May 21, 2016

Ein Wesen, das mit leeren Händen dasteht, ist nicht Gott

Philip K. Dicks „Die drei Stigmata des Palmer Eldritch“

Der Präkog Barney Mayerson arbeitet für PP-Layouts. Leo Buleros Firma stellt die Puppen Perky Pat & Walt (= Ken & Barbie für Erwachsene) und deren Miniaturwelten her. Im Kosmos von „Die drei Stigmata des Palmer Eldritch“ ist es ein Privileg, auf der von unerträglicher Hitze betroffenen Erde zu leben. Ist man hier zwar ohne Kühlvorrichtungen dem Tod ausgeliefert, ist dieses Dasein doch der Zwangsrekrutierung in eine der Siedlungen auf anderen Planeten des Sonnensystems vorzuziehen, wo die UN ihr Kolonisationsprogamm durchführt. Mayerson hat seinen Einberufungsbefehl erhalten, was das Ende seines relativ luxuriösen Lebens auf Terra bedeutet. 

Davor soll ihn sein elektronischer Psychiater bewahren, der ihn psychisch soweit zu destabilisieren hat, dass er den Test der Musterungsbehörde nicht besteht. Die Lebenskrise, in der ihn der Leser finden, könnte auf Dr. Smile, den er in einem Koffer bei sich trägt, zurückgehen: Während Mayerson noch daran arbeitet, seinen Chef unter Druck zu setzen, um seine Position zu stärken, sieht er den Aufstieg seiner Assistentin und Geliebten voraus und erkennt, dass es falsch war, seine Ehe seiner Laufbahn zu opfern. Ironischerweise lebt er bislang sehr gut von den Kolonien, für die PP-Layouts hergestellt werden: Miniaturisierungen der irdischen Lebenswelt, in denen sich die Kolonisten aufhalten können. Mittels der halluzinogenen Droge Can-D (= Candy) verschmelzen sie mental mit den Puppen und führen eine Zeit lang ein echtes terranisches Leben. Diese Fluchtmöglichkeit in die Vision einer intakten Erde macht ihr Dasein erträglich. Sie wird zu einer Religion, mitsamt dem dogmatischen Streit, ob die Drogenkonsumenten wirklich zur Erde reisen oder bloß träumen. Das illegale Can-D wird von Buleros Firma produziert und vertrieben und macht erst den Erfolg der Layouts aus. Und Barney entscheidet zuletzt darüber, ob Miniaturmodelle für die Layouts von einem neuen Produkt angefertigt werden; der Präkog schätzt aufgrund seiner Fähigkeit, in die Zukunft zu sehen, den Erfolg einer Ware ein. 

Parallel zu Barneys Destabilisierung findet eine solche des gesamten solaren Systems statt durch die Ankunft eines Wesens namens Palmer Eldritch, eines Geschäftsmannes, der von seiner Reise in das Proxima-System zurückkehrt, die neue Droge Chew-Z (=Choose it) im Gepäck. Er will, wie es scheint, den von Bulero beherrschten Markt aufmischen. Die UN unterstützt ihn, bestrebt, Buleros Macht einzuschränken.. Dieser, ein mittels deutscher Therapie sowohl mental, als auch hinsichlich der Anpassungsfähigkeit an die widrigen klimatischen Umstände evolvierter Mensch, nimmt den Kampf auf. Der entscheidende Dreh- und Angelpunkt des Romans ist erreicht: Eldritch verabreicht Bulero eine Dosis Chew-Z und Dick schießt den Leser auf eine intergalaktische Achterbahnfahrt durch halluzinogene Welten, ohne jemals das Maß an Schwerkraft einzustellen, das Sicherheit über die Frage: „Traum oder Realität?“ verbürgt. Die Droge erlaubt es, innerhalb von ein paar Augenblicken unendliche Zeiträume zu durchmessen und in Vergangenheit und Zukunft zu reisen. 

Ein ähnliches Rauschmittel ist auch zentrales Thema von Dicks Roman „Now Wait for Last Year“. Anders als dort werden für die Konsumenten von Chew-Z alle Realitätsebenen von Palmer Eldritch kontrolliert. Das gleicht wiederum Dicks Entwurf in dem wie „Stigmata“ paradoxerweise offenen und ausweglosen Labyrinth „Ubik“. In diesem Roman gerät die Welt unter den Einfluss eines verstorbenen Magnaten, dessen Bewusstsein nach seinem Tod mittels einer verbreiteten Technologie aufrecht erhalten wird, die das langsame Abschiednehmen von den Toten mittels telepathischen Kontaktes ermöglicht. Schließlich könnte Ubik darauf hinauslaufen, dass alle Realität nur der Traum von Glen Runciters postmortalem Bewußtsein geworden ist. Die Frage „Traum oder Realität“ finden wir etwa schon bei Pascal, der sich fragt, ob ein Handwerker, der regelmäßig träumt, er sei ein König, nicht auch ein König sein könnte, der regelmäßig träumt, er sei ein Handwerker. Descartes hat das radikaler gedacht: Sein ontologischer Zweifel malt sich aus, die Welt sei das Werk eines bösen Geistes, der mich in allem täuschen will. Die einzige Gewißheit in einer solchen Welt ist, dass ich bin: denn solange ich getäuscht werde, muss ich sein. Die moderne Version reduziert dieses Sein drastisch: die von mir erfahrene Welt könnte Ergebnis der Stimulierung (m)eines Gehirns in einer Nährlösung durch einen Mediziner sein. 

Dick lässt Eldritch zu Mayerson während dessen Aufenthaltes in den von ersterem beherrschten Realitäts- oder Traumebenen sagen, es habe mit den Verwandlungswelten von Chew-Z nichts mehr auf sich als mit den durch elektronische Impulse hervorgerufenen Reaktionen einer Laborratte. Wenn die Wirkung von Chew-Z abklingt, nähert sich der Konsument allmählich der „Realität“, die immer noch Spuren der „Verwandlungswelten“ trägt. Nachdem Dick diesen Vorgang anhand Buleros Kampf, der von Eldritch beherrschten Welt zu entkommen, detailliert geschildert hat, widmet er sich in mehr „realistischer“ Weise der Strategie, die Bulero ergreift. Eng damit verbunden ist das weitere Schicksal Mayersons, der sich, sein Scheitern erkennend, freiwillig zum Dienst auf einer Marskolonie meldet, von Bulero überredet, Chew-Z zusammen mit einer epilepsoiden Substanz zu sich zu nehmen. Der „Nachweis“ der gesundheitsschädigenden Wirkung von Chew-Z aufgrund der Epilepsie Barneys soll das Verbot der Substanz erzwingen. Die Reise des Präkogs in die Eldritch-Welt bringt die Einsicht, dass dieser tot ist, aber ein fremdartiges Wesen mittels Chew-Z von ihm Besitz ergriffen hat und nun von der gesamten Menschheit Besitz ergreifen will. Zeichen dieser Besitzergreifung ist, dass nicht nur in den Visionswelten, sondern auch in den Bereichen der von Dick entworfenen Welt, die der Leser geneigt ist, für „Realität“ zu halten, die Menschen sich in Palmer Eldritch verwandeln. Sie weisen seine drei Merkmale auf: Eine Armprothese, ein künstliches Stahlgebiss und eine artifizielle Sehvorrichtung. 

Wie manche christiche Visionäre ihre Verbundheit mit dem mystischen Leib Christi durch medizinisch nicht erklärbares Tragen der Wundmale (Stigmata) Christi zeigen, so signalisieren diese Stigmata die Verschmelzung der Menschen mit Eldritch. Der Roman benutzt dieses Motiv wie auch die Ebenen der Beziehungen von Visionen und Realität – Präkognition, Can-D (entspricht Pascals Geschichte) und Chew-Z (Descartes‘ böser Geist) – zur Reflexion einer Vision des Autors. Dick hat Anfang der 60er Jahre ein Wesen am Himmel gesehen, das zumindest zwei der drei Stigmata getragen hat, und Einiges unternommen, um herauszufinden, welcher Art diese Vision gewesen ist. Religiös oder psychopathisch? Gut oder Böse? Der Roman bietet als Visionsurheber zunächst die von Palmer Eldritch verbreitete Droge an, dann diesen, dann das Wesen, das von ihm Besitz ergriffen hat. Schließlich wird die Frage: diskutiert, ist es ein guter oder böser Geist, ein Gott oder ein Dämon oder bloß ein Geschöpf wie wir? Auf einer Ebene handelt der Roman vom Kampf, den Bulero (selbst kein durch und durch „Guter“) gegen eine böse Macht führt. Dick hat in einem Brief nahegelegt, dass Bulero diesen Kampf gewonnen hat, obwohl der Roman selbst das offen lässt..

Da ist aber noch Barney, der schließlich – ein durch sein Anteilhaben an der Entität „Palmer Eldritch“ unreines Wesen – als Marskolonist endet. Seine Visionen sind von dem Versuch bestimmt, die Fehler seines Lebens zu korrigieren, und er lernt in seiner Konfrontation mit „Palmer Eldritch“, dass genau das nicht möglich ist. Schließlich steht er zu den Konsequenzen seines Handelns, eine Art tragischer Anti-Held. Er beharrt darauf, etwas Göttliches erfahren zu haben, auch wenn ihm seine Freundin unter den Marsbewohnern entgegenhält: „Ein Wesen, das mit leeren Händen dasteht, ist nicht Gott“.

Dec 24, 2010

IS RESURRECTION UNIVERSAL?

The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints has always been very careful to make clear whether somebody explaining her belief-system is speaking in her name or is just giving his ("her" can be omitted in that case for reasons of priesthood-holdership) personal opinion of what LDS faith is about, it seems to me. Reminds me of the noble tradition of "Imprimatur" in the Roman Catholic Church (not to be confused with the not so noble traditions of inquisition and indexes).
In this vein, the reader of Bruce R. Mc Conkie's (to the left) Mormon Doctrine's 2nd edition, SLC, 1979, (however revised, because "experience has shown the wisdom of making some changes, clarifications, and additions") is informed in a lengthy passage I will not quote in its entirety that the book "is a valuable tool but should not be considered an official statement of doctrine".
So what?
I guess it would make a fine subject for a MA-thesis to compare that book's content to the official LDS "Encyclopedia of Mormonism". Whatever the result of that may be, I stumbled upon McConkie's rendering of the topic of resurrection. Without going into detail, I find similarities and slight differences - the details of which would be worthwile to explore - between his approach & the EoM article on the same topic written by Douglas L. Callister (to the right).
Why did I look up EoM? Because of that rather surprising statement of Elder Mc. Conkie: "Nothing is more absolutely universal than resurrection. Every living being will be resurrected" (his italics). It raises (at least) 2 questions: a) please define "living being" - will all the plants, bees, ants, moths, tse-tse-flies, worms, parasites, protozoans, HIV-Viruses and the like be resurrected? b) as resurrection presupposes death, death has to be (at least) equally universal as the former.
Wisely enough, Elder Callister does not say anything about the amount of creatures to be resurrected and mainly focusses on the human being's resurrection, going into limited discussions with western religious and philosophical traditions on the issue at stake. I have not had the nerve to do an in-depth comparison of his article with Elder McConkie's, but my overall impression is that Callister relied to the framework established by McConkie, adjusting it and adding some new aspects. Be that as it may, at least, he added some logic too, when writing: "Resurrection is as universal as death".
Solves problem b), I would say, but does not solve problem a), methinks. But is there anybody who could know?

Jun 12, 2010

GET PORTRAYED WITH JESUS


Finally, the true believers can have themselves pictured in the arms of their saviour; the bad news about it is, that you will have to travel all the way to SLC to get that done:

http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/blog-3740-get-your-picture-with-jesus.html

reminds of a song by mojo nixon:


Apr 3, 2010

Father Cantalamessa, Victims and Perpetrators

I could not believe my eyes yesterday, when I was reading. what the pious Father Cantalamessa had said about the accusations brought forth against the Roman Catholic Church in connection with the way church leaders used to deal with severe cases of sexual abuse by some members of the clergy. Father Cantalamessa, quoting a letter from a Jewish friend, compared these accusations to Anti-Semitism, even to some of its worst features. Let us believe the Padre: there is a Jewish friend of him, who really has written that. What does it tell us, then? That there are some people in the world, that claim to be Jews or are in fact Jews that do not have the slightest idea about what Anti-Semitism means.
Anti-Semitism is a kind of racism. We will not waste our time reflecting the strangeness of the word, rooted in the biblical story, that has all the ethnic groups of the world stemming from the sons of Noah: Sem, Ham or Japhet. This story in itself has been used by pious Christians in a racist way, declaring black-skinned people to be the offspring of Ham, and therefore , according to Gen 9, 24-25, cursed, their black skin being the outer sign of that inward curse - and a sign of their destiny as slaves by divine command. Nowadays, we call Semites those people that are native-speakers of one of the languages of the Semitic subgroup of the Afro-Asiatic languages. The word Anti-Semitism is a relict from the past, when it was used to designate people that share a racist attitude towards Jews. A racist attitude, to be short, consists in judging persons because of their belonging to a certain group, without taking into account his or her personal conduct of life, merits, virtues and vices. This can just be a judgement without any further implications than a general hostility towards members of that group. In its more severe sense - as it is the case in radical Anti-Semitism - it can mean to hold that group responsible for all the evils in the world, to build a conspiracy theory, according to which this group wants to rule or actually rules the world by evil means and, finally, to call for extinction of this group.
There are examples galore, that members of the catholic church have shared in the attitudes so described to a certain degree, most prominently, with respect to Jews. This clearly does not mean, that all Catholics would be Anti-Semites. Be that as it may, where could the parallel drawn by the Padre possibly have its “Sitz im Leben”? What could be the sense of it? One argument we are used to hear from racists goes like that: I knew a man who treated me/my relatives a.s.o. in a very bad manner. He was a Jew, a Chinese, a Japanese a.s.o. Therefore all Jews, Chinese, Japanese a.s.o. are bad people. This could be dealt with on the grounds of the rules for sound reasoning alone. In my humble opinion, this is also the only sound reasoning I can take out of Father Cantalamessa utterings: "Some Catholic priests have acted in a wrong way. This does not mean, that all Catholics are acting like that. People who argue, that all Catholics are like that on the grounds of some Catholics acting that way, are reasoning in an unsound way". This is so obvious, that he would not need to draw the parallel to Anti-Semitism to prove that. Everybody (but some stubborn racists) would understand. But he needs to draw that parallel in order to foster his conviction - held for some strange reasons - that the whole world is attacking the Roman Catholic Church because of a neglectable amount of "black sheep" we find within its precincts. In that respect, he is simply wrong. Some of the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church are accused by some people - mostly victims of sexual abuse by representatives of this church. They accuse church-leaders of not having reacted in a proper way to those violations of human rights when they got informed about them. These very church officials seem to have protected the abusers instead of the abused. After all, we know, that this accusation
is not unfounded (to put it in a modest way), in contradistinction to global accusations brought forth by Anti-Semites against Jews simply for the reason of being of Jewish origin. Furthermore, an Anti-Semite is hostile to any person of Jewish descent because of belonging to an ethnic group (with the exception of the notorious “good Jewish friend” that every Anti-Semite is eager to call “his own”). This is not the case with respect to the accusations in question brought forth against some Roman Catholics. Roman Catholics are not an ethnic group in any sense of the word. As a rule (there are rare exceptions to be found, that can be interpreted as an introjection of outward prejudices) the victims of racism belong to another group than their offenders. In our case, many among those who accuse church authorities belong to the Roman Catholic Church or have at least belonged to it, before (more or less) deliberately havíng chosen to leave that church. No Jew subjected to Anti-Semitism can freely choose to change her or his "ethnic identity". Furthermore, victims and perpetrators have been members of that church, whose authorities have chosen, in order to uphold their image – or out of whatever reason –, to rather protect the perpetrators than their victims. In doing that, they seem to have shown some characteristic preferences held among church-leadership (at least of those having succeeded in internal negotiations).
Apparently, during his time as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the present pope has discharged some priests (mostly from so called third-world countries), solely on the grounds of perceived doctrinal dissenting, whilst keeping some known (!) child-abusers in their office, neglecting the rights of the victims of the latter. Instead of apologising and starting to change structures surpressing human rights within an institution that acts as an outspoken defender of human rights, these very structures are defended in public and the victims of sexual abuse and those who speak out on their behalf are held to be the perpetrators attacking the holy structures of the church and its officials.
For me, this is the saddening plot of Padre Cantalamessa’s sermon. I would not make much of it, if a local clergyman had argued like that over a bottle of wine in a pub in my home town. But I can in no way approve of a public sermon given by the official preacher of the papal household during Good Friday’s service, in the central church of Roman Catholicism in the very core of the church year following that train of thought and to have some representative of the Vatican say the next day: "this is not our official opinion". Hopefully, it is not!!!!. Please, SHOW, by acting in an adequate manner, that it is not!!!!Speechless am I, in this respect, not unlike the pope, but for other reasons, I guess.

Mar 13, 2010

WHY DO WE STUDY (AFRICAN) RELIGIONS?

Religion 20 [1990] contains some articles on the study of African Religions that are worth reading. Rosalind J. Hackett as a guest-editor has been responsible for those pages. My favourite piece is by Rosalind Shaw: “The Invention of African Traditional Religion”, a thorough analysis of the categories used for lumping together religious traditions and one of the best critiques of the concept of „World Religions“ I have ever read. Arguments she brings forth range from comparing the classification systems used in typologies of religions with a mixture of categories that could be used by a butterfly collector – historical and geographical criteria interspersed by categories taken from classifying languages and the like – to a critique of the criteria given for a religion to be rendered as a „world religion“, for example:

„A religion is sometimes described as ‚universal’ if its membership is not restricted to a singkle ethnicity (in which case Judaism after the Christianizing of the Roman Empire would be excluded and the cult of Mwali in southern Africa included), and/or it may also be so described if it has an all-encompassing cosmology (in which case much of Christianity and Hinduism as actually practised […] would be excluded, while many cults and ritual forms within Africa would be included)” [p.340].

Her main point is, that this concept brings forth the need for a residual category in which to put the rest (from Amerindian through Aborigines and African to Siberian and the like). She clearly shows, that the very category is used to construct the „other“. In the course of her essay, she shows, how „Western“ scholars have shaped the image of African Religions even in the eyes of their adherents: missionaries, scholars more or less engaged in the colonial enterprise and last, not least, African Christian scholars that have eagerly tried to prove that Africans have been „monotheists“ before contact with Christianity or Islam. She deconstructs these claims using the arguments widely known, and goes on to show, how the classical rendering of „Igbo Traditional Religion“ has been shaped after the model supplied by E. Bolaji Idowu’s seminal work on Yorùbá Religion, Olódumàrè – God in Yorùbá Belief. She goes on to interpret the underlying data in a totally different manner.

This comes close to Robin Horton’s critique of the „devout school“ (see: his, Judaeo-Christian Spectacles: Boon or Bane to the Study of African Religions? In his: Patterns of Thought in Africa and the West. Essays on Magic, Religion and Science. Cambridge 1997, 161-193; 409-420, and him on the right side), albeit on other grounds and more universally. And it comes close to what I have been teaching before getting to know the fine essay of R. Shaw.

Other essays deal with the image of „African Religions“ as given in text books on so called „World-Religions“, that one would use in the introductory course on a General History of Religions. In this context, James R. Lewis gives an instructing quotation from Lewis M. Hopfe’s „Religions of the World“ (from 1983):

„African Nations have become a vocal and active segment of the so-called Third World. Many of them control raw materials that are essential to the industrialized nations of the world. The leaders of today and of the future must learn to deal with Africans on both political and business levels if there is to be peace and prosperity in the world. Essential to understanding the leaders of black Africa is a knowledge of their culture. A major step in understanding customs and values is a basic knowledge of religion“ [taken from Lewis, p. 313].

At first sight, this sounds like the author would try to convince General Motors to supply grants for field-work in Africa. It is even worse: the first opposition we find in the text is between „raw materials“ (the other) and „industrialised nations“ (we). The way control of these others over those raw materials is rendered suggests, that they are not the proprietors, but we are. Furthermore, their control over the raw materials in question endangers „peace and prosperity in the world“. In order to cope with this dangerous situation successfully we have to understand, what I would call „the savage mind“ of the other. This is blunt colonialism, and it sounds like it had been written 100 years earlier than 1983.

But, sadly enough, to some degree, it also reflects the economic reality of Study of Religions: since some radical Muslims have begun to try to destabilise the economic order of the "West" by acts of a more or less terrorist character, Islam (erroneously conceived as a unity – the reasons for that are partly reflected by Rosalind Shaw - and even more falsely thought of as being a „radical“ or „extremist“ movement in its entirety) has become the other in control of raw materials we need to prosper further. This danger to "peace and prosperity in the world" cannot be confronted solely by military means, as the good ones among us think, but only by understanding how the other ticks. This way, a more "humanist" attitude in sharing a commonly held prejudice leads to a situation in which those who want to get research funds for studying religions should at least include some hint of Islam-relatedness in the application, more useful: put it on the cover. May I ask the simple question, whether this is what we need the Study of Religions for? If it was that way, the best strategy to foster our field of study would be to incite as many religious groups as possible to become militant.

Jan 10, 2010

AND HERE'S TO YOU, MRS. ROBINSON ...

... Jesus loves you more than you will know .... I know, that "The Graduate" and Paul Simon's song is something that comes to almost everybody's mind these days when it comes to Northern Ireland, nothing of great originality:

Mrs. Iris Robinson

At first sight, I did wonder, why Bill Clinton could stay after not having had sex with Monica Levinsky and Mrs. Robinson had to go after her "toy-boy"-affair became known to the public? Then I realised, that there was also some financial affair linked to that, as she had helped her boyfriend out with larger amounts of money in dubious ways, if I understood it rightly. But the most delicious thing about that all goes far beyond the meek associations we could have to a movie shot in 1967 and featuring Dustin Hoffmann (born in 1937) in the role of a teenager. Mrs. Robinson, being an outspoken Born-Again-Christian, has often publicly commented on the rules of sexual behaviour as commanded by God in the bible and has given her Christianity-based comments on homosexuality in the context of a violent attack on a homosexual man by a gang of youngsters. Needless to say, her point of view has not been very much appreciated by pink politics.
I really like her words about the redemption we can find in the blood of Christ (see her interviewed by BBC HERE): "Just like a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ, so can a homosexual". Before that, she also states, that the Lord tells her "to love the sinner and not the sin" (in the clip on BBC' 0 : 40 - 0 : 49) This is what she actually has done, isn't it? (I like her accent, especially the way she pronounces "Christians speaking out" (0 : 25)). Wonder if she rescued her "boy-toy"-friend from homosexuality with the help of that psychiatrist that has a strong background in Christianity? So this all would turn out to be a work of true Christian love???? Be that as it may, she will be redeemed, I'm sure.

Now, for everybody's idea, here is a straightforward punk version of Paul Simon's classic done by the Lemonheads:

Dec 25, 2009

Will the Wolf Survive?

One of the fine things about the internet is, that one can have information about issues in a far away part of the world that would otherwise, if ever, only be available by extensive travel or studies in archives after the event. But, with the use of the internet, one can have an impression of what is going on in, say the Rocky Mountains, whilst sitting at home in a village located at the northeast end of the so called Lower Austrian – Styrian alps.
The upcoming governmental elections in Idaho caught my interest, because of some of the would-be candidates' profile. It is clear, they are inhabitants of a mountainous region, so most of the images on the “home”-section of their respective homepages show them before the background of a huge mountain. If not depicted on horse-back, at least, it is confirmed (of most) of the men, that they went fishing and hunting from their very childhood days. As this is USA, and neither California nor East-coast, the religious affiliation of the candidates plays some role, to be modest. Interestingly, three of the candidates for being a candidate have some relationship to The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS, or “Mormons”).
The one who will surely not win the campaign, has already left the church to which he has converted before. LDS members have not been strict enough in certain issues to meet his standards, as it seems. Independent candidate Marvin “Pro Life” Richardson runs an organic strawberry farm. His web-page clearly shows, that nobody donates for his campaign and that he can’t make a living on growing strawberries. This is why he has to rely on social security for supplying his family, which does not hinder him to be an outspoken opponent to social security. A pro-life activist, he changed his name to “Pro-Life” during the 2006 electoral campaign, as he had not been granted to be listed as Marvin “Pro Life” on the ballot. As “Pro-Life” was not printed on the ballot (being a program and not a name in the eyes of the government) and the Constitutional Party for which he believed to be a candidate denied him that status, there was a blank line on the ballot: no name, no party. In an article in the capital’s newspaper he is quoted with a very realistic opinion about his chances in the next run: "If I win, I'll ask for a recount.“
There is yet another truly independent candidate, a nice lady, Jana Kemp, but I guess, lacking any background in fishing, hunting, cowboy-ness and not living on a ranch (at least nothing about that on her home-page), even the photograph of her waving the American flag with the indispensable mountain in the background won’t help. She has a kind of “American legacy”–approach, that differs strongly from the other (serious) candidates with their “Idaho-ness”. Born a Pennsylvanian and having moved around the USA, she has nothing to offer to Idaho than “Philadelphia” being the “City of Brotherly Love” and having lived in Minnesota, “home of Paul Bunyan” (see Fargo by the Coen brothers for that). How will she be able to step in against the ruling governor, C. L. “Butch” Otter, living on a ranch with his wife and three children, and, a member of both “the Roman Catholic Church” and “the National Rifle Association”, as his homepage informs us (RCC being the biggest single church in the state, although outweighed by Protestants as a whole – but they are that divided into denominations…). Amongst other highlights in his biography, he has also been, quite unbeatable, “elected to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Board of Directors in Oklahoma City".
Idaho being Republican, what or whom would he have to fear? Jana Kemp, whose supporters attest her to be “a fresh voice for Idaho politics […] genuine, informed, responsible, and caring“ and able to do away with „the ‘good ol’ boy’ network of Idaho politics“? The question is, whether this will be changed from without or from within, by the other Republicans opting in. There is Ron “Pete” Preston, obviously a clown with no real ambition at all, and Sharon Ullman, a woman whose profile is to oppose the (if we believe her homepage) somewhat “patriarchal” style of “Old Boy Butch” and the promise to lower taxes.
But how to do that? If you want to decrease taxes, you will first have to decrease governmental expenditures. And here, the real Slim Shady steps into view. Rex Rammell, the man to push Idaho and the country further, by going back to the real foundation of this great nation. Religion. He has the promise “I will lower your taxes” written on his homepage and his “favorite quote about America" by Tocqueville, saying (more or less) that religious righteousness is the backbone of the nation. There is more than an echo of that quotation in his “Ten Principles”, that start with "America was established by God for a righteous people. If America turns away from God she will fail" and "The Constitution was inspired by God. The original principles set forth within its body are true and when strictly adhered to will keep us free." The further principles display a common “liberal” understanding of the order of state and federation: community should provide for what individuals can’t do, state for community and federation for state. This can be reduced to securing free trade, as we learn in principle 8: “Capitalism advocates the principles of competition and choice in a free market setting and if allowed to operate without government interference is a proven formula for prosperity“.
Here we have it, prosperity gospel in a nutshell: God will regulate the market due to the worthiness of the competitors. Dr. Rammell (a veterinarian) is also straight to the point in explaining how these principles will work in federal and state policy (hopefully he will never make it to federal politics, so I can stick to his visions of how to run the state): Cut taxes – how? Principally, a sympathetic suggestion: cut the size of the government. But how to do that? The simple (in all senses, including naivité) answer is, to reduce the responsibilities of the government: no welfare program required, we just “shift the responsibility from government to families, churches, and charitable organizations“. Health insurance?: „must move towards private Health Savings Accounts in order to lower premiums and shift responsibility to individuals and doctors“ (he really believes in the God of the unregulated market). Education? To put it simply: „Eliminate the Federal education program“. Parents are responsible for education, in Rex Rammell’s view. All that done, we will have to make Idaho a safe and homely place again, thus Nr. 6 of his proposals: „Deport all illegal immigrants“, and, to be sure that no taxes are wasted, the ones who wish to stay, should „do so through a state guest worker program. However, they must pay for their own health insurance, pay to use our public school system, and stay out of our welfare lines“.
Is there a right to enslave people in God’s own country? Did he not read his bible well? Leviticus 19, 33-34 says (New International Version): "When an alien lives with you in your land, do not ill-treat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." After having claimed, that English should be the "official language" of Idaho (I opt for Shoshone, just to remind Mr. Rammell of his status as the offspring of immigrants), he goes on to demand that nuclear power plants are being built: "Idaho can be America’s leader in nuclear power, creating new jobs and providing cheap clean energy for Idaho and the surrounding states". Nevertheless, he has not finished his immigrant issue. I have wondered about the percentage of Spanish-speaking immigrants to Idaho, as it is not located at the "Crystal Frontier" , but at the Canadian. Dr. Rammell, who owns an elk-farm, this time in due accordance with biblical metaphors (although I think, he does not even understand what a metaphor is, not to speak about reading biblical texts as allegories or metaphors), points to the true enemy of the righteous Idahoan capitalist: The Canadian Wolf, in declaring: "Remove all Canadian wolves from Idaho. The wolves continue to slaughter Idaho’s big game herds, kill and maim livestock and pets, and are dangerous to Idahoans. If Idaho's mountains are to be safe for people and if our big game herds are to be the envy of the world, the wolves can not stay." With the right amount of nuclear power plants, the wolves will leave anyway.
To close this really long post, I want to add, that Dr. Rammell is not representative of LDS church members’ political views. Proof: There is another Mormon opting for candidature (with the sympathetic name "Allred"), not as a Republican, but as a Democrat, and as someone who has a background in a non-partisan organisation that cares about the future of Idaho beyond ‘good ol’ boy’ networking. Here is his hp; (ranch, fishing, hunting, mountains, bunch of kids and happy wife included). The many resemblances to Austrian politics (although God is not mentioned that often in our lovely country) , I do not want to point to for the sake of brevity. Those who have eyes to see, will see.

Nov 1, 2009

On the Road in Southern Togo Part II

Every bad movie (and some of the good ones) has at least one sequel. So here is : On the Road in Southern Togo II, featuring the wonderful students that had to cope with the circumstances there (easy) and me (not that easy) for nearly 3 weeks. I apologise for everything (that relates to the poor quality of that clip).


Oct 25, 2009

NEW BLOG 4 THE KIDS

In order to stick to the "Culture & Religon" theme here, I have started a new blog dedicated to music and nothing but music. I have moved all the entries which are mainly concerned with music there (no fear, I will not start a "movies" blog).



It is called GERALD'S MUSIC and it features Nick & Polly

Oct 7, 2009

The First Cut Is the Deepest

The opening shot of Player (click to watch) by Robert Altman is an extremely long take with the use of crane shot technology; the most sophisticated moment in it is the reference to the famous opening take of Touch of Evil by Orson Welles. No need to sing a song of praise for one of the two directors. A person that calls himself HANK QUINLAN (!!) has posted the whole of Touch of Evil (in the so-called director's cut version) on UTube. So you can watch at least the famous opening shot and decide where the first cut is - starting the plot and ending the introduction. I strongly recommend to watch the whole movie - it is a masterpiece, not only for deep focus editing. It has a great cast, too (Marlene!), and many nice anecdotes around it. Although I do not like Charlton Heston for his supporting of the National Rifle Association, I do not think (as some others do) that he is the weak link in the chain of the cast. First, he brought in Orson Welles as director. Then, he stood in for Welles (who was fired as director of the movie in the end). Finally - at least in my opinion - he gave a convincing rendering of the policeman ruining his honeymoon for not being able to let go his job - although it was not his business at all. The latter fact as well as the further course of events is very accurately outlined in the dialogue between Vargas (Heston) and his wife (Janet Leigh) at approximately 4:55, when he says "this could be very bad for us", and she asks: "for us?" and he replies: "for Mexico". Heston surely is predestined to play the role of a stubborn man, isn't he? Truffaut and Godard did like the movie (due to them it won a price). Word has it, that they have been influenced by it. Look at the opening and go for the whole of it:

Oct 2, 2009

zangbeto pictures

Additional pictures taken at the Tam Tam Zangbeto on Sept. 12, 2009, by Erich Konecky. On the left we have those members of the group, that did not fear to touch the spirit or did not show enough respect to stay away from it, respectively. Thank you for the nice work you did, Erich. Excellent photographs!!!
In the center below, another image of the mask that is placed on that bundle. After looking at the video I have posted on Sept. 23, some observers have suggested, that they can see a person sitting under that bundle. Certainly, this would give a sound explanation. Maybe that picture can help to foster or to weaken that theory.



On the left side, we see a Zangbeto mask whirling around in a style that makes one wonder, how the person under that heavy mask is keeping the thing and himself in balance.

A look under the mask is feautured below. Ine coukld take that as evidence of the "no person under it - theory", but I am sure, that other explanations can be found and will be put forth.

Maybe this will influence your vote (scroll down for it to the end of the page, svp).

Sep 23, 2009

Zangbèto - the Magic Haystack

So I am back from the "voyage d'etude" to Togo and Benin with some really sympathetic students, my good friend Sewa Serge Sousthene Agbodjan-Prince and nice fellow citizens from Austria even beyond my age. Time to do some blogging.
Filed under "practical information", the homepage of the historical museum of Abomey, Benin, cautions the foreigner: "In some areas of the town, secret societies called Zangbèto are in charge of security from midnight to 5 a.m.: do not go out without identity papers after midnight, or else go out with an initiate."
Zangbèto is a Vodun that acts as the nightwatchman in Benin. Whilst other Vodun incorporate in female mediums, Zangbèto - like the Egungun, the spirits of the ancestors - are represented by persons covered by a "mask". Zangbèto has the shape of a haystack. On the upper left one can find a picture of a Zangbèto I have taken September 08, 2008. On that day, I have also taken some photographs of one Zangbèto walking on the water in that small village near Ouidah, Benin:
In Benin (and in Togo), the belief is widespread, that there is no person under the mask, but that the empty construction is empowered by a spirit (one person told me, the initiates were using the spirits of the newly deceased to do the job). There are explanations galore, like my favourite one from a catholic lay person in Lomé, who told me, that in fact there was a person under the mask, but one could not see it due to a spell of the priests of Zangbèto. Be that as it may, a nightwatchman regarded as a spirit seems to be more effective than a human being fulfilling that task. Zangbèto initiates at the "Tam Tam Zangbeto" will therefore try to prove the "no person under it"-theory.
After going through tough negotiations we could convince an informant in Ouidah to get some Zangbèto inititates in just another small village nearby to do a Tam Tam for us (we also had to take measures to ensure that at least half of the money spent would go to the villagers, who did the work and a GREAT job).
The ones ready to believe will see the two clips I post here as evidence. The others will have their explanations. At least, the Zangbèto initiates are a bunch of GREAT illussionists.
Question: Is there a human being under the mask or is it a spirit?
Go to the poll after having watched the two Zangbètos I have filmed on September 12, 2009. The first one shows an astonishing sense of balance. At the starting point of the clip one can also take a look under the mask and see, that there is nothing to be found (as it seems) but a bundle of cloth.
The second one features an undefinable bundle of whatever it may be, and the mask is placed on it. Shortly after that, the thing begins to move and starts its dance. This is in real time, without any cutting. I am looking forward to reading some sophisticated explanations!

What is the moving force in Zangbèto cult??? Vote at the bottom of the page.

Aug 18, 2009

zombies, leopards, and genre-theory

This is going to be a rather lenghty entry: What is a Zombie? The same as an undead person, or a "living dead". You might call it a "contradictio in adiecto", as someone is either dead or alive (although we know, that it is hard to draw the exact line between those two states of the body). Zombies are more or less popular figures in fiction (they have even given a name to a sub-genre of the horror-movie genre - I DO like genre theory a lot). Public notion holds this very concept to be somehow related to the Caribbean, especially to Haiti and "Voodoo".
I would rather call it a topic of folk-belief associated with the shape traditional West-African religions have taken in Haiti. To understand the notion of a Zombie in that particular context, we have to take a look at the concept of man behind it. In Voodoo thought, the human person is held to be guided by more than one soul or spiritual principle. The spiritual elements of the person are: the ti bónanj, the “little good angel”, the conscience of a person; the gwo bónanj, the “big good angel”, the personality of a given person and the lwa mét tét, the lwa, who is the master of the head, a personal "guardian angel". A lwa (pronounced as: lo-á) is a kind of spirit or deity. In the languages of the Bight of Benin it is called either a tro (ewe) or a vodu (fon). This is where the word "voodoo" stems from. In a way, it is the same as the Yorùbá orisha.
After death, the connection between the gwo bonanj and the lwa mét tét has to be resolved in the right way through ritual means. If that was done in the wrong way, it would lead to an imbalance that could be taken advantage of by an evil sorcerer (a bòkò), He will capture the gwo bonanj, and transform it into an evil spirit (a Zombie) that he uses for exerting witchcraft.
Another form of the Zombie is the above mentioned living dead, a corpse without a soul. In Haiti, these Zombies are thought of as corpses that the bòkò has taken out of the grave and revived. Since the gwo bonanj has already left the dead body, it is revived without a soul. The bòkò uses this Zombie to fulfil hard labour as a kind of human working machine. I keep on wondering, whether the circumstances of slavery have taken part in shaping such an imagination.
The latter notion is the movies' classic rendering: a person put into a state of a living dead. We find that in the movie that is commonly held to be the first "Zombie film" ever, White Zombie,  from 1932. It is worth viewing for the fact that it features Bela Lugosi and that it tells us some things about "race-relationship" (I do not think there there is such a thing as "race").



Although the movie draws heavily on (misrepresented) Afro-American religious ideas, and is settled in a Caribbean context, there is only one black person that is not merely depicted but also giving explanations: the coach-driver at the beginning of the film. The story is about a white couple invited by a white plantation-owner to have their marriage at his home. The latter wants to have the woman, so he makes a deal with a white sorcerer (master of an army of white zombies - hence the name of the film, I guess), who turns the woman into a zombie (by using a kind of "voodoo-doll", sympathetic magic). The plantation-owner has to learn the lesson, that in a pact with the devil one is very likely to be deceived, and the faithful husband succeeds in getting back his wife (with a little help from a friendly doctor and a black sage). Happy ending, the couple reunited.
A more sophisticated version of the eternal drama of mankind - will the two come together? (nobody ever is interested in their daily life AFTER THE FACT) - is given in "I Walked with a Zombie". In my humble opinion, Ulrike Sulikowski is more than damn right in highlighting that movie's merits. Obviously taking up the meager plot of "White Zombie", it brings in some reminiscences of Jane Eyre (the woman having fallen in love with the man who has a kind of Zombie wife at home) by darling Charlotte Bronté and unfolds the Zombie-theme against a background of a family-drama. Furthermore, there are dialogues that reflect outer image and inner practice of Voodoo, and black-skinned persons are allowed to act. The movie also stars a then famous calypso-singer, commenting on the family situation of the white patricians in the story's focus ("shame and scandal in the family").



In contradistinction to Jane Eyre, the drama unfolds in the colonies, as it is the Jane Eyre kind of woman that goes there, not the man having returned from there - a fine twist in the colonial construction of centre and periphery. The movie also shows some craftsmanship, as it is Jacques Tourneur, who has directed it. It was produced for RKO, and this meant a low budegt situation. Val Lewton was the producer (in charge of the horror genre at RKO), who engaged Tourneur, and most likely they would not have more than the title of the movie when starting to work on it. An example of such a film is the leopard man (click on it to watch the trailer), a story about a murderer who takes advantage of the situation, that a leopard has escaped during a publicity stunt. Nice movie, but no budget for special effects. As in "I walked with a Zombie", Tourneur compensates us with psychological finesse. He does the same in another production for RKO's suspense department, cat people (click on it to watch it), featuring lovely Simone Simon. Another one on cats of prey, this time on a woman turning into one. Her relationship to the psychoanalyst she is finally killing is a fine example of the psychological skills of Tourneur as a director, the way the killing is rendered is a striking example of "no budget". Back in the eighties, they did a remake directed by Paul Schrader, starring Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell, with a nice title song by David Bowie (I tried to find a good version on UTUBE, but there are only some live versions that do not match the original recording). Be that as it may, cat people does not offer us a happy ending. The disastrous energies of the catwoman are killing her lover and herself in the end (although we have a couple emerging out of that disorder). It is, in a way, a film noir, like "Out of the Past". (click on it to view it)
This one movie directed by Tourneur is worth viewing not only for the fact that it features Robert Mitchum as cool as he could be. It is regarded a classic film noir and I do think, more than rightly. It also shows that Tourneur could have been one of the great directors of his time (I like Truffaut, and for that I like auteur-theory). With all the twists of the plot, with all the sophistication of the main character, in a world where there is hardly someone to find you could trust in, it does not give us the classic happy ending. The one woman worth his love, faithfully waiting for the hero's return does not get him (or vice versa). In other words, the order of society is not restored fully, the chaos that has come in could not be overcome fully.
Might be a meek association, but the same seems to hold for the first Zombie Movie of the "apocalyptical type", albeit its ending in restoration of governmental power. Here, the figure of the Zombie is totally void of its meaning in the Afro-American world. For reasons that are not given in the film, the undead rise and invade the world, attacking the living and feasting on their corpses. A group of persons trying to protect themselves in a house does not succeed in its attempt to survive the attack, due to their failure of working together. Without indulging into ritual theory, it has to be mentioned, that funeral rites have to do with re-establishing order, as the order of society is disturbed by a corpse, the remnant of a living person, yet no longer in the realm of the living. Be it the shaman guiding the soul of the deceased, be it the procession accompanying the corpse from the community meeting locale (the church or some secular place) to the cemetry, and other examples galore, the line between the living and the dead has to be drawn clearly in order to have order. Fear of disruption of that order is, in my opinion, archaic both and modern, as it is universal among human beings. With "Night of the Living Dead", a low-budget independent film like White Zombie, a genre exploiting that fear, has been born.

A good read on the depiction of haitian vodu in the movies is: Ulrike Sulikowski, Hollywoodzombie: Vodou and the Caribbean in Mainstram Cinema. In: Manfred Kremser [ed.], Ay Bobo. African Caribbean Religions. Pt. 2. Voodoo, Vienna 1996, 77-96.

Aug 6, 2009

schlingensief (not) saving africa

A girl called Britta sent me some links yesterday, concerning Christoph Schlingensief's plans to build a festspielhaus in Africa (he thinks of Burkina Faso or Mozambique). Schlingensief's enterprise reminded Esther Slevogt of nachtkritik.de of one of her uncles who served as a colonial official in a German colony (he lived to an old age, that very uncle). When being carried through the bush in a sedan by some natives, this relative of Ms. Slevogt used to recite Goethe. and other German classics to the "uncivilised". I am sure, the palanquin looked like that:So she started a discussion on the blog of nachtkritik.de, where, among respondents' comments, one can find all the arguments refering to "AFRICA" from a European point of view: "why bring culture there instead of something to eat and settle their silly ethnic conflicts?"; "stop development aid and start fair trade instead!"; "help them to help themselves!"; "we love geldof and madonna!"; "we hate madonna and bono, and we are critical about geldof" and so on, hundreds of posts. I will not take sides (it was so easy to be pc back in the days when I was raised and it is so hard nowadays). Only one question: what part of Africa are you talking about? You're talking about the states Hillary is visiting right now? You are talking about Obama? Nigeria? Mozambique? I got the impression of Mr. Schlingensief being very conscious about the difference of his idea of Africa and some specific reality one could face on the African continent. Beside that, the discussion made clear to me again, that, with all the fuzz about what we could do for Africa, all we do is to foster our image of a helpless continent. Like Madonna, who fortunately has faced severe problems when trying to "raise Malawi". As Lara Stepanovic has pointed out rigthly on her blog, what would we think about Youssou N'Dour adopting a German orphan, his photograph on Times magazine headed "Raising Germany"?
Now, all of that simply reminded me of an article by Uzodinma Iweala in the Washington Post and of Damisa Moyo. Waiting for comments on that one. Me, I am taking sides for Iweala.

Aug 5, 2009

nietzsche and the whip

Being some kind of Nietzsche scholar, with my forthcoming book on the Last Disciple of the Philosopher Dionysos, I feel I have to do some posts refering to good old Fritz here, too. First and main objective: Do away with some of the long lasting prejudices concerning the philosopher. He was no fascist, not even a proto-fascist; he was no anti-Semite, and his negative statements on anti-semitism could not be reduced to the idea of him being merely an anti-anti-Semite and so on.
Then, Nietzsche and women. Not an easy one, so I will start with it. To have a rousing starting-point, let's take the whip. Sensational. Rendered like that in online-versions of "Thus spake Zarathustra": "Thou goest to women? Do not forget thy whip!"-- Thus spake Zarathustra.
Now, this is a widespread rendering, and it is wrong, at least an erroneous translation. It does not read: "thy whip", but "the whip". It is not Zarathustra, the protagonist of Nietzsche's book, who brings forth that "little truth". It is an old woman. One like truth (on certain occasions Nietzsche makes fun of the eroticist Plato by using the metaphor of "old woman" for "truth"). The story goes like that: an old woman asks Zarathustra to give a speech on women. He refuses. She convinces him to do. He utters some commonplace "wisdom" on gender-relationship according to the bias of his time (we know, what he has thought about the latter in principle). She thanks him and, in return, whispers a "!little truth" into his ears (the one rendered above). She admonishes him to hold its mouth, so that it will not scream too loudly, that little truth.
And how that big falsehood has screamed! Screamed in the name of Nietzsche, as if he had said that. He has not. He has written a book, the protagonist of which has not uttered it, too. So even if we thought, that Zarathustra was Nietzsche's alter ego, we were wrong to say, that the whip-sentence was a comment from Nietzsche's perspective. That is the milk for the beginners. Meat for the adult: No clue is given in the text about who is holding the whip and what the person is doing with it. "Do not forget the whip" - as Annemarie Pieper (a woman) has pointed out in her commentary on "Thus spake Zarathustra", it could be the woman holding the whip and she could use it in different ways. To the left we see a picture of a woman holding a whip. This is a nowadays-style of depicting a woman with a whip. What is she about to do with it? Punish the poor man? Use the crack of the whip as a rhythmic device for danceurs? Draw a circle of reverence around herself? Annemarie Pieper suggests the latter, if I remember it rightly. May be an idealistic interpretation. What we do know, is, that in Nietzsche's writings, we find the first use of the whip as a practice he ascribes to the moralistic interpretation of the world. He does not like that world-view, as we all know, and he has some pretty good arguments, too, as some of us might know after having read the Genealogy of Morals. On the right, we see a woman holding a whip in her hands, an image more likley to be one that Nietzsche in his time could have had in his mind. What he could have had in his mind when relating to the use of the whip, is supposedely the rhythm of the dance. At least, we find that metaphor in his writings used in an affirmative way. The same holds for the practice that Annemarie Pieper has in mind. Whatever interpretation we tend to, we must be aware of the fact, that it is "the whip", which according to the old lady the man that goes to women should not forget, not "his whip". We cannot be sure, that it is her whip, but Nietzsche - giving us a rather harmless version of the use of the whip - makes sure it is in the woman's hand, as we can see on that famous photograph on the left again, that he has arranged. It features Paul Rée and lovely Lou Salomé. I would have liked to go on with some remarks on gender-construction chez Frédéric, but this will be another post, albeit not another topic. So I close with popular culture again. The song that first came to my mind was the Rolling Stones' When the Whip Comes Down, a two-chord rock'nroller from "Some Girls" (A-D; changing to G-D for one chorus). For the sake of featuring good music here, I decided to bring in Beast of Burden from the same album. In first place, it fits with the picture of Lou, Paul and Fritz, and secondly, beasts of burden (the camel and the ass) are prominent as caricatures of the representatives of the moralistic world-view in Nietzsche's writings. Although I do not agree with his overall interpretation of the "doctrine" of eternal recurrence, I still do think that Gilles Deleuze has given insightful comments on the donkey and the camel as metaphors in Nietzsche's works.



For all the scholarly stuff (quotations, refined arguments and the like), read my book!!!