Thursday, March 23, 2017

Blogging Note: responding to God's summons

This is my final posting. I know that I have said that a dozen times in the past, but this time it is most definite. Let me explain.

Life here at Casa Davis has been so overfilled with harrowing challenges in the last couple of years (and even more dramatically in recent days) that I can think of only one way to deal with it all in the coming days: one day at a time.

Yes, that phrase and my submission to a Higher Power saved my life in the past (more than twenty-five years ago) when I was nearly completely lost. Now those words and the Higher Power must be my guiding lights once again.

But the added challenge is this: how should I best use my time each day?

Well, friends, blogging cannot be included. As much as I have enjoyed my occasional discussions with a small corps of loyal blog visitors -- thank you, Frank, Fred, Margot, Marly, Mudpuddle, CyberKitten, Sharon, Stephen, Brian, George, James, and a few others whose names my Swiss-cheese mind cannot recall at this moment -- I have much larger responsibilities to my wife and myself.

You see, my wife and I are much preoccupied with life's endgame and God's summons, so I cannot in good conscience use time each day concocting insignificant postings and engaging in pleasant, time-consuming discussions. Yes, blogging, such a pleasant diversion from life's challenges, must be abandoned.

Well, there you have my final posting. Now without further feckless babbling, I must respond to God's summons and turn my attentions to other matters.

Carpe diem!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Crime-detective-mystery fiction is now on the menu

Good afternoon, friends. In my previous posting, I announced a suspension of blogging activities; that information was predicated upon the R&R travel plans my wife and I had made for the next two weeks.

Well, reality, that monstrous beast, has raised its ugly head once again, and our travel plans have been postponed (because an acute onset of my wife's chronic medical condition has trumped all plans for a while), so I guess I will for better of worse persist in blogging here for the foreseeable future.

But, beyond making the foregoing announcement, I want to explain where I will be going in my reading and blogging:

Crime-detective-mystery fiction is on the menu.

What do I mean by that statement? Well, in the coming weeks and months, even though I realize any plans for the future might be folly, I want to attempt (again) a systematic reading and discussion of the history of crime-detective-mystery fiction.

Let me begin by sharing this background information:

In March of 1841, Graham's Magazine published Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," the first of his five detective stories (including "The Mystery of Marie Roget," "The Gold Bug," "The Purloined Letter," and "Thou Art the Man"); considered together, Poe's five stories -- his tales of ratiocination as he called them -- are widely understood by many readers to have established the conventions of character and narrative formats which have determined the conventions of crime-detective-mystery fiction in the last 176 years.

So, where I should begin my systematic reading plan seems obvious:

I will begin with Poe's five stories. And I will preview the next posting (one in which I will focus on "The Murders in the Rue Morgue") by making this argument:

The story, whatever its merits might be, has almost no value as a story about crime because the story's value can be found elsewhere.

With that as the enigmatic, provocative opening gambit, I turn the discussion over to you. Perhaps you will have some thoughts about my argument, about Poe, about crime-detective-mystery fiction, or about something else that suits your fancy.

So, what's on your mind?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Speaking of challenges -- "temporarily out of service"

My previous posting features a poem by Emily Dickinson, one in which the challenges of a person's existence are explored. Well, speaking of challenges, I must go on a much needed "spring break" from blogging because I -- continuing to live the myth of Sisyphus -- will be "temporarily out of service" for an indefinite period of time beginning tomorrow morning. And so it goes.

Emily Dickinson and the challenge of existence

First there is this from Emily Dickinson:

     To be alive—is Power—
     Existence—in itself—
     Without a further function—

     To be alive—and Will!
     'Tis able as a God—
     The Maker—of Ourselves—be what—
     Such being Finitude!

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

What do I understand when I read this poem? I read that there may be no afterlife and no higher power, which means people in the here and now are responsible for making the most of their own finite, everyday lives. Indeed, because life on earth might be all there is, giving oneself over to an omnipotent force somewhere beyond the self might be little more than surrendering to irrational personal insecurities and exposing the limitations of oneself. In other words, carpe diem!

Well, that is my creative reader-response to the poem. I might be quite wrong. In fact, there may be difficult-to-detect ironies in Dickinson's poem that I am not comprehending; in that case, because I often do not "see" Dickinson's ironies, my reading above would be completely wrong. However, tomorrow I might read the poem and respond differently. That, my friends, is often the challenge to me when I read Emily Dickinson's poetry. No reading is absolute and immutable. 

Does any of this make sense? What do you think?


Monday, March 20, 2017

Crime and punishment in the story of Cain and Abel

Here is an excerpt from an essay by Elie Wiesel:

"Cain and Abel: The first two brothers of the first family in history. The only brothers in the world. The saddest, the most tragic. Why do they hold such an important place in our collective memory, which the Bible represents for so many of us? Mean, ugly, immoral, oppressive—their story disturbs and frightens. It haunted mankind then and still does, working its way into our nightmares.

At first we become attached to Cain. He shares with his younger brother, Abel, the generous idea of offering gifts to the Lord. But for this, Abel might never have felt the need to do the same. For reasons the text does not bother to explain, however, God accepts the gift from Abel after refusing the gift from Cain.

An unjust Creator of the World? Already? How can we understand this favoritism? What did Abel do so great, beautiful or praiseworthy as to merit the divine sympathy denied to his brother? Cain, innocent victim of unprecedented heavenly discrimination—how can we not wonder about his fate?"

Read the rest of Elie Wiesel's important essay at this link.

* * * * *

And here is a personal postscript:

I am convinced that the story of Cain and Abel has important lessons for all of us, and Elie Wiesel's brilliant exegesis gives us much to ponder. However, I would add one more important point. Notice that God's punishment of Cain did not include a death penalty. If the first, most unforgiveable murder did not merit capital punishment, why should human beings now support or impose the death penalty on anyone? Yes, I think that is an important lesson in the story of Cain and Abel.

Well, now, what do you think?

Spring and All -- something for the vernal equinox

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the first day of spring, the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The Earth is tilted on its axis, so as it travels around the sun each pole is sometimes tilted toward the sun and sometimes tilted away. It is this tilt that causes the seasons, as well as the shortening and lengthening of daylight hours. On this day, the North and South Poles are equally distant from the sun, so we will have almost exactly the same amount of daytime as nighttime.

     Emily Dickinson said:

"A little Madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for the King."

     Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

"Spring still makes spring in the mind,
When sixty years are told;
Love wakes anew this throbbing heart,
And we are never old."

     Mark Twain said:

"It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!"

* * * * 

And there is this poem, one that means the most to me on the first day of spring:

Here is a selection from Spring and All by William Carlos Williams (1923).

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast -- a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines --

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches --

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind --

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined --
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance -- Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken

* * * * *

Personal Postscript:

When I think of poems about spring, I almost always think first of the foregoing by William Carlos Williams. The poem's dramatic juxtaposition of "the contagious hospital" -- a scene of despair and death -- and the signs of renewal in the "sluggish dazed spring" leave me disturbed and hopeful; yes, for me, that paradox -- promise of renewed life in spite of the threatening presence of death -- speaks volumes about the human condition.

Well, now it is your turn. What poem about "sluggish dazed spring" do you think is most worth remembering today?


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Looking for Lilith -- the female night demon

Let's talk about Lilith. No, I do not mean the character portrayed by Bebe Neuwirth in Frasier (the TV series). I am talking about the one who is (sort of) in the Bible. Well, let me explain.

You see, I once heard the name Lilith mentioned in connection with Adam (normally associated with Eve and the Garden of Eden), but I had trouble finding her in the Bible because I was looking in all the wrong places. Now I have tracked her down. 

First, here is a bit of whimsy:

Lilith and Adam
fought night and day in Eden.
Now he is with Eve.

                                          * * * * *

Now, more seriously, there is this excerpt from an interesting article:

One talmudic reference claims that people should not sleep alone at night, lest Lilith slay them (Shabbath 151b). During the 130-year period between the death of Abel and the birth of Seth, the Talmud reports, a distraught Adam separates himself from Eve. During this time he becomes the father of “ghosts and male demons and female [or night] demons” (Erubin 18b). And those who try to construct the Tower of Babel are turned into “apes, spirits, devils and night-demons” (Sanhedrin 109a). The female night demon is Lilith.

Read much more about Lilith and the rest of the fascinating story, via this link.