Friday, October 30, 2009

Crumb Reviewed

Shaw points us to two reviews of R. Crumb's illustrated The Book of Genesis:

David Hajdu in the Times has a few images from the book, and David Colton in USA Today interviewed Crumb in France:
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest who writes about pop culture and who has seen excerpts of the book, says Crumb is only the latest artist to bring the Bible to a new generation.
Did Paradise Lost seem quite so provocative to 17th Century England?

It might also be worth pondering Crumb's very "human" approach to Genesis in contrast with what Prof. Rogers describes as Milton's effort to be at, or before, the beginning of all poetry, all history, all time:
Milton wants to create the illusion that he's predicting, or that he's prophesying, the actions recounted in the poem, as if Milton were prophesying what of course we know to be already past. This is the strategy of retrospective anticipation. Lecture 9.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Portraits of Milton

The reception of Milton is interesting. He is clearly not everyone's cup of tea. Here's Dr. Johnson, whom we last encountered ripping Lycidas to shreds, here being critical of the poet's whole political cast of mind:
Milton's republicanism was, I am afraid, founded in an envious hatred of greatness, and a sullen desire of independence; in petulance impatient of controul, and pride disdainful of superiority. He hated monarchs in the state and prelates in the church; for he hated all whom he was required to obey. It is to be suspected that his predominant desire was to destroy rather than establish, and that he felt not so much the love of liberty as repugnance to authority. Life of Milton

If such was the judgment of the preeminent critic of the British Enlightenment, here, not too long after, we have Wordsworth, moved by the revolutionary uprising in France, and displeased with the self-impressed social fabric of England:
LONDON, 1802.

Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a Star and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea;
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In chearful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on itself did lay.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rogers on theodicy

While we look forward to hearing Milton's verse read aloud, and to thinking about it as we go, it's also possible we might look for some basic premises from which to begin our exploration.

One place that might be of use is a lecture by Prof. John Rogers, Yale University, on Lycidas. Prof. Rogers has no qualms about addressing the extravagant claims made by Milton - for poetry, and in particular his poetry - that emerge in Lycidas as a prelude to the grand, or as some may feel, grandiose task he set for his epic:

Theodicy is the term coined by the eighteenth-century philosopher Leibniz, and he applied this term theodicy to just that kind of philosophical sentiment that's implied by its etymology. The theodicy is an account of the justice (the dike) of God (theos). And so, to use the words with which Milton would begin Paradise Lost, a theodicy is an attempt "to justify the ways of God to men."

Now for a lot of orthodox Christians in Milton's time -- and I think we can say the same for a lot of orthodox Christians in our own time -- to embark upon anything like a theodicy at all can be considered heretical, or at the very least heterodox. A theodicy can be seen as heretical or even blasphemous for the simple reason that it -- think of what it assumes. It assumes that the ways of God are in fact justifiable. A theodicy assumes that God's justice can be witnessed, that it can be accounted for here on earth. A theodicy assumes that things on earth actually make sense and that God's ways are ultimately rationally accessible, that they are comprehensible by human beings, and that God can in some way -- and this is, I think, the central implication of the Elder Brother here -- that God can in some way be held accountable for his actions. To justify the ways of God to men is essentially to put God on trial for the actions that he performs. Of course in the central test case this is what we all care about, for the unfortunate events that befall virtuous people.
The above is from Lecture 6 of Prof. Rogers' free online course on Milton.

The Open Yale Courses series offers video of a wide variety of courses as well as transcripts of each lecture. Rogers devotes two lectures to Lycidas. The second is also quite worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On reading

(Click to enlarge):

These thoughts, which echo T.S. Eliot's thoughts about his first encounter with Dante's poetry, are from Phillip Pullman's introduction to his edition of Paradise Lost.

Paradise Lost Online

The annotated Dartmouth Online Edition of Paradise Lost is here. The site elsewhere contains much of his poetry and some prose works.

There's a page of introductory critical commentary on the poem here. However, given our emphasis on reading closely by our own light, feel under no obligation to consult it.

Academic dead end?

"English has become less and less coherent as a discipline and, worse, has come near exhaustion as a scholarly pursuit. "

Professor William M. Chace laments a sea-change in the nature and fate of the Humanities in US higher ed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New light on Aramaic

Jutta wanted to share this interesting discovery being studied at the University of Chicago:

Images capture details of ancient tablets

U. CHICAGO—High-quality scans of ancient documents discovered in Iran are shedding new light on Imperial Aramaic, the dialect used for international communication and record-keeping in many parts of the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian empires, including parts of the administration at the imperial court of Persepolis.

Members of the West Semitic Research Project at the University of Southern California are collaborating with researchers at the University of Chicago to make very high-quality electronic images of nearly 700 Aramaic texts that were incised in the surfaces of clay tablets with styluses or inked on the tablets with brushes or pens.

“We don’t have many archives of this size. A lot of what’s in these texts is entirely fresh, but this also changes what we already knew,” says Annalisa Azzoni, an assistant professor at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University. More...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Genesis by Crumb

Milton's rendering of scenes from Genesis was bold even for its time. Now R. Crumb has decided to offer his own take -- on the entire first book of the Torah:

Crumb's new comic, The Book of Genesis Illustrated, contains all 50 chapters of Genesis and comes with a warning on its cover: "Adult Supervision Recommended for Minors.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Principe on Science and Religion

Happened upon a blog that recounts the overview of Lawrence Principe, a historian of science, regarding the relation, the "intimate partnership," of science and religion. In a series of lectures Principe did for The Teaching Company, Augustine comes through as a key interpreter who aimed at harmonizing the book of Nature with the book of Scripture:
St. Augustine warned against the danger of embarrassing the reputation of Christianity by being ignorant or dismissive of the demonstrated scientific knowledge of the day. From the viewpoint of traditional Christian theology, science is essential for full understanding of the “literal” meaning of divinely-inspired scripture (and vice versa).
Among other things, what Augustine did was put in place a working definition of a "literal" understanding of the Bible that would appear to be far more subtle and sophisticated than what passes for understanding among some current Fundamentalists:

Much to my surprise, St. Augustine claimed that the literal meaning is the hardest to get right. The surprise comes from our modern notion of biblical literalism as “believing every word of the Bible”—the surface meaning of the words. Prof. Principe points out that for St. Augustine and all theologians until recently, “literal” means “interpretation of a passage in such a way that it maintains its connection to the topic it seems to be describing and assigns meanings to the individual words so that the passage makes sense in relation to other sources of knowledge.” link
The blog by Chris Dunsford is entitled Darwin Watch.

A glimpse

into the Glorious Revolution (thanks to Mussy for the pointer):
Englishmen and
women throughout the country threatened one
another, destroyed one another's property, killed and
maimed one another throughout the revolutionary
period. Englishmen and women, from London to
Newcastle, from Plymouth to Norwich, experienced
violence and threats of violence, or lived in terrifying
fear of violence. This was not a tame event.
more -
from Steven Pincus, "1688: A Fight for the Future,"
History Today, October 2009, pp. 11-16.