Friday, 30 November 2012

SMERSH And SPECTRE

The first seven of Ian Fleming's twelve James Bond novels form a complete SMERSH sequence although the Russian organization of that name is not present in all of the seven. In fact, it is Bond's immediate adversary in only three of the novels but the sequence begins and ends with SMERSH and its role in the opening volume is not as main opponent but rather as a sinister background presence. It executes Bond's adversary, Le Chiffre, and defines Bond's motivation throughout subsequent volumes. SMERSH means "Death to Spies." Bond's attitude becomes "Death to SMERSH." The sequence begins and ends thus:

Volume I, Casino Royale, introduces Bond and SMERSH to the reader and to each other;
Vol VII, Goldfinger, describes Bond's fourth encounter with SMERSH.

While writing the fifth novel, From Russia, With Love, Fleming had decided to end it and thus the series with the unexpected death of Bond. In fact, the novel as published does end with what retroactively has to be regarded as merely an apparent death, like that of Sherlock Holmes. Rosa Klebb, Head of Operations for SMERSH, kicks Bond with a poisoned knife after:

Bond had thwarted Russian Intelligence three times and the American Spangled Mob once (i.e., the contents of the first four novels);
SMERSH had retaliated for the Russians by attempting to assassinate Bond and to discredit British Intelligence;
Bond had thwarted this Plan by killing the SMERSH Chief Executioner, Donovan Grant, and arresting Klebb.

Thus, the one and only sequence of Bond novels would have begun and ended thus:

Vol I, Bond and SMERSH meet;
Vol V, Bond decisively defeats SMERSH which, however, succeeds in killing him after all right at the end.

However:

Vol VI, Dr No, explains how Bond survived and describes what happened during his recuperation in Jamaica;
Vol VII, as above.

We learn that the fourth encounter with SMERSH was also the last only when reading the first volume of the second sequence which begins and ends thus:

Vol VIII, Thunderball, discloses that Krushchev had disbanded SMERSH but some of its former members joined the independent organization, SPECTRE, founded and led by Ernst Stavro Blofeld;
Vol XII, The Man With The Golden Gun, ends with Bond fully reinstated in the Secret Service after he:

had destroyed SPECTRE;
had spent a fruitless year hunting Blofeld;
had drafted a letter of resignation from the Service;
had destroyed a revived SPECTRE;
was married but immediately widowed;
went to pieces, nearly getting himself and others killed;
was about to be fired by M;
lost his 00 number and was sent to Japan on a diplomatic mission;
found and killed Blofeld in Japan;
suffered physical trauma and amnesia;
lived for a year as a Japanese fisherman while his obituary appeared in The Times;
traveled from Japan to Russia in search of his identity;
was arrested, recognized, interrogated and brainwashed;
returned to London to kill M but failed;
was de-brainwashed, then sent to Jamaica in order to kill or be killed by the assassin, Scaramanga;
killed Scaramanga, while taking a poisoned bullet in the stomach and losing consciousness;
recuperated;
declined a knighthood.

Can Bond possibly be the same person after going through all that? He would have been ready to start a third sequence of novels if his author had not died but Fleming might not have been up to writing any more. If Vol XII had not been published posthumously, then Bond would have been left, still with amnesia, somewhere between Japan and Russia.

Prima facie, Vol IX, The Spy Who Loved Me, is inconsistent with the rest of the series because it shows Bond in action against SPECTRE, still led by Blofeld, at a time when, according to Vol X, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, he was convinced that SPECTRE, having been destroyed, could not be revived and even that Blofeld was dead. On the one hand, the series is full of inconsistencies and I think that this one can easily be explained: Bond mistakenly came to believe that SPECTRE had not been involved in the events of Vol IX. On the other hand, there is evidence that Fleming did not regard Vol IX as really fitting with the series.

If we go with the latter idea, then the second complete sequence comprises only four novels and The Spy Who Loved Me presents an alternative history in which there could have been further encounters between Bond and SPECTRE...

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Controlling Conversations

Some people control conversations so that the only agenda is theirs.

(i) I met a conspiracy theorist who engaged in monologues in which he only convinced himself. The same points were simply repeated endlessly. If the Moon Landing, to take one example, had been such an obvious fake, then it would not have fooled scientists, astronomers, investigative journalists, opponents of the US or critics of its government's policies. A conspiracy theorist can state arguments to which the uninformed cannot reply - until they google the issue. Then it emerges, to take another example, that, although the impact of an airplane on either of the Twin Towers could not have weakened its steel beams, the heat from burning fuel did.

(ii) A second way to control a conversation is to ask questions with the implication that the other party is insufficiently informed because he cannot give the answers required. I asked a master of this technique to tell me what he knew instead of asking me it and he replied that I didn't want to know.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Miscommunications

(i) A woman: I have known people who thought that, because they had a PhD, they could just walk into any job and do the job without any training or preparation.
Me (surprised but wanting to know more): Where have you met these people?
Woman: Lots of places! Lots of places!
Me: But where?
Woman: Lots of places! Lots of places!

The conversation went no further. I realised afterwards that, when I asked where she had met them, she took me to mean, "I do not believe you have met such people," and that, when she said, "Lots of places!", she meant, "Yes, I have!" But I did not realise that then and was just conscious of not having a question answered. Since then, I have come to doubt the existence of such people.

(ii) A guy I was working with: Albert wants the pick and shovel.
Me: Where are they? (meaning: where are the pick and shovel?)
Guy: They're out on the back field. (meaning: Albert and his mate are working out on the back field.)
Me (not yet realising my mistake): What? The pick and shovel have been left lying out on the back field?
Guy: Nnnooo!!! (but making no attempt to elucidate further.)
Me (realising my mistake): I asked you where the pick and shovel were.
Guy: No, you didn't! I asked you where they were!
Me: No, you didn't!

He thought that to tell me that Albert wanted the pick and shovel was the same as to ask me where the pick and shovel were. My attempt to clear up the misunderstanding just drove us further into it. The guy would have had no ability to work out what went wrong in the conversation and just thought that I was mad.

I think it is worthwhile to note the ways in which communication fails. I was able to understand after the event even though I floundered while the miscommunication was happening.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Narrative, Drama and Sequential Art


(Brief statements modeled on Indian philosophical sutras.)

Narrative was spoken, then written.
Extra speakers and actions transformed spoken narrative into drama.
One picture can tell or imply a story.
Extra pictures transformed representational into sequential art.

Narrative, drama and sequential art are three story-telling media.
Pre-printing sequential art was rare.
An epic is a long heroic narrative poem.
A saga is an Icelandic heroic prose narrative.

The Gilgamesh epic was written on clay tablets four thousand years ago.
But can be read in paperback translation.
It addresses mortality.
And contains a polytheist flood story.

The Jahwist epic presented the Davidic monarchy as fulfilling the Abrahamic tradition.
The parallel Elohist epic was less anthropomorphic. 
The Mosaic books incorporate Jahwist, Elohist, priestly and legal sources.
The priestly source was post-Exilic.

"Moses and the prophets" is the narrative of a Law and its applications.
The Gospel narratives present Christ as fulfilling the Mosaic Law.
"Homer and the poets" are an epic poet and several dramatists.
Virgil's epic, the Aeneid, presents Rome as fulfilling Homeric myth.

The Roman Empire canonised Mosaic, prophetic and Christian, not Homeric, dramatic or Virgilian, texts.
Homer became the beginning of European secular literature.
Greek dramatists and philosophers reflected on myths.
Philosophers also initiated logic and science.

In Platonic philosophy, characters dramatically address each other.
In Aristotelian philosophy, the author prosaically addresses the reader.
Homer, the Eddas, the Vedas and the Shinto Records of Ancient Matters are definitive polytheist texts.
Milton applied epic and dramatic forms to Biblical content.

The Koran reproduces Biblical stories.
The Granth is hymns by Hindus, Muslims and Sikh gurus.
A novel is a long prose fiction.
Novels are historically "new".

Mainstream novels are realistic.
Genre novels are historical, romantic, Western, detective etc.
Fantasy novels re-present myths and legends.
Science fiction (sf) novels address speculative effects of science and technology.

"Sword and Sorcery" is a self-explanatory sub-genre of fantasy.
Space opera is action-adventure fiction with science fictional settings.
Edgar Rice Burroughs set "Sword and Science" on Mars.
Poul Anderson wrote speculative fiction, space opera, Sword and Science, fantasy and historical fiction.

CS Lewis' Ransom Trilogy and James Blish's After Such Knowledge Trilogy are fictitious sequels to the Bible.
However, Lewis was Anglican whereas Blish was agnostic.
Thus, God dies in Blish's Trilogy though not in Lewis'.
However, Lewis imaginatively considered the death of God in the fictitious correspondence, Letters to Malcolm.
 
The Greek dramatist Aeschlyus wrote Prometheus Bound.
The English poet Percy Shelley wrote Prometheus Unbound.
The English novelist Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.
The British sf writer Brian Aldiss wrote Frankenstein Unbound.

Frankenstein is the pivotal character between Gothic Fiction and sf.
Superman is the pivotal character between sf and superheroes.
Cameras transformed stage drama into cinema.
Frankenstein, Superman and Frankenstein Unbound have been filmed, the third unsuccessfully (in my opinion).

Karel Capek's play RUR introduced the term "robot".
Isaac Asimov's "Frankenstein Complex" is fear of robotic rebellion.
Asimov's Laws of Robotics transformed Robots from Menace or Pathos into Engineering.
However, Asimov later revived, then synthesised, Menace and Pathos.

William Blake combined words with pictures.
His allegorical The Marriage of Heaven and Hell replied to Swedenborg's literalist Heaven and Hell.
CS Lewis' The Great Divorce replied to Blake and Swedenborg.
Following Plato, Dante etc, Lewis presents an imaginative visit to the hereafter.

Speech balloons and captions transformed sequential art into comic strips.
The earliest comics were comical.
However, they can mediate any content or genre.
A graphic novel is a long substantial comic strip.

Collected issues of a monthly comic book are often insubstantial.
The graphic adaptation of the novel Fahrenheit 451 is substantial but short.
The Killing Joke by Alan Moore is short but substantial.
It asks whether one bad day would drive us mad.

It also features the Batman fighting the Joker.
Consequently, the author has described it as insubstantial.
Definitive graphic novels are Watchmen by Alan Moore and The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller.
Both place superheroes in realistic settings.

"Superheroes" is a composite genre originating in comic books.       
Super powers may be scientifically or supernaturally based.
Also, masked avengers and costumed adventurers need not be super powered.
Thus, the genre combines sf, fantasy and action-adventure.

It presents modern heroic mythology.
However, comics by Garth Ennis, Art Spiegelman and Bryan Talbot address war, the Holocaust and child abuse, respectively.
There are at least two composite media.
Opera = drama + music.

Comics = representational art + story-telling.
A visual-verbal medium addresses right and left brains simultaneously.
Coloring and lay out may affect readers subliminally.
For example, a regular horizontal panel grid grounds fantastic or horrific content in a televisual/cinematic context.

Like prose, comics involve reading, turning and re-reading pages at the reader's pace.
Like screen drama, they involve sequential images.
However, careful readers miss no detail in a static image.
Each panel may contain captions, speech balloons, foreground and background.

Pictures and panel texts may resonate with or contradict each other.
Captions have replaced thought balloons.
A character's thoughts are revealed as he narrates a section of the story.
Captions can be color coded and written in different scripts.

Background includes titles on book shelves and graffiti on walls.
Thus, Superman source Gladiator by Wylie appears on a shelf in Watchmen.
"Coal not Dole" from the Great British Miners' Strike appears on a wall in Moore's Swamp Thing.
Lancaster Motorway Services appears in two otherwise dissimilar comics.

Narrative details may be non-verbal.
For example, an unknown background figure follows the central character through several panels...
Reading the words and glancing at foregrounds is insufficient.
A well written comic needs to be read at least twice.

Creative comics writers re-assess cliches.
Thus, Moore's Swamp Thing is not a conventional monster but the guardian of the environment.
Moore revived Marvelman as a journalist who dreams of flying but cannot remember his magic word...
Neil Gaiman's Sandman is not a superhero but the personification of Dream.

Substantial comics refer to prose literature.
Thus, Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen depicts Verne's Nautilus fighting Wells' Martians in the Thames.
In Gaiman's Sandman, Shakespeare's company performs A Midsummer Night's Dream for Oberon's court.
Gaiman's Lucifer Morningstar quotes, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

But he comments that Milton was blind.
Milton's personified Death was monstrous because begotten by Satan on personified Sin.
Gaiman's is beautiful because she defines life.
She complains that people fear her but not Dream who claims to be more terrible.

Personified Destruction abandons his realm when Newton asks whether light and matter are inter-convertible.
Personified Despair persuades the star god Rao to destroy a planet but allow one survivor.
Delirium that was Delight claims to know things that even Destiny does not.
Despair's devious twin, Desire, plots Dream's downfall...

Lucifer retires and becomes the title character of a series by Mike Carey.
Carey's God retires to be succeeded by his granddaughter, a British schoolgirl.
Blish's Satan had become God but offered the role to Man.
Thus, modern fantasy presents worthy sequels to myths and scriptures.

Special effects and CGI facilitate screen dramatisation of myth, sf, fantasy and superheroes.
Oral story-telling; recited epics and sagas; written narratives; prose fiction.
Spoken narrative; stage drama; screen drama; special effects.
Representational art; sequential art; comic strips; graphic novels.

Comparisons


Works of fiction resemble each other either because one influenced the other or because they address common themes. In HG Wells' works: 

the Time Traveller finds Morlocks and Eloi in 802,701 AD;
Cavor and Bedford find Selenites in the Moon;
Martians invade Earth. 

Thus, time travel, travel to the Moon and alien invasion of Earth occur in separate works. 

In Edgar Rice Burroughs' (ERB's) works:

John Carter finds green and red Martians on Mars;
Carter's successors find Kalkars in the Moon;
Kalkars invade Earth.

Thus, astral travel to Mars, travel to the Moon and alien invasion of Earth occur in successive works. In fact, ERB connected all his series and incorporated time travel:

in The Eternal Savage, someone travelling to Africa to visit Tarzan accidentally travels into the far past instead;
Tarzan visits the Earth's Core;
Gridley's radio contacts the Earth's Core and Carter's Mars;
the first Venus book refers to the events of Tarzan at the Earth's Core;
the Moon Trilogy is a sequel to the Martian series;
astral travel takes a later character to an extra-solar planet.

In ERB's inhabited Solar System, human beings are found inside the Moon and on Venus, Mars, a Martian moon and Jupiter and are said to exist on Mercury. They even exist also on the extra-solar planet.

Wells started to connect his works, then abandoned the idea. Martians:

observe Earth in "The Crystal Egg";
invade Earth in The War of the Worlds;
were mentioned in an early edition of The Sleeper Wakes
which is set in the same future society as "A Dream of Armageddon" and "A Story of the Days to Come",
the latter a sequel to "A Story of the Stone Age". 

That is it for Wellsian interconnections. When the reference to Martians was removed from The Sleeper Wakes, the main link was severed. Wells had started to move towards an inhabited Solar System. There were Selenites and Martians and the latter also invaded Venus.

ERB had dinosaurs on an island called the Land that Time Forgot during a War.
DC Comics had the War that Time Forgot on Dinosaur Island. 

In the DC Multiverse, different times and places intersected during the climactic Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In Michael Moorcock's Multiverse, different times and places intersect during the periodic Conjunction of the Million Spheres.

Moorcock's Multiverse contains an ERBian pastiche which uses the idea of travel to the far past to explain how a twentieth century character can visit a humanly inhabited Mars. Thus, Moorcock creatively combines ideas that ERB had treated separately. Two other writers of Martian adventures should be mentioned: Edwin Arnold as a possible source for ERB and Otis Adelbert Kline as the imitator and competitor who obliged ERB to retaliate by starting a Venus series.

In the Dan Dare comic strip:

Dare found Treens and Therons on Venus;
Treens invaded Earth which they ruled through robots
until Cadet Spry seized the mike and, imitating the Mekon, ordered the robots to attack the Treens,
thus forcing the Treens to destroy the robots. 

In the Dr Who TV series:

the Doctor found Daleks and Thals on Skaro;
Daleks invaded Earth which they ruled through robotised men
until the Doctor's granddaughter seized the mike and, imitating a Dalek, ordered the robomen to attack the Daleks,
thus forcing the Daleks to destroy the robomen.

The Daleks-Thals and Daleks Invasion Earth stories were adapted as feature films starring Peter Cushing not as a Time Lord called the Doctor but as an English inventor called Doctor Who, thus closer to the Wellsian original. The originals of the Doctor and his assistants contending with Daleks, robomen, cybermen etc are the Time Traveller and Weena contending with Morlocks, then the Time Traveller alone contending with giant crabs and the end of life on Earth.

Daleks, like Wellsian Martians, are evolved beings inside protective machines. John Christopher acknowledged that he had unconsciously plagiarised Wells when he wrote about extra-solar invaders in tripods.

Wells, ERB, Moorcock, DC Comics, Dan Dare and Dr Who: this summarises a lifetime of appreciating imaginative fiction. In the above summaries, Earth is invaded from Mars, the Moon, Venus and two extra-solar planets. Some similarities are acknowledged influences. Others are sources of wonder.    


Fictitious Sequels to the Bible

The Bible

Water is the primordial formless chaos. There are three successive universes. (i) Waters above and below are separated and the waters below are moved aside. Sky, sea and land are filled with lights, fish and animals, respectively. (ii) The Flood undoes creation but the Ark survives into the second universe, which we inhabit. (iii) The third universe will have no sea, thus no threatened return of chaos.

A Prequel

Paradise Lost by John Milton describes Heaven, Hell and Chaos before creation. Miltonic Chaos is formless matter, not liquid water.

A Scriptural Sequel

The Book of Mormon describes the Lost Tribes and the Risen Christ in North America.

Prose Fictitious Sequels

In C. S. Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy, a Christian warns the Venerian Eve not to disobey her creator and the Curse of Babel returns to Earth.1 In James Blish’s After Such Knowledge trilogy, Satan possibly creates a planet and definitely wins Armageddon.2,3 Blish writes that Dante saw, but Milton imagined, Satan. Blish’s universe is galactic, not Biblical.

Milton was unsure:

“…whether Heav’n move, or Earth…”4

Lewis fights a rearguard action, describing the translunar universe as theocentric and unFallen. Blish, writing as William Atheling Jr., comments that Lewis:

“…set out to impose upon the solar system a strange Anglican-cum-Babylonian theology and cosmogony, with amazingly convincing results despite Lewis’ decidedly foggy view of astronomy and most of the other sciences he seeks to diabolize.”5

Graphic Fictitious Sequels

Alan Moore’s adult comic strips present an angel who remained neutral during the Miltonic War in Heaven and witches who conjure the Original Darkness that was before the Creation.6,7 Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels confirm that Cain still dwells in the land of Nod, the Dreaming.8 For their role in the first story, Cain and Abel are given the guardianship of stories, particularly those published in the DC Comics horror titles, The House Of Mysteries and The House Of Secrets.
 
When Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, sends a message to Lucifer, Lord of Hell, Cain is the only messenger whom Lucifer will not harm. We see Cain’s Mark.8
 
Lucifer: “Still. ‘Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.’ Eh, little brother-killer?”
Cain: “Suh-certainly, Lord Lucifer. Whatever you say, Lord Lucifer.”
Lucifer: “We didn’t say it. Milton said it. And he was blind.” 9

Thus, four authors write worthy sequels to Paradise Lost and the Bible.
 
  1. C. S. Lewis, The Cosmic Trilogy (London: Pan Books, 1990).
  2. James Blish, A Case Of Conscience (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd, 1963).
  3. James Blish, Black Easter and The Day After Judgement (London: Arrow Books, 1981).
  4. John Milton, Paradise Lost/Paradise Regained/Samson Agonistes (New York: Collier Books, 1966), p.156.
  5. William Atheling Jr., The Issue At Hand (Chicago: Advent Publishers, 1967), p. 53.
  6. Alan Moore, Across The Universe: the DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore (New York: DC Comics, 2003), pp. 167-177.
  7. Alan Moore, Swamp Thing: A Murder Of Crows (New York: DC Comics, 2001).
  8. Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Season Of Mists (London: Titan Books, 1992), Episode 1, p. 10.
  9. ibid, p. 20.

 

Revising the Origin Story


Every superhero, masked avenger, costumed adventurer and cosmic crusader has an origin story explaining how he acquired his powers and/or what motivated him to fight crime. The Lone Ranger's origin story is a classic. A band of Texas Rangers is ambushed, shot and left to die. One, nursed back to health by an Indian, survives, recovers and dons a mask to avenge the others. He could have been any of them: the Lone Ranger. The World War II Blackhawk Squadron comprised aviators of different nationalities each of whom had lost a family member to the Nazis. At least, I think each of them had lost a family member - unless I am now elaborating the myth. The Phantom is like a combination of Tarzan and the Batman with the extra dimension of many generations of Phantoms. Alan Moore's V wages a vendetta against those who imprisoned him in Room V of a concentration camp.

Origin stories can be revised or even completely changed when characters are revamped. Superman always comes from Krypton, grows up in Smallville and lives in Metropolis but all the details can change. Like everything else in comics, revamps have been done well, then overdone badly. DC Comics did it well to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary in the mid-'80's. Many major characters were renewed and their stories needed to be told for another fifty years, not changed again, yet again and even again as I write in September 2011. When a character is changed, the previous version should be satisfactorily concluded, not terminated mid-narrative.

The origin story, and I do mean "story," for Christian civilization was the New Testament. Hebrew prophets and Classical heroes were two series of prequels. In the Classical tradition:

Titans preceded Olympians;
the Titan Prometheus gave humanity civilizing arts;
the Argonauts saw Prometheus, bound by Olympians;
the Argonauts' sons fought at Troy;
Aeneas escaped from Troy;
his descendant, Romulus, founded the new Troy, Rome;
Caesar inspired the Roman Empire;
Constantine Christianized the Empire and moved its capital to Byzantium, renamed Constantinople.


Christ, identified with the Logos or "Word" (ret-conned from Greek philosophy to the Biblical creation), had fulfilled:

the promise to Abraham;
the priesthood of Melchizedek;
the Law of Moses;
the prophetic tradition as represented by Elijah;
the kingship of David;
the role of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah;
the role of the Son of Man in Daniel;
the roles of both purified priest and perfect victim in the sacrifice of atonement  -

- and had exercised divine power over the elements by calming a storm while walking on the waters that had been separated (we now realize by himself) at the creation. This comprehensively powerful being was able to cross-over from the Abrahamic tradition to the Promethean tradition and specifically to the Roman state religion, there to displace the Olympians who had bound Prometheus for civilizing mankind. The Homeric epics about the Trojan War and its Greek aftermath and the Virgilian epic about its Italian aftermath remained secular literary parallels to the Bible and Geoffrey of Monmouth presented the Kings of Britain, including the heroic Arthur, as descendants of Aeneas. To continue the comparison with comics, the epics resemble Golden Age back issues. (An alternative mythical history was presented by the Anglo-Israel theory that traced British monarchy back to the Lost Tribes.) 

Thus, Promethean and Abrahamic traditions converged in John, who identified Christ with Logos, and in Constantine, who Christianized the Empire. Coincidentally or otherwise, Alan Moore named a powerful fictitious magician John Constantine. If names have any power, then combining the names of the Fourth Evangelist and the first Christian Emperor, thus uniting spiritual and imperial power, must be powerful indeed. Moore's other contributions to these traditions were:

a personification of the original darkness that was before the creation;
an angel who remained neutral during the War in Heaven;
a feminization of Prometheus as "Promethea."

(Christian apologists ask: what was special about Jesus that made the earliest Christians apply every possible religious title to him? Marxists ask: what was special about social conditions that required a new ideology comprising a synthesis of all previously existing religious concepts? Christians claim that Jesus changed the world. Marxists argue that Gentile Christianity, mainly formulated by Paul, provided a unifying ideology for an already existing world empire. Paul supported slavery and a strong state.)

Narratives converge when comics publishers merge or when one company buys characters from another. Kal-El had come from Krypton in one fictitious universe. Shazam had empowered Billy Batson in an unrelated fictitious universe. Neither character existed in relation to the other despite competing for sales. Then the Superman publisher bought Captain Marvel. Now the two universes co-existed in one multiverse where interversal travel was possible so that the characters could meet. Almost anything can happen in fantastic fiction, as in religious belief. However, later changes to the multiverse strained plausibility beyond reason.

Superman's creators likened him to the Biblical strong man, Samson, and to the Classical strong man, Hercules. His Kryptonian name incorporates a Biblical word for a god, "El." The Mosaic divine name is incorporated in the names of Kal-El's Kryptonian father, Jor-El, and of his terrestrial foster father, Jonathan. Shazam combines the wisdom of the Biblical Solomon with the powers of several Classical gods and heroes, including Hercules. The Greeks had a wise man called not Solomon but Solon but this name would not have been known to Captain Marvel's readers or, probably, his creators.
 
To re-interpret Christian origins is to revise the origin story. We tell new stories in a familiar setting: 

Jesus did not die on the cross and revived in the tomb
or
the tomb was found empty because the body, buried hastily before the Sabbath, had already been moved elsewhere, perhaps back home to Galilee,
or
, like other crucifixion victims, he was buried in a mass grave and the tomb burial story originated in the oral tradition.
The man on the road to Emmaus was not Jesus...etc. 

But these are side-bar stories for post-Christian secular society whose prequels, starting with Thales, include Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin etc. Our world-view is part story, part knowledge, and the proportion that is knowledge has increased.

 

Literary Demons

Demons are fallen angels in fictitious works by C. S. Lewis, James Blish, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. The Christian Lewis additionally believed that demons literally existed. The magician Moore believes, I think, that they are projected negative emotions. All four writers agree in their fiction that souls are damned by their own choice although varying degrees of demonic temptation are also involved.

Gaiman’s Lucifer denies that he ever made any human being do anything or that he could own a soul.1 Blish’s Sabbath Goat says:

“MEN HAVE ALWAYS LED THEMSELVES UNTO ME.”2

However, Blish’s fictitious “Covenant” allows temptation up to, though not beyond, each individual’s ability to resist it. 

Lewis’ tempters try to fill their inner emptiness by consuming damned souls. Gaiman’s demons can consume souls, whether or not they need to. Unbelieving authors introduce change to the eternal realms: Blish’s Satan wins Armageddon; Gaiman’s Lucifer retires.

A fantasy author’s moral critique of fictitious but authentic characters remains valid whether or not the reader believes in the hereafter. The agnostic Blish valued Lewis’  fictitious accounts of temptation, Heaven and Hell for their moral perceptiveness.3 Thus, the powerful Biblical-Dantean-Miltonic literary tradition survives and continues to address issues crucial to human life.

  1. Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Season Of Mists (London: Titan Books, 1992), Episode 2, p. 18.
  2. James Blish, Black Easter and The Day After Judgement (London: Arrow Books, 1981), p. 111.
  3. private correspondence.

 

Sacrifice and Resurrection in Faith and Fiction

Faith

Roman state polytheism became inadequate when the city ruled an empire. One world empire needed one omnipresent god, to replace local deities, and one perfect sacrifice, to replace local rituals. Judaism provided one god and several executed Messianic claimants. The Romans accepted the Jewish god as their god and one executed Messianic claimant as the perfect sacrificial victim. Saul of Tarsus, a Jewish Roman citizen, Romanized Judaism as “Christianity."

A minimal Christian creed would have been, “I believe in one god who accepts a recent death as a universal sacrifice.” The sacrifice had to be seen as a new revelation superseding ancient rituals so the death had to be a recent historical event, not just a reinterpreted myth. However, this particular death came to Saul’s (Paul’s) attention because the Messianic claimant’s disciples had already proclaimed his Resurrection. Therefore, the Resurrection also came to be regarded as historical. The minimal creed became, essentially, “I believe in one god who accepts a recent death as a universal sacrifice and resurrected the victim.”

Thus, the Christian historical synthesis incorporated both the barbaric belief in blood sacrifice and the perennial myth of death and resurrection, the former of necessity, the latter possibly by accident. Paul needed a sacrificial death. Peter provided a resurrection from death. Paul accepted the resurrection but interpreted the death as sacrificial. 

Sacrifice and resurrection are not necessarily connected. Most victims do not rise. All rising gods were not victims. They were connected in Christianity because the sacrifice atoned for sin which had caused death so atonement for sin entailed resurrection from death, but who now believes that sin caused death? Our experience is that gods, if they exist, do not require blood whereas death and renewal are perennial. Therefore, we need to consign blood sacrifice to the barbaric past but death and resurrection to the realm of myths, meaningful stories present in consciousness.

Some Christians acknowledge that the Resurrection is a “myth” in this sense while also believing that it was a historical event. When God became man, myth became history, although to say this is to invoke the further myth of incarnation. Thus, the minimal creed became that the one god accepts a sacrifice and resurrected the victim who was himself incarnate. This in turn led to a distinction between the persons performing the divine functions so that the formal creeds incorporated the Trinity: one tri-personal god who as the father accepts a sacrifice and resurrected the victim who was the son incarnate… The creeds also identify the father as the creator but this came straight from Genesis so did not need to be imported. Complicated, but synthesizing several pre-existing ideas.

Resurrection was historicized because Paul joined the Jesus movement, not the cult of any other historical figure. Despite its Roman origin, Christianity has adapted. The perceived need for blood sacrifice remains meaningful to Evangelicals because it fantastically reflects our common experience of alienation. 

Graphic Fiction

The death and resurrection myth, instantiated in other gods before Jesus, is now instantiated in fictitious characters. In “cliff-hanger” cinema serials, the hero seemed to die at the end of each episode except the last. In one comic book adaptation, Flash Gordon is suffocated in a giant hour glass publicly displayed by Ming of Mongo. Flash’s friends cannot rescue him from the closely watched and guarded hour glass but do retrieve and revive his body later. Thus, in this case, there is a real death and resurrection.

Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Superman and others have all fallen off the cliff, literally or metaphorically, at the end of one volume but have returned in subsequent volumes and were last seen alive. A fantasy character’s death can be literal. Superman’s soul entered the hereafter but his foster father, during a near death experience, persuaded him to return. In this case, the editors and authors had planned an extended series about the supporting characters while the hero was dead but had always intended to restore him although by a roundabout route, with none of the four pretenders turning out to be the real steel deal although we were misdirected into thinking that one of them was so that it became necessary to re-read in order to check when we had been seeing the revived Kal-El and when we had instead been seeing a Kryptonian artificial intelligence that mistakenly thought itself to be Kal-El.

In a different version of this story, such an intelligence might have sufficed as the resurrected Superman. If an organism cannot survive indefinitely, might its memories and sense of identity be transmitted into a different medium? (St Paul claimed that the resurrected spiritual body differs qualitatively from the buried physical body.)

Lex Luthor, dying of radiation poisoning, convinced both characters and readers that he had killed himself by crashing a plane and had been replaced, a year later, by his illegitimate and previously unknown son, only to reveal that the “son” was Luthor’s preserved brain with a new body grown around it. Another way to handle this scenario would have been for a genuine son, Lex II, to become “Luthor.”

Between John Byrne’s revamp of the character in 1986 and Superman’s return from death in 1993, the Superman titles were worth reading although they never realized their full potential and deteriorated drastically later, quantity overcoming quality, the industry destroying the medium. I expected to collect the second fifty years, 1988-2038, which would have generated storage problems, but continuing the collection became a pointless waste of money and paper, although the character remains capable of innovative treatment, for example in the Smallville TV series and novels based on it. 

When a character is published indefinitely for decades, his story not only risks deterioration but also necessarily branches into different “continuities.” For example, the Superman of the 1940’s fought in World War II whereas the current Superman did not. Earlier versions of the character, regarded as inhabiting parallel universes, can also be regarded as having died by now. Thus, we know that one character, in different versions, has died yet is always currently active. 

The one-off “imaginary stories,” not obliged to conform to continuity, include one in which Superman was killed and did not return although his cousin faked his resurrection when arresting his murderer, Luthor. Alan Moore’s imaginary story, “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?,” written to conclude the post-War, pre-Byrne continuity, convinces the reader that Superman has died, then reveals that he has survived under a changed name without his powers but with a son who inherits the powers.

Once, Superman prosecuted and the Batman defended Lana Lang for the murder of Lois Lane. Lois looked dead but I did not find Part II which would either have shown her return or explained why she had not died after all. If a resurrected Lois really had died, then perhaps a murder charge could be made to stick although it would be difficult to prove in the presence of a living body. Lois cannot die permanently. She has married Clark in four comics continuities and one TV series.

When Moore took over writing the minor horror title, Swamp Thing, he had the character apparently killed by a military attack only to show that bullets and shells can stun but not kill a vegetable body. Later, Swampy’s body died from radiation poisoning but he grew another. Surviving as a disembodied consciousness in a vegetable dimension called “the Green,” he was able not only to control vegetation and to grow new bodies of different sizes and shapes but also to enter the hereafter, rescue his lover’s soul from Hell, where it had been unjustly imprisoned, and return it to her still living but unconscious body.

An Alan Moore story begins with Superman expecting to die from a Kryptonian fever but Swampy helps him through it. Luthor, an expert in the attempted destruction of an invulnerable being, advises a secret government agency on how to kill the Swamp Thing. Consequently, Swampy is apparently dead for two issues, while there is mourning and a memorial service on Earth, but he is really adrift in space, bouncing between inhabited planets, and returns to kill the covert team that had tried to kill him. After Moore’s run on the title, Swampy learns of Luthor’s involvement and pursues him as well but Lex, like every Metropolitan, is protected by Superman so Swampy backs off.

Lex is a continuing character who cannot die permanently, except in an imaginary story or “Elseworld,” but he has over time become a different character. He was a wanted criminal and frequent convict but now has “always been” a respectable though crooked billionaire-philanthropist who even became US President. The nature and extent of Superman’s powers has changed more than once and his character changes with his powers. Each distinct version of a character has a limited life-span but we usually see one version morphing into his successor rather than one ending and the next beginning. Even when Moore concluded one Superman continuity and Byrne initiated its successor, the pre-Byrne Superman appeared anachronistically after the cosmos-altering “Crisis” which was supposed to have effected a smooth transition between continuities.

Also under Moore’s successor, an attack from space apparently killed the Swamp Thing only to send him backwards in time. He interacted with historical figures (including Jesus as a powerful white magician but the publishers refused to publish this episode), met himself returning to the twentieth century, founded the line of plant elementals of which he is a member and returned to the twentieth century, meeting himself traveling backwards and arriving a few months after his departure, thus unable to help oppose the invading aliens that had tried to kill him. 

This summary shows the death and resurrection theme recurring several times for just two characters, Superman and the Swamp Thing. 

Prose Fiction

A realistic character’s “death” can only be apparent but can also be convincing. Doyle’s attempts to end the Holmes series included a literal death. Watson married and left Baker St at the end of the second novel. The married Watson stayed in touch with Holmes but then Holmes died at the end of a second collection. Two further novels recorded earlier cases. In a third collection, Holmes returned from apparent death but then retired. In the fourth collection, Holmes returned from retirement but only temporarily. A final collection recorded earlier cases and one during the retirement but then Doyle, the omnipotent author, said, “This must cease,” although he did not resort to another death. Appropriately, we last see Holmes still active in Baker St. As Holmes returned from Reichenbach, so might Moriarty. Both John Gardner and Alan Moore have made this assumption.

Bond seems to the reader, and was originally intended by the author, to be dead at the end of his fifth novel, is believed by other characters to be dead at the end of his eleventh novel and is shot in the stomach, so would have died unless rescued in time, near the end of his twelfth and last novel. His “Obituary,” near the end of the eleventh novel, You Only Live Twice, reduces his life by more than a decade so that he remains not only alive but also active longer than expected. “Obit:” rationalizes its contradiction of dates as given in the first novel by relegating the entire series up to that point to the status of fictionalized accounts written by a former colleague. Retroactively, previous volumes become, in dramatic terms, “plays within the play” or, in scriptural terms, Apocrypha.
  
Fleming’s subtle rewriting of the character’s career established in popular consciousness the myth of a perennially active hero, a myth perpetuated to absurdity by post-Fleming novels and additionally vulgarized by endless slapstick films. Since we are discussing myths as they appear either in religious belief or in popular fiction, the artistic contrast between Fleming’s Bond novels and the post-Fleming Bond films parallels the religious contrast between mystical subtlety and Evangelical vulgarity.

Both Doyle and Fleming had intended an irrevocable death but the logic of series fiction is that a popular character either does not die or returns, his “death” becoming not an ending but a major turning point. The Ministry of Defence switchboard receives calls from imposters after Bond’s publicly announced death. When he does return, initially mistaken for another imposter, he is not himself and does not regain his former status within the Secret Service until the end of this last book. The film, You Only Live Twice, with a different agenda and an unrelated script, shows an apparent death and naval burial at sea, then immediately shows how these were faked so that Bond could pursue his enemies without their knowledge. In the following film, Blofeld, evading a vengeful Bond, fakes his death at Bond’s hands by employing a double.
Doyle recorded earlier cases before resorting to The Return…, complete with a “man on the road to Emmaus” scene, whereas Fleming, writing each novel as a direct sequel to its predecessor, had to explain Bond’s survival early in the sixth novel but, even then, Chapter I, describing familiar characters in a familiar setting, avoids reference to Bond as if the world were continuing without him.

Raffles pulled a “road to Emmaus” stunt, attending his own funeral in disguise, on television but I cannot remember whether this scene was in the original Raffles series, having read the latter only once. This does not matter here because the present article is reflective, not researched. It evokes memories of resurrection images in popular fiction and in different media. The Flash Gordon story above is a beaut and one that I might well not have known about. What else is out there? 

Television and Time Travel

I read of a TV series that handled the death and resurrection theme with originality. The actor playing Robin Hood was not due to return for a second season. At the end of the first season, Robin dies. In the second season, a nobleman called Robert joins the merry men, becomes their leader and comes to be called “Robin.” We are to understand that the Robins merged in the legend which is in any case inconsistent. Thus, continuity is maintained, contradictions are explained and a real death does not end the story of Robin Hood, as indeed it cannot. This approach would have accommodated even the death of the first actor, which, fortunately, had not happened.

The time traveling “Doctor” explains changes of actor and longevity of the character by “regeneration,” periodic rejuvenation, which is easily invoked in a science fiction (sf) context. One early regeneration was treated very like a death and resurrection. However, the story of the Doctor needs to be retold from the beginning with Time Lords as future humanity, not an alien species, and with a subtler understanding of the relationships between life, death and time travel. A time traveller who has died is not dead all the time if, before dying, he had made extended excursions to periods later than the date of his death. (See The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger.) It would be possible to show in chronological order the Doctor’s adventures, then his death, then more of his adventures. The second set of adventures would be after his death to non-time traveling characters but before it to the Doctor himself.
The British sf writer, Christopher Priest, once said publicly that he had written a script featuring a death of the Doctor that was not subsequently prevented or explained away. It was a real, not an apparent, death. I do not think that that script was used although, not being a big Who fan, I am not certain. Such unpublished and apocryphal stories add extra dimensions to legendary characters.

A time traveller would be able to fake a resurrection or ghostly apparition by learning the time of his death, then making a brief appearance after it. (See The Shield Of Time by Poul Anderson.)

The Doctor is currently described as “the last Time Lord.” This means not only that other Time Lords have died but also that he no longer meets them wherever or whenever he travels. However, if they were all killed in, for the sake of argument, 2000 AD, then a journey to 1999 or earlier will take him to a time when they were still alive. Further, if they, as time travelers, had visited periods later than 2000, then some of them may be around now (2008) and certainly are in the future. If, as is suggested, they died in a “Time War” and if, as seems probable, such a war involves time travel, with battles in different periods, then it is questionable whether they could all have died at a single time. Some of their deaths, or at least some of the Time War battles, could be still to come.

In any case, from a four dimensional perspective, everyone, whether a time traveler or not, is alive at some times and dead at others so no one is permanently dead to a time traveler, even before we ask whether it is possible to change events by preventing deaths, an issue that Doctor Who made a complete mess out of. It demands subtlety. A Time Patroller was seen to fall into a waterfall and records showed that she had never returned to her home base or to anywhen else so a colleague from a different era rescued her, then proposed to her, thus explaining why there was no further record of her under her maiden name. (See The Time Patrol by Poul Anderson.) The second Patroller changed not known events but their significance. Without his further action, her absence, under her maiden name, from subsequent records would have been caused by her death in the waterfall, not by her marriage to him, but Patrollers are forbidden to prevent deaths that are definitely known to have occurred, for example when the body has been found.

Breaking this rule would generate not one timeline with a death and resurrection but a first timeline with a death and a second with a prevention of the death. The Time Patrol is committed to preserving a single timeline. Cyrus the Great was killed as a baby. When he was needed as an heir in adulthood, a captured Time Patroller was forced to play the role. In order to be able to return home to the twentieth century, that Patroller with a colleague prevented the killing of the infant Cyrus so that the right guy played this historically necessary role after all. (The Time Patrol.

The Time Patrol exists in the same timeline as Holmes and must prevent him from detecting their activities in his era but I suggest that they would consult him in his retirement when there would no longer be any risk that their interaction with Holmes would affect Watson’s accounts of the detective’s adventures. These are historical accounts so the Patrol has to preserve them as they stand, including the one piece of evidence for time travel that is in there, but Patrollers might also need Holmes’ expertise to investigate a case concerning Jonathan Wild, the master criminal of the previous century, whom Holmes compares with Moriarty.

In another TV/film sf series, of course, Spock died and returned. Part of the process was the finding of an empty coffin with an abandoned burial shroud. (Spock should be re-written as a descendant of human extra-solar colonists, not as a human-alien hybrid. Since Vulcan was a hypothetical, although non-existent, solar planet, it is questionable whether that name should have been applied to a fictitious extra-solar planet but that is now a lost battle. "Vulcan” popularly means Spock’s home planet.) The series continued long enough to incorporate a real death of Captain Kirk without a resurrection although, even then, Kirk spent some time in another realm between his historically recorded death and his actual death.

Conclusion

This article began with the realization that sacrifice and resurrection are separable concepts in Christianity, then pursued resurrection in unexpected directions. Whenever we appreciate a work of fiction in which the hero dies or appears to die but is alive later, the myth remains active as it was in Adonis, Balder, Christ and Osiris. (The Norse gods failed to rescue Balder from Hel (= Hades, not Hell) but he will return after the Ragnarok when Odin, Thor and Loki have died.)

Sacrificial death and resurrection survive in Evangelical sermons. Self-sacrifice, death and resurrection recur in heroic fiction. Marxists hope to end the conditions that generate both Evangelism and nationalism but not to end appreciation of myth or fiction. I think that we will fully understand the Four Gospels and, for example, the James Bond novels when we have transcended current conflicts so that contentious issues no longer include the historicity of the Resurrection, the nature of alienation, the need for atonement, sexual morality or Cold War politics. We will then appreciate these texts without having to argue against contrary views and will instead debate the merits of as yet unwritten works, of which some will continue to express perennial myths though in new ways. Societies change but life and death are constants.

 

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Reorganisations


Reflecting on "Careers" focused attention on the number of reorganizations inflicted on a single public service in a mere fifteen or sixteen years. The successive stages have been or are:

(i) A local public careers advice service.
(ii) A local privatized careers advice service.
(iii) A local privatized general advice service.
(iv) A local public general advice and activities service.
(v) (iv) "re-structured", i.e., cut and significantly reduced (now).
(vi) (v) co-existing with a national (public or privatized) careers service (imminent).

This is almost comical. Careers guidance was progressively diluted and now will be moved to a different agency anyway. 

I would not have thought that so many changes were possible in so short a time. When I trained in 1988-89, privatization was anticipated, though not yet going through Parliament, but nothing else. Surely the resources invested in repeated re-organizations could instead have been invested in improving the quality of existing services? I might have been a good Careers Officer/Adviser by now if I had been allowed to get on with it. The only innovation in (i)-(vi) above was the introduction of a general advice service. That could have been set up alongside the existing Careers Services and Youth and Community Services.

I think the reality is that capitalism in crisis has to cut or rationalize public spending. The value of qualitative, e.g., advice and guidance, services cannot be quantified so different ways to quantify it are attempted without success. For two years, after privatization, the organization was literally paid for the number of careers action plans it issued to clients so a client visiting a Centre to make a factual inquiry would be action planned whether or not he wanted to be. Needless to say, that pointless activity did not continue for long. In the Chinese sense, we have lived and are living in "interesting times." If I had not taken the scenic route from University graduation to a career, I would have experienced (i) for much longer or even from its inception in 1973.

A Career And Beyond


"To and Through a Career" summarises the story so far so it omits the next imminent development:

8 (vi) A new national all age careers service, presumably removing the careers guidance function from the local Young People's Service.

Thus, the entire development 8 (i) - (vi) will have moved from local age-specific careers services to a national all age careers service, passing through stages that were not careers services. Between now and retirement, will I have stayed with the YPS or have moved to the new service? Does it matter? Does anything matter after all this? I prefer to work for a public authority than for some other kind of agency.

Is the pace of change and the rate of re-organisation approaching a limit? One local careers service had three major re-organisations in two years but that was local and was an extreme example, even at one stage involving the closure of all public access centres and the location of advisers in places like schools and colleges. Nationally, we currently have a five year cycle of re-organisations but three years might be the absolute minimum possible? I aim to stay on the full salary as long as possible until the conventional retirement age. I also enjoy the work and the contact with colleagues and am curious to find out how the current changes will be implemented especially after everything we have been through, all the major changes that seemed as if they would last. We will soon be out of touch with work when no longer at it but retirement will be a continuation and extension of current non-work activities, including writing about the nature of work.

Added, 8 Sept, 2011: Early retirement with an enhanced redundancy package is now expected at the end of March 2012, just one year and nine months earlier than the originally planned retirement. It is now clear that the re-organised Young People's Service will simply be a much reduced Youth and Community Service without careers guidance. In our District, two Centres originally open to the public five days a week are now open only four half days a week and soon will close completely. However, a big public sector strike is expected on 30 November 2011 and hopefully will be the start of all-out action to bring down the current government and start reversing its policies.

To And Through A Career


Since 1954, I have been through these processes.

(1) Education as a means to a career.
(2) Unemployment as a gap between education and a career.
(3) Temporary, Government-funded schemes as a bridge between unemployment and a career.
(4) Part-time jobs as another bridge between unemployment and a career.
(5) Training for an alternative career.
(6) Periods of temporary work and of unemployment as a career.
(7) Training for a second alternative career.
(8) Careers as a career.

(8) (i) A publicly controlled careers advisory service.
(8) (ii) Privatisation of the careers advisory service.
(8) (iii) Its transformation into a general advisory service.
(8) (iv) De-privatisation and amalgamation with the publicly controlled Youth and Community Service.
(8) (v) Major re-structuring caused by a national financial crisis, happening now in 2011.

(9) On 31 December 2013, if not sooner, retirement from the re-structured Young People's Service.

(1) was my parents' perception. I came to regard education as an end, not a means, so I emerged from University starting to understand society but not starting a job. Since the three career aims implied above were University teaching, school teaching and careers guidance, all were educational so the process was more coherent than it seems. 

During (5), a group of graduate students including myself visited a Centre for the Study of Religion in the Urban Environment in Manchester and were each asked to give an account of ourselves to date. When I had summarised my then career so far, the Centre Director commented, "Now there's an interesting person!" because I had already studied Philosophy and Religion and worked in several jobs including teaching Religious Education. Life has continued to be "interesting"/eventful.

During (4), I taught in Bentham Grammar School 1980-81 and realised that another guy had been teaching there since I was at primary school in Scotland 1956-60. Two other men spent their entire working lives in that one Grammar School. Since then, the school, which had existed for over two hundred and fifty years and moved twice within the town, has closed. Its third site, formerly a Rectory, has been used as the Junior Department of a nearby Public School for five years and is currently due to re-open as part of a chain of schools for pupils with behavioural problems. (Will that be a big change?) (Yes, I think it will.)

My point here seems to be that our personal experience of change overlaps with historical changes but this is truer in some periods, and in some lives, than in others. In the twentieth century, two men were able to remain in a single independent school for their entire working lives but the school closed in 2002 so the Association of those formerly connected with the school will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2012. However, by its nature, the Association has a finite life span. When the last person who was a pupil in the prep school in the year the school closed has died, then there will no longer be even a potential member of the Association. In practice, the Association will probably have ceased to function long before then but for now it still manages to play a cricket season every year.

These remarks have rightly moved from the individual and autobiographical to the collective and historical and should now return from the history of a particular school to the consequences of the financial crisis. A desirable change is from competition for profit to cooperation for need. That would require not financially constrained re-structuring but unconstrained expansion of the former careers advisory service. 
 

 

Authors and Narrators


When reading a novel, we accept that it was written by the author named on the cover and title page. While willingly suspending disbelief, we imagine simply that the fictitious events are occurring, not that the author or anyone else is narrating them to us unless one character narrates in the first person or a narrator directly addresses the reader with comments like "You must understand that..." etc.

When a story is told from a single point of view, whether first or third person, then the narrative is limited to what the view point character could have known whereas the impersonal narrator who is not a character yet addresses the reader shares the author's omniscience about the characters and their environment. However, this narrator is not the author. The author when writing the novel creates the characters whereas, when suspending disbelief, we accept that the narrator is informing us about characters who would have existed even if we had not been informed about them. The omniscient narrator is part of the fictional process although not one of the fictitious characters. He is intermediate between author and characters. By writing in a different style, the author would create a different narrator. A prose style in which the reader is not directly addressed has an invisible and virtually non-existent narrator.

If attention were focused on the omniscient narrator, then he would be seen to have a god-like relationship to the world inhabited by the fictitious characters. However, attention is usually focused on the content of the narrative, not on the process of narration. When a novelist cameos as the first person narrator of one section of a novel, then by implication this character narrates the entire text and cannot consistently share the author's omniscience even though s/he is a character based on the author. The analogy with the idea of divine incarnation is striking.

Some texts, e.g., Doyle's/Watson's Holmesian memoirs, are published both in our world and in the fictitious world that they describe. That explains why there is a first person narrator. He is informing not us of fictitious events but his contemporaries of, to them, real events. Allan Quartermain read She, ending in She's death, then sent Rider Haggard the prequel, She and Allan

 

Getting Things Wrong


Things I can still get wrong:

not finding an important document where it should be filed;
not finding a book where it should be shelved;
misplacing wallet, diary or mobile phone
etc.

Such mistakes sometimes cause problems and friction. Maybe we learn to cope better with the problems and friction. I do not learn to prevent or avoid the mistakes. Acceptance of fallibility is necessary but is awareness sufficient to prevent errors and forgetfulness possible? Not robotic precision or mental/psychological memory tricks but perpetual awareness? I think some people have it.

Meanwhile, we can at least practise awareness in zazen.

Summarising Histories


In several articles on www.paulshackley.co.uk, I have enjoyed summarising fictitious histories. Robert Heinlein's Future History (see here) extends from an invention in 1955 to a new society in the twenty second century. Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilisation (see here) extends from interplanetary exploration in 2150 to a civilisation spanning several galactic arms in 7100. Each of these series was created by a single author and therefore is in some ways dwarfed by the mythical, legendary and historical narrative of "Christian civilisation" (see here) imagined by populations for generations. This history extends from Genesis and Prometheus as mythological beginnings to the Papacy, the British monarchy and the kingdom of Ethiopia as modern institutions.

Mythologically, the Kings of Britain are descended either from the Trojan Prince Aeneas or from the Kings of Israel whereas the Pope manages to combine both Biblical and Classical traditions in a single person. As Bishop of Rome, he is the direct successor of Peter, the chief disciple of Christ (whose creative power was projected back from the first verse of the Fourth Gospel to the opening phrase of the Torah), while, as Pontifex Maximus, he is the chief priest of the Roman state religion whose earlier deities, the Olympians, succeeded the Titans including Prometheus who had given mankind civilising arts. Ethiopia claims the Ark of the Covenant, kings descended from Solomon and the Rastafarian Messiah. No single mind could have imagined all this.

While continuing to appreciate mythology, we can also appreciate scientific accounts of cosmic history: knowledge that has been discovered, not imagined. No community of minds however numerous could have imagined scientific cosmology although imagination remains necessary to hypothesise explanations of unexpected phenomena. Probably, inflation, dark matter and dark energy are modern equivalents of phlogiston. Intellect and imagination have brought us a long way both in fictitious narratives and in increasing knowledge.     

 

"Christian Civilisation"


Christian civilisation has two components: Christianity and civilisation. The latter came first. In European mythology, Prometheus imparted civilising arts, thus initiating civilisation which means cities, including Troy and its successor, Rome. Prometheus, a pre-Olympian deity, was at the beginning of his mythological tradition whereas Christ is presented as the culmination of the Biblical tradition that had started with creation. The Promethean tradition includes the Trojan Aeneas, the Roman founder Romulus and the Roman Caesar. The Judeo-Christian tradition includes the forefather Abraham, the founder Moses and King David. Both progress from myth to history.

The Fourth Evangelist started to synthesise the two traditions when he ret-conned the Greek Word into the Biblical creation. "In the beginning..." (Gen 1.1; Jn 1.1). However, it was the Roman Emperor Constantine who Christianised civilisation. Under Constantine, Christ replaced Jupiter/Zeus, who had imprisoned Prometheus for civilising mankind, as the god of the state. Notionally, the present writer still inhabits Christian civilisation. Christianity remains the British state religion under Elizabeth II as it had started to become the Roman state religion under Constantine I. In fact, I was indoctrinated not in the Church of England but in the form of Christianity that still recognises the Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of the Roman state religion, a post that had been held by Julius Caesar.

Post-Christians can appreciate Classical and Christian mythology, art and literature and can remain Promethean.


 

To the Convenor of Lune Pagans Moot


Celebrate by the river Lune.
Enact the rites and read the runes.
Return each Spring and every Yule.
Inspire your friends who think you're cool.

What I Learned From Tony Cliff...


(...and from other sources but Cliff was crucial and a living link to earlier struggles.)

(i) "Class" is economic, not just social. Those who own only their own labour power (ability to work) have to sell that labour power to those who control the means of production. Thus, class is defined by different relationships to the means of production.

(ii) The buying and selling of commodities, including labour power, is the present, capitalist, form of class divided society.

(iii) Unlike earlier forms, capitalism is dynamic, perpetually re-making itself, thus generating the illusion that it no longer exists. However, eg, white collar workers replace blue collar workers but remain "workers", ie, those who must sell their labour power to survive. I was asked, "Where are the means of production in a school?" The school produces disciplined, literate, numerate workers for factories, offices, shops, public services, armed forces etc so the means of production are the class rooms, desks, writing materials, text books, exercise books, computers, library, sports fields etc. When public transport was nationalised, someone said that it had nothing to do with profit. Public transport moves workers to where they produce or consume so it has everything to do with profit.

(iv) In class society, there is class conflict, whether hidden or open. This is an inherent conflict of material interests between classes.

(v) There is always potential for revolution and revolutionary situations or opportunities, when class conflict intensifies and becomes more open, occur regularly on a global scale.

(vi) Revolution is the seizure of economic and political power by the vast majority, those who must currently sell their labour power to survive. Thus, it is not a minority seizure of political power.

(vii) However, it will not just happen. A minority that understands revolutionary processes can gain mass support in a revolutionary situation and can thus lead the struggle to completion. Otherwise, opportunities come and go and have done.

(viii) Leaders are not rulers. Someone who gives a moral lead against injustice does not and cannot coerce those who follow their lead. The Paris Commune showed Marx and Engels how the majority can control society and can thus prevent their leaders from becoming a new ruling class.

(ix) Revolutionaries must continually promote their ideas and engage in struggle. It is too late to start organising when a revolutionary opportunity occurs.

(x) A revolutionary organisation that is big enough to influence wider numbers can give the lead the makes the difference.