Friday, April 29, 2005

Sin-Eater || Scape-Goat

John Isaacs 
Other Peoples Lives [scapegoat]

From Funeral Customs: Chapter IV: Wakes, Mutes, Wailers, Sin-Eating, Totemism, Death-Taxes:
A less known but even more remarkable functionary, whose professional services were once considered necessary to the dead, is the sin-eater. Savage tribes have been known to slaughter an animal on the grave, in the belief that it would take upon itself the sins of the dead. In the same manner, it was the province of the human scapegoat to take upon himself the moral trespasses of his client--and whatever the consequences might be in the after life--in return for a miserable fee and a scanty meal. That such a creature should be unearthed from a remote period of pagan history would be surprising enough, but to find reliable evidence of his existence in the British Isles a hundred years ago is surely very much more remarkable.

Professor Evans of the Presbyterian College, Carmarthen, actually saw a sin-eater about the year 1825, who was then living near Llanwenog, Cardiganshire. Abhorred by the superstitious villagers as a thing unclean, the sin-eater cut himself off from all social intercourse with his fellow creatures by reason of the life he had chosen; he lived as a rule in a remote place by himself, and those who chanced to meet him avoided him as they would a leper. This unfortunate was held to be the associate of evil spirits, and given to witchcraft, incantations and unholy practices; only when a death took place did they seek him out, and when his purpose was accomplished they burned the wooden bowl and platter from which he had eaten the food handed across, or placed on the corpse for his consumption.

Howlett mentions sin-eating as an old custom in Hereford, and thus describes the practice: "The corpse being taken out of the house, and laid on a bier, a loaf of bread was given to the sin-eater over the corpse, also a maga-bowl of maple, full of beer. These consumed, a fee of sixpence was given him for the consideration of his taking upon himself the sins of the deceased, who, thus freed, would not walk after death." He suggests the connection between the sin-eater and the Jewish scapegoat of the old Testament.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Camille Paglia: The World's Top (Not Best) Political Events of Western History


1. Pharaoh Amenophis IV renames himself Ikhnaten, breaks with the powerful priesthood, and founds the new city of Akhetaten (modern Amarna), to which he moves with queen Nefertiti (c. 1344 B.C.).

2. Handsome, charismatic Alcibiades goads Athens into the disastrous Sicilian expedition against a Spartan colony in Syracuse, an imperialistic adventure that will bring Athenian power to an end (415 B.C.).

3. Mark Antony and Cleopatra foolishly choose to fight Octavian by sea at the battle of Actium (off Greece), which destroys their ambitions (31 B.C.). They commit suicide the following year, and Octavian (becoming Augustus Caesar) founds the Roman empire.

4. A Roman army led by the emperor Vespasian's son (and future emperor) Titus destroys Herod's Temple in Jerusalem and begins the Jewish diaspora (70 A.D.).

5. Building on the acts of Constantine, the emperor Theodosius ends paganism and makes Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire (392 A.D.).

6. The conquistador Hernando Cortez arrives at Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) and is welcomed by Montezuma, the Aztec emperor (1519). Within two years, the Aztec empire and its capital will be destroyed.

7. Goaded by the Puritan Oliver Cromwell, English parliamentarians reject the divine right of kings and execute Charles I, an act that sends shock waves through Europe and that will help inspire the age of revolutions more than a century later (1649).

8. While the Civil War still rages, Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery in the Confederacy (1863).

9. The Treaty of Sevres following World War One dissolves the 600-year-old Ottoman Empire and creates British mandates in Iraq and Palestine (1920).

10. Al Quaeda's coordinated attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, bringing the twin towers down in 90 minutes, begins the Age of Terrorism, paralleling the waves of sporadic attacks by Huns and Vandals on the late Roman empire (2001).

More Camille at:

Paul Celan: Todesfugue: "Play death more sweetly..."

Auschwitz Orchestra.
Prisoners' orchestra during a Sunday concert for the SS-men in Auschwitz.
The orchestra was probably conducted by the inmate Franciszek Nierychlo. (1941)

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening
we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink
we shovel a grave in the air where you won't lie too cramped
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are all sparkling he whistles his hounds to stay close
he whistles his Jews into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground
he commands us play up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at morning and midday we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
Your ashen hair Shulamith we shovel a grave in the air where you won't lie too cramped

He shouts dig this earth deeper you lot there you others sing up and play
he grabs for the rod in his belt he swings it his eyes are so blue
stick your spades deeper you lot there you others play on for the dancing

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday and morning we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margareta
you aschenes Haar Shulamith he plays with his vipers

He shouts play death more sweetly this Death is a master from Deutschland
he shouts scrape your strings darker you'll rise up as smoke to the sky
you'll then have a grave in the clouds where you won't lie too cramped

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday Death is a master aus Deutschland
we drink you at evening and morning we drink and we drink
this Death is ein Meister aus Deutschland his eye it is blue
he shoots you with shot made of lead shoots you level and true
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margarete
he looses his hounds on us grants us a grave in the air
he plays with his vipers and daydreams der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland

dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Sulamith

Translation by John Felstiner from Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew. Yale University Press, 1995. (Apologies for the forced line breaks created by Blogger.)

From Felstiner:
[I]n 1964 he had written:

Water needles
stitch up the split
shadow- he fights his way
deeper down,

About 20 April 1970, around Passover, Celan went from the bridge into the Seine and, though a strong swimmer, drowned unobserved.... On 1 May a fisherman came upon his body seven miles downstream.

A biography of Holderlin was found then on Celan's desk, open to an underlined passage: "Sometimes this genius goes dark and sinks down into the bitter well of his heart." Celan did not, I noticed, underline the rest of that sentence in the Holderlin biography: "but mostly his apocalyptic star glitters wondrously."

People have said that Celan took his own life at forty-nine because valid speech in German was impossible after or about Auschwitz. Yet this was the impossibility that incited him: "Spills of mire I swallowed, inside the tower." And he did speak - more validly than anyone could ever have been imagined.

More Celan:
Wikipedia: Paul Celan
Paul Celan Homepage
Little Blue Light: Paul Celan
Norton Poets Online
Black Milk of Language by Ruth Franklin
A tense debate has long existed about the translation of poetry. One view was epitomized by Vladimir Nabokov, who fiercely believed that only literal paraphrase, supported by copious commentary, can do justice to a poem in translation. As he once quipped:

What is translation? On a platter
A poet's pale and glaring head,
A parrot's screech, a monkey's chatter,
And profanation of the dead.

The opposing view has been championed by George Steiner, who agrees that perfect translation, of either poetry or prose, is impossible--but concludes more pessimistically that, in the most exact sense, nothing can truly be transmitted by translation, because different systems of grammar have different ways of signifying, even with regard to the simplest words or phrases. Steiner describes various languages as nets piled atop one another, overlapping in some places but disjunctive at others: "No two languages mesh perfectly, no two languages ... see the world in the same order."

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Falling Man by Tom Junod: Esquire: September 2003

An old, but absolutely luminous, article by Tom Junod about this photograph by Richard Drew, from September 11, 2001.

In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow. Although he has not chosen his fate, he appears to have, in his last instants of life, embraced it. If he were not falling, he might very well be flying. He appears relaxed, hurtling through the air. He appears comfortable in the grip of unimaginable motion. He does not appear intimidated by gravity's divine suction or by what awaits him. His arms are by his side, only slightly outriggered. His left leg is bent at the knee, almost casually. His white shirt, or jacket, or frock, is billowing free of his black pants. His black high-tops are still on his feet. In all the other pictures, the people who did what he did—who jumped—appear to be struggling against horrific discrepancies of scale. They are made puny by the backdrop of the towers, which loom like colossi, and then by the event itself. Some of them are shirtless; their shoes fly off as they flail and fall; they look confused, as though trying to swim down the side of a mountain. The man in the picture, by contrast, is perfectly vertical, and so is in accord with the lines of the buildings behind him. He splits them, bisects them: Everything to the left of him in the picture is the North Tower; everything to the right, the South. Though oblivious to the geometric balance he has achieved, he is the essential element in the creation of a new flag, a banner composed entirely of steel bars shining in the sun. Some people who look at the picture see stoicism, willpower, a portrait of resignation; others see something else—something discordant and therefore terrible: freedom. There is something almost rebellious in the man's posture, as though once faced with the inevitability of death, he decided to get on with it; as though he were a missile, a spear, bent on attaining his own end. He is, fifteen seconds past 9:41 a.m. EST, the moment the picture is taken, in the clutches of pure physics, accelerating at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. He will soon be traveling at upwards of 150 miles per hour, and he is upside down. In the picture, he is frozen; in his life outside the frame, he drops and keeps dropping until he disappears.
Read the complete article.

Update:  Esquire has placed the Falling Man by Tom Junod behind a paywall:

A fundraiser for the James Foley Scholarship Fund  
Tom Junod’s “The Falling Man” has been read by nearly 20 million people since we first published it in September 2003. It’s the story behind a single image from September 11th that struck such a raw and terrifying nerve that it was almost immediately banished from public view. It came immediately to mind when photos and video of James Foley’s beheading by ISIS began circling the globe, followed two weeks later by the devastating video of Steven Sotloff’s murder. We wondered whether there was something we could do to honor their courage as journalists. And that’s when we came back to those 20 million readers. 
We’ve teamed up with Creatavist and Tinypass on a fundraiser to sell a re-issue of “The Falling Man,” with a new introduction about James Foley. All revenue will go to the James Foley Scholarship Fund at Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication. Our audacious goal is to raise $200,000, enough to cover a full four-year scholarship. We may fail miserably, or we might surprise ourselves. Either way, we hope you’ll help.  
–David Granger, Editor in Chief 


It goes on and it doesn't stop.

By Tom Junod on December 18, 2014

He is, of course, upside down. He is wearing a white jacket and black pants; one of his knees is bent, and his arms are by his side. His long body is bracketed by the uprights of the steel exoskeleton of the World Trade Center, and just seconds away from dying he looks eerily composed. The man falling is the Falling Man, instantly recognizable as the subject of Richard Drew’s iconographic 9/11 photo even when he’s incorporated into an editorial cartoon that ran yesterday in the New York Post. 
There is one major difference between the graphic elements of the photograph and the cartoon, however. In the photograph, as in life, the Falling Man was terribly, unforgettably alone. In Michael Ramirez’s cartoon, he is being interviewed. As the Falling Man falls, a reporter—also falling—is sticking a microphone in his face, and asking “What do you think about enhanced interrogation?” Read the complete article.

More articles by Tom Junod
The Best {And Worst} of Tom Junod by Amy Burgess

George Steiner's Desert Island Discs

A Belch: "Fortinbras's Belch. The one at the end of the interminable coronation carouse....The wines had been heavy, and the herring. Dawn could not be far off. Even through the thick walls and battlements, Fortinbras the son of Norway could sense the changing rasp of the sea when the dawn approaches. He was bone-tired. Almost envious of the dead prince, who had always seemed to him like a master of sleep, and of the secrets which sleep breeds. Fortinbras belched. It was a loud, cavernous belch. From the inmost of his drowsing, armoured flesh. Thunderous and replete with the promise of a simpler tomorrow."

A Horse's Neigh: "It all happened at such speed. The horses had been half asleep, their eyes closed against the damn flies. Out of breath with the heat and the slight rise which leads to the place where the three roads meet, the two slaves were trotting in the spare shade of the cart. The old man was humming to himself, as he often did, a lullaby to a new-born child, but breaking off, always, on a jagged tooth. Then the harsh pull on the reins, forcing the horses almost to their haunches. The slash of the whip and the charioteer's high-pitched obscenities. The muffled call of the old man, his bony arms waving in the drumming air. And cutting through it all, a voice which the dappled would never shake out of its ears. A voice strangely like his old master's, but totally different: raw yet resonate, like that of a bronze clarion. A call so brimful of rage that it tore the skin off one's back, but knowing, with a knowledge that was like a knife.
One of the windmill strokes from the traveler's knotted staff grazed the little horse's neck. It was not a direct blow - he had heard the old man's skull crack and the death-rattle of the driver - but of a contemptuous violence. The traces had snapped like dry reeds and the grey had raced for the hills. The sharp flint had galled his hoofs and now, at sunset, the shadows ran cold. Looking back, the little horse had glimpsed a figure running desperately towards Thebes. Was it one of the slaves, or the traveler? He did not know. And began neighing, uncertain of his fodder."

A Scratch: "The scratch or, more precisely, [ ] the sibilant swerve (in G minor) of the steel nib on Rudolf Julius Emmanuel Clausius's pen in the instant in which the pen wrote the n in the exponential n minus x to the nth power in the equation of entropy.... Entropy meant run-down and the transmutation of spent energy into cold stasis. A stillness, a cold past all imagining. Compared to which are own deaths and the decomposition of the warm flesh are a trivial carnival.. In that equation, the cosmos had its epitaph. In the beginning was the Word; at the close was the algebraic function. A pen-nib, bought in a scrolled cardboard box at Kreutzner's, university stationer, had put finis to the sum and total of being. After the downward right-hand stroke of that n came not infinite blackness, which is still, but a nothingness, an unfathomable zero. Unthinking, Clausius started tracing a line beneath the equation. But the nib had gone dry."

A Laugh: "[The sound of] her fingers in his perspiring hair as he knelt. Of the buttons slipping out of the braided hooks of her long coat. The rustle of her skirt, like the leafy edge of summer, as she drew it up her thighs. And when his tongue came home to her, from above his dizzied head and shoulders, that laugh, distant at first, over-arching, then closer than his own skin. The hushed chime of her laugh as he drank of her. A note which left his soul singing and crazy with peace."

A Tape: "[The one and only] tape extant of the otherwise lost Trio in F Major for crumhorn, double bass and Sumatran conch-bells which Sigbert Weimerschlund composed in the year of his death.... The music played, and these the performers, in the waiting-room for the Last Judgement."

A Whistle: The recording of the whistle in the painting labelled 'By the Master of the Chambèry Passion'. "It is a Crucifixion on gilded panelling which can most plausibly be dated mid-fourteenth century and ascribed to one of the workshops in the Turin area.... It is the red-headed lad in the attendant crowd [of those witnessing the Crucifixion], the fourth figure from the left, who arrests the attention. He is whistling. On two supple fingers inserted, shepherd - or street urchin style, into a corner of his full lips. Whistling either to himself or some listener - a crony, a sheep-dog, a girl - outside the scene. There can be no mistake. The whistle is a loud and joyous one, as of a thrush on a spring upland. The whistler's firm green-hosed legs tell us that, as does the merry swelling of his throat and cheeks. And though his lips are pursed, there can be no doubt as to the smile and the dawn cheer which gives them breath. Yet the young man's eyes are on the Cross, on the twisted flesh and the petals of bright blood around the nails. The eyes are unwavering as he whistles, as the pure clear merriment rises into the paschal air."
From Proofs and Three Parables (1989) by George Steiner, having appeared first in Granta.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Whiteness of the Whale: Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

What the white whale was to Ahab, has been hinted; what, at times, he was to me, as yet remains unsaid.

Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick, which could not but occasionally awaken in any man's soul some alarm, there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely overpowered all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it, that I almost despair of putting it in a comprehensible form. It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me. But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be naught.


Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a colour as the visible absence of colour; and at the same time the concrete of all colours; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows--a colourless, all-colour of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues--every stately or lovely emblazoning--the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colourless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge--pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear coloured and colouring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

- Moby Dick -- or The Whale by Herman Melville, Chapter 42: "The Whiteness of The Whale."