“Haven’t you ambition enough to wish that your husband should be something better than a Middlemarch doctor?” said Lydgate, letting his hands fall on to his wife’s shoulders, and looking at her with affectionate gravity. ” I shall make you learn my favorite bit from an old poet –
`Why should our pride make such a stir to be
And be forgot? What good is like to this,
To do worthy the writing, and to write
Worthy the reading and the world s delight?’
What I want, Rosy, is to do worthy the writing, — and to write out myself what I have done.
–from “Middlemarch” by George Eliot, ch 43
Today, I started to read this piece at Salon by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, “The truth about Newt’s favorite punching bag,” which details how Gingrich dog-whistles his “base” using a name likely few people have heard of except from the fabrication machine that is propaganda politics and news, Saul Alinksy. Here’s how much I read before I started writing what follows. Consider this a kind off blog fMRI of my brain:
And now, a word about a good American being demonized, despite being long dead. Saul Alinsky is not around to defend himself, but that hasn’t kept Newt Gingrich from using his name to whip up the froth and frenzy of his followers, whose ignorance of the man is no deterrence to their eagerness, at Gingrich’s behest, to tar and feather him posthumously.
In his speeches, Gingrich pounds away at variations on the theme like the piano player in a cheap Western saloon. He declares, “The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky,” or, “I believe in the Constitution, I believe in the Federalist Papers. Obama believes in Saul Alinsky and secular European socialist bureaucracy.”
It’s all quite clever and insidious, a classic lesson in how to slander someone who cannot answer from the grave, reminiscent of the tactics Gingrich used in those GOPAC memos back in 1996, when he suggested buzzwords and phrases to demonize opponents: corrupt, decay, pathetic, permissive attitude, self-serving and, of course, radical.
In the case of Saul Alinsky, most of the crowd knows nothing about the target except that they’re supposed to hate him. And why not? There’s the strange foreign name – obviously an alien. One of them. And a socialist at that. What’s a socialist? Don’t know — but Obama’s one, isn’t he? Barack Hussein Obama, Saul Alinsky – bingo! Two peas in a pod, and a sinister, subversive pod at that.
I am an association engine…damn machine-age metaphor!
I am a self-replicating cell structure…microscopic metaphor! Unseen without the magic of magnification found in the manipulation of ground glass. I am always quick to condemn our primary sense and this is no exception.
I am a network of disparate images woven into whole cloth…ah, interesting, a metaphor that could be one of working hands and natural materials. Let’s change network to web and that should at least give us the spidery associations that we can cast backwards into 17th century sermons and further back and far afield into African folklore and Greek mythology.
To hell with it, I am Superman and I know what time it is and I know what’s happening, 2, 3, 4.
Hey, brain guys, if language developed in an evolutionary blink of an eye…oh, sorry, creationists, in a biblical blink of a testament–either/or, right? Crap, now I have to ask a different question: Young Earthers, if geologic time is Biblical (and so is the universe “time” of space?–are you sure there isn’t a Truman Show in there somewhere?) as dictated (the world in dictaphone, anachronism!) to Moses and not just a cobbling together of creation myths subsumed from other local cultures, then all other effects of time (evolutionary effects of biological development) must also be compressed into that wondrous 6 days, right? So, when animals get names and Eve gets ribbed, is there language also? I mean the serpent speaks and God speaks, or at least the voice of God walks in the garden (which is easily my favorite figuration in the Bible) and Adam and Eve speak and God speaks to other gods, at least when He confers with them about taking “man” down a notch or two by confusing tongues at Babel.
Language, in a creation-view, is of a piece with the deity in question it seems (God is Word or Conversation) while language is secondary, or seems to come after automatic responses to stimuli, in our “minding” our world in evolutionary terms.
Is the snake language? It certainly seems easy enough to show how this human gift, like fire, is both luminous and devastating: luminous as it is the light of representational beauty; devastating in its inability to control itself.
In my mind I imagine (using images that I bring forward conceptually via signs) language something like a cap we put on (that nature put on, or upper case N, if you like deifying that mystery) that translates thoughts into words.
And then I imagine language getting very excited about all the wonderful things it can do and forgetting its attachment to the rest of the brain. I see language as taking on a left-handed role and then I see humanity finding this role the “whole” of being. Perhaps if I wrote that as a fable it would be clear that these are errors of hubris that lead to a fall.
Oh wait, those stories already exist alongside those wonderful stories of how great humans are, or how great some of us are depending on our tribal allegiances.
Babel itself is a tale that regards human language as the driving force behind the desire to be as the gods and reach into the heavens. And I suppose the expulsion out of Eden is the same story really. The serpent tempts Eve with language (a talking animal! What will Aesop think of next?) and the realization of “nakedness” seems to me something akin to a “language switch” that is flipped when our doomed pair partake of the fruit of knowledge. All animal nature is then described and simple emotions, simple responses, become “self-complex.” We start making shit up.
Now the serpent was most cunning of all the beasts of the field that the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Though God said, you shall not eat from any tree in the garden–” And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the garden’s trees we may eat, but from the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it and you shall not touch it, lest you die.’” And the serpent said to the woman, “You shall not be doomed to die. For God knows that on the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will become as gods knowing good and evil.” And the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and that it was lust to the eyes and the tree was lovely to look at, and she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave to her man, and he ate. And the eyes of the two were opened, and they knew they were naked…
Three things, 1. this translation of Genesis 3 is by Robert Alter, 2. he uses “lust” to the eyes rather than “delight” or the even milder “good” because he says the Hebrew word means something more like “intensely desired,” and 3. the Hebrew for “cunning” is a pun on the Hebrew for “naked.” Now, all that takes some thorough command of context–without it, you are simply making shit up. But this is commonplace as exemplified by Newt above, but leads us to being stuck with choosing our instructors all of whom tend to be spouting ideological nonsense. My friend Matt recently called this an “acquaintance” with knowledge–I like that. This is how folks come to believe things that Glenn Beck says for example, or believe what Joel Klein and Arne Duncan and Michele Rhee say about school reform.
But what is more interesting to me is that Genesis 3 seems to, as it were, offer us the root to much of our faulty thinking. I find this tale works best as a cautionary fable. Eve is a little girl who is interested in an forbidden thing. The serpent seems best characterized as a figment of the girl’s mind. Notice how the serpent leads her in the beginning with “Though God said…” and she interrupts the transgressive thought she knows is coming (because it’s hers) with the recitation of the rule or law of the Father. The imagined interlocutor tells her what she wants to hear and she finds the argument persuasive, and logical and eats.
More profoundly here we have THINKING happening in conversation (which is how “Logos” might be translated). We also have a very important link with EYES and DESIRE and MIND. Guess what the Israelites were never allowed? To see Yahweh. And what was forbidden in that same vein? Graven images. There is a very clear moral to this story–the eyes lust and provide a very strong impetus for justifying TAKING what the eye wants. And it is this that leads to expulsion. And it s the image that leads the chosen people to stray. And it is the BOOK and the WRITTEN law that provides the counterbalance to Image-Mind.
I think I’d finally go so far as to say humanity is in fact the snake in this tale, or if you prefer, we have evolved from simple creatures to creatures who are the subtlest (most cunning) in history. Our lies have given us our mammalian supremacy. (Insert now every thought you have on the cultural domination made possible by experts using foreign languages of their fields.) What does Shakespeare have Hamlet say? “Nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Our most “mind-full” author offers this via his wordiest creation. It would not be unreasonable to offer this as an intentional gloss on the figuration of that revelatory tree: “the tree of knowledge of good and bad.”
We might go further and say that we have confounded language with image. The basic rule of propaganda is that image and music are far stronger emotion anchors to keep us stuck in a received prejudice. Our advertising age has attached very simple and very powerful images to very particular words in order to misrepresent truth. We can now offer up any number of alternate realities and truths and each of us a simple Adam or Eve can be persuaded by the ever-present voice of the Snake-Human. (Chronologically we must admit all of this happens prior to the figuration of an evil being “cast out” of heaven by God, a thoroughly “New” Testament revision.)
It might seem I am far afield from my original object of investigation: the “geology” of the creation of man and earth–but not that far really. It it is noted by E. A. Speiser in the Anchor Bible Genesis that the very word “Eden” is exceedingly rare in Akkadian yet quite common in Sumerian. (It is possible that this very assertion printed in 1962 has been contested by now, look it up if you want.) This seems a detail that lends some weight to the supposition that Biblical “geology” is really the development of human language in writing. If Young Earth Creationists say the Earth is approximately 6,000 years old then I would simply say that I can conceive how that might be a truth. The Earth, as a component in the history of the human conception of self (in the divine image), was composed, was written, was wedged, into creation some 6,000 years ago.
And finally what is the story of the history of Israelites if not one of that contained in a book, of the book, by the book. This is true of the “law” as well, watch out as it gets thrown at you in book form and thank the stars, the heavens, the Elohim, the Seraphim, the Cherubim, that they don’t throw clay tablets.
Who shall tell what may be the effect of writing? If it happens to have been cut in stone, though it lie face down-most for ages on a forsaken beach, or ” rest quietly under the drums and tramplings of many conquests,” it may end by letting us into the secret of usurpations and other scandals gossiped about long empires ago: — this world being apparently a huge whispering-gallery. Such conditions are often minutely represented in our petty lifetimes. As the stone which has been kicked by generations of clowns may come by curious little links of effect under the eyes of a scholar, through whose labors it may at last fix the date of invasions and unlock religions, so a bit of ink and paper which has long been an innocent wrapping or stop-gap may at last be laid open under the one pair of eyes which have knowledge enough to turn it into the opening of a catastrophe. To Uriel watching the progress of planetary history from the sun, the one result would be just as much of a coincidence as the other.
Saith George Eliot, who was a woman engaged in helping her fellow beings recognize good from evil.
photo credit: JD Hancock