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Pericles – A king without a crown

Pericles

Pericles: CameliaTWU via Flickr

Pericles (ca. 495-429 BCE) was an Athenian general and statesman born in the wealthy and powerful Alcmaeonid family during Athens‘ so-called Golden Age.

He had an unusually large head and legend has it that before his birth, his mother dreamed she bore a lion. It’s hard to know if this is just an embellishment, the lion being a well known symbol for royalty.¹

Also, Pericles’ large head was the object of much satire in his day, so perhaps the story was a retroactive flourish based on his physicality.

Aside from the jokes and legends, Pericles was a great orator who reached the masses without stooping to their vulgar idioms, as one historian put it.

He was calm, self-controlled and yet charismatic when he wanted to be. Possessing the ruling power of a king (443-429 BCE), he was never crowned as such. His influence to the Greeks at Athens was such that the historian Thucydides (circa 460 BCE – 395 BCE) called him “the first citizen of Athens.”

Pericles advocated legal reforms that culminated in an Athenian democracy (462-461 BCE).² He became the head of the democratic party in 461 BCE, while his wealthy and influential opponent Cimon was exiled.

Educated in music and philosophy by the best teachers of his day,³ he was active in the literary, philosophical and artistic community of Athens, and the driving force behind the erection of the Parthenon (begun 447 BCE) and several other impressive structures.

Anaxagoras, one of Pericles’ leading teachers via ECO SOCIAL…OJO CRÍTICO CCL

During the Thirty Years Peace he remained antagonistic to Sparta, this fueling the onset of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE).

While the Peloponnesian War raged, Athens was hit by a plague that claimed his life.

The Greek historian and philosopher Plutarch (c.46-c.120 CE ) wrote a biography of Pericles. He’s also mentioned by Herodotus (484– circa 425 BCE).  Shakespeare read Plutarch’s biography and wrote the play Pericles, Prince of Tyre (c.46-c.120 CE ) with his usual wit:

So, this is Tyre, and this the court. Here must I kill King Pericles; and if I do it not, I am sure to be hanged at home: ’tis dangerous. Well, I perceive he was a wise fellow, and had good discretion, that, being bid to ask what he would of the king, desired he might know none of his secrets: now do I see he had some reason for’t; for if a king bid a man be a villain, he’s bound by the indenture of his oath to be one!4

¹ Legend has it that Alexander The Great’s father had a similar dream just before the birth of his illustrious son.

² http://www.stoa.org/projects/demos/article_democracy_development?page=6

³ Most notably, Anaxagoras.

4 https://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/views/plays/play_view.php?WorkID=pericles&Act=1&Scene=3&Scope=scene


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Pelegianism and authoritarian personalities

Illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle

Illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle (Wikipedia)

Preamble: Why I’m not too enthusiastic about Christian theology  (skip to main entry, Pelegianism)

Reading over material for this update, I came to feel that Pelegianism is a great example of why I’m not overly enthused about the history of Christian theology and its related squabbles.

While converting to Catholicism in 2001 I asked the leader for our RCIA course, an elderly priest, how certain parts of the Bible came to be included in the Catholic canon.

I could have also asked the related question of how certain dogmas and teachings came into being but I’m pretty sure I only asked about the formation of the Catholic Bible, which differs from other Bibles.

In retrospect, the priest was probably caught off guard. He was a good, educated man who no doubt knew about the various Councils held in early Christianity.¹

Also, the RCIA participants met in the evening. The leader was probably tired after a long day of fulfilling his priestly duties. And maybe he felt he had to answer to the group, not just to me. But still, his answer seemed simplistic at the time.

He replied that certain Biblical books “resonated with the people” and others did not, as if a majority community democratically decided what should and should not be included in the Catholic canon.

This may be true on some level, but the final decisions were made by a select few. Even today, many of the clergy are quick to point out that the Church “is not a democracy.” For the most part, unchanging truths are apparently revealed through some ambiguous process I still don’t fully understand.

Does anybody?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not disagreeing with the Church’s basic teachings. But many elaborations, it seems, are questionable and supported through incredibly weak arguments.

A high school student could pick apart some of the arguments upheld by members of the clergy—especially, imo, those concerning why only men may become ordained priests.

But I digress. I’ll pick up on these ideas in the postscript.

A17th century Calvinist print depicting Pelagi...

A 17th century Calvinist print depicting Pelagius. The caption says “Accurst Pelagius, with what false pretence Durst thou excuse man’s foul concupiscence, Or cry down Sin Originall, or that The love of God did man predestinate.” – Wikipedia

Pelegianism

Pelegius was a British monk (circa 354–420 or 440 CE)  who came to be associated with a body of teachings called Pelagianism. Pelagius, himself, came to deny those teachings that had been linked to him.

So what is Pelagianism?

Pelagianism is the heretical Christian view, loosely associated with Pelagius, that salvation is attainable through one’s own efforts, as opposed to redemption through divine assistance.

Pelagius believed that Adam and Eve’s original sin (as related in the Biblical book of Genesis) was a bad example for the rest of us. But Adam and Eve’s sin did not indelibly stamp sin into every human being born after him.

In other words, Pelagius recast the traditional idea of a universal “original sin” into a more specific “first sin” of Eve.

So sin is something we can avoid by making good ethical choices and following up with good ethical actions. This places full responsibility on the individual, and less emphasis on the need for divine aid. God already gave us the “tools” as it were, to avoid sin by giving us free will. So grace, intercession, intervention, and so on, may occur but are not necessary to avoid sin and to make good ethical choices.²

Jesus sets a good example and offers a means for atonement. But for Pelegians, Christ does not die for the original sin that we, so the traditional teaching goes, inherit from Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God.

Pelegius also rejected infant baptism, a topic often raised by non-Catholics in favor of adult baptism. And he saw the popular Catholic idea of “weakness” as a crutch for not trying hard enough to eradicate bad behavior.

Pelagius was disturbed by the immorality he encountered in Rome and saw Christians using human frailty as an excuse for their failure to live a Christian life.3

In the early 5th century St. Augustine condemned Pelagius’ ideas. Pelagius was accused of heresy and acquitted.

But this was only a reprieve. Pelagius was later charged again in 431 CE, condemned as a heretic and excommunicated. Not necessarily executed, he was banished from Jerusalem to Egypt where he disappears from history.

Pelagius’ ideas have returned, however, in literature and film.4 And although most of his writings are lost, the thrust of his arguments remain intact by the writings of his opponents (most likely biased to make Pelagius look as wicked as possible).5

Pelagius, flanked by two ministers of his chur...

Pelagius, flanked by two ministers of his church, from a miniature of the Liber testamentorum. (Wikipedia)

Postscript: Why I dodge dogmatic obsessives (see also, Preamble)

Why don’t I like studying the history of Christian theology, as mentioned in the preamble?

For one, it seems too abstract. Theological writings also can come off arrogant and mean-spirited. Instead of reading about the ideas a group of men have developed – and the victims they historically were willing to persecute to advance those ideas – I much prefer good, honest histories about political intrigue and battles. Something I can sink my teeth into and possibly relate to contemporary news.

My kind of history may relate to religion and theology but it involves the whole picture. Not just religion. Theology by itself sometimes seems like a conceptual game.6

Maybe that’s a little extreme. I can understand why a given Church wants to get it right. But I think the humility factor must take precedence, not the arrogance or authoritarian factors. And it seems that many who boldly proclaim as correct their view of theology are probably authoritarian personalities hiding behind a plethora of unresolved psychological issues. Can they avoid dealing with their psychological issues by focusing on their apparent “certainty” on every issue under the sun?

I wouldn’t call obsessive dogmatics “losers” because everyone has a role to play in the grand scheme of things. And we’re all imperfect people, after all. But I wouldn’t spend time having a coffee with them, either. Personalities like that can be toxic. And as a spiritually sensitive person, they can make me squirm, maybe even give me a headache.

So I keep a respectful distance. Fortunately, people so different from myself tend to not want to associate with me either. So it usually works out. There are always a few needy or disturbed exceptions. People who just do not take a broad hint. They tend to be more difficult. But again, one can’t waste time with them.

There’s too much love in the world to spend time with regimented haters. We can pray for them. But getting too close only fans the flames of their authoritarian anger.

¹ In fairness, if someone asked me out of the blue, I’d probably refer them to Wikipedia or the online Catholic Encyclopedia.

² I’m not sure if I agree with this. I tend to think that God educates us as to why we are sinning. That is, what we once thought was AOK becomes clearly sinful from the higher perspective of grace. So we can’t necessarily choose correctly from the get-go. We have to be educated by God about making the right choice. To make things more complicated, this probably varies from person to person. God’s expectations may be sometimes be personal and not always universal. That’s why we should really only judge ourselves and not others.

³ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelagius

4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelagius#Pelagius_in_literature_and_film

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelagius#Writings

Some histories of Christianity, of course, do include political elements and all the Church’s warts. But others gloss over the scheming and iniquity. See, respectively, Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity (gritty) vs. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity (glossy).

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Dr. James Martin Peebles – A hundred years of theory meeting practice?

English: Louis XVI of France

Louis XVI of France; Peebles believed one of Louis’ sisters was one his many spiritual guides – Photo: Wikipedia

Dr. James Martin Peebles (1822-1922) was an American medical doctor, spiritualist, author and Universalist minister who later became a Theosophist.

He believed he received inspiration and guidance from a “band of angels,” as he put it.

Some of these alleged spiritual guides were famous characters, such as Mozart, Louis XVI of France‘s sister, and Chief Powhatan, who was the father of Pocahontas.

Other guides were less famous, like John W. Leonard, a deceased Scottish clergyman.

Peebles traveled to India several times with Col. Henry Steel Olcott, the co-founder of Theosophy.

Today, Linda Pendleton and others claim to channel messages from Dr. Peebles.

Chief Powhatan

Chief Powhatan by Terren via Flickr – Another guide whom Peebles believed helped him

His purported message to humanity is consistent with much New Age channeling—that is, universal love, cooperation, and the need to overcome the illusion of separation among individuals and nations.

Dr. Peebles, himself, lived three days short of 100 years and penned a book caled How to Live a Century and Grow Old Gracefully.²

So I guess we could say that, for him, theory really did meet practice!

It will be interesting to see if the same thing happens with more recent “live-long and beautiful” figures like Deepak Chopra.³

Related » Channeling

¹ Linda Pendleton’s web site has more about Dr. Peebles: todancewithangels.com

² https://archive.org/details/howtolivecentury00peeb 

³ For me, Chopra raises a red flag whenever I see him, despite his media popularity. The Amazon blurb for one of his books says it all: “Ageless Body, Timeless Mind goes beyond current anti-aging research and ancient mind/body wisdom to dramatically demonstrate that we do not have to grow old!” Sounds pretty hokey to me. But I guess we’ll see…

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Parvati – Loving, terrible and creative, like most deities

The Hindu mother goddess Parvati feeding her s...

The Hindu mother goddess Parvati feeding her son, the elephant-headed wisdom god Ganesha – Wikipedia

Parvati is a central Hindu goddess and the consort of Siva as described in the Puranas.

She is said to be the daughter of the Himalayas and a model for the ideal wife. Sometimes called Devi, Parvati is generally seen as a benevolent, nurturing and protective deity.

In one variant of her mythic cycle, Parvati is the reincarnated Sati, who formerly took her own life. At the request of Vishnu she stops the distraught Siva from undertaking his terrible dance of cosmic destruction.

Some regard Parvati as the exemplary shakti. Shakti is a Sanskrit term for female power, sometimes called ‘serpent power’ because it is believed to rise upwards like a serpent through the chakras of the meditating yogi or yogini.

Like many deities, Parvati has a dark side and it would be incomplete to describe her as entirely benevolent.

Several Hindu stories present alternate aspects of Parvati, such as the ferocious, violent aspect as Shakti and related forms. Shakti is pure energy, untamed, unchecked and chaotic. Her wrath crystallizes into a dark, blood-thirsty, tangled-hair Goddess with an open mouth and a drooping tongue. This goddess is usually identified as the terrible Mahakali or Kali (time).[43] In Linga Purana, Parvati metamorphoses into Kali, on the request of Shiva, to destroy a female asura (demoness) Daruka. Even after destroying the demoness, Kali’s wrath could not be controlled. To lower Kali’s rage, Shiva appeared as a crying baby. The cries of the baby raised the maternal instinct of Kali who resorts back to her benign form as Parvati. In Skanda Purana, Parvati assumes the form of a warrior-goddess and defeats a demon called Durg.¹

Kali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma. – Wikipedia

Shakti also refers to a general principle of creative, cosmic energy. Some believe that when this energy is personified it takes the form of a goddess, such as Parvati or Krishna’s playmate, Radha. Others, of course, say these goddesses are real, in themselves, and not mere personifications of some general principle.

In one Purana (a Hindu religious text), Parvati is the mother of all other goddesses, universally worshiped with many forms and names. Her appearance and form depends on her overall cosmic purpose or, as Wikipedia suggests, on her “mood.”²

Personally, I think this Wikipedia take is too small a perspective considering the depth and breadth of Hindu myth, philosophy and religion.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parvati

² Ibid.

Related » Hinduism, yoni, linga


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Wave-Particle Duality – Micro concept with macro implications

The wave-particle duality refers to a contradiction that arises when we try to understand the nature of light.

Girls demonstrating wave-particle duality.

Girls demonstrating wave-particle duality by James Guppy via Flickr

Light can be either a wave (energy) or particle (matter), depending on the way we observe and interpret it. Some even try to combine the concepts of energy and matter to say that light is a “wavicle.”¹

Albert Einstein had this to say:

It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.²

Philosophers of science believe the duality is created by the way we use language. And the apparent conflict might be reconciled if we consider what language is and does.

Language, they say, not only describes but also influences our understanding of things spoken and written about. So with a kind of circularity, the way we describe our world in turns shapes our worldview.

Consider the moon, for instance. To an Apollo astronaut it is something to travel to, orbit and possibly walk on. For an ancient Roman, the moon might be seen as a somewhat mysterious place where the goddess Luna resides or as an aspect of the pagan goddesses Diana or Juno.

In ancient Iran, the moon was believed to be “The Great Man” who periodically incarnates on Earth. And in the recent past, the moon was whimsically said to be made of blue cheese.

In each of these examples, the words and the semantic context within which the occur shape the understanding of the thing described. We have to keep this is mind not only when studying myth and religion but in any aspect of life—ancient or modern. Culture isn’t just created. It also creates.³

We can overcome the wave-particle duality by realizing that it is informed by the way we categorize reality, but this might be a hollow victory because it doesn’t tell us much about the actual essence of light, energy or matter—or even if these phenomena have a true ‘essence.’

At some point language becomes inadequate. And many believe that sciences, which also use symbol systems like mathematics and physics, are equally as imperfect to the task of describing reality.

From this, the holistic thinker Peter Russell argues that we should not confuse the proverbial map (scientific concepts and theories) with the thing mapped (alleged fundamental aspects of creation).

The debate about describing vs the described can get pretty complicated. Some maintain that language is, in fact, adequate and an integral part of reality. Others say this argument falls short when we consider how meanings have changed throughout history.

Is truth always relative or is there something absolute, essential or permanent in our world? These basic questions may seem abstruse. But the way we unconsciously answer them in our daily assumption/decision making process no doubt informs many aspects of life.

So I think it’s better to be aware of our uncertainties and biases. Question everything. That way we don’t put the world – and other people – in an artificially small box. When people try to do that, what we’re really seeing is a picture of their provincial outlook.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave%E2%80%93particle_duality#Neither-wave-nor-particle_view

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave%E2%80%93particle_duality Follow this link for a good, brief history » https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave%E2%80%93particle_duality#Brief_history_of_wave_and_particle_viewpoints

³ That’s why many poststructural social thinkers argue that power is creative, not just repressive.

Related » George Berkeley, Brahman, Albert Einstein, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, John Locke, Poststructuralism, Erwin Schrödinger, Semiology, Tao, Thomas Young


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Particles – “I want to be a particle of your light”

A general view of ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) cavern and detector during a behind the scenes tour at CERN, the World’s Largest Particle Physics Laboratory on April 19, 2017 in Meyrin, Switzerland.

In physics a particle is defined as a tiny unit of matter. But what is matter?

Subatomic physics discoveries along with the development of semiotics (the study of signs) have thrown the entire notion of matter into question.

Erwin Schrödinger, an Austrian physicist, saw the particle as a standing wave, which is a relatively stable energy pattern. For others, particles are seen as wave packets of energy.

Particle physicists also hypothesize what the media has sensationalized as the “God Particle.”¹ If its existence is confirmed, the God Particle apparently would resolve some of the inconsistencies found in theoretical physics.

Time to step back and think intelligently, something that some scientists fail to do. My main beef with the claims of some researchers rests on the problem of subjectivity.

How may we confirm the independent existence of something when the longstanding debate about subjectivity (biased observation) vs. objectivity (unbiased observation) is unresolved, and might always be?

An example of simulated data modelled for the ...

An example of simulated data modelled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. Here, following a collision of two protons, a is produced which decays into two jets of hadrons and two electrons. The lines represent the possible paths of particles produced by the proton-proton collision in the detector while the energy these particles deposit is shown in blue. (Wikipedia)

Physicists play a high priced game and convince a good number of people that they’re getting at some basic truth when arguably they’re just fabricating a historically relative worldview.

As any sociologist worth his or her salt with note, scientists carry out experiments within a given framework that, consciously or unconsciously, not only advance knowledge but also reinforce and legitimize beliefs about (a) how best to proceed and (b) what our world is all about.

So alleged high-tech “confirmations” run the risk of becoming, at bottom, a biased way of saying that a particular truth game is the truth game.

But science is no abstract game. It’s a human enterprise that takes money to operate. The general public is easily enchanted by glimmering machines and Photoshopped lab results. And this popular enthusiasm probably makes it easier for scientists to get funded.²

Not that I’m a Luddite, dead against anything new. Physics, of course, can be theoretically useful and reap many practical rewards. Our limits as a species should not deter us from exploring and developing new ideas. However, we would be wise to remember that ideas like the God Particle are culturally relative stories and certainly not the whole story.

¹ Many scientists, themselves, see this as an irresponsible metaphor for the hypothesized Higgs Boson particle.

² I have no data on this but it seems like common sense. Science exists in society. If nobody in society is interested in something, chances are funding won’t happen. Enthusiasm can have a ripple effect throughout the whole system.

† Title quote from Bruce Cockburn, “Hills of Morning” from the True North album Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. One of the things I like about Cockburn’s “peak period” lyrics is his intelligent mix of science and spirituality.

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Participation Mystique – An alternative to secular materialism

Mystiques of malabar

Mystiques of malabar: Seema K K via Flickr

Participation Mystique is a psychological and spiritual idea proposed by the anthropologist Lucien Lévi-Bruhl. It concerns the alleged mystical relationship that so-called primitives had with objects in their environment.

In Lévi-Bruhl’s own words:

In the collective representations of primitive mentality objects can be…something other than themselves…they give forth and they receive mystic powers, virtues, qualities, influences which make themselves felt outside, without ceasing to remain where they are.¹

The depth psychiatrist Carl Jung used the term participation mystique to denote two arguably related ideas.

First, Jung describes cases where his clients believe they have some kind of mystical connection with another person. This may involve a love affair, real or imagined or, more disturbingly, a kind of paranoid, fear relationship.

Over the years Jung modifies his thinking on this. Early on, he seems to say that participation mystique mostly involves a distorted understanding of the collective unconscious. That is, one mistakenly assumes a two-way mystical connection and that the other feels what they feel.

But later in his career Jung seems to open up to the notion that real, two-way relationships can occur through the matrix of the collective unconscious. These may be mutually conscious, conscious on the part of one person, or mutually unconscious.

Second, Jung talks about participation mystique in terms of the numinous power of the archetypes spilling over into ego consciousness. This doesn’t necessarily involve a relationship with another person, per se. The power of the archetypes can be experienced internally like the power of, as Jung suggests, the old gods. As such, they can be helpful or harmful, depending on how the ego relates to this power.

Lévi-Bruhl and Jung’s theories suggest that so-called primitives had an intimate relation with spiritual powers, good and bad.

For Jung, the ego is a high point of modern civilization. But the ego can also obscure the process of participation mystique. The psychological development of the ego gives mankind planes, trains and automobiles but robs us of an inner psycho-wealth apparently enjoyed by our ancestors.

This scenario has been questioned by Michel Foucault and others who say it is a romantic reconstruction of the past based on little or no fact. Foucault studies different understandings – in postmodern terms, constructions – of the self throughout Western history. He touches on themes like dream analysis and the sacrament of confession. But it seems he never really experiences the numinous in a mature way. Like many intelligent but overtly conceptual thinkers, his only understanding of spirituality comes from experimenting with mind-altering drugs.

The American mythographer Joseph Campbell builds on Jung’s work, suggesting that moderns can enjoy a sense of the numinous and feel spiritually connected to all of creation through archetypal films like Star Wars

Campbell implies that, contrary to what some might say, Europeans do not have a monopoly on deep culture. Culture is alive and well in North America—not so much through majestic old buildings and the classical arts but through the staggering achievements of Hollywood, the media, technology, and a higher standard of living. However, Campbell also appreciates the great cultural riches of European and most other civilizations.³

Darth Vader as a dark archetypal image – Vader has insight but uses it to destroy and conquer rather than to build up and share

Participation mystique is a pivotal idea because it links the individual to something greater than secular materialism. It opens the door to inner exploration and social dialog, both important and best kept in balance. Inner exploration without sincere dialog could lead to madness or charismatic authoritarianism. And social dialog without inner exploration might contribute to the same old worldly ideas being tossed around without any real insight, inspiration or meaningful innovation.

¹ Lucien Lévi-Bruhl, How Natives Think, trans. Lilian A. Clare, New York: Washington Square Press, 1966 [1910],  p. 61.

² The Romanian scholar, Mircea Eliade, says much the same thing in his own critique of modern culture. In Myth and Reality Eliade claims that mid-20th century comics like Superman “present the modern version of mythological or folklore Heroes” (New York: Harper & Row 1963, pp. 184-185).

³ These observations refer to about 1949-1987, when Campbell’s influence was at its peak. Everything has changed since then. I once knew a professor who came to Canada from a European country while it was under the grip of communism. Unlike Campbell, this professor implied that European culture was vastly superior to North American culture, the unanswered question being: If the professor likes the old country so much, why is he still in North America?

Johann Heinrich Füssli, Le Cauchemar (The Nightmare), 1781 via Wikipedia

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