I really like this article. As a female writer, I am still thoroughly flabbergasted at the notion that there is “manly” writing (i.e. “worthy” writing) and the lesser “womens” writing. I think there is good writing, and bad writing, and I’m not always reluctant to read the bad stuff if it has zing.
And it has always been a personal rule of mine to never, ever date a man who speaks highly of Charles Bukowski. (Because, you know, he’s so manly, goddamn it.)
There are good and great books on the Esquire list, though even Moby-Dick, which I love, reminds me that a book without women is often said to be about humanity but a book with women in the foreground is a woman’s book.
And that list would have you learn about women from James M. Cain and Philip Roth, who just aren’t the experts you should go to, not when the great oeuvres of Doris Lessing and Louise Erdrich and Elena Ferrante exist. I look over at my hero shelf and see Philip Levine, Rainer Maria Rilke, Virginia Woolf, Shunryu Suzuki, Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, Subcomandante Marcos, Eduardo Galeano, Li Young Lee, Gary Snyder, James Baldwin, Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez.
These books are, if they are instructions at all, instructions in extending our identities out into the world, human and nonhuman, in imagination as a great act of empathy that lifts you out of yourself, not locks you down into your gender.
I love Doris Lessing. The Golden Notebook is one of my favorites. But…I also must say, Hemingway (which is on the list by the way) is very dear to me, both my kids are named after The Sun Also Rises…Jake and Brett. And there is something very important about that work in many ways, as a feeling…yes like that paragraph states…it lifted me out of myself.
A few years ago, Esquire put together a list that keeps rising from the dead like a zombie to haunt the Internet. It embodies the whole mission of that magazine so far as I can tell. The magazine’s monthly instructions are not aimed at me, so I know the magazine mostly by the taglines and tarted-up ladies on on its cover. But I did just read Esquire’s list of “The 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read” when it popped up on my Facebook feed. The list is a reminder that the magazine is for men, and that if many young people now disavow the “binaries” of gender, they are revolting against much more established people building up gender like an Iron Curtain across humanity. Of course, “women’s magazines” like Cosmopolitan have provided decades of equally troubling instructions on how to be a woman. Maybe it says a lot about the fragility of gender that instructions on being the two main ones have been issued monthly for so long.
Should men read different books than women? In this list they shouldn’t even read booksby women, except for one by Flannery O’Connor among 79 books by men. The author annotates A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories with a quote: “She would of been a good woman… if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Shoot her. Which goes nicely with the comment for John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath: “Because it’s all about the titty.” In other words, books are instructions, you read them to be a man, and that’s why men need their own list. And what is a man? The comment on Jack London’s Call of the Wild tells us “A book about dogs is equally a book about men.” Bitches be crazy men, I guess.
I will say that the one thing that stays with me about Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, is that Rose of Sharon delivers a dead baby, more than likely due to the poverty and poor conditions she has suffered through…only to keep a starving old man from dying, by helping him to suckle at her breast at the end of the book…call it what you want, it is a vivid image for me. She has given birth to what was throughout the book…seen as both hope and dread, the baby…she lost one life, but is able to give some hope of what remains to someone in need…ah whatever.
Solnit goes on to say:
Scanning the list, which is full of all the manliest books ever, lots of war books, only one book by an out gay man, I was reminded that though it’s hard to be a woman it’s harder in many ways to be a man, that gender that’s supposed to be incessantly defended and demonstrated through acts of manliness. I looked at that list and all unbidden the thought arose, no wonder there are so many mass murders. Which are the extreme expression of being a man when the job is framed this way, though happily many men have more graceful, empathic ways of being in the world.
The list made me think there should be another, with some of the same books, called 80 Books No Woman Should Read, though of course I believe everyone should read anything they want. I just think some books are instructions on why women are dirt or hardly exist at all except as accessories or are inherently evil and empty. Or they’re instructions in the version of masculinity that means being unkind and unaware, that set of values that expands out into violence at home, in war, and by economic means. Let me prove that I’m not a misandrist by starting with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, because any book Paul Ryan loves that much bears some responsibility for the misery he’s dying to create.
She goes on…
Speaking of instructions on women as nonpersons, when I first read On the Road (which isn’t on this list, though The Dharma Bums is), I realized that the book assumed you identified with the protagonist who is so convinced he’s sensitive and deep even as he leaves the young Latina farmworker he got involved with to whatever trouble he’s created. It assumes that you do not identify with the woman herself, who is not on the road and not treated very much like anything other than a discardable depository. Of course I identified with her, as I did with Lolita (and Lolita, that masterpiece of Humbert Humbert’s failure of empathy, is on the Esquire list with a coy description). I forgave Kerouac eventually, just as I forgave Jim Harrison his lecherousness on the page, because they have redeeming qualities. And there’s a wholesome midwesterness about his lechery, unlike Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller’s.
Of course all three are on the Esquire list. As Dayna Tortorici said, “I will never forget reading Bukowski’s Post Office and feeling so horrible, the way that the narrator describes the thickness of ugly women’s legs. I think it was the first time I felt like a book that I was trying to identify with rejected me. Though I did absorb it, and of course it made me hate my body or whatever.” Writer Emily Gould described Bellow, Roth, Updike, Mailer as the “midcentury misogynists” a few years back, and it’s a handy term for those four guys on the Esquire list.
Ernest Hemingway is also in my no-read zone, because if you get the model for your art from Gertrude Stein you shouldn’t be a homophobic antisemitic misognynist, and because shooting large animals should never be equated with masculinity. The gun-penis-death thing is so sad as well as ugly. And because the terse, repressed prose style is, in his hands, mannered and pretentious and sentimental. Manly sentimental is the worst kind of sentimental, because it’s deluded about itself in a way that, say, honestly emotional Dickens never was.
More on Hemingway and others at the link, please go and read the rest of the post there.
As I said above, Hemingway is special to me for The Sun Also Rises. I can agree with her on some of the points above…but there is something so simple and beautiful in the words…
“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
In his rave for John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces” in the Book Review in 1980, Alan Friedman said the comic romp “generates the city of New Orleans in hot, sharp, solid, ethnic detail.” Much of that detail had to do with food. In the recently published “ ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ Cookbook,” Cynthia LeJeune Nobles writes that its scenes “unfold through clouds of doughnut sugar, rivers of Dixie 45 beer, tangles of spaghetti and mounds of empty erster (oyster) shells.”
The endless appetite of the Falstaffian protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly inspires dozens of recipes here, from Miss Trixie’s Orange-and-Bourbon-Glazed Ham to the Bourbon Street Messy Dog, which involves French bread and chicken gravy. The book’s index is a culinary exploration in itself. A sampling of its entries: “alligator hunting,” “bacon grease,” “hog jowls,” “Wonder Bread.”
Nobles’s book is also a tour of the novel’s locales and a history of its food references. Paradise Vendors, for instance, which operates a fleet of hot-dog carts in the book, is based on Lucky Dogs, a French Quarter fixture that has moved more than 20 million hot dogs since 1947, according to Nobles. The cookbook is careful to point out discrepancies between the reputable Lucky Dogs and Toole’s inventive flights. In the novel, Ignatius asks the man who hires him to name the elements of the hot dogs. “Rubber, cereal, tripe. Who knows?” comes the answer. Ignatius replies, while chewing on his first of four: “They’re curiously appealing.”
I haven’t read that book this year, strange since Iggy is something I turn to often…I must remedy that.
Each week in Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world of books. This week, Adam Kirsch and Anna Holmes discuss what Austen’s work says now, 200 years after “Emma” was published.
By Adam Kirsch
“Emma” is a comedy — a story in which the world finally gives everyone what he or she deserves.
By Anna Holmes
I’m not convinced that modern methods of human interaction are any better than the epistolary intrigues of the early 19th century.
Give that link a click…hopefully you will be able to read the two thoughts on the matter.
Let us take a look at another work written years back, this poem from Rudyard Kipling: Iffy by Austin Allen
Behind the mask of Rudyard Kipling’s confidence.
It’s easy to imagine “If—” as a great modernist title. Terse, mysterious, hesitant, it could have introduced a Williams fragment full of precarious gaps and leaps, or anAuden riff on the As You Like It line about evasive speech: “Much virtue in If.” Instead the title belongs to Rudyard Kipling, to the year 1910, and to a didactic poem that remains a classic of righteous certitude.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
Meanwhile, Kipling himself remains an icon of obnoxious wrongness. George Orwell’s 1942 disclaimer has been widely quoted: “It is no use pretending that Kipling’s view of life, as a whole, can be accepted or even forgiven by any civilized person.” Imperialist racist, aggressive militarist: Kipling was this and more, and very publicly. Even in his least controversial work, the outlook Orwell called “morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting” bleeds in at the margins. Read “If—” beside Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden,” and the line “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it” starts to smell like colonialist arrogance—or “jingoistic nonsense,” as one British paper put it in 1995, after Britain had voted “If—” its all-time favorite poem.
And therein lies the reason for issuing disclaimers at all: Kipling has lasted. For decades, Orwell wrote, “every enlightened person has despised him, and at the end of that time nine-tenths of those enlightened persons are forgotten and Kipling is in some sense still there.” In his 1939 elegy for W.B. Yeats, Auden judged that time had “Pardoned Kipling” by separating his writing talent from his bigotry. Auden dropped that stanza from later versions of the poem, but global culture has never dropped Kipling.
Check that article out…interesting.
I know that Sylvia Plath is one of Mona’s favorites…This article is focused on the Plath’s husband, Ted Hughes…a poet that has a prolific life’s work behind him…Getting Over Sylvia Plath – The Atlantic
by Clarice Lispector, translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson, edited and with an introduction by Benjamin Moser
New Directions, 645 pp., $28.95
In Chapter Six of his novel Murphy, Samuel Beckett considered what he called “Murphy’s mind”:
Murphy’s mind pictured itself as a large hollow sphere, hermetically closed to the universe without. This was not an impoverishment, for it excluded nothing that it did not itself contain. Nothing ever had been, was or would be in the universe outside it but was already present as virtual, or actual, or virtual rising into actual, or actual falling into virtual, in the universe inside it.
In Beckett’s fiction, there is a sense that the spirit of his characters is elsewhere, hidden from their bodies. They may know how to think, but the notion that this leads them therefore to exist is a sour joke. The word “therefore” in the Cartesian equation has been somehow mislaid. Their bodies, in all their frailty and levels of discomfort, tell his characters that they are alive. This knowledge is made more comic and tragic and indeed banal by the darting quality of the minds of many of Beckett’s characters, by the amount of nonsense going on in their heads. They are like hens pecking at memory and experience.
Hens are dear to the strange, bitter heart of the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. Their general helplessness combined with their persistence, their constant pecking and mindless squawking, seemed to animate something in her spirit. During her childhood in the north of Brazil, according to her biographer Benjamin Moser, “she spent hours with the chickens and hens in the yard.” “I understand a hen, perfectly,” she told an interviewer. “I mean, the intimate life of a hen. I know how it is.” One of her finest stories is “A Chicken,” three pages long, which tells of a bird trapped in a kitchen waiting to be sacrificed for Sunday lunch who decides to make a brief, defiant flight, only to be chased by the man of the house. “From rooftop to rooftop they covered more than a block. Ill-adapted to a wilder struggle for life, the chicken had to decide for herself which way to go, without any help from her race.”
The day is saved, or at least the chicken is, when she lays an egg and it is decided not to cook her, but instead to include her in the household. Thus
whenever everyone in the house was quiet and seemed to have forgotten her, she would fill up with a little courage, vestiges of the great escape—and roam around the tiled patio, her body following her head, pausing as if in a field, though her little head gave her away: vibratory and bobbing rapidly, the ancient fright of her species long since turned mechanical.
Lispector, however, has no interest in allowing this triumph to be more than brief. In a brisk and sudden final sentence, she does away with her brave bird: “Until one day they killed her, ate her and years went by.”
1942’s The Man Who Came to Dinner has slowly become one of the classics I watch every year around the holidays. Though it’s not necessarily a Christmas movie per se, it definitely has many of the elements that make for holiday fun, such as ice-skating on a frozen pond and placing presents around a beautifully decorated tree. Like other Hollywood productions such as The Philadelphia Story (1940), the film’s origins can be traced back to Broadway–a 1939 play written by the brilliant Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman–and in real people who were central to the worlds of both theater and film.
The lead character of Sheridan Whiteside was based on none other than Alexander Woollcott–famed drama critic, essayist, playwright, and member of the Algonquin Round Table. Though notoriously difficult, he was great friends with Moss Hart. Woollcott would occasionally drop by quite unexpectedly and once, in the span of just one day, he completely turned Hart’s house upside down–taking over his master bedroom, ordering his staff around, and making a general nuisance of himself. When he finally left, Hart found himself relieved that he had not chosen to stay even longer. He mentioned the theatricality of this possibility to his writing partner Kaufman and boom…a play was born.
The play was a great success from the very beginning and had nearly 800 performances before its run was done. One of its audience was the great Bette Davis, who so loved it that she urged Jack Warner to buy the screen rights for herself and John Barrymore. Screen tests were ordered and Bette was perfect as Maggie Cutler, Whiteside’s efficient and ever-patient assistant. The subtle part was actually a welcome departure for the actress and her usual dramatic roles. But Barrymore struggled in his tests as Sheridan Whiteside; even with cue cards, the rapid-fire dialogue was too much for the actor whose health was in decline as the result of years of drinking. Once he was dismissed, other actors were considered–everyone from Orson Welles to Cary Grant. Producers finally chose Monty Woolley, the actor who had originated the part on Broadway (cast while he was still a professor at Yale). He was so brilliant in the role that he seemed to be forever typecast as that same sharp-tongued sophisticate. Though Bette was unhappy because she “never got over [her] disappointment in not working with the great John Barrymore,” both the film and Woolley as Whiteside were an immense success.
In addition to Sheridan Whiteside, the play and film are filled with even more characters who were inspired by real people. Alexander Woollcott was lifelong friends with Harpo Marx, so that is who inspired the character of Banjo (played in the movie by Jimmy Durante). Noel Coward, another in their inner circle of artists and friends, was the basis for the character of Beverly Carlton (played by Reginald Gardiner). It seems only appropriate then that Lorraine Sheldon (deliciously and devilishly played in the film by Ann Sheridan) should be inspired by stage great Gertrude Lawrence, a dramatic actress who had a long and very close, though tempestuous, personal and professional relationship with Noel Coward.
With these intellects as inspiration, it should come as no surprise that the dialogue throughout the film is fast and furious, and there are many cultural references that make this fiction seem more like fact, especially for audiences at the time. Phone calls come for Sheridan from Winston Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt. Presents around the tree come from his friends and colleagues that include Deanna Durbin, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Somerset Maugham. Beverly tells Sheridan a story of one of Banjo’s parties where he saw Hollywood queens Norma Shearer and Claudette Colbert. Banjo, a professed lover of blondes, brings up Lana Turner. Lorraine drops the names of Cary Grant and (then wife) heiress Barbara Hutton, who were allegedly at one of the parties she attended in Palm Beach. Other names that are bandied about include Ginger Rogers, Sonja Henie, Zasu Pitts, fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (who had only recently abdicated the throne of England). Even Ann Sheridan’s own popular nickname “the Oomph Girl” is woven into the dialogue in reference to her character Lorraine.
One of the things that most fascinates me about The Man Who Came to Dinner, though, is that the film was put out by Warner Brothers at the top of the same year that the studio released one of the greatest of all time–Casablanca. In fact, many of the team who were responsible for Casablanca were also involved in this production, including Oscar-winning screenwriters Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein as well as producer Jerry Wald (who also produced other iconic film noir such as Mildred Pierce (1945)). And yet another member of the Casablanca team who worked on The Man Who Came to Dinner was costume designer Orry-Kelly.
There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas — something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails.” – Jerome K. Jerome, Told After Supper (1891)
It’s not just a junkyard — or even a really big junkyard — but a living, breathing monument to Los Angeles pop culture. And now it’s headed for the dustbin of history itself.
For 54 years, Aadlen Brothers Auto Wrecking, in a moonscaped, godforsaken-looking section of the San Fernando Valley, has collected far more than thousands of burned-out, smashed-up, rusted automobiles on its sprawling dirt and asphalt lot.
It’s also taken in just about every type of movie and TV prop imaginable while serving as the site of more than 200 Hollywood film shoots.
The last surviving “Bruce” the shark, made from the mold for the 1975 Steven Spielberg film Jaws, resides there, swimming ominously near an entrance. With its huge mouth agape, it appears ready to devour anyone foolish enough to try to sneak off the lot with, say, a pilfered power train from a ’32 Ford.
Nearby is the giant boom box Usher danced on for the 1997 video My Way. It’s actually a 53-foot-long big-rig trailer painted to look like the ’80s-era music machine. But viewed from a nearby freeway, it appears eerily authentic.
Now everything must go, says Nathan Adlen, owner of this hybrid junkyard-Hollywood back lot that’s been in his family since 1961, when this part of the valley was mainly a warren of sand-and-gravel quarries and garbage dumps.
By New Year’s Eve, he promises, it will be 26 acres of bare land surrounded largely by warehouses and car-repair places as he contemplates what to do next with the property.
Television is, of course, fake, but it can provide an opportunity to consider controversial topics like abortion in a comfortable, fictional setting. Yet, as researchers with the University of California, San Francisco, group Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health found, abortion on TV is often unlike abortion in real life — and the mismatch could affect how people perceive women who terminate pregnancies.
For a study published in the journal Contraception, researchers looked at depictions of abortion on all U.S. television shows (including networks, premium channels, and streaming services) from 2005 to 2014 and identified 78 plotlines where characters considered abortion, including 40 where a woman had one. They found that women on TV who had abortions were younger, whiter, wealthier, and less likely to already have children than the average American woman who ends a pregnancy.
“All these factors work together to build an interesting social myth, which is that women who get abortions aren’t mothers and they don’t want to be mothers,” study co-author Gretchen Sisson told NPR. More often, these women are already parents who can’t afford or care for another child.
Go to the link to see the five ways discussed…starting with age.
Now another show on TV that made news this past week, Miss Universe. I’m not going into the bullshit, but rather the costumes, from the viewpoint of two queens who blog about fashion:
In his satiric 1809 book A History of New York, Washington Irving did away with the characterization of Santa Claus as a “lanky bishop,” says Whipps. Instead, Irving described Santa as a portly, bearded man who smokes a pipe. Irving’s story also marked the first time Santa slid down the chimney.
A new poll has found that support for abortion rights has increased among both Democrats and Republicans in the last year. Fully 58 percent of Americans now think abortion should be legal “in most or all cases,” an Associated Press-GfK survey found, up from 51 percent at the beginning of the year.
This holiday season, as many as eight state capitols will be graced with a rainbow-festooned Festivus pole—a 6.5-foot-tall display crowned by a glittering disco ball. The pole was designed by Chaz Stevens, head of The Humanity Fund, a scrappy advocacy group that champions separation of church and state, free speech, and constitutional equality. Stevens hopes to place his display in Republican-dominated states—Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, Michigan—as a protest against what he views as their support for laws respecting an establishment of religion…
I spoke with Stevens on Thursday about his campaign to put gay pride Festivus poles in state capitols across the country.
Where did the Festivus pole idea originate?
In 2013, I got a tip saying, did you know there’s a manger up in Tallahassee in the capitol? So I write to Tallahassee, saying I want to put up a Festivus pole, thinking there’s no way in hell they’ll say yes. Three days later, they say yes. Up goes the pole. [Note: Stevens’ precedent paved the way for the Satanic Temple to put up its own capitol display, an angel falling into hellfire, in 2014.] Because of the timing—it’s Festivus, it’s a novelty, it’s Florida, there’s nobody getting killed, we’re not in a war—it goes viral.
Why did you choose a gay pride theme this year?
I am a privileged white heterosexual male in America, a lifelong ally of the gay community—some of my best friends are very homosexual, very out and proud, I love them to death—and we all cheered when the Supreme Court ruling reaffirming the rights of same-sex couples to marry came through. We thought,Finally! It’s about goddamn time!
Right around the corner, Kim Davis and her crazy people in Kentucky say, we’re not gonna give marriage licenses. That just drove me nuts. The very day that happened, I said to myself, those little fuckers! I am going to troll the living shit out of them. I’m going to wrap my pole in gay pride and put a disco ball on the top and stick it in the bowels of the Florida rotunda.
But you’re targeting more than just Florida, right?
Myself and my civil rights lawyer decided: Why not go on the road? I thought, we can take our trolling to an elite level. Let’s go to Arkansas. That’s where Huckabee is. Let’s wag this thing in front of Huckabee’s face and see if we can get him to react. Let’s go to Texas and wave this in front of Ted Cruz. New Jersey, Christie. Florida—well, I had those knuckleheads covered. I said, let’s go troll the living shit out of them.…
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Queen’s slow burn of an anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody.” To honor the epic number, English National Ballet’s lead principal Erina Takahashi and first soloist James Forbat performed an epic duet that truly captures what it feels like to be just a poor boy from a poor family.
With poise and drama, Takahashi and Forbat leap, twirl and bend their way through the six-minute rock opera, yielding a performance that would put even Wayne and Garth to shame. It’s so legit, Queen’s official channel even uploaded the video to YouTube. Check it out above. Try not to head bang so much you miss the good parts.
That’s all folks, have fun getting ready for tomorrow!
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Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates this day. Also, Happy Hanukkah, the festival of lights, which culminated last night. Happy Kwanzaa to those who will begin celebrating it tomorrow. And Happy Festivus “for the rest of us.”
How long have humans been celebrating the return of the light after the darkest day of the year–the Winter Solstice fell on Dec. 21 in 2014–when the days gradually begin getting longer? No one knows for sure, but it has been many centuries. I’ve gathered some articles about some ancient holidays around the solstice that preceded Christmas.
The ancient Romans celebrated the Saturnalia in tribute to the god Saturn, and Roman soldiers marked Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, in honor of the god Mithras.
In the Roman calendar, the Saturnalia was designated a holy day, or holiday, on which religious rites were performed. Saturn, himself, was identified with Kronos, and sacrificed to according to Greek ritual, with the head uncovered. The Temple of Saturn, the oldest temple recorded by the pontiffs, had been dedicated on the Saturnalia, and the woolen bonds which fettered the feet of the ivory cult statue within were loosened on that day to symbolize the liberation of the god. It also was a festival day. After sacrifice at the temple, there was a public banquet, as well as a lectisternium (a banquet in which an image of the god is placed as if in attendance), which Livy says was introduced in 217 BC. “For a day and a night the cry of the Saturnalia resounded through the City, and the people were ordered to make that day a festival and observe it as such for ever” (History of Rome, XXII.1.19). Afterwards, according to Macrobius (I.10.18), the celebrants shouted Io, Saturnalia at a riotous feast in the temple.
The Saturnalia was the most popular holiday of the Roman year. Catullus describes it as “the best of days” (Poems, XIV), and Seneca complains that the “whole mob has let itself go in pleasures” (Epistles, XVIII.3). Pliny the Younger writes that he retired to his room while the rest of the household celebrated (Epistles, II.17.24). It was an occasion for celebration, visits to friends, and the presentation of gifts, particularly wax candles (cerei), perhaps to signify the returning light after the solstice, and sigillaria. Martial wrote Xeniaand Apophoreta for the Saturnalia. Both were published in December and intended to accompany the “guest gifts” which were given at that time of year. Aulus Gellius relates that he and his Roman compatriots would gather at the baths in Athens, where they were studying, and pose difficult questions to one another on the ancient poets, a crown of laurel being dedicated to Saturn if no-one could answer them (Attic Nights, XVIII.2).
During the holiday, restrictions were relaxed and the social order inverted. Gambling was allowed in public. Slaves were permitted to use dice and did not have to work. Instead of the toga, colorful dinner clothes (synthesis) were permitted in public, as was the pileus, a felt cap normally worn by the manumitted slave that symbolized the freedom of the season (Martial, Epigrams, XIV.1). Within the family, a Lord of Misrule was chosen, a role once occupied by a young Nero, who derisively commanded his younger step-brother Britannicus to sing (Tacitus, Annals, XIII.15).
Slaves were treated as equals, allowed to wear their masters’ clothing, and be waited on at meal time in remembrance of an earlier golden age thought to have been ushered in by the god. In the Saturnalia, Lucian has the god’s priest declare that “During My week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside.” Statius recounts a “December tipsy with much wine, and laughing Mirth and wanton Wit,” remembering “the glad festival of our merry Caesar and the banquet’s drunken revel” (Silvae, I.6.1ff; also Suetonius, Domitian, IV.1; Dio, Roman History, LXVII.4.4). Figs, nuts, dates and other dainties were showered on the people, women and children, men and senators alike, and bread and wine served among the rows while guests were entertained by women fighting in the arena and cranes were hunted by dwarfs.
Relief of Mithras as bull-slayer from Neuenheim near Heidelberg, framed by scenes from Mithras’ life (from Wikipedia).
Saturnalia may have been responsible for the pageantry of our midwinter festival, but it’s Mithraism that seems to have inspired certain symbolic religious elements of Christmas. Mithraism arose in the Mediterranean world at the same time as Christianity, either imported from Iran, as Franz Cumont believed, or as a new religion which borrowed the name Mithras from the Persians, as the Congress of Mithraic Studies suggested in 1971.
Mithraism radiated from India where there is evidence of its practice from 1400 B.C. Mitra was part of the Hindu pantheon* and Mithra was, perhaps, a minor Zoroastrian deity**, the god of the airy light between heaven and earth. He was also said to have been a military general in Chinese mythology.
The soldiers’ god, even in Rome (although the faith was embraced by male emperors, farmers, bureaucrats, merchants, and slaves, as well as soldiers), demanded a high standard of behavior, “temperance, self-control, and compassion — even in victory”….
The comparison of Mithraists and Christians is not coincidental. December 25 was Mithras’ birthday (or festival before it was Jesus’. The Online Mithraic Faith Newsletter [no longer available] says:
“Since earliest history, the Sun has been celebrated with rituals by many cultures when it began it’s journey into dominance after it’s apparent weakness during winter. The origin of these rites, Mithrasists believe, is this proclamation at the dawn of human history by Mithras commanding His followers to observe such rites on that day to celebrate the birth of Mithras, the Invincible Sun.”
Thor, god of thunder
In Scandinavia the Norse god Thor was honored with the Feast of Juul.
The Feast of Juul was a pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia at the time of the December solstice. Fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. A Yule or Juul log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god Thor.
A piece of the log was kept as both a token of good luck and as kindling for the following year’s log. In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertilizer every night until Twelfth Night or kept as a charm and or as medicine.
French peasants believed that if the ashes were kept under the bed, they would protect the house against thunder and lightning. The present-day custom of lighting a Yule log at Christmas is believed to have originated in the bonfires associated with the feast of Juul.
Click on the link to read about other ancient holidays centered around the Winter Solstice.
During Constantine’s reign the Church Fathers went so far as to associate the “Unconquered Sun” with Jesus, referencing the “sun of righteousness” mentioned in Malachi 4:2 as evidence of Jesus, the true sun. Through this crafty legerdemain early Christians more easily shifted December 25 from the birth of Sol Invictus to the birth of Christ. Eventually several other important religious dates would pivot on Christmas, including the Annunciation, celebrated on March 25, nine months before Christ’s ceremonial birth, the Epiphany, and the Adoration of the Magi. Once Christianity seized December 25, all the other historic moments and their accompanying mythologies fell into place. After emerging out of the husk of Saturnalia, Christmas gathered more and more momentum until it became a vital date inextricably bound to all the other sacred events and consecrated lore of the Christian tradition.
Roughly 1,600 years later, though, things are different. Christmas, at least as it’s celebrated in America, is no longer treated as an exclusively religious holiday. While millions of Americans still attend Christmas services, there are millions more who get swept up in an entirely different set of gratuitous lore: Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Dickensian tableaus, and the lustrous charms of Disneyfication. But look beneath all of the modern flourishes and you’ll see something that looks a lot like Saturnalia: the ceremonial feasts, the singing in the streets (what we now call caroling), the holiday parties. Heck, Saturnalia even had a special day on December 23 reserved for the exchanging of gifts among friends and family—Sigillaria, so named after the wax figurines often given as presents.
The truth is that Christmas has not so much evolved into a secular celebration as it has come full circle, returning to its original incarnation as a sprawling festival more focused on levity and merrymaking than the worship of Jesus Christ….
It’s no blasphemy to declare that the December holiday season has once again become a pagan celebration; it’s an atavistic return to the ritual’s roots. The problem now, as the more devout Christians rightly point out, are those people caught in the middle of this identity crisis—identifying as members of Christianity and claiming belief in its savior, but investing little devotion, solemnity or faith in the embattled date.
In the 4th century CE, Christianity imported the Saturnalia festival hoping to take the pagan masses in with it. Christian leaders succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians….
Christians had little success, however, refining the practices of Saturnalia. As Stephen Nissenbaum, professor history at the University of Massachussetts, Amherst, writes, “In return for ensuring massive observance of the anniversary of the Savior’s birth by assigning it to this resonant date, the Church for its part tacitly agreed to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it had always been.” The earliest Christmas holidays were celebrated by drinking, sexual indulgence, singing naked in the streets (a precursor of modern caroling), etc.
The Reverend Increase Mather of Boston observed in 1687 that “the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.” Because of its known pagan origin, Christmas was banned by the Puritans and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681….
Some of the most depraved customs of the Saturnalia carnival were intentionally revived by the Catholic Church in 1466 when Pope Paul II, for the amusement of his Roman citizens, forced Jews to race naked through the streets of the city. An eyewitness account reports, “Before they were to run, the Jews were richly fed, so as to make the race more difficult for them and at the same time more amusing for spectators. They ran… amid Rome’s taunting shrieks and peals of laughter, while the Holy Father stood upon a richly ornamented balcony and laughed heartily.”
Just some food for thought . . .
A few nice news headlines:
The photo at the top of this post is from Michelle Obama’s Toys for Tots event, at which President Obama sorted toys for boys any girls and took the opportunity to fight gender stereotypes about girls supposedly not liking toys involving sports, science, and legos. Joan McCarter wrote about it at Daily Kos yesterday, President Obama: ‘Girls don’t like toys?’.
White House photographer Pete Souza shared a photo on Instagram on Wednesday of the president donning a tiara with a group of Girl Scouts from the White House Science Fair earlier this year in May. In the caption, Souza wrote the girls from Tulsa “convinced” Obama to join in on the fun.
More news headlines:
I was going to write a big post about the 75th anniversary of the film of Gone With The Wind, but I’ve been too tired from traveling. Here’s a good article from yesterday about the events surrounding the anniversary and about the racism in the book and movie.
Festivus is a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 as “another way” to celebrate the holiday season without participating in its pressures and commercialism. It was created by writer Dan O’Keefe and introduced into popular culture by his son Daniel, a screenwriter for the TV show Seinfeld, as part of a comical storyline on the show. The holiday’s celebration, as shown on Seinfeld, includes an unadorned aluminum “Festivus pole,” practices such as the “Airing of Grievances” and “Feats of Strength,” and the labelling of easily explainable events as “Festivus miracles”.
Celebrants of the holiday sometimes refer to it as “Festivus for the rest of us,” a saying taken from the O’Keefe family traditions and popularized in the Seinfeld episode to describe Festivus’ non-commerical aspect.
The holiday, as portrayed in the Seinfeld episode and now celebrated by many, includes practices such as the “Airing of Grievances,” which occurs during the Festivus meal and in which each person tells everyone else all the ways they have disappointed him or her over the past year. After the meal the “Feats of Strength” are performed, involving wrestling the head of the household to the floor, with the holiday ending only if the head of the household is actually pinned.
The original holiday featured more peculiar practices, as detailed in the younger Daniel O’Keefe’s book The Real Festivus. The book provides a first-person account of an early version of the Festivus holiday as celebrated by the O’Keefe family, and how O’Keefe amended or replaced details of his father’s invention to create the Seinfeld episode.
We’re getting really close to that other holiday, Christmas. Through most of my adult years, I found the Christmas season extremely stressful. Frankly some of my happiest Christmases have been years when I spent the day alone. In recent years, I’ve gotten quite a bit closer to my siblings and I’ve enjoyed some family Christmases; but when all of us get together it can still be pretty crazymaking.
This year I’ll be going to my sister’s house with my mom. I’m hoping it will be quiet and peaceful, and I’m hoping the snowstorm we’re expecting won’t be too bad. We lost my dad in March, so this will be the family’s first Christmas without him. I know that will be really hard for all of us, especially my mom.
I’m not going to go through all the legislation that passed yesterday or write about President Obama’s self-congratulatory press conference. I think we should keep it light today. I’m just going to throw out a few links that I found interesting and let you all do the same in the comments.
According to Michaelson, Boehner’s frequent “crying jags” stem from his troubled childhood.
Boehner cries a lot in public, even when debating bills in the House. He cries when he talks about his humble past. Son of a bar owner, he grew up with 11 siblings in a two-bedroom house with a single bathroom. He said recently on “60 Minutes” that he no longer visits schools or even looks at kids playing outside because he immediately starts crying.
Boehner had a scrappy upbringing, running cases of beer and mopping the floor in his father’s bar. He put himself through school, “working every rotten job there was.” The circumstances of his childhood, along with his manner of describing it, strongly suggest that, at times, he felt unappreciated, disrespected, and lacking in value.
Since Boehner rarely does anything to help deprived children, why does he burst into tears when he sees them? Michaelson see this as a form of projection.
When Boehner cries around kids, he’s not necessarily feeling their pain. He’s not seeing the world through their eyes. Rather, he’s imagining that they’re seeing the world through his eyes, through the self-doubt and pain with which he saw the world as a child. Unconsciously, he experiences himself and his political life in ways that are under the influence of these unresolved negative feelings.
He sees the children through what is unresolved in himself, through the pain he has repressed from his childhood. He’s also likely crying with relief because, unconsciously, he believes that, through his elevation to fame and power, he has liberated himself from those haunting feelings.
It’s an interesting hypothesis. We’ll probably learn a lot more about Boehner when he becomes Speaker of the House–probably a lot more than we ever wanted to to know. I wonder if he’ll cry frequently while going about his Speaker duties? I’ll bet he cries during the swearing in anyway.
A suspect accused of driving a muscle car erratically onto the lawn at former President George W. Bush’s north Dallas home Wednesday night was detained by the Secret Service.
The former president and former first lady Laura Bush were in the Preston Hollow neighborhood home at the time but were unharmed and never in danger, officials told NBC station KXAS.
That must have been exciting.
Have you heard about the new Broadway sensation, “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark?” There have been so many mishaps with this production that they had to call off Wednesday’s scheduled performances.
The Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” canceled its two Wednesday performances to test a new safety plan for the show’s 38 aerial and stage maneuvers, which involve actors hoisted or tethered in harnesses, including the maneuver that failed at Monday night’s performance when a stunt actor fell more than 20 feet and broke his ribs.
By canceling the performances at a cost of roughly $400,000 in ticket sales, and by adopting safety measures recommended by state and federal officials, the producers of “Spider-Man” sought to project a sense of urgency and understanding that action was needed to make the show safer. While the producers said that Thursday night’s performance would go on, they also committed, according to state safety officials, not to hold performances until the new measures were in place. The state officials said the plan could be tested successfully by Thursday night.
Under the plan, one offstage crew member will attach the harness and related cables, wires or tethers to the actors, and a second stagehand will verify that the attachments are made. That second stagehand will then verbally notify a stage manager that they are safely connected. The actor will also verify that the attachment is made. Previously, there was no second stagehand to verify or communicate with the stage manager, and the actor was not required to check his harness.
“We’re locking up people that have taken a couple puffs of marijuana and next thing you know they’ve got 10 years with mandatory sentences,” Robertson continued. “These judges just say, they throw up their hands and say nothing we can do with these mandatory sentences. We’ve got to take a look at what we’re considering crimes and that’s one of ’em.
“I’m … I’m not exactly for the use of drugs, don’t get me wrong, but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, that kinda thing it’s just, it’s costing us a fortune and it’s ruining young people. Young people go into prisons, they go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals. That’s not a good thing.”
Hmmm….could this explain where Robertson gets his wacky ideas about the causes of hurricanes and terrorist attacks?
Seasonal goodwill is in short supply on the divided Korean peninsula, where both sides are again at potentially deadly loggerheads – over a Christmas tree.
North Korea’s military is reportedly preparing to shoot down a floodlit tower decorated with Christmas lights which overlooks the border near the South’s capital, Seoul – home to millions of Christians.
The provincial governor, Kim Moon-soo, has warned that firing at the tree would be a reckless and “provocative” act. The South’s Defence Minister was more blunt. “We’ll retaliate decisively to take out the source of any shelling,” Kim Kwan-jin told parliament yesterday. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said fighter jets were on standby, ready to strike back.
OK, that’s it for me, except for this gratuitous kitty picture.
What are you reading this morning? Feel free to post links to serious stories, if you must.
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The Sky Dancing banner headline uses a snippet from a work by artist Tashi Mannox called 'Rainbow Study'. The work is described as a" study of typical Tibetan rainbow clouds, that feature in Thanka painting, temple decoration and silk brocades". dakinikat was immediately drawn to the image when trying to find stylized Tibetan Clouds to represent Sky Dancing. It is probably because Tashi's practice is similar to her own. His updated take on the clouds that fill the collection of traditional thankas is quite special.
You can find his work at his website by clicking on his logo below. He is also a calligraphy artist that uses important vajrayana syllables. We encourage you to visit his on line studio.