September 7, 2017

"He looks a little like you. Maybe you should get a hat like that."



The quote is from me, talking to Meade. The painting is of Rabelais. We've been talking about Rabelais since yesterday. What have you been talking about for the last 2 days? Anything? Topics come and go, but sometimes the same topic recurs within new conversations. Yes, this fits with that thing we were saying, yesterday, as we crossed Monroe Street, and the subject was Salman Rushdie's new novel with a Donald Trump character, and then again, today, as we're discussing the Harvard plaque-on-a-rock memorializing the contributions of slavery in a text written by a law professor who has written a book about Sally Hemings.

Wikipedia on Rabelais:
François Rabelais (/ˌræbəˈleɪ/; French: [fʁɑ̃.swa ʁa.blɛ]; between 1483 and 1494 – 9 April 1553) was a French Renaissance writer, physician, Renaissance humanist, monk and Greek scholar. He has historically been regarded as a writer of fantasy, satire, the grotesque, bawdy jokes and songs. His best known work is Gargantua and Pantagruel. Because of his literary power and historical importance, Western literary critics consider him one of the great writers of world literature and among the creators of modern European writing. His literary legacy is such that today, the word Rabelaisian has been coined as a descriptive inspired by his work and life. Merriam-Webster defines the word as describing someone or something that is "marked by gross robust humor, extravagance of caricature, or bold naturalism."
But you don't get credit as Rabelaisian just by using gross robust humor and extravagant caricature. You must wield literary power or you're just obscene and exaggerating.

Here's the Rabelais quote I'd excerpt for you even if I didn't think it's the one that Meade is, right now, adding to the comments in the previous post (the one about the Harvard plaque-on-a-rock and Sally Hemings):
All their life was spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose out of their beds when they thought good; they did eat, drink, labour, sleep, when they had a mind to it and were disposed for it. None did awake them, none did offer to constrain them to eat, drink, nor to do any other thing; for so had Gargantua established it. In all their rule and strictest tie of their order there was but this one clause to be observed,

Do What Thou Wilt;

because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition by which they formerly were inclined to virtue, to shake off and break that bond of servitude wherein they are so tyrannously enslaved; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden and to desire what is denied us.
Yes, here's the Meade comment, using that quote, with the added statement "Place making, plaque making...." "Place making" goes back to another post, about Madison's effort to stave off murder in local disaffected communities by enlisting a New York firm to bestow its expertise in a mysterious process called "placemaking" — the creation of "vibrant public spaces at the heart of their community."

39 comments:

Big Mike said...

The proper hat for Meade is a grimy John Deere hat. Failing that, MAGA.

Big Mike said...

(Even if he didn't vote for Trump, as perhaps he did not.)

Owen said...

Thanks for the post on Rabelais about whom I know far too little and very much hope to learn more here. As for plaquemaking and placemaking, both subjects fall a little flat.

SDaly said...

"Do what thou wilt" became the central tenet of Alistair Crowley's occultist "Thelema" religion in the early 20th Century, which, in turn heavily influenced California's new-age culture in the 60's and since.

Bill Peschel said...

"What have you been talking about for the last 2 days? Anything?"

Over the last few days, my wife and I saw "Gone Girl" and "Girl on a Train." They gave us a lot to chew over about the abundance of actresses getting a chance to do interesting work, how it's difficult to create a character dumber than yourself. In Gone Girl, Ben Affleck's character, after his wife disappears, is visited by his mistress who he lays and falls asleep beside on the floor of his sister's house. It was a "I can't believe they would have him do that" moment that later turned into a, "you know, his character really is stupid enough to do that.")

In "Girl," Emily Blunt's character, after hearing her husband was fired for rampant sexual behavior, and not for her drunken blackout follies, doesn't go to the police with this provable nugget of information (by this time, we know the murder victim was pregnant and not by her husband or shrink), but to her violent ex-husband's house to confront him. That was a little harder to excuse, except to assume she wanted to take her rage and use it.

That's also what is the attraction of these two movies: women getting to see raging women striking back at the men who abused them, or because they're freakin' nuts ("Gone Girl" is especially good on this point, although you can feel for Amy if you know that her situation -- growing up the model for the near-perfect "amazing Amy" books, mirrors Christopher Robin Milne's situation.)

Like I said, a lot to unpack in both movies. We'll watch "Gone Girl" again because Fincher did such a stylin' job. "Girl on a Train" was much more confusing and conventional, although still good. And Emily Blunt killed it as an alcoholic woman (and I love seeing Allison Janey as the detective, ever since she played a CIA official in the very funny "Spy.")

campy said...

Rabelais will forever be remembered as one of the authors Marian Peru vainly tried to get the people of River City, Iowa to read in The Music Man.

"... Chaucer! Rabelais! Balzac!"

traditionalguy said...

IIR Rabelais was a dedicated atheist seeking to stay free from the Catholic Church's control over the SIN atonement industry among men. He postulated that noble men are free to enjoy being sin free in this life, which does sound like Meade's wisdom.

traditionalguy said...

We talked about The Founder. That is a true story about how McDonalds became McDonalds and contrasts perfectionist pride meeting flexible, bold risk taking. Kroc wins it all.

Meade said...

Thanks, trad.

buwaya said...

The official history of the RAF.
Especially the parts about "Bomber" Harris.

The nature of honor can be complex.
But the necessity of being well-bred can't be denied.

Meade said...

@Big Mike: far as I'm concerned a John Deere hat is just another way of saying "Hey, I'm already doing my part to make America great."

sparrow said...

".. ..because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. "

I think evidence for this supposed naturally good instinct is entirely lacking, especially in the 20th century, and that honour is a cultural/social force and not intrinsically good (i.e. honour killings). In fact the pursuit of honour, or at least social recognition, can lead to hypocrisy and other evils.

buwaya said...

The problem with nobility is the exceptional human ability to rationalize.

Hunter said...

What exactly does he want
This Rabelaisian puff of smoke
To make you feel all warm and cozy
Like you heard a good joke

Like you heard an Arlen tune
Or you bought yourself a crazy hat
Like you had a Mango Cooler
Ooh - Morph the Cat

Ann Althouse said...

"The proper hat for Meade is a grimy John Deere hat. Failing that, MAGA."

I have never seen anyone in Madison wearing a MAGA hat.

Meade always wears a baseball hat of one kind or another, not the bulkier trucker-type hat. But one of the baseball hats does say "Carhart."

sparrow said...

Wearing a MAGA hat would be inviting trouble I expect, wise to avoid it.

YoungHegelian said...

Rabelais is reputed to have the largest vocabulary of any author in the French language. Which kinda figures. Comedy writers in every language range from the quotidian to the sublime even in the middle of the same joke. Aristophanes' Greek, for example, is tough for the very same reason. It's got words you never see anywhere else like σαλπιγγολογχυπηνάδαι (lancer-whiskered trumpeters). This, by the way, is the longest Greek word I ever found in the Liddell & Scott Greek lexicon.

Meade said...

"(Even if he didn't vote for Trump, as perhaps he did not.)"

I did. But I generally keep that fact... under my hat.

ex-madtown girl said...

I'm with Campy on this one! I couldn't even read this post without hearing the ladies of River City's pronunciation in my head 😜

Rabel said...

Rabelais. I've heard of that guy somewhere.

Meade said...

"But one of the baseball hats does say 'Carhart.'"

Look again. You're missing a "T".

Carhartt is a bit of a status symbol for us workingmen. How would you like it if I called your car an Audi T?

Ann Althouse said...

"Carhartt is a bit of a status symbol for us workingmen. How would you like it if I called your car an Audi T?"

I'm going to take a Sharpie and black out the last T and then I'll take out the C too and the second R, and then you will have the baseball hat of a perfected soul who has attained Nirvana!

What kind of hat? An arhat.

exiledonmainstreet said...

YoungHegelian said...
Rabelais is reputed to have the largest vocabulary of any author in the French language."

I read him in college. And all I remember is he wrote a lot about pissing and shitting.

Meade said...

If you meet the arhat on the road, kill him.

mockturtle said...

In the early 80's, I picked up a copy of The Adventures of Gargantua and Pantagruel in London and laughed my way across the polar route to Seattle on the flight home. Rabelais was a kind of early Laslo. Not just bawdy but very, very funny.

YoungHegelian said...

Illustrating Gargantua & Pantagruel was a big entree into the cultural world of Paris for Gustave Dore.

exhelodrvr1 said...

He was white. He couldn't have been a great writer.

Meade said...

"He was white."

Actually, he looks a little like some of my Melungeon ancestors. They couldn't write but they sure could grow tobacco and probably wore Make Tobacco Great Again hats.

TestTube said...

Recommend "The Rebel Angels" By Robertson Davies for a good story that has some excellent insights about Rabelais. (Of course, available through the Althouse Amazon portal for a quite reasonable sum)

tcrosse said...

Recommend "The Rebel Angels" By Robertson Davies for a good story that has some excellent insights about Rabelais.

Also insights about the many uses of shit.

gbarto said...

I'm not sure about Rabelais being an atheist. There's been some scholarly back and forth, but if he were it's unlikely he would have left any indisputable textual evidence of it. His skepticism about the Catholic Church and about scholastic practices, however, is pretty certain. But it's worth bearing in mind that Rabelais was born about the same time as Martin Luther. Even as Rabelais sought to read the original Greek texts working their way into Europe on the cusp of the Renaissance, Luther was doing his translation of Erasmus' edition of the Greek Bible. Losing patience with the Church was not necessarily the same as being an atheist!

The Abbaye des Thélémites, with its motto, "Fay ce que vouldras," represents a sort of strange and somewhat regimented Utopia, a caricature of Plato's Republic as much as anything. After the noble sentiments quoted above, Rabelais goes on to explain:

"By this liberty they entered into praiseworthy effort of all doing what one among them found pleasing. If someone (male or female) said, "Let's drink!" they all drank."

We also learn, "So nobly were they taught that not one of them could not read, write, sing, play instruments, speak five or six languages and, in these, compose poetry and prose."

This is not a collection of libertines.

mockturtle said...

Gbarto asserts: Losing patience with the Church was not necessarily the same as being an atheist!

Quite so!

William Chadwick said...

One of my intellectual heroes, Albert Jay Nock, had Rabelais as one of HIS intellectual heroes; but I 've never been able to get past the first third or so of GARGANTUA.

Michael K said...

"Over the last few days, my wife and I saw "Gone Girl" and "Girl on a Train."

I read "Gone Girl" and that convinced me to never see the movie. Jesus, what a mess !

My wife and I drove over to LA yesterday for me to work today and tomorrow and to have dinner with our daughter,

I have been listening to Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson on my commute to Phoenix. She heard parts of it and wanted to start at the beginning so we listened to the first volume for seven hours on our trip. We will listen to the rest on the way home Saturday.

He was really a sociopath. What a bizarre man !

mockturtle said...

Michael, I read Caro's LBJ bio quite some time ago and was struck by just how horribly LBJ came across. Having read several other biographies of Johnson, I was at first suspicious that Caro had some personal vendetta against him. But after two more bios, I came to the same conclusion: No conscience. Corrupt to the core. I still like Lady Bird, though.

Big Mike said...

BTW, Meade, when did you grow a Fu Manchu mustache and a scraggly forked beard?

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, if you were to black out the 'r' and last 't' then Meade's cap becomes a Car hat, for wearing in the car.

eddie willers said...

He was really a sociopath. What a bizarre man !

I lived in Austin TX from 80-82, and natives would tell about LBJ murdering one of his opponents. And they weren't joking about it.

mockturtle said...

Like many sociopaths, LBJ possessed considerable charm. Lady Bird was smitten enough to be uncompromisingly loyal to him. And, of course, there was Jumbo. ;-)