studies of Aristotle. He speaks of his vast knowledge of women, such that it would astonish the world (by which I suppose he means men) but, as a celibate enclosed in a homosocial universe, his claim to expertise cannot be through observation or close contact. Hardly scientific method or anything approaching it.