Saturday, October 15, 2011

Poem for Today

“Wanderers Nachtlied”

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelin schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Goethe I, 1978: 142)

“Wanderer’s Nightsong”

Above the hillside peaks
It is calm,
In the treetops
You feel
hardly a breath of air;
The little birds fall silent in the woods.
Just wait, soon
You also will rest.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Goethe I, 1978: 142)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Never Five Minutes; or, I Still Love Monty Python

There is a kind of satirical flow that I truly believe is psychologically therapeutic for those who can process it. Some key portions of Monty Python's comedy have beamed me on for years, so I'm dipping into them today to get a boost. Warning: long post! If I miss any of your favorites, let me know in the comments.

The "Dead Parrot" sketch comes to mind whenever I hear euphemisms of death, and I rejoice to hear the sheer roll of them in service, for once, to a denied reality:
It's not pining, it's passed on! This parrot is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! This is a late parrot! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed it to the perch, it'd be pushing up the daisies! It's metabolic processes are now history! He's off the twig! He's kicked the bucket! He's shuffled off the mortal coil, rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible! This is an ex-parrot!

The song about Oliver Cromwell has completely replaced the original classical song in my mind. I think we should learn history just this way.

"Bruce's Philosophers Song" got me through my education in philosophical theology and ethics, especially when I felt overwhelmed by the big topics. I wasn't the only one who knew every word.
Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table
David Hume could out-consume
Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel
There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya
'Bout the raising of the wrist
Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed
John Stuart Mill, of his own free will
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill
Plato, they say, could stick it away
Half a crate of whiskey every day
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle
Hobbes was fond of his dram
And René Descartes was a drunken fart
I drink, therefore I am
Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed
A lovely little thinker
But a bugger when he's pissed

"The Meaning of Life" had its ups and downs, which is proper, but its theme song was my pep talk for writing my dissertation:

Why are we here? What's life all about?
Is God really real, or is there some doubt?
Well, tonight, we're going to sort it all out,
For, tonight, it's 'The Meaning of Life'.

What's the point of all this hoax?
Is it the chicken and the egg time? Are we just yolks?
Or, perhaps, we're just one of God's little jokes.
Well, ça c'est 'The Meaning of Life'.

Is life just a game where we make up the rules
While we're searching for something to say,
Or are we just simply spiraling coils
Of self-replicating DN-- nay, nay, nay, nay, nay, nay, nay.

What is life? What is our fate?
Is there a Heaven and Hell? Do we reincarnate?
Is mankind evolving, or is it too late?
Well, tonight, here's 'The Meaning of Life'.

For millions, this 'life' is a sad vale of tears,
Sitting 'round with really nothing to say
While the scientists say we're just simply spiraling coils
Of self-replicating DN-- nay, nay, nay, nay, nay, nay, nay.

So, just why-- why are we here,
And just what-- what-- what-- what do we fear?
Well, ce soir, for a change, it will all be made clear,
For this is 'The Meaning of Life'. C'est le sens de la vie.
This is 'The Meaning of Life'.

You might have missed the answer to the question:
Lady Presenter: Well, that's the end of the film. Now, here's the meaning of life.
[She is handed a gold-wrapped booklet.]
Lady Presenter: Thank you, Brigitte.
[She clears her throat, then unwraps and examines the gilt booklet.]
Lady Presenter: Well, it's nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations. And, finally, here are some completely gratuitous pictures of penises to annoy the censors and to hopefully spark some sort of controversy, which, it seems, is the only way, these days, to get the jaded, video-sated public off their fucking arses and back in the sodding cinema. Family entertainment? Bollocks. What they want is filth: people doing things to each other with chainsaws during tupperware parties, babysitters being stabbed with knitting needles by gay presidential candidates, vigilante groups strangling chickens, armed bands of theatre critics exterminating mutant goats. Where's the fun in pictures? Oh, well, there we are. Here's the theme music. Goodnight.

"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" used the Arthurian legends to poke fun at the idealizations of grand myths, golden times, and power.

King Arthur: I am your king.
Peasant Woman: Well, I didn't vote for you.
King Arthur: You don't vote for kings.
Peasant Woman: Well, how'd you become king, then?
[Angelic music plays... ]
King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king.
Dennis the Peasant: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
Arthur: Be quiet!
Dennis the Peasant: You can't expect to wield supreme power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!

Bedevere: How do you know she is a witch?
Peasant: She looks like one.
[Crowd indistinctly shouts]
Bedevere: Bring her forward!
Girl: I'm not a witch.
Bedevere: But you are dressed as one...
Girl: They dressed me up like this. [Crowd murmurs]
Girl: And this isn't my nose. This is a false one.
Bedevere: [inspects the nose and confirms] Well?
Peasant: Well, we did do the nose.
Bedevere: The nose?
Peasant: And the hat. She's a witch!
Peasant Crowd: Burn her!
Bedevere: Did you dress her up like this?
Peasant Crowd: No, no, no! [beat] Yes, yes. A bit. But she's got a wart.
Bedevere: Why do you think that she is a witch?
Peasant: Well, she turned me into a newt.
[Bedevere gives him a disbelieving look]
Bedevere: A newt?
Peasant: Well, I got better.
Peasant Crowd: Burn her anyway!

Frenchman: You don't frighten us, English pig-dogs! Go and boil your bottoms, sons of a silly person! I blow my nose at you, so-called Ah-thoor Keeng, you and all your silly English K-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-niggits! [makes taunting gestures at them]
Sir Galahad: What a strange person.
King Arthur: Now, look here, my good man--
Frenchman: I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!
Sir Galahad: Is there someone else up there we can talk to?
Frenchman: No, now go away or I shall taunt you a second time!

Bridgekeeper: Hee hee heh. [He stops Arthur, the next one to try to cross] Stop. What... is your name?
King Arthur: It is 'Arthur', King of the Britons.
Bridgekeeper: What... is your quest?
King Arthur: To seek the Holy Grail.
Bridgekeeper: What... is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
King Arthur: What do you mean? An African or a European swallow?
Bridgekeeper: Huh? I... I don't know that. [he is thrown over as well] AUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGHHH!!

Better keep the Holy Hand Grenade handy.

My favorite, the film "Life of Bryan," was chock-full of nuggets that helped me in a thousand ways. Don't miss this stunning discussion about the movie, in which the church doesn't get it.

A great many contemporary preachers remind me of these:
Blood and Thunder Prophet: [screaming] ... and the bezan shall be huge and black, and the eyes thereof red with the blood of living creatures, and the whore of Babylon shall ride forth on a three-headed serpent, and throughout the lands, there will be a great rubbing of parts. Yeeah...
False Prophet: [yelling] ... for the demon shall bear a nine-bladed sword. NINE-bladed! Not two or five or seven, but NINE, which he will wield on all wretched sinners, sinners just like you, sir, there, and the horns shall be on the head, with which he will...
Boring Prophet: [in a dreary voice] ...there shall, in that time, be rumors of things going astray, errrm, and there shall be a great confusion as to where things really are, and nobody will really know where lieth those little things wi - with the sort of raffia work base that has an attachment. At this time, a friend shall lose his friend's hammer and the young shall not know where lieth the things possessed by their fathers that their fathers put there only just the night before, about eight o'clock. Yea, it is written in the book of Cyril that...

The misguided literalism and cruelty of "communities of love" were permanently put in their proper psychological space with the mantra "No one is to stone anyone until I blow this whistle!", from the stoning scene. All of the exquisite ironies of people who just don't see the most important things are illustrated in Bryan's speech from the window:

Brian: No, no. Please, please please listen. I've got one or two things to say.
The Crowd: Tell us! Tell us both of them!
Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong. You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!
The Crowd: Yes! We're all individuals!
Brian: You're all different!
The Crowd: Yes! We're all different!
Man in crowd: I'm not...
Man in crowd: Shhh!
Brian: You've all got to work it out for yourselves.
The Crowd: Yes! We've got to work it out for ourselves!
Brian: Exactly!
The Crowd: Tell us more!
Brian: No! That's the point! Don't let anyone tell you what to do! Otherwise - Ow! Ow! !

The conversation in the crowd at the Sermon on the Mount reminds me of all the frustrating discussion of scripture among those who clearly have no ears to hear, in so many ways:

Spectator: I think it was "Blessed are the cheesemakers".
Mrs. Gregory: Aha, what's so special about the cheesemakers?
Gregory: Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

The petty squabbles of in-groups - whether political, academic or religious - were taken much less seriously in the light of the discussion by the revolutionaries in the amphitheater:

Bryan's comrades maintain formal ritual while evolving their message through this farewell proclamation at his crucifixion:

Reg: [reading prepared statement] "We, the People's Front of Judea, brackets, official, end brackets, do hereby convey our sincere fraternal and sisterly greetings to you, Brian, on this, the occasion of your martyrdom."
Brian: What??
Reg: "Your death will stand as a landmark in the continuing struggle to liberate the parent land from the hands of the Roman imperialist aggressors, excluding those concerned with drainage, medicine, roads, housing, education, viniculture and any other Romans contributing to the welfare of Jews of both sexes, and hermaphrodites..."

Because I hold a tender place in my heart for any mention of Jehovah's Witnesses, I even liked the skit "Michael Ellis" although the cultural references otherwise may have been lost on me:
Mother: What have you got now?
Chris: I bought an ant, mother.
Mother: What d'you want one of them for! I'm not going to clean it out. You said you'd clean the tiger out, but do you? No, I suppose you've lost interest in it now. Now it'll be ant ant ant for a couple of days, then all of a sudden, 'oh, mum, I've bought a sloth' or some other odd-toed ungulate like a tapir.
Chris: It's really different this time, mum. I'm really going to look after this ant.
Mother: That's what you said about the sperm whale... now your papa's having to use it as a garage.
Chris: Well, you didn't feed it properly.
Mother: Where are we going to get 44 tons of plankton from every morning? Your dad was dead vexed about that. They thought he was mad in the deli.
Chris: Well at least he's got a free garage.
Mother: That's no good to him... his Hillman smells all fishy. [growl from the tiger] Oh blimey, that's the tiger. He'll want his mandies.
Chris: Are you giving that tiger drugs?
Mother: 'Course I'm giving it drugs!
Chris: It's illegal.
Mother: You try telling that to the tiger.
Chris: I think it's dangerous.
Mother: Listen, before he started fixing, he used to get through four Jehovah's witnesses a day. And he used to eat all of them, except the pamphlets.
Chris: Well, he's not dim.

Speaking of God, remember that if you believe that all things are created, things can get mysterious. Here's just one way:

All things dull and ugly,
All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty,
The Lord God made the lot.
Each little snake that poisons,
Each little wasp that stings,
He made their brutish venom.
He made their horrid wings.
All things sick and cancerous,
All evil great and small,
All things foul and dangerous,
The Lord God made them all.
Each nasty little hornet,
Each beastly little squid--
Who made the spikey urchin?
Who made the sharks? He did!
All things scabbed and ulcerous,
All pox both great and small,
Putrid, foul and gangrenous,
The Lord God made them all.

And, don't forget, every sperm is sacred.

"The Galaxy Song" is still one of my best wards against depression.

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That's orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it's reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the 'Milky Way'.
Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It's a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it's just three thousand light years wide.
We're thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go 'round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.
The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth.

Last, because it's been resurrected for me within the last couple of years, the inherent ironies of The Argument Clinic have made me laugh and sigh on multiple occasions.

After all, it's never five minutes just now.