February 28, 2004



This is what I was planning to have done by today. And lo, it is not yet finished. I was backtracking too much, probably because I was trying to economize by using every inch of scrap wood I had left. I don't want to take any of it back to store in LA, that would be pointless. Probably in being preoccupied with the elegence of using what wood I had stored to build the crate, I started making bozo mistakes along the way, requiring several backtracks to correct them.

I must remain serene. Seeeeereeennnnne. Ohmmmmmmmmmmm.


So I had to take a break, and what better way to do it than check out the Passion... to see for myself what all the hullaballoo is all about. What better way to refresh oneself but to watch a movie about the Lamb of G-d, taking away the sins of the world?


A penny movie review: It disappointed in that it was tracking on the Old Great Masterpiece Paintings from Art History Class, complete with a living picture of the Pi?ta. The actors were uneven in terms of comfort level in speaking Aramaic, so I kept imagining all of the speech therapy that was needed in the shoot. Plus, movies like Jesus Christ, Superstar treated the issues of culpability, and destiny much better, long ago. This theme that all the actors in the passion play are ultimately in on it reminds me of reading Alan Watts' "Beyond Theology" back in high school. Watts flips a little Zen judo on Christianity to suggest that there is a backstage to heaven and part of the Maya of life to take it way too seriously.

As for the reputation it has for excruciating gore... eh, I've seen worse.
Seriously, the beach landing of Saving Private Ryan is harder to bear. I'm sure that the Hussein family has taken brutality to worse places than this... and let me reassure you I'm not trivializing the suffering of Jesus one bit. But to say that what this movie presumes to represent is supposed to be equal to this pinnacle of human suffering, that doesn't stand up. And (with cautious temerity) to say that what Jesus had then experienced had exceeded the sadism in the history of human existence... well I'm sure there are, say, a few hundred thousand people in North Korea right now to challenge that claim.

Tracing this terrible train of thought further, If the suffering and persecution of Jesus was to have been the acme of that kind of experience, then there must have been another, parallel and virtual dimension of pain to pop the amplitude to celestial heights. Now there's the next Jesus movie for you: it could make vivid the mental torment that must have existed, the world underneath his silences, that which would have made his cry out at the end that he had been foresaken... make sense.

FYI, probably the best review I've read is one by a person who speaks Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew, Jack Miles. An excellent review, especially for the analysis of good/evil dynamics. I found it through ArtsJournal.

It's much more interesting to think of the Passion in relation to a self help book a friend so kindly gave us recently, Florence Schinn's The Game of Life. This is a classic pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap self-help folk American philosophy thing from the 20's, 30's. She refers to her Vitrola and her stories involve stumbling on fortunes in the street, which remind me of the Depression era. But through the noise of early twentieth century new age religion, there's a vein that makes sense of the philosophical plumbing in the Passion story.

Here, from her Chapter 4: The Law of Nonresistance:

"Nothing on earth can resist an absolutely nonresistant person.

The Chinese say that water is the most powerful element, because it is perfectly nonresistant. It can wear away a rock, and sweep all before it.

Jesus Christ said, "Resist not evil," for He knew in reality, there is no evil, therefore nothing to resist. Evil has come of man's "vain imagination," or a belief in two powers, good and evil.

There is an old legend, that Adam and Eve ate of "Maya the Tree of Illusion," and saw two powers instead of one power, God.

Therefore, evil is a false law man has made for himself, through psychoma or soul sleep. Soul sleep means, that man's soul has been hypnotized by the race belief (of sin, sickness and death, etc.) which is carnal or mortal thought, and his affairs have out-pictured his illusions."

Of course, I don't know how we would fight the current Terror War with this equipment, but let's get past that for now.

It's the optimism I like about Schinn that makes me look past the corn-pone. And there is a description of the dynamics of the Christian story that I can relate to, better than all the hellfire stories I've heard before. There's an idea of the world having a grain to it, something identified with the goodness of G-d. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, there is an appeal to a higher power that helps people get out of themselves and push thier abilities towards an ideal that is better than them, something to strive for, something to measure oneself by that just being a mere human, for humans are capable of both kindness and nastiness. And evil wouldn't be Gibson's rendition as a rip off of Bergman, it would be ordinary people who made choices on criteria other than love and happiness, people who are astray from the grain, where life is hard and approaching impossible. (I'm thinking of the movie "Jacob's Ladder", where hell for Tim Robbins was resisting and heaven was acceptance.)*

I was raised Catholic in ways more tangential than deliberate. My mother said recently that she was alienated from the Church after Vatican II. I never got my head threaded into it hard enought to fall away. My family went agnostic by the time I was a teenager, and by then I was off looking for my own way to understand it all.

I'm still looking.

There's a thread about Leni Riefenstahl at Little Green Footballs, where I found this link from Normas Geras in the blog Fistful of Euros, discussing Hana Arendt's famous quote about "The Banality of Evil":

Arendt's main thought was not in fact the banality of the evil, but rather the banality of the perpetrators of it. With reference to Eichmann, she spoke of the 'ludicrousness of the man'; she said that, like most others implicated in the crimes, he was 'neither perverted nor sadistic? [but] terribly and terrifyingly normal', and without 'any diabolical or demonic profundity'; what characterized him was 'sheer thoughtlessness' - or, as she put it in another piece ('Thinking and Moral Considerations: A Lecture', Social Research 38, 1971), 'extraordinary shallowness' and a 'quite authentic inability to think'.

I remember one of the few valuable things I learned late in high school, the idea that the horror of the Nazis in WWII was that Western, educated, cultured people came together in committie form and agreed to commit evil acts like the holocaust. In other words, that we are not invulnerable to such a mistake, to keep a guard up.

I recall Dennis Prager in his radio show, talking about how the arts and morality are not necessarily coincident. He suggested that the liberal address of the Left (as in liberty, libertine) gives us no purchase (as in a mountain climber's grip) on morality since ethics must by necessity find its' footing in a faith in G-d, however small. It's a provocative and challenging idea that to be agnostic or atheistic means that one has a troubled claim on a moral compass.

To thread these thoughts together, it seems that one possibility that the "sheer thoughtlessness" that Arendt referred to might be connected to Prager's claim. If art gets it's license from the Left end of the political spectrum (Left because of the Liberal address and the libertine tradition), and that freedom is one pole defined against the ligatures of responsibility (in the direction of the other end of the politcal spectrum, the religious conservative), then it would be natural that artists would have some trouble with ethics... that is, those of us artists who are simplistically libertine.

Posted by Dennis at February 28, 2004 12:40 AM

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