Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’
August 5, 2016 | by Edward White
Evliya Çelebi’s Seyahatname is one of history’s greatest travelogues.
Edward White’s The Lives of Others is a monthly series about unusual, largely forgotten figures from history.
According to his own recollection, Evliya Çelebi, the seventeenth-century Turkish writer and traveler, experienced a life-changing epiphany on the night of his twentieth birthday. He was visited in a dream by the Prophet Muhammad, dressed nattily in a yellow woollen shawl and yellow boots, a toothpick stuck into his twelve-band turban. Muhammad announced that Allah had a special plan, one that required Evliya to abandon his prospects at the imperial court, become “a world traveler,” and “compose a marvelous work” based on his adventures.
As religious missions go, it was a pretty sweet deal—and for Evliya it came at the perfect moment. His feet itched to travel and his fingers to write, but he could never find a way of telling his parents that the life they had proudly mapped out for him—a stellar career, a virtuous wife, and a brood of smiling children—played no part in his vision of a meaningful existence. Muhammad’s intervention, whether an act of providence or not, spurred three decades of globetrotting indulgence. Evliya took in Anatolia, Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Cairo, Athens, Corinth, Sudan, and swathes of Europe from Crimea to—supposedly—the Low Countries. His path crossed Buddhists and crusading warriors, the Bedouin and Venetian sailors, ambassadors, monks, sorcerers, and snake charmers. Along the way he wrote the Seyahatname (“Book of Travels”), a magnificent ten-volume sprawl of fantasy, biography, and reportage that is utterly unique in the canon of travel literature, and which confirms Evliya as one of the great storytellers of the seventeenth century. Read More »
July 21, 2016 | by Max Nelson
On September 14, 1838, the precociously gifted twenty-three-year-old poet Jones Very was removed under mysterious circumstances from his post as a Greek tutor at Harvard. The previous day, he had visited the Unitarian minister Henry Ware Jr., a prominent opponent of the radical new school of religious thought associated with Very’s friend Ralph Waldo Emerson and his Concord-based intellectual circle. Unprompted, Very started reciting a heated, controversial commentary on the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew. “To Mr. Ware’s objections,” his fellow divinity student George Moore would later relate,
he said he was willing to yield, but that the spirit would not let him—that this revelation had been made to him, and that what he said was eternal truth—that he had fully given up his own will, and now only did the will of the Father—that it was the father who was speaking thro’ him. He thinks himself divinely inspired, and says that Christ’s second coming is in him.
July 19, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Still haven’t planned your summer getaway? It’s never too late for a trip to balmy Orlando, where, at a theme park called the Holy Land Experience, “Jesus is crucified most afternoons around five P.M. … Miracles are the stock-in-trade of this Christian theme park, which welcomes about a quarter-million people per year. They might come to the Holy Land Experience (HLE for short) out of faith or fascination or a misplaced sense of irony, but they all pay fifty dollars for entry, and some will spend a little extra for a ‘My Cup Overflows Refillable Souvenir Cup.’ In return, they get a curious kind of history lesson, plus a dose of American prosperity theology, which turns spending into a higher calling and spiritual pathos into gaudy pageantry.”
- You’d think one of the nation’s preeminent research institutions would have an innovative approach to digitization. But the Library of Congress is still lumbering in the general direction of the Internet. Kyle Chayka spoke to one activist who called it “a national embarrassment,” and he took a look himself: “The LOC takes scholarly care in digitization, assuring that the replicas it creates will be authoritative and stable, but the process is slow and inefficient. Every object from the collection that gets digitized must first be removed from the LOC stacks or its storage warehouses offsite in Maryland, evaluated for its ability to endure physical scanning, and then hand-fed through a scanner. The resulting data is processed and uploaded to the Internet with proper tagging and citations, following standards that the LOC itself developed. A single print could take as long as a day to scan and upload.”
- Jeff Koons, the artist whose medium is capitalism, has laid off fourteen of his painters because they attempted to unionize: “Multiple anonymous sources say that the painters had begun the process of unionization over the past few months … Around the same time, management at Jeff Koons LLC decided to give the painters a raise. It is unknown whether or not this decision was related to the unionization. But at the time, it was speculated by some of Koons employees that this move was intended to satiate the demand for a union. It’s also notable that there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of painting work to be done, which caused some employees to question the timing of the raise. The studio has no major upcoming shows and has only been working on a solo retrospective entitled, ‘Now,’ for Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery. Otherwise, the painters were working on backlogged commissions … Repeated phone calls to Jeff Koons LLC have thus far gone unanswered.”
- Welcome to the final horizon of academe: boredom studies. Randy Malamud attended the third annual Boredom Conference, in Warsaw, and he was pleasantly surprised by how much there was to pay attention to: “I roundly nominate boredom for the catalogue of interesting new things for academics to study, all the more enthusiastically for the paradox lurking therein. We have nothing to lose but our chains. Like coffee, masturbation, and bullshit, boredom promises fresh terrain: untrammelled intellectual exploration … The myriad tropes and venues of boredom range from Nietzsche’s ‘windless calm of the soul’ to Beckett’s claustrophobic infinite stuckness. The historian Jeffrey Auerbach, who presented at last year’s Boredom Conference, is completing a monograph called Imperial Boredom: Monotony and the British Empire, about the bureaucracy, loneliness and disenchantment that accompanied England’s exploitative world domination; it turns out imperial oppression wasn’t that much fun after all.”
- On the face of it, Iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head is just your average midcentury sex romp, stacked with extramarital affairs and cuckolded husbands and even (why not) some incest. But it’s really, Gabe Habash argues, “a surrealist novel in the guise of a realist novel … Murdoch smashes the old rule that you can’t have more than two coincidences in a narrative, and so the book passes through any dubiousness and out the other side … Somewhere around the second or third revelation that one of these characters is sleeping with another one, you stop expecting the unexpected and begin expecting everything. It’s as if Murdoch is saying, ‘Yes, that can happen. And so can this.’ ”
March 17, 2016 | by Erik Morse
Wonder in the age of Matthias Buchinger.
Though he had neither arms nor legs and was only twenty-nine inches tall, Matthias Buchinger spent his sixty-five years variously as a magician, a musician, a carver, and an inventor, among other vocations. But his most astounding talents were in micrography—that is, literally, small writing. Since his death in 1740, his renown has been relegated to an obscure niche between print design and outsider art. “Wordplay: Matthias Buchinger’s Inventive Drawings from the Collection of Ricky Jay,” showing now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, rescues him from a seventeenth-century German wunderkammer of conjurers, carneys, witches and “freaks” endemic to early modernity. Accompanying the exhibition is the equally eccentric art-history and antiquarian memoir Matthias Buchinger: The Greatest Living German by Ricky Jay, Whose Peregrinations in Search of the “Little Man of Nuremberg” are herein Revealed, in which Jay, something of a sleight-of-hand artist, reconstructs Buchinger’s exotic life and oeuvre. Read More »
March 3, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- In the long car ride we call life, Andrew O’Hagan has eschewed the driver’s seat for the passenger seat, and he’s loving every minute of it: “In my natural state, I possess the habit of saying no to everything, but all the requesting party has to do to make me say yes is to send a nice car. In my youth, I often daydreamed of a driver picking me up from school. It was Scotland, and it was winter, which meant it got dark about three o’clock in the afternoon … Being driven is luxurious because it is a step back into the realm of personal freedom, which—when it comes to all areas of good service—is the freedom to enjoy an outcome without being responsible for it. People seek their freedom in different ways, of course, and some want an open top and their own foot on the gas, but for me the liberty to disengage is everything.”
- As if to rebuke all the ambitious young white dudes presently working away at their doorstep debut novels, a Russian scientist named Vladimir Aniskin has designed what he asserts to be the world’s smallest book: it’s seventy by ninety micrometers and takes as its subject, appropriately enough, a flea’s shoes. Readers must exercise extreme care: “The text is printed using the lithographic process onto sheets of film just three or four microns thick. Aniskin said that the most difficult part of the process was binding the pages together so they can be turned. He used tungsten wires with a diameter of five microns as the “springs” for the pages, placing the finished books into half a poppyseed, displayed on gold plates. The pages, which have text on both sides, can be turned using a sharpened metal needle.”
- The line between persecution and a persecution complex can be razor thin. Just ask early Christians, who went to great lengths to highlight their sense of embattlement. Tom Bissell writes: “While some Christians were martyred for their faith, and even thrown to lions, the earliest Christian accounts of martyrdom fail to make clear one interesting wrinkle: killing men and women for perceived apostasy was highly uncommon among pagans, and most ancient-world authorities were inclined to be lenient toward Christians, many of whom, like Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, demanded Martyrdom, then, is a difference-obliterating mind-set that leaves death as the only thing to venerate.”
- Garth Greenwell wrote a forty-one-page paragraph. Not as a standalone, mind you—it’s at the center of his novel What Belongs to You. “I wrote the section very quickly, in a kind of white heat, mostly on the backs of napkins and receipts and other scraps of paper someone might mistake for trash. I numbered these as I wrote and put them in a pile, and it was only when I finished and typed them up that I understood the form of what I had made … [The paragraph] is also a declaration that the text won’t obey the usual rules of logic or sequence, that its allegiance is to other modes of conveying experience. Or maybe less its allegiance than its submission.”
- Today in adaptations of translations: A Brooklyn theater collective has turned John Ashbery’s translations of Rimbaud into Rimbaud in New York, a play designed never to let you forget that it’s rooted in text: “The play is about myths, to be sure, but it’s also concerned with the pleasure of the text and emotions and thoughts that words can and cannot illuminate. Ashbery not only captures that French renegade’s intensity and playfulness in his translation, he does so with an urgency that reminds us that Rimbaud left the form that he helped create—modernism—as a disenchanted young man, while Ashbery, never a cynic, works in his own vibrant space, one that goes on and on.”
February 25, 2016 | by Max Nelson
The rediscovered prison memoir of a nineteenth-century black man.
On the back cover of the manuscript of his prison memoir, which he completed in New York’s Auburn state jail sometime after 1858, Austin Reed pasted a clipping of the third chapter of Lamentations: “I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath … / He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail. / He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old.” Around the thirtieth verse, the tone shifts to one of reassurance—“For the Lord will not cast off forever”—and then, by the fifty-fifth, to one of retributive anger. The last verses Reed excerpted are a plea “out of the low dungeon” for God to avenge the poem’s narrator against his enemies: “Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the Lord.”
These lines suggest the tone and shape of a literary genre: a lament in which sorrow coexists with requests for divine vengeance. By placing them at the end of The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict—acquired by Yale’s rare-book library in 2009 and published last month with helpful editorial comments by the scholar Caleb Smith—Reed was making a strong suggestion about the kind of book he’d written. The text itself, however, is an amalgam of genres that wouldn’t seem to combine: a picaresque memoir in which sermons jostle up against pulpy adventure anecdotes; dutiful recollections of fact move with little notice into fantasies and dreams; radical gestures of black empowerment share the page with the coarsest kinds of racial caricatures; and assertive denunciations of the prison system coexist with passages of meek and guilty self-recrimination. It’s puzzling to make sense of these apparent contradictions—to decide what Reed meant his book to do. Read More »