Saturday, October 12, 2013

Rudyard Kipling, Kim


Opening Passage:

He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher—the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum. Who hold Zam-Zammah, that 'fire-breathing dragon', hold the Punjab, for the great green-bronze piece is always first of the conqueror's loot.

There was some justification for Kim—he had kicked Lala Dinanath's boy off the trunnions—since the English held the Punjab and Kim was English. Though he was burned black as any native; though he spoke the vernacular by preference, and his mother-tongue in a clipped uncertain sing-song; though he consorted on terms of perfect equality with the small boys of the bazar; Kim was white—a poor white of the very poorest. The half-caste woman who looked after him (she smoked opium, and pretended to keep a second-hand furniture shop by the square where the cheap cabs wait) told the missionaries that she was Kim's mother's sister; but his mother had been nursemaid in a Colonel's family and had married Kimball O'Hara, a young colour-sergeant of the Mavericks, an Irish regiment. He afterwards took a post on the Sind, Punjab, and Delhi Railway, and his Regiment went home without him. The wife died of cholera in Ferozepore, and O'Hara fell to drink and loafing up and down the line with the keen-eyed three-year-old baby. Societies and chaplains, anxious for the child, tried to catch him, but O'Hara drifted away, till he came across the woman who took opium and learned the taste from her, and died as poor whites die in India. His estate at death consisted of three papers—one he called his 'ne varietur' because those words were written below his signature thereon, and another his 'clearance-certificate'. The third was Kim's birth-certificate. Those things, he was used to say, in his glorious opium-hours, would yet make little Kimball a man. On no account was Kim to part with them, for they belonged to a great piece of magic—such magic as men practised over yonder behind the Museum, in the big blue-and-white Jadoo-Gher—the Magic House, as we name the Masonic Lodge. It would, he said, all come right some day, and Kim's horn would be exalted between pillars—monstrous pillars—of beauty and strength. The Colonel himself, riding on a horse, at the head of the finest Regiment in the world, would attend to Kim—little Kim that should have been better off than his father. Nine hundred first-class devils, whose God was a Red Bull on a green field, would attend to Kim, if they had not forgotten O'Hara—poor O'Hara that was gang-foreman on the Ferozepore line. Then he would weep bitterly in the broken rush chair on the veranda. So it came about after his death that the woman sewed parchment, paper, and birth-certificate into a leather amulet-case which she strung round Kim's neck.

Summary: A massive quantity of exposition right at the beginning wouldn't normally be an auspicious beginning, but we are talking about Rudyard Kipling, who makes it all count. In the end, the background really is background, and the story Kipling is telling is an Indian story about a British boy: we need a foundation to get us into that situation. Building on this foundation, the tale becomes the tale of this British boy becoming a man in an Indian way.

The basic structure of the story consists of Kim taking a twofold journey at the same time across the landscape. On one journey Kim learns what it is to be English, since he for practical purposes grows up Indian, playing with the Hindu and Muslim boys in Lahore. This involves unfolding the destiny of the Red Bull on a green field -- a regimental flag -- and that to which it opens the door: an education, and, beyond that, the Great Game by which the British Empire keeps peace in India while fending off the attempts of Russia and other great powers to break its hold. On the other, Kim becomes involved, from the beginning of the story, with the pilgrimage of a Tibetan lama who is attempting to a find the River of the Arrow. According to a story the lama has heard, the Buddha once shot an arrow, and a river sprang up from it, in which one's sins can be washed away. Our story really opens when the paths of Kim and the lama entangle and Kim becomes the lama's chela or disciple, and, as Kim loves the lama and the lama is certain that Kim is essential to his search, the quest for the River of the Arrow becomes the same as Kim's education and his participation in the Great Game.

The effectiveness of the story derives in great measure from not breaking character. While individual characters may make comments about superstitions and the like, the story itself passes no such judgment, and, indeed, Major O'Hara's comments about the Red Bull, which sound to native ears like some kind of prophecy, unfolds exactly like such a native prophecy; we see portions of the lama's journey through both believing (Buddhist) and non-believing eyes, but the latter vision doesn't banish the former, and in a story about India it could not do so. Whatever one thinks of Tibetan Buddhism, the lama in using its vocabulary to describe his journey does not describe incorrectly, or in a way inferior to anyone else's: what he says is true. The upraising of a boy is indeed about the turning of the Wheel of Life, and the merit or demerit accrued in its passage; one looses one's Acts in this realm of illusion, and their consequences must work them out.

And just is the Wheel, swerving not a hair.

Favorite Passage: This is Kim talking to one of my favorite secondary characters in the book, an old, wealthy, and powerful Buddhist woman with quite a tongue on her.

'Where is my Holy One?' he demanded.

'Hear him! Thy Holy One is well,' she snapped viciously. 'Though that is none of his merit. Knew I a charm to make him wise, I'd sell my jewels and buy it. To refuse good food that I cooked myself—and go roving into the fields for two nights on an empty belly—and to tumble into a brook at the end of it—call you that holiness? Then, when he has nearly broken what thou hast left of my heart with anxiety, he tells me that he has acquired merit. Oh, how like are all men! No, that was not it—he tells me that he is freed from all sin. I could have told him that before he wetted himself all over. He is well now—this happened a week ago—but burn me such holiness! A babe of three would do better. Do not fret thyself for the Holy One. He keeps both eyes on thee when he is not wading our brooks.'

Recommendation: A beautifully structured story with interesting and well-rounded characters. Highly recommended.

Poem a Day 12

A Fragment

I stood at dusk and looked around the garden small and dim;
the fountain dry was cracked, with dust and vines around the rim.
The roses dead were long and spare, the weeds were rising high;
then ghosts from ancient worlds arose and said that I would die.
In long and spectral robes they swept along the garden ways
and sang the songs no longer sung, the songs of distant days.
A Templar march I thought I heard, a troubadour's sad plea,
a hymn of love to loves long gone, a shanty rasped at sea.
Like breezes drifting, softly sped those tunes, like secret sigh.
And 'midst it all a whisper sang; it sang that I would die.
The darkness fell, it drifted down, a-float like falling shawl;
it settled over roses dead and draped across the wall.
I strained my ears to hear again that gently whispered word,
but silence through the darkness fell, so nothing then was heard,
and nothing felt by rising hairs, and nothing met my eye,
until at midnight down the way I heard that I would die.
A maiden walked like water's wave along the crumbling wall
and here and there an elegy from out her lips would fall.
A hint, a clue, a fragile thread, the song would drift my way
with meaning barely out of reach and sense just out of play,
but here and there it rose to have one drop of sobbing cry,
and then no doubt remained at all: it said that I would die.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Deuterocanon Friday: Fortitude

The next day Holofernes ordered his whole army, and all the allies who had joined him, to break camp and move against Bethulia, and to seize the passes up into the hill country and make war on the Israelites. So all their warriors marched off that day; their fighting forces numbered one hundred seventy thousand infantry and twelve thousand cavalry, not counting the baggage and the foot soldiers handling it, a very great multitude. They encamped in the valley near Bethulia, beside the spring, and they spread out in breadth over Dothan as far as Balbaim and in length from Bethulia to Cyamon, which faces Esdraelon.

When the Israelites saw their vast numbers, they were greatly terrified and said to one another, “They will now strip clean the whole land; neither the high mountains nor the valleys nor the hills will bear their weight.” Yet they all seized their weapons, and when they had kindled fires on their towers, they remained on guard all that night.

Judith 7:1-5 (NRSV-C)

Blessed William Howard, First Viscount Stafford

Today is the commemoration for an interesting saint, Blessed William Howard, Viscount Stafford. William Howard was born into a nominally Anglican family in the seventeenth century, and participated in the Anglican Church for a considerable portion of his youth, but there were Catholic connections in the family (his grandfather was St. Philip Howard, one of the Forty Martyrs of Wales and England, and had died in the Tower of London under Elizabeth), and when he married Mary Stafford, the bride and groom insisted on a Catholic wedding, even though it angered William's father. When Mary's brother, Baron Stafford, died the Stafford line came to an end, and through political connections William's family had it reformed with William as Baron Stafford; and William was eventually raised to Viscount.

He went abroad with his family shortly afterward, for reasons unknown; he claimed later that he was performing tasks for King Charles I. When Charles I was executed, Lord Stafford's estates were seized because of his recusancy and royalism. While abroad he was imprisoned in Heidelberg for a year; the reasons are not quite known, but his enemies later claimed it was for immorality. (He seems to have been arrested twice in Heidelberg, the imprisonment coming from the first arrest; on the second arrest he seems to have been able to prove his innocence.) He was restored to his estates at the Restoration. During this time he was in constant legal disputes with his family, with whom he did not get along well.

William came to misfortune due to a man named Titus Oates, who fabricated a story about a Catholic plot to assassinate King Charles II. He was questioned by the King's Council, naming dozens of Catholics as involved in the matter. Some of the accused were easily acquitted, and Oates was not exactly a reputable witness, but he had an extraordinarily good memory, and thus was never caught out in a contradiction. The list of Catholics is quite impressive; it would have been the most astounding political conspiracy of all time, and included many of the notable names of the day (e.g., Samuel Pepys, a Member of Parliament known today for his famous diary). Oates misstepped when he accused the Queen herself; King Charles subjected him to a personal interrogation, and despite Oates's extraordinary consistency, he was able to catch him claiming things that could only be lies. Furious, the King had him arrested -- but Oates was let out several days later by Parliament, who gave him an apartment in Whitehall and a pension, and pressed forward. At least fifteen people were executed on Oates's testimony, including Viscount Stafford: his estates were seized and he was sent to the Tower of London in 1678. He was impeached by the House of Commons for treason in 1680. He was not allowed counsel, and was apparently not a good speaker. He was then executed on 29 December 1681. He was sixty-eight years old.

Vandyck - willianhoward01[Anthony van Dyck's painting of William Howard]

The Popish Plot was eventually discredited, of course. Even while all this was going on with Lord Stafford and others, Oates was ordered to vacate his apartment, and, when he refused, he was fined and imprisoned for sedition. When James II came to the throne, he had Oates tried for perjury; Oates was convicted, of course, and was sentenced to life imprisonment plus being whipped in public five days a year for the rest of his life. Not a fan of perjurers, James II. When William and Mary took the throne in 1689, however, he was pardoned and given a pension again.

Poem a Day 11

A Ballade of Sun-Beating

The sun is hot today, and fierce!
It will not give surcease or rest.
It waterfalls with flames that pierce
no matter what I may invest,
continuing till sun meets West.
If nothing's done, then I must die.
So here is my quixotic quest:
to beat the sun from flaming sky!

I need a steed that never veers
(a dragon likely would be best)
and one that knows no qualms or fears,
with spirit growing in its chest.
Then we will fly without a rest
until we reach the world on high,
to do what must be done with zest,
to beat the sun from flaming sky!

With gilded sets of pocket-shears
I will undo its shining vest,
and chase it through its wide careers
with baseball bat and hammer blessed
with holy water, as you've guessed,
to make that demon weep and cry.
No pity stops me, nor behest,
to beat the sun from flaming sky!


My prince, I have but one request:
that if in this I fail and die,
another man take my bequest --
to beat the sun from flaming sky!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

No Insolence of Satiety

For the life of the Supreme Being is love, seeing that the Beautiful is necessarily lovable to those who recognize it, and the Deity does recognize it, and so this recognition becomes love, that which He recognizes being essentially beautiful. This True Beauty the insolence of satiety cannot touch ; and no satiety interrupting this continuous capacity to love the Beautiful, God's life will have its activity in love; which life is thus in itself beautiful, and is essentially of a loving disposition towards the Beautiful, and receives no check to this activity of love. In fact, in the Beautiful no limit is to be found so that love should have to cease with any limit of the Beautiful.

St. Macrina the Younger in St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection. In one of my intro-level courses today I am discussing Neoplatonism, particularly Christian Neoplatonism, in preparation for Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy.

The Macbeth Murder Mystery

James Thurber's classic, "The Macbeth Murder Mystery":

...Over her second cup of tea my companion began to tell the plot of a detective story that had fooled her completely - it seems it was the old family doctor all the time. But I cut in on her.. "Tell me," I said. "Did you read 'Macbeth'?" "I had to read. it" she said, “There wasn't a scrap of anything else to read in the whole room." "Did you like it?" I asked. "No, I did not,” she said, decisively. "In the first place, I don't think for a moment that Macbeth did it." I looked at her blankly. "Did what?" I asked. "I don't think for a moment that he killed the King," she said. "I don't think the Macbeth woman was mixed up in it, either. You suspect them the most, of course, but those are the ones that are never guilty or shouldn't be, anyway.” “I’m afraid," I began, "that I ---“. “But don't you see?" said the American lady. “It would spoil everything if you could figure out right away who did it.. Shakespeare was far too smart for that. I’ve read that people never have figured out 'Hamlet,' so it isn't likely Shakespeare would have made 'Macbeth' as simple as it seems." I thought this over while I filled my pipe. "Who do you suspect?" I asked, suddenly. "Macduff," she said, promptly. "Good God!" I whispered, softly.

Poem a Day 10

(This one started as part of the capital vices series, but just went the wrong way.)

The Folly of Despair

The universe will end, and I will end,
and you will end, and nothing come of all;
against the coming loss no tricks defend,
no strategies. So small, so small,
our works are all as nothing and will fall,
and meaningless in darkness all will lie;
the world has but one end: that is to die.

'The race will come to end, as will my part,
and yours as well, and afterward we leave,
and this will not be changed by pounding heart,
and not be budged by all I can achieve;
no matter what, no action will relieve
from having finite time in which to win,
so I will just not try, nor yet begin.'

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Music on My Mind

Chisu, "Sabotage".


Immanuel Kant (Critique of Pure Reason A134/B173-174):

Indeed, the grand and only use of examples, is to sharpen the judgement. For as regards the correctness and precision of the insight of the understanding, examples are commonly injurious rather than otherwise, because, as casus in terminis they seldom adequately fulfil the conditions of the rule. Besides, they often weaken the power of our understanding to apprehend rules or laws in their universality, independently of particular circumstances of experience; and hence, accustom us to employ them more as formulae than as principles. Examples are thus the go-cart of the judgement, which he who is naturally deficient in that faculty cannot afford to dispense with.

"Go-cart" is a literal translation of Gängelwagen. It here means not a go-cart in the modern sense (which obviously wouldn't have existed at the time) but a baby-walker. Those in Kant's day weren't so fancy, but rigging a wheeled carriage so a baby could use it to 'walk' was a common thing even then. So we should really translate it as, "Examples are thus the baby-walker of judgment". Thus Kant's point is that examples are only of value (especially, although not exclusively, in moral matters) in helping us get by until we can think for ourselves - a very Kantian position very vividly expressed. Kant also uses the metaphor in "What Is Enlightenment?" in order to describe the self-imposed immaturity of whole societies: Enlightenment is the process of learning how to walk without the walker.

Poem a Day 9

Quasi Universale Vitia

To love the excellent and thus excel,
to know autonomy and choose at will,
to be all one can be and be it well,
to follow after conscience, drink one's fill
of satisfaction's bright and shining thrill,
to be not slave but free, to live untamed:
such pretty words to hide our sins from blame!


This ends a poem cycle on the seven capital vices that spring from pride. The idea was, in rime royal stanzas, to give a picture of the temptation of the vice in six lines, why one would incline toward it, and in the seventh to pin the vice itself by simply redescribing the same thing. This was fairly easy to do with the vices based on over-exalting positive goods, with which I started, but got much harder with the vices that involve treating genuine goods as if they were bad. (I think acedia, #6, ended up being my weakest one.) The cycle started with pride as queen of vices, then vainglory, then gluttony, then lust, then avarice, then acedia, then wrath, then envy, then, above, to sum up the whole, pride again in the form of being a sort of universal vice, the viciousness in every vice, so to speak.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Preparing the Materials

A thought from outside, suggested by the spoken or written word, is received by the intelligence more or less passively. For a long time that thought remains purely intellectual. Then one day, under the influence of grace, it comes to life and becomes not only present to mind but alive for the soul. Does this not explain and justify human participation in God's work? Grace alone brings about a conversion; without it we can do nothing, but can we not prepare the materials for grace? Can we not put into people's minds new ideas that, when touched by grace, may one day spring to life? It is very humble work, demanding much patience and tact, and it must be done without expecting any result but that which God wills and is known only to him.
[Elisabeth Leseur, "Daily Thoughts (1899-1906)" in Elisabeth Leseur: Selected Writings, Ruffing, tr. Paulist Press (New York: 2005) p. 148.]

Poem a Day 8

Tristatur de Bono Proximi

'They have great good, but good I do not know,
deserving nothing they have gathered all;
while I am cold outside, they warmly glow
and live in palace while I live in stall.
Oh, I would show them what it is to fall,
to live in misery, and drown in care!'
-- Or love their good as yours, if you could dare.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Radio Greats: "Long Distance" (The Chase)

Enbrithiliel's doing a 'book club' with classic radio episodes, horror-themed. And it has put me in mind of something I've wanted to do for a while, but never got around to: talking about some of the great classics from the Golden Age of Radio. I'll probably do a horror-themed one around Halloween, but I'll probably mostly stick with other genres. So I thought I'd start with one of the most memorable radio drama episodes ever, one that could only really be done during a short period in the twentieth century, and never again: "Long Distance" from The Chase.

The Chase was a twilight series, started in the 1950s. Television had begun to sweep the nation, taking away audience attention and acting talent, and the high-budget radio thrillers of just a decade earlier were increasingly impossible. The Chase ended up doing reasonably well despite this, in part because it was intended to be part of a double. A lot of radio series in the early fifties had television doubles, as networks attempted to figure out how much of a change the new visual medium would make. Usually this was radio being doubled by television, but in the case of The Chase, NBC wanted a television series, a psychological drama, in which each episode would be some kind of chase (hence the name, of course); and they started it out in radio in order to test the waters and build up interest. The television program never got produced, though; before it ever aired, NBC pulled the whole project in favor of another project (which profit-wise turned out to be a good choice). So the radio episodes are there, all alone.

I'm not a huge fan of the series in general, but there are some truly good episodes, and "Long Distance" is one of them. One of the remarkable things about the episode is the nature of its chase. The main character in "Long Distance" is a woman sitting by her phone, desperately trying to get hold of the judge who has the authority to stop her husband's impending execution, which is within the hour, in light of new evidence that has just been found that shows him to be completely innocent. And she can't find the judge. It's a life-or-death telephone chase.

And the way telephones worked at the time it makes for a really good story. Obviously it's all landlines, so if you missed someone, you really missed them. So it's not just ringing up numbers, it's trying to get information from secretaries, hotel desks, and telephone operators, and of course, none of them know the urgency at first, and so the woman is trying to stay calm through frustration after frustration while trying to make people understand what's going on. People do their best to help, but, of course, everyone can only help in a very limited way, and it is up to the caller to put all the pieces together to find the judge as the clock starts ticking down to minutes.

And even if she finds the judge in time, she will have to wait by the phone, hoping that the judge himself can make the right calls in time....

The actress in the episode, who does a brilliant job, was Jan Miner. If I'm not mistaken, despite the fact that the script was originally written for The Chase, it was actually first aired as the premiere episode of Radio City Playhouse, and that episode launched Miner's career, because nobody listening to it could forget it.

In addition to the interest of the story itself, it's interesting to think of how it's a story that could only be told during a short window in the twentieth century, when telephones were common, they were all landlines, there was no voicemail, and professional telephone operators were a large part of the telephone experience. It would be impossible to write a story as gripping about a telephone chase in our day and age. And, actually, a remarkable number of truly great stories from the era involve the complications of calling by phone. The tension between marvel -- being able to chase people down from your chair, or discover what was happening across the country -- and difficulty -- it might take half a dozen steps, through several middlemen where we could do it directly and almost immediately today -- was almost perfect to make it a story device.

You can listen to "Long Distance", episode 23 of The Chase, here at Old-Time Radio.

'Amor condusse noi ad una morte'

We're winding down virtue ethics in one of my ethics courses, so after all the heavy Aristotle and Aquinas we're looking at Dante, using the story of Francesca and Paolo in Inferno, Canto V, as a jumping-off point.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Paolo and Francesca da Rimini - Google Art Project

Francesca and Paolo

I asked them for their tale.
Sulking Paolo only wept,
but Francesca said with sorrow,
"It was the book's fault,
in which we read of Lance and Gwen,
for what the book said, we did,
and when they touched and kissed,
then Paolo, and this was his fault,
leaned in with touch and kiss,
and I could not but give return,
for Love overpowers all.
Because of what was Love's fault
we read no more that day."
So said Francesca sadly;
sulking Paolo only wept.

Poem a Day 7

Sub Ratione Iustae Vindictae

'In forty days shall Nineveh be lost!
Rejoice, O nations, sing to hear her fall!'
Such was the message spoken at such cost.
They trembled then! The hills returned their call,
their cries for mercy rang through house and stall,
but mercy could they not, did not, deserve!
And yet who does? Then pray that anger swerve.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Few Men Can Think Save in Another's Heart

I Knew Three Sisters, Who by Haunted Rills
by Frederick William Faber

Keswick, August 3, 1838.

I knew three sisters, who by haunted rills
And hill-side places gathered rarest flowers;
But, when apart, and in their lonely hours,
The brightest things that bloomed upon the hills
Were dull: for love alone the spell hath given
Unto the green of earth, the blue of heaven!
It is the law for all: few men can think
Save in another's heart: yea, few can drink
Of their own fountains but in others' eyes,
When they can see themselves reflected there
With an ideal beauty; and can rise,
Like a freed slave, with spirit keen and bare
From the damp cells and weary bonds of sin,
Which, but for love, would fetter them within.

Poem a Day 6

Torpor Mentis Bona Negligentis

'An arid desert, dry, untouched by spring!
The world around is silent, cold, unkind,
unfriendly, thorned with vines that prick and sting.
With every duty done I fall behind;
more hassle blooms with every good I find,
and everything will work me half to death.'
This drought that chokes out joy? Your wasted breath.