Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kenko: "In all things I yearn for the past"


"In all things I yearn for the past.  Modern fashions seem to keep on growing more and more debased.  I find that even among the splendid pieces of furniture built by our master cabinetmakers, those in the old forms are the most pleasing.  And as for writing letters, surviving scraps from the past reveal how superb the phrasing used to be. The ordinary spoken language has also steadily coarsened.  People used to say "raise the carriage shafts" or "trim the lamp wick,"  but people today say "raise it" or "trim it."  When they should say, "Let the men of the palace staff stand forth!" they say, "Torches!  Let's have some light!"  Instead of calling the place where the lectures on the Sutra of the Gold Light are delivered before the emperor "the Hall of the Imperial Lecture," they shorten it to "the Lecture Hall," a deplorable corruption, an old gentleman complained."

-- Kenko --
from Essays in Idleness

Sound familiar?  This was written sometime between 1330 and 1332 AD in Japan--almost seven centuries ago in a different culture.   I don't think human nature has changed much over the hundreds of thousands of years we've been around.  Oh, for the good ol' days.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain LXVII

Having finished a linked series of quatrains focusing on the relationship between the Potter/Creator and the pots/creatures, we now move to a series of four quatrains that concentrate on wine.  Again, while there are those who attempt to interpret Khayyam's references to wine as being a symbol of God's grace, these quatrains, as do many of the previous references, pose serious problems for them.  While some can be construed in a religious sense, all four most consistently suggest that Khayyam meant wine to be simply wine.  You can see for yourself.

First Edition:  Quatrain LXVII

Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
And wash my Body whence the Life has died,
    And in a Windingsheet of Vine-leaf wrapt,
So bury me by some sweet Garden-side.

Second Edition:  Quatrain XCVIII

Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
And wash my Body whence the Life has died,
    And lay me, shrouded in the living Leaf,
By some not unfrequented Garden-side.

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain XCI

Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
And wash the Body whence the Life has died,
    And lay me, shrouded in the living Leaf,
By some not unfrequented Garden-side.

Only one change was made in the first two lines:  "my Body" in the first and second editions becomes "the Body" in the fifth edition.  The change seems to make it more impersonal, more disconnected.  At first it was his "Body," but now it's "the Body."   He no longer owns? the Body or is connected to it, but he now sees it as something separate from him, something that exists alone.

While this is not a change, for it remains the same throughout the three versions listed, I wonder about the wording: "the Life has died."  Living creatures die.  We do not usually say, at least not in my experience, that life dies.  We say life leaves or departs or even flees the body, but I've never heard anyone else say or write that life dies.  Curious wording.

Most of the changes in this quatrain occur in the third and fourth lines.  While the words have changed, the sense, though,  seems to remain much the same: he is to be wrapped in a sheet made of  plant leaves and buried in a Garden.  In the first version, he continued the reference to the grape by requesting that he be wrapped in a "Vine-leaf." In the second and fifth edition, that becomes a "living Leaf,"  which makes a possible reference to the vine more ambiguous.  Does the "living Leaf" refer to a "Vine-leaf," or will leaves from any plant be satisfactory?

Another change occurs in the last line where the "sweet Garden-side"  becomes "some not unfrequented Garden-side."  The Garden no longer has to be sweet, but it must  be one that is visited regularly.  What seems contradictory here is that in the fifth version, he no longer refers to "my Body" but "the Body."  But, he still requests that he (his body) be wrapped in plant leaves and buried in a Garden.  He seemingly has regained ownership of the Body in the third and fourth lines.  Or, perhaps he never meant to suggest the separation of himself from his Body, and I'm guilty of over-reading here (something to meditate on).

My copy Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, published by Garden City Books, includes the following anecdote in the brief discussion of the  life of Omar Khayyam, pp.27-40.

"Khwajah Nizami of Samarkand, who was one of his pupils, relates the following story: "I often used to hold conversations with my teacher, Omar Khayyam,  in a garden;  and one day he said to me, "My tomb shall be in a spot where the north wind may scatter roses over it."  I wondered at the words he spake, but I knew that his were no idle words.  Years after, when I chanced to revisit Naishapur, I went to his final
resting-place, and lo! it was just outside a garden, and trees laden with fruit stretched their boughs over the garden wall, and dropped their flowers upon his tomb, so that the stone was hidden under them.'"

As it is in the Rubaiyat, so it came to pass:  Omar Khayyam  was buried in that garden-side. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Eric Hoffer: the central task of education


"The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people.  The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future.  The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."

-- Eric Hoffer --
from Reflections on the Human Condition

I agree here with Hoffer, but I also think that he neglected a significant number of  people:  those who actively reject being even a member of the learned.  These refuse to learn anything that conflicts with their ancient prejudices and tranquilizing dogmas and insist on  remaining locked in past centuries, not just years or decades.

I wonder which of the three is most characteristic of  the people of the United States.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Carl Sandburg: Phizzog

Carl Sandburg in one of his lighter moments--or perhaps rueful might be more appropriate?


This face you got,
This here phizzog you carry around,
You never picked it out for yourself,
       at all, at all--did you?
This here phizzog--somebody handed it
       to you--am I right?
Somebody said, "Here's yours, now go see
       what you can do with it."
Somebody slipped it to you and it was like
       a package marked:
"No goods exchanged after being taken away"--
This face you got.

-- Carl Sandburg --

Some are winners, some losers.  I guess the best I can say about my prize is that I'm glad I'm on the inside looking out.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Prometheus: a prequel or a remake or both?

When I settled down with the DVD of Prometheus, I didn't know what to expect.  I had heard or read a few vague comments that suggested it was a film worth watching.  So, I settled back in my recliner to find out whether it really was worth watching.

The actors were convincing in their roles, the special effects were good, the dialogue was considerably better than silly, and the plot was interesting,  but I felt as the end approached that the film really didn't break any new ground.  I felt it had all been done before, which may be unfair to the film, to some extent, because I've watched many SF films over the decades.  It wasn't until the very end of the film that I finally caught on.  I'm slow that way, partially because I get involved in the film or book or whatever and don't step back to take a good analytical look at it until I've finished, or until something jumps out at me. Frequently I have to watch or read it again to get beyond enjoying it or being bored by it.   This time it was the ending that did it..

Unfortunately there's no way I can talk about this film without revealing plot details and the ending.


As I mentioned above, the ending finally gave me the clue.  I then did some research and talked to some knowledgeable friends and got confirmation.  I'm probably the last person in the Known Universe to find this out: Prometheus is a prequel, the first of three actually, to the superb SF/Horror film, Alien, with Sigourney Weaver. I finally caught on when the critter that popped out of the giant's body at the end was the monster with the pointy head and the most frightening set of jaws in filmdom.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced there was more to Prometheus than simply being a prequel.  It was the initial familiarity that I experienced long before I caught on to the relationship with Alien that got me thinking.  I eventually came up with the following chart:

Alien  (A) :            Ridley Scott

Prometheus  (P) :  Ridley Scott

Set Designer:
A    H. R. Giger

P    H. R. Giger

Film's Initiating Event::
A.   Spaceship Nostromo receives message interpreted as an SOS which later turns out to be a warning to all ships to avoid this planet.

P.  Archeologists discover a drawing or illustration that is found in many cultures world wide--what appears   to be a giant pointing at several stars. The pattern of stars is identical regardless of the time and place.  This is interpreted as an invitation to go there, but it could as easily have been a warning to stay away.

A:  uninhabited planet with an apparently deserted alien spaceship.

P.   uninhabited planet with an apparently deserted alien spaceship.

The Alien Ship:
A.  appears to be a cargo ship

P.  appears to be a cargo ship

Exploration of the Ship
A.  It becomes clear the ship is not uninhabited but is occupied by dangerous creatures 

P.   It becomes clear the ship is not uninhabited but is occupied by dangerous creatures.

The Android/Robot:
A  One of the crew members is an android who is responsible for bringing a creature on board ship and is directly responsible for the death of one of the crew.

One of the crew members is an android who is responsible for bringing a creature on board ship and is directly responsible for the death of one of the crew.

The Android/Robot:
A.   The android attempts to kill Ripley (the Sigourney  Weaver character)  but fails.

P    The android attempts to kill  Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (the Noomi Repace character) but fails.

The Android/Robot's Head: 
A.  In a struggle, the android is decapitated, and we see the android's head on the floor, still able to function.

P.   In a struggle, the android is decapitated, and we see the android's head on the floor, still able to function.

The Crew:
A  The crew members of the ship Nostromo are killed, leaving Ripley, a woman, as the sole survivor (plus the ship's cat, of course.)

P   The crew members of the ship Prometheus are killed, leaving Shaw, a woman, as sole survivor, along with the android's head.

The Escape:
A.   Ripley attempts to escape in the ship's emergency pod, but finds the creature already there.

P    Shaw attempts to escape in the ship's emergency pod, but finds the creature already there.

The Ending:
A   Ripley with ship's cat gets in the deepsleep capsule and heads for nearest Terran outpost.

P    Shaw, with the android's head,  finds another alien ship and they?  head for the home planet of the giants, leaving the critter from Alien alone on the planet, awaiting the arrival of the Nostromo?  She also sets up a warning signal, telling them to stay away.  This is the signal that draws the Nostromo to the planet. 

What do you think?   

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain LXVI

This is the last in a series of  linked quatrains that focus on the Creator/Potter relationship with comments by the pots or vessels expressing a variety of opinions as to the nature of that relationship.  It is appropriate, therefore, that this quatrain takes place at the end of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Moslems.

First Edition: Quatrain.LXVI

So while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
One spied the little Crescent all were seeking:
     And then they jogg'd each other,  "Brother, Brother!
Hark to the Porter's Shoulder-knot a creaking!"

 Second Edition:XCVII

So while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
One spied the little Crescent all were seeking:
     And then they jogg'd each other,  "Brother, Brother!
Now for the Porter's shoulder-knot a-creaking!"

 Fifth Edition:  Quatrain XC

So while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
The little Moon looked in that all were seeking:
     And then they jogg'd each other,  "Brother, Brother!
Now for the Porter's shoulder-knot a-creaking!"

 FitzGerald made only minor changes from the First through the Second to the Fifth Editions.  The first, third, and fourth lines are almost identical except for the minor changes of changing some upper case letters to lower case and the substitution of "Now for the Porter's shoulder-knot.  .  ." for "Hark to the Porter's Shoulder-knot .  .  ."

In the second line Fitzgerald rearranged the sequence from "One spied the little Crescent all were seeking:"--to  "The little Moon looked in that all were seeking." as well as substituting "The little Moon" for "the little Crescent."  The change of wording adds some ambiguity for a crescent is much more specific than a little moon and is far more precise considering its relationship to Ramadan.

The change also changes focus in the quatrain.  In the first edition, the focus is solely on the pots whereas the rearrangement in the second and fifth versions  interrupts that.  The focus is on the pots in the first, third, and fourth lines, while it shifts to the Moon in the second line.  The change of wording in the fourth line isn't significant for both versions suggest the pots are waiting for the sound of the Porter's shoulder-knot.  The Porter is the one who will bring the food and drink for the banquet to celebrate the end of Ramadan, as signified by the appearance of the crescent.

I read somewhere (unfortunately I can't find it again) that the Porter will be bringing a tray of food and drink for the end of the fast.  Since the tray will be very heavy, it will be supported by straps that are attached at one end to the tray and at the other end are wrapped  around the Porter's shoulders, thus the creaking of the shoulder-knot. 

 From the Wikipedia entry on Ramadan:

"The Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr ("festivity of breaking the fast"), sometimes spelled in English as Eid al-Fitr, marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month called Shawwal in Arabic. This first day of the following month is declared after another crescent new moon has been sighted or the completion of 30 days of fasting if no visual sighting is possible due to weather conditions. This first day of Shawwal is called Eid ul-Fitr. Eid Ul-Fitr may also be a reference towards the festive nature of having endured the month of fasting successfully and returning to the more natural disposition (fitra) of being able to eat, drink and resume intimacy with spouses during the day."

The "little Crescent" in the quatrain signifies the end of Ramadan, the end of thirty days of daylight fasting.  Ramadan is also the time for meditation on Allah and one's relationship to Allah, which is represented by the linked quatrains focusing on the vessels' or pots' commentaries on the Potter and their relationship to him.  It seems appropriate, therefore, to end the discussion with the Eid ul-Fitr ("festivity of breaking the fast."

Simon J. Ortiz: Small Things Today

Small Things Today
 at my Hesperus Camp

Had a tortilla with some honey
at midafternoon.  It was good.
Wished I had some chili.

Smell of apples, wet fields;
in back of the blue tent
is a box of last season's
Animas Valley apples; soon,
it will be another Fall.

Wind blows, shakes the tarp,
water falls to the ground.
The sound of water splashing.

Several hours ago, watched
a woodpecker watching me.
We both moved our heads
with funny jerks.

Rex and his sad, dog eyes.

Somebody looking around in a field,
looking for lost things.

Notice bean sprouts growing.
They're very pale and nude.

Rex doesn't like chicken livers,
but gizzards are okay.

-- Simon J. Ortiz --
from Woven Stone

Small things, little things, all sorts of unconnected things, but now linked together. I wonder how many of these small things he would have noticed if someone else had been there with him.  Sometimes others are a distraction.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Eric Hoffer: desires and self-esteem

"It is strange how the moment we have reason to be dissatisfied with ourselves we are set upon by a pack of insistent clamorous desires. Is desire somehow an expression of the centrifugal force that tears and pulls us away from an undesirable self?  A gain in self-esteem usually reduces the pull of the appetites, while a crisis in self-esteem is likely to cause of a weakening or a complete breakdown of self-discipline.

Asceticism is sometimes a deliberate effort to reverse a reaction in the chemistry of our soul: by suppressing desire we try to rebuild and bolster self-esteem."

"To believe that if we could but have this or that we would be happy is to suppress the realization that the cause of our unhappiness is in our inadequate and blemished selves.  Excessive desire is thus a means of suppressing our sense of worthlessness."

-- Eric Hoffer --
from The Passionate State of Mind

In times of a personal crisis or emotional distress, how many people turn to binge eating or shopping sprees or becoming angry with those around them? Is it to distract themselves from the real problem or perhaps a misdirected way of regaining control in some way:  I can eat or I can shop or I can strike out at others when I want. Could this also be a basis for an obsessive interest in collecting objects or idolizing film stars,  athletes,  TV series,  politicians?

Is this a way of regaining self-esteem?