Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Loving (novel)(1945) by Henry Green

Loving (novel)(1945)
by Henry Green

  I think Loving, the 1945 novel written by English novelist Henry Green, is his big hit.  The library copy is part of a single volume containing three novels by Green, Loving, Living (1929) and Party Going (1939).   Henry Green is what you call an "authors author," favored by those who write and read for a living.  For example, the introduction to this volume is written by John Updike, who claims that Green "taught him how to write."

 All of his books are quiet, well observed "slices of life" about English people, even this book, which is actually set in Ireland.  The staff of a castle owned by a member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, and the dialogue, variously between members of the staff and the staff and the resident family (mother, grandson, grandson's wife)- makes it clear that there is an "us" of protestant house and staff and the catholic "other."  The very slight plot is set into motion by the arrival of an insurance agent investigating a report of a missing ring.  The fact that the initials of his firm are "I.R.A" spur a lengthy discussion about the dangers of the native Irish to the house and its staff.

  Green manage to introduce larger issues about society within Loving that contribute to its enduring popularity.   It is the combining of larger issues within a smaller frame of personal relationships that makes him different from prior novelists.  One of the major literary trends of the mid to late 20th century is miniaturist, with novelists focusing intently on a very small field of action, with few characters and little plot.  Green is perhaps the first novelist to really work this area over the course of the career, and Loving is the best example of his technique, the work of a mature writer at the top of his game.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The War of the Gods (1985) by Jarich G. Oosten

Tuatha de Danann: Irish/Celtic Gods, an illustration

Book Review
The War of the Gods (1985)
 by Jarich G. Oosten

   Comparative indo european linguistics and mythology is a deep well. The Indo European languages: English, French, German, Slavic languages, Farsi, Hindi, all the other European languages that aren't basque.  Basically every major language that isn't East Asian, Semitic(Arabic, Hebrew) and Tamil (Southern India.)   Thus, there is some original language, often called "Proto Indo European" that describes a people whose descendants would make up a majority of the world's population in 2015.

  Unfortunately, this was a line of thought very much embraced by Hitler and the Nazi's in support of their disturbed ideology.  Hitler, the Nazi's and his favorite scholars identified the "master race" as Aryans.  Aryans actually did exist, it was the name that Vedic invaders gave themselves when they entered into India.

  Oosten takes the approach of stacking myths from several different cultures: Scandinavian, Roman, Irish and Hindi are particular favorites.   His thesis that there is some kind of proto war of the gods that spans across the different Indo European languages.  In These War of the Gods he attempts to identify different "structural elements," typically starting with the best attested example of the particular element and then bringing in additional examples from different civilizations.  This i isn't state of the art scholarship- and it is more interesting in terms of just seeing someone stack parallel mythos next to one another.

  Also, the elements themselves are interesting:
 The war of the gods itself:  Between two (or more) groups related by blood- he talks of "wive giving" and "wive taking groups," where a group of "new gods" displaces the "old god."  Here, the best example is the Scandinavian wars between the giants and gods and the war between the Aesir and the Vanir.
 The cycle of the mead: This is the story of a sacred beverage- best known from the "Soma" of Vedic myth, which is a holy, intoxicating beverage.  For western europeans, this became mead- a honeyed, fermented alcoholic beverage.  In the cycle of mean a god steals the sacred beverage from some keeper and then makes it available to the other gods.
  Oosten also compares the lesser known Irish myths regarding the battle of Mag Tured to the better known "history" of the Roman kings.  Oosten argues that in the former case, history has been turned to myth, and in the later, myth has been transformed into history.

  Without getting too heavy into the subject, any artist searching for deeper rhythms of human understanding should have some idea about these underlying myths that link disparate cultures.  These are ideas that resonate beyond an individual language/culture.  While not universal, they point towards a universality of mind among all humanity.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Ancient Central Andes by Jeffrey Quilter

The Lanzon is a temple complex that represents the best example of Chavin temple architecture.  The Chavin were a pre-Incan culture that dominated central Peru.  The site is called Chavin de Huantar.

Book Review
The Ancient Central Andes
by Jeffrey Quilter
Published December 21st, 2013

  It wasn't until I was physically IN Peru that I understood that ancient Peru is waaaaay more than just the Incas.  The Central Andes- which covers an area ranging from Ecuador to Chile covers the same amount of distance as the trip from London to Baghdad.  The geography ranges from the highest, driest desert in the world to tropical jungle, with everything in between.  The serious study of non-Incan central Andean cultures is firmly a 20th century concern, with an early period of indigenous, non-professional archeologists leading the charge, and western educated professional archeologists only showing up in recent years.

The so-called Chavin culture was an important pre-Incan civilization.
     Much of the work done in the last few decades has yet to be synthesized in a way that a non-professional can easily access, which means that The Ancient Central Andes by Jeffrey Quilter comes as a welcome addition to the Andean history shelf.  Placed in context, the Incans are merely the last flourishing of a common Weltanschauung, similar to the way that the Roman Empire was the heir to thousands of years of Mediterranean civilization.
One of the commonalities of the Central Andean cultures is sophisticated weaving.  The West only caught up in the 20h century.

   The interesting, unresolved questions about Central Andean civilization start at the beginning.  Did humans come to the region on foot or by boat?  The traditional view is that humans crossed a land bridge exposed by the smaller oceans of the last glacial maximum.  A newer perspective argues that humans made their way down the Pacific coast by boat.  Quilter seems to cautiously support this hypothesis, and the corollary hypothesis that Andean civilization spread from the sea to the mountains.

  Other scholars have argues that the first sophisticated cultures came either from a paradisaical "sweet spot" in southern Ecuador or from the Amazonian jungle.  Investigations continue but I think the sea travel hypothesis is a strong one.  One fact stood out in particular- the chile pepper- which is virtually synonymous with Mexico, actually comes from Peru.  This means that at some point someone got on a boat and took a chile pepper to Mexico.
This map shows the area controlled by the Tiwanaku and Huari, the two groups who immediately preceded the Incans.

  The major non-Incan civilizations, all named after the places they were discovered are the Chavin, the Moche, the Tiwanaku and the Wari.  The Tiwanaku and Wari immediately preceded the Incans.  Information about all four groups is still being pieced together.  Knowledge about the Wari has been especially slow in emerging because their capital was also near the capital of the violent Shining Path revolutionary group, and archeologists couldn't gain access for several decades.
Moche pottery contains several obscene motifs, a favorite being fellatio and another being anal sex.  Here, both figures are male.

   Taken in context, the Incans are less impressive, stone cutting and dynastic ambition aside.  The outline of a more-or-less common civilization emerges from the combination of archeology and history.   The high watermarks of the Chavin and Moche appear to be temple-based.  Presumably a temple based elite was able to form a loose polity.  Human sacrifice was common through out the various groups.  Weaving and pottery, corn and cocoa all characterized the larger Andean culture area.

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