Monday, October 31, 2016

Gestalt Vision #1

Gestalt:  a unified whole; a configuration, pattern, or organized field having specific properties that cannot be derived from the summation of its component parts.
Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language 1989

“And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men (and old women) shall dream dreams.”  Joel 2: 28 NKJV

I have gestalt visions.  I have had them for a long time; when I was teaching I used them to great advantage.  I am no longer teaching but the visions still come.

At first, I thought it was my duty to explain my visions and so I faithfully sat with them until I sifted through enough coherent meaning to share them with others.  But my internal teacher knew that this was not quite right.  It is not for me to see the pattern, formulate a hypothesis, test its validity, and draw a conclusion for others; each individual must do that for himself or herself.  I can only present the organized field.

The Quintessential Editor
 Corey Truax recently introduced a new character in his “Wasteland Wednesday” blog.  The character Daniel, also known as “The Preacher”, joins Drake and his group of survivalists.  The Preacher is a member of a religious group called the Lost Word that goes about teaching and practicing its beliefs, which include occasionally “purging” villages.  As these purges leave behind crucified men and women, one could assume that the Lost Word is a rather nasty bunch.

What I find most interesting about the introduction of The Preacher into the story is the meeting of two social compacts:  that of Daniel and The Lost Word and that of Drake and his group.  It is a set-up for the classic conflict between church and state.

What is a social compact?  I think it is best defined in The Book of Rhino:
“People who wish to live in a civilized society need a social compact by which all its members agree to live for the good of the larger community.  Such a compact derives its validity and merit from its birth from within the community, not from its imposition upon the community from an outside authority.”

In every novel I have read so far, there is always a social compact.  Even in a post-apocalyptic world, the remnant of people always seem to band together and establish some sort of social compact in order to survive.  I imagine even flesh-eating zombies have their own rules of order. (“Fifty Ways to Love Your Liver”)  In survival stories, conflict often occurs when two or more social compacts from different groups of survivors are at odds with each other. 

Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut
In a speech given in 1979 at an ACLU fundraiser, Kurt Vonnegut addressed the issue of book burning and book banning, Slaughterhouse-Five being one of the targeted works.  He referred to Thomas Aquinas and his hierarchy of laws – divine or God’s law, natural law, such as gravity or weather, and human law, such as the Bill of Rights.  According to Thomist theory, natural law trumps human law and divine law trumps both natural law and human law.  Vonnegut went on to compare divine law to an Ace, natural law to a King, and human law to a Queen.  To quote Vonnegut:

“The big trouble is that there is so little agreement as to how those grander laws are worded.  Theologians can give us hints of the wording, but it takes a dictator to set them down just right.”

One of the most prevalent conflicts is between the religious world and the secular.  The church thinks it holds all the aces while the state holds the queens.  But if the church is defining what it thinks is divine law, then divine law has become human.  Conflict between the two is really queen versus queen, the fact of which both sides are unaware.

“There are two ways:  one of life and one of death; and the difference between the two ways is great.”                                                                  
Didache, Chapter One, translated by J. B. Lightfoot


Facebook Meme sent by a friend.
Implied message:
“And if you don’t believe this, I’ll bash your head in.”

Another Facebook friend shared an article by Beth Moore in which she argued that no matter who wins the 2016 presidential election, God is still in control.  I have been seeing quite a few versions of this message from some of my friends on Facebook. 
Implied message:
“Take comfort in the fact that divine law trumps human law.””

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

Lassiter: “Where I come from woman’s word is law.”

Elder Tull: “ There is only Mormon law.”

This is the gestalt vision inspired by Corey Truax’s blog on “Wasteland Wednesday.” It means something.  However, whatever it ends up meaning for me is not a lesson for me to teach.  You make your own meaning, if it exists.  I will not even suggest that it does.

Friday, October 28, 2016

C. S. Lewis ~ "Friendship and Poetry"

Today’s Featured Author is C. S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis was born in November 1898 in Belfast, Ireland, the son of a solicitor and a clergyman’s daughter.  He taught medieval literature at Oxford University and at Cambridge University and was a prolific writer.  C. S. Lewis’ better known works include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and Out of the Silent Planet, the first book in his space trilogy.

The following is an excerpt from Out of the Silent Planet; it is a conversation between Ransom, an earthman and Hyoi, a Martian.  Hyoi is the first speaker.

“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.  You are speaking, Hman, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory is another.  It is all one thing.  The seroni could say it better than I say it now.  Not better than I could say it in a poem.

“What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure, as the crah is the last part of a poem.  When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly; it was nothing.  Now it is growing (into) something as we remember it.  But still we know very little about it.  What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then – that is the real meeting.  The other is only the beginning of it.  You say you have poets in your world.  Do they not teach you this?”

“Perhaps some of them do,” said Ransom.  “But even in a poem does a hross never long to hear one splendid line over again?”

Hyoi’s reply unfortunately turned on one of those points in their language, which Ransom had not mastered.  There were two verbs which both, as far as he could see, meant to long or yearn; but the hrossa drew a sharp distinction, even an opposition, between them.  Hyoi seemed to him merely to be saying that everyone would long for it (wondelone) but no one in his senses could long for it (hlutheline).

“And indeed,” he continued, “the poem is a good example.  For the most splendid line becomes fully splendid only be means of all the lines after it; if you went back to it you would find it less splendid than you thought.  You would kill it.  I mean in a good poem.”

“But in a bent poem, Hyoi?”

“A bent poem is not listened to, Hman.”


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Dead Letter

“Peterson?” I inquired at the gate.

“That’s us.  Come on in,” Mr. Peterson beckoned.

I walked up to the front porch.

“Post office’s been havin’ quite a time trackin’ you down,” I said, waving an envelope.  “Looks like it’s been halfway ‘round the world.”

Mrs. Peterson held out her hand.  “Well, let’s see what you got.”

I extended the letter and Mrs. Peterson took hold of it.  I gasped.  The hand holding the letter was that of a skeleton.  I looked up in shock.  Mr. and Mrs. Peterson were skeletons! Even their cat and their dog!

“Oh, dear,” said Mrs. Peterson, seeing the look on my face.  “Hon, didn’t they tell you?”

“T-tell me what,” I stammered.

“This here is from the dead letter department.  Only the dead can receive it – and only the dead can deliver it.”

I stared in horror at my hand; it had become a skeleton.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Strong Names

 “All children deserve a strong name.” Bill Martin

There is a great deal of advice available to writers on the art of writing.  When it comes to the dos and don’ts of dialogue, many experts seem to agree on one thing:  Do not have the characters say each other’s name when they are conversing with one another.  If they do, it sounds unnatural because that is not reflective of real life conversations.  (Those experts obviously do not listen to the PGA tour commentators.)  I think this is an instance of letting art imitate a life situation that isn’t all that great.  I think we should say each other’s names – and often.

I learned early in my teaching career the importance of saying names aloud.  Learning and using my students’ names was one of my primary strategies for teaching.  It helped me develop relationships with my students, fostering respect and compassion.  I made it a practice to memorize every student’s name by the end of the first week of school.  There were 100 to 150 names every year to learn.  It might seem like a trivial thing but the students appreciated it.  They noticed, if after a few months, a teacher still referred to a seating chart when taking roll.  They complained that it made them feel unimportant and disrespected.

In my social relationships, I also appreciate the value of speaking names aloud.  When one of my friends occasionally says my name in the course of the conversation, it always makes me feel special.  I recommend trying this with a trusted friend.  Make an agreement to speak each other’s names at least once when you are talking and pay attention to your inner response.

Historically, when a community wanted to establish or reinforce the inferiority of a subgroup, it did so by the use of the kind of names they were given.  In fact, it was common practice for slaves and prisoners to be assigned numbers instead of names.

In the novel Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, the names of the two main female characters speak volumes about them.  Rebecca is dead and is never seen except in her portrait, yet she dominates the setting, the plot, and the other characters.  Her name is everywhere, figuratively speaking.  On the other hand, the narrator of the story – the new bride – is never named.  Throughout the entire story, no one, not even her husband, speaks her name aloud.  She is an insignificant other.  Her sad attempt to have an identity involves her appropriating Rebecca’s, with disastrous results.

I concede that writing good dialogue includes not repeating the characters’ names over and over again.  But that does not mean they must be excluded altogether.  Like a subtle hint of seasoning, the occasional use of a character’s name adds spice to any conversation.  It fosters a connection between the characters, just like it does between real people in real life.  We all deserve our names to be strong.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Hermann Hesse ~ "The Glass Bead Game"

 Excerpt from The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse (1943)
(Translated from the German by Richard and Clara Winston)

“Joseph Knecht was an excellent teacher; the profusion of copies of his lectures which have come down to us would alone provide evidence for that.  Among the surprises that his high office brought him right from the start was his discovery that teaching gave him so much pleasure.  Of course, like every member of the elite, he had occasionally been given teaching assignments for short periods, even while he was merely an advanced student.  At the time, his greatest ambition had been to be a good pupil, to learn, receive, form himself.

“Now the pupil had become a teacher, and as such he had mastered the major task of his first period in office:  the struggle to win authority and forge an identity of person and office.  In the course of this he made two discoveries.  The first was the pleasure it gives to transplant the achievements of the mind into other minds and see them being transformed into entirely new shapes and emanations – in other words, the joy of teaching.

“The second was the grappling with the personalities of the students, the attainment and practice of authority and leadership – in other words, the joy of educating.  He never separated the two, and during his magistracy he not only trained a large number of good and many superb Glass Bead Game players, but also by example, by admonition, by his austere sort of patience, and by force of his personality and character, elicited from a great many of his students the very best they were capable of.”

Artwork from Dreams and Travels ~ The Art of Masha Falkov "The Gods of the Glass Bead Game."