Sunday, March 18, 2012

blood of any sort

You can commit suicide for a sentence, I discovered when the Jehovah's Witnesses left me a small yellow-covered book about their beliefs -- I talked to two of them more than a month ago and they still come round on Sunday afternoons at about one o'clock to poke tracts through the gap around the door. Witnesses turn down blood transfusions, because, at some point in the past, one or more of them began to pay attention to this sentence in the Book of Genesis: "Only flesh with its soul -- its blood -- you must not eat." And Leviticus supports Genesis. "You must not eat the blood of any sort of flesh." Putting sentence by sentence they believe they have divined the intentions of the author, God, even though blood transfusions are never mentioned -- still, they have read behind the words, they are like Lavinia d'Aufideni in Théophile Gautier's short story Spirite, who believes that she can discover the true character of the man she loves (she has never spoken to him, he barely knows she exists) by reading the articles he writes for magazines.

"What an author says must not be taken too literally," she decides, "one should take into account literary style, affectations that happen to be in the fashion, a certain reticence which must perforce be practiced, the unconscious imitation of some favourite writer, and all that may tend to modify the outer expression of ideas. But under all disguises the real qualities of heart and mind are certain to be revealed to him who knows how to read; the true thought is often hidden between the lines, and the secret of the poet, which he does not always want to divulge to the vulgar crowd, is finally discovered; one after another the veils fall, and the solutions to the enigma are guessed." So the Witnesses have put one sentence in one circle and the other sentence in another circle, and when a Venn diagram overlap appears between the two circles they see that it says, No Blood Transfusions. A third sentence in Acts presents itself as reinforcement: "The holy spirits and ourselves have favoured adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood ..."

And this is not a belief in the power of the Bible in toto, I know, when I see that the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and told them that people must not eat the flesh of pigs, yet nowhere does the Jehovah book forbid pork; and in fact one of the Witnesses I spoke to said that she liked bacon. So I don't call this a triumph of religion but a triumph of attentive literary focus, human focus, the focus that helped Breton see possibilities in the mask he found on the bric-a-brac table when he was out with Giacometti. How many people passed that mask and never saw the surrealistic associations that surrounded it as soon as the sculptor and the writer appeared? So too the biblical sentences about blood. Only to a Jehovah's Witness did those sentences say, Blood Transfusion, and said it so profoundly that a Jehovah's Witness can be hit by a car and refuse a blood transfusion, and then die, anticipating a future time when all the good and god-fearing people who have ever lived will rise again and walk the face of the earth, greeting one another and existing in harmony. The housing shortage will be amazing. This is more optimistic than the prediction I heard from a basketball-playing unicyclist who saw sunflares on the news and told me that this was how the world would end: the atmosphere would shrivel, the trees and all the vegetation would evaporate in flames, and we would starve in accordance with Matthew 24:7: "... and there shall be famines ..." Everybody I meet here wants to tell me about the end of the world, I complained to M. Why are Americans so fascinated by biblical cataclysms? He said they were thinking of the Mayans, whose calendar is due to complete a cycle on December the twelfth.

(The yellow book lays out the logic of the blood transfusion question like this: "Does the command to "abstain from blood" include blood transfusions? Yes. To illustrate: suppose a doctor were to tell you to abstain from alcoholic beverages. Would that simply mean that you should not drink alcohol but that you could have it injected into your veins? Of course not!")

I don't know who translated the Gautier. This book doesn't say.

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