Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What the Dickens Sayeth He?

Concluding remarks from American Notes for General Circulation by Charles Dickens:

"It is an essential part of every national character to pique itself mightily upon its faults, and to deduce tokens of its virtue or its wisdom from their very exaggeration.  One great blemish in the popular mind of America, and the prolific parent of an innumerable brood of evils, is Universal Distrust.  Yet the American citizen plumes himself upon this spirit, even when he is sufficiently dispassionate to perceive the ruin it works; and will often adduce it, in spite of his own reason, as an instance of the great sagacity and acuteness of the people, and their superior shrewdness and independence."
"‘You carry,’ says the stranger, ‘this jealousy and distrust into every transaction of public life.  By repelling worthy men from your legislative assemblies, it has bred up a class of candidates for the suffrage, who, in their very act, disgrace your Institutions and your people’s choice.  It has rendered you so fickle, and so given to change, that your inconstancy has passed into a proverb; for you no sooner set up an idol firmly, than you are sure to pull it down and dash it into fragments: and this, because directly you reward a benefactor, or a public servant, you distrust him, merely because he is rewarded; and immediately apply yourselves to find out, either that you have been too bountiful in your acknowledgments, or he remiss in his deserts.  Any man who attains a high place among you, from the President downwards, may date his downfall from that moment; for any printed lie that any notorious villain pens, although it militate directly against the character and conduct of a life, appeals at once to your distrust, and is believed.  You will strain at a gnat in the way of trustfulness and confidence, however fairly won and well deserved; but you will swallow a whole caravan of camels, if they be laden with unworthy doubts and mean suspicions.  Is this well, think you, or likely to elevate the character of the governors or the governed, among you?’"
"The answer is invariably the same: ‘There’s freedom of opinion here, you know.  Every man thinks for himself, and we are not to be easily overreached.  That’s how our people come to be suspicious.’"

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Hole of It: Mythadventures

When I was enjoying a tender age (pre-"Shot Heard 'Round the World") [Bobby Thomson's shot, not Lex. & Con.'s.] I had two children's books within my sticky-fingered grasp at home. One was an illustrated Children's Bible, and the other was R. L. Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. I never bothered to look for and read the Fairy Tales of the Grimm brothers, having already learned that I lived in an amoral society, I didn't need to have it rubbed in, or Lewis Carroll's, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, because Walt Disney ruined it for me by doing such a great job with his feature-film when I was 8 going on 9 in 1951.

So, ironically, thanks to Hollywood, I dove right into the other available books on my father's bookshelves. I was seven when I began to read Hervey Allen's trilogy (which weighed more than I) The City in the Dawn. I might finish reading it this year if my local library can track it down. There is supposed to be one copy extant in my surrounding counties where they are hopelessly searching. I want to finish reading it (not really) before I die, even if it kills me (also, not really.) [I think I read somewhere that Allen did, in fact, die before finishing it.] I see things through, usually (well, once-in-a-while) to the bitter end, out of stubborn habit (that part's on the bloody money) and a cautious pessimism borne of a cynical, skeptical, quasi-pragmatic, pseudo-longing for improbably happy endings. I have such foolish hope for the planet Earth, which by the way...ahem...brings me to the subject at hand for this particular blogposting: Fantasy & Science Fiction.

This is a very large subject, so I will probably need to post several additional components to round out and solidify my thoughts about both of these fields. To begin with, I have enrolled in a Massive Open Online Course the (coursera.org/course/fantasysf) which started a week ago and will run for another nine weeks. I was assigned to read finally, in my dotage, Grimm's Children's and Household Tales, which I found, I think, more fascinating now than I would have when I was a kid. I would have thought it pure bunk back then when I knew everything, but now that I know better it struck me as being worthy of being called "art" (by me--who is always the final arbiter of such matters. My formula is simple, if I like it, it's art. If I don't like it, it may or not be somebody else's art. This evaluating mechanism has never failed me.) [By the way, when I put something in parentheses, it is because I am inviting you deeper into my mind, so take your shoes off, won't you, before you enter.] And alway, always, tread lightly, especially if you enter within any bracketed material.

I discovered while doing this week's Lewis Carroll assignment this, for example:

"A Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry

'Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:
All mimsy were ye borogoves;
And ye mome raths outgrabe."

"Hence the literal English of the passage is:

It was evening, and the smooth active badgers were scratching and boring holes in the hill-side; all unhappy were the parrots, and the grave turtles squeaked out."


The above can be found in the Barnes & Noble Classic Edition ($7.95) of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, illus. by John Tenniel. With comprehensive material, including Introduction, Chronology, Notes, Biography, Inspired By, Comments & Questions, and suggestions For Further Reading all by the author, artist, critic and poet, Tan Lin.

Now young heads might roil with a swift swipe of a card,
Yet who would not gift such should it crack open a Bard?--REK

Sunday, February 1, 2015

I Wrest His Case

When I was an adolescent, that is, before I learned that I didn't, in fact, know everything there was to know, I used to pick up the books that my father had just finished reading and read them on the sly. Just to keep him honest, I guess. Although, I guess he wasn't doing a good job of keeping me honest, because often I slid a Camel out of his sleeping packet, or relieved him of pocket change so I could buy editions of the Journal-American, or the World-Telegram and Sun, two newspapers that he felt unworthy, even, for wrapping fish. To my credit, I did deliver, door-to-door, Dorothy Schiff's Bronx Home News and imbibe, by inky osmosis, I suppose, a sense of what those commie-pinkos at the Post were trying to put over on us. All of this changed one day when he finished reading and closed a book that opened my eyes to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I didn't know everything after all.

That book was Philip Wylie's, "An Essay on Morals": A Science of Philosophy and a Philosophy of the Sciences / a Popular Explanation of the Jungian Theory of Human Instinct / a new Bible for the Bold Mind and a Way to Personal Peace by Logic / the Heretic's Handbook and Text for Honest skeptics, including a Description of Man suitable for an Atomic Age /  together with a Compendium of Means to Brotherhood in a Better World / and a Voyage beyond the Opposite Directions of Religion and Objective Truth, to Understanding / with a new preface by the author" (1951)

Below is an excerpt from that new preface to Wylie's, "An Essay on Morals"

"In the same letter in which he has expressed his general satisfaction with this effort to explain his basic theory, Dr. Jung has also said it may be five hundred years before the principle is popularly understood or widely put to use. If it is, I feel sure that man faces the worst half-millennium in his terrifying history. For man, today, must either quickly learn who and what he is and how he is governed by Nature or else he will indubitably employ the very forces of the sun to bring upon himself a sequence of hideous nights--of wars, rebellions, rampages, continental ruinations and sterile centuries. In such a case, this essay and all similar works will stand as mere inscriptions to be comprehended by the descendants of any who may have survived the agonies. The knowledge existed and was ignored, our voices will say: Kilroy was here. That token, and the present value of truth-seeking to such individuals as will undertake it, are the reasons for attempts to share an advanced science with a currently regressive society."