Revisiting: Other People’s Epics

Every Some third Saturdays of the month I intend to re-post something I wrote for one of my assorted old blogs or tumblogs. This week I am revisiting the Thinking Grounds for “Other People’s Epics.” The first sentence is no longer quite true, but otherwise I think it holds of reasonably well. I spun out this theme quite a lot, possibly ad nauseum, at the Thinking Grounds. Immediate sequels included “Other People’s Mystery Novels” and “Other People’s [Insert Genre]s.”

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Briton Riviere’s Una and the Lion. Una is the romantic interest of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene: Book One. Source: Sofi at flic.rk/p/ftjgXA


Other People’s Epics

One of my recurrent pastimes is to imagine what another person’s epic might look like.

As far as genres go, the epic is one of my favourites to think about. No individual epic counts among my favourite books (though, you know, Paradise Lost is pretty great). The reason I like thinking about them is that, at least in the English tradition, they have become a kind of formal game, thanks to the humanists of early modern England. (Note to readers: “early modern” is the new PC term for “Renaissance;” in England the early modern period spans the 1500s and 1600s, but it got started earlier in Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, etc.). Let’s dive into a bit of history, shall we?

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FtPA: An Accidentally Intended Effect

There are some pieces of writing from my previous degrees with which I feel happy enough that I might like to share them. I’ll be replacing my Revisiting posts some months with FtPA (From the Personal Archive) posts instead. Today, I would like to share one of the journals I wrote for a course on the American Gothic with Sandra Tomc at the University of British Columbia. This one concerns some of the strangeness involved in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition.” As you’ll see, I drew a bit from ideas I explored with Michael Snediker in my undergraduate program, shared in a previous FtPA. At the end of the year, we were to gather these journals together into a final paper. I titled mine “How to Haunt: Journals on the American Gothic.” I might share more of these later.

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Source: Blueorangutan flic.kr/p/BZjCNv

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FtPA: A Library Without Librarians?

There is some writing from my previous degrees with which I am sufficiently happy that I might share it in a From the Personal Archives series any month I don’t run the Revisiting series. This one comes from the same class as my essay on the universal library’s myriad problems, Dr. Richard Arias-Hernandez’s Fall 2014 course on Digital Libraries at the University of British Columbia iSchool. This time, I was to take a look at a digital library’s workflow and metadata standards and I decided to look at the Marxists Internet Archive as an exercise in connecting library practice with ideological and institutional constraints.

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Source: Claremont Colleges Digital Library (not the subject of this post) at flic.kr/p/dAAHZ5


A Library without Librarians?: The Marxist Internet Archive’s Policies and Standards

The Marxist Internet Archive collects texts, and fragments of texts, from writers who have had some impact on Marxist, communist, socialist, and allied movements. Most of these texts are simple HTML documents viewed directly in a web browser; a number of them are available for download in other formats, most commonly pdf but also in prc, mobi, epub, and odt. Most, but not all, documents have a set of metadata, which the Archive presents in a standard way but which do not always contain the same fields: fields might include when the text was written, when it was first published, the source, who transcribed the text, who proofread the text, who applied HTML markup, and so on. Although the scope appears to be fairly well-defined as original texts or text fragments by Marxist, communist, socialist, or anarchist thinkers, a few scientific and feminist documents are also in the collection with little or insubstantial explanation.

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Monthly Marvel: Ammit

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I’d like to introduce you to Ammit, an ancient Egyptian figure for entropic forces.


Ammit

This week’s fantastic being is Ammit.

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Source: Wikipedia, cropped by me.

Her name means devourer or soul-eater in ancient Egyptian; her titles are Devourer of the Dead, Eater of Hearts, and Great of Death. (The English translation of Jorge Luis Borges’s The Book of Imaginary Beings calls her Eater of the Dead.) She was a female demon with the head of a crocodile, the mane, front legs, and forebody of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus.
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FtPA: Constructing Narratives in Charles W. Chesnutt’s “The Goophered Grapevine”

There is some writing from my previous degrees with which I am sufficiently happy that I might share it in a From the Personal Archives series any month I don’t run the Revisiting series. As with last month’s offering, this piece is from Michael Snediker’s 2008-2009 undergraduate course at Queen’s University called American Literature: The Fabulous and the Mundane. And as with that piece, the paper makes more sense alongside the text—Charles W. Chesnutt’s “The Goophered Grapevine” in The Conjure Woman and Other Tales (1899)—but I think this one reads perfectly well even if you know nothing about the original. The last paragraph betrays a lot of my own theoretical preoccupations at the time.

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Source: Ernest Adams at flic.kr/p/4tw5EY

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Monthly Marvel: Soft Rime

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. Today I’d like to share soft rime, a much gentler winter phenomenon than I expect to soon experience.


Soft Rime

This week’s meteorological phenomenon is soft rime.

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Source: Kabacchi at flic.kr/p/7FTwFa. This user has a lot of photographs of soft rime.

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From the Personal Archive: The Ghost Ship Called Pym of Nantucket

There are some pieces of writing from my previous degrees with which I feel happy enough that I might like to share them. I’ll be replacing my Revisiting posts some months with FtPA (From the Personal Archive) posts instead. Today, I’m offering a short response paper for a 2008 undergraduate course at Queen’s University with Michael Snediker called American Literature: The Fabulous and the Mundane; my paper was based on our readings of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). This paper is only an undergraduate offering and furthermore reads much better after one has read Pym, but if you haven’t read the novel this might still interest you as an example of a genre.

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Source: Richard Pierse at flic.kr/p/fSzQyj

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Monthly Marvel: Salmon of Knowledge

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I want to share the Salmon of Knowledge.


Salmon of Knowledge

This week’s fantastic being is the salmon of knowledge. An Irish fish, known in Irish as bradádan feasa, the salmon of knowledge has a few stories associated with it.

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Source: William Murphy at flic.kr/p/9EzTuX. This statue, called “The Big Fish,” sits in Belfast and depicts the Salmon of Knowledge.

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Revisiting: On Mystics and Postmodernists

Every third Saturday of the month I intend to re-post something I wrote for one of my assorted old blogs or tumblogs. This week I am revisiting the Thinking Grounds for “On Mystics and Postmodernists,” which is somewhat more frankly autobiography than usual.

Source: fusion-of-horizons at flic.kr/p/akUamc

Source: fusion-of-horizons at flic.kr/p/akUamc


On Mystics and Postmodernists

This post will barely rise above the autobiographical, but perhaps despite that it will be of some use to someone; I intend to discuss the way in which my (mostly former) interest in mysticism has been related to a sympathy for (but lack of identification with) postmodernism.

I remember, towards the end of high school, engaging with certain skeptics and atheists among my classmates. When I say, “engaging,” I should really say, “imagining engagements,” since I do not think I ever tried my arguments out against my classmates, prefering to debate my imagined versions of those classmates. One of my arguments I later learned was already famous as Pascal’s wager, which I have subsequently found less than compelling; another was that humans, being finite and imperfect, could not reason accurately about God, who was infinite and transcendent. As evangelism, this argument is a non-starter; as defensive apologetics, it suffices, but hardly. I admit I was naïve. For a pre-existing and self-critical faith, however, the idea that humans cannot accurately reason about God is almost certainly a necessary component, so while I’ve stopped using it (or imagining that I use it) to defend my faith against critics, I’ve found it a fairly good idea to hold on to.

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Monthly Marvel: Tree of Life

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I want to share the Tree of Life: as a nod to Darwin’s birthday I focus mostly on Darwin’s use of the metaphor, but I also look at other places in which it shows up.


TREE OF LIFE

This week’s idea is the tree of life. The image of a tree of life—axis mundi, if you prefer—is a common one in mythology around the world, but I’m referring specifically to Charles Darwin’s metaphor for all living things on Earth in an evolutionary relationship going back to the origins of life itself. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin’s only  illustration was tree-like branched diagram, and the book includes a passage which compares “the great Tree of Life” with a growing tree, saying that the former “fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications.” Other biologists have used this image, updating it with genetic data. For instance, the Tree of Life Web Project is a collaborative project providing information about biodiversity and phylogeny.

Source: Leonora Enking at flic.kr/p/9GQuCD

Source: Leonora Enking at flic.kr/p/9GQuCD

Other trees of life include arbor vitae, the branching pattern between the grey matter and white matter of the brain; the Tree of Life in Genesis’s Garden of Eden, of which Adam and Eve are said to have eaten before they chose to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil instead; a central symbol in the Kabbalah of Jewish mysticism, which consists of ten interconnected nodes; Yggdrasil, a massive yew or ash tree which supported the worlds; a cipher for the Elixir of Life and the Philosopher’s Stone in European alchemy; the Bo or Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment; an acacia tree in Egyptian mythology from which Isis and Osiris emerged, which encloses both life and death and, more literally speaking, contains a psychedelic drug associated with spiritual experiences; and many others.

But let’s return to Darwin’s metaphor. It was more politically charged than it might first appear. He was writing On the Origin of Species during the abolition movement, and at the time there were two competing theories about human origins: monogenists, who argued that there was a single origin for all humans, and the polygenists, who argued that there were multiple origins for all humans, one for each race (source). For the most part, monogenists cited the Bible, while polygenists cited scientific theories, mostly based on cranial measurements, which suggested Europeans and Africans were separate biological species. Supporters of slavery mostly used these polygenist scientific theories, while abolitionists relied on Biblical monogenist theories. However, the intellectual climate of the era was leaning more heavily to science than to religion, and it looked as though the slave owners were going to win the argument. They had science on their side, after all. That is, they had science on their side until Darwin, the product of strongly abolitionist families, published On the Origin of Species. Darwin argued that all humans were the same species, tied together in one branch of the Tree of Life; the polygenist theory lost scientific support, giving the monogenist theory the scientific grounding it needed to win the argument in that era.

Posted by Christian H.