Terroir

The concept, terroir, is that aspects of the environment produce characteristics inside of things grown there. It comes to us from winemaking – the region and the weather affect the grapes, and thus affect the wine!

Merroir

Merroir is the same concept, yet applied to things of the sea. Oysters, prominently!!! As any oyster aficionado can tell you, the place of origin for the oyster makes for tremendous variation! 

The Mission:

The Rappahannock Oyster Company operates a restaurant named Merrior in a quaint, remote, scenic outcropping where the Rappahannock River meets the Chesapeake Bay. My friend Marty and I resolved to make a day-trip for it! 

The Restaurant:

It’s a simple bistro in concept. Light fare is the purpose! Relax on the shore and enjoy a few oysters! These are local oysters, harvested on the spot. The confluence of the freshwater river and the saltwater bay creates a variety to them, befitting the concept of “merroir!”

The Oysters!

We enjoyed a dozen of the ‘Old Salt’ oysters, and a dozen of the more freshwater-influenced oysters. I greatly preferred the brine of the Old Salts, so much so that we had a second dozen of them. And I’ll note, the second dozen came from a different batch, and they were even better! Did they come from a different bed than the first? The principle of ‘merrior’ suggests they did!

Fellowship in the time of COVID!

Here’s Marty by the relic boat that adorns the shore, appropriately bemasked! Like most we haven’t had much occasion to venture outside of our homes for the past year. This was a good getaway adventure, a day on the bay well spent!

 

Note: I have no financial association with the restaurant nor with the Rappahannock Oyster Company. This was just a fun day out and about!

 

 

Historical Ruins of St Marys Abbey Church with Dark Shadows, York, England

Occasionally a book will come along and shake up everything you have always believed. You harbor false assumptions, because you were taught them and encouraged to believe them, and in you they remain unexamined. Once in a great while if you are lucky and — importantly! — you continue to read books, one of them will slip through your transom and run amok uprooting countless things you securely believed. William Cobbett’s book, A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, is such a book for me. I have briefly recounted the life of Mr. Cobbett here in preparation if you don’t know of him. I found his book to be earth-shattering, upending even how I interpret our situation today, and how I greet the morning’s news each day now. What happened during that long, painful process we call the Protestant Reformation was a nasty, mean, cruel business. Evil won. It absolutely did, and this victory persists until this day. We are all much the worse for it. 

Set aside the book’s extremely boring title! It is enough to make you pass over it as you peruse through a stack of books. I was turned to it via recommendation, and never would have thought to consider it otherwise. The text is no sober, boring plod through a history. To the contrary, Mr. Cobbett writes in pulpit stemwinder style. However, his style is also reminiscent of the Latinate style more common to 18th century British writers than from 1824, when Cobbett wrote the book. He was a grammarian after all, and these elaborate grammars might be a little challenging to modern readers faced with 400 or more pages of them. But you will get used to it once you get the hang of it! Anyway, Cobbett remains always engaging with the reader, and very often quite comic and entertaining, so this is extremely rewarding.

To Cobbett, the Reformation was a lengthy process that unfolded over hundreds of years. There was not one Protestant Reformation affecting England, there were five. The first was that of King Henry VIII, the next that of Queen Elizabeth, followed by the one we know as the Glorious Revolution, and then the American Revolution, terminating at last in the French Revolution. Cobbett’s view is decidedly English, considering very little of what went on upon the Continent. He covers many episodes mainly in France, and the Spanish Armada, and a few other episodes. Martin Luther, John Calvin and the like do make appearances, but as for the view of things from the Continent? Cobbett leaves that to the continentals. 

I have joked elsewhere on forums that what really began the Protestant Revolution was Henry VIII’s girl troubles. Like all good jokes there’s more truth to that than it ought to warrant. Sadly, it is the case! The Protestant Revolution in England really did begin with King Henry VIII’s girl troubles and no other basis for his actions existed whatsoever, despite what anybody might say to the contrary. At that time Britons were everywhere Catholic, as they had been for the previous nine hundred years, and there was little impetus to abandon that anywhere. The king himself had authored a book defending the faith against Martin Luther to wild acclaim and even achieving the title “Defender of the Faith” from the pope. Ah, but there was the girl trouble! And the trouble was that King Henry wanted to divorce his 43-year-old wife whom the people adored, Queen Catharine, to marry her 20something hand maid, Anne Boleyn — who was, btw, king’s own illegitimate daughter via an affair. And everybody had problems with that but most of all the pope, who would not sign off on it. And so, from these sordid beginnings, was lit the flame that became the Protestant Revolution. And how differently did the Protestants from the Catholics arrive on the islands? On orders from the pope the Catholics first came to England on boats with a mission to evangelize the island through preaching and living by example, while the Protestants got in the house like girl troubles! Fast forward three hundred years to find these very same Catholics to be a singularly persecuted and maligned minority.

Cobbett traces this incredible saga of a determined and rapacious elite who have undertaken a sustained project that is against the will and the best interests of their own people. And chillingly the elites won. The people are left much impoverished, left bickering and set upon each other, while the moral and social foundation, one that had sustained their fathers and mothers for nearly one thousand years, lies undermined and reviled. That is crushing to consider! Aren’t the good guys always supposed to win out in the end? Doesn’t the cocksure confidence we hear proclaimed always from our evangelicals that “God will always win!” apply at least to religion itself? For in the business of the Protestant Reformation, as William Cobbett reveals undeniability, the evil ones prevailed. Cobbett paints shocking portraits of all the major players. Everybody knows that Henry the Wife Killer was always a problem, and boy was he ever, but he’s not more tyrannical than just about every other player involved (including non-regents!). You will see the ugly side of Queen Elizabeth, for example, and it is not a pretty sight. Much of what Cobbett reveals is simply not covered, glossed, or unmentioned altogether in the standard educations of today.

For example, I looked up the Wikipedia entry for Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer was made the Archbishop of Canterbury by King Henry the Wife Killer and immediately emerged as a lying scoundrel and monster almost without parallel in human history. He conducted a reign of terror for thirty years under three regents until Queen Mary mercifully gave him a taste of his own medicine and burned him at the stake for his shocking litany of crimes. At first Cranmer burned Protestants at the stake. Then for a time he bundled them in twos, Catholic and Protestant in one hurdle on their way to perish together the flames. And then at last only Catholics. Yet Wikipedia finds this to say: “Both sides [Protestant and Catholic] can agree in seeing Cranmer as a committed scholar whose life showed the strengths and weaknesses of a very human and often under-appreciated reformer.” O can we? What? You see, this is what we face: people drawing smiley-faces on indefensible evil. Well I guess you could say that at any given point in his long career, there wasn’t anybody Cranmer wouldn’t consign to the flames, as long as it advantaged Cranmer. So there is a sort of an equanimity to be found! This is what we are dealing with and continue to deal with. The victors write the histories and they do tend to absolve their side.

Of course we must always put things in context. If it is possible in the first place to lead an unblemished life, how much harder is that to do as king, or queen, or president? Or as some kind of attendant in these realms? Jesus Himself observed about the eyes of needles and camels, making the point perhaps that the crush of worldly concerns and delights, all those things that money and power carry with them, weigh against the prospects of living a just life. What else could explain this wild assortment of scoundrels that we have here surrounding this Protestant Reformation? Everybody has heard about Queen Mary, aka “Bloody Mary”, the Catholic daughter of King Henry the Wife Killer who sought to undo the damage her father’s evil had done. Mary burned 200+ knaves alive at the stake in the fabled Fires of Smithfield, providing the rationale behind the sobriquet of Bloody Mary. Would that any of the fiends in the Reformation’s Dramatis Personae had executed so few! But no, Mary is called Bloody Mary while her half-sister and successor, Queen Elizabeth I, is called “Good Queen Bess.” Cobbett marvels, as I do, about how he was taught as a boy about the mighty deeds and heroic goodness of Good Queen Bess and the dark ignominy of Bloody Mary, when all that melts away the very moment the first light of inspection shines on it. For Queen Elizabeth was a wicked monster, and Mary shed the least blood of any regent from her era. If I had to face any of the foul demons from the catalogue of female monsters and I had my pick, I’d pick Grendel’s Mother over that evil Queen Bess. Pick an opponent with some honor! 

Inversions like this everywhere were the order of the day in the Reformation, and staggering hypocrisies. Cobbett’s take on the Glorious Revolution has to be the most shocking inversion he chronicles. Here we have a rightful English king, James II, the last Catholic king of England, who was dethroned and run out of England as William and Mary, who were Dutch Protestants, were installed on the throne. Now, what was this business all along about the true danger of the papacy? A Catholic, you see, is a man of divided loyalties and therefore suspect, because where is his allegiance? Is it to the pope or to his country? Why, at any moment the papists might run off a rightful English king and … install a Dutchman??? The engineers of the Glorious Revolution indeed had a mighty problem on their hands, so they ginned up a war to fix it, a war upon France since that is where King James fled. Didn’t matter who won, it only mattered to have the war. It was used for internal English purposes. This was pure manipulation by the elites, and it sealed the deal destroying the English monarchy (James is not only the last Catholic king England has ever had, he is also the last from a royal English line). Worse, and critically, the war was also the excuse to introduce usury finance and the Bank of England. At last, the fait accompli!

Cobbett is incisive about the psychology of a gnawing problem. How to explain the extreme prejudice that persists against Catholics? He observed that in his day you might be a Methodist or a Presbyterian, or a Quaker, or even a Jew who is not a Christian by any name, and face scant to no persecution. English Catholics were carved out for a special, particular animus, why? His brilliant insight is that the Catholics were the ones the crown robbed outright, and that is your explanation. If you rob a man and he knows you did, you have a big problem in him. You could beg forgiveness, but this would acknowledge your crimes. You could restore what you have taken, but this also acknowledges your crimes. Or you could just keep him beaten and powerless in submission and maybe even destroy him — and that is what happened.

Cobbett frequently references a concept that sounds a bit alien to us, that of “natural leadership”. He spends very little time explaining the particulars of it, it was a topic that he had written about at length elsewhere (I’m told). It was also not uniquely his idea. John Adams, for example, wrote of it as did many others from that era. I don’t know where the natural leadership idea came from, or where to look for exposition on it. It’s a concept that seems a piece with the natural rights discussions we find stemming from Descartes, Rousseau, Locke, et al., but a topic that’s fallen out of purview and fashion. The concept revolves around the question of who is going to represent and advance the interests of a group of people. I guess Modern Man, Evolved! thinks he has that figured out and the answer is whomever he elects to Congress or Parliament or whatnot. So the matter is simply a settled one and therefore not considered much anymore. Cobbett, who was a member of Parliament for a time, did not think the matter was “in the Done Bucket”. He used to rail against the absenteeship of lords on the basis that this deprived the locals of their natural leadership, a necessary function for the health of the community. To Cobbett one of the greatest tragedies of the Reformation was that it deprived the people of a large measure of their natural leadership. Not only did it remove the functions of the clergy and the church from the lands, but it also quite often established absentee lords in their stead. 

Before the Reformation, every county in England had churches, monasteries, and abbeys, church hospitals, chapels, schools. Each one of these institutions had lands by which a considerable number of the people lived as tenants. The church made a good landlord, her rents were low and they were also stable. A new abbot did not come with fears that a new lord naturally brought! A maxim of the day was, “It’s better to be governed by the bishop’s crosier than the monarch’s scepter!” Furthermore, if you had a need or an issue the abbot or the priest was on-hand and accessible. And critically, the great majority of the funds that the church did collect were spent locally. The church provided schools for the children, care for the sick, aid for the poor. The crown and the nobles did none of this! You sent your payments off you lord and your never saw benefits, meanwhile the church was investing in your parish. Never in England at any time were you more than five miles away from help, from sanctuary, from a meal or from shelter. England did not have her infamous Poor Laws and her workhouses before the Reformation. No need existed! She was also more populous.

Look at that picture above, it is the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey in York. This was one of the grandest abbeys on the isle. Thomas Cromwell, a monster of King Henry the Wife Killer, dissolved that abbey, robbed it, and blew it to smithereens with gunpowder. I don’t know who came into possession of the remains, it may have been Cromwell himself or some other droogie of the king. But whoever it was that took possession probably raised rents as an absentee landlord and never even came to know the people, for that was the pattern. The monks were beggared; church, hospital and schoolrooms blown up — and the books and records! That abbey possessed 750 or so manuscripts carefully guarded through the ages by the monks. Only 35 of them remain, the rest disappearing and unknown to us. And the local records also lost. One function of the monasteries and abbeys was as a repository of local registers. Births, deaths, real estate transactions, taxes — records of names and events in the lives of a people. Blown to smithereens! This was the pattern all over the land. This was the Reformation, folks.

It was a money grab, foremost, an outright robbery that impoverished the people and enriched the nobles who joined with the corrupt monarchs. Oh, but what about the theology? The theses on the door, and the indulgences, the idolatries, the no less than five sola’s (explain to me why there are five SOLAs, btw?) and whatever else? Well why indeed did nobody notice that while the learned doctors were arguing about where to put the altar, that the king was making off with it? Welcome to 16th century PsyOps. It was the money, honey.

England made her deal with the Devil. She got her usury-backed modern finance to fund her bloody British Empire. And that is the worst thing that ever happened to her people, maybe to all the people of the West as a whole. 

 

If you dare to publish a bible with commentary, you’re very brave! A sneering chorus of outrage and hot condemnation awaits you no matter what you do. So many have affixed theological blinders to themselves and will condemn you to the flames for any view that does not narrowly reflect their own. Such people are the rule these days, not the exception! But with bravery Bishop Robert Barron sticks his neck out and submits the Word On Fire Gospels.

I’ve received my copy, and physically it is a wonderful edition. It comes either hardbound or leatherbound, I got the leather. The first impression is the beauty of the book. The paper is high quality, the pages are thick and well-glossed, the typesetting is top notch. The book is filled with sharp graphics, and abundantly annotated with asides. It is the physical size of many complete bibles, but it only contains the four gospels — that is a measure of how much commentary is packed within this thing! This book is primarily a running commentary. It does contain the full text of each gospel, but you are better off with a standard bible if your goal was simply to pick up and read a gospel. This book wades leisurely through the gospels, constantly stopping to highlight and to remark on aspects for contemplation. 

I haven’t had the chance to read the entire book, I dove straight into my favorite gospel, Mark. He’s the apostle who dives straight in, right? Seemed fitting! Mark cuts to the chase, he does not mess around. Immediately I found profit. Immediately the commentary taught me something I did not know – the Tetramorph! The Tetramorph is the four symbols, each one associated with a different gospel or gospel writer, which appear in Christian art. St. Matthew appears as a man, St. Mark a lion, St. Luke an ox, and St. John an eagle. Did not know this! (see below). Then the commentary immediately gave me a few insights for contemplation, and these are very good insights.

I’ll mention two insights, but there were more. Both were prompted by the first speech of Jesus in Mark’s gospel, in which Christ exhorts us to repent and to have faith, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. So what is meant by ‘repent’? The commentary introduces the concept of Metanoia, based on the Greek word used by Mark for ‘repent’. This word introduces overtones that the English translation lacks. Metanoia involves a change of mind, a change of perspective. “Repent and change your perspective” is the fuller meaning. The second insight applies to the word ‘faith’, which in the Greek emphasizes not just belief but also strong trust and even invitation. “To have faith is also to allow oneself to be overwhelmed by the power of God,” the commentary explains. The commentary contains a lot more, just on these first words of Christ in Mark. Differences between the pusillanimous and the magnanimous are explored, for example, and the imminence or even the current actualization of God’s kingdom.

The other bits commentary that I read did at one point introduce a surprise to me when it introduced the claim that the original sin, causing the fall from Eden, was fear. What? I have heard the blame cast on disobedience before, and on pride. The idea that fear is the culprit was novel to me, and yet the claim was made as if it were a natural, obvious assumption. Maybe this was covered in a previous area (remember, I had jumped into the Gospel of Mark and therefore skipped a long way into the book). But that was a notion that needs to be explained to me. This highlights a reality that you must keep in mind when reading any exegesis or commentary: be mature! Use discernment. Don’t freak out and condemn a man to the flames because he surprises your understanding or crosses your beliefs. Take this rather as an opportunity to explore a point of view perhaps not natural to your own! I don’t know if I will accept the claims about fear and original sin, or if I will to what degree that I would. But either way, it is something to consider and to contemplate!

Giving fuel to these contemplations is what this book excels at. I can already recommend it. Even in the portion of it that I have read so far, it has paid for itself!

Matthew

In the Tetramorph, Matthew features a man because his gospel begins with a genealogy.

 

Mark

In the Tetramorph, Mark is a lion, because his gospel begins with St. John the Baptist — roaring in the desert!

 

Luke

In the Tetramorph, Luke is an ox because his gospel begins with Zechariah, a temple priest. The ox represents the sacrificial animals that belong to priestly duty.

John

In the Tetramorph, John is an eagle because his gospel begins by soaring upwards — in Heaven.

 

 

This week actress Evan Rachel Wood tossed a snowball that grew into a roaring avalanche of shame that has flattened the career of one Brian Warner, a man popularly known as the shock-artist, Marilyn Manson. Ms. Wood claims that when they were a couple Manson subjected her to mind control and physical abuse. As of this writing eleven more women have joined a swelling female chorus against the man. The engines of Cancel Culture have swung into action against him too, as he finds himself unceremoniously dismissed from his talent agency, his own long-time manager, and even his very own record label.

In his defense Mr. Manson has submitted a claim that all his relationships have been consensual. Additionally, Manson’s former wife, the famous model Dita Van Teese, along with his current wife have submitted claims in support of their relationships with him. Listening to the claims of Ms. Wood and others, I do very much get the impression that we have sadomasochistic kinks in play with Mr. Manson here. That’s always difficult to explain and impossible to defend! (Why live on the edge of such a knife??) But it’s no matter — any defense of Manson is released to the winds like a mere whistle in the roar of the looming avalanche that is steamrolling that sucker flat. 

I ask myself, “Why now? Why this sudden uproar against Marilyn Manson?” For did anybody ever have the crazy idea that this man was at any point possessed of a single virtue? And if so how is that possible because his entire career has been a giant, open revelry of nihilism. To delve into the world constructed by Manson is to delve into pain and rage. Manson literally screams against every sort of order — societal, religious, economic, political — even as he celebrates killing, murder, revenge, rape, tortures. Manson and members of his original band in fact named themselves, each one, after various serial killers. Early on in his career Manson hooked up with the high priest of the Church of Satan, Anton LeVey, who made Manson a reverend. Manson has labored over the problem of creating the biggest spectacle possible, promoting his celebrations of evil and dark things.

Note well that all these things were not only perfectly fine with kingmakers of the music industry, but they were why Manson was given a career. Don’t kid yourself about the entertainment industry. Talent is great but talent is no predictor of success. Some might agree and add, “Yes, it all comes down to making a quick buck!!” But that position is also naive, for the entertainment kingmakers are not merely serving a space that is organically creating itself. No! Never! The kingmakers of this realm are very well acquainted with the importance, their need even, to create these public spaces and to guide people through them. Marilyn Manson was a made man. If he wasn’t evil enough in the beginning, he was pushed in that direction! That was his allotted role. 

Manson must be sitting bewildered and amazed in his castle tonight. For he is the same man that he has always been, and none of his flaws nor his evil have ever been hidden. No, he has flaunted them!! What has changed, why is he suddenly cast out? It could be that he’s simply beyond his useful expiration date, and now the cost of protecting him is more than he’s worth. That is a weak argument because, truth be told, he was never worth much. He was always a performance artist of limited value. If he was not up to the task of going forth to beguile, an eager legion of others stood ready for a turn!

The better answer is his limited value has become a liability instead. Manson and his followers are rebels and always were, always raging against every kind of order. That makes them useful only to a group that is seeking power. The Manson Family becomes a liability, however, once that power is gained. And so they must be cast aside before they turn on their makers – as Satanists everywhere always will do. 

Golden Calves or Van Goghs?

A couple years ago at the Art Basel Miami happening, an artist named Maurizio Cattelan made waves at an opening press conference, where he gave a speech, duct-taped a common banana to a wall, and then declared this to be a work of art named ‘Comedian’ btw worth $120,000. Incredibly, two editions of it were sold for that price. And then another artistic prankster ate one of the taped bananas. And then common finger-paintings done by children started flying out of the galleries for $75,000 each.

What is going on here? Has everybody lost their minds? Well there’s a lot to unpack. Too much, really, because so much is wrong with this nonsense! I can’t possibly go over in just one day all my objections to things uncovered here. But the first question to tackle, I suppose, is this: “What is art?”

The term ‘art‘ comes to us from the Latin, ‘ars‘. That old Latin word confers a lot. In my Lewis & Short Latin dictionary the entry for ars takes up almost half of a page! (And these pages are in annoyingly fine print that I can no longer read without reading glasses, and the pages are large). Pregnant with so many nuances, the word’s entry is too much a task to cover, but all of the nuances dance around one idea: significant skill at producing something. I can make a taco, but am I a taco artist? Do I truly know that elusive Art Of The Taco?? That’s a bit much to say! Significant. Skill.

An antagonist may say, “Okay, that’s well and good. But still, ‘significance’ contains subjective criteria.” True! Beauty is indeed always in the eye of the beholder. Many more things exist to consider. We can take the example of Mr. Cattelan’s neat little trick with the banana. What did this involve? First, a setting, then a production, and then a language through which others could participate. And towards what end? An influence. Suppose that Mr. Cattelan came into your living room, duct-taped a banana to your wall, and told you he’d just done you a $120,000 service? Wouldn’t you rather have Di Vinci swinging by with a Mona Lisa? You’d call the funny farm on Mr. Cattelan asking them to get down here because there is a madman on the loose. His little gag of ‘Comedian’ — for that is what this is — only works for him in a certain setting, having set everybody up with his prankishness for more deviltry, and then inviting them to get in on the joke. And to what end? What is Mr. Cattelan’s influence with all of this? Why, it’s to make everybody a fool along with him. His ilk impoverishes us all, and in particular true artists, for what if you were a latter-day Di Vinci who showed up to Art Basel Miami with a Mona Lisa, only to find out that pranksters started a run on bullshit and on grade-school refrigerator finger-paintings?

Mr. Cattelan’s endeavor, then, is an usurpation of artists, of art, of artistry itself. The antagonist may counter, “Oh, but can’t you admire the artistry of the gag?” I suppose, but by the same coin will you admire the artistry of a terrorist? What is that difference? What would you call a man who would deploy art against art itself, but an anti-artist? Indeed, a terrorist of sorts! Ultimately always the influence of any artwork is its raison d’etre, its reason for being. Properly, that end needs to be for the good, for truth, for improvement of the soul as its final influence. 

The wily antagonist would then naturally counter, “Oh, but then we only have art that ends in fairy tales and puppies and kittens, the constraint of goodness is too limiting!” But is this a too-narrow conception of the good, the beautiful and the true, for truth includes terror and fear. Grim realities are a part of truth, a part of life, a part of great art. Dr. Johnson reports that the ending of William Shakespeare’s King Lear shocked and upset his very soul to its core, it’s deeply upsetting. What is that play if not one of the very greatest ones that anybody has ever penned? Can we face these truths which tax us and grieve us to bear?

Or, shall we tape bananas upon the wall and call it a day? What kind of damned cop-out is that? 

The wily antagonist might say to us at this point, “But maybe you just don’t understand the artist. Maybe that language of his art, the one you mention, is simply one you cannot hear. But others can!” True, this always a possibility. How many great artists of every type died a pauper racked in misery, only to have their reputations soar to great heights after they had left us? Too many to count!

Vincent Van Gogh is one of these. Did you know that his first fame came not from his paintings, but from his letters? Yes, after his death his letters were published and they became a bestseller. That image of Van Gogh as a stammering madman eager to rip off his own ear in fits of delirium, a man “suffering for his sanity” as Don McLean tells us, is one mostly of legend, not reality. For Van Gogh’s letters reveal a nimble, cogent and skilled mind at work. Those letters are high quality literature all to themselves and are enough to make Vincent notable even without all his paintings.

One of Van Gogh’s aims in these letters was to convince his beloved brother, Theo, that his art was not crap. I don’t know if Vincent ever really found success on that front, but the effort paid off when the public read it. The public now had a language to understand Van Gogh’s artwork and his struggles, and he got a second look. And now equipped to participate in Van Gogh’s art, humanity has raised the man to the empyrean airs of one of the greatest artists of all time.

Van Gogh tells us in those letters, “there is something good in all labor.” And it’s true! Even, I suppose, in taping a banana to a wall. But I am afraid we’d need a better artist than Mr. Cattelan to find that goodness here. Ralph Waldo Emmerson, perhaps! He saw a ploughman in the field and said that act, wordless, by itself, was a prayer. I bet you we could have asked Emmerson to write a poem about taping a banana to a wall and he’d have something! 

But not Mr. Cattelan. He has a golden calf. 

(Below are two instances of artworks that illustrate aspects of art that I’ve mentioned:

  • Significant Skill
  • Setting
  • Production
  • Language
  • Participation
  • Influence

I had hoped initially to go over all of these aspects in greater detail. But not now — perhaps in later posts!!!)

The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript is a 600 year old mystery ! It’s a book written in a strange, unkown language and filled with ornate, intricate illustrations. People have puzzled over what it could possibly be, over what secrets or mysteries it might reveal, over whether it’s an elaborate hoax, or what it is exactly. But most people agree on this, that the book is a beautiful work of art.

 

How can that be? How can a book that no one can read possibly speak to us, what language does it speak that we can understand?

 

But it yet speaks to us, even though the text cannot be understood! We see it immediately as a fine book, and we know “bookness”. This book is the product of great passion and careful work by someone over a long period of time. That strikes us at once. Its illustrations are labored over, containing skill and detail. For even that script which we cannot read, we can see the beautiful form of its calligraphy, we can see the unknown words on their march. These are the footprints of a foreign mind a journey somewhere, recording something.  

 

The Vietnam Memorial

When the design of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memoral was unveiled, enormous controversy erupted. The monument spoke a new language for military monuments. Where was the glory, the heroism, the sacrifice, the sacred duty? Where were all the trappings of triumphalism that mark such things as the Arc D’Triomphe or the Ara Pacis? Where is the art? Initially many Vietnam veterans took offense, describing the design as “a great gash of shame.”

The language spoken by the monument is not obvious, until you participate in the monument. It is indeed a great, black-marble gash in the earth. As you approach it you descend. Your descent into the earth is wreathed by names, thousands of names, over 58,000 names are written in the marble. Just names, they are crying out to you, each one belonging to a brother who lost everything he had in that conflict. You can know each name if you care to look at them all, but you cannot. That task is too overwhelming, for one thing, but also too painful for each new name brings another serving of loss and tragedy to place upon a growing pile.

Most Vietnam veterans have swung their opinion to the opposite of the initial opposition against the monument. It is not the worst war memorial, it is the best one. It is not a great gash of shame, it is a great gash of sacrifice, honor and tragedy, You can walk all around Washington, DC and see all of the many classically styled monuments and buildings, but none of them will touch you and move you like the Vietnam Memorial does.

It is a powerful work of art that seizes you unawares. It has justly inspired other monuments now. 

 

How Did I Miss This?

I didn’t watch the inauguration, I only read Joe’s speech. So that’s how I mercifully missed the poem of one Amanda Gorman, America’s first “Youth Poet Laureate.” Egad, it’s bad! It’s a free verse composition called “Over This Hill” – I think. The CNN article that provided the text forgot to provide the title! 

Free verse poems don’t have regular meter, so their first advantage that leaps to mind is that they must be easier to write. You don’t have to worry about meter nor rhyme!! But in practice free verse poems are exceedingly difficult to write well. You’ve got to have an ear for melody and pattern, even if they aren’t regularly imposed you’ve still got to employ poetic and rhetorical elements. 

Here’s a side-by-side of Gorman’s “Over This Hill” and Walt Whitman’s “This Compost”.

You can tell how badly in trouble Gorman is right off the bat. “When day comes we ask ourselves / where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” umm, from the sun? The day just came, the light finds us. Okay, perhaps that’s a trick and disjoint image to keep in mind strategically! But no. It’s just one in a long stream of disjoint things that follow, discordantly. Even though the title is about climbing a hill, a hill appears only in one line of the thing and randomly. She could have picked any other line. It could have been titled Wading a Sea, or seriously pick any other line. 

Bad Free Verse!

When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promise to glade
The hill we climb
If only we dare
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,
we will rise from the windswept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,
we will rise from the sunbaked south
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

 

Good Free Verse!

Something startles me where I thought I was safest,

I withdraw from the still woods I loved,
I will not go now on the pastures to walk,
I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my lover the sea,
I will not touch my flesh to the earth as to other flesh to renew me.

O how can it be that the ground itself does not sicken?
How can you be alive you growths of spring?
How can you furnish health you blood of herbs, roots, orchards, grain?
Are they not continually putting distemper’d corpses within you?
Is not every continent work’d over and over with sour dead?

Where have you disposed of their carcasses?
Those drunkards and gluttons of so many generations?
Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and meat?
I do not see any of it upon you to-day, or perhaps I am deceiv’d,
I will run a furrow with my plough, I will press my spade through the sod and turn it up underneath,
I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.

Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite has once form’d part of a sick person—yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the garden,
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves,
The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mulberry-tree,
The he-birds carol mornings and evenings while the she-birds sit on their nests,
The young of poultry break through the hatch’d eggs,
The new-born of animals appear, the calf is dropt from the cow, the colt from the mare,
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato’s dark green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk, the lilacs bloom in the dooryards,
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata of sour dead.

What chemistry!
That the winds are really not infectious,
That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash of the sea which is so amorous after me,
That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over with its tongues,
That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have deposited themselves in it,
That all is clean forever and forever,
That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,
That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,
That the fruits of the apple-orchard and the orange-orchard, that melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will
   none of them poison me,
That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease,
Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once a catching disease.

Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas’d corpses,
It distills such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.

 

This is fun!

These folks were experimenting with ways to instruct children using stop-motion animation. They took a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and enacted it in Legos! What fun!

In the story, the goddess Diana is bathing and Actaeon the hunter stumbles across her, catching Diana naked. In anger she turns him into a deer, and Actaeon’s own hounds, who cannot now recognize him, devour him. 

VIEW MORE

 

Well apparently, what you can do in these hard times of unemployment and shuttered economies, is to join the merchant marine! That way, when you get screwed over for the first and millionth time and everyone in between (until tomorrow!), the crimes against you are in your face. It lacks that unnamed subtlety which swirls invisible around the hapless urban fellows, sitting stunned in the thieving fog they grasp against. No, upon the sea we have real pirates, real kidnappers, real nefarious harbor masters keeping ships anchored in limbo forevermore. This seafaring job that nobody wants is back in high demand.

Although last year’s Beethoven ceremonies were put off only to be canceled anew this year, consider the tale of the good ship Mozart!  We have a tale of piracy, of kidnapping, of derring-do, of getting trapped in the high seas interminably over international politics, and of course of avoiding COVID. These are the perils of life upon the seas today!

There’s inspiration in here somewhere. Where is our Melville??

I had never heard of this man, William Cobbett, until I had the recommendation to read his book, A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland. How droll a book title, no? But wow, what a book!!! More on that book at another time. Now is the time to puzzle and wonder at the man who wrote it, the incorrigible William Cobbett. 

It’s not often you come across a character as colorful as this. Quickly scan his bio to get a measure, you do not often see biographies this truly wild. In brief, as a young man he joined the Army, but wound up suing his superiors and then fleeing to France  when they retaliated, and straight into the looming French Revolution. So then he fled to America, to Philadelphia, and began a career as a pamphleteer. He was a prickly one, even earning the nickname Peter Porcupine! And so that career got him into fresh trouble, so he fled back to England. More pamphleteering here led to more troubles, so he fled once more to America, to Long Island. From here he would eventually sneak back to England, and somehow secreting the skeletal remains of none other than Thomas Paine! More publishing and politicking resumed, together with several failed attempts to run for Parliament. At last he became elected, but tragically his career in office was a failure and also it seems to have killed him. It was a mistake to quit the fair air of the countryside for that den of thieves!

But through all these travails, Cobbett never lost the sense of his original self. His upbringing was pleasant, as a country boy from Surrey, and his love of the land and of country people and of the goodness of rural society never quit him. He’s most famous today for his book Rural Rides, which recounts his many travels through the countryside. Another book he wrote, The Cottage Economy, also has a large following today from people looking to go “off the grid” and return to simpler, more honest and self-sufficient lifestyles. That was a major aim of Cobbett, and his book is manual for that in his day. But his book on the Reformation is the one I have and wow, it is a doozy!

Cobbett writes in wonderful style, with authority and aplomb. He was a grammarian, so he writes in a high Latinate style that you find more in the 17th and 18th Century English writers than you find in Cobbett’s own day. But Cobbett has a dramatic flair, pulpit-style, and very personal. He is a pleasure to read! And even though the Reformation book is not about country life, Cobbett’s great love and great estimation of it sparkles throughout the text. The pre-Reformation England that he describes is something he longs for, you come to long for it, too. A Golden Age when things were more just, more properly ordered, more attuned to human needs. Cobbett’s book is having a profound effect on me, because of his profound love. 

So in the course of a discussion the story of the Rich Young Man came up somehow. This is the famous story of Jesus from Matthew, Book 19:

The Rich Young Man.

Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said,“ For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” 

This story is often talked about for what it says about soteriology, which is the contemplation about just what are the means by which Christians expect to receive salvation. Here is where we get into the discordant chorus of debates about the Solas — Sola scriptura? Sola fide? Sola gratia? Solus Christus? Soli de Deo Gloria? Meaning, are you saved by scripture alone? or by faith alone? or by grace alone? or by Christ alone, or by the Glory of God alone? And then from the foaming words that swirl about the room, somebody meekly asks, “Well what about works?” and then, well you can imagine. All these things questions are good to contemplate, but please put them all aside.

Put them aside because there’s more to the story, and also because there is more to life than seeking personal salvation. Here the Rich Young Man follow the commandments, the set of rules that good men follow, but does that provide sustainment and succor? Is that enough? The Rich Young Man seems not to think so. He follows the rules but also must perceive something lacking because he asks “What do I still lack?” as he presses the question for the third time! He is impetuous, is he not? He got his answer twice already, but keeps on pressing. The final answer given him is to follow goodness. That is how to overcome his sense of lacking. Christ himself is goodness, as he asserted at the top of the story (“there is only One who is good”). Commitment to the pursuit of goodness is also required (“sell what you have and give to the poor”). 

His situation isn’t unlike Boethius in his cell — pursuit of goodness fulfills what is lacking.