Category Archives: Books

page 30 of 1327 of The Riverside Chaucer

The doctor is satirized because he isn’t actually doing any real healing, he’s a scam unlike good Arab doctors. He’s also in cahoots with the apothecary because he can just prescribe some drug concoction (cordial) and get a kickback of that sale from the apothecary. Just like today with how drug companies pay (influence) doctors to prescribe expensive drugs and pain killers. Things never change.

page 28 of 1327 of The Riverside Chaucer

The commons: people like Chaucer. Chaucer would have had a lot of contact with merchants like the one here. This merchant is just like a salesman of today who while they might be broke, they sure look the part so as to gain your trust (get credit).

The sergeant of the law is a lawyer who abuses the system by having foreknowledge of how a case will go and so can make a profit on someone else losing their estate.

page 27 of 1327 of The Riverside Chaucer

The Friar has married off all those girls because he got them pregnant. Unlike the aristocratic monk, the friar is of the people (taverns). He hangs with the lower classes and they could hear confession and get a tip for doing so. What’s interesting is that even if a friar was lenient (and just wanted money) the act of confessing was strong enough as to still “count” even if the penance was paid off.

page 26 of 1327 of The Riverside Chaucer

Clerical satire is basically the same as estates satire which focus on the vices, not virtues, of the church.

Though St. Francis was against it, monks could make some good money. Chaucer is showing the monk here as being materialistic and uneducated – he’s probably a second son and just wants to hunt. Hunting = Ven (capture) > venery = Veneral (Venus, sex) & Venare (hunting). This monk hunts women.

page 25 of 1327 of The Riverside Chaucer

The squire is framed against his higher ranking father. The Knight is introduced as the ideal knight, whereas the squire is introduces via his looks.

The knight is already existing in a period of technical decline with the advent of cannons and the Welsh longbow. He’s also a mercenary so his ideal of truth and loyalty goes about as far as who is paying him, unlike, say Galahad and the grail.

page 23 of 1327 of The Riverside Chaucer

Chaucer isn’t just the author, he’s also a pilgrim in the story who is telling the story – and once we get to each tale we are getting that character’s story told through Chaucer the pilgrim written by Chaucer the author.

Estates satire is the model genre here for the knight/squire/yeoman. The vices (not virtues) of their trade is the subject of each occupation.

The Consolation of Philosophy: Read from September 5 to September 10, 2018

I have been reading this as part of a course on Chaucer as we explore his inspirations and attempt to gain some insight into why Chaucer wrote what he did. This book in particular was a huge influence on Chaucer, as well as medieval thinking in general, but it’s remarkable in just how modern and personal it still feels.

At the heart of any great work of prison literature is the observation of how humanity behaves (wickedly) while the prisoner (innocent) suffers. Boethius’ motivation is even stronger because he knows he will be executed and so we’re witnessing a person come to terms with their life in an attempt to find some sort of meaning to their own existence. In some ways he’s lucky because how many hundreds of millions of people never got the chance to assess their lives before meeting a tragic end, but he has left behind a document that can do some of the heavy lifting for us.

As with most cases of a person being accused he begins his story at the mercy of the emotional muses. How many people have been convicted – even just by a court of public opinion – because of public emotion rather than sound logic? Philosophy then appears to drive those “sluts” away and attempts to use the gift of humanity, reason, to help him make sense of life, specifically why the innocent suffer and the wicked prosper.

The most compelling argument I found in the entire book was Philosophy’s explanation about punishment. Philosophy tells Boethius that punishment is actually a form of goodness and so when a wicked person is not punished then they are not open to the goodness that punishment offers. This reminded me of the argument about hell and how eternal damnation is actually a form of mercy since to cease to exist would be the ultimate act of indifference. Even in hell the sinners are at least able to be punished for their crimes and sins.

However, Boethius is also concerned about what he believes to be false punishment. He believes he is innocent and that any punishment he is currently enduring is unjust, but this brought up an interesting point in that Philosophy tells him that we can never really know who is innocent or not. We may see someone who we think absolutely deserves to be punished for being wicked, but are we the ultimate arbitrators of justice? Do we know what really rests in the hearts and souls of every person?

Philosophy reminds Boethius about Providence and that while it may seem random and that there might not even be free will, it is only because he lacks the intelligence of the ultimate good (God) that he assumes what happens to him and to wicked men is random, but when in fact it is not. Ultimately the whole discussion boils down to faith, and while this final section of the book makes the most obtuse and obscure argument in the book, perhaps because Boethius was quite soon to be executed, it does reflect the difficulty of having faith, truly having faith, in something greater than ourselves.

We so want for our lives to have meaning and yet so often we feel as if life, the universe, and everything is totally random and indifferent, and perhaps it even is, yet what is remarkable is that this document exists, that a man on the eve of his execution was able to meet the end of his life with dignity and lay out a reasonable argument that could perhaps give comfort to even the most slandered innocent person. And he does so without growing overly religious because he constantly frames his arguments by talking about the good – the ultimate goodness of life, that form we all strive for no matter what we might call us. He is, in effect, showing us how there is goodness even in the darkest of places.

page 137 of 192 of The Consolation of Philosophy

Boethius is ultimately asking if this impending execution was inevitable. Does he have any free will? He’s having a genuinely human reaction to his situation.

This final book does feel rushed, perhaps he had only a very short time left to live before finishing this work, and so the argument philosophy makes is much more obscure and hard to follow – perhaps reflecting how faith in Providence is so difficult?

page 116 of 192 of The Consolation of Philosophy

He’s still asking why evil is allowed to prevail. The best answer in all of this section is that she explains how a punishment is actually a form of good and so if a person is full of evil then they contain no good, therefore no punishment – at least nit right now. Hell then would be a form of mercy and good since hell is a punishment – truly being unmerciful would be to allow the wicked to cease to exist.

page 84 of 192 of The Consolation of Philosophy

Here we get the neoPlatonic view of God as the good, the happiness, the omnipotent. Philosophy argues how all things tend towards goodness then shows how what is good is God, and not in a divided sort of way but that good, happiness, unity are all one in the same. Men fail by reaching for just a portion of goodness and therefore fail to grasp anything, Also, God can’t do evil because God is all and not nothing.

page 46 of 192 of The Consolation of Philosophy

Philosophy gives a lesson on why courting Fortune is a terrible idea. I was surprised one of her arguments was the Pale Blue Dot argument in how insignificant Fame is compared to the size of the universe.

But I also wonder how virtuous Boethius was. He claims to have entered politics only for the good of man, but doesn’t everyone say that? Herodotus says what is best for one man isn’t for another so it’s relative

page 21 of 192 of The Consolation of Philosophy

This is a beautifully written book – I was expecting neoPlatonic levels of difficulty, not poetry and narrative and dream-like imagery.

So Boethius has been wrongly imprisoned and while the muses attend to him, lady Philosophy comes to him, banishes the “slut” muses, and proceeds to remind him of the importance of logic and reason over emotion and sophistry. She’s also pretty beat up.

Frankenstein: Read from August 24 to September 1, 2018

The Onion’s Book of Known Knowledge says of Frankenstein: “You are probably looking for Frankenstein’s monster, you idiot.” While this is always a “fun fact” for that know-it-all friend we all have (certainly that’s not us, right) to trot out in an effort to make everyone around them feel inferior for not having actually read the book, I think there is something deeper going on here than just confusing the monster for its maker. The fact that even after having read the book – and I’m only discussing the original 1818 version, not the later revised edition – I still want to call the monster Frankenstein speaks to what I think Shelley was really going for at the heart of this novel.

A common misconception about this novel is the idea that she was writing about science gone amok. True, her revised edition 1831 edition contains far more musings that touch on this point, but her original intention, her original creation was about something far more interesting: relationships. When we first open the book we a reading the letters of Walton, a captain of an Arctic Research vessel who laments that he does not have a friend in which he can share ideas with and help him be a better man. Walton is smart enough to know that even at our best, we are always better when a friend can challenge us, bounce ideas off of us, and flat-out remind us when we’re being foolish. And so enters Victor Frankenstein and by the end of the novel when Walton’s crew seems near the verge of mutiny, Walton decides against pressing the adventure on and bravely turns the ship around. Walton, unlike Victor literally changes course rather than pursuing a course that could kill his crew and himself.

And this is what I believe is at the core of what Shelley wanted to explore: isolation breeds inhumanity. Think about how when Victor creates the monster he does so all alone and at the expense of all his relations. Later, when he first submits to create the monster a mate, he does so on an isolated island while his vacation partner and best friend, Clerval, is left behind. Or from the monster’s point of view, he is at his most humane when he is surrounded by the family he spends a year observing in secret. The monster gains insight into the best traits of humanity, but once he is shunned, he reverts into an actual monster that places no value on human life.

Shelley is not so much interested in “the dangers of science”, she’s interested in the dangers of isolation from humanity. She is telling a story about how we are at our best when we have companionship, when we have people around us who challenge and love us but when we turn from humanity, for whatever reason, we lose our humanity because our humanity is defined by the people around us.

Shelley spends a lot of ink in the novel describing how beautiful the landscapes are and how when Victor experiences nature with his friends and family he’s at his best, or at least not nearly as depressed, yet when he confronts the monster and then later chases after him the scenery is a blank ice sheet, a wasted void of nothing and devoid of all life and humanity. Victor keeps turning away from companionship and instead chases after his inner obsession. And by inner obsession I mean that the idea of the monster started out as just an idea that he was able to actually manifest physically – his inner thought literally were made manifest and were given their own agency. The monster is an avatar of his obsession to plumb the absolute depths of his intellectual abilities by isolating himself from all distractions until he was successful.

And perhaps this is why upon seeing the monster come to life he immediately turned away from it because what had been a beautiful idea in his mind (and he had thought he was creating something beautiful) he saw just how ugly the inside of his own mind was, just how ugly that absolute obsession turned out to be. The monster was a product of Victor’s sick, isolated mind and, like Gogol’s Nose, the two had to reunited, only here it wound up being tragic.

And so when we think of the monster as an unnatural abomination, what we are really reacting to is that the monster represents the inhumanity of isolation from humanity. It represents the dangers of shunning humanity while we pursue our obsessions. The monster does not, however represent the dangers of pursing forbidden knowledge since what Victor was initially attempting to do was not at all against nature. Victor wanted to cure death, Victor wanted to understand how life worked which are not unreasonable goals. Victor was applying good scientific principles to his pursuit by taking what he knew and actually applying it via real demonstration.

This is how science has always worked and the fact that what Victor created turned out horribly isn’t an indictment of science, it’s an indictment of pursuing something to such an isolated extreme that the result is perverted because the process didn’t take place as part of a community. Scientists work together when exploring the secrets of nature and the universe, they bounce ideas off of each other, they learn from scientists who came before them, and they allow independent scientists to verify (or falsify) their findings. The process does not happen in isolation and the results are always tempered with collaboration.

Victor’s failing was to think he could do this all on his own, that creating a human could be done without the help of other humans. When humans have children (biologically) it takes at least two people to create a child, and even in cases where someone can’t have children then there are doctors and adoption specialists and surrogates who make up the community of parenting. Victor failed to take into account the neighborhood of man, a line Shelley uses again and again in the novel, and when he tried to create a human being like himself, all he did was create a manifestation of his ugly obsession.

99% done with Frankenstein

V3, Ch7: Walton was right to listen to his crew. What good is it to go to the ends of the earth when all there is is death? Pursuing some fantastic discovery will still lead to death, so why not enjoy the company of the living instead of chasing after the inevitability of death? Is it cowardly to choose life? Better to choose life than revenge, anyway. Better to pursue fellowship than hatred and bitterness.

89% done with Frankenstein

V3, Ch6: And there we have it: total, inevitable destruction. And now as he does confess to his part, not only is he not believed but he can’t get anyone to join him. He’s utterly alone with only his demon to pursue him (and pursue). Society is abandoned for both of them, they are like 2 evil planets orbiting only each other. And as much as Victor created the monster, the monster has created this Victor.

86% done with Frankenstein

V3, Ch5: This is sort of like being in a car when you know you are about to be in an accident but you can’t do anything about it. Tragedy must be coming and neither Victor or monster will find peace or happiness. The monster, though miserable, is still responsible for murder, especially of Clerval since that we premeditated. But Victor is just as responsible in not taking responsibility for his role. The end is near.

81% done with Frankenstein

V3, Ch4: “He may be innocent of the murder, but he has certainly a guilty conscience.” And Victor is carrying his prison around with him everywhere. And not just death, but his friendships and relations have been suffering this entire time. He’s been withdrawing since he first read those books on alchemy and false science. His desire to be God has cursed him and everyone around him.

76% done with Frankenstein

V3, Ch3: No good can come for Victor by not obeying his monster. Tearing up the bride will only probably cause his own fiancee to be destroyed one way or another. And now he is the villain, he is looked at with accusing eyes, he is outcast and murder follows him everywhere. Death has come from the life he created. But then didn’t the same thing happen to God? We could have lived in Eden but we became monsters instead

72% done with Frankenstein

V3, Ch2: What if she rejects the monster? You can’t force love. Victor is now an island unto himself, alone, terrified, living in squalor just like the monster. He has the whole world possible for him, yet he wastes it and allows his demons to pursue him. Is it no wonder that his marriage and the monster wanting a mate line up so perfectly? He’s barely human at this point.

68% done with Frankenstein

V3, Ch1: The marriage to his cousin has come up but he needs 2 more years to comply with the monster. This whole story feels like the monster is not actually real but is some manifestation of Victor’s dual human nature, his depression, his isolation, his inability to connect with human beings. Both characters are outcasts but the monster deserves a real life more than Victor does.

58% done with Frankenstein

V2, Ch7: Is man so detestable that everything he creates in his image is a horror-show? We are capable of such great art and refined thought but when we apply that to something that might resemble us we are a little terrified of it, like those Boston Dynamics robots that seem just a little too real. We can express our essence, but we can’t reliably duplicate it at will – that’s still totally random.

51% done with Frankenstein

V2, Ch5: The Arabian is a convenient character that just so happens to also need a primary education. But what he’s also learning is about the duality of man. Here, hidden away watching this humble, loving family, he is experiencing both the best and the worst of humanity at the same time – he is happy and miserable. But he is especially sensitive to the cruelty.

47% done with Frankenstein

V2, Ch4: This is very touching and very sad, but also a little creepy. Here is this poor family struggling to survive with an alien living among them. He sees everything, knows everything, they have no privacy, no secrets – he is like a god and a demon watching, learning, judging. Yet he means no harm and gains an understanding of the best of humanity through the virtuous poor people (isn’t that trope played out?). And as soon as spring begins to bloom, so does he.

45% done with Frankenstein

V2, Ch3: Structurally, we have a story being told 1) to us by the captain, 2) to the captain by Victor, and 3) to Victor by the monster. It’s all second-hand, just as the evidence against Justine was second-hand, circumstantial evidence (though isn’t nearly all evidence circumstantial?).

The monster lives initially in a sort of impoverished Eden where the knowledge of good and evil – and everything else are foreign.

39% done with Frankenstein

V2, Ch1: VIctor, though overcome with grief, has not confessed his part in all this. It’s very Poe-like. There is no hiding from what he has created, however, it is following him everywhere so much that the monster is not just a physical creation, but an emotional part of him made manifest. All of his inability to understand and empathize is now a burden which chases after him.

36% done with Frankenstein

V1, Ch7: Justine is accused of the murder, but even though she is innocent, the priest bullies her into thinking she is a monster and just wants to be at ease (she’s already grieving). Victor’s lack of action to remedy this – so far – is the true hell and all this suffering and anguish is his creations. And all this fear and confusion mirrors what the monster must be going through.

32% done with Frankenstein

V1, Ch6: The hens have come home to roost and Victor is responsible for creating that which has now taken a life, a life he was intimately connected to. We could almost read this as his seclusion into his experiments as being made manifest in how that is destroying his relationships. He may have not done the strangling, but he created the opportunity and means for a life and relationship to be destroyed.

28% done with Frankenstein

V1, Ch5: He’s drawn back to the living thru his relationships with his friends and family but there is a cloud hanging over all this within the story of Justine and how her mother abandoned her and how that led to tragedy. This further reinforces the theme of relationships Shelley is interested in and how losing those relationships could be seen as a loss of humanity.

25% done with Frankenstein

V1, Ch4: He is disgusted by his creation immediately upon it coming to life, it’s sort of a post-coital, postpartum depression. It’s also as if he poured part of his own essence into the monster which has sapped him of part of his own life. I’m reminded, in part, of Gogol’s Nose wandering about, detached from whom it belongs to, but here it’s not funny and the monster wants to be united.

14% done with Frankenstein

V1, Ch1: More emphasis on friendship and the desire for true companionship. Our captain seems intent on keeping his new friend far from the crew whom we previously learned were, seemingly, good people. Our hero is obsessed with forbidden knowledge, that Faustian desire for godlike powers, for fame not from money but for controlling the energy of the universe. His mother’s desire to see him and Emily married is odd.

page 249 of 960 of Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte Darthur: The Definitive Original Text Edition

249:

Lady warns him not to blow the ivory horn until noon, otherwise the knight’s strength (Rede Knight of the Rede Laundes) will be 7 times stronger that of a normal man. He doesn’t listen. This is similar to the enchantment that Gawayne has from 9-12 everyday where he is nearly invincible.

page 243 of 960 of Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte Darthur: The Definitive Original Text Edition

243:

Gareth wins. He defers mercy to the damesell again, She agrees again. Persaunte offers service of his 100 knights to Gareth. All these knights thus far have been brothers: Rede, Green, Black, Inde – Gareth has basically built an army by fighting and defeating these knights. Persaunte also gives Gareth his 18 year old daughter for the night.

page 241 of 960 of Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte Darthur: The Definitive Original Text Edition

241:

“ye shall cacche som hurte” = a very Malory thing to say. Love it!

By the way, “and” usually means “if” in this book.

Parsaunte isn’t even as tough as the knights we’ve really come for. She finally recognizes Gareth’s good blood.

Blood = lineage (as in this case)
Blood = sin (as in Gwenyvere’s bedroom and Launcelot’s hand)
Blood = healing (staunche the blood)
Blood = Christ (Grail, communion)