Thursday, October 4, 2012

dragged by force

Gaps will be filled, the world wants gestures, "If a monk wanted a book during hours of silence, he made a sign of turning the leaves; if he wanted a classical book, he scratched his ear like a dog," writes Charles Homer Haskins in The Renaissance of the 12th Century; and the early Catholics made pilgrimages to Palestine, says J.N. Hillgarth's book The Conversion of Western Europe 350 -750; they went there to see the places and objects that they recognised from descriptions and perhaps just to get out of the house: "No doubt the pilgrims' motives were mixed, combining, at times, curiosity and tourism with asceticism." Palestine was there, and they were not in it, they must put themselves in it, therefore they went.

One tourist during the 600s came across the couch where Jesus had lain during the wedding at Cana and Jesus was not occupying those cushions at the time, no one was on it, so he lay on it, as did his friends, and his parents' names were not on this couch, so he put them there, a fulfillment of the world's promise -- it was possible for his parents' names to be there -- they were not there -- he put them there -- and relieved himself, and fled from the experience of that vortex. The possibility occurred to him -- my parents' names could be there! -- at that moment he experienced a terrible vacuum, which seemed exterior to himself. Rushing into it he added the names. Irresistible finity had presented itself.

Reading this story I wonder, Where is that couch now, where has the couch gone, what happened to it? I can't believe they've destroyed the couch. I want to see that couch; I want to look at his parents' names, and what handwriting did he have when he described himself with this word: "unworthy"?

... upon which, unworthy as I am, I wrote the names of my parents.

(he explained in a letter, and it must have been translated by Hillgarth)

He knew he shouldn't but he did it anyway, tall child, easily swayed. The early Catholics, who worked against the pagans and Arians during the first centuries AD, must have believed that the mind can choose the system that occupies it, the thread, in other words, that makes it tie events together with one implication and not another implication; the mind could choose Catholicism or paganism, it had to be deterred from paganism; a pagan today did not have to be a pagan tomorrow, the particle was charged one way or another. Bishop Boniface went out from the European south to convert the Germans, other missionaries went out to convert the British; the Spanish in their Lex Visigothorum (642 - 52) laid down a law of force and said that magicians should be scourged, scalped, and then dragged through ten villages.

Magicians and invokers of tempests, who, by their incantations, bring hail-storms upon vineyards and fields of grain [...] shall be publicly scourged with two hundred lashes; shall be scalped; and shall be dragged by force through ten villages in the neighbourhood, as a warning to others.

(Translated by S.P. Scott)

Well yes, you think, but they could have gone further.


  1. Hmmm DKS, who could have gone further where? The missionaries? The magicians and invokers of tempests? Or those that scourge them? Surely not the latter! Then again, it's a great shame to bring hailstorms to vineyards ...

    1. The scourgers. If you're going to go overboard executing someone then there's no need to stop at just scourging, scalping, and dragging -- there's bottomless pit of potential mutilation that you could tip yourself into and keep going -- and -- in conclusion: why did they stop there? What made them hit the end of that sentence and think, "All right, that's enough, dragging is as far as we'll go"? Especially when they're only doing it on paper. Hillgarth never tells you that the men who came up with these ideas ever had to enforce any of them personally. At this point (as far as the reader knows) they're just dreaming up punishments. "What about tempests, what are we going to do if someone invokes a tempest?" "Oh God, I don't know. Why don't we start with a bit of a scourging and go on from there?"