website, blog and vanity nexus of writer R F Brown

Posts tagged ‘religion’

FAR OUT! – commentary on Michael Sussman’s novel “Crashing Eden”

edenDo you believe everything you hear? Joss was a troubled teenager before ever telling his psychiatrist that his bicycle collision with a random car door was “meant to be.” He is the child of upper-middle class professionals who attends a private high school in multidimensional Cambridge, Massachusetts, but he also grew up angry and defiant, and he just got out of two years lock-up in juvie for setting the neighbor’s house on fire. His meeker younger brother killed himself; a tragedy over which the father has fallen into dissociation and the mother has become an irreconcilable bitch who holds Joss responsible. Yet, in the hospital, recovering from the concussion he suffered, Joss feels euphoric, spiritually renewed and he has begun to hear the OM.

The OM is the primordial vibration of the universe. It sounds like a cosmic choir chanting and could anciently be heard by all humans, before the mythical fall of creation. To this point Michael Sussman’s novel Crashing Eden is still a fairly phenomenological YA drama. We are not sure yet if this is a journey into myth and the supernatural, or the story of a depressed kid having a psychotic break.

The psychiatrists seem to have a clinical grasp of what’s wrong (or too right) with Joss. They explain that the OM is an auditory hallucination brought on by Joss’s state of manic bliss. Euphoria and delusions of grandiosity are common to mental patients Joss’s age. Joss’s belief that he has developed special powers, coinciding with the anniversary of his brother’s suicide, is likely a function of Joss’s mind protecting itself from sadness and guilt. Is Joss’s life changing experience of the OM going to be real within the context of the novel, or a maddness through which Joss will exercise his grief? The author will make a choice for the reader about what kind of novel this is going to be – a story about mental illness and family discord, or a sci-fi, superpowers fantasy that will suspend all physical rules to deliver readers beyond the universe to the feet of God. Because Joss believes that something universally significant is happening, and his conviction is about to be substantiated by a series of stupefying narrative events:

Event: Earth is hurtling toward intersection with a vast black hole in outer space, portending the end of the world.

Event: Joss encounters a pair of grad school scientists who have built a wearable device that amplifies the OM. They also enlist Joss in distributing the devices to young people everywhere, in the hope of saving the world by re-syncing it with the primordial vibration of the universe.

Event: the human mission to restore honestly and goodness to the world angers God Himself, who irrationally rains down catastrophic blizzards, earthquakes, and plagues.

Final Event: Joss teams up with the grad students, the ghost of his dead brother, and other friends who have developed supernatural abilities. Joss and company fly as spirit bodies through the black hole to confront God and talk-therapy Him through his attachment disorder related to his own mother abandoning him thirteen billion years before.

Anyone who took a high school English class is probably familiar with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s concept of poetic faith, described as the willing suspension of disbelief. This refers to a reader’s willingness to accept a fictional imagining of the world (or world’s) on the author’s terms. Crashing Eden raises a question about the point at which fantasticism in speculative fiction breaks the readers willing suspension of disbelief. Sci-fi and fantasy stories freight a lot willingness before the cover page is ever turned, and, of course, suspension depends entirely on the individual reader’s cooperation.

There are a couple common ways the fantasy in a genre story gets broken. 1.) The RULES of the Impossible World are implausible in the real world, e.g. the wizard about to cast his death curse conveniently has a heart attack and dies. 2.) The RULES of the Impossible World are inconsistent, e.g. only a wizard can do magic until a non-wizard steals the magic wand. Despite other weaknesses, Crashing Eden actually passes both of these tests. After the on the level looking early chapters, Sussman wends a fairytale path, but there are no early conceits, no limits on the contrived reality that prevent the story from traveling beyond the beyond. So why does Cashing Eden not entirely work? In the druthers of your humble reviewer, its gradually elaborate fantasy simply gets too far out.

If the issue is not broken disbelief, perhaps we could call it cognitive estrangement from the breadth of Sussman’s fantasy world. We can still give up on a story if at some intangible juncture its fantasy proposal feels pointless. Too fantastic. Too weird. There are no doubt other readers for whom legends given authenticity, superpowers employed to punch-out God, and the undisputed existence of God at all, is an exhilarating reading experience. And Sussman deserves credit for giving young readers a positive parable about redemption, healthy self-forgiveness, and celebrating ethics of peace while never ennobling a particular religion. The book is also slyly funny and the teen hero is complex. To my taste, I would have liked the novel to continue in the direction of teen-with-a-mental-problem, and the fantastic parts to be something Joss subconsciously invented as a recovery tool. A little more science and not so much fiction, please. In words attributed to sci-fi author Damon Knight: “Alice In Wonderland, good. Weird Alice In Wonderland, good. Weird Alice In Weird Wonderland, not good.”

 

Blessed Insurance- book review of Norma Zimmer’s unlucky autobiography

Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though some strange thing happened to you. – 1 Peter 4:12

Norma Zimmer was a gifted soprano who performed for decades on television’s ‘LAWRENCE WELK SHOW.’ Welk even gave Zimmer the title of Champagne Lady, the highest honor among other fine women vocalists on the show. Zimmer accepted that appellation graciously in her autobiography,norma although with reservations about sounding like she would be promoting liquor.

She was raised by alcoholic parents in poverty in the Pacific Northwest. Her parents were emotionally abusive, they smoked cigarettes, and they did not yet know God. But Norma grew up to confess Christ on her own. Throughout her story she draws Christian lessons from a life of “tests” and “fiery ordeals.” Her gifted singing, confident will, and the generosity of early supporters enabled Norma to make a great career of radio/recordings, television, and Christian revival concerts. She describes her adult life with financial comforts, devoted family, and spiritual bliss. Yet through bad luck (or influence of her book editor), tests of her and family’s allegiance to God never abate: toxemic pregnancy, auto accident, crooked car salesman, crooked agent, twisted intestines, psoriasis, debilitating arthritis, broken back, brain shunt, family strokes, sister dies of liver disease, father dead in a car two days, family dog burns the house down, near death penicillin reaction, near death choking on beef Stroganoff, stranded on treacherous river rapids, water skiing accident, downhill skiing accident:

“…’one of the [ski-lift] workers climbed up on the tower to repair it and he called for a peen hammer. They threw one up to him but he missed it and it fell and hit your husband.’ I was crying, and praying, O God, help us! Please protect him, Lord!”

A prayer too late, if you ask me. I imagine if Job read Norma’s autobiography he would say, “Wow, this dame can’t catch a break.”

Still, what also never abates is Norma’s optimism about life, people’s good nature, and her faith in God’s long game. Some readers may discover her buoyant attitude and ornamented writing style ironic, others inspirational. If you are a fan of the ‘LAWRENCE WELK SHOW’, like I am, you already have a sensibility for what is over-decorated but enjoyable. If you take your Lawrence Welk more serious, you might also find Zimmer’s book metaphysically uplifting.

Lawrence Welk

Lawrence Welk

However, if you pray to read more detail about what it was really like working under Welk’s baton for twenty years, God’s answer will be No. There is not much behind the scenes here, except some descriptions of how busy Norma was on days driving between the studio and hospitals, and lists acknowledging all the backstage angels who kept Norma looking grand. I hoped for behind the curtain conflict among the performers, rather than hearing more about Norma’s redoubtable faith in Jesus, no matter what terrible shit life threw at her. I wanted to read more shit about Lawrence the hot-headed puritan, or the over-the-hill band member schtuping a teenage Lennon sister, or the on-camera star who had an off-screen champagne problem.

I admit that despite my being atheist, I did find Norma’s take on life encouraging. She was a person who absolutely believed that smiling into the video camera communicated a hopeful message to viewers. At another scene in the book she describes laying awake with her her croup-afflicted toddler Ronnie, worrying if she should take him to the hospital for a tracheotomy:

“He was barely able to breathe… I lay beside Ronnie, watching and praying. ‘God,’ I prayed over and over, ‘please heal our little son.’ Suddenly I noticed a brightness behind me… Standing near the bed was a lovely blonde woman with a white blouse and dark skirt… She just stood there with a radiant smile on her face, looking down at Ron. Then she just faded away. It was a glorious experience. I felt no fear – just awe. I have always believed that I was permitted to see Ron’s guardian angel.”

A blonde in a blouse and skirt? Who was her son’s guardian angel, Donna Reed?

Off screen Norma Zimmer sounds like she was a bit of a kook, but I’m also convinced, beyond a doubt, that she was a wunnerful, wunnerful lady.

REBLOG: When Fuck You Still Meant Something To People “A Brief History of Four Letter Words”

link: A brief history of four letter words.

A Brief History Of Four Letter Words

by Ester Inglis-Arkell

“Scumbag,” sounds like the kind of hokey insult that would get you laughed at if you used it. When it was used in a New York Times, it got protests from some older readers, because once upon a time it meant “a used condom.” Think about every time you’ve seen Batman refer, in children’s cartoon, to criminals as scum, and you’ll begin to understand how obscenity evolves.

There are people who say that animals swear when they, for example, growl or gesture aggressively at people. Although no one could mistake such things for friendly gestures, showing anger isn’t the same thing as swearing. Swearing is more complicated than just aggression. Swearing can be a form of affectionate teasing among friends, it can be a way of insulting someone, it can be a way of letting off steam or frustration, or a way of showing unbridled enthusiasm. The only thing all verbal obscenity has in common is the deliberate crossing of social norms. And this is why swear words are always changing.

The Newly Innocent Obscenities

Golly! Zounds! Gadzooks! These are the kind of things Captain Marvel would say. Almost any other superhero would be too mature for such, childish silly words. And yet, during Shakespeare’s time, they made him one of the more edgy writers out there. They’re not just random sounds, but contractions, meant to make absolutely shocking sentiments less outright obscene. Golly, zounds, and gadzooks were, in order, god’s body, god’s wounds, and god’s hocks. While thinking about the Almighty’s ham hock region might offend a few people, each of these words are the kind of things now deemed perfectly innocent. This shows a huge shift in social mores since the time of the Shakespeare.

A brief history of four letter wordsReligious obscenities, when half of Europe was at war with the other half over the right way to practice Christianity, were a big deal. Referring to God in the corporeal sense was a way to scandalize people. To take the Lord’s name in vain was to go against explicit Biblical instructions. These were some of the more obscene concepts of the age, but today are the most mild swear words most people can think of. God, hell, damn, and, to some extent, Jesus Christ, are no big deal anymore. Most people use them.

Ironically, the reason they got a toe hold in current society is the same reason they were so scandalous a few centuries ago. They could be genuine swear words, but they could also be expressions of religious ideas. Far, far back in Simpsons history, there was a storyline about how the kids got a lesson on hell in Sunday School. When asked, afterwards, about what they learned, Bart replied, “Hell.” When Marge scolded him, he told her that, no, they had learned about the literal hell, and kept saying hell over and over until Marge, tired of hearing a word she considered inappropriate when coming out of her son’s mouth, said, “Bart, you’re not in church anymore. Don’t swear.” The line between actual devotion and blasphemy is tougher to delineate than most censors, and most people, imagine. Eventually most English speakers just stopped trying to find it at all, and people saying things like, “Mother of God,” just became a noncontroversial emotional outburst.

The Animals Diverge From Their Excrement

A brief history of four letter wordsOther swear words, which managed to skate into acceptability under a protective barrier of literalism, are bitch and ass. Both of those started out as literal meanings – animals – and might have been used as insults in their own right in their time. Ass is actually two words blended together to become an obscenity. Ass, the swear word, started out as irs, which meant the back end of anything, not just animals. Over time it became arse, and eventually rounded out and emerged as an ass. The two words were so alike that it was easy to sneak some ass into everyday life. Who remembers the West Wingcharacters constantly calling each other “jackass,” which, being a donkey, was perfectly okay. In the next few years the first part of the word was peeled away, with the understanding that an ass still meant donkey, but eventually everyone stopped kidding themselves and allowed it to be another mild swear word regularly said on TV.

Bitch started out, and remains, a female dog in breeding condition. From there its meaning expanded to anything female in breeding condition, and eventually it expanded to become promiscuous women, angry women, angry or promiscuous homosexual men, or anything “especially disagreeable.” Sliding between the slightly sexual, the slightly referring to sexuality, and the literal meaning of the word got bitch into general conversation, and most television shows. It also helps that being “especially disagreeable,” rather than meek and accommodating has become a point of pride for both women and male homosexuals, and so even at its most insulting, the word has lost the power to shock as society has moved on.

As for things like pissing and shitting, which is what bitches, asses, and all other animals do, they’re old English words. At least one of which dates back to the King James Bible. (2 Ki 18:27 But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?) These words, though not refined back then, have gotten both more abstract and a little more outré. This is an example of the way culture can continually reach for more delicacy. In France, “toilet” used to mean a small towel, which was kept near the chamber pot. It also meant the act of cleansing oneself. Old books often use the phrase, “She spent some time making her toilet,” which means grooming and preparing oneself for an event. “Toilet water” was a kind of light perfume. Since these actions happened in private, near a chamber pot, they were used as a euphemism for actually using that chamber pot. Eventually, the word came to mean the actual toilet itself, and not the things near it. After that, saying “I need to go to the toilet,” became indelicate, and people had to come up with more abstracted ways of saying the same thing. Cycles like this made piss and shit, while more commonly used in society, more vulgar than they originally were.

Four Letters and Starting With F

And then there’s the swear word that’s held steady for half a millennium; fuck. It seemed to spring upon the landscape fully-formed, and already an obscenity. The first instance of use of the word “fuck,” came from a satirical poem, written in Latin, in the year 1500. The line is referring to a group of friars, and runs like this: “Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk.” If it suddenly starts looking like Kryptonian instead of Latin after the word quia, it’s because it had to be written in code. Each letter of the word was swapped out for the letter following it in the alphabet. Remember that the alphabet was in a different order back then, and that Latin conjugates verbs differently, but gxddbov translates as “fuccant.” The overall line states, “They are not in Heaven, since they fuck the wives of Ely.” That is one racy poem!

The word was, and continued to be, the big daddy of all swear words in English for many years. It became one of the words that keptLady Chatterley’s Lover banned in plenty of places. The word was unutterable in polite company. It’s still banned from most television stations and most print media.

Still, it has always been used, and its increasing popularity means that it’s becoming less likely to be held back from media discourse. Lately things have been changing especially fast. The FCC lately had to change regulations about fining news stations that aired spontaneous utterings of “fuck,” in their news footage. It was found that the word has come to be something people use to express their frustration, instead of solely referring to sex. Frustration is not obscene, so it’s highly likely that fuck may be sliding its way into generally and even media acceptability. As soon as the word acquires tones that aren’t exactly the literal and obscene meaning that it was originally used to convey, censors relax. They have to. As we’ve seen, it’s too easy to play with language, hiding deeper meanings behind compound words, resetting context, and making words seem innocent. Is it only a matter of time before five hundred years of dirtiness becomes sanitized as a mere expression of frustration? And if so, what to do we say then?

Top Image: Guillaume Carels

Shakespeare Image: Guardian

Donkey Image: Klearchos Kapoutsis

Cartoon: Tomia

Via SlateBrazil TimesBostonNY Times, and SocyBerty.

BSD Movie Log: Borderland

Borderland (2007, d. Zev Berman)

Three impulsive and illiberal students, awaiting grad school,  take a bro-cation to a tenderloin, Mexican border town. Although  looking for  dope and hookers, they accidentally find themselves the prey of a violent drug order/religious cult.  While one bro is being tortured and strung up by his castanets, the other two come after the well-armed gang with a tire iron and get their gringo culos handed to them.  They should have turned around at El Paso and headed straight back to Stanford.

Based on a true story, Borderland is a case where a better movie is lurking just beneath the one we’re unfortunately watching.  The American douchebags are neither sympathetic characters nor well cast actors.  More interesting to me is the gang of drug-smuggling orphans who kidnap virgin male tourists for their Jim Jones-esque leader.  A guy who performs a sadistic Santeria ritual upon the victim in the belief that such blood sacrifice will render him invisible to narcotics law enforcement.  Now that’s entertainment!