Posts Tagged ‘ Theology ’

One approach to “Dune”

It’s been a while since I read Frank Herbert’s masterpiece, Dune, so I decided to reread it last week. What struck me was how colonial/postcolonial the novel is. It really reminded me of Heart of Darkness in its ambiguities. Actually, both novels hold light and darkness as significant. I think examples from Heart of Darkness can go without saying, but Dune includes such gems as:

“To attempt an understanding of Muad’Dib without understanding his mortal enemies, the Harkonnens, is to attempt seeing Truth without knowing Falsehood. It is the attempt to see the Light without knowing Darkness. It cannot be.” (13)

Indeed, the basic structure of the Kwisatz Haderach is that of one who can look into the darkness:

“She focused on the psychokinesthetic extension of herself, looking within, and was confronted immediately with a cellular core, a pit of blackness from which she recoiled. That is the place where we cannot look, she thought.” (354)

We are even told of the possibility of becoming like Kurtz:

“His own eyes, he knew, had a touch of the color, but smugglers could get offworld food and there was a subtle caste implication in the tone of the eyes among them. They spoke of ‘the touch of the spicebrush’ to mean a man had gone too native. And there was always a hint of distrust in the idea.” (415)

Now, such similarities are all well and good, but one might ask, “So what?”

First of all, Dune is not the same as Heart of Darkness. Conrad’s novel allows one character to present his story, while Herbert allows many characters a passing chance to take a hand in the narration. The other issue at hand is in regards to genre. Dune is distinctly sci-fi; Conrad’s novel, not so much. These differences create several divisions — I shall highlight three here:

1) Herbert’s novel appears as a story, Conrad’s as an incident. This is an important distinction because of each author’s writing style. Both use language kind of weirdly. Conrad is boggling, this much is typically agreed. Herbert, in my opinion, shifts (often jarringly) between a journalistic tone and a transcendental/spiritual tone. In short, the two share a similarity that makes their novels strange to read. I argue that Herbert is less cunning in his use of analogies and allegories than Conrad. Herbert’s jarring writing actually makes us pay closer attention, while Conrad’s creepiness just confuses the heck out of us. As a side note, my favorite description in Heart of Darkness refers to the technology monitoring the steamboat, the technology an African is responsible for paying attention to. I love it because it links Western technology to the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, yet it is phrased so oddly that it is almost impossible to slog through it properly. Conrad writes:

“He ought to have been clapping his hands and stamping his feet on the bank, instead of which he was hard at work, a thrall to strange witchcraft, full of improving knowledge.” (37 [Norton Critical edition 2006])

2) Herbert revels in explaining, Conrad doesn’t give a damn. The journalistic tone Herbert parades is no anomaly. It is typical sci-fi. When you’re exposing readers to a world that isn’t the world in which your readers live, it is kind of important that they come to understand it. Journalistic methods involve explaining stuff briefly (which does not always happen in sci-fi, much to the dismay of our brains) and giving something with which we might feel at home on, say, Arrakis. It seems to me that Conrad is not at all concerned with science fictional truthiness. My view of Heart of Darkness is that the book presents the river — and all Africa — as a mythical otherworld/other-world. In other words, the Africa of Heart of Darkness is myth and mystery, the Arrakis of Dune is technological myth. Marlow approaches the Congo with little scientific bearing. Rather, he approaches as an explorer; it is the Unknown. Arrakis is likewise unknown, but it is an unknown to be prodded by the sciences of the Guild, the Mentats, the Bene Gesserit, the Empire, etc… Arrakis is an object to be obtained, though it does retain some mythos. We are told that “Arrakis, the planet known as Dune, is forever his [Muad’Dib’s] place” (3) even though he was born and raised on Caladan.

3) Herbert wants to avoid “going native,” Conrad doesn’t seem as sure. Paul certainly “goes native” — his name shifts to Usul, then to Muad’Dib. He comes to effectively rule the Fremen through a quasi-religion. However, he is not totally “native.” He spends a huge chunk of the novel trying to avoid the “jihad” he perceives the future may hold. He intentionally shifts the way Fremen society and religion work — indeed he shifts the science of the Bene Gesserit as well — to avoid “going native,” engaging in the religious crusade the Fremen seem to desire. Conrad, primarily because of his totally confusing (and awesome) use of language, questions the location of the heart of darkness. I think it can be argued that he shows how none of us are quite innocent; evil lurks, crouching in every heart, within humanity. Muad’Dib’s concern with preventing evil is certainly good, but I believe Herbert grants too much credit to Puritan concept that only the chosen few are okay as humans (Hell, the Bene Gesserit test people to decide if they are “human” or “animal”).

I really like both novels, as you might be able to see by the length of this post…


Linguistic Analysis No. 4 — Dictionaries

Wow. I don’t know what to say, exactly. Read this.

Yup. Dictionaries are banned. Because a student “came across” a term deemed inappropriate. BANNED.

I would, humbly, like to suggest some parents take a look at the Bible, specifically Song of Songs. Specifically verses 7-10.


So, we have the sum of education. Children are precious snowflakes who must not experience anything that would soil their pristine little existence.

The ghost of John Dewey, like Gollum, needs to go away and not come back.

Linguistic Analysis No. 3 — Metalinguistic Guns

Imagine the scene: “A large conference room, filled with pudgy military men. A new rifle has been designed, and these men are just responsible for final, aesthetic touches. One stands up and says, ‘Jesus is a bullet!’ There is much applause.”

It might as well be a true story — see reports here, here, and here. To quickly summarize, a weapons producer was printing New Testament verses on the scopes of their rifles. The rifles are being used in Iraq, so people are upset.

My interest in this is from a different arena. These articles have no metalinguistic self-conciousness; they don’t understand the words they are using. For simplicity, I will use the WP article — which is remarkably similar to that of FoxNews… I will keep this analysis to three points.

1) Theological awareness:

“Trijicon’s rifle sights use tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, to create light and help shooters hit what they’re aiming for.

Markings on the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, which is standard issue to U.S. special operations forces, include “JN8:12,” a reference to John 8:12: “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life,'” according to the King James version of the Bible.

The Trijicon Reflex sight is stamped with 2COR4:6, a reference to part of the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” the King James version reads.”

So… You tell us that tritium is used to light a path for bullets to kill people. And the quoted verses offer references to Jesus being light. Now, one thing is the disturbed mind that decided that combination made coherent sense (Okay, so my facetious example at the beginning was misleading, the man actually said “Jesus is tritium!”). Another thing, one I consider more important in the moment, is to consider the placement of these bits of information by the WP (and Fox). Neither news source shows any awareness of the disturbing connection between  tritium, murder, and Jesus. I’m sure it’s nice having a Christ who tells you that killing people is okay. It’s probably better when he radioactively points out where the bad-guys are.

2) Clause order — its impacts on semantics

“The company’s practice of putting Bible references on the sites [sic] began nearly 30 years ago by Trijicon’s founder, Glyn Bindon, who was killed in a plane crash in 2003. His son Stephen, Trijicon’s president, has continued the practice.”

Seriously? Glyn’s son has continued the practice of being killed in a plane crash in 2003? Yes, I understand this is an overly critical. But how hard would it be to write: “Trijicon’s founder, Glyn Bindon — killed in a plane crash in 2003 — began putting Bible references on the sights nearly 30 years ago. His son Stephen, Trijicon’s president, has continued the practice.” My version is 5 words shorter. It took me longer to count the words than it did to make the damn thing more concise. And sensible. It should also be noted that the WP wrote “sites” when referring to the “sights” of rifles. Homophones!

3) Weird Specificity

This is not too huge of a complaint. But I do find the specificity somewhat red-flag raising.

“The references to Bible passages raised concerns that the citations break a government rule that bars proselytizing by American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq…”

Um… is it okay to proselytize in other places? Like Haiti?

Come on news sources! You wonder why we don’t really trust you!

Man, be thyself. Troll, be thyself — enough!

A busy week for this blog.

People tend to be trolls.

Henrik Ibsen observed this fact in “Peer Gynt” — one of the least acclaimed of his plays (speaking from a literary perspective, musically however…). Essentially, trolls are those people who are content to let their identities fall away so that they may fit into a system. Which system? Doesn’t matter, because you’ve only got to be real enough. I would suggest that we could add “to get through” after “enough.” But that fits into my belief that prepositions are good things to end sentences with.

Someone told me today that “maybe you should find a religion that fits you better, or maybe you should be an atheist.” N. B. — this came after I told the person that I do not believe God, who loves us, is going to condemn anyone to hell. I think my logic is firm. Humans have unconditional value; go back to freaking Genesis 27  if you want with the whole “image of God” thing. My brain made the jump very quickly to the Troll King’s mantra, “Man be thyself. Troll, be thyself enough.”

If I can’t be Roman Catholic because I don’t believe in damnation, for the “bad” people, then apparently I must find whatever fits me best. This rationale seems to fit with “Man be thyself,” yet there is a problem. Lacan likes to say, “There is no big Other;” I like to say, there is no little other. Because if we truly “love our neighbor” in a way that is not selfish, we abolish the subjectedness of the “other.” We pour out our essence for them — The essence of ourselves becomes mingled.

I also recently had a discussion about subjectivity/objectivity. Obviously, I argued from the side of objectivity — a hazard of being male and also not French. Yet what arose in my mind, after the fact, was the possibility that making others objective is the same as making them subjective. We need to move beyond the good and evil (to improperly steal a phrase from Nietzsche in a way he would have hated) of objectivity and subjectivity. Beyond these, we find that the harsh realities and the preposterous meaninglessness negate each other. I believe there is a kind of joy revealed by the burning away of darkness and the cooling of the searing light.

So, apparently, I’m not Catholic enough if I don’t want God, who loves us, to hate some of us. Very well, I will be a Catholic-troll. I will also make a final argument. In this system of sin as a kind of negative money (if you have x number of sins or x gravity of sins, you will go to hell), we are stuck with a vision of negative capitalism. It’s like some freaky game of golf — for your soul. As Kazantzakis’ beautiful character Zorba points out, the tools of God are not scales of judgement or knives to slice away cancerous sin — “those damned instruments are meant for butchers and grocers — no, he’s holding a large sponge full of water, like a rain-cloud.” A sponge to wipe away our sin and cast those into hell. Of course I look like a troll, I’m dealing with a world full of people who want to take, not just their money with them, but want to take the money system with them as well.

It makes the phrase, “Alles ist in Ordnung” even more disturbing.

Linguistic Analysis No. 1 — Roman Catholicism

This is the first of a many part series I plan to do. Occasionally — as is my habit… Basically, my goal is to analyze some word or phrase from a linguistic point of view. I think my passion/patience blog was a forerunner to this concept. Now, I shall begin:

Someone recently told me, “Roman Catholics are hypocrites because they believe homosexuality is a sin, but the Romans were totally gay.”

Oh yes, I did indeed smirk. Even a glance at the assumed logic of the statement makes it laughable. Jesus was not a Roman. Jesus was a Jew — get over it! Such an issue is pure semantics, yet is surprising. Such confusion, thinking the common word “Roman Catholic” without thinking of Christ, is terrifying in my mind. It really emphasizes this idea that it is not religions that are out of touch with young people, but young people who are out of touch with religion. I might be tempted to ramble about the rise of “spirituality,” but that may be for a different post. Still, is it not odd that we live in a world where people increasingly want to be spiritual; increasingly want to be spirits, not bodies?

Anyways, more amusing results can be discovered if we approach this from a different lens. I consulted my handy OED. “Roman Catholic” is not a terribly old word in English! It was first used in the early seventeenth century — which means it only comes into use after the Protestant Reformation. In fact, the first quotation, from Sandys’ Europae Speculum (1605), mentions the recently emerged contrast, “Some Roman-Catholiques will not say grace.. when a Protestant is present.” Yes, even words about religion have a historical precedent.

My point here must reduce to this: English is a remarkable language in its ability to absorb other languages and new words, yet this quality demands of us to know not just what these words mean, but where they come from as well. If not, our logic (*logos — word: therefore, semantics) falls into stupidity even excluding political and theological interpretations.

*I believe the root of logic can be brought further back, to legein — draw out. Heidegger certainly uses this sense of the word, but I think my point still stands. Especially as semantics do draw out, quite exactly or inexactly as the speaker allows.

A Pitter-Patter of Patti

So. I went to bed last night (this morning) a little after 3 A.M. Normally, that would be fine, I suppose. But today I needed to wake up at 8 to get to work on time. Given that I never can fall asleep right away… Let’s just say that I’m a little tired and a little cranky. And a little loopy. My favorite thing about being tired is the heightened perception it allows. Sure, the typical degree of perception is weakened (lack of ability to concentrate), but that tiredness is good for thinking about things in creative ways. Or at least ways that are abnormal.

Last night was my birthday. Now, I honestly cannot remember a birthday I had that was actually fun. Every birthday I can remember has been either neutral or just plain bad. I’m going to qualify yesterday as a neutral birthday, which may begin to seem odd as I describe it.

For some time now there has been a girl I’ve been very attracted to. We kept a fair amount of correspondence up over the summer. Our conversations are always extensive and rambling; they are wonderful. I even asked her out once, long ago — and she had a good reason for not accepting. I was going to attempt to ask her again last night, but I kept holding back. Not out of cowardice, but out of a sense that not asking her was the thing to do. Shortly before I left she changed the topic of our conversation. She described to me that she doesn’t tell people much about some parts of her life — she is currently dating.

I was not surprised. I mean, I was surprised! But it made complete and total sense. Now, I can’t consider myself an expert at reading women — I thought she was flirting with me at some points earlier in the evening. It was totally reasonable that she should be dating someone and that I should be left out of another potential relationship. I found that I wasn’t even sad. Of course I was sad that I’m still single, but I wasn’t (and am not) able to be sad about how the night turned out. And so I went to bed with that mentality.

I was dead tired coming into work this morning. The Quad is totally empty. Save for me… Without anyone to help (I work as a tutor), I just let my mind wander for a while. It suddenly hit me that Patience and Passion are the same thing! I rushed to a dictionary to check my discovery.

Passion: from Latin “passus” — patti = to suffer

Patience: from Latin “patiens” — patti = to endure

So, to end, I shall simply say that only those in pain are truly patient.

No, I will not own Hades

No longer am I on hiatus from this so called “blog.” My summer was spent as a quasi-employed-semi-hermit. One friend suggested that my pause in writing (this blog and anything else) was due to overload and that my summer was the necessary break from it. Another friend suggested that I am simply a loser. So be it. If I am designed to be a loser in this game of life, I’ll at least ramble about stuff that I want to ramble about and possibly mock people in the process.

Actually that might mean old people are losers.

Today I think I’m just going to ramble about plants. Sort of. I’ve spent the past few days debating different topics, thinking about different things, and basically just putting off actually writing something. So, plants it is.

My little room is bursting with non-animal life. Human residents here are outnumbered five to one by houseplants. Though technically one is not a houseplant. Of the five, the largest is a vine. Morbidly, perhaps, it is a plant given to our family because of my grandmother’s death. My mom is incapable of raising houseplants. Because of this I do two things. 1) I mock her incessantly about it, which she enjoys because she knows it’s true, and 2) I take care of it and spend time with it. Which is another way of saying it is mine. Yes, this is one of the reasons I think a lot of parents are not actually parents to their child(ren). Luckily, a lot of teachers DO act as parents to not-their-children.

I can’t legitimately claim to own my plants. Yes, there is a legal state of ownership (although legal ownership of plants? I’m sure it exists, but I’m too lazy to do the 75 second Wikipedia search it would take to find out). But what I’m saying is that I cannot actuallyclaim/chain them to me. For me, the debate begins in a physical sense. These particular plants did not sprout from my body, nor do they owe their existence to my actions in any way that is real(ly) remarkable. Yes, I do care for/about them, but my care only aids their existence — it does not determine it. If I were to say that these plants are mine, in anything but the legal sense (which is weird anyways), I would have to make a kind of leap.

One such leap would be to say that they are physically mine. This doesn’t hold water for the reasons I gave above (Note: if a fern is sprouting through your chest, perhaps you own it). Yet these plants are mine! Intuition is screaming this. Loudly! So here’s my solution. I’m going to say that my “ownership” of the plants is a terrible way to state the relationship we have. Yes, I said relationship. Plants are people too.

Consider it symbiosis plus a (sometimes rare) human tendancy to note what it sacred. Filling a room with green stuff that doesn’t seem to move seems like a strange way to have an experience of the presence of God, but… well… I don’t care if it seems strange. Each plant is a weirdo in it’s own way. The vine I babbled about earlier is huge. I’ve actually yet to see a larger vine of it’s species (this is likely also related to my lazy decision not to check Wikipedia).

Also, all you literary folk know that eating pomegranate is a surefire way to get yourself stuck in Hades. Basically I’m wondering what the punishment is for growing pomegranates. Because I’m doing exactly that. Currently I have fourteen sprouts, all between 1 and 3 inches tall. It’s fun!