The Pagan Under Justinian

After Não a ti, Cristo by Fernando Pessoa

The Pagan Under Justinian
By A.Z. Foreman

It is not you, O Christ, that I rebuff.
In you, no less than in the older Ones,
I will confess belief. You are no more
Or less than all the other Cosmic sons

And daughters. What appalls me is the slaves
Who foist you to a place above your peers.
For I love you for what you really are,
Even in the face of these men's spears:

Beware, idolaters of the exclusive.
Each star in heaven is a different sun.
And only when you multiply your love
Will you speak any truth worth deeming one.



A Quote of Relevance for Today

From Maxime Rodinson's Marxisme et Monde Musulman, translated by yours truly.

So if I may bring to bear upon your problems the opinions of a foreigner - a foreigner well-versed in your history and in the social and cultural structures of your countries, but a foreigner nonetheless, however sympathetic he be to your aspirations - I would like to make an appeal. 
Firs of all, I appeal for lucidity. Myths can be useful for certain mobilizations but in the end they mystify, blind and lead astray the very people who manipulate them. To retreat into myths, especially the use of the past to elucidate the problems of the present, is yet another sign of weakness. If forceful ideas are needed to guide action, it is preferable that they be as close to reality as possible. 
Next, I appeal for open-mindedness. I have already said as much: societies that turn inward on themselves and on their own particular problems are dying, stagnant societies. Living, progressive, dynamic societies are not afraid to borrow in order roll their sleeves up and forge a new synthesis. The same is true for individual people. The most congenial and promising trait of the studious Algerian youth I have met is their thirst for learning, to drink at every fount, to assimilate every stimulus. 
Finally and most especially, I appeal for open-mindedness toward a universal vision of existing problems, the only kind that is truly revolutionary. I'm afraid must insist on this point. There are three ways to devote oneself: to God, to the group and to Mankind. To devote oneself to God is to have a faith which it is not given to all to share, and which in any case does not, in general, preclude the other types of devotion. 
To devote oneself to the group which one belongs to is necessary, and it becomes a primordial human duty when that group is humiliated or oppressed. But the group should not be deified, placed above all else. That would be what classical Muslim theology called shirk, associationism, the act of associating some other entity with god.
The group is not everything. An exclusive aspiration to the greater glory of the group as the supreme value would lead to an anarchic world of hateful nations locked in eternal struggle. Beyond the group, the ethnos, the nation, there are universal values which transcend them: liberty, equality and fraternity for all men. Integral and exclusionary nationalism leads logically to a barbaric attitude towards the rest of humanity outside the group. Its slogan: "my country, right or wrong" translated into German, hung over the gates of Buchenwald. And here in Algeria, one can ask the following question: if the nation is the ultimate value, how does one justify the actions of those Frenchmen who defended the cause of Algerian independence? Were they then mere traitors? If, on the contrary, the value which one looks to above all others, the vision which one holds before ones eyes, is a universal value, namely the struggle against all iniquity, it implies a constant renewal, for the forms of iniquity forever renew themselves, posing problems which are always new, unexpected and unprecedented. The Kingdom of God is not of this Earth, there is no end of history, and the struggles will never cease. He who struggles in the name of justice, the militant, the radical revolutionary, he who attacks the root of iniquities has no right to halt and fall back into the blissful satisfaction of the righteous man through whom Heaven has descended unto Earth. I am no prophet and do not like the prophetic style. But if one can draw a lesson from past experience and from the rational analysis thereof, it is that the future which lies before us is a future of struggles, a future which demands courageous souls, and thus a future worthy of Mankind.

The Original:

Ainsi, si je puis apporter à vos problèmes l'opinion d'un étranger — d'un étranger instruit de votre histoire et des structures sociales et culturelles de vos pays, mais quand même d'un étranger, si sympathique soit-il à vos aspirations — Je me permettrai de lancer un appel.
D'abord à la lucidité. Les mythes peuvent être utiles à certaines mobilisations, mais ils finissent par mystifier ceux-là mêmes qui les manipulent, par les aveugler et par les égarer. L'évasion dans les mythes, spécialement le recours au passé pour éluder les problèmes du présent sont encore des signes de faiblesse. S'il faut des idées- forces pour guider l'action, il est souhaitable qu'elles soient aussi proches que possible du réel.
Ensuite à l'ouverture. Je l'ai déjà dit, les sociétés qui se replient sur elles-mêmes, sur leurs problèmes propres sont des sociétés qui meurent, des sociétés figées. Les sociétés vivantes, dynamiques, progressives ne craignent pas d'emprunter pour rebrasser et forger de nouvelles synthèses. Il en est de même d'ailleurs pour les hommes. Ce qui est le plus sympathique et surtout le plus prometteur dans la jeunesse algérienne studieuse que j'ai pu approcher, c'est cette avidité d'apprendre, de boire à toutes les sources, de s'assimiler tous les apports.
Enfin, particulièrement, je me permets d'appeler à l'ouverture vers une vision universelle des problèmes, qui seule est vraiment révolutionnaire. J'y insiste un peu. Il y a trois manières de se dévouer: pour Dieu, pour le groupe, pour l'homme. Se dévouer à Dieu, c'est avoir une foi que tous n'ont pas et qui n'exclut d'ailleurs pas en général les autres dévouements. Se dévouer au groupe auquel on appartient est nécessaire, c'est un devoir humain primordial lorsque ce groupe est humilié, lorsqu'il est opprimé. Mais le groupe ne doit pas être déifié, mis au-dessus de tout. Ce serait là ce que la théologie musulmane classique appelait du shirk, de l'associationnisme, le fait d'associer quelque autre personne à Dieu.
Le groupe n'est pas tout. Une aspiration exclusive à la plus grande gloire du groupe comme valeur suprême aboutirait à un monde anarchique de nations haineuses en lutte pour l'éternité les unes contre les autres. Au delà du groupe, de l'ethnie, de la nation, il existe des valeurs universelles qui les dépassent : la liberté, l'égalité et la fraternité pour tous les hommes. Le nationalisme intégral et exclusif conduit logiquement à la barbarie à l'égard de l'humanité en dehors du groupe. Sa devise: "my country, right or wrong" traduite en allemand, s'étalait à la porte du camp de Buchenwald. Et ici, en Algérie, on peut appeler à méditer sur le problème suivant: Si la nation était la valeur suprême, comment justifier l'action des Français qui défendirent la cause de l'indépendance Algérienne? N'étaient-ils donc que des traîtres?
Si, au contraire, la valeur que l'on met au premier plan, la vision que l'on place devant ses yeux est une valeur universelle, la lutte contre toute iniquité, elle implique un constant renouvellement, car les formes d'iniquité se renouvellent sans cesse, posant des problèmes toujours nouveaux, inattendus, inédits. Le Royaume de Dieu n'est pas de ce monde, il n'y a pas de fin de l'histoire, les combats ne cesseront pas. Mais jamais le combattant de la justice, le militant, le révolutionnaire radical, celui qui s'attaque à la racine des iniquités n'a le droit de s'arrêter dans la satisfaction beate du juste par lequel le Ciel est descendu sur la terre. Je ne suis pas prophète et je n'aime pas le style prophétique. Mais, si on peut tirer quelque leçon de l'expérience du passé et de son analyse rationelle, l'avenir qui s'ouvre devant nous est un avenir de luttes, un avenir qui exige des âmes courageuses, un avenir à ce titre digne de l'homme

A Quote for Today

"Never would I let my own fate sink into such dejection, never would I squander my existence in the service of powers that seem grand as all the world, but afterwards prove futile, as if they never were. Now I knew the example in all its terror-striking depth. In throes of exaltation, he had taken the flourishing and convulsions of a tawdry little empire for earth-shattering phenomena, and glorified them in poems freighted with sound as foolhardily futile as all that clangor of arms and booming of canons. Afterward he perpetrated an act of cowardice in returning home late in life, in the hope that fame might cherish him. And with scarce any spine or resistance, he let himself starve to death, grateful for the charity of an inadequate stipend, and crumbs dropped from the table of the wealthy few."
- Jan Slauerhoff "The Final Appearance of Camões", tr. A.Z. Foreman

"Nooit zou ik mijn lot zó in mismoedigheid laten verlopen, nooit mijn bestaan verkwisten in het dienen van machten die wereldgroot lijken, maar daarna nietig zijn alsof zij nooit waren geweest. Ik kende nu het voorbeeld in al zijn afschrikwekkendheid. Geëxalteerd had hij de bloei en de stuiptrekkingen van een klein en pover rijk gezien als wereldschokkend en verheerlijkt in gedichten, zwaar van klank, maar even dwaas vergeefs als al het wapengekletter en kanongebulder. Daarna had hij nog de lafheid begaan op latere leeftijd terug te keren, hopend op de koestering van de roem. En willoos, zonder verzet, had hij zich laten doodhongeren, nog dankbaar met de aalmoes van een onvoldoend jaargeld en de resten van de tafel van de schaarse rijken."
- Jan Slauerhoff "Laaste Verschijning Van Camoës"

Living Language vs. Language of Living

I have noticed a curious characteristic of Renaissance Latin verse: the social world of its authors often found more direct, and far more intimate expression than vernacular verse of the same place and time, even the vernacular verse of the same poet.

We need only put, say, Du Bellay's French "Regrets" beside his Latin "Amores", both composed in the same period and place, to see the difference. In the French work, Du Bellay can only hint through an impersonal sonneteer's mask at what was actually going on in his life. In the Latin work, Du Bellay reveals to the reader that he fell in love with a young woman who was in an unhappy marriage to an old man, that he won her with the assistance of her mother, and that her husband put a stop to it by abducting her and locking her away.

I'm not sure why this is, though I suspect it has to do with the general trend I have noticed that when writing for an elite one is usually freer to be indecorous. I can't even imagine the respectable Thomas More writing De Puella Quae Raptum Finxit in English in the 15th century. 

Mourning in America

Mourning in America

Some hurtling like a meteor
Find flameouts hot and sweet,
But I'm to rise out of this filthy
Rubble upon my feet.

Some see no more in a silver-spoon
Than proper silverware.
I taste in it the battle moon
That bloodies the evening air.

Some can be dreamers, learn to lead
A rich unconscious life,
But I, face down on a gory street,
Came conscious of the knife.

For I was born of a butchered dream.
Bad time for the ideal
Is all that I can hope to think,
And the horror of the real,

Horror that woke me out of life
Put death before my eyes,
Bid me get up, and laughed as I writhed.
I lacked the legs to rise.



Andaloosely Speaking

The obsession over who borrowed what from whom, when it comes to the relationship between the Arab world and the West, is extraordinarily tiresome and long ago ceased to be remotely interesting.

The extent to which Western high culture is indebted on numerous accounts to learning produced under Islam is by now so exhaustively demonstrated that reading an article which treats this fact as somehow news feels like something of an insult to my intelligence. Anyone who actually needs to be informed of so staggering a point of banality wouldn't be reading this kind of thing anyway. (Of course, not all the borrowing was salutary. The Castillian religious militarism and caste culture which the Spanish brought to the New World owed almost as much to the models of Arab-ruled Andalus as the study of Aristotle did. Yet somehow Islamic contributions of this sort never come up.)

All in all Arab culture borrowed as much (if not more) from Christian Syria, Byzantium and post-Sassanid Persia, as Western European culture later borrowed from it. But that's not the real issue. The real issue is: who's keeping score, and why don't they have anything better to do with their time?

Can we get past this whole thing now? Please? Or does an entire discipline have to continue to act like it's always talking to a drunk version of somebody's obtusely racist uncle?

Clement Weather in Hindustan

Clement Weather in Hindustan
By A.Z. Foreman

Good riddance to the skies of ruthless blue,
The sun lashing the Dalit workers' backs
Amid the lie of nothing much ado,
The heat coercing me to just relax.

Let me go out and walk in this monsoon.
There is a special beauty to the air
That marauds, blows and floods an afternoon.
Sing in the rain when no one else is there.