Let the Mothers and Fathers Speak

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I’m afraid I’ve become jaded.

Rarely do the newest of fiction and nonfiction books, and even poetry, speak to me as they once have. Lately I’ve had to force myself to read them, something you might glean from the rare reviews I’ve been posting. What’s wrong? Is it me? Have I simply read too many books with recurring structures, the same-old character types, the obvious conflicts and resolutions?

Or is there something lacking in these recent, highly publicized books? Is this why reading them doesn’t excite me as they once did?

As a writer I’ve been on a crusade to adopt what I deem the most workable of the postmodern structures, but I will forever maintain that the story is paramount, whatever other tinkering I allow myself to do. We should realize that the term postmodern signifies a belief that modernity is ending, as far as literature goes, but that it says nothing about what replaces modernity in the society that literature reflects.

So am I being a curmudgeon when I diss a lot of the latest acclaimed writing? I don’t think so, really. I read other reviewers reactions to these novels, memoirs, short story collections, etc. What has been slowly emerging is a respect for the technicality of these literary efforts. Along with that, however, is a palpable dissatisfaction with some perhaps intangible thing in the books they try so hard to like and rave about.

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So, what to do?

My answer is to go back to the masters of the past century. Mine is not a sentimental desire for what once was – although there’s a lot of that in the sensibilities that surround us these days. But I don’t think Twain, James, Cather, Hemingway, Faulkner, McCullers, O’Connor, et al, would have us dwell too long on the past. They didn’t, for the most part. But in reading those early works of modernity, you get a feel for the energy of their time, the way that energy affected lives. That’s what’s missing, I think; the passion of the moment in which we live.We writers need to be able to translate that energy, that passion, into characters and structures that all but dictate the story of our time.

And so what you’ll see of me here will for a time be my consultations with the mothers and fathers of twentieth century literature. I’ll write about their stories, but I’ll also try to speak to their underlying energy, the things that propelled those magnificent stories.

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Wars of the Annunaki, by Chris Hardy – Part 2

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My last post on this book, written halfway though the reading posed a lot of questions, some prescient, some unwarranted, some remaining unanswered. First let me set the stage for Professor Hardy’s project here:

  • She has examined texts of both Sumerian language and the later Akadian tongue favored in ancient Babylonia against multiple translations of the book of Genesis, most likely first written in an antiquated version of Hebrew.
  • The story goes beyond Adam and Eve’s alleged fall from grace to include the story of Abraham and his nephew Lot and the destruction of five major cities, including Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • She leans rather heavily on the instructions of semantics, particularly in discriminating informational passages from moral ones (here meaning how moral phrases either confirm or distort the actual historical events as written and passed down  for centuries.)

And so how do translations of Sumerian and Akadian tablets diverge from the much later versions of these events as written in Hebrew? Without reproducing Hardy’s tale altogether, Eve and Adam grew beyond simple vassal status to the so-called gods (the Annunaki) to gain self-reflection and -determination, which threatened the status of the gods. This instead of being tempted by Satan to commit evil – a much later distortion of the Sumerian/Akadian writings on this subject.

And the story of Lot in the later texts, when examined through the lenses of semantics and logic, bears little representation of a real life situation. First, in the oldest texts, the primary “god” Enlil, sought to destroy all of humanity because he considered humanity a failed experiment (with some weight given to the idea that human self-determination threatened his status and enraged him personally.) Depictions of the Annunaki in these texts awarded them no cause for concern over the moral questions later Hebrew texts used as a rationale for destroying this embryonic civilization. A war of the kings ensued, fully documented on some thousands of translated tablets. Enlil, victorious, now had the elbow room to destroy humanity from Palestine to western India. Geologic and archaeological investigations throughout this area found radioactive skeleton fragments and vitrified rock, indicating the possibility of weaponry from the gods with the potency of our modern nuclear bombs, rockets, etc. A simple example of later versions of Lot’s story’s questionable events: If God told Lot’s family not to look back, because if they did, they’d be turned to salt, then who looked back to note the nature of Sarah’s demise? How was this possible, anyway? Was this person also turned to salt? Or was this simply an assumption of her death because she fell behind and disappeared? The Sumerian texts claim she fell far behind and was vaporized in the weaponry explosions.

The story here is one of this poor, huddled mass of humans, including Adam and Eve, as pawns in an epic conflict between Enlil and another of the Annunaki, Enki, who had in fact done the DNA tinkering that gave humanity the possibility of accelerated evolution. Enki, perceiving humanity’s possibilities as a race, sought to preserve them, while Enlil sought to destroy what he considered a failed experiment.

Seen in this light, if there be a thread of truth through the Sumerian and Akadian texts and their subsequent translations, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Enki archetype, whomever might personify the archetype, for preserving a fragile, new race of creatures. This despite the paradox of war and destruction no doubt built into human DNA along with its preservation and protection.

My rating: 16 of 20 stars

 

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The River of Literature and Truth

This quote speaks to the enduring life behind literature. Literature is kind of like religious scripture; it manifests enduring truths and values wrapped in the clothing of its various eras, whereas the various scriptures are frozen in the time of their writing.

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“I can’t speak for readers in general, but personally I like to read stories behind which there is some truth, something real and above all, something emotional. I don’t like to read essays on literature; I don’t like to read critical or rational or impersonal or cold disquisitions on subjects.”

~ Laura Esquivel ~

Taking on Today’s Sophists

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Plato At The Googleplex – Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

There are times when I want a challenging read, and when Goldstein’s book came out, with hot to tepid reviews, I knew I had to read it. Philosophy, you see, has been an interest of mine for quite a while, particularly the proto-philosophy of Plato. The book did prove a challenge, as any by an academic might, but it proved well worth the effort.

So how did she put forth her position that philosophy is here to stay? She took an indirect path, pitting a 2400 year-old Plato against various intellectual disciplines from a Google coder to a Bill O’Reilly sound-alike to a scientist involved in brain studies. These rather charming inventions alternated with Goldstein’s own take on Plato and his mentor, Socrates, depict the modern intellectuals she allows Plato to take on as neo-sophists. In each fictive account, the author has Plato wait politely for his adversaries to stake out their positions and defend them with gaping holes in reasoning, then gently guide these intellectual miscreants back toward the beauty of truth.

Is there a fault in Goldstein’s depictions? Just one, in my view: that today’s sophists are likely to remain in their argument’s bubbles, never open at all to reason. And likely we’re now entering an age in which emotion and power prevail over a desire for truth, one in which Plato and Socrates would be seen by too many as kooks and intellectual provocateurs. But then this is very likely the same situation these two ancients put themselves into over two millennia ago.
My rating: 17 of 20 stars

 

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Looking for the Universal in Literature

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It’s so very tempting as a writer to have an agenda, to put your own personal set of ethics up front in whatever your write. This is the thrust of many religious writers, who get a serious case of “feel-good” by doing so. But are you underestimating your readers in doing this? Take Tolstoy, for instance.

You can look long and hard and not find a writer who was/is more devout in his/her faith than Leo Tolstoy. Still, he had the good sense to look for universal truths in his writing, as he made plain in this very short book of his. To my mind this accomplishes a very good thing – the one thing literature is all about: he puts his story and characters into a cultural context, but he couches the issues of the story in such a way that just may urge the reader to dig deeper than the personal, the current ethos.

Doing this is the heart of literature and, I believe, the thing that continues to urge readers to keep turning pages.

 

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Sometimes Telling the Truth Hurts

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One of the reasons readers seem so obsessed with nonfiction, I think, is that we all know that revealing our individual embarrassments hurts. We want to bare our souls about the things we keep hidden, but even thinking of doing so hurts. So we turn to those brave souls who have done this through the medium of memoir or personal essays. And Joan Didion, as in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, was a master of such self-disclosure. If you’re ready to learn by her example read this book of hers.

 

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Find Truth, Tell It

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With today’s media having been gobbled up by bottom-line-must-be-in-the black types, it’s hard for the book game to cultivate writers, and so we must do it ourselves. As I implied in this early post, writers have always found it hard to comment on their various societies, their foibles, their fledgling promise. We feel the pressure of politics, religion, and customs, aspects that support creaking social structures and deter us from looking at the unvarnished truths of our world. But this we must do; the power of the written word endures while politicians, preachers, and purveyors of the status quo wither and turn to dust. We writers and the fruits of our labors are the closest thing to immortality available in this evanescent world.

So be strong, writers. Don’t be swayed by the temporary comforts of politics, of religion and custom. Tell the truth, as you see it. Even though we’re mere chroniclers, our dedication to Truth, as Plato would have termed it, will outlast them all.

 

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