Some loose thoughts on certain limits to Ursula Le Guin’s imagination


Ursula Le Guin has always (at least since I was an actual young adult in my early twenties reading a lot of English books) been a big influence on me both with her fiction and the ideas behind it, even though I’ve only read a fraction of her output, and I actually like more obscure books much more than the books I’m expected to like. According to the fans who read her for her politics I should probably be ashamed that for example ‘the dispossessed’ was hard to read for me, and I haven’t put ‘the left hand of darkness’ on my reread list either yet, but I like to reread certain Hainish cycle books regularly (‘the Telling’ being my favourite) and especially the female-centered Earthsea books (‘The tombs of Atuan’ and ‘Tehanu’) stay fascinating, as do certain of her short stories, including very conceputal ones as ‘the matter of Seggri’ and ‘the ones who walk away from Omelas’.

What I always loved about her is her ability to make up new cultures with completely different social relations, completely different social construct of class and gender, completely different ways of living, and in the case of ‘the left hand of darkness’ completely different biological sexuality for humans. It’s a fascinating exercise in how things could have been different, and a kind of fiction that I like a lot because it show the relativity of our own culture and all its social constructs. Or even of our species…

All of this is why I was shocked by a remark in an afterword she wrote to ‘the tombs of Atuan’, the second Earthsea book that centers around the young priestess Tenar, serving dark powers in a cult that’s clearly in decline. To be honest, I find it bewildering and scary that a great female author who’s generally considered a pioneer of feminist fiction was so unable to imagine a female hero in a fantasy story. I don’t really think that I would have much problems imagining one, but I might not be the best person to write heroic fantasy and I don’t really have a deep connection to any archetypal difference between the sexes like she seems to have here…

“When I was writing the story in 1969, I knew of no women heroes of heroic fantasy since those in the works of Ariosto and Tasso in the Renaissance. These days there are plenty, though I wonder about some of them. The women warriors of current fantasy epics—ruthless swordswomen with no domestic or sexual responsibility who gallop about slaughtering baddies—to me they look less like women than like boys in women’s bodies in men’s armor.
Be that as it may, when I wrote the book, it took more imagination than I had to create a girl character who, offered great power, could accept it as her right and due. Such a situation didn’t then seem plausible to me. But since I was writing about the people who in most societies have not been given much power—women—it seemed perfectly plausible to place my heroine in a situation that led her to question the nature and value of power itself. (…)
Heroic fantasy descends to us from an archaic world. I hadn’t yet thought much about that archaism. My story took place in the old hierarchy of society, the pyramidal power structure, probably military in origin, in which orders are given from above, with a single figure at the top. This is the world of power over, in which women have always been ranked low.
In such a world, I could put a girl at the heart of my story, but I couldn’t give her a man’s freedom, or chances equal to a man’s chances. She couldn’t be a hero in the hero-tale sense. Not even in a fantasy? No. Because to me, fantasy isn’t wishful thinking, but a way of reflecting, and reflecting on reality. After all, even in a democracy, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, after forty years of feminist striving, the reality is that we live in a top-down power structure that was shaped by, and is still dominated by, men. Back in 1969, that reality seemed almost unshakable.
So I gave Tenar power over—dominion, even godhead—but it was a gift of which little good could come. The dark side of the world was what she had to learn, as Ged had to learn the darkness in his own heart.”

Maybe I didn’t read enough of this kind of fantasy, but I never got the idea when I was young that women or girls could not be heroic, or could not be on top somewhere of a fantasy pyramid of power. From Yoko Tsuno comics over Thura the defender of Thule (from Thea Beckman’s untranslated ‘children of mother Earth’ trilogy) to female villains like Jadis of Narnia, I never knew that there was a world of imagination in which it was impossible to put women in certain roles. Plus I always assumed that imagination was free to easily make up such things, and that such things were quite possible, on our and other worlds.

Especially in combination with her speculative sociology and the idea of true names that hold magic in the Earthsea trilogy the idea that a writer like Le Guin was unable to conceptualise a woman as a hero in such a story is really tragic, and it shows that there must have been (and maybe still is for some) a thoughtform-barrier that creates a distance between the sexes that is much darker and deeper than I myself have ever encountered, and that probably also goes back further to very dark historical times of our species.

There is another limit to Le Guin’s thinking that I want to point out that is quite relevant at the moment and that is probably worth a second blogpost too, connected to ‘the word for world is forest’, a short book about a planet of greenhaired small humanoids who have never heard of killing or war, who learn how to defend themselves when Earthlings take over their planet in the typical colonial fashion as Westerners have done to the rest of the planet in the last 500 years. Which is more or less the same plot as the Avatar-movie, only with long blue people instead of small green ones. But it was only after reading Joan Slonczewski’s ‘A Door into Ocean’ and seeing some remarks from the author that I understood something that was very sad about the story, something that Le Guin could not re-imagine, but that we will need to learn to re-imagine as a species, and Joan Slonczewski can be able to help us with that, as can the aforementioned Thea Beckman trilogy too. ‘A door into Ocean’ is like Le Guin’s books a work of speculative sociology and even sexuality, and describes among other things a female-only planet of non-violent and rather anarchist ‘Sharers’ living on rafts in the ocean. Slonczewski describes on her site how the book was written not only as an answer to Dune, but also to the word for world is forest’:

Dune depicts several male-dominated societies whose members scheme and oppress one another. The psychology of the characters is compelling, and study of it was helpful for me. Nevertheless, the societies in Dune are all limited to those dominated by males and violence. (Even the female Bene Gesserit use violent means, and direct most of their scheming toward manipulation of males.) Thus, in Ocean I attempted to oppose the Dune concept by depicting ocean-dwelling females in nonviolent revolution, who succeed without losing their humanity–as Paul and the Fremen sadly do. The Word for World is Forest is a more direct predecessor of Ocean. Forest started out as my favorite of LeGuin’s books, but in the end was an intense disappointment. LeGuin’s forest-dwellers start out as unconditional pacifists, with inborn mechanisms of self-discipline similar to those of the Sharers; but in the end, in order to throw off their oppressors, they, too must give up their pacifism and their own humanity; the ending is even more bleak than Dune. In Ocean, I imagined a “forest” turned upside-down: the trees stretch their branch/roots into water, an endless source of life and power. The Sharers use this power, enabled by their superior genetic technologies, to maintain their way of life. Their own nonviolent politics overcomes the oppressor.

It’s clear to me that humanity need exactly that now, an imagination in which we can go beyond the myth of redemptive violence, but I also disagree with both Beckman and Slonckzewsky’s stories that such a thing would be more a feminine thing than a masculine thing, which is a thing for a future post.

What’s important now is that we need stories that are different from the same old toxic narratives that we’ve been fed as a culture. Stories that tell us how to be actually human as men and women without oppression or a toxic war between the sexes between us. Stories about how we can do things differently and live outside of the strange hang-ups of Western and nearby cultures, and most of all stories that go beyond our addiction to violence and competition as the only way.

Only if we tell new stories we can change the world, and we desperately need some change!

What do you think?

Peace

Bram

Also on this blog about Ursula Le Guin:
On the sex-life of aliens and sexism here on Earth…
The power found in the True Language of the Universe…

Trying to get back to blogging…


As my regular readers (if such a thing still exists in 2022) have noticed, I haven’t been blogging much the last few years. But I hope that I will be able to use my blog more, and at the same time to invest less energy and time in the vapid but still never forgetting world of social media, which has become more toxic, polarised and unfriendly on all sides in the recent years too (even though I must say that my friendlist on my Facebook wall is both quite a diverse group of humans and usually respectful and thoughtful).

There’s a lot of still a lot of things that I like to process while writing about them, in very different disciplines, and I feel like blogging is a better way than FB/twitter discussions sometimes. My interests will always be diverse, but on this blog I usually stay within the bounds of philosophy-theology-science-sociology-art-politics and nearby subjects plus book and music reviews and sometimes venturing into my own creative projects, but any interesting subject is possible. And since this is also a bit my own Book of the Damned I will probably cover weird subjects that no-one ever talks about too. Souljunk and the illuminati, Egregores and thoughtforms, Asexuality, C.S. Lewis as a master of deconstruction, and so on…

I must say that I’m not sure anymore about the state of blogging in 2022. I’ve deleted several links in my blogroll because they were obsolete which used to be among my favourite thinkers, some of the other interesting ones have stopped or slowed down and are quite inactive, and there’s a lot of blogs nowadays that don’t even allow commenting. The internet has also become a much weirder, more toxic and scarier place than ever in the last years.

How have I been? Personally and spiritually the last years have been hectic and heavy. I’ve survived the covid-19 pandemic without any major damage but it feels like worlds around me have been falling apart for years, and I’m not sure what’ll remain in the end, and what new world can be discovered or built up afterwards. But like sunshine comes after rain, reconstruction will always follow deconstruction, eventually…

For those who didn’t follow me elsewhere My most interesting online output in the last 2 years was probably the music album Pandemic Lockdown Blues, recorded in 2020 chronicling both the pandemic situation in Belgium and a more personal crisis of faith, not in God but in my own religion [don’t expect too much blues genre-wise though], and then the online webnovel in episodes A Nation of Distances which still needs an introduction here, but it’s a story of a boy who tries to survive an extremely hierarchic macho world with heavy sexist segregation between the sexes that he consciously defies from the moment he’s forced to choose a fiancée in a Wife School. (Or how certain patriarchal theories and incel fantasies about how the world should be would be a living hell for any reasonable person.)

Like I said already one thing that worries me is the extremely toxic polarisation of online discourse, which I feel a bit uneasy about because both sides can be equally frightening sometimes in very different ways, and even for self-proclaimed ‘Christians’ grace and forgiveness for people they don’t agree with are not even a question it seems.
(My views on ‘cancel culture’ are that cancelling people is always wrong when it comes to their humanity and basic dignity, but I am all for cancelling harmful ideas and ideologies. On the other hand I find it quite concerning that no-one seems to see that every single person on the planet is a mix of both good things and bad things, and that no person is beyond redemption on the one hand, but that we also cannot expect anyone to be right and ‘pure’ in every thing on the other hand. A human being is always a mixed bag, and we have to live in that tension, recognising every spark of Good and rejecting or actively erasing evil wherever we encounter it, especially when it’s destructive to our fellow humans, the Earth, or anything else that is Good.

I really hope to be able to stay under the radar of the troll armies and twitter courts, being neither really left nor really right and finding both sides alien, especially in their US incarnations which seem to dominate the online world in the English language. But completely de-Americanising isn’t something I’ve been able to no, even though I’ve tried.
I’ve been considering switching languages too, but the Dutch world is smaller and less interesting, too much French gives me headache, my German is really bad and toki pona is not usable for most of the subjects that I write about.
Maybe I should pick up Esperanto again. And practice reading Latin 😀

So, what am I planning to write about? I’m not sure yet, but I will probably do some blogposts about ‘A Door into Ocean’ by Joan Slonczewsky, one of the most fascinating fiction books I’ve read in years, thought-provoking in several very different ways. And some things I want to say about men and women, from the viewpoint of a man who’s boringly straight and male but finds all gender constructs alien and toxic. I will probably do a lot of deconstruction, as is in fashion in certain circles nowadays, but much broader than the exx-vangelicals. Every social construct is potentially in need of deconstruction, reconsideration and reformation, and there’s a lot of work to be done, from gender constructs to political categories and from economical theories to very basic assumptions about science and reality. And there’s always a chance that I write about magic again…

Yes, even my sepia coffee picture is back!

Another thing that I want to write about is human rights, Christian love of neighbours and enemies, care for all life that’s human and non-human, and respect for every created thing. The basic ideas of the Universal Rights declaration should be foundational in every rational discussion and applied to every human being, left or right, right or wrong, poor or rich, beautiful or non-pinterestworthy. In that way I am centrist [or at least someone who rejects the left/right and conservative/liberal spectrum as utter twaddle], seeing the human rights declaration as a center, as well as the value of every living thing on Earth. Maybe an eco-anarcho-pacifist centrist, and one who believes in social democracy, but also one who is very strongly convinced that ‘the economy’ as a goal is one of the most dangerous and extremist ideologies possible, and that ‘the economy’ should always be in function of all people, and the nature we live together with.
Anything beyond that is too extremist for me to consider.

So I’m planning to start blogging again. About love and God, science and magic, music and literature, philosophy and sex, and probably about weird subjects that are not on anyone’s radar every now and then too. Anyway, if anyone is still reading this, welcome and see you later

peace

Bram

New Bram Cools song: Nothing without Love (and more Bram Cools music news)



Hello friends and enemies!

Here is the new Bram Cools music update, with a new song, plus some experimental live videos from earlier this year.

2021 was not really a very productive year for new music here. After the release of last years Pandemic Lockdown Blues I didn’t really write much songs or record much music.



What I did do was looking for affordable ways to go for a fuller sound live without a band, so that the sevenhundred tracks that I record for a studioversion become more than just one guitar on stage. What I don’t plan to do is using a laptop, so I’ve been toying with a loopstation, pocket operators, and a Liven XFM programmable synth and stuff like that to create a new sound.

This summer saw some new videos of mostly older songs in very new versions on my experimental youtube channel as some first trials under the name of the ‘messy desk session’.

Last words to the first Church (Messy desk session)

Bu
enos Noches jam (live on PO-33)

I’m not flirting (Live acou
stic messy desk session)

Pieces (live messy desk session)

MDInterlude impro 1 (live bedroom loopstation jam)

The interesting thing is that some of these are from my old cassete tape era almost 20 years ago, and have never been played live before.

And now there is a new song on soundcloud: Nothing Without Love

It’s a standalone song that contains the first use of Pocket Operators in the studio (second half of the song,the whistle sample solo on the PO33 and the distorted beat on the PO12), in a simple lo-fi indierock style with some electronica seeping in.

It’s a simple song based on the Christian Scriptures (see 1 Cor 13:1-3), and an important reminder that Love is indeed the most important thing in every aspect of our life, even in religion. No matter what we do and believe and try and identify as, it won’t do anyone good if not without love. I feel it’s something that’s of extreme importance that is often missed.

Lyrics:

If I can speak all human languages
and understand every spoken word
and even use the tongues of angels
that are hidden from our kind
even then it all means nothing
if I don’t have love
it’s just an empty noise like a clashing cymbal

if I am a gifted prophet
have all knowledge know all secrets
If I have the perfect doctrines
and a faith that can move mountain
even then I am still nothing
if I don’t have love
it’s all nothing without love nothing without love

If I sell everything I have
and give it to the poor
even give my own body to be burned
so I can boast
even then I will gain nothing
if I don’t have love
it’s all nothing without love  nothing without love


That’s it for today. Stay tuned for more updates and don’t forget to check out my bandcamp store, follow the youtube feed or listen to the soundcloud collection .

Peace and Love

Bram
 

Last Words to the First Church, or the mystery of the Ascension


Today it’s ‘Hemelvaart’ here in Flanders, which is just a very welcome Thursday off for most people (or almost half a week even, since a lot of people get the following Friday too as a ‘bridge day’ and have a super-long weekend). Few people ever think about it being a Catholic holiday, and about the story of the ascension that it’s based on. As far as I’m aware most Christian don’t even do much with it, except for not working, and the occasional first communion feast.
I don’t know if the Catholics actually are supposed to go to some special mass on ascension day although I suppose it’s part of their liturgical calendar, but growing up in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches I can’t really recall anything religious happening at all on this day. It always was just a mysterious day off.

When you really think about the actual story it gets even weirder. Just look at the Gebhard Fugel painting, and try to imagine what has happened in the story. There is something mysterious and very non-modern about the whole ascension story, and the way it fits in the whole narrative of the end of Jesus’s life and beyond as it is celebrated in the movable feasts of spring in the liturgical calendar: Palm Sunday is understandable with Jesus entering Jerusalem on His donkey, and the stories of the last supper, the crucifixion, resurrection and even Pentecost are too foundational to miss.

But the ascension is just a weird day squeezed in between the resurrection and Pentecost, with a strange story that doesn’t fit in our worldview at all, even for moderns who can accept the whole idea for resurrection disappearing upwards to the clouds is a strange thing. Heaven is not somewhere upwards in the sky or even in space (as Gagarin once seems to have confirmed) but in a completely different dimension. So why is Jesus disappearing like that? What does the story even mean? Did it literally happen? Is it a weird parable? Luke seems to treat it as something that actually happen, at least to me. Let’s have a look at the story, which is quite short and can be found in the first chapter of the book of Acts. I use the NT Wright translation ‘New Testament for Everyone’ here:

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

One important thing to note here are the words of Christ in the story. In a way this is just a prologue to the actual beginning of the church in chapter 2 with the day of Pentecost, when the promised baptism with the Holy Spirit occurs after a time for prayer with the apostles together. It seems that without the ascension in which the Incarnate Jesus (who can as a human be just at one place at a time) disappears from our world the new gift of the Holy Spirit to the church cannot happen. At least that’s what I’ve heard in sermons several times in my life.

I don’t know if I am really understanding the whole significance of the story at this point in my faith journey, but the fact alone that today is ascension day is a good day to meditate on the whole thing, and on the last words of Christ here, which have always had a lot of significance for me. In the Charismatic church the emphasis always was on ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you’, and some missionaries I’ve heard preaching about these verses emphasised the part of “being my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” For me personally the first part about not knowing the time was reassuring when I was younger, and when there still were a lot of weird end-times obsessed people around me who seemed to be quite sure they did know all kind of dates on which things would happen that never happened anyway. It helped me to see they were not as ‘biblical’ as they claimed.

It’s probably because I found all parts of these last words equally important that I once turned them into a song. ‘Last words to the first church’ was one of the songs I played live several times with the ‘Contemporary Christian Muzak Collective’ 20 years ago or so, and which also ended up on the album of that name years later when I finally finished some songs on my harddisk. It actually was the first song I recorded with multitrack on a computer, long before the other CCM songs, using guitar-loops, a melodica, and weird noises made on a guitar with a contrabass bow. (hear the original here)

It remained a favourite over the years, and it was also one of the songs I redid on my new experimental youtube music channel when I tried to find a new live sound with loopstation and pocket operators (the melodica is still there though!).

I know this post doesn’t have much answers and more questions, so if you have anything about the day of the ascension please tell me, and for now I leave you with the 2021 version of ‘Last Words to the first Church’, live in my bedroom on a very messy desk indeed.

Maybe taking a time of prayer for more guidance of the Holy Spirit isn’t a bad idea though.

what do you people think?

Peace

Bram

Deconstruction of worldview models (C.S. Lewis)


I can remember when I was in secondary school, I had a lot of scientific subjects, and one of the teachers started the course with a bit of science philosophy. ‘Science is always an approximation’ is the one sentence I can remember from that lesson (I also remember finding the idea of logical positivism uninteresting, boring and implausible, even at age 16, and I still do… I am still amazed about how this very basic idea is alien to a lot of people, even in a world full of people who talk about ‘deconstruction’ and have all kind of postmodern relativism (not always under that name) built into their intellectual operating system.

I’ve used the ’emerging church’ lingo for years, and looked at these things from a supposedly postmodern angle, but I’m wondering now if the postmoderns (or their students) really got that lesson at all when everything is said and done. Probably not.

So instead of turning to the postmoderns and the hip contemporary thinkers, let’s go to an older source, rooted in more than 2 millennia of Western thinking. C.S. Lewis’ last words of the epilogue of ‘the discarded image’ (yes, a book on medieval renaissance art) still gives the best explanation about what ‘deconstruction’ should be, and about how our worldview/paradigm-building will never be 100%:

“I hope no one will think that I am recommending a return to the Medieval Model. I am only suggesting considerations that may induce us to regard all Models in the right way, respecting each and idolising none. We are all, very properly, familiar with the idea that in every age the human mind is deeply influenced by the accepted Model of the universe. But there is a two-way traffic ; the Model is also influenced by the prevailing temper of mind. We must recognise that what has been called ‘a taste in universes’ is not only pardonable but inevitable. We can no longer dismiss the change of Models as a simple pro­gress from error to truth. No Model is a catalogue of ultimate realities, and none is a mere fantasy. Each is a serious attempt to get in all the phenomena known at a given period, and each succeeds in getting in a great many. But also, no less surely, each reflects the prevalent psychology of an age almost as much as it reflects the state of that age’s knowledge. Hardly any battery of new facts could have persuaded a Greek that the universe had an attribute so repugnant to him as infinity; hardly any such battery could persuade a modern that it is hierarchical.It is not impossible that our own Model will die a violent death, ruthlessly smashed by an unprovoked assault of new facts-unprovoked as the nova of 1572. But I think it is more likely to change when, and because, far-reaching changes in the mental temper of our des­cendants demand that it should. The new Model will not be set up without evidence, but the evidence will turn up when the inner need for it becomes sufficiently great. It will be true evidence. But nature gives most of her evidence in answer to the questions we ask her. Here, as in the courts, the character of the evidence depends on the shape of the examination, and a good cross-examiner can do wonders. He will not indeed elicit falsehoods from an honest witness. But, in relation to the total truth in the witness’s mind, the structure of the examination is like a stencil. It determines how much of that total truth will appear and what pattern it will suggest.”

This is what a lot of postmodern philosophy should have been, instead of falling into hermetic unreadable texts or new catalogues of ultimate realities. Let alone the new grand narrative that reduces people to just one aspect of reality (Foucaultean power dynamics for example, in pop-critical theory) as if people could ever be reduced to one thing. In that way the pop-critical theory is the ultimate betrayal and inversion of postmodernism even.

Same with the way the word ‘deconstruction’ is used by deconverted ex-Christians sometimes nowadays. The emerging church thinkers certainly used it in the postmodern way, and in a way consistent with the Lewis quote here. Brian McLaren uses the quote in ‘a new kind of Christian’, noting that Lewis sounds almost postmodern here. I’m not sure anymore, I’d say the postmoderns almost sound like the Western philosophical tradition that Lewis is exemplifying here, in line with old epistemologically humble semiplatonist realism. But if your deconstruction is nothing but leaving one humanly constructed worldview (‘Model’ in the text here) for another, then you’re not doing the hard and humble world of deconstruction, you’re merely worldview-shopping, or even hopping, from one dogmatic rigid system to the other.

A lot of the people who talk about ‘social constructs’ and ‘deconstruction’ have no idea about the basic idea at all. Anything that is a social construct should always be open for deconstruction and reconstruction, and using it as a definition written in stone is already disregarding the whole social construct idea (or very strong cultural colonialism if you are more aware of the implications of what a social construct is, instead of ‘this is my version of the social construct show me yours they fall into ‘my version can be the only one and other interpretations cannot exist’, which is again postmodernism utterly betraying itself).

In the end we should always be humble in our epistemology.

What do you think?

peace

Bram

Reread: Madelein L’Engle – Many Waters


What do you do when you are an author, and you find the biblical story of Noah rather uncomfortable? In the case of Madeleine L’Engle the answer seems to be to write a strange children’s book (but not really) about it that doesn’t solve any problem with the story but makes it even weirder and more questionable! At least, that was the idea I got when re-reading ‘Many Waters'(1986), the fourth book in the ‘time quintet’, written years after the first book, the fascinating and unparalleled ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, which is part Narnia, part a sci-fi thriller for kids, culminating in a grim dystopian climax. This combination of fantasy, highly complicated science and religious themes comes back in different ways in the later books too, which are all among some the weirdest books I know at points in several different way. They are also some of the philosophically and theologically most mind-stretching and challenging books. And I love them for it. It’s a pity that I couldn’t read them as a kid (only A Wrinkle in Time has been translated anyway, and I couldn’t read English at that age) but for an adult who loves fantasy, sci-fi and out-of-the-box stuff they are also both entertaining and very deep in unexpected ways. Even though there are a few things that make me go ‘what on Earth is going on here’ too in some of the books.

Warning: This probably has a lot of spoilers!!!

‘Many waters’ might in a way be the weirdest of the quintet, in a completely different way than the others. The atmosphere is completely different from the other books, and the usual main characters like Meg and Charles Wallace Murry are mostly absent. Instead the story centres around the twins Sandy and Denys, usually the more normal members of the family of Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, and the most down-to-Earth ones. In the other books they don’t believe in magical and mystical stuff, but by an experiment that goes wrong they end up in a biblical and deeply mythological time at the oasis where the family of Noah lives just before the flood, which they don’t seem to realise for most of the first half of the book. They don’t just meet characters from the book of genesis -Noah and his family, as well as grandfather Lamech- but also shapeshifting nephilim and seraphim, tiny pet mammoths, a rather stupid manticore and (what they call) virtual quantum unicorns that need to be believed in to be seen and touched. Like in some mythologies these unicorns only be touched by virgins -like the 2 twin boys, it’s clear boys can be virgins too- and have some weird teleportation skills. And oh, all people were smaller in those days, so the twins are called ‘the good giants’ by most characters.

Yes, this is certainly the weirdest bible fanfic I’ve ever read! The worldbuilding is intriguing, with a mix with strange magical mythological elements and a extreme literal reading of genesis that has some strange consequences (the long ages mean that a woman with the age of around 100 years old is still almost a teenager and considered too young too marry for example!) and some added elements from other mythologies like the book of Enoch. which is a bit puzzling sometimes. On the one hand it seems that she plays with the idea of older times being more magical and mythological than ours, but on the other hand some things more look like ‘taking this part of genesis literally as history can only lead to very far out weirdness’.

While the worldbuilding is weird, the plot is rather simple. There’s not much to the bible story used, and the added story element are rather mundane: twins that have lost each other, a coming of age story, a father-son conflict between Lamech and Noah and some kidnapping and attempts at seduction. Well, that and hungry manticores that try to eat mammoths the size of dogs and Nephilim that can change into animals who marry human women and other slice of life elements that seem very normal in the late antediluvian world. More weirdness and some heaviness enters with the dialogues and philosophical ponderings of the twins, and their theological consequences. They know what’s going to happen, and can’t tell anyone except for one of the angelic beings. The idea that, except for the family of Noah, all people in the oasis are going to drown soon is also rather disturbing, and while the seraphim seem rather apathetic to that, Sandy and Denys certainly don’t. (There seems to be a bit of a cold war feeling of ‘we can get nuked any minute to it’ in the background somewhere) Oh wait, not all. There’s one Enoch-style ‘go directly to heaven’ escape from the flood too.
On top of that there is a kind of sexual coming of age theme too, although not in a way that the boys end up ‘unable to touch a unicorn’ though. They will need those unicorns to get home anyway. The weird love triangle between the two twins and Noahs youngest daughter Yalith, who doesn’t seem to see them as separate beings and falls in love with both is something that makes me wonder… And then there’s Tiglah, wife (or girlfriend?) of one of the Nephilim and send to seduce them and find out what they are doing there. Not that they would be able to answer that question even if they wanted, and whether their arrival was planned by El or an accident remains a big enigma throughout the book.

Yes, there is mention of several daughters of Noah in the book, and one of them is even married to a shapeshifting fallen angel and births a giant baby from him. And if you’re wondering now whether there is no mention of the names of the wives of Noah and his sons in the bible, the twins ask the same question, and note some concerning aspects of the patriarchal nature of both the culture of the antediluvian patriarchs and the way the old scriptures were written. It’s interesting that the writer uses boys to voice a mild feminist critique of early genesis stories, among other things that make them say ‘I don’t like this story at all’. And to be honest, I can’t blame them. There are some disturbing parts in the story. And some unneeded things, like the way the temptress Tiglah is treated sometimes.

What makes this even weirder is that this is supposed to be a children’s book. Not that (if it were available in Dutch, which wasn’t the case) I couldn’t have enjoyed it at the age of 12, some things are probably not that appropriate for children. But I would have read over them without any problem. I’ve read so many things far beyond my age and just wasn’t interested in things I wasn’t ready for. That was never a problem, at least not for me.

All in all an interesting re-read, and for those who like to read ‘something else’, and who are not afraid from bible stories nor from some hard questions about them, and who can stand tiny pet mammoths and virtual quantum unicorns this is probably a recommended reading…

what do you think?

Peace

Bram

Review: Bob Doto – Sitting with Spirits


Somewhere in August I agreed to receive the ebook Sitting with Spirits by Bob Doto, a featured Speakeasy selection and write a review. But 2020 has been weird in all kinds of ways, and the Covid-crisis has given me a writers block that stopped me from writing anything at all for most of the year, so while I instantly have read most of the book it took me a while to get myself to compose a review.

‘Sitting with Spirits’ is a short book (138 pages) about ‘spirit work’ from a Christian perspective. The book itself not that long, but it seems to be part of a bigger work ‘longer work exploring liminal, shadowy, and magical entry points into the Christ tradition.’ that it probably interesting too. Even with the short length it’s a fascinating read with a lot of stuff to wrestle with, which made it even harder to write a review.

I’ll be honest: The book is like I already said absolutely fascinating, very deep, thoroughly written and yet frustrating at the same time. Doto has some things in his worldview that I don’t agree with (about spirits and afterlife for example), but he also says a lot of interesting things that make a lot of sense, sometimes far away from the actual topic of his book. Indeed sometimes the side-remarks about completely unrelated topics are the deepest parts.
The part about spiritual commodification and ‘Old-Timey Holy Ghost Spirituality’excerpted on Mike Morrells blog for example is in itself worth reading, and certainly something to ponder and wrestle with… He surely says a lot of things that need to be said!

It’s also interesting to read read a book written from an actual spiritist point of view (not just animist, which I am much more familiar and comfortable with) that still identifies as Christian. (Even though it’s a very open-minded progressive form of Christianity that borrows from a lot of other traditions too, and probably the same can be said about his way of engaging ‘espiritismo’ in the book.) It’s the first book as such that I’ve read after only seeing warnings against spiritism being evil and worse all my life, and now my introduction to it is in many ways (certainly not only in name) thoroughly Christian, and very much bible-based. Much more bible-based than a lot of Christian writing I’ve read throughout the years even.
I have indeed been warned about spiritism from a young age in Christian books as a warning. You know the stuff: it’s demonic, the spirits that show up are always devils, and so on. (That and the secular ‘it’s all nonsense, cold reading and theatre’, which is rather boring) I am still wondering about that too by the way, what Doto would said about the prohibitions against consulting the dead, and about how he would exegete the medium of Endor story for example, which at a serious read defies every simplistic ‘all those things are demons in disguise’ theory anyway.

Yes, I hesitate to ascribe every spiritual encounter to demons of the gaps explanations but that still doesn’t mean I agree with Doto’s views of life after death, in which if I understand well -I might be wrong though- we (and other beings) become mostly spirits that wander around here, and might give guidance to those who come after us. He gives a thorough explanation of spiritism, the spirit-filled worldview, and on how to engage the spiritual world, complete with historical and biblical data that are very consistent.

On the other hand, that isn’t the only topic he engages at all: like I already mentioned the book is full of deep explorations of spiritual, religious and psychological themes that make a lot of sense, and at times Doto seems to have more insight in core aspects of Christianity than a lot of more ‘orthodox’ Christians in many traditions do, as well as a much deeper view of spirituality than a lot of ‘spiritual’ modern types. His definition of ‘spiritual’ for example doesn’t only go deeper than wishy-washy modern ‘spiritual not religious’ types, but is a good and very biblical reminder for Christians too:

To Paul, whether a person was spiritual or not was entirely dependent on a person’s relationship to the Spirit of God, what he and his comrades called “the Holy Spirit,” as it was specifically promised by Jesus Christ. Whether or not you meditated had nothing to do with it. (…) Far from being either a statement of belief regarding a person’s outlook on life or a choice one makes to become more peaceful and calm, to be a spiritual person meant you were in direct communion with the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus Christ, as gifted by God.

So the book did several things to me: it was an introduction to a worldview alien to me, it reminded me of basic Christian and other truths that are often watered-down nowadays, and provided interesting interpretations of the bible. Some of his advice is very solid, and in other areas he goes where I wouldn’t go. And even there he’s careful, nuanced, and not falling into a trap of giving methods in a book for things that take years of practice.

So on the one hand there is deep stuff, good reminders, and paradigm-stretching information. On the other hand, there still are things that I have no place for in my worldview, and even things that seem quite dangerous to me as a small o orthodox Christian. Even though I think he is much closer to describing the invisible world than most Christians, even Charismatic Christians who believe in the spiritual world, often get. (Or maybe especially Charismatics, sometimes those who engage in spiritual warfare are extremely weird and creepy to be honest.)

So while I certainly don’t agree with everything I will say it’s an interesting read, and a good introduction to a spiritist worldview -from a more postmodern and open but definitely Christian POV though- anyone who wants to expand their world and explore other paradigms, and pick up a lot of wisdom along the way.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook free through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

See how empty it would be, making love if love’s not really there…


close your eyes, and pretend that you are me
see how empty is would be, making love is love’s not really there
Larry Norman – Pardon me

Kevin Max (of DC Talk fame) has posted a song a few days ago that I can’t stop listening to: a cover of ‘pardon me’ by Larry Norman, the ‘father of christian rock’, from his classic 1971 album ‘only visiting this planet’, but . It’s also a song with a rather uncommon theme for Christian rock. The ‘linear notes’ of the original album (his spelling) describe the song with the following words:

Larry takes what is traditionally a woman’s complaint (being pressured for sex by the male) and examines it from his own perspective.

Strangely enough this sad description of loveless sex  reminds me not just about about abuse in loose relationships or one-night-stands -which certainly is what Larry intended- but also about a certain kind of ‘marriage teaching’ that is assumed to be ‘Christian’ according to certain American ‘evangelicals’. (Which still shocks me to be honest) And yes, I certainly use the quote-marks here with a reason, that reason being that i find the idea completely unchristian and completely beyond the pale of what is acceptable in general terms too.

Also because it is a form of sick internalised misandry that makes men into silly animals, an example also of what the feminists rightly call rape culture. And also the very opposite of intimacy.

Let’s give an example: from a to love, honor and vacuum post, on ‘sexual favors’ when a man is having ‘a hard time’ because his wife doesn’t want sex during her period (paraphrased from the sources Sheila Gregoire is criticizing):

“Most of the books taught a 72-hour rule, where men needed to be given sexual release every 72 hours or they would lust and be tempted to watch porn or have an affair.”

I am not known for using f-words lightly in the English language, but a WTF is way too light a reaction if you ask me. And yes, the ‘books’ in question are American Christian marriage books and the 72 hour rule being that the wife must give the husband sex (or ‘sexual favors’) at least every 72 hour.

Because otherwise what?

Eh, what on Earth?

I really don’t know how anyone could ever start from an actual Christian worldview based on the teachings of Christ (or even from a common sense humanist worldview) and ever come up with such ideas. It’s completely opposed to even the bits of ‘purity culture’ that I’ve been exposed to in my life. Self-control was a normal virtue for both men and women, and ‘not having sex’ (while being a bit of an unhealthy obsession sometimes) was certainly not seen as an impossibility but as a requirement. Maybe one that was seen as simpler than it actually was for a lot of people, but at least it was a very possible thing.

This whole mentality is not just the opposite of what was healthy in any Christian teaching on sex I’ve encountered, it’s also a very low view of men. I’ve called it internalised misandry before, and I stand by that. Men are not fragile little animals without self control that will do God-knows-what when they don’t have sex-as-a-physical-release every 72 hours. How far can people go in defending their lazy selfish depravity that they insult their own sex like that?

(Yes, I know it isn’t unique to American evangelicals, Incels and the like are even worse, but that’s not for now)

close your eyes, and pretend that you are me
see how empty is would be, making love is love’s not really there

The definition of ‘sex’ as what is required in the sexual relationship/marriage here already is nonsensical, devoid of love, completely unchristian, and more like something one would expect from evolutionary psychology of the silliest kind. Just getting biological relief is not enough to have a healthy sex life and does not mean there is intimacy either (I refer again to Sheile Gregoire here, who says we need a new definition of sex) Sure, sex is a part of a healthy marriage relationship, but loveless sex will not make it better for anyone, and can only make it worse. Without sex being loving it will destroy intimacy and make the relationship worse, not better, instead of bringing the partners closer to each other in love…

The whole idea of ‘obligated sex’ is actually very creepy on several levels: how can anyone at all who loves their partner enjoy sex with the awareness that their partner doesn’t enjoy it. If that isn’t a turn-off then you’re not a lover at all but a selfish creep who is using their supposed lover as a means of masturbation.

‘Making love if love is not really there’ is not just empty as Larry Norman calls it. It is an impossibility and an euphemism for things that are fucked-up. And when it happens in a marriage in the form of an obligation that is not enjoyed at all by on of the partners we enter marital rape territory.

How can anyone consider themself a man, or even a human being if you believe you need sex every 72 hour but don’t even care about what your lover feels? You’re a mere animal then, controlled by impulses, stuck in sin, and far away from love. If it wasn’t much worse for your partner to be in such a situation I’d say you’re in one the most pitiable possible states…

If anyone is even the least bit of a lover, and loves their sexual partner even a tiny bit, they will care about how their lover enjoys it during sex. Actually, I can’t even imagining having sex without the giving part being one of the main focuses.

How can you make love otherwise? Why would you even want sex otherwise? It’s just selfish and empty and dirty, and not better than the stuff porn is made of.

(Which might exactly be the problem here. I’ve noted before that this American pseudochristian marriage culture and porn culture have very similar attitudes to sex, and very toxic ones at that.)

What do you think?

Peace

Bram

See also:
US-style ‘Dating’, or the Opposite of what Relationships are supposed to be…Sexual entitlement, Involuntary celibacy, porn and losing your humanity
Women need respect, men need love (3) Men need love, and not just sex…
I don’t understand ‘complementarianism’
Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’

In the CD-player: Suggs – the lone ranger (1995)


Welcome to a new feature called ‘In the CD-player’ where I describe an album in my collection.

(Yes, I like CD’s, and LP’s more than streaming services. I think owning a record is important and I don’t trust streaming services to have important music available to me.)

Today’s CD is ‘the lone ranger’ by Suggs, A CD I once found in a CD sale, and one that improved over the years for me. It’s the first solo album of the singer of the English ska-pop band madness, which had a lot of hits in the UK in the eighties (a bit less in Belgium but still enough, and only one in the Us, the rather atypical ‘our house’).

I found this album rather over-produced at the time, but over the years it has become one of those background albums for the summer. Ska-pop and funky Reggae/dub songs are interlayered with some more poppy slows. Half the album was produced by the legendary Jamaican rhytm section Sly and Robbie, which is a high quality of standard in the genre (much more than madness even I dare to say ).

Overall it is a good pop album. The songwriting is not bad, and the arrangements are interesting (although a bit overproduced, like happened in the early nineties), and it’s a pity that the musicians are not credited anywhere in the booklet. Some will probably find the 2 covers horrible (‘I’m only waiting’ by the beatles and ‘Cecilia’ by Simon and Garfunkl) but they certainly have their charm, especially the first one.

Favourite songs are the bealtes cover ‘I’m only sleeping’, the celebration of the multicultural London neighbourhood in ‘Camden Town’, and ‘4 AM’ which was later re-recorded by madness.

Goes well together with white port with too much ice cubes and olives with feta.

Lessons from Thule: Living in a nonviolent female-led Utopia


The interesting part of literature like utopian stories and sociological science fiction is that it gives you a chance to explore how a world with other basic constants would look like. For that reason I’ve always been a fan of Ursula Le Guins sociological scifi stories, like ‘Planet of Exiles’, ‘the Word for world is forest’, and ‘the Telling’. (Yeah, I know, canon says I should like ‘the dispossessed’ and ‘the left hand of darkness’, but those aren’t my favourites personally, especially not when reading pleasure is in-calculated) It helps us to look at our own culture and question the unquestioned, to help us see the water we’re swimming in as fishes. Human societies can take completely different and sometimes opposite things for granted, which is why stories in which completely other things are taken as self-evident are important. No culture is ever neutral, no person is an objective observer untainted by bias.

Our own worldview itself, as well as all of our culture is just constructed over time, and usually more or less an accident of history. Virtually nothing of our culture is completely ‘an imperative of the laws of nature’. There are endless possibilities of how it could have ended up completely differently. We could have a high society without wheels (like the Inca empire), we could have a society completely integrated into nature (like a lot of rainforest tribes), a world where the unhealthy male gaze is obsessed with the male body instead of the female body (like the old Greeks), a culture where pink is the colour for boys and blue the colour for girls (which existed not that long ago) and so on…

The Beckman, 1974 (picture: wikipedia)

Just looking at cultures around the world can give us a lot of variety in how things could be different, but there are way much more possibilities than we find actualised around us in this era. And that’s why we need  utopian and dystopian fiction as a way of exploring what could be. And all of that is just one of the reasons that I like -among many other pieces of fiction- Thea Beckmans Thule trilogy: she gives us insight into a possible world where humans have abolished violence, and made women the natural leaders of society. That seems to be a rather rare combination, even in fiction. I cannot remember having read a story about a combination of a friendly culture based on respect for every life and a strong matriarchy, but it is fascinating still.

 

See also in this series: and Lessons from Thule: A description of Thulene and Badener society

The society of Thule in the books is based on what they consider to be ‘female values’ of compassion, caring for all life, balance and intuition. I have no idea if these ideas are indeed more female than male, but apart from the imbalances in the reversal of gender roles (especially in book 1) I’d say there aren’t that many aspects that could be seen as unhealthy in a damaging way in their culture. The friendly and non-violent culture will be for another post, but as a Christian I can also add that the Thulenes, while ‘Pagans’ as the Badeners call them with their almost nonreligious reverence of Mother Earth, are much closer to living out the teachings of Christ and the Kingdom of God than the supposedly Christian Badeners, who have retained a ‘mutilated’ form of Christianity and use religion for oppression as the first book calls it.

The Thulenes do have love for their neighbour, love for the least, they are responsible for all of creation and almost have a world where ‘the lion can sleep next to the lamb’ (or the Badener next to the bear at least, to the astonishment of Kilian). And much more ‘love your enemy’ than most historical Christian societies. So in terms of ‘positive values’ the Thulenes actually live out the important rules of all major religions: don’t kill, don’t hate, respect others, don’t take what isn’t yours, be honest,… And those are rooted I respect and love for all life, a form of encompassing pro-life philosophy: All lives matter, human and non-human, and should be treated well.

This way of life has become deeply ingrained throughout the centuries that have passed since the arrival of Sigrid Helgadottir in Thule. The Thulenes don’t really know much male violence after centuries of female nonviolent caring-for-all-life dominance. The idea of men fighting is seen as almost obscene, sexual harassment is a taboo, and men don’t ever get the chance to become leaders. So there is nothing rational to fear, for them there are no examples of what can go wrong with men in leadership it is just assumed it will go wrong.
The justification of those views of men also lies in ‘the Great Catastrophe’, World War III; when men almost destroyed the planet and all life on it. Which is a clear sign that men are not to be trusted.

Once, an unthinkably long time ago, Kimora had told him, things had been different: In spite of their greater talents, sensitiveness, and importance women didn’t have power. Men had led the world, which hadn’t really worked out. Century after century injustice, cruelty and selfishness had ruled, and century after century rivers of blood had flowed. People had hated each other and didn’t know what to come up with to harm each other as much as possible. It had been dark times and the inevitable happened, and it ended badly. (Children of Mother Earth, p. 20)

The more extreme parts of the ‘only women can have leadership’ ideas in Thule are not completely rooted in reality, but also shrouded in myth. The Great Catastrophe has become a myth about the destructiveness of men, and the Konega and her Council of Women just like the situation as it is, even though it is, as her husband calls it, a ‘soft oppression’ for men, for half of the population.

The funny thing is that the Badeners, who indeed provide an example of a male-led culture that rather seems to prove the myth of how dangerous it is to have male leadership, are the catalyst to end the imbalance of the ‘soft oppression’: the help of Konega-husband Rajo and Konega-son Christian and other men, even in positions of responsibility and leaders, is needed to save Thule from this danger. It is only the extreme situations that give Rajo and Christian the courage to stand against the -indeed extremely conservative- Council of women. The Council doesn’t want things to change, and like it as it is, which is dangerous in situations when crisis management is needed, as was the case when the Konega had to deal with the Badeners while the rest of the Council of Women was back to their own districts, and she had to take measures that were bordering on taboo to prevent even worse.

The second and third book have lost the tension of the ‘soft oppression’, and have less restrictions for men. But it’s still only a few men at the women Council (Christian the Konega-son and Rajo her husband in book 2) against 26 women or so. Which is an enormous step forward that is seen as enough.

Anyone who is shocked by that idea, 2 men on almost 30 people being enough equality; must think of the inverse situations in our worlds that are -both by men and women- also seen as sufficient. I think Thea Beckman really intends the (young) reader to think about that too.

And unlike our world (and the Badener empire, where most people are oppressed and in dire circumstances)) the ‘soft oppression’ is not killing people and leading to abuse and violence, just keeping people from higher positions. Which I certainly would prefer over the world we have now. I’d rather be a man without power -I don’t have much power myself anyway personally with the place I occupy as a teacher- in a female-led world where literally every life matters (human, animal, plant) and I know my life is safe and people will be friendly to each other nonetheless than living in a world where my own sex is ruling and screwing it up as we so often see in our world.

I have no idea how a female-led world would look like in the real world. There probably are as many possibilities as with a male-led world, some healthy and other more dystopian and dehumanising than the old Spartan polis. But fiction gives us ideas of what could be, and I must confess that the land of Thule is one I would very much like to live in, even as a man, for a lot of reasons (some of which will appear in following posts)…

And sometimes we need to open up our mind for new possibilities!

What do you think?

Peace

Bram