August 1, 2022

"But I’m also getting more obsessive about human beings over huge swaths of time. Part of that came out of being on the Isle of Skye..."

"... during the serious U.K. lockdown. On Skye, if there’s a rock somewhere, it’s probably because somebody put it there. I realized that the rock that I was using to keep the lid on my dustbin was a stone that had been dragged around. People have been in this place for thousands and thousands of years, and in this bay I’m living in, they’ve left behind rocks!"

Said Neil Gaiman, quoted in "Neil Gaiman Knows What Happens When You Dream" (NYT).

Realizing that about the rocks makes you take the long view. Which is that the human race is mostly people just trying to live their lives, and that bad [expletive] is going to happen. That then moves you into other territory. Which is what? The territory of Rudyard Kipling, a very unfashionable writer. 

The British writer, born in 1865 and perhaps best remembered for “The Jungle Book,” has been criticized for, among other things, espousing racism and colonialism. An incredibly good writer, not always somebody I agree with, but thank God I’m allowed to read him. 

He wrote a poem called “Natural Theology,” which begins, “I ate my fill of a whale that died/And stranded after a month at sea/There is a pain in my inside/Why have the Gods afflicted me?” Then a verse goes, “My privy and well drain into each other/After the custom of Christendie …/Fevers and fluxes are wasting my mother/Why has the Lord afflicted me?” And after several more verses, it goes, “We had a kettle, we let it leak/Our not repairing it made it worse/We haven’t had any tea for a week …/The bottom is out of the universe!” 

That poem is Kipling going, We blame the gods — the stories — for the [expletive] that we do, and we don’t always understand it. I would love to think that we are living in a world in which the story of progress, as in the original “Star Trek” series, is always upwards and onwards, and even if there will be mad times, eventually we get to the bridge of the Enterprise where all the problems of Earth have been sorted out. But I don’t know that we ever will. We are humans, and we do collective insanity really well.

Here's the whole poem, "Natural Theology":

I ate my fill of a whale that died And stranded after a month at sea. . . . There is a pain in my inside. Why have the Gods afflicted me? Ow! I am purged till I am a wraith! Wow! I am sick till I cannot see! What is the sense of Religion and Faith : Look how the Gods have afflicted me! Pagan How can the skin of rat or mouse hold Anything more than a harmless flea?. . . The burning plague has taken my household. Why have my Gods afflicted me? All my kith and kin are deceased, Though they were as good as good could be, I will out and batter the family priest, Because my Gods have afflicted me! Medi/Eval My privy and well drain into each other After the custom of Christendie. . . . Fevers and fluxes are wasting my mother. Why has the Lord afflicted me? The Saints are helpless for all I offer-- So are the clergy I used to fee. Henceforward I keep my cash in my coffer, Because the Lord has afflicted me. Material I run eight hundred hens to the acre They die by dozens mysteriously. . . . I am more than doubtful concerning my Maker, Why has the Lord afflicted me? What a return for all my endeavour-- Not to mention the L. S. D!* I am an atheist now and for ever, Because this God has afflicted me! Progressive Money spent on an Army or Fleet Is homicidal lunacy. . . . My son has been killed in the Mons retreat, Why is the Lord afflicting me? Why are murder, pillage and arson And rape allowed by the Deity? I will write to the Times, deriding our parson Because my God has afflicted me. Chorus We had a kettle: we let it leak: Our not repairing it made it worse. We haven't had any tea for a week. . . The bottom is out of the Universe! Conclusion This was none of the good Lord's pleasure, For the Spirit He breathed in Man is free; But what comes after is measure for measure, And not a God that afflicteth thee. As was the sowing so the reaping Is now and evermore shall be. Thou art delivered to thine own keeping. 

  Only Thyself hath afflicted thee!


*I got tripped up on "Not to mention the L. S. D!" But this helped:

L. S. D.: the abbreviation for the Latin Libræ solidi denarii ‘Pounds, shillings and pence


Temujin said...

Well...that article goes a long way to explain Neil Gaiman. I'm Jewish and I'd never heard those 'biblical' tales that he was taught as a young boy. That plus scientology- honestly, he sounds pretty well grounded for a man who grew up with all of that stuff to consider.

One thing that bothers me is how those on the left still view censorship- when they are in control of it- as something good. Otherwise it's bad. And speech- again, when they are in control of it- is good. Otherwise it can be bad.

It's tough to have to live with others who may have come from a different upbringing or took different paths to their adulthood. Gaiman, though seems pretty darn stable for a man who has what he has running around his head. I guess to him it's normal.

I will say that some things- like the Morris Dance- should be left to the ages.

Joe Smith said...

On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

Gospace said...

"But I’m also getting more obsessive about human beings over huge swaths of time. Part of that came out of being on the Isle of Skye..."
"... during the serious U.K. lockdown. On Skye, if there’s a rock somewhere, it’s probably because somebody put it there.

Why does this remind me of the "Leave no trace" camping philosophy?

When I was young, camping as taught in BSA was "Leave no trash", not "Leave no trace". When you were out in the wilderness and you came upon a good spot for camping, it was likely someone before had left behind traces of camping. Perhaps, for example, a small fire ring. So while there, you would perhaps widen the fire ring, add more rocks, make it higher, so the nect campers to come along would be able to make use of it. And the next campers might see the branches hanging over the best tent sites, ready to fall off, and trim them to get rid of the danger. And so on.

"Leave no trace", the current camping philosophy forced upon us by elitists, is that you should erase any sign that anyone was ever there at the campsite before you leave. Disassemble the fire ring. Scatter the firewood and kindling if you gathered extra. Make it so the next people camping can imagine they're in a pristine undiscovered spot and they are the first people to ever be there!

There may be a few camping spots in the world that have never been trod upon by a human foot, but to imagine you're on a weekend camping trip and found one is nonsense. "Leave no trace" is antihuman, IMHO. We should always work to help others, not make them work harder. "Leave no trash" is common sense. I don't mind stumbling upon a well used fire ring. I do detest stumbling upon a collection of cans and broken bottles...

Howard said...

It's not a mystery why modern geology was born in Scotland.

On a June afternoon in 1788, James Hutton stood before a rock outcropping on Scotland’s western coast named Siccar Point. There, before a couple of other members of the Scottish Enlightenment, he staked his claim as the father of modern geology.

Aa Hutton told the skeptics who accompanied him there by boat, Siccar Point illustrated a blasphemous truth: the Earth was old, almost beyond comprehension.

Three years earlier, he’d unveiled two papers, together called "Theory of the Earth," at a pair of meetings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Hutton proposed that the Earth constantly cycled through disrepair and renewal. Exposed rocks and soil were eroded, and formed new sediments that were buried and turned into rock by heat and pressure. That rock eventually uplifted and eroded again, a cycle that continued uninterrupted.

“The result, therefore, of this physical enquiry,” Hutton concluded, “is that we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.”

rehajm said...

*I got tripped up on "Not to mention the L. S. D!"

…most of the raisins your age have…

JK Brown said...

Hold the presses. Some author discovers history? Real history of people living, loving and dying. Not the terrible history of the humanities professors.

"The sort of “History” that was taught in Narnia under Miraz’s rule was duller than the truest history you ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story."
-- C.S. Lewis, 'Prince Caspian', 'Chronicles of Narnia'

Hannio said...

"An incredibly good writer, not always somebody I agree with, but thank God I’m allowed to read him. "

Thomas More: "May I have one or two more books"
Cromwell: "Oh, you have books? I didn't know. You shouldn't have."

(From "A Man For All Seasons", of course.)

Coming soon to a campus near you.

Lou M said...

Kipling wrote a lot about the general ignorance of mankind. One of my personal favorites:

Narr said...

Tripped up, indeed.

Speaking of professorial histories, allow me to recommend again Paul Lockhart's books "Firepower" and "The Drillmaster of Valley Forge." Also Martyn Rady's "The Habsburgs."

If those sound too old-fashioned, try Botton's "History of the World in Twelve Maps" or Joan De Jean's "How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City."

All available at a portal near you.

FleetUSA said...

Kipling sounds like the Book of Job from the Old Testament.

Smilin' Jack said...

From today’s NYT:

“Last Conviction in Salem Witch Trials Is Cleared 329 Years Later
The exoneration of Elizabeth Johnson Jr., the last person whose name was not officially cleared, came from the efforts of an eighth-grade civics teacher and her students.”

See! We can overcome ignorance and superstition! Of course, over the next 300 years that conviction will probably be reinstated.

n.n said...

A huge swath of time from baby's conception to granny's passing.

Bill Peschel said...

Neil amuses me. Some of his stuff is good, some of it isn't.

I remember during the lockdowns that he had an argument with his wife (the insufferable Amanda Palmer) and left her and his son down in New Zealand while he took plane, boat, bus and god knows what else to Skye.

In the middle of the pandemic lockdown.

It's good to be wealthy and untouchable.

Mikey NTH said...

Story time.

I was about thirteen and little brother ten. We were at Marquette, Michigan on the shore of Lake Superior. Mom wanted us to gather some rocks for the backyard at home. So we were carrying the rocks to the station wagon and a woman admonished we two, that if everyone did that there would be no more rocks.

Being young we didn't argue with an adult, but even at our young age we could see it was rock everywhere you could see and all the way to Canada and beyond. Confirmed my suspicions that a lot of adults were slower than a Slowpoke in January.

Mikey NTH said...

I guess I should have added this:

Sir, these are rocks. The whole place is rock upon rock, rock soup and then rock fillet, sirloin of rock with baby-cut rock and rock pilaf, and then finished with rock flambe.

To finish I bet everyone in the place is pretty sick of rocks. But if you want to gush over a rock, knock yourself out.