Friday, July 10, 2015

II.9: On Plutarch's Kind of Belief

Plutarch was a priest of Apollo at Delphi, but he seems to have regarded it as a moral-civic, rather than religious, office. It certainly wasn't a vocation. It seemed to have been his responsibility as a wise man of the region to translate desire and concern into moral recommendation, the kind of thing that early in the life of peoples may seem to require divine inspiration, but later only a peculiar kind of awe of the wisdom of the ages.

In addition to his priesthood, Plutarch served as a public official in his native Chaeronea, sometimes as archon, sometimes as diplomat. Though admmitted to Roman citizenship, he did not translate himself to Rome, but kept court in Boeotia. He does not appear to have been a man with great and immoderate desires. Late in life, having worn the robes of a Delphic priest, he wore the consular robes as procurator of the Roman province of Achaea. He was a man of learning, a political man, and a man of the cloth.

It would seem that such multilateralism indicates the decadence, not the vibrancy of religion. And indeed, Plutarch is somewhat of a rational humanist when his roles as biographer, philosopher, and moralist lead him to accounts of the extraordinary and supernatural. But note also how he gives the best and most sympathetic interpretation. Sometimes he says something like, 'well, who am I to disupute that this happened?' which is not as much as to say, 'it did not happen,' while certainly falling far short of saying that it did. He needed to have such a moderate approach when writing of the Greek and Roman heroes, whose births and lives were always said to be accompanied by prodigies. Plutarch himself lived among peoples who employed diviners, though they were then taken much less seriously than in the time of Numa or even Alcibiades.

Homer, Plutarch says, does not
deny[] the action of a man's own deliberate thought and free choice... But where the act is something out of the way and extraordinary, and seems in a manner to demand some impulse of divine possession and sudden inspiration to account for it, here he does introduce divine agency, not to destroy, but to prompt the human will; not to create in us another agency, but offering images to stimulate our own; images that in no sort or kind make our action involuntary, but give occasion rather to spontaneous action, aided and sustained by feelings of confidence and hope. For either we must totally dismiss and exclude divine influences from every kind of causality and origination in what we do, or else what other way can we conceive in which divine aid and cooperation can act? Certainly we cannot suppose that the divine beings actually and literally turn our bodies and direct our hands and our feet this way or that, to do what is right: it is obvious that they must actuate the practical and elective element of our nature, by certain initial occasions, by images presented to the imagination, and thoughts suggested to the mind, such either as to excite it to, or avert and withhold it from, any particular course.
Divine action seems to be a kind of prevenient grace which provokes one to act, something which explains how deliberation ends and choice begins. Who can say what images will come to us in the crucial moment? If we are not to deny human agency, and yet allow for divine intervention, we must grant to the god a kind of intermediary power, a helpfulness, like that of Socrates' little divine thing.

But what is the occasion for Plutarch to engage in this speculation? What, among the many miracles related in his Lives, leads him to need to explain the role of the gods in human affairs in such a careful way? Nothing much: Valeria, Poplicola's sister, had a dream in which it was suggested to her that she should encourage Coriolanus' mother and wife to join them in supplicating him not to attack Rome. It would not seem something that would require divine intervention, except that, the situation being dire in Rome, the priests having failed to dissuade Corionalus from attacking, those in Rome, "placing their hopes chiefly in time and in extraordinary accidents of fortune," "they felt incapable of doing anything for their own deliverance..." (p. 315) It seems that the god acts only when something extraordinary is called for, but then, it is difficult to tell the difference between providence and fortune. Further, it is not so much the greatness of the act, but its timeliness or inexplicability which indicates divine intervention. This is almost enough to say that the more prepared we are, and the less powerless or surprised, the less the need for, or occurrence of, divine acts.

After Coriolanus' mother and wife persuaded him to turn back, and the city was saved, the senate asked the women what they wanted; it was willing to grant any honor or favor. They asked only that a temple be erected to Female Fortune and even offered to pay for it. When the senate accepted but paid for it with city funds, the women collected money for a second image of Female Fortune. This image apparently uttered, as it was being put up, "Blessed of the gods, O women, is your gift." Then it said it a second time.

At this, Plutarch scolds the women for "expecting our belief of what seems pretty nearly an impossibility." He goes on to say that statues may seem to sweat or even groan, and that this may be due to divine causes, but that there must also be some concurrent physical cause. What to conclude, then, about this miracle? "For it was never known that either the soul of man, or the deity himself, uttered vocal sounds and language, alone, without an organized body and members fitted for speech."

The women seem to have gone too far. They would not allow the city to pay for everything, to appropriate their goddess; it needed something of their own devotion, and something incredible which would make their devotion that much more admirable, something redounding to their own honor, like the actions of the Sabine wives in placating their people and bringing peace between the Romans and Sabines. The second statue speaks a second time, as if to give echo to its own redundancy. Plutarch balks, but ultimately cannot refute or deny this miracle, only say that it seems to him "a thing utterly out of possibility." "But," he says,
where history seems in a manner to force our assent by the concurrence of numerous and credible witnesses, we are to conclude that an impression distinct from sensation affects the imaginative part of our nature, and then carries away the judgment, so as to believe it to be sensation; just as in sleep we fancy we see and hear, without really doing either. Persons, however, whose strong feelings of reverence to the deity, and tenderness for religion, have certainly a strong argument for their faith, in the wonderful and transcendent character of the divine power; which admits no manner of comparison with ours, either in its nature or its action, the modes or the strength of its operations. It is no contradiction to reason that it should do things that we cannot do, and effect what for us is impracticable: differing from us in all respects, in its acts yet more than in other points we may well believe it to be unlike us and remote from us. Knowledge of divine things for the most part, as Heraclitus says, is lost to us by incredulity.
Faith cannot be refuted, and it may even be that the god deceives the imagination so as to make us believe an action has occurred through special, when it has actually occurred through normal means. One will always find the credulous ready to attribute fantastic things to divine action, and perhaps they know more about the divine. And yet, Plutarch seems to say through the context of this discussion, much that is extraordinary can be understood without the divine by the study of the human, by the study of extraordinary humans-- the heroes. The piety of the women, on the other hand, wishes to attribute divine effect to the ordinary human-- to their own prayers. This, in relation to the passage about Homer, above, would suggest that the pious often invoke the gods as a way of indicating the power of their own wills. But Plutarch, obviously, is more interested in the wills of the great.

Friday, June 12, 2015

II.8: Serapis

In the 3rd century before Christ, Alexander the Great's general Ptolemy, who was given the name "Soter," or "Savior," by the Rhodians for lifting a siege on their island, and later became the ruler/founder of a great post-Alexandrian dynasty in Egypt, introduced a new god into the world.

Serapis may have been some minor deity with a meager cult, but Ptolemy made him God of the the Egyptian-Greek unity which his own empire represented; he spread his worship as a matter of deliberate policy (Wikipedia tells us). Nearly six centuries before Constantine, Ptolemy tried to make a religion that would unify the world. The temple he had built for Serapis in Alexandria, was, according to Ammianus Marcellinus, the most magnificent building in the whole world after the Capitol in Rome; it was this edifice which contained the "two priceless libraries" which burned when Caesar sacked the city in pursuing Antony. As Pascal said, 'if only Cleopatra's nose had been a little longer...' perhaps we would still revere the name. Instead, it is forgotten.

Three decades after Constantine, the emperor Julian wrote to the People of Alexandria: "If you do not revere the memory of Alexander, your founder, and yet more than him the great god, the most holy Serapis, how is it that you took no thought at least for the welfare of your community, for humanity, for decency? Furthermore, I will add that you took no thought for me either, though all the gods, and, above all, the great Serapis, judged it right that I should rule over the world."

II.7: On Prophecy

In the end, everyone is a prophet
if only of his own death.
The first law of prophecy:
the future is only revealed in the present.
if the prophet tells the truth,
and is believed, the future changes;
if the future is revealed,
it becomes the past.

Was not Cassandra's curse the burden of all prophets?
What creatures swim in Cassotis spring?
Ambiguous ones, to be sure.
Insofar as we sing the truth, we know the future,
but the truth is hard to know, harder to tell.

Mantikos, you're crazy; you're a madman.
Why do you possess the Pythia with rotting snake
where you were slayed in the center of the Earth?
You're already dead, but you're forever in the bloom
of youth. Why would you speak those withered words?

Do not say, "King," but "He said, 'I am King.'"
It is too late. How truth shines out:
you will get what you want; only ask for it.
He saved others; He cannot save himself.
He is the mighty one who cannot save: Loxias,
or Light, or Death... it will not save you.
If only it were the end. But the shade slips out,
and it finds its way into a cleft in the rock,
at the omphalos, and it tells its secrets.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Outline of 26 Chapters: XIX

XIX. On the Age of England

Some peoples can never be made to look forward; even when striking out for new lands, placing an obelisk down to testify to the founding moment, they shine their glory back into prehistory. The Arabs call the time before Muhammad the Age of Ignorance, but the English wish to say that Arthur will, and has, lived forever. Celts and Britons, Angles and Saxons and Jutes-- it doesn't matter, because something further back gives the English their spirit. There is some ancient magic there.

We know when Charles made his crown and when the Lombard nail was added, and when the Great Charles knelt and was crowned. But before Aethelred and Alfred, there was Arthur; before that beginning, the old Empire lingered, and left as the Visigoths were approaching Rome. What ghosts did they leave there? How quickly civilization recedes into darkness, when deeds once recorded down to the day become murky to the year, to the decade, to the name-- he did not really die, he was healed and came back to life. He is the land itself, in all of its old stones. Stonehenge is so much older than Hadrian's Wall. A people lived there for two millenia, with the arts of moving the things of the earth, of erecting monuments and buildings and laying down roads and measuring the stars. But waves of darkness came and holes once used for posts and instruments became tombs, new built, within the sacred circle. Many uses have been found for it, but always they come back to human sacrifice. But it may have been a place of healing, of worship, of contemplation, or burial, or all of them. It may have been like Delphi (and it is so much older).

Will our astrolabes and compasses, our Ptolemy Stones-- data centers and missile control complexes-- become just so many obelisks for bloody abnegation? Perhaps not. There's something hermetic about being an island, such that secrets are transformed and distilled and worshiped there without ever really changing. Wastes do not wash them over.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

II.6: That the unity of body and soul is not desirable for men in common

Ever since Remirro and the knife and wood,
we've separated our powers. we're not
whole. that's a million byrds
flying in the same direction, a flock
full of loops and counter-loops,
interest counteracting ambition
and forces massing on the outside,
crying struggle, rage, jihad on such division.

but i'm comfortable with papercuts.
we'll never not need Philistines to come.
that's the only way to bring the lords together
and unite them under common crown,
besides the new artillery, which chops off
rough edges-- how your old artillery
of pyschophysical unity would pierce us.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

II.5: On attention to wisdom

What do we fill these houses with?
Other people are just pretending,
so smile and walk boldly in the world,
and take fortune cookie wisdom well,
for Providence is everywhere
when you look for it. Taste

and see that the Lord is good;
we need to be told that we're weak,
and would be like beasts without Him,
but what about thinking overmuch,
and writing and reading overmuch?
Apparently that's not natural.

So then how do coded messages get stuck
in there? I'm a silverware drawer for sure,
and that's why I dip my hand in honey.
But so often that sweetness is to be found
on the lips of a strange woman,
much as in oily, pleasant words.

Wormwood! And so I go down to death,
but I refrained from sacrificing
daughter or delightful dance
to a vain imagining. But better to
be like the tree which is planted
than to wonder what's in the doorways.

Monday, August 4, 2014

II.4: On delicacy

I know I can make some tender moments last a lifetime,
or even longer, if the Muses favor me,
and that, from an ordinary point of view,
that's ridiculous. But we don't live in wheelbarrows
or leaky lawnmowers that must be cleaned,
but in love with dirt and clippings.

Another A poem
That's why it's "we"; do we ever carry only us alone,
when we sit down to dream and sleep,
even to replenish or refresh? The smallest things
can be crimes against humanity, and that's enough
to make saintly little sinners weep. There's too much
at stake. One wonders how we ever raise our eyes to meet,
and yet, I feel yours on me now: drink deep.

You've wounded me, and though it was just a simple drop of blood,
it was enough to rouse their twerps and tweets,
and they sing better now. I'd not been serene 'til then,
and again I'm spilling out, no solitary mountaineer
but a captain in fair weather, leader of a fleet
to wink at shipwrecks. For me? For me? That's enough
to send me careening down the hill, laughing at my scrapes.

The men will still respect me. Let's hunt for stags
amidst the thorns and brambles; the only thing more perfect
is that I had never even touched soft forms,
or looked with more than longing in those eyes,
but only seen and known. I understand now
what Plato meant, and why the winner's gaze is deep.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

II.3: New Invocation

Calliope! My byrds are teeming,
and I swear by Styx, where all those tepid dreams
stirred up by a slight, laconic love—
mere fascination, more some glovéd hand
flickering frivolously from a carriage window
than Dante's ether-lady looking at him in an archway—
now sink down to drown and disappear
and up come the pearly bubbles,
that I will sacrifice to you.
Only teach me to flirt with Apollo's arrows
straining at the edge of the world,
covered in burning pitch under the great wall,
taking to heart the tearful spear
even unto the second and the third time.

Outline of 26 Chapters: XVIII

XVIII. On Dark Ages and Rebirths

There were so many popes and a few too many pontificates.
Innocents inflicted great spiritual wounds
after Caesars and Pompeys became Peters, Johns, and Matthews
(so says Machiavelli, the rebirth born again,
like what the populous north, to ravage glutted Southern lands,
poured forth from her frozen barbar'n loins,
(so says Milton, giving birth again to myth
and magic and a sense of sacred trust)).

Visigoths became lazy Romans in the hot sun
while unconquered Germans carried their spears everywhere
and remained Guntrams and Hildeberts,
letting their hair flow out, carrying their houses on their backs,
paying chickens to their local lords and testing their mettle
with swords and ice and fire
and all over again in silver cattle
(so says Montesquieu, that Frankish
founder-historian who wished even more than Rousseau
that we could go back into the woods).

They wrote poorly in Attic Greek in the Eastern Empire.
What silly tales must Charlemagne's intellectuals have told?
Still, these courts of culture were few, and far between--
for there must have been great sadness there,
the sense that something mightier than bishops and lords
had been lost, some magic formulae for happiness
and enlightenment (and gold).

Only reasonable that some lucky prods and pryings
would jar loose all the ancient secrets that
Aristotle and Plato had hid away under forms and definitions,
and of a sudden we would solve for X,
fling about all sorts of frequent forces
cute and capricious, for us to favor.
Now they built those cathedrals tall, filled them with the finest paintings
so that they could worship God with timbrel and dance and towering organs!

The leaves grew back, but the tree was different.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

II.2: A Poem for A.

I liked when you were foolish because of me
As grace sweeps bugs along a stony terrace
And drowns out with warmest wind the drafty skies.

You looked into the future with moonlit eyes
And dreamt off the ancient itches in our arms
Like love lets down its load before the fire.

I liked when you were foolish because of me
As joy shakes out shimmers from their spiny sheaths
And bubbles spend eternity in a crest.

You turned jellyfish and chased away the time
As hope fills the air with its fragrant whispers
That hang there, like oranges.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book II, Chapter 1: On the common good

We begin alone.
But I've already ruined it:
I mean we begin this book with solitude.
What, are we doing this together?
Am I taking you somewhere?
Why would you go with me?
Why would we begin?
And if we're one, we are not many,
And you and I are just I,
And you're just me,
And you're away somewhere,
And you're waiting
To come into existence.

We begin again alone.
We did not come into this world
For any other purpose but to love.
I'm sure, even as I sit with stuff
No one cares about but me,
In an empty house, with no other sound
But this lonely preface.
Oh hearth! The laughter of friends!
The tedious, time-worn tittles
Of family table, of common ground.
The tree, long resting,
The nervous recklessness of youth
And sweaty baseball caps hung up.
None of this for me.

Cheap tin Texas star
To sit around,
And gaudy gimmick-glasses
To drink from.
There's no taste for being loved.
Give me your vapid TV time
To watch with.
I'd be constrained to share the good;
I'd love to.
I can't go back and get the knack for it.
We begin alone.
Sometimes I stay there forever.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Outline of 26 Chapters: XVII

XVII. What are Nature and Perfection, for Us?

We want to end up back at ends--
man cannot make himself! man cannot!
man must rely on God. must move in
a tight and a saintly circle,
must be haughty hesychasts,
teaching our babies to replace us,
and rule the world less permissively.

oh! But you will sweat for it, and
will want to give us bread and bullets.
And so I wonder if you will really...
pray like that. I used to laugh at
the notion of theocracy. Heh.
But hierocrats have always
managed to rise from the ashes.

The perfect poleis of the Middle Ages!
It was atheists who called them "Dark";
and their own time "enlightened"--
they say, but again I wonder
if the best time is not when our faith is slipping away,
when we struggle to hold onto.
Epics emerge out of unbelief, I fear,
and we only tell ourselves how great it was,
when something else is coming.

Our imperfect, perfected nature
naturally completes itself in God,
but how? by cutting our hair?
We'll go back to living
like that
and spend many dreary centuries there.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chapter 162: Walk-Off Double

My byrds churn and I'm queasy
at the sight of feathers.
That's something rare and beautiful,
and so many things must coalesce
in wiry dungeons and folded heads
for them to fly there.

I didn't mean to disturb that delicate
what can I know of it?

and like a cat, clean myself
so as not to smell like what I am,
the better to stalk and hunt and kill,
but not before I maimed and called it play.

I'd like to have heard them sing together,
and not heard that accusation.
I'm sure it was beautiful,
as you are beautiful,
even when you call for justice,
or security or peace. or innocence?
(they might as well agree)
and hurt squeaks out like pins
and in me daggers, pikes, mortar blasts
so I know your byrds are churning too.

For a new season, an old refrain:
let byrds fly freely
like so many things
dreaming dreamt forgotten
waves washed over and over
flowers droopt and rotten

(but now they squawk, and i cannot silence them;
they only want to soar together,
but i cannot teach them to,
for then they will not sing.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chapter 161: That it is sometimes necessary, but often impossible, to return to old modes

Another season draws to a close,
a losing campaign, again—
we've lost so many battles
that we should be conquered.

And we're losing fans;
they want to root for a more storied franchise,
or, at least, one without
such a history of failure.

What was David's sin?—
that he coveted Bathsheba?
Or that he went forth again every spring,
like a normal king,
instead of when God called them?
Or that instead of leading the command
of God's army, taking the field
at the priestly word of blessing,
he stayed back in his palaces
to drink and dream on ladies?

Still, we must to war
(How else for winning anything?)
even by despoiling, even when by waste
and weighted words slung carelessly,
many innocents might die.

How else can you count on winning glory?
He will—no longer—not appear
in clouds and fires to send us forth,
to lead us on our way.
We must say, "This is a rebuilding year.
We're developing the core
of the next championship team."

God goes before, for sure
(the young king said).
But did he not earn the laurels for himself?
And we say not now,
"Farewell happy fields, where joy forever dwells,"
but "we hope to win the war with words of love."
Was that why the Kingdom was lost?
and Uriah sent to die?

And had he not, would he have writ his praises?
Or would we be singing them?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chapter 160: Cyclopean

My temple is my own despondency,
and I expect you to come worship there,
for a moment.

It's in a damp place
where clothes were taken from the wash to be put out to dry
and then forgotten for the mold
in their basket, gray and fuzzy.

You will stand in line, alone, to read my letters
about how the seed fell on rocky dirt
and flourished for a moment before being choked
by crags; and stunted died dried out.

It's too late to drink that milk.
I had to build this in a desert
and a cave, and there I fed myself on grass, red meal,
and all the fragileness of glass and steel.

I prefer it curdled; that tastes sweet to me.
So pour out your wasted portions
and shepherdess confessions
on my altar.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chapter 159: A Cheap Image from a Broken Bench

A crinkle in the eye
like the gleam of a chip bag
from a convenience store bought and discarded
in 24 hours.

And there it will sit lumplike seven days or years
puffed up with air and blown against a rock
until finally it falls into a stream to drown
and I forget all about those Bugles.

But a splash of light, a play in dream
quivers tendentiously just a second,
and I remember all over again what they tasted like
when they were eating me.

How could I forget all that shiny rustling?
It seems so callous now when I wait for a reed to sway
and cast a shadow of a spear across twinkly fields
to reveal a steely resolution.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chapter 158: A Moment on Molucca Seas

I don't want to add you on Facebook
I want to have lived that life that would have put me there
And wait for you at the gate and kiss you for the first time
Before I even remembered ten years gone by
Green to yellow and red and black and gray and green again
When you would not know me from Adam
Virtuous and unafraid for being in-the-right and wondering
What a woman was really supposed to be like
And men to be ridiculed harmless with a glint
Of freckled fancy simple wait for me in the plaza
And I'd have that sweater that we were born in
And then we'll live asking questions we know the answers to
And then we'll die waiting for the winter we lived through
I would want to be nervous and unashamed not ashen faced
But dance eye to eye for the first and last and every time
I'm afraid I wouldn't sweat when I held your hand
And you wouldn't pull it away and wipe it off and twist up your face
And put it back again without saying anything
Which is what I'd imagine you would do if I weren't white and wicked
But then I don't know what it is to be so pure and patient
And to be such a dork so gracefully

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Outline of 26 Chapters: XVI

XVI. When the End Comes
The end is like a thousand windows opening and closing at once, and everything is pushed in the wrong direction.What should be encouraged is not, and what should be punished is rewarded. Decades or even centuries of repressed natural hatreds and passions erupt suddenly, and packs of human beings emerge to steal, murder, and rape. The gentle are always surprised by how quickly the vicious become willing to slit throats, sacrifice to their hunger children and the weak and dying, to return women to unregenerate servitude and misery. But none of this is terribly shocking or of interest except to interested parties in particular cases. For we all accept grisly things, and births and deaths, both so awesome and shocking, we keep locked away, but know they happen. Death is a rumor, birth—real birth—a freakish sub-culture. Now they do these things in the open, and you see them in little hovels, people birthing and dying, often at the same time. Just like you see sad women in trench coats hurrying along and old men sitting on benches as they always have, afraid of nothing and looking around almost in triumph as if to say, "I knew this was going to happen."

But these sights are not as shocking as the great falls of great pieties, like those who searched every day for old words to excise from their vocabularies and new ones to introduce, who sometimes fell under that scythe themselves, but ruled, collectively, as kings. You sometimes hear whispers of "a better world," and something like that is what they mean. But more prominent are those human types long mocked and thereby forgotten in any sincere incarnation, now returned: magnanimous criminals, rugged, prickly individuals obsessed with justice, noble prostitutes living undercover to undermine the slave trade.

What do they hold onto? A self-effacing faith makes a real comeback, and it's now about the place and something great that happened there: a market that worked particularly well, a man who kept order, a rainstorm that came at the right time. It seems that letting one's own and others' blood are just as much acts of piety. Once more special deities are carved up and given the fatty portions.

More than anything it's remarkable how boring it is, from the point of view of philosophy. But petty tribes fail to do nothing which was revered as really holy at the end of the last age: they live passionately, they respect each other, and they love. But everywhere darkness.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Chapter 157: Excerpt From a Post-Apocalyptic Dream

Everyone here speaks Japanese,
which may as well be Sanskrit.
They turned me over to the Mexicans.
"¿Como te llamas?"
Tenqo que aprenderla.

I saw a beautiful byrd like one
I once loved delicately in crisp weather
when we wore long, clean, woolen coats
and hers was a bright red or a haughty green
cast over the chair, under other articles
sooner to be put on—

(She was lying on her back on a dirty mattress,
even smiling, with some naked beasts around her,
focused on their needful work.)

I was the one in charge of our gun.
In a dark warehouse I assigned watches,
made plans in my head for distributions,
and settled down to a cold sleep.

Outline of 26 Chapters: XV

XV. On the Verge of Oblivion

At the end of the Roman empire they thought the apocalypse was just around the corner; they prayed for more time to repent and prepare for the Second Coming and the Last Judgment. It was the barbarians, though, that took them, both to Hell and to Heaven, which was nearly the same frozen forest.

Today, likewise, we fear the end in the form of zombies or the change of the weather, and think that if we pray hard enough and with a contrite enough spirit, we can forestall the inevitable. How vain we are, to think we are living in end times! That God cares so much about what we're doing personally! That we might wound him by sinning or that by genetically modifying plants or throwing away plastic bottles we will destroy the earth! That the dead will rise up again and feed on the flesh of the living—that is more likely than that by recycling newspaper temperatures will not change and that Florida will be ice and California sea.

Dread pictures! They are guilt for having trampled others in the rise to the top: look how many peoples the Romans destroyed utterly and then the nations destroyed by the Christian East because they thought they believed the wrong things.

Does the guilt for having succeeded befall only Christian nations? Surely not. The children of the prosperous ever see how worthless they themselves are and conclude that it was luck and injustices which made their fathers and grandfathers prevail. Then they clutch their pearls and crowns for a generation or two but make no new palaces. They live in outdated opulence; it crumbles—their penance. "We'll never be royals," they say, fulfilling the words of the son of Khaldun.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Chapter 156: Reviews of Post-Apocalyptic Movies, #2

Panic in the Year Zero! (1962) (Video; IMDB): A beautiful contrast of the wholesome and the unwholesome in a year everyone says was just swell, daddy-o. A Los Angeles family goes camping, nuclear bombs go off in L.A., and they go camping anyway, but for a lot longer than they planned. A switch turns off and dad, probably a war veteran, becomes a survivalist and longs to build a compound in Montana. He does the next best thing and stocks up on supplies and heads for the hills. He does what it takes to survive when all around him are losing their heads; the title, despite the exclamation point, is not an encouragement or an exhortation. This film features good acting, a sweet jazzy soundtrack which is somewhat of a contrast with the action on screen, and very realistic but tasteful depictions of human behavior during a state of lawlessness. Remember your Thucydides: ...human nature, always rebelling against the law and now its master, gladly showed itself ungoverned in passion, above respect for justice... (3.84.2) It does not revel in chaos but looks forward to the re-establishment of civilization. (8.5/10)

Sidebar: the Youtube page for this film includes links to other movies which feature nuclear war as a theme. Not post- but rather pre- or even non-apocalyptic, Fail Safe (2000) (Video; IMDB) is a call-back to the days of TV movie events. Presented in black & white, it features a star-studded cast and a nerve-wracking plot which is ruined by its implausibility (even within the ridiculous framework established by the film itself) and the cartoonish depiction of civilian think-tank experts on thermonuclear war. Despite the remarks of Harvey Keitel's character, General Black, the warmongerer played by Hank Azaria is correct that a nuclear war is just as winnable as any other kind of war. (After this, he is made to say increasingly sillier things.) Ignorance and self-importance ruins great shooting and acting. (4/10)

The Day After (1983) (Video; IMDBis a pretty good American TV movie about the immediate local consequences of a full-scale nuclear attack on the United States. It features realistic depictions of radiation poisoning and state-of-nature-style violence, but it's not really that compelling as a story, ultimately. As propaganda for disarmament and nuclear talks, it was very influential on President Reagan and others. Overrated, but worth watching. (6/10)

Threads (1984) (Video; IMDB) has basically the same plot but is a much better film. It's also much more graphic. It is not immediately presented as a drama, like The Day After, but as a narrated documentary which is framed by a comparison of human to biological life. It is also more sprawling and ambitious, covering a greater population and a longer time period. Very bleak. (7.5/10)

Testament (1983) (Video; IMDB) is framed as the journal of a San Francisco-area housewife who struggles to protect and provide for her family over the years after a nuclear attack which (probably) took the life of her husband. It does not attempt to be geopolitical, but only portrays the post-apocalyptic world through the eyes of an ordinary person. Worth a look. (7/10)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Chapter 155: Obscure Post-Apocalyptic Movies, #1

Ravagers (1979): Perhaps the lack of pretension on the part of the director, Richard Compton, is what makes this film such a success as a portrayal of the post-apocalypse. IMDB: "He began his career in the early 60s making government propaganda movies for the United States Information Agency." A great start! After Ravagers, he never directed another (non-TV) movie, only episodes of TV shows. I can see why: people don't understand great film.

The brief description on Wikipedia is just wrong. Incorrect. That's not the plot. Helpfully, it does tell us that "Ravagers is part of a long line of Hollywood-backed post-apocalyptic films from the 1970s which are quite rare to find on television or home video." (See also here.)

It can be seen here. The description on that page ("In a post-apocalyptic world divided between two groups called the Flockers and the Ravagers, an adventurer and his pleasure girl try to find their way to a rumored safe haven called the Land of Genesis") is much more accurate.

The problem with most post-apocalyptic shows and movies:
1) They confuse the post-apocalyptic with the dystopic.
2) They focus too much on the wrong kind of realism.
3) They make the glory-seeking and contentious (in this film, the "ravagers") too evil, and the industrious and peaceful (in this film, the "flockers") too good.
4) They never end, as the state of war or the state of nature should, with a moment of political leadership and founding. They are usually open-ended and ambiguous.

Ravagers avoids all these traps. It clearly demarcates ravagers and flockers, which is good. But it is not shy about exposing the cowardice of flockers, and doesn't, as most treatments of the post-apocalypse, degenerate into uninteresting and unrealistic moralistic preening (see: The Walking Dead).

The cinematic production is poor (as this very entertaining article points out). But for me, that's one of the film's strengths. The lack of quality in casting and set design should make it clear that this film is more operatic than photo-realistic. It's a callback to John Ford westerns, which featured blond-haired, blue-eyed Indians. There are moments of dialogue that jar with what you see on the screen. These moments force you to realize that you are watching a play unfold, stiltedly, in five acts. It may be the unintentional result of a rushed shooting schedule or apathy on the part of the directors and actors, but the result is brilliant. When the protagonist and his doomed female companion are being chased by ravagers, she shouts, "behind you!" but they're actually in front of him. In that moment we enter a multidimensional post-apocalypse, an iconic representation of post-apocalyptica which abstracts from petty details and particularities to reveal the human struggle in its nakedness. "Apocalypse" means 'un-covering,' a 'revelation.' The post-apocalypse is therefore the human response to that revelation-- to himself, of himself. Ravagers, for all its flaws, does this well. (10/10)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Chapter 154: Excerpt from a Post-Apocalyptic Novel

Their machines were easily halted,
their creators left helpless
to construct something more simple.
The people choked on their platitudes
and myths concerning peace and war.

For it came out of the dark deep,
the land of barbarians, whom
the creators of the complicated machines
took for civilized, cultured men--
for their rigid orthodoxies prohibited
any other kind of conclusion.

It was not a surprise, except
to those who closed their eyes and ears.
Which is to say: nearly everyone.

Chapter 153: Beginning of a Post-Apocalyptic Novel

Cracked the dead winter:
a shell of a tear interrupts
the languid forgetting, the oblivion.

Morosity lies fallow with spring frost
trod deeply, overturned and frozen
bitter mud, encrusted and ready.

Silly gleaming, shining stupid,
erases deep and lasting meaning
in a quip of sterling negation.

Pathetic and dirty, a festering sore,
a scratch of looking, pleasing
turns to black the deep well.

Dull and floating quiet screaming
reserves the horses for another time
when being stirs from every surface.

Slowly piercing this earth of conscious,
a sprout of what was dead emerges
to test its putrid leavings against sunny days.

Sad and lonely, the stupid bouy
bobs to see the curve of distance spurring
its illicit interest in the shore.

A rotten postule inside me stinks,
sappy pine needles sticky, starting
the syrup summer fresh for more.

Green shades aggregate, aggressive
to the blue calm, cultivated,
and purple seas acknowledge it no more.

Long dramatic exacerbation creates
perfection panéd and a noose created
for sparks of red and yellow war.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Outline of 26 Chapters: XIV

XIV. Whether the Trojans Should Have Carried Their Gods to Italy

Did Augustine really not understand that it is not the gods, true or false, who are to blame for men's follies, but the men themselves who have used the gods well or ill? Even to say there are false gods demands this. Machiavelli's rebuke was so powerful that now it seems obvious that religion is an epiphenomenon of arms. Christianity did not make Rome weak; of course Augustine is right to say that. Rather, a weak Rome made Christianity.

It was natural for Christians and pagans-- religious antagonists-- to turn on each other, but it is unbecoming of a philosopher to enter the fray. Today, or very soon, civilization will crumble and these regenerate Christians will say to the riotous: you did this. But they will have just as much sincerity as those Roman pagans were, calling for a restoration of the old sacrifices, dusting decrepit altars, erecting fabulous polished temples. New Life megachurches are just as much a sign that we have reached a precipice. There is a long moment, between end and beginning, when one does not know which is which.

Arcadius and Honorius did not appear until 400 years after Christ. There will be many fits and starts, invasions and retreats (to enjoy the booty). We will have abject princes bow before barbarian chieftains, and be hailed as heroes. And then we will celebrate our gods Diplomacy, Understanding, Respect, and Peaceful Coexistence; the manly call to arms will be seen to precipitate the final fall. But even this will be the gods' victory and coronation. Was Augustine really displeased with how it all fell out?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Chapter 152: That only mores can replace mores

An eight-foot-tall blue panel that reads "Arf"
seen from an overly-conditioned
and overly-conscious room
well-lit, and with too-shiny boards
with overly-watered cacti on them:
you're trying too much, and I can tell
you're really Christian, and so
you're earnest overmuch
in excessively adopting cultures
not your own. "Woof," "Meow."
Put your scruffy faces and black glasses there.

Chapter 151: That new light only leaves flowers on the chains

It told to teach untamed bodies to be schooled,
And overreaching entrance overruled,
To bend back, to be again a little bait,
For scornful masters t'interrogate.

But what can listen? Arrogant lumps
And clusters of grit and gall and bumps
wrung dry and red through ribs and rubbing,
Rendered a callous-covered sinkhole?

They-- mass insensate to golden strings--
Know only pushing and the viscous stings
Of a seeming ancient pressive trench
To fill again with stench.

It submitted to surgical correction,
Became both subject and depressed inflection,
A ruley measure cut open for soft, pink flesh
Whence the dagger dirt, creeping backward comes.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Outline of 26 Chapters: XIII

XIII. A New Beginning

Everyone knows that Machiavelli was impious. He loved the number 13 because it was half of 26, the number for God from Jewish numerology. 13 is the number for man, half-god, the incomplete, the imperfect. Let us call for justice here on Earth; it is possible. We need earthly institutions to pretend at least to satisfy our longings.

Or is it that there were thirteen men and no gods about Christ and his disciples?

One seemed to be founding a new religion but he really made a new kind of political order, the other seemed to be founding a new kind of political order but was really founding a new religion. God comes to Earth, strongly rooted, but we put him back in the sky, so that he might die. Hence I'm not religious; I'm spiritual. The foundation is stable; the sky is open to the winds.

Our high towers are only so many testaments to material. We only half pretend that we are rational, let alone divine. We eat. Let vague silences be filled with Christ, or karma, or UFOs or whatever. It is no crime to believe that man alone did not accomplish these things. Only natural that we should feel guilty for such might, expect the planet itself to retribute.

One dies only up there. He passed away, he passed away, like the remnants of a useless dream, a curiosity like elixirs, shifting weather patterns, a tantrum. What do we say? That the past cannot be changed, and every day is a new beginning.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Outline of 26 Chapters: XII

XII. On the Soul

He does waking what we would want awake,
putting his hand in with the King's.
There is always another,
an other realm, ethereal,
for ghouls to go to.

And thus the course of this
is only that, and no fretting
fine points of justice for us.
We are to work pure souls
and forget those old songs,
criminally intoned.

Outline of 26 Chapters: XI

XI. On the Ecclesiastical Principate

We enjoy seeing women bear weapons confidently,
like a neo-Artemis
chaste in her adamant, assertive manliness
(of course she's just as good as any man-- better, even).

We need more priestesses for our auto-
nomous sex cult,
just as pure as your virginal devotion.

Who rules our destiny?
We still believe, but adopt Eastern names
That's so Humean.
That's Schopenhauer.
We go East, and we only go further West.

The Spanish didn't understand
that gold was a commodity, not currency.

But that's what we do with mystical spices, too.

We have temples
where the only sacrifice one makes is
his own desire, which he keeps.
That's how our priests rule.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Chapter 150: From the One Staring

You are pretty
and severe-

I'd tell your ear
not to stop

You are a lead-
en buoy

Canopy 'f air,
against rocks

Many wilted
lil' flowers

Friday, April 25, 2014

Chapter 149: Laundry

When your socks and underwear
stick in fitted sheet
you've got secrets in your bed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Outline of 26 Chapters: X

X. Government of One Alone
Does it not turn out that each is a despot of that peculiar object of his longing? Insofar as all virtues are justice, we all rule with something less than moderation.

Montesquieu meant to implicate God when he called despotism the rule of one alone, but that God was already personal and particular.

Genghis Khan did not understand why you couldn't worship the gods anywhere, and it was Attila the Hun's moderation which saved the Eastern Roman religion.

I, too, love the order which oppresses me. I would be too ashamed to stain the statue of the Cyprian. That weight that crushes can come as a seeming relief of a burden: let me carry that load for you, brother. One cannot command that kind of love. That is the greatest weight: it is not redeemed; there is no kind of end: one must will, with Nietzsche, to have it all repeated again: this uncomfortable scent, this vaguely pressurized waiting, this stinking mass of humanity which always calls for justice but is more satisfied with being oppressed. Someone must come to tell them: "I will bear it all for you, the pain of thinking and the dreariness of living. I will put a pillow under your head-- or, should I say, over it."

"I believe," they say, "that you get what you deserve in the end." For now, let's patiently endure. What rough beast comes again from Bethlehem to be born?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Outline of 26 Chapters: IX

IX. The State of Nature and Society
Plato's Athenian Stranger could not pluck children from their parents,
start a colony of adolescents and toddlers.
One never can.
Succession is the problem of political philosophy.

So he gave them private property:
he let them sacralize their fear and their desire.
One must defer to the shape the matter can take.

War starts with society, not nature,
because society makes clear our inequality,
whether it was natural or not.

What does it matter what you are, whether you are stronger or smarter, if you do not think you are or if you do not think it matters, or if you cannot bring your superiority to effect? What makes war is not the feeling of weakness or the feeling of strength, but the feeling that our strength is unjustly weakened, unrecognized, suppressed, supplanted, castigated, dishonored, turned to someone else's benefit.

The Americans were free and secure; they risked everything to fight the British. They won, and their cause was just. A million Haitians were held in brutal captivity, and their revolution is justly decried. Even in these times we often overlook slave revolts when placing History's retroactive Medal of Honor on confused and particular events.

Montesquieu spoke to society's spirit oppressed by the moral power of the Church, yearning for this world and all its goods. The Church was like Fortune, the man of spirit the ship on the waves, and the winds, 'alone and afraid in a world we never made'--
the life of man, timid and atrocious, diffident and vainglorious.

We can make a new temple, a new supermarket, a strip mall, new songs, new chains, the opinion of security.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Outline of 26 Chapters: I-VIII

I. On the Noble
That the noble is no longer an externality (not understood to be), but a passion-- a feeling or opinion-- a confusion of the order of things, fundamentally? Masked knights avenging the honor of the divinity (Mary not divine). Weak spirits. Alternative: the feeling of one's strength, the feeling of security.

II. On the Author of This Text
A Northman corrupted. Afraid of being thumo-eidetic, of Christian dorkiness and love of order, wants to feel deeply and so does.

III. On the Composition of This Text
No intentional heresies. A spirit of frustration. Philosophic liberty: the opinion that one exercises his will. It's all deterministic? Doesn't that make one 'not sweat' just as much as providence, just as much as chance?

These 26 chapters were composed in a spirit of wastedness, not having firm resolve that it was the best or most necessary course of action, a feeling their author never had. They are only an outline, not to say a plan.

IV. On the Sacred
The Assyrians called their gods by the place where a statue or idol of that god was located. Ishtar of Babylon, Ishtar of Arbela, Ishtar of Ninevah. The Babylonian man carried a god with him at all times, on his cylinder seal. Besides its patron, it carried some symbols for other deities. This is admirable. Their temples contained their gods; they bore marks of respect for other gods.

Just so should we moderns bear our god with our property; just so should we feign respect and deference, though not honor, for idols. They cannot hurt us: there is no need to smash them. Ours is a spiritual religion: we worship the Holy Spirit that is in us and in our church. Perhaps it is even in those idols? At any rate we should not act as if, transformed into spiritual beings, we might be corrupted by statues and images. Have we not come out of the desert? Is it still a question of what is buried at Schechem?

V. On Property
It is less natural to compel a man to shave his face or change his expression than it is to compel him to change his belief or give voice to his support for the policy enacted. Nevertheless, he is able to do the former without shame, or at least without inner terror. Politics speaks to the deepest soul by its inclination, it wounds a weeping heart, seeps into the marrow; all fibers perspire with blood.

The constitution of America is in our hips, Kendall said. Very well, let us keep it there. But do not compel us to dance, as Plato did. When you praise community and ancient civic virtue and man's natural sociality, do you not realize that you insult our grandeur? We are all kings: we act all over the universe. We do not need to go into secluded rooms in order to give vent to our vice, but buy and sell it in the marketplace, in an invisible marketplace. Are you really prepared to admit that your life and happiness belong to Germany or Cyrus or Québec?

Our small souls, thinly spread out, will not destroy sacred temples. We do not have the power to hurt them, nor they us.

VI. On Our Ancient Mores
Let us be sure to distinguish ourselves from the Romans. We have our own maxims of government; we have our own ancient mores. We are moved much more by religion and by examples of past things. We are the savage who was found in the forests of Hanover and lived in England: we feel our own weakness and we feel our strength.

VII. The Idea of Perfection
No more best regime, no more kingdom of heaven. We no longer can go back to the woods, whether to live in accord with 'true needs' or to seek out a different king. We cannot pick up our houses but we can move at will. If we were perfect, then the world would end.

Everything makes sense when you're Catholic. That level of precision is unbecoming of a free man, that detail, that priestly, clerical devotion to curlicues and caveats. The thumos of the nerd has no call to such divine names. At least monks were quiet; at least they do not conceive or generate.

VIII. On the Body
Montesquieu only restated what Machiavelli had said more eloquently, impetuously throwing in remarks about peoples who are irrelevant, revolting, or worthless: he clumsily conflates republics with monarchies and spends a whole chapter describing how the Tartars controlled China by mixing Tartars and Chinese in their troops and in their tribunals. Everything is constraint and flattery for this noble man; everything is the body. Who else would... why else ascribe such value to despotism, or criticize the motive of fear? Spiritual creatures do not run away from bodily harm as if it is the worst thing a man can suffer. They are harmed; they inflict harm; they are punished; they punish.

This great philosopher, who laughs at pious and devoted people who wept with joy when they learned they could call Mary "mother," prides himself on having taken the mother's place. He would be a fleshy Zeus, and have us consecrate his anonymous and asexual mountain goddess-child, call her Love, make this unnaturally fashioned statue holy and surround her with lush lands and swift streams and birds she'll rule, to be visited by travelers from around the world, and pierce their vanity.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Chapter 148: On the Theme and the Author

Bendy byrds backed spectacularly and chirping,
extirpating gracefully:
all glared when gloating,
all shared a sense that the even tenor had been disturbed,
and that he sensed something peculiar and exciting
which, for them, could never be,
and though he couldn't say,
they believed him, and so some loved,
but usually there was contempt.

What rough-jeaned jackal jokes senselessly
and ogles polished surfaces which must
shape warm, fluffy balls,
only a twist of fringe here and there
to distinguish them?

Someone said he is "blogging about sex
and relationships." I
certainly am doing not that,
for while finer forms elude me,
I have my byrds to boil down
and they're bare to beauty.

Chapter 147: Let no one ungeometrical enter

boxes put on triangles-
those rigid lines reverberate
crisp and logical; therefore
clear the area of confusion;
therefore truth can't be a woman,
can't curves undulate liltingly
to leave slippery impressions
of some stop stepped over.

therefore i'll build a castle
to contain those wooden horses,
my cassandra, calling the names
of wandering rivers and heroes
in chilling particularity
to cut abstract truths that cut.

Chapter 146: On Marvels

I hear that in Rome the women carry monkeys around like babies. They feast their eyes on unseemly things, on inhuman things, they become like beasts of the field.

I am a centaur in a field of unicorns, perpetually contracting my haunches, glaring at pearly manes, drunkenly spilling their drinks and damaging their dainty drawers. You would not believe it if I told you how much I have drowned in that summer wine for many years before the resurrection of Christ, which has not happened, which will have happened, and which has always happened.

In Peru they fatten their children in order to eat them, or they once did, or they will again.

The Vikings reached America but they thought it was Hell. The Spanish reached America and they thought it was Heaven.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Chapter 145: On the strength of prejudice

"One can never leave the Romans; thus it is that even today in their capital one leaves the new palaces to go in search of the ruins; thus it is that the eye that has rested on flower-strewn meadows likes to look at rocks and mountains." They thought the Alps were ugly, with that mud and snow and frigid water and whirling wind where Hannibal took his elephants to die. Now Rousseau finds a manufacturing plant where he hoped to commune with nature. Soon we will find the opposite; we will long for the productive smoke of the industrial but find only rusting rods with weeds and flowers growing out of them. Hideous nature, which provides almost worthless materials-- man and God do the work, and rivers run into the sea, and oceans always meet the shore. Do you not think that this, too, will be forgotten?

Chapter 144: That advanced civilization precedes known history

It is likely that only a moment ago planes and trains coursed the earth bearing strange symbols now long forgotten, effaced and supplanted. I am like the traveler who set foot in Egypt, glanced at the Pyramids, and headed back home. We are an island people, we are a garden people, we are a desert people, we are a mountain people, waiting for the dove to return with an olive branch. Ashed and iced over, we build dams and dykes and did not wait for providence any more; it does do much to sweat about these things, though in five or six thousand years no one will remember how drunk you got, what games you played, how she smiled and how you felt. Those things are for mankind forever.

A hundred generations of Bedouin could not hack them to pieces, could not put the stones to better use, certainly could not figure out their purpose, and we still cannot. Is it possible that we are only returning there, that we will leave ourselves behind like they did, without ever even becoming gods? We were trying to make our computers smaller but we should make them as big as the stars.