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Lord Byron

Lord Byron in Albanian dress

Lord Byron in Albanian dress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

George Gordon Noel Byron (Lord, 1788-1824) was the 6th baron of Rochdale, and a London-born poet of Scottish decent, said to embody the Romantic tradition.

While John Keats and Percy Shelley might be a bit more popular today and are usually regarded in the U.K. and North America as somewhat deeper, Byron is remembered for his effortless, effective rhyme.¹

His verse often deals with a particular type of melancholic hero, one lamenting some past sin or travesty, yet remaining steadfast and defiant toward the future.

But Byron also had his grandiose, archetypal moments, as evident in Prometheus (1816):

Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,
To render with thy precepts less
The sum of human wretchedness,
And strengthen Man with his own mind;

Moreover, Byron, with unusual versatility, was quite capable of light, lyrical moments, as we see in She Walks in Beauty (1815), a poem said to be inspired by setting eyes upon a mourning widow:

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Deutsch: Lord Byron, britischer Poet

Deutsch: Lord Byron, britischer Poet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Short, stout and limping with a club foot, he was, nonetheless, a ladies man. Married, permanently separated and involved in numerous romantic liaisons, after the destruction of his marriage he spoke of his honeymoon as a “treaclemoon.”

Following the death of his friend Shelley – he’d lived with the Shelleys in 1815 at Lake Geneva – Byron lived in Venice for two years. After that, he joined the Greek army in 1823 to fight for Greek independence and died of fever in Missolonghi in 1824. His body was shipped back to Newstead Abbey, England after he’d received full military honors in Greece.

¹ From Wikipedia: The six most well-known English authors are, in order of birth and with an example of their work:

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William S. Burroughs

William Burroughs enjoying cake and alcohol at...

William Burroughs enjoying cake and alcohol at his 70th birthday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) was an innovative, influential author who kept company with literary stars like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

Burrows was a bisexual, on-and-off junkie (heroine addict) who shot to stardom with his book, Naked Lunch, written over three years in a Moroccan hotel room.

Most of his works are taken as autobiographical, and Naked Lunch is no exception. The protagonist Bill Lee, a heroine addict, travels from New York to Tangiers and then into the Interzone. There he confronts a hellish, hallucinogenic urban fantasy land where the individual is forced to grapple with the dark, frightening forces of totalitarianism.

According to one account, the manuscript was disjointed and probably would never have been published had not Ginsberg and a few other beatniks saved it from a flooded hotel room floor.

Originally printed in Paris in 1959, Naked Lunch reached the U.S. in 1962. There, a well-publicized obscenity trial over the novel in 1966 is usually seen as marking the end of literary censorship in that country. Burrows won the case.

Joan Vollmer

Joan Vollmer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In retrospect, one has to wonder if Burrows was anticipating the internet and virtual reality with his idea of the Interzone. Others, however, say the Interzone is a metaphor for a borderless city.

Burrows’ take on semiotics is probably best summed up by his claim that “Language is a virus…[words]…become images when written down, but images of words repeated in the mind and not of the image of the thing itself.”¹ Just what he meant by that is still open to debate.²

Apparently Burroughs accidentally killed his second wife Joan Vollmer in a drunken stupor in 1951, for which he was charged in Mexico with “criminal imprudence.” He, himself, believed that this tragic incident was a catalyst for his writing career. In essence, Burroughs found himself plunged into a world of darkness, and the only way he knew how to escape was to write autobiographical fiction while living a life that included heavy drugs and casual sex.

¹ http://www.coolidge.org/balagan/text_spring2003.html

² http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20091007222931AAUtbkE


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Burning Bush

Moses and the Burning Bush, panel on the West ...

Moses and the Burning Bush, panel on the West wall of the Dura Europos Synagogue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Burning Bush is a an Old Testament story in which an angel of the Lord is said to have appeared to Moses within a “burning bush.”

The fire doesn’t consume the bush, and when the supernatural being speaks, its voice is likened to God’s.

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight-why the bush does not burn up.” When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am” (Exodus 3:1-4 NIV)

Another reference to the burning bush is made in Deuteronomy 33:16 where God is described as “him who dwelt in the burning bush” (NIV).

Just what really happened here, if anything, is a matter of much theological debate. Does God as the Holy Spirit speak to Moses? Or was it some other angel (messenger) of God?

Some take this story literally, others see it as myth and another group sees it as a combination of fact and fiction. From the standpoint of depth psychology, or, if you will, psychology and religion, the burning bush story has been taken as an illustration of the purification process, both on personal and social levels. That is, many suffer privately and collectively but the true in spirit soldier on, fulfilling their earthly destiny and, after death, attaining their heavenly home.

Related Posts » Angels, Fallen Angels


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Anthony Burgess

English: A production photo from Brad Mays' mu...

English: A production photo from Brad Mays’ multi-media stage production of “A Clockwork Orange,” by Anthony Burgess, performed in Los Angeles in 2003. The photograph was commissioned by photographer Peter Zuehlke, and depicts Vanessa Claire Smith in her award-winning, gender bending portrayal of Alex. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anthony Burgess (1917-94) was a British author. His most famous work is A Clockwork Orange (1962), a tale he reportedly whipped up in a few weeks to make some money. It’s a grisly and at times horrific story of Alex, a gang leader of a group of depraved thugs in an equally (although more subtly) depraved society.

While the original version of the book contained a 21st chapter with an optimistic ending, Burgess’ publisher only wanted 20 chapters. So the unsettling, open-ended conclusion that many of us know wasn’t Burgess’ initial intention.

In Stanley Kubrick‘s film adaptation (1971), which follows the 20 chapter version of the book, Alex is eventually abandoned and arrested after his gang of buddies become corrupt Bobbies.

Reprogrammed through image-association techniques¹ to detest sex and violence, Alex’s favorite composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven, is on the reprogramming soundtrack while he’s being “fixed.” After his treatment, not only antisocial images but also his favorite Beethoven music make him feel violently ill.

Alex ends up in the home of the bourgeois intellectual whom Alex and his mates had previously maimed while raping his wife (she later died from the violence).

The intellectual, now in a wheelchair, gets his revenge. He tortures Alex by playing nonstop Beethoven music. Alex then attempts suicide, is rescued by the authorities, all of which makes him a celebrity as local politicians see a photo op in appearing sympathetic to his plight.

Cover of "A Clockwork Orange"

Cover of A Clockwork Orange

Alex sees the opportunity too. He smiles and shakes everyone’s hand. He becomes a star and is duly rewarded for ‘playing the game.’

From a sociological perspective, the movie explores several themes. Perhaps, most obviously, A Clockwork Orange illustrates the idea that criminal justice systems often favor the rich and powerful at the expense of the struggling poor. Sadly, the rape scene in the novel and film was based on the real life rape of Burgess’ wife by four GI deserters during a blackout. Burgess was in the military himself at the time, stationed in Gibraltar. His wife possibly lost her unborn child as a result of the violence.

The plot of the book is similar but more complicated than the film and, as noted, originally had a 21st chapter. See http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/clockworkorange/summary.html for a summary.

Burgess wrote many less commercially successful novels, to include The End of the World News (1982). He apparently didn’t like to plan his stories too much, feeling that excessive outlines ruined the creative process. So he wrote a page at a time, pausing after each to think about the next.

Burgess was also an accomplished musician and composer. His works were broadcast on BBC and performed in America.


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Rudolf Bultmann

bultmann.jpg

Image via law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/jesus/jesusofhistory.html

Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) was a German theologian of Lutheran origin who tried to strip away the mythic and ambiguous aspects of the Bible. Bultmann hoped to provide a universal representation of Christ. He believed that trying to pin down the historical details of Christ’s life, including specific teachings by word and example, didn’t really matter.¹ What mattered for Bultmann was that Christ lived, taught and died by crucifixion.²

Perhaps part of the reason Bultmann is not exactly a household name is due to C. G. Jung‘s observation that mankind usually needs myth and symbolic images to fill in the gaps and point to higher realities in ways that dry, intellectual theology cannot.

Hindus, too, recognize the importance of stories and sentimental imagery for many believers. Rather than looking down on this as some kind of childish crutch, those sympathetic to the many ways that religious believers connect with their God see the mythic aspect of religion as indispensable tools. After all, not everyone is attracted to books and intellectual theories. Some people just want to be close to their God. And they’ll naturally do this in a way that suits them best. So, if mythic stories and pretty pictures do it, then so be it.

English: Rudolf_Bultmann Deutsch: Rudolf_Bultmann

English: Rudolf_Bultmann Deutsch: Rudolf_Bultmann (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the other hand, Bultmann probably appeals to those who see themselves as intellectuals. And also to those who are appalled at how some fundamentalists cherry pick certain stories from religious texts and uphold them as truth—and, as it usually follows, uphold them as alleged proof that certain beliefs and behaviors are unnatural or evil.

Related Posts » Original Sin

¹ Scholars usually call this Hermeneutics or Exegesis.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The cover of the soundtrack of Buffy the Vampi...

The cover of the soundtrack of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an American film (1992) usually seen as a “B-movie.” The movie spawned a successful TV series (1997-2003) that gained a kind of cult following among forward thinkers and academics alike. Both incarnations of Buffy were created by Joss Whedon.

In the TV version of Buffy, the lesbian character Willow originally uses witchcraft for the good but becomes consumed by her quest for magical power. She eventually allows evil to dominate her.

Many religious fundamentalists might deplore such an apparently ‘evil’ program, but the TV series closes with Willow regaining her humility (and humanity) by allowing love to enter into her life again.

The TV Buffy was lauded by some professors of Cultural Studies as the “new thing,” some of whom went to great lengths analyzing its every detail. This enthusiasm was arguably more than just bored academics being titillated by nubiles, same-sex relationships and eerie violence. The TV show was, indeed, innovative and the characters arguably represent basic archetypes.

More recently, a Canadian TV program, Lost Girl, has gained an international cult following, especially among lesbians and liberal thinkers. Lost Girl arguably owes much to Buffy and probably couldn’t exist if Whedon hadn’t paved the way for gay and bisexual cultic characters.

Related Posts » Fundamentalism, Projection, Vampire, Witch


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Buddhism

Thikse monastery. This statue of the Maitreya ...

Thikse monastery. This statue of the Maitreya Buddha is about 30 ft tall! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Buddhism is a world religion founded by Siddhartha Gotama (c. 563-483 BCE), who later became the Buddha. Some claim it is not a religion but a way or path, as if to suggest that Buddhism doesn’t involve belief and human opinion but sheer truth. However, when challenged with this claim, believers often fall back on traditional ways of looking at and talking about ultimate reality, which seems to point to a belief system based on or, at least, strongly influenced by human concepts and theories.

Indeed, Buddhism takes several different forms, usually called schools or branches. Most forms of Buddhism agree that attaining enlightenment involves becoming aware of and discarding flawed beliefs about

  • having and individual self
  • the existence of God

This, alone, should put to rest any claims by well-meaning but misinformed people who maintain that “all religions are the same.” To say that we do not really exist as individuals and, moreover, that God does not exist is misguided from the perspective of several world religions.

Like most other religions, Buddhism split off into many branches. Offshoots in China, Korea, Japan and the West have built up a complex system of deities, masters, Lamas, rules and procedures, many of which are reverentially given legitimacy and even supremacy over other schools.

In one branch of Hinduism, the Buddha is regarded as an incarnation of a master demon, sent to deceive the masses. This is probably because the Buddha story threatened the established Hindu social and religious order. But most traditional Hindus regard the Buddha as the 9th avatar who incarnates just after Krishna and before Kalki, the one who is yet to come.

Buddha statues in a temple on Jejudo, South Korea

Buddha statues in a temple on Jejudo, South Korea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Buddhist scriptures were written 300-600 years after the death of Buddha.† Assuming the scriptures reflect his actual words, Buddha pessimistically said this worldly life is like a “burning bush.” This apparently lead him to proclaim the Four Noble Truths about human suffering and the Eightfold Path, which apparently are his instructions on how to escape suffering.

Around 200 CE Buddhism split into two main factions: The Mahayana and the Hinayana. The Mahayana school spread into China and Japan, each culture putting its own, unique stamp on the original teachings.

Scholarly, academic, popular and non-devotional versions of Buddhism seem to appeal to logically-minded intellectuals, even though the attainment of nirvana is beyond both logic and form. Nirvana is, according to early scriptures, “Joy.” The following parable illustrates two main Buddhist ideals, those of the arhat and bodhisattva: The arhat uses a walking stick to climb up a mountain. But on reaching the top, the stick is no longer needed. At this point, the arhat throws the stick away and enjoys the wonderful view—that is, the arhat enters nirvana. The bodhisattva, however, picks up the stick and goes back down the mountain to help others to climb up for the first time.

Yuzen, a buddhist monk from the Sōtō Zen sect ...

Yuzen, a buddhist monk from the Sōtō Zen sect begging at Oigawa, Kyoto. Begging is part of the training of some Buddhist sects. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The arhat ideal belongs to Hinayana Buddhism (“small vehicle”). The bodhisattva ideal relates to Mahayana Buddhism (“great vehicle”). While the arhat enjoys enlightenment and abandons all worldly techniques used to attain it, the bodhisattva delays entry to nirvana, retains his worldly techniques and returns to society to lead others to a supposedly higher level of ego-less awareness.

Plato advocates a structurally similar approach to the bodhisattva ideal in the cave analogy of the Republic. For Plato the beholder of the eternal Forms must return to the “cave” (i.e. the mundane world) to guide others to the truth, which for Plato is Beauty.

Buddha’s ethical message about interpersonal relations is similar to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. But Buddha’s teaching differs in that Christ tells us to love one another and to love God. And for Christ to love God is the single most important commandment of all time. Buddha does tell us to love each another, but he he also claims that ultimately you, the other and God do not exist. The only true reality is nirvana, a kind of interdependent whole with no absolute Creator. That is, no God.

Some say this is no different from the Catholic ideal of mystical union with God. Others believe it differs because the Catholic mystical saint beholds and basks in the glory of God but never claims to attain equal status or permanent identity (on non-identity) with God. And down here on Earth, to the Christian who inwardly and outwardly perceives the Holy Spirit guiding him or her through life, to be spiritual is to believe – and have reason to believe – in God.

Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana

Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another difference between Buddhism and Christianity, in general, is found in the Buddhist idea that heavens and hells are mere stepping stones on a path of many reincarnations leading toward Nirvana. For Christians, heaven and hell are respectively blissful or horrendous eternal endpoints reached after a single lifetime. Catholic Christians do believe in purgatory but in Christian Fundamentalist approaches to the Bible, at death one either goes to eternal heaven or hell.

Viewed in this light, the Catholic belief in purgatory is arguably a very loose parallel to the Buddhist notion of reincarnation. This is because Catholics believe that the impure soul in purgatory receives another chance to enter into heaven. But again, Buddhists see their many heavens as mere stops along the way to Nirvana instead of the soul’s final destination. And Christians, for the most part, do not believe that the soul re-enters a physical body on earth to learn (or unlearn) more.

Christianity is often criticized for being based on scriptures written 45 to possibly 140 years after the death of Jesus. But for some odd reason few of these critics seem equally concerned that Buddhist scriptures were not written until some 300-600 years after the death of Gotama.

Related Posts » Anatman, Buddha, Ch’an Buddhism, Dhammapada, Diamond Sutra, Eightfold Path, Four Noble Truths, Heart Sutra, Zen