Last Sunday, after careful deliberation, RT surrendered to his book-buying impulse and brought home the newest member of his literary litter, Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation. His short list also included John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s The First Paul and Oxford University’s New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse. RT’s local bookstore has never disappointed him.
Speaking of which, during his deliberations, RT was moved to compose some off-the-cuff verses. He re-positioned the chess set on its side table to safety a few feet away, sprawled out in the generously padded wicker chair, and produced the following:
the moon married the alphabet
& founded a city; somewhere in there,
she produced a cow, a cow, take note,
that walked by the waters that stream westward
past the kings, the Queen of Night, a blind man
even to Bharata, Axum, Gades, that cow; the
hundred gates of the world: the fence of humanity
and the hero who stands guard there–
lion pelt on his shoulders,
club in his hand.
He made the mountains, they say,
let loose the winds, that
flock of doves–
the archer chases them.
© copyright 2014, The Rag Tree.
Woodcut: Cadmos and the Spartoi (Engraving by Virgil Solis for Ovid’s Metamorphoses III, 101-130) 1562. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
RT is continually amazed by the richness of Biblical stories; reading one is often like sifting through an archaeological dig, going down through layers and layers of writing, spotting priceless and beautiful artifacts along the way.
1) Jonah is almost pure narrative, the only example of nearly unbroken storytelling in the minor prophets. But storytelling is a hallmark of the Elohist.
2) Jonah’s story has been heavily edited, and in fact consists of two original, much older, stories: a) the escape to Tarshish and 2) the prophesy against, and God’s forgiveness of, Nineveh. The two stories reached their combined final form in the book about 500-400 BCE.
3) The appearance of elements suggestive (at least to RT’s eyes) of the Elohist Psalter (roughly, psalms 42-83); sorry, at the moment, without further study, RT can only call this a hunch.
4) The fact that God does not destroy Nineveh. The second half of Jonah must predate the destruction of the northern kingdom, and probably dates from the era when Israel was a client state of the Assyrians.
The first half of Jonah is even older than the Elohist, RT senses, its roots stretching back into the lost world of the Samarian prophets. How this story relates to the rest of the E author’s work is a question that might be worth pursuing.
Image: The Prophet Jonah, as depicted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel (1471 – 1484). WikiCmns; Public Domain.
All the research that RT is doing on his acting granddad may have to do with more than family genealogy. Broadway before the Depression was an amazing place. Take, for instance, this picture of Minnie Maddern Fiske, famous actress and wife of one of the more important men on Broadway at the turn of the century, Harrison Grey Fiske. And what about the photographer? He was Fred Holland Day, a significant, if not very well known, photographer on Broadway. The connections go on and on…what a world! RT
top: Actress Minnie Maddern Fiske (between 1895 and 1912). LOC. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
bottom: Fred Holland Day (1911). From the Louise Imogen Guiney Collection (Library of Congress). WikiCmns; Public Domain.
well, RT is a bit impressed, he has to say. as it turns out, his grandfather the actor performed in a play that included Lionel Barrymore. the performance took place in the 1930s, rather close to the end of his grandfather’s career (he was 40 at the time).
well, well, way to go, granddad! RT
Photo: American actor Lionel Barrymore (1878-1954). George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress). WikiCmns; Public Domain.
a beautiful photograph for the afternoon… RT
(reposted from t smith knowles)
RT remembers his first encounter with Rendezvous with Rama; he was 13, living in Costa Rica and attending boarding school in Arizona. He had become a devotee of Arthur C. Clarke, the famous science fiction writer, through reading Clarke’s stories published in Analog (if RT’s memory serves him correctly). But Rama was something else again. RT was swept away by the power of Clarke’s vision of an enormous (50-km-long), cylindrical alien space ship, dubbed Rama by us awe-struck humans, racing through the solar system. An intrepid band of human explorers gains entry to Rama, and the story concerns what happens thereafter.
But RT’s life was racing along, too, and he soon moved on to more adolescent preoccupations.
Recently, however, the book has been haunting RT, and so this week he bit the bullet, checked out a copy at his local library, and reread it in a couple of days.
Early Sci-Fi takes a lot of flak from literary critics: its authors were scientists first and foremost, and their authorial skills, whether concerned with fiction technique or the realities of social relationships, are therefore supposed to be stunted. In proof, the usual suspects are marched out: elementary plotting and scene construction, limited and repetitive diction, cardboard characters, women who are men with breasts, and the like. RT cannot speak for Sci-Fi in the period from 1930 to say 1960, but by the time he started reading the genre in the early 1970s, things, at least among the most famous Sci-Fi authors, had begun to change; and the encounters he has had with more recent Sci-Fi suggest that the field has reached literary maturity and, indeed, an impressive sophistication.
That isn’t to say that Rendezvous with Rama doesn’t show some signs of the literary neighborhood that produced it: in particular, Clarke’s diction is repetitive at times and the plotting is very straightforward. But none of that affects the novel’s strengths: its sense of wonder and a certain atmosphere that RT will discuss in a moment. More troubling to RT are the Simps (that is, super-chimpanzees) that serve on the Endeavor, the human ship that has gotten the story’s characters to the eponymous rendezvous. The simps provide all domestic services on board. Equipped with an IQ of 60, they are pictured as ideal servants, capable of cleaning things up but not understanding what menial service means or experiencing what it feels like. Well, maybe it would work, but the idea that the ship’s captain will never have to soil his hands with laundry and that the simps will never experience a sense of being at the bottom of the totem-pole, is problematic. Isn’t hierarchy an invention of the higher mammals? Wouldn’t a topsy-turvy day when the captain washes the dishes be good for all concerned?
But RT’s caveats and quibbles aside, RwR presents a world that is truly alien, in which the ship’s alien inhabitants, or at least some of them, lack mouths, have eyes located in odd places, and appear to be organo-metallic: nope, there’s no common ancestor with terrestrial zoology here. More tellingly, though it’s evident that the Ramans possess a very high degree of intelligence, the human explorers find no written script. Do the Ramans possess writing? Can they speak? We’ll have to go to the book’s sequel, Rama II, in hopes of finding out.
But that’s what makes RwR so great: the continuous sense of discovery, of entering a genuinely new world. The appeal here is not to our assumptions; in the book they are often shown to be wrong. But that doesn’t mean that Rama is utterly alien: the spaceship possesses an oxygen atmosphere and, at its most hospitable, semi-tropical temperatures. Could all life, produced by whatever combinations of evolution, manufacture, and command, still have some common defining characteristics?
And so we reach the composite image, the total vision, that Clarke presents of Rama. The ship’s interior, while certainly strange and occasionally threatening, tends towards the wonderful, and most of all in the demands for growth that it offers to its human explorers. Do we want to be more like the Ramans, possess their accomplishments? The answer is, yes. We want to grow towards the unknown, at least sometimes. That is the source of book’s optimism, its underlying sweetness.
Utopias are odd. (And whatever else Rama is, it is a completely planned world.) They are meant no so much to be perfect as to be challenging. We would not wish our planet to become Rama, but if it could help us work towards a happier existence, we can only humbly thank its creators.
Image: Rama in Forest (date: 1920s; author: Raja Ravi Press). WikiCmns; Public Domain.
The Cherokee Phoenix, published from 1828 to 1836, was the first native-language newspaper published in the United States. Readers of this blog will remember that the Cherokee use a syllable script invented by Sequoyah in 1821.
Even a casual mention of the Cherokee Nation stirs memories of the Trail of Tears. But today, the CP publishes once more, this time online. Though the paper is now published in English, RT hopes that at some point in the not-too-distant future, a bi-lingual edition might make an appearance.
Image: Cherokee Phoenix Newspaper front page May 21, 1828 (ᏣᎳᎩ ᏧᎴᎯᏌᏅᎯ). WikiCmns; Public Domain.