This Month: Hemingway's Leopard & Napoli
The Sun Also Rises and when it did on that day in 1926 it revealed a new author who could illuminate a story with an unusually abbreviated yet forceful style. The author had captured the public's attention immediately. His narrative and style was fresh, stark and engaging. After reading one of Earnest Hemingway's novels you might think; 'yes that's the way it is alright and well said.' Hemingway had a unique talent for sparse composition that alluded to a mood laying between the words and sentences. It was nuance and choosing the right words to convey atmosphere and it was a work of simple beauty. Readers and critics have referred to his style as the iceberg method. The composition was of the modernist style, notably absent of adjectives, exhibited in earlier works by James Joyce. Hemingway could tell a story of parental grief in one six word sentence, "For sale, baby shoes, never worn"' from the novel A Farewell to Arms. Also, he could challenge the reader with hidden dialogue between deceiving lovers to focus attention on a taboo subject in the short story The Hills Are Like White Elephants. It is one of the finest examples of hidden dialogue to be written.
Hemingway had a partnership with Calliope, if you prefer a romanticized explanation of a muse, and for some reason, possibly for his honesty to the craft, she favored him for many years. In those years the public became especially enthralled with his novels in roman a clef narrative of a life lived large from zenith to abyss. I read three of his novels, the first three, and then his novella about the old man and his seafaring misadventure. Certainly a unique fish story and the struggle of a humble man and an epic duel about any person facing impending failure with resolve. I came to the next novel not by any preference or duty, A Moveable Feast, which was published posthumously and possibly written ten to twelve years earlier. After his death Hemingway's reputation had gained mythical status with tales of his big game hunting, fist fighting bouts with friends, hard drinking and warring with fascists. He was the hyper-masculine male of his era in the cloak of the persona we were anxious to embrace. Judging by the title of the novel and his reputation I imagined Ernest rafting down an African waterway sipping cocktails while shooting Rhinos. No, not to be. The first few chapters were an endearing narrative of his early days. It was a life of desperate means, but it was a life enjoyed by young artists as they pursued their dreams with their compatriots. To be appreciated was Hemingway's observation of the lost generation of that era: "Just who was calling who the lost generation?" Well said since who was really lost and who had found themselves in this unique period. Who was in charge of the lost and found department? The story was Hemingway's nostalgic voyage of Jeune redux. Then I sped through the next few chapters and I was unimpressed. The following chapters were a litany of petty gossip that would compete with Louella Parsons' account of a Hollywood tell all scandal. At best he remained partially true to his writing style but I didn't have the appetite to finish the feast. I am mystified as to why so many people enjoyed that novel. Well it was Hemingway and it was Papa with fond memories.
In-between those novels I heard of a story between Hemingway and his uncle. The story takes place on Mt Kilimanjaro. Hemingway (in character) is hiking up the mountain, makes a turn in the path, and lying in the path is a dead leopard. The leopard apparently died very recently, perhaps only a day or so ago, did not show any signs of starvation, sickness, predatory attack, and it was not cold enough to die of exposure. Hemingway claimed the leopard had lost its scent and could not find its way to return to its den, became confused and resigned itself to a final end. The tale does require some imagination but then reading fiction require the suspension of disbelief. The story relates to his novel The Snows of Kilimanjaro. I did see the movie and it seemed to be a mess of a story and that spoiled the novel for me. I doubt that the novel was a bad as the movie. However, I did remember that story of the leopard.
Hemingway's writing style began to change in later years. Something had thrown him off course in his literary journey and his personal life. Suddenly he began writing in very long sentences, lacking the former style. He converted to a stream of consciousness method that was at times convoluted. His recent novel Across the River and Into The Trees was not well received by the critics or the general public. He had penned a couple of clunkers in his career. Also, there were medical complications from a couple of plane crashes in Africa, war injuries, and a serious car accident. His drinking had increased considerably. Troubles were mounting.
Friends know. They can tell when a wheel is straining on level ground, when a three quarter step replaces a full step, or when something formerly joyous becomes laborious. Friends and associates know the signs. They took him to the hospital. Doctors stuffed a bit in his mouth and ran high voltage currents through his cranium. In general terms it is a procedure used to reroute bad messages that become log jammed in neural pathways. When he emerged from the torture chamber he commented that the procedure was a success for the doctors but not for the patient. He couldn't continue writing and day to day living was a struggle. He took his shotgun into his office and wrote his last chapter, an irony of demise that was the leopard's story. He had lost his scent, his center, his purpose.
Most of us might claim that we haven't learned anything about the human condition from a Hemingway novel or any novel of literary fiction. A perceptive literary critic once claimed that we already know what is illustrated in the novel. So true I believe. What is essential about a good novel is the context and writing style in which people are characterized in given circumstances. It is written with such dynamic force that the story crystallizes. We already knew about the center to one's life but to put it in the raw structure of a leopard losing its scent makes it metaphorical and that creates a stronger impression. And the leopard's death....that forced it front and center as a truism. Hemingway was a wonderful illuminator.
By H.C. Wallace
By Vesuvius sagging shoulders/
they are cradled in the balance/
of the flame and the water/
The ancient kettle smolders/
while sea tongues whisper an omen/
A witness speaks of their delusion/
for living in the creation's caldron/
Surely they tease cremation/
as their nostrils will spew steam/
and bones crumble bitter to ash/
The witness they will not deny/
yet not omit their pleasures/
They sing, rejoice in shadow flames/
then dance at the mouth of the oven/
while a rumbling augur tells of ruin/
Children have their wicked rhymes/
that came with the first of days/
and recite poems of mystic rune/
The little ones who will not obey/
will be devoured by the angry mother/
Harpies gulp from a devil's ladle/
and swim in the molten metal/
They have their devious schemes/
and are envious of those laughing/
then belch sulfur from their kettle/
Desire runs to lava in longing arms/
and headboards tap the ancient walls/
Lulled in the music of amorous sighs/
they sleep deep on the vespers of evening/
rocked in the arms of Vulcan's vapor/
Tomorrow is shuttered deep in hope/
where the stoked furnace spews/
with the furious flame and smoke/
La vita is this moment/
the furnace may burn tomorrow/
Miles of Racism
it was 1959 and Miles Davis had just recorded and released his seminal jazz album Kind of Blue. It was only two years earlier that he had released his album Birth of The Cool to great acclaim among jazz aficionados.
He was performing at the jazz club Bird Land and at the conclusion of a set he walked outside to take a break. He accompanied a white woman to a waiting cab a few steps away and then returned to stand by the marquee. There were several people standing around and under the marquee. An NYC policeman approached Miles and told him to move along since he was loitering. Miles explained that he was working at the club and was taking a break. He pointed at the marquee; "That's me, Miles Davis." The officer ordered Miles to move along. The newspaper account claims that a scuffle ensued around Miles, the nature of which we don't know. A plain clothes officer rushed past the uniform policeman and struck Miles on the head with a billy club. Miles was taken to the hospital and received five stitches and the wound was bandaged. He was taken to the police station and charged with disturbing the peace. He was released on a $10,000 bond.
Why was Miles Davis singled out of the crowd? Further, how could he be loitering if he worked there? While most people in America did not know him outside of the jazz scene, people in NYC knew the name if they were jazz fans or not. Many people in NYC could recognize him from a photograph. Certainly the police of that precinct knew who he was. Who was this bespoke black man, a black man escorting a white woman, this man of immense talent who could perform for $400 for four hours hours of work? A policeman's salary was $100 a week. Was it envy because this black man rose above a status to which a white policeman thought he did not deserve?
The head wound, since not serious, was simply emblematic of that evening. The following day someone wrote a blurb in a neighborhood newspaper: "crazed jazz musician falls headlong into a policeman's billy club." A bit of satire on the jazz music form and a poke at what was certain to be a laughable narrative from the police department. The event can be characterized as a personal racist action of an agent of the government. The policeman's personal animosity become the law that evening in lieu of respecting the freedom of a private citizen. The crimes committed were the false accusation by the NYC police department of disturbing the peace and assault. Dorothy Kilgallen the NYC columnist and a friend of Miles who was at the club witnessed in part the event. Her column the following day exposed the truth of that evening. She rightly pilloried the NYC police department for their abusive treatment of a black person. The charge of disturbing the peace against Miles was dropped...precipitated by the newsprint? Probably it had some influence.
In 1949 Miles Davis and his quintet accepted a tour invitation to Paris. The quintet was booked to play at the first Paris international jazz festival since the war. Nothing could have prepared Davis for the reception he would receive in Paris. "It changed the way I looked at things forever. I loved the way I was treated. Paris was where I understood that all white people are not the same."
The quintet performed at the Salle Pleyel concert hall to enthusiastic crowds and it become obvious to Miles that the French considered jazz to be very important music. Davis was soon introduced to Boris Vian, the polymath. Boris introduced Davis to Picasso and Jean Paul Sartre. The group would sit together in hotels, cafes and clubs in the Saint Germain district and discuss the topic of the day, music, the art scene and philosophy (I'm sure Sartre captured his attention). It wasn't long before Miles took up with the French actress Juliette Greco and they soon fell in love. They would explore Paris together and the sight of a white woman and a black man did not cause a second glance, unless they recognized Miles and waved to him.
Miles was stunned at the freedom he had in Paris. The country he left behind was still segregated, discrimination was common and most US states enforced anti-miscegenation laws. Miles said that when he was in France he felt as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders, he had lost that tense feeling, he could walk around day or night without being on guard, he could stay in any hotel, eat in any restaurant, and walk into any cafe. He returned to Paris again through his career and it must have been a haven, a respite for him to be treated as an equal. I can imagine that on that dark evening at Bird Land in 1959 Miles thoughts returned to Paris, freedom, and equality.
Miles bought a Lamborghini after he achieved international acclaim and the wealth that went with that. In a magazine interview he said he expected that any day a policeman would pull him over and ask him if he had permission to drive his master's car. Black humor. But the truth of the statement is evident. He was not driving that Lamborghini in Paris.
Note: After WWI many African American soldiers assigned to American units and French units remained in France to enjoy a new life of equality and opportunity.
I am fortunate to receive channel ZLVNG. I can review a part of my youth as they air reruns of Route 66. The era of its run could not be classified as the The Golden Age or certainly not the High Culture Age of television. However, it was a significant era for engaging entertainment: Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Steven Allen, The Twilight Zone. There was a special niche in that era that also produced some serious drama.
Of course for the teen set it was the Corvette that was eye candy to lure us into the journey along Route 66. We could be encouraged that Martin Milner and George Maharis were not so far beyond our age group. We could relate to their freedom. In our imagination we were on that endless road trip to freedom and adventure in that sports car. If not mistaken, I believe it to be the only road trip theme to air on television. That made the series the essential American drama. The broad expanse, multicultural atmosphere, and scenic beauty of America was well suited for a road trip. With screenwriters like Stirling Silliphant and Sam Pekinpah at the steering wheel we were sure to find adventure, humor, and excitement as we got our kicks on Route 66.....and don't forget Winona. Although the transportation theme was Americana, the journey was not about America. It was not about discovering or revealing American culture. It was universal. The two friends, Buz and Tod, were compelling characters of contrast with opposing pedigrees who struck up an unlikely friendship. One was the intellectual from a wealthy family and the other was a Hell's Kitchen orphan born into a tough life. In each episode we witness this unlikely pair appreciate and bicker with one another and we have the stories of the people that they discovered on the road. The pair weigh in with different perspectives from their background on the angst of the characters they meet. In some episodes Buz and Tod were participants and willing to offer a helping hand or some practical advice to a troubled soul. In other episodes they were casual observers to the human interest stories that unfolded. The road under the tire tracks of the Corvette is symbolic of the path to understanding themselves and others.
The performance and script of these stories can be characterized as much by what they were not, as well as what they were. There was no violence for the sake of violence, the plots did not cloy to our emotions, and there was little of convenient coincidence in the plots (no Charles Dickens here). They did explore crimes of the heart, there was character conflict, characters arc, perceptive dialogue, problems examined, and resolution. It was not Shakespearian, but it was worthy drama. A few of the episodes did not have a specific meaning since they were existential in nature. These stories asked questions to which resolution is not achieved. I was clueless as to what existential was at that age, but I was attracted to a story that was well told and did not have an essential answer. I simply knew that they were searching for something in human behavior that was puzzling or they found a circumstance that they could not fully define.
I like to think that Tod and Buz are still motoring west looking for the next story....it winds from Chicago to L.A./more than two thousand miles/now you go through St. Louis, Joplin Missouri......
Von Braun's Firmament
The inscription on the tombstone of Werner Von Braun reads Psalms 19:1. It references the passage: The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth his handywork. For the unkind a sardonic inscription could have been: He aimed for the stars but hit England, the famous quote from Robert Benchley upon Von Braun's arrival to America from post war Germany.
Von Braun was interested in rocket science and space travel since early childhood. After his graduation from the Technical University of Berlin and The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Zurich he gained a reputation as the man who could possibly design and develop a prototype of a rocket propelled craft. Word of this wunderkin spread and reached the German Army Ordnance Department and they enlisted his help to develop a weapon using rocket technology and Von Braun agreed. Why Not? The unlimited resources required to fulfill his dream of space travel was at his disposal. Soon V-1 and V-2 rockets were descending on England. The firmament sheweth terror with Von Braun's handywork. Incidentally, the V stood for vengeance.
After the war Von Braun and 127 of his associates surrendered to the American forces to avoid possible capture by the Russians. Over the next few years many other German Engineers and technicians were recruited from Germany. The State Department was eager to develop a rocket to launch ICBMs since they were fearful that the Russians would be the first. There was a distinct fear in political circles that Stalin would launch nuclear ICBMs at America. Some believed that to be highly unlikely since Stalin appeared to be more interested in using subversive tactics against non-communist countries and he was preoccupied at the time with purging his own citizenry. The fear mongers in our government and newspapers launched a better publicity campaign and won the day. American security and pride were at stake. The whisper in political circles was: let's forget Von Braun's affiliations and get to space. His talents were put to use immediately. First, there was a technical problem to overcome. Our Redstone rocket had developed had a nasty habit of exploding on the launch pad. Von Braun was quick to point out the malfunction. The fuel pumped into the combustion chamber flowed unevenly and then ignited chaotically which resulted in extreme torsion in the chamber. The result was catastrophic failure. Engineers modified the design of the combustion chamber to achieve an even flow of fuel. The problem was solved and we soon sent our first satellite into space. With this quick resolution his engineering talents were reaffirmed. It was not only the engineering talent that made him a standout among others. This tall, handsome man possessed a charismatic personality that lured doubting politicians to his cause for space exploration. Von Braun was a celebrity attraction for the public and the newsprint clamored for every word from the photogenic man with the thick German accent. His personality served him well in his management role with his team members. He was an inspiration to other engineers and technicians.
He continued on his mission and further refined the Redstone into the Jupiter rocket that propelled Alan Shepard into space in 1961. His ideas continued to be instrumental in the rocket program through the 1970's and he was promoted to Director of NASA, Marshall Space Flight Center. He remained primarily interested in the dream of having a platform to send a man to the moon. He was chief architect of the Saturn Five rocket that sent the Apollo astronauts to the moon in 1969. That Saturn technology was also used to launch our first ICBM.
Irrespective of Von Braun's popularity and talent there were rumors in the undercurrent of society. This man's past must be considered. Some could pose a simplistic moral parallel. We should not have engaged Von Braun's help since he aided and abetted the Nazi Party. Thus, do we condone his participation by bringing him into our fold? The polar opposite moral is that nothing we do will bring back the dead. What is done cannot be undone. Is there any moral question to be considered with accepting Von Braun? He was not charged with a war crime as was neither the typical German artillery officer or the pilot of a Heinkel bomber. Was that officer guilty of killing civilians? Certainly, but so were the pilots of the U.S. bomber group that fire bombed Dresden, Germany. There remains other issues that cause complications. The complex where the team worked, Peenemunde, was constructed and serviced by slave labor from a nearby Nazi concentration camp. Prisoners died in that camp. Von Braun was aware of the camp and had visited it on several occasions. Additionally, he was a member of the Nazi Party and a Major in the German Army. His knowledge of the affairs at Peenemunde drew others to conclude that he indirectly approved of the concentration camp. He had turned a blind eye to the inhumane treatment. It could be that Von Braun's actions and our State Department's acceptance of his complicity could best be characterized by an old Asian proverb, Who you are is what room you are in at the time. Our government was in a room of opportunity in place and time and Von Braun was in a room of opportunity in place and time. There was a door connecting the two. He was willing to ignore the inhumane treatment and deaths of his fellow man to satisfy his ambitions and our government was willing to ignore the same inhuman treatment and deaths to satisfy their ambitions. Von Braun made a Faustian deal to satisfy his appetite for space travel and he knew what he was getting into with the Nazi Party. Hitler's bigoted rhetoric had been publicized around the world. Von Braun must have been aware of Kristallnacht in 1938. It was in 1939 that he joined the National Socialist Party. In his own words to American authorities: "Thus my refusal to join the party would have meant that I would have to abandon the work of my life". That is tacit approval of the Nazi Party. It is the act of taking the oath. It could be true that he later came to disapprove of the Nazi manifesto. In 1944 Von Braun was heard to make a disparaging remark about the Nazi Party and the Gestapo arrested him and held him in prison for several weeks. He was eventually released and we cannot know either the seriousness of the matter or exactly what either party claimed. He may have been very eager to relate his story to the U.S. authorities and to the public. Von Braun claimed that as the war continued the engineering crew had become extremely anti-Nazi and anti-Hitler. But aren't these only conveniences? Did anyone at the Peenemunde site know about the holocaust? They all denied knowledge.
The circumstance of Von Braun was as complex as was the man. He is not guilty and he is not innocent. It was his tacit approval of the Nazi Party, a lack of character, that he exhibited with his decision. To look the other way, to skirt around the edges of morality with compromised authorities to achieve one's ambition is a common story. It is human nature. These actions which evolve on the questionable edge of morality are generally forgiven by society if the results are beneficial.
Herr Doctor Baron Von Braun, the prince of vengeance and the prince of light, revealed the light through the door to a new horizon. We would become the Magellans of our age to explore the universe and discover new worlds that lay beyond. We would awake from that age old dream of space travel, our aspirations to be fulfilled. Complexities indeed.
Note: for all of our efforts the Russians were the first to launch a satellite, first to send an animal into space, sent the first man into space, sent the first object to hit the moon, first to fly by the moon and first to photograph the far side of the moon.
(the day of reminding)
by H C Wallace
The flags remain furled, the tin trumpets rest mute/
no granite statue has risen, history will not share/
a golden crepuscule will sigh and sink indifferent/
while the busy clanging of everyday pierces the air/
A world plays in frenzied pace chooses not to confirm/
but we in this mourning will interrupt for our moment/
for a humble recalling of their brevity holding our turn/
when we were drawn with devotion into their orbit/
We recount their years lived to this day of sleep/
and dispose to the quick of shadowed rhymes writ/
for we compose ours inked on their spirit to keep/
bitter and sweet depart, to the winds they submit/
we whisper our elegies on this minor departing/
and know the wind will consume our dust swiftly/
This book should not be tossed aside lightly, it should be thrown with great force, Dorothy Parker's review of Benito Mussolini's novel The Cardinal's Mistress
Julian, by Gore Vidal
The Roman Emperor Julian, 361 A.D. was given the title The Apostate by the Christians. The title is not undeserving but he could as well have been given the title The Resurgent. Julian proved to be a man of letters through his life into his days as the emperor. That was atypical for a Roman Emperor. Julian bequeathed three journals of his brief life for posterity. Gore Vidal has used these journals as the enormous palette of this period of Roman history to tell the story of an emperor of the post Hellenist period who stubbornly defended the old gods and culture of Hellenism against the wave of Christianity. Vidal colors in the history with the imaginative prose of dialogue, court intrigue, treason, and character conflict. In doing so, he stays within the margins of the accepted Roman history that is familiar to us. The brief history of Julian is a significant revivalist movement and Vidal has followed the critical sign posts of this period in his work of historical fiction.
Christianity had taken a foothold in the Roman Empire before the birth of Julian. His Uncle Constantine was the first emperor to adopt the new religion and decreed Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. He was a professional soldier with ambitions who had appreciation for political power and he wisely detected the emerging popularity of the new religion. Possibly, he saw this as a means to an end. At an early age the orphan Julian was assigned a tutor, Mardonius. Mardonius schooled Julian in the principles of Hellenism to include sophistry, rhetoric, virtue, aesthetics, the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and the ancient stories of Homer. Julian also studied the bible and remained a Christian through his youth. In adulthood he came to embrace the principles of Hellenism as more sensible for a harmonious and meaningful life than the new religion referred to as Galilean.
Julian maintained a lengthy period of celibacy in adulthood and adopted the lifestyle of a priest. On his journey as a priest throughout the Roman Empire he meets others who have sharp opinions of the new religion. Why are Christians slandering and destroying those of other religions because they did not share similar beliefs? Aren't we tolerant of the Egyptians who believe in other gods? This is something new to us. How can the father, the son and the holy spirit be one and the same if the son is of mortal blood? The Jews of the Old Testament were monotheists and the Galileans have professed the triple god of the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit. The Galileans must be atheists. Why are these Christians so preoccupied with death, the life afterward, as opposed to the Hellenists who appreciate life and question their existence and practice the aesthetics of life? Are we to believe there was no god until the appearance of a rabble rousing carpenter three hundred years ago? Hellenists professed that Jesus was crucified for sedition . Was the first god, the god of the Jews and the lawgiver, die then replaced by another god of the Gospels? These are critical questions from the viewpoint of the Hellenists who believed that humans cannot die as gods but confer with gods through mysticism or magic (after death, Elysium, in Homer's original view, was a place only for heroes and then apart from the gods). Did not the philosophers of Greece explain more logically and completely the fall of man through the tales of Prometheus? Did not Homer explain in explicit detail the creation of man and nature through his stories? The bible is full of ambiguities, contradictions, and absurdities. Our gods are not confused since they are immutable and constant. These are not disingenuous questions or mere sophistry. Hellenism was ingrained in the culture of humanity for hundreds of years. The stories of Homer were taken as answers to the spirit and life of man. How could a religion be new? What would follow our gods would have to be false. However, in the undercurrent of these dismissive opinions of Christianity unease brewed in the Hellenist ranks. Diocletian had issued a decree years previously that all boys would follow in their father's vocation. The rule was intended to insure that skills would not be abandoned or forgotten in their society. Additionally, reading and writing were neither required or endorsed. The Christians gave their children the freedom to pursue their vocations. Most importantly the Christians promoted literacy in their homes and private schools. Christians had become interpreters, secretaries to senators, worked for libraries, and held jobs in commerce. The new faith had also spread through the military ranks.
During Julian's travels his half brother Gallus was made Caesar in the east. Gallus proved to be an able warrior but proved to be reckless with his authority and was found guilty of treason, the catch all crime of that era, and was executed. Julian went into hiding since it was a dangerous time for him. Would he be assassinated as a possible usurper to the throne? He could be under suspicion since he was in the lineage of Constantius II. It was decided that he should be sent to Gaul as a general. In Gaul he became famous as a leader capable of subduing the marauding Franks. Gaul was safe and secure. The legions were enamored of his skills and conferred upon him the title Caesar. He accepted.... in feigned gratitude. Julian had adopted Hellenism to include the old gods during his time in Gaul. Julian advances to the title Augustus while in Paris and Constantius II proclaims that Julian will succeed him as Emperor. Shortly thereafter Constantius II dies.
Julian's first objective as emperor was to reform the government of the Roman Empire. He eliminated hundreds of bureaucratic positions in the central government and ceded considerable power to the individual local governments. Government stipends to the Christian community were eliminated. Was the empowerment of the cities an attempt to emulate the city states of Greece?Julian attempts to restore the old gods to their rightful place and restore the temples which have fallen into disrepair. The attempt proves difficult since many of the old Hellenist priests have long since died. Julian tells his friend that he will fight the Galileans with reason and by example and he will not despair the effort. He feels that in time he will be able to restore the temples and recruit young priests.
After a brief period in Antioch, Julian devised a plan to secure his eastern border from occasional raids by Persian operatives by laying siege to the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon. The full motivations were unclear at the time but it quickly became obvious that he had deeper ambitions. It was claimed by those in his circle that he longed for revenge against Persia. Julian reflects on Alexander the Great and his exploits as emperor. Could he follow the example of Alexander? Is there a twofold ambition? Alexander was a follower of the old gods and his teacher in youth was Aristotle. He was an apt model for Julian as a king and conqueror. Shouldn't the Roman Empire extend itself to lay claim to that old enemy Persia as did Alexander? It was Xerxes who burned Athens the name sake of Athena and a center of Hellenism. Could the old gods and culture of Hellenism be restored fully after its dissolution. Julian readies his army of 90,000 soldiers and begins the Persian campaign.
Julian's army wins a few minor battles and after several weeks of progress into the heart of Persia lays siege to major cities. Persian cities are burnt, some officials are executed, treasure and slaves taken. Three months into the campaign Julian wins a major battle along the Tigris nearer the city of Ctiesphon. Sapor, the Emperor of Persia, continues retreating with his army and remains secure in the capitol city. Sapor sues for peace and considerations are extended to Julian. Sapor offers Julian a large fortune in gold and a province in the empire of Persia in exchange for peace and a Roman retreat from Persia. Julian does not answer Sapor and continues his progress. In the next battle Julian is mortally wounded with a spear and dies in a few days.... age thirty-three. The Roman army retreats.
Sapor's offer to Julian does not comport with most annals of the Persian Campaign and the cause of Julian's death is generally referred to as unknown circumstances. There were several stories circulating at the time and in later years. It is here that Vidal takes the podium with his version to express his severe appraisal; a rebuke of Christianity. Julian's doctor removes the spear from Julian and identifies it as a Roman spear. It must have been Callistus, a Christian convert and the personal protector of Julian who delivered the fatal wound to Julian. It must have happened in the confusing torrent of battle. There were no witnesses to the killing. How fitting that a Christian would dispatch the aspiring emperor of resurgent Hellenism in an act of violence. And ironic that Julian was to die as a flawed hero as it would have played in a Greek (Hellenism) tragedy.
What was to follow the rise of Christianity but a thousand years of religious pogroms, crucifixions, gruesome crusades, and raw bigotry. Then in that journey they abandoned their dedication to literacy. What came with Christianity was the loss of tolerance. The Christians were intolerant and absorbed with a self-righteous doctrine; convert or burn at the stake. It bore the face of fascism since they strove to force their ideas to become your ideas.
Over a thousand years after Julian's death Spinoza arrived to proclaim that the bible was a fantasy story and that god existed in the laws of nature.
It would not be fair to label the novel as a podium for Vidal to crucify the Christians (although Vidal does bring some heavy artillery to the fore). Vidal breaths life into the Roman past and explores Julian's maturation, his relationships, and conflicts in a way to carve a personality from a Roman statue. Buried therein, Vidal, subtly via his characters, poses critical ethical and religious concepts of the day. Neither would it be fair for the reader to claim that Julian was simply hungry for power. Every political or religious figure wants power. Power can be judged by motive, means, and results. A serious student of the tolerance of Hellenism would not have unjust motives nor employ murderous means. One may be tempted to label Julian as a quixotic character but that would be in error since what he fought was an actual threat and what he pursued was a cultural ideal. The more plausible explanation is that Julian was a religious romantic who dreamed of the golden age of Hellenism that through his studies and influences held a deeper devotion. It was a sentiment of something in the past that held greater glory and promise than the present day.
It is a possibility that Julian could have won the day in Persia. Would Hellenism in full have been restored? There was confusion among Romans concerning the behavior of this intellectual Emperor. Roman citizens and senators were accustomed to having an emperor who was above them. The emperor should sit on a throne above the people, should not give long winded lectures to the senate as would a politician, and above all should not walk among the citizens. Julian had these unsettling habits. Romans wanted a hero who rose above them, not to be one of them. Was this Apostate too democratic? How would the common citizens and senators accommodate themselves to Julian's idiosyncratic political methods? What would a shift in this cultural paradigm mean for the future?
Notes: I have used the term Hellenists to specifically describe those in the novel who professed the Hellenism culture well past the ending of the Hellenistic era. Alternately, there were those who embraced the Greek culture of Hellenism but rejected polytheism and accepted Christianity in this same period. Those are briefly referred to in the bible.
From the 1970's on I would follow Vidal as he traveled the T.V. talk show circuit: Johnny Carson,, Charlie Rose, or Dick Cavett. He was always good for a few witticisms or pithy barbs. He was always ready to stick a pin in some over inflated balloon. Novelist, essayist, lecturer, historian, playwright, screenwriter, and iconoclast. He loved America for its possibilities. Our country is a lesser place without him.
Quote: You can have friends or you can correct people's grammar, Mary Norris, copy editor
Greta Has a Fever
The same discussions will always follow the Time Person of The Year selection. It will be said that another face should adorn the cover of Time Magazine, another story or another subject has greater historical significance. It is understandable since the choice is subjective and the options depend on anyone's focus as to what is a relevant issue. We all have our individual hot button likes, favorite personalities and events. Subjective...however the choice is intended to be a subject of current and historical significance and person or persons who most affected our lives for good or ill. Adolph Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi were previously selected and they made appropriate book ends for the range of ill to good on the Time bookshelf. Greta Thunberg is now referred to in headlines and conversation simply as Greta as are Hitler and Gandhi in terms of worldwide familiarity.
Greta is an appropriate choice since her message is the most popular and widely covered story of 2019. Revised forecasts by climatologists strongly warn of a nearing climate disaster for our planet and this warning plays in the news on a daily basis. The story is rife with anger, fear and regret since it is perceived that we have forsaken our duty of stewardship of the earth. Greta's message of man made damage resonated with the general public and ignited the masses to march on their governments and corporations and challenge them to change direction. Her message is a poignant and revealing accusation. It is an accusation that the older generation have been corrupt and self serving in their negligence and thus endangered the lives of the children of the world. Those of the older generation will probably not see the full effect of their misdeeds but the children of the world will suffer the consequences of their actions. She has struck the guilt chord in the older generation and pushed the youth of the world into action. Beware when the youth grab a cause, it will become a movement.
There is a unique characteristic of the person that accentuates the message. She is a child, a teen, with the physical appearance of a preteen. It may even be deemed a fascination with her. It is a reason that pulls at us, consciously or not. We are all familiar with those passages in the bible, religious tracts or novels that refer to children: "and a child came forth and said..." or "a child delivered the message..." It is a literary device intended to sway the audience favorably. If a child of innocence brings a wise proclamation then certainly adults should be just as wise. The child courageously appears at the United nations and strolls up to the podium to deliver her message. Shouldn't adults have such courage?
She is not the scientist, but she is the student who has taken the trend analysis of the climatologists as an absolute truth and developed her message accordingly. Her message is overly pessimistic by stating that we are experiencing massive species extinctions worldwide and her belief that alternative uses of energy and its immediate remedial effect are overly optimistic. We cannot be certain that these embellished claims are intentional. If so, she is an astute prophet by presenting the severest scenario of climate change and conversely proposing solutions that make it seem that change is easily in our grasp. She delivers this message in an authoritative voice, a stern expressionless face, and without hesitation as the solemn prophet who delivers the word to the masses. She expects us to follow her word or face the consequences of falling off the edge of the point of no return
Her message is of historical significance since it is a seminal event of the youth's challenge to corporations and governments. All generations are questioning politicians about their position on non-carbon based energy sources and they threaten with their votes if they don't get acceptable answers. The movement is not new and not one that she started but she gave it a global force that it did not have previously. Greta, the child messenger, will be remembered as the girl who caught a fever from our warming planet and spread the fever.
An exclusive country club once asked me to be a member. I told them if they wanted someone like me as a member I wouldn't want to be in the club. Groucho Marx
Our call to arms worldwide today is Man Made Climate Change and our response is Declare War on Climate Change. The answer has become a tidal wave of political action to reset the natural order of the climate for planet earth. Alas, we are late with our enthusiasm. It was a prediction and warning of scientists forty years ago. However, while the empirical modeling was generally accepted as accurate there were few anomalies within the range of our senses to grab our attention. If we could not see the results of our carbon based life style then it must not be urgent. The climate was not changing before our eyes and consequently we continued to casually listen and not act.
In the not so distant past we dealt with two critical environmental issues. One was related to the climate and the other was related to our health. CFCs were being dispersed into the atmosphere with deleterious effects on the ozone layer. CFCs were eventually banned over a ten year period. Lead molecules were belching from our automobiles and our health was at risk. It took about fifteen years to reduce lead in gasoline. These two issues were relatively easy to tackle since they were one dimensional environmental problems and the solutions did not interrupt our daily life style to any serious extent. The problems could have been accomplished in a couple of years if it were not for political and corporate resistance. We can rally to relatively simple problems quickly and scientists can provide solutions. The immediate problem captures our attention and the problem that is distant avoids immediate attention. The flu shot that you need next week is on your mind today, your annual physical in six months is only on your iphone calendar.
Today man made climate change is accepted as fact by the scientific community and the populace has fallen in line with their predictions. Plans for resetting the climate are being promoted by politicians and it has become an election issue. The youth around the world are speaking up, demonstrating, and demanding action. These are the usual criteria for a movement. Not only is the climate changing, but it is progressing with a rapidity not previously predicted. In the past five years we have increased fuel mileage for cars and trucks,sold electric cars and built an untold number of solar panels and windmills. During this period the carbon emission count has increased and by the year it has increased exponentially (exponentially as a numeric expression to be raised as opposed to a verbal expression). The remedial influences that have been introduced have undoubtedly had some positive effect but scientists calculate that there is an increasing carbon foot print each year. Carbon usage increased or accumulated beyond what was implemented to offset emissions. There are compelling reasons for the exponential factor. The worldwide population continues to increase and for the past ten years the economy around the world has been in an expansion phase. With economic expansion came increased production since more durable and consumer goods are sold and with the expansion phase we use more energy in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas. It appears that we cannot reach the break even point with our current efforts. This problem is not about using paper straws. The solution requires a 180 degree turn in our life style.
Given the trend analysis we can expect severe changes in the climate which will bring more severe tornadoes, hurricanes and forest fires with greater frequency and accelerated polar melting leading to rising ocean levels. The day has arrived when we can see these effects and many have personal experiences with recurring heat waves, frequent flooding and hurricanes. The damage is apparent with decreasing fishing harvests , wildlife fleeing their natural habitats and dying coral reefs. The solutions are wise and well intended. The current movement demands more solar panels, electric batteries for cars and trains, thermal energy, wind and wave power, and biomass all of which are currently a minor portion of our total energy production. However, we are using carbon based resources to manufacture solar panels, windmills, and equipment for natural gas wells so as we produce carbon free products we are burning carbon to reduce our carbon foot print. A better trade off assuredly, but we can see the unavoidable effect of adding more carbon to emit less carbon. The law of physics holds true that one consumes a source of energy to produce energy. An additional problem arises from our inability to find a method to store energy produced from wind power, wave power, and solar.
What will happen around the world while we strain to get past the exponential increase factor and then how many years will it take to actually reduce the carbon emissions by a significant amount? The more ingenious solutions may be years away from fruition. There are numerous designs for smaller, safer nuclear power units that could take considerable time for development. What is the possible cost? Water to hydrogen is an intensive process that consumes energy and the distribution of hydrogen is problematic for safety reasons. The challenges are enormous and the effects on civilization in the interim phase of reducing carbon emissions significantly will be devastating. There will be massive migrations out of already desperate countries. Where will they locate? There could be food shortages as extreme weather ravages farm land and fishing areas, there could be serious relocation issues in shoreline cities, taxes could rise to support energy efficient projects, there could be revolutions, riots, and people might be thrown out of work as resources contract and jobs in the old technologies evaporate. All of these disasters are conceivable if the trend analysis is marginally accurate. We will be racing to a continuously moving finish line.
In spite of the odds we will continue the efforts for reduced carbon emissions as we should. Our best efforts may only lead us to a bleak future of a mere existence but it will be an existence. It will be a dystopia of severely compromised living conditions with lower life expectancy, intermittent riots, rampant disease and little hope for future generations . If our best efforts fail our planet will
become a sister to Venus; burned out and uninhabitable. The last tribe that survived will have left a tome behind for another species in the universe. It will be a story of a voracious animal that consumed everything within easy reach without consideration for future generations. They were capable of great accomplishments and great ideas but they created a problem that they could not solve. In their desperate journey of self-destruction they disproved a favorite human adage that was: it's never too late. If the trend analysis holds true.
Quote: I hate quotations. Tell me what you know., Ralph Waldo Emerson
I watched a program on NatGeo about two or three years ago that narrated the most arid places on earth. Naturally most arid places are the deserts, but also included was the Antarctic region which receives less snowfall/moisture than some deserts. Included in this program was an item describing the Atacama desert of Chile. There is an observatory in the Atacama that was chosen for its extreme altitude and scarce cloud cover. More or less this is a recent criteria for the location of observatories. I was curious about the observatory and I down loaded a few photographs from the internet. Was I amazed. The celestial view with the naked eye was extraordinary. There it was; a panoply of bright stars from horizon to horizon. There was absolutely no obstruction in the view.
As a youngster I vividly recall standing in the open pasture of our farm late in the evening gazing at the stars. The stars stretched from horizon to horizon and fueled my youthful imagination. Would we ever set foot on the moon and what would we find there? Were there other worlds populated with strange beings and would they descend someday to visit us? It was not only in the distant farm lands where the view was unobstructed. You could find a location in the suburbs where the starry horizon met the ground and a person could have the same inspiring view of the night sky.
The brightly lit universe from our eyesight has dimmed considerably over time. The shimmering canopy has become a smudge obscured by flood lights, headlights of cars, street lights,security lights, twenty four hour stores fully lit from sundown to sunrise. Adding to the obscurity are the particles of progress which are emissions from industry, autos, buses, and trucks. Seldom can one have a clear view of the stars since the sky has become an opaque blur of commercial, industrial and residential man made light. The night sky has become a soup speckled in faded white dots cleaved by shafts of a yellowish blur. It is difficult to be aware of a degradation that evolves over an extended period of time. The eye becomes accustomed to the changes. We certainly are not spending our idle time star gazing on a daily basis unless you are an astronomer. Additionally, whose who are younger did not have a frame of reference for what the heavenly view was in the past. The evolution occurred without our daily observations and the clarity faded without fanfare.
Later I noticed the change when I drove past our former family farm. It was a cloudless spring night, about nine o 'clock. I pulled my car to the side of the road and walked to the barbed wire fence. I looked in the direction of the creek which was the rear boundary line of the farm and I witnessed a broad band of light behind the tree line stretching over the entire horizon. The horizon and part of the sky above had become blurred. Since the days of my youth another community had sprung up beyond the tree line and their lights had captured the horizon and held the stars hostage. The stars of my youth had vanished and I left there thinking of the former brilliance of my youthful starry nights that were similar to that photograph of the Atacama. I thought of mankind taking a step forward with an eraser and sacrificing something wondrous from the past. When we rush to the future it is possible that we may lose something of worth. It does not have to be a destruction or burial of an artifact, but it can be something as simple as a natural wonder beyond our touch.
When she was in finishing school she proclaimed that the immaculate conception was a case of spontaneous combustion. She was seventeen years old. Anyone would have made a prediction that she would be famous or infamous, but certainly not obscure. Fame? Yes. The Portable Dorothy Parker remained in publication years after her passing. She was a recipient of the O. Henry Award, two academy award nominations, critic for the New Yorker, and Vanity Fair, screenwriter, essayist, poet and inductee into the Academy of Arts and Letters. Infamous? Somewhat. She was snared in the Red Scare net and forced to face the House Un-American Activities Committee. She eventually made the Red Channel List which was a pamphlet of communists and socialists who were deemed undesirables. We aren't sure of her politics but we do know that she donated money to the refugees of fascist Spain. Perhaps there were some communists intermingled in that cause. Her detractors did aim to throw her into obscurity. She was characterized in some circles as merely a wise cracking flapper of little merit.
In fairness, she achieved popularity, had a devout following, and made a contribution to the modernist movement in poetry and prose. Dorothy could certainly cast a suspicious, if not sardonic, eye at sentimentality. She recognized it as a seductive falsehood. She could carefully peel back the facade to reveal the essential meaning of any story. The prose and poetry is a rejection of romanticism and sentimentality. She could rub up against brilliance at times. She could turn her laser beam on the foibles of modern society, write with elegance, compose deceptive, hidden dialogue for screenplays and critic a theatrical production with the best of them. Undoubtedly, one or two of her poems would be included in any anthology of 20th century American poetry. However, It is questionable if she would have a place in the pantheon of essential writers. It was the overabundant sarcasm, cynicism and wisecracks that carry a tinge of cheapness. Her life long battle with depression was too often embedded in her work. She was at her best when she reached beyond the interiors of her personal disappointments.
She described her time at the Algonquin Round Table by observing that she and her friends (Benchley, Harpo Marx, Woollcott and others) wasted their time by exchanging pithy one liners. The real literati; Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner were making great contributions to literature. Did she lament that she was capable and regretted wasting her talent? Was she a person of regrets? She should not have total regret since she was an important part of Americana. She was in that circle of wits and clever wordsmiths with Groucho Marx, Bennett Cerf. Rbt, Benchley, and Alex Woolcott. It was an evolution from the age of corny humor, romanticism, and boorish sentimentality. She was on the cusp of the wave and her talent overshadowed her contemporaries. Much of her work has traveled well, she remains quite quotable and if we could bring her back she would relish the opportunity to lampoon our music, reality television, Twitter, and our social institutions. Few would escape her saber flicks.