Wednesday, September 22, 2010

12: The Return

I: The Sun

have an aversion to combining sweet and savoury flavours and in particular an aversion to combining food from the sea with food from the land

before jesus came and put a stop to it the jews were not allowed to cook a lobster in its mothers milk which is proved by the reference to fish fingers and custard in doctor who roses are redd-ish violets are blu-eish

since babylonian times school children have been given milk puddings as a dessert which they have always hated what is the matter with mary jane shes perfectly well and she hasnt a pain what a shame mary jane had a pain at the party

shakespeare said that tinned fish represented sexuality fools are as like to husbands as pilchards are to herrings the husbands the bigger

if we trouble to learn the secret language of the school-yard we will easily discern that the semolina pilchard straddles the boundary between land and sea fish and cow first course and pudding male and female nice and nasty sensible and silly this is the same as the jungian archetype of the fool which i am almost sure is in the tarot deck somewhere

so when the semolina pilchard tries to ascend the phallic axis of the world we see that true wisdom can only be achieved through the path of stupidity the eiffle tower is in paris paris makes me think of the judgement of paris which is in greek mythology somewhere

also the penguins chant hindu mantras about the dancing child who taught arjun the bhagavad gita so the penguins represents the combination of south with east black with white chocolate with cream biscuit with little coloured bits of silver foil

expert textpert choking smoker don't you see the joker laughs at you

II: The Moon

Campbell begins Hero With a Thousand Faces with a spectacularly inane passage from Freud. When a child asks where the new baby came from, his parents will sometimes say "The stork brought her".  But this isn't, it seems, where babies really come from. "We are telling the truth in symbolic clothing" says Siggy "For we know what the large bird signifies. But the child does not know it."

This, for Freud, is a bit like religion. God doesn't exist, any more than the Stork exists, but babies certainly exist and they certainly come from somewhere. God, like the Stork, "stands for" some truth. But the symbols in practice "distort" and "conceal" whatever truths they once represented. In any case, it's a bad idea to lie to children: better to dispense with the Stork metaphor altogether and tell the little darlings about erections and ejaculation and spermatozoa as soon as they are old enough to ask.

Campbell obviously likes the idea that the story of Mr Stork disguises the facts of reproduction. The purpose of Hero With a Thousand Faces is to "uncover some of the truth disguised for us under the figures of religion and mythology" – to get past the Stork of mythology and reveal the messy truth that lies behind it. But he doesn't seem to think that stork-type stories are lies that it would have been better never to have told in the first place; lies which can be thrown away once we are ready for the truth. He rather thinks that we ought to reverently and respectfully study the Stork so that eventually the big secret will reveal itself to us.

But it won't. There is no possible way that any amount of study of the Stork could possibly tell us what really happens in the maternity ward even if we swallow the idea that the Bird represents Mummy's Belly and that dropping the baby down the chimney represents the newborn's passage through the vagina which I assume we don't. Everyone but Freud – including the very small child who originally asked where his sister came from – understands that "The stork brought you" isn't a symbol, or a lie, or a myth or even a euphemism, but a polite refusal to answer the question, a form of words which means "I'm not going to tell you yet", like when you asked Granny how old she was and she replied "As old as my tongue, and a little bit older than my teeth."

The Stork is, in fact, a social construct in which a group of people in a particular society at a particular time agree that the bird will represent childbirth. Watch the opening minutes of Dumbo; look at the behaviour of storks in real life; do an art history analysis of twee Christening cards; compare stork-stories in America with stork-stories in the African basin. You will never discover the Truth about how babies are made. Because it just isn't there.

Your Sunday School teacher probably told you that Jesus preached in parables to enable his audience to understand him. In fact, he specifically said that he preached in parables to prevent his audience from understanding him.

In Mr William Wordsworth's poem Anecdote for Fathers, the narrator repeatedly asks a child why he prefers his new house to his old one. The child, who doesn't know, eventually claims that he likes the new house because it has a weather-cock and the old one didn't. In Mr Jim Henson's television show Sesame Street a character named Big Bird tried to understand why the old storekeeper (who has, in fact, died) will never come back, and is told by one of the adult characters "It has to be this way because."

Weather cocks, storks, giant yellow budgies: clearly large birds always represent unanswerable questions.


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Unknown said...

"In fact, he specifically said that he preached in parables to prevent his audience from understanding him."

The gnostic view of Christ?

Andrew Rilstone said...

It probably is the Gnostic view of Christ, but it's the canonical view as well.

"When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, 'The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'" (Mark 4 10)

" 'These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father'...His disciples said unto him, 'Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb.' " (John 16 25)

Evidently, "parable" means something much more like "riddle" and much less like "teaching aid."

Mike Taylor said...

Sorry to hijack your comment-thread, Andrew, but this blog is where most of the Tolkies I know hang out, so ...

I will be going to Oxonmoot this weekend -- the annual meeting of the Tolkien society in Oxford. I probably won't know anyone. Is anyone who reads this blog also going? It would be nice to be able to identify a friendly face.

Mike Taylor said...

Argh! Once again, Blogger didn't offer me the "Email follow-up comments to ..." checkbox -- it seems to appear only if you edit your comment after previewing -- so I have to post this vacuous followup comment just so I have the opportunity to check the box this time.

James Kabala said...

It's interesting to analyze the parables according to this criterion. It's hard to believe that there was ever a time when people couldn't figure out the intended meaning of The Good Samaritan - the very man who first heard it was induced to supply the punchline. On the other hand, there are others such as The Dishonest Steward that still baffle to this day.

Mike Taylor said...

And yet the intended meaning of the Good Samaritan seems to get lost in almost every retelling. We interpret it to mean that we, like the Samaritan in the story, should "love our neighbour" meaning everyone, because everyone is our neighbour; yet the question Jesus actually asks at the end of the parable is the other way around: who is the traveller's neighbour? (The answer of course being the Samaritan, because he is the one who helped.) The moral of the story straightly interpreted seems to be that whoever helps us is our neighbour and we should love such people.

I'm not sure what to do with that observation. It seems clearly morally inferior to the standard Christian teaching from the parable, yet it's what a plain reading of the text says.

Gavin Burrows said...

"yet the question Jesus actually asks at the end of the parable is the other way around: who is the traveller's neighbour? "

I thought the problem was that we'd come to associate the term Samaritan with that story (and spin-off organisations like the Samaritans), and lost the original context.

Try substituting "good black-youth-in-a-hoodie" or "kindly bogus asylum seeker."

Mike Taylor said...

Gavin, that is certainly a problem that we have with the parable. But it's a different one from the one I described; if you go back to the text, I think you'll that my rather mystifying interpretation is clearly correct.

Gavin Burrows said...

Not sure I agree. Jesus’ payoff line is “Go and do as he did.” So we’re being told to behave like the Samaritan, even if he’s not the subject of the parable up till then. It’s not “that Samaritan deserved some lovin’ payback”, which would still orient the story around the robbery victim. Nor is it “some of them Samaritans is alright, especially the ones what intergrate.”

But of course, like Joseph Campbell, I knew the answer before I went looking so you may want to weigh my response accordingly.

Incidentally, I was previously unaware that this, quite possibly the best-known Jesus parable, occurs only in Luke. (Which of course I found out the hard way by thumbing fruitlessly through Matthew and Mark!) That probably signifies something very important, but I don’t know what.

In this fruitless endeavour, I also stumbled across the passages Andrew mentions about the parables being purposefully indirect. This does seem completely mystifying, especially as Christianity is virtually defined as one of the first universalist religions. (Plus it seems to cut against the very meaning of the word ‘parable’, at least in English.)

After a very small amount of thought I came up with two ‘explanations’:

i) As Del says, “the Gnostic view.” In particular, the conspiracy theory that the early Church was actually Gnostic, until it got retconned by Byzantium. This is just one clue that slipped through the canoniser’s net. But the problem with this theory is that it is silly.

ii) “The time cometh” is the crucial phrase. Jesus is not delineating two fixed groups but describing a transference. Prior to conversion, people will only see wandering Samaritans, sowers of seed and the like. But when you finally glom onto the true meaning you become converted, a disciple. The sermon is just a trigger, the act of conversion occurs in your own mind.

Certainly, that well-known authorised source Wikipedia tell us “modern scholar do not support the private explanations argument and surmise that Jesus used parables as a teaching method.” (But unfortunately not who this modern scholar is.)

Mike Taylor said...

You're right, Gavin, that having turned the apparent meaning around once (by asking "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor?"), Jesus then turns it around again by concluding "Go and do likewise". So although the original question asked (in verse 29) was "who is my neighbour?" and therefore who is the questioner required to love, it seems that Jesus in effect simply refuses to answer that question and instead tells his hearers to be neighbours.

Because as we all know, everybody needs good neighbours.