Sunday, May 13, 2007

Gulliver's Urination: Another Conversation with Thomisticguy, Part 2 of 4

The following is a recording of part of another conversation with Thomisticguy - at this post - which stemmed from the following statement of mine on modernity: "My point here, in regards again to bodies, scale, limits and locatoin, is that the shift from ancient to modern involved one that fundamentally dwarfed and made irrelevant the human body, which was previously so central to man's understanding of who and how he was in the world. The modern body is dwarfed and made irrelevant (relatively) precisly because of the 'explosion' [to reference McLuhan] that occured as the defining moment of the start of modernity. The human body has no "real" rational relationship to the globe, and yet the globe sets the field of play, defines the location and/or deliniates the limits of modern life."

Thomisticguy's response was as follows: "Thank you for defining exactly what you mean by the shift in man’s understanding of himself. I will have to think about this. I do see a number of objections that could be raised to this theory. Let me raise a few and allow you to reflect on them if you wish to."

Parts 1-3 will be my response to Thomisticguy, which include his points. Part 4 will be expand on my central point from which the conversation hinged, and will itself be a recording of a previous part of the conversation.


2) You wrote: "Modern humor has increasingly become focused on the human body. It is increasingly scatological and sexual. Humor is always a good indicator of cultural trends."

Although it is oftentimes these days nothing more than an excuse to be sexual or avoid paint, I love good humor. Humorously, then - since you usually hear me denigrating dictionaries - I will defer to We all know that humor is about laughter, which of course the dictionary notes. Addionally, however: "[Origin: 1300–50; ME (h)umour < AF < L (h)ūmōr- (s. of (h)ūmor) moisture, fluid (medical L: body fluid), equiv. to (h)ūm(ére) to be wet (see humid) + -ōr- -or1]." That sounds a bit cryptic and meaningless in relation to our question of the body, but just before that it provides a link to "humour," and you find something interesting: "the liquid parts of the body [syn: liquid body substance]."

Applying that to my "definition" of modernity, I gleefully went and did some research on Jonathan Swift, a man of white wigs and funnily tailored suits:

"...he began writing his masterpiece, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships, better known as Gulliver's Travels. Much of the material reflects his political experiences of the preceding decade. For instance, the episode when the giant Gulliver puts out the Lilliputian palace fire by urinating on it can be seen as a metaphor for the Tories' illegal peace treaty; having done a good thing in an unfortunate manner."

The way I see it, such a scenario of relationships between fortune and misfortune could be extended to provide an image of the previously discussed relations between the blessings (increased specialization leading to increased fortune) and curses (increased specializatin leading to increased vulnerability and reduced "creativity") of modernity upon man. The image would be that of a GIANT global man of collossal scale urinating on the limits and location of his own body.

More Swiftian comedy involving the body and limits: "In 1708, a cobbler named John Partridge published a popular almanac of astrological predictions. Because Partridge falsely determined the deaths of several church officials, Swift attacked Partridge in Predictions For The Ensuing Year by Isaac Bickerstaff [a Swift pen name], a parody predicting that Partridge would die on March 29th. Swift followed up with a pamphlet issued on March 30th claiming that Partridge had in fact died, which was widely believed despite Partridge's statements to the contrary."

"In 1729, he published A Modest Proposal, a satire in which the narrator, with intentionally grotesque logic, recommends feeding the rich using impoverished infants: 'I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food...' Following the satirical form, he introduces the reforms he is actually suggesting by deriding them."

My point here, then - with Swift as my example - is that humour is necessarily about the body, or maybe simply IS bodily, but is not necessarily about sexuality.


"The Battle of the Books.

"In France at the end of the seventeenth century, a minor furor arose over the question of whether contemporary learning had surpassed what was known by those in Classical Greece and Rome. The 'moderns' (epitomized by Fontenelle) took the position that the modern age of science and reason was superior to the superstitious and limited world of Greece and Rome. In his opinion, modern man saw farther than the ancients ever could. The 'ancients,' for their part, argued that all that is necessary to be known was still to be found in Virgil, Cicero, Homer, and especially Aristotle."

+ Jason marginal side note: In the realm of Architecture, Claude Perrault, who was a forerunner - from the modern side of the debate - of the advancement of modernity, is a sworn enemy of mine.

And since we are on the specific topic of comedy: "Jonathan Swift worked for William Temple during the time of the controversy, and Swift's A Tale of a Tub (1703/1705) takes part in the debate. From its first publication, Swift added a short satire entitled 'The Battle of the Books' to the Tale of a Tub. In this piece, there is an epic battle fought in a library when various books come alive and attempt to settle the arguments between moderns and ancients. In Swift's satire, he skilfully manages to avoid saying which way victory fell. He portrays the manuscript as having been damaged in places, thus leaving the end of the battle up to the reader."

I happen to find it funny that a bunch of books came alive and fought each other. Moving on, then...

"In one sense, the 'Battle of the Books' illustrates one of the great themes that Swift would explore in A Tale of a Tub: the madness of pride involved in believing one's own age to be supreme and the inferiority of derivative works. One of the attacks in the Tale was on those who believe that being readers of works makes them the equals of the creators of works. The other satire Swift affixed to the Tale, 'The Mechanical Operation of the Spirit,' illustrates the other theme: an inversion of the figurative and literal as a part of madness."

Such referenced madess (such as books coming alive to fight each other) may - in this situation humourously - have something to do with contemporary dogfights on biblical (and Fitchian) interpretation :) The thing is, though, that such an inversion between the figurative and the literal is due to an inversion in the relationship between the mind and body, which in inevitable for a global man.


And speaking of globalist humour, as well as the comedy of a deduced theory of a diagnosis on a hidden sickness of modern man, I would like to remind us of something I wrote in my previous comment on irony:

"Well, please allow me to only focus on your second example, as I would take that one to be much more relvant to our discussion. I'd say that your second example is actually a very good one - that relationship between A) an anient Jew's hearing rumor's of "Cafe", and B) modern man's frontier being Mars. I have to say, this made me giggle, simply because of the mental gymnastics invovled between times and places, as well as the various ironies involved in the various scenarios. Who could have ever told an ancient Jew that man would have ever crossed the ocean, much less travel to the moon?!! That's funny! Anyway, my point is, in the same way, who is to say we won't travel to Mars?

I'd say some tourist trips to the moon are much more likely in our lifetime, so maybe my analogy falls apart at that point...but I think you get my point :) Both the moon and Mars are beyond the borders of terrestrial earthly living (with which - so long as such living involves some definable location with limits to which his body can relate - a psycho-somatic being has some rational relationship); yet neither Mars nor the moon are 'really' beyond the borders of human SENSORY experience ('moon-shots,' to quote McLuhan). Such a fact is comparable to the 'rumors' of China HEARD by an ancient Jew."

One more thing, while we're on humour: in light of our new-found understanding of each other (I think) on modern man's (irrational) relationship to the WHOLE world (the globe), I would also like to go back and re-quote McLuhan:

"It is not brains or intelligence that is needed to cope with the problems...What is needed is a readiness to undervalue the world altogether. This is only possible for the Christian. Willingness to laugh at the pompous hyperboles and banalities of moon-shots may need to be cultivated by some. The 'scientific mind' is far too specialized to grasp very large jokes. For example, Newton did not discover gravity, but levity, not earth-pull, but moon-pull." - p. 92, The Medium and The Light.

I think maybe part of the meaning to his observation of the "specialization" of the scientific mind is the inability for particularly modern inductive reasoning to "get" the joke.

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