Friday, February 23, 2007

Samson: super hero or terrorist?

Samson is a pretty strange charater. Right now I'm working on a paper dealing with Milton's version of Samson's life in his poem "Samson Agonistes" (meaning Samson the "contender" in reference to his last appearance at the Philistian dinner party), and to be honest, I've never given Samson enough thought. Who was this guy? He is called one of the "judges" of Israel, but seems very unlike Gideon or other judges who actually call Israel to repentance. He is separated by God as a Nazarite, but even more so with his strength - he is the Nazarite qua Nazarite; yet abstinence from drink and haircuts seem to be the only things that he abstains from. And exactly how he managed to tie firebrands to foxes or kill armed soldiers with a donkey's jawbone or lift those doors is just beyond me... and rightfully so, they were beyond Samson as well.

An interesting aside:
There is a huge (renewed) interest in our generation regarding superheros, but the basic premise of most of these stories, (like X-men, or the new TV series Heroes) is that super powers only will exist as the next phase of evolution. As a kid I loved the thought of any type of superpower, flying, stretching, bending the space/time continuum, super strength, but the evolutionistic nonsense of mutations and survival of the fittest, despite giving it (admirably in my opinion) a serious (and not patronizing) look, was also a serious turn off for anyone who doens't dig Darwin. Perhaps Samson is one glimpse into real Super (natural?) powers. If someone like Samson truly existed, kids everywhere who are turned off (like I was) by the faulty worldview propping up cool ideas like X-men can now renew their hope that telekinesis, teleportation, or invisibility are real possibilities. Maybe we can re-read the section in Hebrews 11 dealing with Samson as a Super-hero of the faith?

Another thing that I've never thought about and I've come across it in a really intriguing article by a Feisal Mohamed, is the issue of whether or not Samson is a terrorist. He connects Samson's self-destructive act in the name of Divine will as a move similar to the Plane crashes of 9/11. I liked his article, he really understood Milton's approach to Samson and unlike others, he refuses to believe that Milton rejects Samson as a fanatic. I don't think Milton would reject Samson. But I also don't think we need to reject Milton for not rejecting Samson. The study seems to take Samson out of the Old Testament context where God's will is manifested to Israel who is separate from the surrounding nations, in much the same way it is manifested to Samson, who is separated to another degree (re: Nazarite qua Nazarite qua Israeli). Anyways, Samson's actions are a part of a different era in human history - an era where God wipes out the world with a flood, chastises Israel for allowing pagan woman and children to live, and violently establishes separation from the World in the entrance to Canaan. Again, Milton is aware of this, the poem on Samson is coupled with Paradise Regained, which is an account of Christ's temptations by the Devil in the Wilderness. An interesting choice to show how the Paradise Adam and Eve Lost is regained. Anyways, Milton depicts Christ as catching glimpses of his future ministry and uncertatin as to what his Father wills for this Kingdom - will it be established through Militarism like the Israel of Old or not? In fact, Satan tempts Christ with the power of earthly empire. Yet the kingdom of the New Testament is a kingdom established in the hearts and minds of believers united in praise of God in the church. This is the kingdom he came to start: the Church, not a renewed empire.

Still, the question remains, how do we come to grips with some of the horrific actions done in God's name in the Old Testament?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

Well, Vaness and I went out to a movie...a rare occasion for students on a budget, but we went nevertheless. Since I had been nagging Vaness to come and see Pan's Labyrinth for a while, she decided to see it even though it's not her 'type' of movie. So we drove out of the downtown area really early to see if we could get dinner before the movie...turns out there was a Senators game that night and the 417 was a parking lot. INching our way along I was thinking...oh man, we are going to skip dinner or the movie. I presented Vaness with the idea of skipping dinner and going straight to the theater but she said no...she had just got off work and needed food or she ... would...DIE. As Providence would have it, there was a Swiss Chalet right beside the theater, and the food and service were great and we still had 5 minutes before the movie started.
Now in my head I was thinking... oh man, we're going to get there like 5 minutes into the movie, there will only be seats in the very front...we should turn back now. But we got into the theater and there were only 2 people there besides us. Perhaps that was a warning..if the traffic jam wasn't, but we didn't heed it, and sat down.

Now, I don't want to be one of those people... more common in English departments than any other I believe... who rank any movie that is just wierd as "good." Pan's Labyrinth was right up there on the wierd factor. Perhaps it was up there on the intelligence factor as well, the whole trope of labyrinth and Pan, etc. suggest that, but I still didn't really like it. I think it was like when I come home from school and I am expecting Ribs for dinner (Vaness makes incredible Ribs) and I come home and smell a roast. The roast is good, it's great, but its not ribs and, even more, its not what I was expecting. That was Pan's Labyrinth. I was expecting a Fairy Story for adults (I think one of the trailers had said that, and that's what attracted me). However, it was the exact opposite. The Fairy world is all but invisible to the adult world. ONly Ofelia can enter it and exit at will. Also, after she kills the toad under the fig tree (which was pretty cool) and defeats the death figure at the feast (also very cool and very high on the cathartic experience of FEAR) there is about 40 minutes where the whole Fairy World falls away to give precedence to the plot of the adults: the Spanish Civil war of the 40's and the battle between a psychotic and well acted role of the officer and a band of rebels in the woods. When the Fairy story continues and Ofelia has to complete her 3rd and final quest we get a glimpse of the Darkness of that Fairy world when he demands a child sacrifice. AT this point, for me, the whole movie falls apart and my belief in Ofelias world changes from true belief to a "willing suspension of disbelief." Her world, at this point, is only in her head. When her step-father (the same psycho officer from earlier) enters the labyrinth he sees Ofelia alone (but we think, or thought, she was talking to the Faun). At this point we might conjecture that the Faun and the step-father are one in the same, but are manifested differently to Ofelia in the Real world and the Fantasy world, but to me, that just undermines both worlds and the movie. I think this connection is made earlier in subtle hints, especially when the Officer demands the Doctor follow him "without question" and the Faun echoes this request to Ofelia.

If you haven't seen the movie and want to, read no further, but Ofelia dies and her blood appeases the King of the Underworld and she is taken to the halls where her Father (her real father who is a Tailor) and Mother, and the Maid (I think...but don't quote me on this) are ruling. This might be the "eucatastrophic moment" where everything is going bad and there is a sudden turn for the good. But it didn' do it for me.

So, as a roast, I give this movie a thumbs up. But I wanted ribs. So next time marketing team of pan's Labyrinth, market the movie as ribs. Don't call it a fairy story. It's not.

Friday, February 09, 2007

What's the point?

It's not late but it feels late. Don't the Greeks have two different words for time...Kairos and Kronos. Kronos is the sand in the hour glass. Kronos is chronological, its the persistent second hand on our watches that scares us. I want my watch to have only an hour hand, than it's only 24 times a day I feel like a chunk is chiseled off the rock of time I am given. Kronos is like that moving wall in some nintendo levels, it pushes you forward and you can't go back.

Kairos is different, and the more I think about it, it's a more real time. A sunday sermon isn't 30 minutes or 32:15 minutes/seconds. If people talked like that (and some people do, I was one of them when I was younger) their talk is just irrelevant and reveals a weak mind. No, we say a sermon was "good" or "bad" (whatever that means is up for debate). These people have a bit more sense, and if they were asked if the sermon was long or short they (if they havne't already rolled their eyes at such a silly question) would tell you how it "felt." How they experienced it. A 'good' sermon FEELS like it takes a short time and the bad one FEELS like its longer. And to me, after giving it some thought, think this is what life is. Here's my big-bow-wow statement of the blog: life is just a series of experiences. Cursed is the life that seems to take forever, it's a life that is lived out of boredom. But we can't escape it. I can't. I'm often bored, even doing what I love. I'm often distracted and restless. I think its just my nature, but I want to do what i'm not doing, see what i'm not seeing, etc. I guess that is one thing else to learn, life is about enjoying and living in the present. I don' mean the stupid ways that some people live with no thought to the future and no appreciation and understanding of the past, but to live in the present moment is to live in all three times at once. The present is infused with both time and future. I mean, the present is the only dimension of time that really doesn't move. The past is being shot backwards faster than I can type this blog, and the future comes towards us at the same speed (60 seconds per minute). But that is maybe the key to being human, we arent' too live in the past in some naive delusion of nostalgia, and we're also not supposed to live in the future. We live FOR the future, I guess and WITH the PAST. Not IN either, we only live IN the present. I think the prepositions are key. LIving WITH or FOR the present will more than likely stir up more problems.

It's wierd to think of. Just being human is wierd to think of. We have so many limits that we are just born into and we never question them. I can only be here now. Here and Now. Space and Time. I can only be in one space at one time all the time. I am typing at a desk in Ottawa, but I can't be home with Family in St. Catharines. However, the mind is a super wierd thing because it can. I can sit and talk to people (and I do this Way too much) with my mind sitting here at my desk thinking of a blog.

So, anyway, long story short. It was a good week. I'm reading some stuff by Becket right now. My first taste, and its going down bitter, I think he's an aquired taste. Just Read Buckingham's The Rehearsal, and loved it. But who wants to hear about reading lists? That's one thing about this MA, it seems the more you read and the more you learn, the less you have to talk about because, honestly, most people I know don't give two craps about it. It's wierd. But I'll keep on keeping on.

At the end of the day we are not going to be rewarded for living the longest, for enduring. How pointless. Our time here is precious not because it is time, hours, minutes, seconds, milliseconds. It's important because of WHAT we do. And right now, I finally think I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. Partly, because Time is flying.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Joyce's Kunstleroman

I have just finished read James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (for the second time acually, I read it around the same time last year) and thought I would try to articulate some of my initial thoughts, especially since our class discussion Monday will revolve around it and its relation to Dante.

The story is a traditional "Bildungsroman" in the sense that it is a 'coming of age' tale of a young boy; more specifically, it is a 'kunstleroman' since it deals with the 'coming of age of an artist.' There are obvious parallels between Stephen and his journey from Clongowes to Belvedere to University College where he sinks into sin, emerges as a convert, flirts with the priesthood, but eventually decides to "fly by the nets" of nationality, language, religion in order to "forge in the smithy of his soul" the conscience of Ireland. Quite a bold statement. In fact, Stephen's character is marred by his overweening pride and is the reason that each chapter (there are 5) begins with Stephen being brought low from the preceding high that ended the earlier chapter. As a boy he faces the dean only to be humbled when he learns it was a joke, he renews his religious convictions only to renew his assertion that his is a lonely road, one he must travel alone, and so he becomes an artist. Like his namesake (Dedalus), Stephen Dedalus doesnt' want to be grounded by the Irish language, the Irish Catholicism (which he believed betrayed the Irish hero Parnell), or Irish nationality (which so readily accepted the yoke of a foreign culture: England). However, he can't get too close to the sun either or he will burn, like his namesake's son Icarus, whose wax wings melted and caused his death. So this is Stephen, flying in the precarious position, in between, intermezzo, in media res.

What strikes me about Stephen is the almost deliberate subversion of Dante and his aesthetic. Dante's travel's through hell to purgatory to heaven are linear. Point A to Point B. Stephen however, occupying that precarious middle position, is constantly being threatened with the unknown waiting to destroy him and the known that will cage him. Such is the flight of Dedalus, both then and now. Like Dante after the Vita Nuova, Stephen turns to Aristotle and Aquinas in order to develop an aesthetic. However, his words "I will not serve" are reminiscent of Milton's Satan who remarks "It is better to reign in Hell than to serve in heaven." Therefore, Stephen's aesthetic is primarily an individualistic and self absorbed one. He takes Aquinas' three points: Wholeness, Rhythm, and "unitas" (which he translates radiance) to say that something beautiful must be 1) whole: you can abstract it from all reality and see it as a whole thing, individual of all others. A chair therefore without its setting, held up in the minds eye, with a given boundary, etc. 2) Rhythm: the coordination of parts that create a balance of parts to the whole. A chair with legs, a back, a seat. Functioning and aesthetically pleasing. 3) Unitas/radiance: (I take this to be the most important since it is such a break from Dante, and later Tolkien) the "quidditas" or the whateness of the object. The thing is only the thing.

Now the last point may seem trite, but its not. Dante, after reading Aristotle and Aquinas came to the conclusion that his love for Beatrice, and the beauty he found in her, was so beautiful because it pointed beyond her. In fact, Dante's journey through hell to purgatory to Paradise, begins with Virgil as his guide, than Beatrice, than Christ, because each signifies something "beyond" the object. Beatrice is desireable, which is "love in motion" only because there is something stationary about her, that is, an unmoved mover/God who is absolute love (thanks Aristotle and Aquinas). Eliot picks this up beautifully in Four Quartets and Ash Wednesday when he speaks of the Still point in the turning world. So, already Dante and Joyce (well, Stephen to be exact) are at odds.

Stephen's aesthetics relates to his self-indulgence because he ultimately thinks that there is nothing and no one besides him. He constantly seeks to set himself apart from the group and the novel ends with him abandoning all his friends and the community so he can work alone. If the pattern of the book maintains itself beyond the last page, we can safely assume that the next time we encounter young Dedalus, he will have fallen again.

Anyways, this hardly scratches an inch of the surface of this incredible account of the mind of a genius. But these were some of my initial observations and I find Blogging a great way to articulate them (and bore anyone who wants to read this drivel).