Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Early Prophets by Everett Fox

Some fine person keeps putting publisher galleys of recently published books on the give-and-take shelf at the bakery. This book is the latest score. It is a translation of the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. You know, from The Bible, the big important nonsense.

The Bible, incorporated as it is, represents a declining resource for me. I never met a catechism or otherwise had to read or even believe the thing. I felt the point of a moral or spiritual compass, however, and tried to find the flint and tinder supposedly in the book. I mean in the way of a drifty teenager with willing reach. I read most of this bestseller but wow, when Paul shows up in Acts, I am done. You can have your swarthy New Testament. The darkness is of unobserved ignorance, blinders to the heart.

I’ve only started meddling with this new translation. It seems fresh and different. So many ancient texts exist, to explain or at least comfort our sense of existence. The Bible seems to have endured a steroid kiss that makes it perfect in its rebuke.

The compelling stories have been co-opted by the rules committee. We can read The Epic of Gilgamesh as if it came from a curious intent. The Bible has been blown into a correctional institute. The mythic texture has been abandoned for Donald Trump certainty. Just as Donald Trump, the terrible tv show, shouldn’t be alive, neither should this bulwark of fear called King James Version, Ltd.

Fox seems to be on a rescue mission, and I’m for it. He has done his home work, if notes and commentary galore make the case. I aint finished the book but I got the sense that someone was thinking in the process of making it.

I say that because I hate The Bible by the weight it is wielded. Incontrovertible, my ass. At some point, thinking of the Trump horizon, we will need to respond to thinking. Emotion is a distracting gusset, enabling the lizard to pull the plough. We need a more thoughtful response to an ephemeral world. Anger hides fear. Behemoths called stranger, resource, death, worry our daily day. An angry trumpeting brings no cure. True word, it brings no cure.

Bible baby brings nothing if no mind attaches thought. Fearmonger Incorporated has attached his graded face to the scared kid who can’t explain. Maybe this Joshua cat was just another pogrom. Pogroms don’t work because survivours remember. I don’t care about a people, I care about the world. That is to say, we are crowded together, beings of purpose, on a momentary world, and we don’t need the fluffy designs of a ruling committee. The indications of the ancients aren’t cut and dried, they were wondering too. Wonder more, explain less, and look at the fear again.

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

This is an account of the sinking of the Essex, an event that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick. Long ago I read the narrative of Owen Chace (that’s the spelling I remember), one of the few survivours. I recall it fondly, tho the starvation, dehydration, and eventual cannibalism among the survivours doesn’t make for happy thoughts. Philbrick had access to an additional account by a participant, a cabin boy whose account did not come to light till years later. This second voice gives a wider, less defensive view of events.

Philbrick usefully describes the Nantucket whaling industry. I remember how exciting it was to learn about whaling in elementary school. The subject was anything but dry. Nantucket sleighrides, capsized whale boats, peppy shanties, oh my gosh! I always felt kindly towards whales, especially sperm whales in the deep, battling giant squid. These wild exploits amazed me, even as I rooted for the whale.

Criminy, tho, it was an industry. For half a century, these creatures were hunted with growing efficiency. Mostly for the oil that can be extracted from their blubber, to light the human life, with the purer bonanza of spermaceti from sperm whales, for well-oiled watches. Baleen, I believe, went to corsets, and other uses were made. I don’t know if the meat was much used then. Redux would come in the shape of buffaloes. I remember film of modern whalers, with cannons for killing, and some well-tuned factory for the rendering.

And give OSHA a call: rowing out in whaleboats to poke a harpoon into a whale, causing it to wear itself out trying to escape. At which point the mate jabs the lance into the secret portions of life. Cruel is the grip of our economic hosts, that push us to these lengths.

One thin supposition was brought out: that the whale that attacked the Essex may have responded to a noise from the ship. During a hunt, Chace’s whaleboat needed repair. It was brought back to the ship and hammering ensued. Some thought the hammering might have sounded like a male whale to the perp, so the territorial whale attacked. No question whales are smart enough to have reasons for their actions, so I don’t know.

I’m not so keen to read the grisly parts, tho worry not, I’ve read accounts of the Donner party. I would not want to cast a moral shadow because I don’t know my own strength.

I saw ads for a movie version of the book last year. It looked like Hollywood express: vertiginous and suffocating. I’m sure it was one more glistening botch for Ron Howard. Just blitz us shining things of alchemical adrenalin.

When I read William Manchester’s book about the Krupp weapons-making dynasty, I kept thinking of the gouging machines (and people) ripping ore from Alsace-Lorraine, for all those masterful and masterless guns and ordnance and wolfish war.s The invigourated slaughter of the whales brings a similar feeling. The needs that we consider needs, right down to the latest Justin Bieber, dig bigger holes of nothing, this North Atlantic turbine.