Friday, February 26, 2010

Guy Davenport on Wittgenstein

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Wittgenstein before he came to philosophy was a mathematician, an architect, a sculptor, a mechanical engineer, a grade-school teacher, a soldier, and an aviator. He could have followed any of these careers doubtless with brilliant success; just before he came to Cambridge (they gave him a doctorate at the door) he was strongly inclined to "be an aeronaut." Every account of his strange life indicates that he tried to teach. He did not dine with the faculty, as the faculty in all its grandeur always dines in academic gowns, black shoes, and neck tie. Wittgenstein was forever tieless and wore a suede jacket that opened and closed with that marvelous invention: the zipper; and his shoes were brown. He held his lectures in his rooms, in the continental manner. As there was no furniture except an army cot, a folding chair, a safe (for the Zettel), and a card table, the students brought their own chairs. Philosophy classrooms in our century have frequently been as dramatic as stages: Santayana, Samuel Alexander, Bergson --- men of passionate articulateness whose lectures fell on their students like wind and rain. But Wittgenstein, huddled in silence on his chair, stammered quietly from time to time. He was committed to absolute honesty. Nothing --- nothing at all --- was to escape analysis. He had nothing up his sleeve; he had nothing to teach. The world was an absolute puzzle, a great lump of opaque pig iron. Can we think about the lump? What is thought? What is the meaning of can, can we, of can we think? What is the meaning of we? If we answer these questions on Monday, are the answers valid on Tuesday? If I answer them at all, do I think the answer, believe the answer, know the answer, or imagine the answer?

It was apparently not of the least interest to Wittgenstein that Plato had answered certain questions that philosophers need to ask, or that Kant or Mencius had answered them. He sometimes liked other philosophers' questions; he seems never to have paid any attention to their answers. Truth was stubborn; Wittgenstein was stubborn; and neither faced the other down. We have to look back to the stoic Musonius to find another man so nakedly himself, so pig-headedly single-minded. He actually taught for very little of his life. He was forever going off into the Norwegian forests, to Russia, to the west of Ireland where --- and this is all we know of these solitudes --- he taught the Connemara birds to come and sit in his hands. He mastered no convention other than speech, wearing clothes, and --- grudgingly and with complaint --- the symbols of mathematics. The daily chores of our life were wonders to him, and when he participated in them they became as strange as housekeeping among the Bantu. ...

Wittgenstein did not argue; he merely thought himself into subtler and deeper problems The record which three of his students have made of his lectures and conversations at Cambridge discloses a man tragically honest and wonderfully, astoundingly absurd. In every memoir of him we meet a man we are hungry to know more about, for even if his every sentence remains opaque to us, it is clear that the archaic transparency of his thought is like nothing that philosophy has seen for thousands of years. It is also clear that he was trying to be wise and to make others wise. He lived in the world, and for the world. He came to believe that a normal, honest human being could not be a professor. It is the academy that gave him his reputation of impenetrable abstruseness; never has a man deserved a reputation less. Disciples who came to him expecting to find a man of incredibly deep learning found a man who saw mankind held together by suffering alone, and he invariably advised them to be as kind as possible to others. He read, like all inquisitive men, to multiply his experiences. He read Tolstoy (always getting bogged down) and the Gospels and bales of detective stories. He shook his head over Freud. When he died, he was reading Black Beauty. His last words were: "Tell them I've had a wonderful life."

-- Guy Davenport, The Geography of the Imagination 

Thanks to Semi-Intellectual Ramblings by Lee Lady

Pyrrhic Dance: One of the Civilizing Activities

It represents modes of eluding all kinds of blows and shots by swerving and ducking and side-leaps upward or crouching; and also the opposite kinds of motion, which lead to active postures of offense, when it strives to represent the movements involved in shooting with bows or darts and blows of every description. From Plato, Laws 7.815a

The Korybantes (Ancient Greek: Κορύβαντες) were the crested dancers who worshiped the Phrygian goddess Cybele with drumming and dancing. They are also called the Kurbantes in Phrygia, and Corybants in an older English transcription. The Kuretes were the nine dancers who venerate Rhea, the Cretan counterpart of Cybele, Mother of the Gods.
These male dancers in armor, kept time to a drum and the rhythmic stamping of their feet. Dance, according to Greek thought, was one of the civilizing activities, like wine-making or music. The dance in armor (the "Pyrrhic dance" or Pyrriche (Πυρρίχη)) was a male coming-of-age initiation ritual linked to a warrior victory celebration. The French classicist Henri Jeanmaire has shown that both the Kouretes (Κουρῆτες) and Cretan Zeus (called "the greatest kouros (κοῦρος)" in Cretan hymns) were intimately connected with the transition of young men into manhood in Cretan cities. From Wikipedia: Korybantes

"The Kouretes are also, as all primitive magicians are, seers (μαντεις). When Minos in Crete lost his son Glaukos he sent for the Kouretes to discover where the child was hidden. Closely akin to this magical aspect is that fact that they are metal-workers. Among primitive people metallurgy is an uncanny craft and the smith is half medicine man." From Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis: the Social Origins of Greek Religion

A general name for dance in armor that is known generally as "Pyrrhiche" (Pyrrhic dance). These martial dances are part of the basic military education in both Athens and Sparta accompanied by the sound of a flute. The four divisions were, the Podism or footing a quick motion such as might be required for overtaking the enemy (or for fleeing from him) the Xiphism, or sham fight; the Kosmos with very high leaping or vaulting a training for the jumping of ditches or walls and the Tetracomos a square figure with slow majestic measure (L. Grove ). From Ancient Greek Dance

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

To Be Gnawed Out of Our Graves

An interesting and amusing article, For Sale: Beethoven's Skull by Keith Thompson in the Huffington Post, tells the story of Paul Kaufman finding Beethoven's skull amongst his mother's possessions: "He happened on an ancient, pear-shaped box labeled 'Beethoven.'" What he found was a skull. After some DNA analysis, it was concluded that the box was indeed labeled correctly.

I cannot help but wonder: what kind of person has Ludwig Van Beethoven's SKULL and fails to mention this to any of her family? I have to laugh at the sheer magnitude of this woman's historical... (only the French have the appropriate term)... nonchalance. Still, it is an exquisite and charming detail that she took the time to write on the box: "Beethoven." Just beautiful.

My aspirations are very modest and I can only hope that one day while searching through my mother's possessions I discover a ancient box labeled "Great Granddady Jones." Hell, I'd even take a complete stranger. Unfortunately, unlike Mr. Kaufman's mother, mine probably doesn't have a skull "forgotten" amongst her possessions.

In my view, it is a shame that we do not honor our ancestors by preserving their skulls on an altar in our homes. Dust them off and set them around the table at Thanksgiving. Deliver drunken Shakesperian monologues while holding them before us. Curse the cat for knocking Grandma down. Or ply the dog with treats to show us where he buried Dad's noggin.

Yes, I know: objections are understood. You just never know what someone might do to your skull and bones. As always, Thomas Browne is most eloquent:

Who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? To be gnawed out of our graves, to have our skulls made drinking-bowls, and our bones turned into pipes to delight and sport our enemies, are tragic abominations.

"This rare Dharma item is a Tantric ritual skull that serves as an offering vessel for the Tantric Buddhist religion. It is made from the actual human skull of a Buddhist monk. The eight auspicious symbols are carved into the top of the skull. The eyes are red coral and the rest is adorned with nickel, silver and turquoise. When used, the skullcap was removed and filled with a wine and blood mixture representing "immortality." Then, in an offering by worshipers to the fierce Tantric deities of Hindu India and Buddhist Tibet the liquid was consumed by the monks." 

"Quality specimen of a one century old human skullcap from an executed murder. The exterior is painstakingly carved into an eerie likeness of a Tibetan demon's face, and is surrounded by the typical stylized skeleton faces."

Portrait of an articulated skeleton on a bentwood chair.
From Wikimedia Commons 

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Marina Abramovic
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Marina Abramovic

Thanks to Jeff G. for the key.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What Is the Saddest Music You Have Ever Heard?

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Not so long ago, when there were still record stores with album covers that were like small canvases of art, I used to occasionally ask those who worked there what they would identify as the saddest music they had ever heard. Keep in mind, this is the "album era".

Many went to the Classical world: the solemn slow layering adagios of Albinoni and Barber, the stark solitude of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, Chopin's Nocturnes, the Unanswered Question by Ives, Gorecki's Third.

I always noted the slight reluctance to choose Country songs, perhaps because they have so many superficial cliches for sadness, but I was often recommended to the plaintive "I'm So Lonesome, I Could Cry" of Hank Williams, George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today," Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces," Willie Nelson's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and, thankfully, the entire catalog of Townes Van Zandt.

Most of the time, the recommendations were from Pop and Rock music: a spectrum ranging around from Ray Charles' "Georgia," Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," Roy Orbison's "Crying," Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long" to Dylan's "If You See Her, Say Hello," Simon and Garfunkle's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind," the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There," the Beach Boys' "In My Room," Zeppelin's "Since I've Been Loving You" and on up to the entire album, Nebraska, by Bruce Springsteen.

I am, for the most part, in agreement as to the sorrowful themes expressed in most of the songs I have listed. But for each of those, there was also many recommendations of "Seasons in the Sun," "Alone Again," 'Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," "Starry, Starry Night," "Mandy," and "Song Sung Blue." I was occasionally tempted to smile but realized that the subjective boundaries of sorrow are often marked with the bizarre totems: tiny putti angels, commercials for telephones, and maudlin Hallmark poetry reducing even the most resolute of stoics to tears.

Amidst all of litany from above, two genres of music were often conspicuously absent: Blues and Jazz - two of the most remarkable contributions of American Culture to the world. I have always thought it curiously ironic that the most obvious answer as to what was the saddest music, the Blues, was most often overlooked. Sadness and sorrow are the very core of what defines the Blues.

Admittedly, this is a difficult question. It is informed by difficulties of age and experience, of not being able to find sympathy with the more complicated sorrow at the heart of certain works of music. This immediately presents the contingent difficulty of being able to recognize the meaning of an expression of deep sorrow. It is certainly a sad event to have one's kitten die. I'm sure there is music that has been occasioned by such sorrow. And as hesitant as I am to diagram a scale of sorrows here, the death of a parent, a lover, would certainly sink to a deeper depth of sorrow than that of the kitten. And as difficult as these may be, they are still overwhelmed by the incomprehensible sorrow brought forth by the death and suffering of multitudes of human beings in wars, genocides and disasters. What music, what human expression, can redeem - and here the language stresses and warps under the limits of reference and grammar - but what can be done to express such an overwhelming sorrow of being in the face of such catastrophe?

I do not believe that there is any higher expression of human being than that which radiates out of music. Levi-Strauss stated that "the invention of melody is the supreme mystery in the sciences of man." Fortunately, as Eliot claimed, human being cannot bear very much reality. Our nervous system is wired to de-sensitize us over repeated exposures, to habituate us, as it were, to sorrow. But now and then, listening to music which attempts to redeem the sorrows of existence, we get a glimpse of what we are being "protected" from. Beauty rises like sparks of fire from the blackness of the Abyss.

Do I have an answer to my question? Nothing satisfactory. Obviously, the question precipitates an intensely subjective response. And even within this proscribed arena of subjectivity, experience, the knowing of the music, continually hungers for innocence, to be able to return to the first time the music unfolded within you. Music is weirdly rich with this sort of infinitesimal calculus of longing. A veil is suspended before us, shimmering with melody, tone and rhythm, presenting glimpses of the divine beyond its finely woven warp and weft. In great music, in the saddest music, there is always an intimation of something transcendent, some quality that defeats language, escapes memory. It is always as if we try to see through the veil and are continually distracted back to what is being projected upon it. Always, this longing.

As I stated earlier, I am in accord with the above recommendations. But I have a few (all links go to YouTube):

Barber - Agnus Dei
Beck - Lost Cause
Beethoven - Funeral March, Sym. No 3, Eroica
Blaze Foley - If Only I Could Fly
Chopin - Nocturne in E Minor, Op. 72
Ry Cooder - Paris, Texas
Miles Davis - Blue in Green
Al Green - Tired of Being Alone
Ted Hawkins - The Good and the Bad
Billie Holliday - Strange Fruit
Son House - Death Letter
Iron and Wine - He Lays in the Reins
Etta James - Anything To Say You're Mine
Skip James - Hard Time Killing Floor
Blind Lemon Jefferson - Nobody's Fault But Mine
Blind Willie Johnson - Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground
Robert Johnson - Hellhounds On My Trail
Liszt - Rhapsody No. 5
Duke McVinnie - Ginny
Henry Mancini - Moon River
Stephen Micus - Music of Stones
Van Morrison - Streets of Arklow
Graham Parsons  - A Song For You
Oscar Peterson - I Love You, Porgy
Portishead - Glory Box
Damien Rice - The Blower's Daughter
Joaquín Rodrigo - Concierto de Aranjuez
Schubert - Trio in E Flat, Op. 100, 2nd mov
Andres Segovia - Passacaille
Harry Dean Stanton - Cancion Mixteca 
Townes Van Zandt - Tecumseh Valley
Anne Sofie von Otter - Oblivion Soave
Tom Waits - Martha
Gillian Welch - Revelator

This list could go on and on. Omissions multiply with each new entry. I could write a book on each piece. Finally, I give the last word to George Steiner - not so much music as a meaningful sound. But I do believe that this is up there with the saddest:

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."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Blu: Muto: Exploding the Range of Possibility

Muto: an exceptional piece of wall animation by Blu. If you are not one of the six million people that have already seen it, enjoy. Some of this was executed in one of the poorest areas of Buenos Aries, La Boca.  It is good to see the range of possibilities exploded. The website is equally amazing. Check it out.

High Power Workers: There's such a hunger for electricty

An unlikely subject that plays like visual haiku poem. As I was watching, I was increasingly impressed by the utterly calm strangeness of it. High voltage electrical lines out there in the wilderness, high above the ground. Men in white Faraday hot suits riding outside of the helicopters. White arcing bolts of electricity wreathing around a wand in his hand. "A half a million volts pass over my body." A scenario out of science-fiction grounded in the down home "don't give two hoots and a hollar" dialect of the high power worker. I easily can imagine someone watching this 500 years into the future and feeling the exact same thing that I am.

Wikipedia: Faraday Cage:

In 1836, Michael Faraday observed that the charge on a charged conductor resided only on its exterior and had no influence on anything enclosed within it. To demonstrate this fact, he built a room coated with metal foil and allowed high-voltage discharges from an electrostatic generator to strike the outside of the room. He used an electroscope to show that there was no electric charge present on the inside of the room's walls.

Although this cage effect has been attributed to Michael Faraday, it was Benjamin Franklin in 1755 who observed the effect by lowering an uncharged cork ball suspended on a silk thread through an opening. In his words, "the cork was not attracted to the inside of the can as it would have been to the outside, and though it touched the bottom, yet, when drawn out it was not found to be electrified (charged) by that touch, as it would have been by touching the outside. The fact is singular." Franklin has discovered the behavior of what we now refer to as a Faraday cage or shield (based on one of Faraday's famous ice pail experiments which duplicated Franklin's cork and can.

Thanks to Scott Rope

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Other Borges: Mallarmé Wrote We Are the World

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From the always sublime Language Hat:

A very bad "poem" has apparently been making the rounds for decades now, attributed to Jorge Luis Borges. I learn this via Anatoly, who discovered an article (in Spanish, which Anatoly is studying) by Ivan Almeida, laying out the entire ridiculous story. It starts with a guy named Don Herold, who in 1953 published a short piece in Reader's Digest called "If I Had My Life to Live Over"—typical Reader's Digest material, mildly quirky and touching ("I'd dare to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax, I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip..."). At some point, inevitably, somebody decided it would be even more effective chopped up into lines of varying length and presented as a "poem," and it was occasionally attributed to an octogenarian woman from Kentucky called Nadine Stair. Then it got attributed to Borges and translated into Spanish as "Instantes," which became the presumptive original; the English version was sometimes called by the Spanish name, for extra exoticism points.

Almeida does excellent work with the tangled tale, and I like his conclusion, which I'll translate (original below):

In the same way that in "El Aleph" the divine Beatrice appears revealing pornografic secrets, just as in "The End" [Martín] Fierro is the opposite of Hernández's character, so the Borges of "Instantes" is a Borges brought to be his own adversary.

The Borges of "Instantes" is a Borges whom we would like to see repentant. Repentant for being the most quoted of authors without being understood by the poor people who enjoy television series or teach Cultural Studies. We want him to continue being Borges but to renounce his options and who, in place of his cryptic poems, would come to tell us what would like to hear and what we are told only by those associative (?) magazines we despise. The perfect world would be a book by Rigoberta Menchú signed by Wittgenstein, the Imitation of Christ signed by Joyce, the song "We are the world" signed by Mallarmé. We want to be able to say that the poem we love most is by that Borges whom the intellectuals wanted to appropriate. So says that collective actor we cannot even call "readers."

Should we get angry? I don't believe there's any reason to. We mustn't forget that, despite everything, as shown by an example cited above, there are people who have been brought by the reading of "Instantes" to discover Ficciones. Perhaps the history of literature is the history of various great mistakes in reading.

Luckily, Borges wrote a famous text called "Borges and I." We will never know to which of the two this story is happening. But we can be sure that the other would be enjoying himself tremendously.

As with most Borges stories, I had to re-read this before it made any sense. It is beautiful. I imagine Borges' skull clacking with joy. I was particularly amused by the Rigoberta Menchú book signed by Wittgenstein and "We are the world" by Mallarmé. The imagination instantly reaches out to embrace these possibilities with a huge smile.

The quick pastiche is irresistible:

We are the world, we are the children
When the shadow with fatal law menaced me
We are the ones who make a brighter day
A certain old dream, sick desire of my spine,
So lets start giving
Beneath funereal ceilings afflicted by dying
There's a choice we're making
Folded its indubitable wing there within me.
We're saving our own lives
Luxury, O ebony hall, where to tempt a king
Its true we'll make a better day
Famous garlands are writhing in death
Just you and me

Friday, February 12, 2010

Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo

Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo Mug

The International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo, Incorporated is a fraternal and service organization whose members are involved in the forests products industry. Hoo-Hoo has members in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and South Africa. It was founded in 1892 in Gurdon, Arkansas, USA by five business travelers who were returning from a meeting of the Arkansas Yellow Pine Manufacturer's Association, and had to wait several hours for their connecting train. They were joined by a local businessman. The first name suggested for the new organization was Ancient Order of Camp Followers, but the name Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo was selected instead.

The founders wanted the organization to be unconventional and unregimented. Its one aim would be to foster the health, happiness, and long life of its members.[1] In a spirit of fun, names for some of the officers were inspired by Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark. The chief executive officer of Hoo-Hoo is the Snark of the Universe (formerly the Grand Snark of the Universe). The Board of Directors includes the Chairman, Vice-President, Secretary-Treasurer, the Seer of the House of Ancients and the Supreme Nines. The Supreme Nines include the Supreme Hoo-Hoo, Senior Hoo-Hoo, Junior Hoo-Hoo, Scrivenoter, Bojum, Jabberwock, Custocatian, Arcanoper and Gurdon. The Hoo-Hoo emblem is a black cat with its tail curled into the shape of a figure nine. The order has a traditional chant that is called at the beginning and end of each meeting "Hoo-hoo, made a Poo-poo!" - Wikipedia: Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo

 Logo of the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo, 
featuring the black cat with its tail curled in a figure nine.

  • January 1892: It was decided to call the new order the "Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo", and not the "Ancient Order of Camp Followers" as one founding father suggested.   
  • September 1892: The first Hoo-Hoo convention was held in St. Louis, Missouri. The total membership of the order was 167.
  • September 1906: The first membership card was issued. Membership fee was increased from 99 cents to $1.65 (99 cents for dues and 66 cents for subscription to the Bulletin).
  • January 1909: The first official Hoo-Hoo flag was exhibited during a special concatenation in New Orleans, Louisian
  • July 1921: The first establishment of an independent club when the Atlanta Hoo-Hoo Club No. 1 (now the Dick Wilson/Atlanta Hoo-Hoo Club No. 1) adopted a constitution and bylaws and voted to meet monthly.
  • March 1924: First club outside the United Stated was established in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada - Winnipeg Hoo-Hoo Club No. 24.
  • May 1924: Detroit Hoo-Hoo Club No. 28 conducted the largest concatenation in Hoo-Hoo's history with 260 kitten
  • 1962: First club in Australia formed - Adelaide Hoo-Hoo Club No. 212.

    In Hotel Hall in Gurdon, the men set up the basic tenets of the order. Hoo-Hoo was to be an organization comprising men with high ideals, and the order’s motto became “Health, Happiness, and Long Life.” The group (led by Johnson) decided that the board of directors would be called the “Supreme Nine.” The names of the directors were: Snark of the Universe (president), Bojum (chaplain), Scrivenoter (secretary), Gurdon (sergeant-at-arms), Senior Hoo-Hoo, Junior Hoo-Hoo, Custocacian, Arcanoper, and Bandersnatch (later changed to Jabberwock). Some of these names were derived from Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark, which one of the founders had recently read. The name “Hoo-Hoo” also had a unique origin. In Kansas City, about a month before the founding of the order, Johnson had used the term “hoo-hoo” to refer to an unusual tuft of hair on the head of Charles McCarer. McCarer became the first Snark of the Universe and was given membership number one.
    Consistent with their unconventionality, the group chose as its mascot a black cat with its tail curved into the number nine. Originally, membership in Hoo-Hoo was to be limited to 9,999 members. As the order increased in popularity, this number was changed to 99,999. Meetings were held on the ninth day of the ninth month at nine minutes after the ninth hour. Annual dues were $9.99, and the initiation fee was $0.99.

    After its humble beginnings in Gurdon, the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo grew tremendously. The first club established outside the United States was founded in Canada in 1924, and other groups sprouted up in places as far away as Australia. Though the Hoo-Hoo experienced a slump from 1929 to 1938, when membership dropped to around 700, the order recovered, and membership began to rise again.

    Two U.S. presidents have had membership in Hoo-Hoo. Theodore Roosevelt was given the reserved membership number 999 for his work promoting the importance of forests. Warren G. Harding, membership number 14,945, was “concatenated” in 1905.
    - Encyclopedia of Arkansas History

    Tuesday, February 09, 2010

    Every day spent lost, wandering aimlessly in the forest weakened their faith

    Danko and His Fiery Heart
    by Maxim Gorky

    A tribe of strong men, with their families, were forced by their enemies to retreat into the depths of an old dark forest filled with swamps. Every day spent lost, wandering aimlessly in the forest weakened their faith. They were on the verge of surrendering to their enemy, exhausted from living in despair, resigned to live in slavery.

    Danko loved his people very much. He knew that there must be a way out of the dark and hostile forest. He bravely led the people deeper inside, hoping to find a way out. After weeks lost in the forest, his followers started to grumble. Fueled by fear and darkness, frustration and anger grew among them. Danko looked at the people and saw only hatred in their faces. Despite the fear and pain a flame of desire to save them flared up in his heart.

    This flame of love for his people became stronger and stronger, and suddenly, loudly, his heart, and his voice overpowering the sound of thunder, Danko exclaimed: 'What shall I do to save my people?' He tore apart his chest, tore out his heart and raised it high over his head. It blazed like the sun, even brighter than the sun, and the forest, stunned by this overwhelming love for the people, became quiet, shrank into nothingness and opened a way out of the darkness.

    Danko ran forward, holding high his burning heart, lighting the road for his people, and they rushed after him. Suddenly, the forest ended, and they emerged into an ocean of sunshine and fresh air, cleansed by the rain. Danko looked at the free land, laughed proudly and suddenly fell dead to the ground. The happy people, filled with great hopes and expectations, ran past his body. They did not even notice Danko's death and did not see that next to his body his brave heart still burned brightly. Only one person noticed it, and fearfully, stomped on the proud heart and extinguished its flame.

    Wednesday, February 03, 2010

    Affe mit Schädel: The Rheinhold Monkey

    I don't think it is any sort of secret that I have a certain fascination for skulls. I must also admit to a similar obsession with monkeys. Put monkeys with skulls and you've got me all night. Over the years I have been given a number of variations of the Monkey with Skull theme: lamps, bookends and a small statuette.The basic elements of each are the "Philosophizing Monkey" holding a human skull, sitting on top of a stack of books, one of which has "Darwin" inscribed on the side. Inscribed on an open book at the base of the stack is the Latin phrase: "eritis sicut deus" from Genesis 3.5. The statue, Affe mit Schädel (ape with skull), was created by Wolfgang Hugo Rheinhold and first exhibited in 1893.

    From the excellent pamphlet Rheinhold's Philosophizing Monkey .pdf (via Wikipedia):

    The excised Biblical quote possibly suggests that good and evil cannot be known, or told apart. With the ape's study, the library of books and the caliper instruments, the suggestion is that the statue is warning against the application of rationalism in the absence of morality. Furthermore, when a human is depicted holding a skull it is usually a comment on mortality and the inevitability of death, famously Hamlet bereaves Yorick in one instance but is soon repulsed by this macabre souvenir as it brings him face-to-face with all life's grim destiny. But, for Hugo Rheinhold's ape it is something quite different. The ape is engaged in assessment and measurement (confirmed by the calipers). That we should even consider this level of intelligence in another species is a bold examination of ourselves through eyes that bear witness to the disproportionate leverage historically awarded humankind. Hugo Rheinhold's original inscription "eritis sicut deus" (sometimes wrongly "eritus …."), either suggests that Darwinian understanding may lead to Frankenstinian abuse of life's essence, or a more inclusive innocence that recognises a place for other advanced life‑forms on our intellectual podium, if only we can just accommodate those guests.