29 March 2015

Misc lit stuff (quotes & comments)

When I was a child, a public speaker visited our school and delivered to us youngsters the message: “Don’t do drugs!” Because of this, I’ve always remained drug-free. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve been able to publish a number of literary compositions; so I would love to travel around the nation delivering my own warning to schoolchildren: “Don’t write books.”

Pardon the above image’s extremely important message. Now here’s a section from the poem “Upon Nothing” by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (its full text can be found in the info section of my reading on YouTube):

Matter, the Wickedst offspring of thy Race
By forme assisted flew from thy Embrace
And Rebell-Light obscured thy Reverend dusky face.

This reminds me of Franz Kafka’s reflection:

There is nothing besides a spiritual world; what we call the world of the senses is the Evil in the spiritual world, and what we call Evil is only the necessity of a moment in our eternal evolution.

And also Herman Melville’s “Fragments of a Lost Gnostic Poem of the 12th Century” comes to mind:

Found a family, build a state,
The pledged event is still the same:
Matter in end will never abate
His ancient brutal claim.

Indolence is heaven’s ally here,
And energy the child of hell:
The Good Man pouring from his pitcher clear,
But brims the poisoned well.

Three of my own comments

Now, just for the sake of archiving them, I’ll copy some long responses that I originally wrote as comments on other blog posts. The first one is from my post about Yahweh’s deceptions in paradise; the second one smears Edgar Allan Poe; and the last one deals with the notion of films that have been adapted from books (with regard to the movie Inherent Vice, from my blog post called Junk entry).

1.

My response to the statements of an anonymous comment on my entry called Genesis 3 (why I distrust St Paul)

Re: “Well, you do get a person to read and ponder Genesis 1-3.”

That’s great news, because my sincere wish is that people would read these books and ponder them. And I just want to mention that I take the first chapter of Genesis as a very different composition than the second chapter. I see Genesis 1 and 2 as probably written by two separate, unalike authors – they seem to be incompatible accounts that just got edited into the same book. If one starts to read Genesis at 2:4 instead of 1:1, it gives a much different impression.

Re: “Does knowledge of good and evil have to equate with wisdom?

No, my opinion is that ‘knowledge of good and evil’ does not have to equate with ‘wisdom’ – I just substituted the word ‘wisdom’ for the longer phrase, because I honestly think that it's the most understandable equivalent, yet mercifully briefer. If you know of a better equivalent, I'll happily consider using it in the future; because, again, I wouldn’t say that the phrase absolutely must be translated as ‘wisdom’. I take ‘knowledge of good and evil’ to mean ‘knowledge of all things’ or ‘supreme consciousness’ or 'divine enlightenment' or something like that. From what I understand, the Hebrew phrase was not smoothly translated into English. The most important thing about its meaning is that, in the verse that I mentioned (3:22), Yahweh God says the humans have become “AS ONE OF US, to know good and evil”. So, whatever term or phrase that we use, it has to be something that Yahweh and his fellow deities possessed before humans acquired it from the forbidden fruit.

Re: “Does the idea of eating the fruit and dying have to mean dying that very day? Could it mean dying later?

In Genesis 2:17, Yahweh says “...in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” I cannot see how this could mean that the eater will live very long after partaking of the fruit. I don’t know if dying “in the day” means dying “exactly that very day”, but I don't think that Yahweh is saying anything less drastic than that the eater will die pretty soon after eating. If, as an experiment, we say that the phrase “thou shalt surely die” means “thou shalt be changed from immortal beings to mortal beings”, it clashes with what is written; because, again, in 3:22 (that very special verse!), Yahweh himself gives the reason for banishing Man from paradise as “lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” If the fruit had only stripped humans of immortality, so that now they will die someday but not necessarily THIS day, then Yahweh would have no reason to worry about the humans using the other tree to remain alive “for ever.”

2.

My reaction to a blog post about Edgar Allan Poe

I think that it is best if we spend our limited time alive contemplating the greatest compositions from the greatest writers: and there are much better writers than Poe. I’m glad that you mention Emerson’s jingle-man censure and Bloom’s emphatic, general disapproval of Poe; not because I enjoy the disparaging of famous names but because I hold creative writing (and creative reading) to be one of the highest callings for humans; and I myself almost ignored that pursuit on account of being taught that Poe is an exemplar.

I find it accurate and helpful when Bloom calls Poe “a tribute to the power of myth” – there is no denying his popularity, especially among great foreign writers. Baudelaire is a perfect example of someone who was influenced by Poe from afar and yet who surpasses Poe in the realm of imagination. It would have saved me a lot of floundering if my schoolteachers had taught me Baudelaire instead of Poe.

The brief Bloom quote given above is from The Best Poems of the English Language. Here are a couple more quotes from the same source:

Almost anyone can retell ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ more effectively than Poe does, because Poe’s diction is uniquely abominable.

After quoting from Poe’s “astonishingly dreadful” poem ‘Ulalume’, Bloom says:

. . . if we were in Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense, we might assimilate all this to the great Gromboolian plain, where we listen to the laments of the Dong with a Luminous Nose.

These criticisms don’t just give me the cheap thrill of watching a knockout in a fistfight – they help me to comprehend the world of creative literature more fully, by reminding me that diction is an inseparable part of imaginative writing, and also that certain types of repetition or ‘jingle making’ can work well in one context and poorly in another.

But now I take myself to task with a quote from Samuel Johnson: “the ignorant always imagine themselves giving some proof of delicacy, when they refuse to be pleased.” Attacking Poe is easy, but can I name a superior replacement? – In addition to Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil, one of many answers could be the books of Charles Dickens. Regarding this, I’ll give more words again from the critic-as-artist, Professor Bloom. The passage below is from The Western Canon, and I mention it to offset the anti-Poe negativity with a positive note about a passage from Bleak House. Bloom says:

. . . Dickens’s imagery is uncannily profound, accurate, suggestive. There is an occult rightness to his boldest imaginings. The same doubtless could be said of Edgar Allan Poe, who sometimes seems a ghostly presence in Bleak House; but Poe’s phantasmagoria rarely found language adequate to its intensities. Dickens’s diction and metaphors are a seemingly inevitable match for his inventiveness, and the canonical strangeness of Bleak House thereby triumphs.”

Another great Poe-substitute, if we're looking for a text to celebrate the present season, is Goethe’s Faust — especially Part 2’s Walpurgisnight zaniness.

I hope that this comment did not ruin anybody’s Halloween.

3.

Regarding the film Inherent Vice (2014), someone asked: “Is it important to read the book before the movie?

I say that the movie stands on its own just fine. You should never read a book unless you really want to. Movie adaptations are independent artworks whose value increases the more brilliantly they deviate from their source texts. In other words: a movie that’s true to its book is a boring movie.

And if an artwork requires us to engage in scholarly research before it is able to arouse any genuine interest, I call that work deficient. Weak artworks depend on outside knowledge for their effect. The strongest artworks, like the books of William Blake, spark an immediate interest in the creative reader: one can enjoy these works without perfectly understanding them; meanwhile, their enigmatic aspects lure the reader to explore related works afterwards – so a reader of Blake becomes a reader of the Bible and Milton, not by way of some overt command, but on account of a loving curiosity that naturally arises.

What I’m trying to say is that an artwork’s enigma should give an instant pleasure that provokes the spectator to discover more of its secrets. The enigma of the movie ‘Inherent Vice’ is pleasant in itself; yet, as a great work, it also entices viewers to seek out its forerunners – those sibling films that I mentioned above: The Big Sleep (1946) and The Long Goodbye (1973). Of course, some viewers will also become curious about Pynchon’s book – I would never dissuade someone from checking out a source text; but, when it comes to deepening one’s appreciation for Anderson’s film, I think that a familiarity with the aforesaid movies is more important than having knowledge of Pynchon. The author and the filmmaker are both excellent artists, but, in this case, Pynchon’s book is raw material to be manipulated by Anderson, whereas Anderson’s film is able to engage in a type of conversation with the foregoing movies: this playful exchange that occurs between artworks in the same medium is most satisfying to me.

To anyone who thinks of checking out the novel, I say: read Pynchon for Pynchon’s sake, and for your own sake; not for the sake of any movie. But if you have the desire, I assure you: Pynchon is definitely worth pursuing. There might be no better way to spend one’s time than reading the best of Thomas Pynchon. And if asked to name my favorite of his books, I’d have to list two titles, because I love them both equally: Mason & Dixon and The Crying of Lot 49.

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