Sunday, October 28, 2012

shared culture offers camouflage

Speaking of travel writers, their individualities and primal connectednesses, reminds me of Ernestine Hill, the Australian journalist who recorded the stories about the band in Darwin and the desperate cobbler down the gulley with "a ragged little hen, crazed with heat" turning "over and over in vertigo. 'It won't die,' he assured me. 'I wish to God it would'" -- she wrote -- characterising her book with an interest in the grotesque that Stark possesses gently and Matthiessen not at all, since he is in the market for a human race that is primally connected through its rituals, and not one in which an Australian can distinguish himself with non sequiturs and a chicken, this man separating himself from Hill twice, once with his chicken and once with his non sequiturs, which are not part of any ritual, or not a ritual that anyone would want to share with him, for the chicken-man is miserable, and the ritual is only the ritual of an Australian lonely madness, a state of mind that has been described by Henry Lawson in several venues, for example, The Bush Undertaker, and it is only a marker of unity in that people who are Australian and not mad do recognise it, and acknowledge it as a potential past-time in that national resource, the bush, "the nurse and tutor of eccentric minds, the home of the weird," writes Lawson, who lived for most of his life in Sydney but obtained insights by travelling between the towns of Hungerford and Bourke in 1892 during a drought.

This chicken-man, if he had appeared in Matthiessen, would surely have been useful in a different way, and the author would have placed his remark against a cosmic thoughtfulness; it would have had some correlation with Zen, or Buddhism; his despair might have been described as a possible prelude to enlightenment, it would have been one item in a large design that might have saved him if he had acknowledged it, and as we left the man we might have been allowed to imagine that he would submit to that realisation in future, or the author might decide that the existence of this vertiginous chicken was a message to himself, or at least he would have tried to set the man's behaviour in a smoother and more detailed context (he would have done this as smoothly and sympathetically as he explains the behaviour of two women at a Himalayan temple who are wary of himself and the other hikers) or at least the presentation would have seemed less stark -- but the journalist Hill is as thrilled as a newspaper; the man is not intimate with her, nor is his chicken, and she is not visited by any Zen enlightenment; she is visited by a sense of theatre, and presents the man like a performance.

Her grotesque scenes would not seem grotesque if Matthiessen had written them. Nothing in The Snow Leopard is grotesque when he describes it, not even the wise porter pretending to be a yeti and shouting, "Kak-kak-kak! KAI-ee!" around the campfire. These people would not seem so irreparably separated from the writer, the chicken man would not have been prized as though he were a star or remote comet, as Hill prizes him, or a natural phenomenon, like an intractable cactus.

If we are all primally connected by our rituals, as in the Matthiessen book, then a thing would have to be outside that historical context to seem grotesque, it would have to seem to have come alienly from elsewhere, but you could make it seem this by perceiving it to be so, you could announce that there is no connection between this alien thing and the rituals of the Nepalese: it is an anomaly, you could say, it is not part of proper humanity I do not see the join there, between ourselves and this thing, the points of reference I expect to identify in these cases are absent, and the join is perverse or wrong; it is a polluted join, says the writer, and this separation between ourselves is unnatural, as it was in a poem by William Matthews I was reading the other day

We speak Demotic
because we're disguised as ordinary
folks. A shared culture offers camouflage
behind which we can tend the covert fires
we feed our shames to ...

(part of The Place on the Corner, a poem from After All (1998))

Thursday, October 25, 2012

in and out of the game

I like Freya Stark's romantic singularity more than Matthiessen's primal hugging and why I prefer it is a thing I might one day sit down and think about, though it may have been Peake when I was younger, helping to teach me, yet I believe it may have been my own sense of privacy, standing foremost, fitting me to like Peake's books, and also, recently, Vilette, with its protagonist who loves her interior, her loneliness, and her thoughts. I looked at a copy of Patrick White's Riders in the Chariot and remembered one nurse in The Eye of the Storm running through a paragraph of thought while she's alone in, I think, the garden.

Walt Whitman makes me uneasy whenever he decides that he is large, he contains multitudes, he sees all of America, "The suicide sprawls on the bloody floor of the bedroom, | I witness the corpse with its dabbled hair, I note where the pistol has fallen," this big web he says he is, this interconnection, this human being as a spy camera never letting you away, or me; all of us his grist, but then I remember that he says

Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.

and that the conglomerate poem is made of discrete pieces, two-line verses, aphorisms, and other independent units: it contains antisocial elements, and people will normally remember a line or two or a scrap, but rarely the whole poem at once: the isolated reserves itself, and is a mark of mortality. The isolated is the thing that stops.

And I wonder if the removal in Song of Myself is less the removal of a door between the narrator and other people ("Unscrew the locks from the doors! | Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!") than it is the imaginary removal of the door between imagination and life, for if he is "hauling my boat down the shallow river, | Where the panther walks to and fro on a limb overhead, where the buck turns furiously at the hunter" then he is living an imaginary life, he is his imaginary life, and he is only doing and being the things that Walt Whitman has heard about in his private brain, from books he's read or papers he's heard, or lessons he's had, these bits of news about Egyptian gods, ships, horses, and buck hunting, but anything he does not mention I assume he does not, in his role as a singular and absolutely disconnected nineteenth-century North American person, know. He has assembled a primary set of sources; he arranges them so that they radiate out from him. He is a little adventure-story writer, and all lives are adventure-story lives, all imagined, as the person takes the available information and dreams up boundarylines and relationships -- Whitman dreaming heavily of both, and having both, being the sensual unit and the universal object at the same time, an ambiguity, as Peake's characters in Gormenghast are hampered by the society of the castle and yet the author tells us that they are "themselves;" they are coherent, as no reader in their modern choice-world will ever be. The Countess Gertrude, buttocking up the ladder in the seared library, is expressed beautifully by her bottom, but my bottom has never done the same for me.

(This idea of being "yourself" is a strange one now that I come to think of it; what does it mean?

In Titus Groan and Gormenghast it seems to mean that you are consumed in yourself, your nature dictates everything you do, and even your features, your nose, your feet, your hair, will be examined by an author who wants to know whether this part of yourself suits you or not; you behave absolutely in the way that the thing that is you should behave (you're not only never out of character, you're always reinforcing that character), you do not let anything else distract you; you are solitary in the ongoing consummation of yourself, you are a vacuum into which anything of you disappears if it does not express that character.

I see commentators who say that Peake's characters have been damaged by their setting; I do not often see one who points out that they have brutally been perfected by it.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

standing forth in low relief from the rock

So Peter Matthiessen likes integrations and primal systems. Freya Stark does not like them, or does not dislike them but they do not occur to her or they occur but do not make an impact, she cannot include them in her style, her style is a romantic not a mystic, she sees the lone person standing clear, she takes joy in things that are eccentric, and she will pick them out then assign a clear adjective or pair of them to an object to make it quickly distinct; she will set the objects apart in the sentence with the help of an "and," like this -- "the village itself, with flat roofs and arched mud gateway on a rise, and vines and fruit trees and a grassy glade of old mulberry trees where the crows cawed like English rooks in a park, were all hidden from us by poplar trees and willows."

Matthiessen is pleased when things are same and the Native American is also the Tibetan, but if Stark mentions a similarity between an item in the Middle East and one anywhere else then it is only to give the British reader (she is imagining British readers) a clear picture of this solitary event. "Like English rooks in a park."

When she wakes one Iraq morning in a thick "Scotch mist," she does not invite the reader to extend those two words, "Scotch mist," into a theory about the fundamental natures of mists, the mists in Scotland connected instinctively to the mists in Persia, this word "Scotch" uttered in a foreign setting suggesting understandings flowing secretly through the currents of the world's liquids, speaking and haunting one another as they sit suspended in the chilly air ("It often covers," she writes, "the Shah Rud Valley for days like a ceiling"), but this is Matthiessen's plan when he compares a Tibetan custom with one from Africa or the Arctic Circle; he is inviting speculation on a mystic-anthropological level, he is serious, but she is delighted, and she is not serious merely sane, and when she is knocked unconscious by near-fatal malaria she records her symptoms and spends time observing the character of the doctor, but Matthiessen appears to find his troubles more troublesome, they are a serious matter to him, and he will cure them if he can by reflecting on Zen Buddhism.

Meanwhile Stark's prose habits will not let her take the troubles solemnly; this style is too easily romantic and entertained, it repels the Matthiessen philosophy; it cannot save itself through a unity of everything but looks for a strong individuality of one, whose duty is to remain level-headed no matter what.

And this style must have been influenced by the styles of books she had read, and so those other books helped her to a legacy of this level-headedness, this faith in observation, which was recommended to the world by Lawrence Durrell and others. He edited an anthology of her writing, The Journey's Echo: selections from Freya Stark. I do not know for sure what she read but I think of the habits of the Victorian British -- she was born Victorian in 1893 -- and their observations of fossils, rocks, and rockpools, the trilobite in Thomas Hardy,* the family of the boy Gerard Manly Hopkins pacing along the shoreline, searching for specimens, and the adult poet Hopkins describing leaves or pigeons in his journal: "They look like little grey jugs by shape when they walk, strutting and jod-jodding with their heads. The two young ones are all white and the pins of the folded wings, quill pleated over quill, are like crisp and shapely cuttleshells found on the shore." (June 16th, 1873) though a mention of Barron Field's poetry at Whispering Gums reminded me how profoundly their descriptive language tripped over under the people of this same race when they tried to see Australia; for decades they could not see it and the English language in this area was purblind.

Jenny Uglow, in her biography of Gaskell, believes that Ruskin helped to make this habit of observationliterary as well as scientific; an author such as Eliot, she says, owed him a debt in this respect -- look, he said, like Hopkins in that poem -- look! look! -- you can see him in Modern Painters telling the landscape painters of the United Kingdom to look at a tree and not just jot down whatever shorthand for trees they seem to have learnt.

It was not until I had finished the previous sentence that I remembered my selected Hopkins has a painting by Ruskin on the front.

*The trilobite appears in A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873): "By one of those familiar conjunctions of things wherewith the inanimate world baits the mind of man when he pauses in moments of suspense, opposite Knight's eyes was an imbedded fossil, standing forth in low relief from the rock. It was a creature with eyes. The eyes, dead and turned to stone, were even now regarding him. It was one of the early crustaceans called Trilobites." Assume that if Hardy had been writing one hundred years earlier, before the Victorian fossil craze, then the character would have been blind to the fossil.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

years from their source

The sky in Las Vegas this summer was white and clear; the walls kicked the heat back at you, the road kicked the light back at you, everything in the sunlight kicked the sunlight back at you, especially first thing in the morning, when the sun was at the right angle, whatever that was, to change your ideas about the star, now rough against your eyes, this radiant mugger that boiled the atmosphere into two large storms, of which, the first one dragged away a high school student, and the second storm washed a groundskeeper off his golf course. Twelve feet of water on parts of that golf course, said a source whose name I forget. Twelve feet looks like such a high number (due to ideas about twelves and due to the amount of water I usually see lying around on the ground in this city, which is none but rather a hard baked matte surface on everything) that I want to point it might have been inches, which would be more reasonable but memory insists on the unreasonable one, and the reasonable conclusion is not always true; for example, on the gravel verge by the intersection on that same day I saw a broken plastic flipper lying alone and unexplained, and a million other things that could have been there would have been more normal in this desert and yet undoubtedly it was a flipper.

(If you turned me into a different person then that flipper would become right now the start of an essay, the mind of the writer opening from flipper into universe, and I would start a chapter now and title it, Of The Natural Causes and Original of Flippers, following which I would record my acceptance of the seal flipper, the dugong flipper, the flipper of the majestic whale with its little eyes like a soulful pig, the bone of the whale flipper as translated into the human arm, into the dog's leg, and into the wing of the bat, then what is it to be a bat, what is it to be a whale, what is it to want to write Moby Dick, Melville moody in an attic, then I would move on to the subject of famous historical or literary moodiness, Christina Stead writing The Man Who Loved Children in a New York apartment with a bad view, her sourness during A Little Tea, A Little Chat, then I would go back to flippers again, and the webbed toes of ducks or gulls, then mention the grey bird we saw under a cliff-face in the mountains while within sight roamed two feral horses eating the grass, one black horse, one amber with a black tail, and the name of that bird we did not know, "Those ancient men of genius who rifled nature by the torch-light of reason even to her very nudities, have been run a-ground in this unknown channel; the wind has blown out the candle of reason, and left them all in the dark," I'd write, borrowing from Daniel Defoe's book The Storm, where I found my chapter title, only in him it is Of The Natural Causes and Original of Winds -- and etc, etc.)

Towards the end of the season, after months when leaving the house made me sweat piggishly, each pore a piddle, I read travel books because it was the only way to go anywhere, Freya Stark's The Valleys of the Assassins for one and Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard for another, Stark British and Matthiessen American, Stark going through the dangerous countryside between Iraq and Iran ("I spent a fortnight in that part of the country where one is less frequently murdered"), Matthiessen hiking through the Himalayan mountains with a biologist named George Schaller who wanted to watch Pseudois nayaur go through its mating rituals in order to find out whether they behaved like sheep or like goats; also perhaps Matthiessen would see a snow leopard though the leopard was not a guarantee.

They hired porters for their baggage. Matthiessen admires one of these porters more than the rest because this porter has a kind of intelligent expression that suits the American's idea of an instinctive wise man. Zen Buddhism is the prime category through which Matthiessen understands the world; he measures his surroundings by integrating them into this category or determining that they do not fit. This porter fits into his category; now he can find more to say about him; the man appears to demonstrate this or that point that the author wants to make, so he is mentioned and the point is made, he is a gate and sign for an idea, for several ideas, and the author, at the end of the trek, recommends him to a porter company for an elevated position in the local porter hierarchy but the man behind the desk responds, Are you high, that man is a drunk.

Matthiessen concludes that these Tibetans have a lot in common with Native Americans. "I am struck by the resemblance between our native Americans and these Mongol peoples." There are physical similarities, there are also their "ornaments of turquoise and silver," and their beliefs: "The native American traditions are Eastern cultures, thousands of miles and perhaps thousands of years from their source." There is "the Aztec concept of existence as a dream state," for example, and "the Algonquin medicine man" would recognise the Tibetan yogi; but there are resemblances to other cultures as well, in fact resemblances to everybody everywhere, to the mysticisms of those religions born in the Middle East, and "the Australian aborigines -- considered to be the most ancient race on earth," have a dreamtime, which is a very Eastern thing, he says. Things are matched all over the earth and no fact goes unfriended. Ancient ideas have survived since primitive eras. "Knowledge" writes Jeremy Taylor in Holy Dying, "is nothing but remembrance."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

the centralising influence

Create a vacuum, thought the churchmen apparently, as they were writing the documents that appeared in Hillgarth's book -- draw attention to a contradiction -- a crack will be created there, the universe no longer naturally bound together in that area of the pagan mind -- who created the universe if our gods had to be born? wonders the hypothetical German confronted by Boniface's honest craftiness -- the new idea will ooze in, this new root will sprout, we will be both question and answer, and A manager, said a casino security sergeant to me recently, never asks a question he doesn't know the answer to, but the new Germanic parishioners were not au fait with Latin, they were not sympathetic, they were not Mediterranean though the missionaries were Mediterranean, the instructions had to be changed for them; some tried to graft the new system of worship onto old practices and have sons inherit their fathers' churches -- no, no, said the central church, this is not how it is done -- grinding their teeth in prose -- and Hillgarth picks his excerpts to make you see the rules gradually growing, you can detect the churchmen becoming more law-bound, less ecstatic, less excited, less direct, differently bossy, no longer assuming that they are confronted by a unity; it appears that the unity must be created now consciously, with instructions, not trusted but built.

(Geoffrey Hill, speaking at Oxford University on the meaning of the word eccentricity, said that the original orbit of any revolutionary social movement is eccentric or asymmetrical until "the centralising influence of bureaucrats takes charge" -- then symmetry asserts itself -- the Egyptian uprising in 2011 was his example. (Eccentrique to the ends of his master or state, May 8th, 2011))

Hillgarth works his way chronologically through the centuries. In the beginning, when he is taking examples from the 300s AD, he has passages that address multitudes, Victricious of Rouen telling the crowd they're all loved and valuable, they, the virgins, the widows, the soldiers, the boys, the monks, are all adorable, all able to adore, "let us exert ourselves and put forth sighs from the deepest veins of our bodies" (translated by the Rev. Fr. Jacobus Mulders, S.J.), and then there are epitaphs trimmed into stone for a public audience, "Here there rests at peace the servant of Christ, the Honourable Lady Guntelda ..." (translated by E. Diehl); but by the 6- and 700s at the end of the book there are private letters describing covert plans, the addresses now start with lists of formal church-titles, a phrase like "beloved brother" appears to have become standardised, Bishop Daniel sends his secret guidelines to Boniface, certain ideas are forbidden, decisions are laid down, a wall of laws is being set up to compete or collaborate with the secular kingships; the church starts to make decisions about marriages, charity, land distribution, and clothing. "Each woman, when she communicates, shall have her veil ..." decided the authors of the document known as A Diocesan Council: Auxerre, 561- 605 (translated by C. de Clercq), and a monk may not wear a stole or a ring.

Thus you've gone from mystics to bureaucrats or from external rhetoric to internal canniness, or from largeness to minuteness like Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans, which in some ways really is "a history of every one" as it promises, mimicking this movement of forces, the accumulation of increments; everything is reconfiguring, the religion becoming a device with humans responding to its grip, the orderly mind that the churchmen prescribe for the tribesmen is also the order they have found for themselves in this industrial revolution of the brain.

All of this insinuates itself into the religious community over the course of four hundred years, 350 - 750, according to the book's title, human beings calibrating or being calibrated in this way, which is mirrored in secular ways as well at the current time, too, on the internet, the freewheeling messy days gone, gone the days when a personal website was an animated .gif of a road sign and three pictures of your favourite fairies against a field of purple though everyone visited you nonetheless, lame as you were; now there is more to assimilate and less to experience; perhaps this would have been Hillgarth's perception too, if he had lived to see it -- the book published in 1969 -- I think he has to be dead -- once he was the "Assistant Professor of History, Harvard University," according to the front of the book -- tidied away like autumn leaves by now, mouldering with oak and elm and the other trees around which druids in Europe once (according to the documents he arranged into a book) bound their fillets -- a fillet in this case meaning, a band of cloth.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

some hid dread

Sue from Whispering Gums has let me know that this blog is giving her grief when she tries to post comments from her Wordpress account. I can't figure out why it thinks this is a good move, but if this is affecting you too then I am sorry and I wish it would not.

The tip of each ivy-shoot
Waves in its neighbour's face
There is some hid dread afoot
That we cannot trace.

(Thomas Hardy, A January Night)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

spent with heat, and dissolved

In Hillgarth's book I see a letter from Bishop Daniel of Winchester to Bishop Boniface the missionary, one man telling the other how he should use logic to argue the pagans out of their paganism. "When they have been forced to admit that their gods had a beginning, since they were begotten by others, they should be asked whether the world had a beginning or was always in existence ..." (Translated by C.H. Talbot.) Time will pass and vindicate his cunning; time will make it necessary; the present will have become the only conclusion of the action. For centuries there were monks trying to establish that Aristotle and Virgil were really Christians, as they should be. They were Christians, at heart, somehow, Christians. This is recorded by Haskins. Earlier, earlier, Greek philosophers of the first few centuries AD decided that Plato had been a kind of Moses. "What is Plato but Moses speaking Attic Greek?" asked Numenius of Apamea. Jeremy Taylor in 1651 quotes Pindar and St James together; he praises first Lucien in his Rules and Exercises of Holy Dying and then "God's mercy or God's anger," all of these sources in his essay agreeing with him and supplying him with sayings. They are a united group, Homer, St James, God, and Jeremy Taylor, a Church of England bishop, dead of fever in 1667 with a portrait in Cambridge, the eyes of this portrait looking back over the shoulder, and the hands disembodied against the black cloth of his cape like Egon Schiele flippers.

There was once an Ephesian woman, he says in Dying, who was so miserable after her husband's expiration that she "descended with the corpse into the vault, and there, being attended with her maiden, resolved to weep to death, or die with famine, or a distempered sorrow: from which resolution nor his, not her friends, nor the reverence of the principal citizens, who used the entreaties of their charity and their power, could persuade her." But passion had wrung her out and her feelings were "willing to be gathered into order at the arrest of any new object, being weary of the first, of which, like leeches, they had sucked their fill, till they fell down and burst," so that a soldier came down to see how she was, wound up "married" (writes Taylor) to the mourner on her husband's grave.

For so the wild foragers of Lybia, being spent with heat, and dissolved by the too fond kisses of the sun, do melt with their common fires, and die with faintness, and descend with motions slow and unable to the little brooks that descent from heaven in the wilderness; and when they drink they return into the vigour of a new life, and contract strange marriages; and the lioness is courted by a panther, and she listens to his love, and conceives a monster that all men call unnatural, and the daughter of an equivocal passion and of a sudden refreshment.

The Catholic character M. Paul Emmanuel in Brontë's Vilette accuses the Protestant narrator of paganism but loves her anyway.

Contradictions are reasonable as long as they're kept inside the brain, but bring them out and try to state them logically in public and the soft coexistence of gods or ideas is cut apart; the private God is willing to relax while you burn your magical turf or "immolate a victim for the purpose of a sacrifice, or to consult the quivering entrails" (Theodosian Code (392), translated by Clyde Pharr) but when someone unsympathetic draws hard lines then no, the relaxation vanishes, there's no relaxation, they can't coexist publicly though in your head why not -- in public don't ask don't tell -- and yet what a surprise, I bet you, for many people, to have this pointed out, the private universe cut and prism'd, and themselves forced to choose, a logical toughness is proposed, ancient tourist, if you really believed you were unworthy would you have put those names there? No but the word meant something else when I said it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

to be truly polar

In Hillgarth the early Catholics are destroying and disturbing existing structures, not to do away with structure but to introduce a new one; the mind could not love two structures at once said their verdict; the mind could not be a pagan and a Catholic although to be honest I think that in the privacy of the individual brain these do not have to be contradictory ideas, for who is there anywhere who cannot hold ideas that go against one another, who can't know and not know at the same time, the two states intermixed and cosy, or pressing against one another, so that a teenage passenger in a speeding car comes up with these words for her last text message, "I'm going to die lol," typing with her fingers, first the el, the oh, then another el, an action that comes to pause, later, in the sight of this same message printed later in a newspaper for the sake of horror, the doomed woman expressing a belief in death but also hitting an attitude with those words (almost undoubtedly in sweetly intimate correspondence with the behaviour she has shown in the past) as though she believed she was continuous and should remain consistent: here is faith in life's extension?

No thought goes unmixed, and there is no borderline between thoughts; the plural form of the word thought must be more arbitrary than it looks but I use it anyway, very helplessly.

Perhaps she was horrified when she sent the message out but probably not in the way that the reader of the newspaper is horrified. The word is the same but the experience is not. Hnh, the reader thinks, I might be in the same situation without knowing it, complacent and about to die -- entertaining themselves with this ghost story -- then the piano falls out of the window above them and smack -- no it doesn't -- they go on with life regardless, as Robert Louis Stevenson recommends in Aes Triplex, the writer in this essay sounding so gung-ho that I remember his criticism of Thoreau. "Thoreau was a skulker," says Stevenson, who likes his men to run around with "dash" and get a bit drunk. Shakespeare, he says. Who is there among us who does not believe that the Bard was game for a good shickering when the thought occurred? Drunk he was, and rolling around with the oranges. Thoreau, on the other hand.

"He was almost shockingly devoid of weaknesses; he had not enough of them to be truly polar with humanity."

But then the essay slides toward the favourable. Contradictory thoughts are easy: the patriot can call the country fine and right even though they've seen the account of the massacre; the parents of gangbangers are quoted in an article saying that their burglar son is a good boy, and when I consider those examples I realise that the woman in the place behind the tree would probably be volcanic with counter arguments if I called her a repressive mother, even though the words I hear her say to her children most often are "Shut the fuck up" and "Get the fuck in your room and don't come out," and yesterday she interrupted one of their arguments by screaming this sentence at her son, "Then let her play with the fucking game by her retarded self; you go outside." Afterwards she kept on screaming with nothing but vowels, and who was that aimed at?

The vikings in Henry Treece's novels manage to cope with all of their gods together, the Christian and the not-Christian, and they were happy until they were lectured and so, apparently, according to documents in Hillgarth, were thousands of other early-Catholic people, going to church at the appointed times, then burning their magical turfs in the barn afterwards and being kind to a tree until someone arrived sternly and said, no, you may not, if you are that then you cannot be this as well; your private accommodations between one jealous god and a group of other gods cannot be sustained, and the private justifications have to be eliminated or buried.

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.