Sunday, October 11, 2009

My President's recent 'Achievement'

How do you measure greatness exactly? And, to further complicate my inquest--how does one receive it while still very much ALIVE?

President Barack Hussein Obama, our country's 44th President of the United States received, and added to his ever-increasing list of achievements, a Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.

My first thoughts were: that's great, but for what exactly? is he not STILL in office, STILL in the role of doing?

I quickly altered my thoughts to paranoia: this is a set up; what was meant as promotion from the Swiss billing may backfire faster than Gorbachev's iron curtain renting.

Still, you have to be impressed that such a man while still in office received the award based on pure merit pre-inauguration. I had suspected such a thing could happen via his literary output; and, at best, I expected the MacArthur foundation to reward him, but a Nobel Peace Prize exceeds my (and many other Americans') expectations.

If we say he earned the award via his oratory aspirations to reach across the political table and break bread with mankind, then it is fitting. If we say, it is because of his ascendancy to the 44th Executive Branch of our US Government, then it is not.

In his own words then: "This award is not simply about my administration...[it] 'must be shared' with everyone who strives for 'justice and dignity'."

Now, we sit back and listen as all the nay-sayers and dejected wanna be should have been me's gripe about who won. Jealous? Perhaps...

Well said, and as always well achieved Mr. president.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dark Roast, Michael Vick and Abelard's Ethica

Three gulps in, the dark brew has kicked in and by now we all know that Michael Vick has received a two-year deal to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. Shock? Disgust? Elation? Reservation?

These are but some of the feelings I am sure many are feeling, but I ask you to consider what follows:

--What better team to play for than the "City of Brotherly Love"?

--Humans have rights too, no.

--We save the whales, the ecosystems, the planet and yet spite, spit and spat against our human neighbor.

Michael Vick, through our legislative branches, has since served his sentence. Some think, it was not long enough. Does the man deserve a break, a chance?

Forget WWJD (for now), and consider What Will Vick Do? He might want to turn to Abelard here:

Sed profecto sicut Deo uel angelis peccata nostra sine aliqua pena doloris displicent, eo uidelicet quod illa non approbant quae mala considerant, ita et tunc nobis illa displicebunt in quibus deliquimus.

[But surely, just as without any of the pain of sorrow our sins displease God or the angels through the fact that they do not approve what they consider to be evil, in the same way also what we have done wrong will then displease us].

For Vick to truly sense and face some semblance of remorse, he will have to be displeased with the self, that part that tolerated such cruel and aberrant behavior in the first place. After all, is this not what is considered a sin, a transgression.

We ALL do our own version of it, and so we deflate the ego and subjugate the id into confession. We also need a little sabiduria, [wisdom] to know non ignoramus astutias Sathanae [we are not ignorant of Satan's devices].

Animals (in general), like its human counterpart seek co-existence and not subjugation, cruelty and even death. What Vick did was inexcusable; what Vick will do in the progressive present is now under a microscope. I wonder if we will embrace him once more? We have done less before, and more.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A evening to mimic

At 10:41 p.m. I sit at my desk in my new study/library. Some jazz piece is on the radio blue noting my bluest eye, but I ain't that type of reduction.

I just ate a piece of Cuban bread with some Camembert cheese (Ile de France). My drink? A Guiness in a frosted 41st International Congress on Medieval Studies (Goliardic Society) glass.

My reading material for this evening? Matthew "Monk" Lewis's magnum opus: The Monk. It should be a seasoned and disconnected re-reading of Radcliffe's The Italian.

The house is at a very cool 75 degrees; the only light source is my academic desk lamp (think With Honors here, minus the green canopy).

Before I turn in, perhaps some Carla Bruni and some more Camembert. The night is truly a beautiful mare; like Piers Anthony's Night Mare (a good read, and one of his better Xanth novel puzzle pieces, no).

Like I said, a night to mimic.

Sport Predictions & Wine Selections

Ah yes, we are almost at an end with the summer season. If I may, and moreover if you are a red wine lover like myself, might I suggest a Sangria or two.

These are from scratch:

First, for a strong brew take a bottle (750 mL, or thereabouts), a cup of Bacardi Limon (or, pomegranate), two cups of Ginger Ale (Vernor's works great too) and garnish with a cup of ice, one apple sliced and one orange sliced.

Second, this one is a bit on the sweet side but worth the risk in bulk. Take a bottle of red wine (750 mL, or thereabouts), a cup of sugar (yes man, a full cup of sugar), a cup of lime "carbonate" (this phrasing avoids disgruntled supporters of either "pop" or "soda"), garnish with similar fruit options as above (or heck, add some strawberries but do not leave this overnight).

Now, my predictions going in to ALL sports:

Tennis: US Open will be won by either Roger Federer or well, Roger Federer (and no, I am not a fan) I was hoping Rafa would be back to speed, but I am not so sure about those chronic knees of his. On the women's end, I pick one of the Williams sisters (your guess is as good as mine here).


I actually would like the Steelers to win it all over again. I have mad respect for Coach MT. Patriots can take a back seat, and Bills have no chance whatsoever. Detroit is overpriced, and underachieved as usual. Same old same old here. Manning needs help again, but yeah--which one AM I talkin' bout?!

Lakers vs. Who cares, and no--Shaq will have absolutely NO impact in the East other than for the first 1/3 of the season. Sad, but that's a lot of body mass to move and pound on that hard surface day in day out. Not gonna happen Cleveland fans, and yes--I think LBJ takes off after the 2010 season. Where? Hmmm...I hear New York is feenin'.

I actually think Tiger will go majorless until the Master's 2010. Still, he's the best in the biz right now. Why can't Garcia and Harrington catch him though? Sheesh!

Well, that's all folks, and if you're ever in Florida and need a place to crash--look me up. I'll put more than another shrimp on the barbie for ya' (insert Australian accent here). Salmon steaks with pesto paste, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, chopped baby spinach and a white wine sangria with strawberry and lemon peel accents in a pitcher like Country-time mom use to make (you know what I'm talking about man). Ahhhhh...these days are good days, no!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Count Your Blessings...Shout them one by one.

Like Ralph Wiley before me, I too find myself shouting my Black experience. Of course, this is only a contextual blackness as I am also Hispanic and French.

Much has transpired, and I am blessed. I am a new homeowner (and the house is amazing!!!). And so, I shout!

I am in love with the most beautiful, the most intelligent and the most caring woman in the world; incidentally, I asked her to marry me (via her father's permission of course), and she agreed. And so, I shout!

I am teaching as an Adjunct Professor at two wonderful institutions (Eckerd College and University of South Florida--St. Petersburg) while I study for my preliminary examinations for my doctorate in English: Medieval Studies Literature. I will be teaching Literature & the Occult (using my OWN monograph: The Position of Magic In Selected Medieval Spanish Texts alongside Lewis's The Monk, Radcliffe's The Italian and Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita), Composition, Professional Writing, Technical Writing as well as Western Heritage (Part I and Part II). And so, I shout!

I have been given access to the Dali Museum, and its resources under the auspice of one Peter Tush (Curatorial Educator). This, what Morrison calls "access," will be for my second book involving Dali, Medieval Iconography, the female form in gender space(s) and of course brujeria ["witchcraft," and/or "magic"]. And so, I shout!

Oh, and I am applying for a Fulbright to Spain to study, examine and write my findings in a dissertation re: Medieval travel narratives, the monstrous other, the Afroeuropean embedded in the margins of otherwise Anglo-centers and [un]just, religious violence. The host institution has already signed off on their letter under the Vice-Chair and Director del Departamento de Filologia Moderna at Universidad de Leon Doctora Marta-Sofia Lopez. Even Purdue University's Justin S. Morrill Dean John J. Contreni wrote a letter of recommendation on my behalf! And so, I shout!

I am truly a blessed man, and one that can thank God for His blessings. My response? I shout, I shout, I shout! 'nuff respect and give tanks no man! I echo the tenuous and yet sagacious words of George Herbert who once penned:

When first thou didst entice to thee my heart,
I thought the service brave:

So many joys I writ down for my part,
Besides what I might have

Out of my stock of naturall delights,
Augmented with thy gracious benefits.

And I, a faithless servant still shout louder and louder and louder:

Tantum Deus Sentio Mihi
Tantum Deus Sentio Mihi
Tantum Deus Sentio Mihi

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Andy Roddick show

I am not a fan of Andy Roddick's game, and when I found out two weeks ago that my boy Rafa was out (due to knee tendinitis) I was boycotting Wimbledon. Of course, now I find myself watching an even greater final match at the All-England Tennis club.

The combatants: Andy Roddick and Roger Federer. Federer owns Roddick all time, and on this surface even more so. Yet, it is 12-12 in the fifth (at the time of this posting) without any signs of letting up.

My prediction: Federer will finally prevail. Andy, as usual will come in second fiddle, but he did push the GOATman, no.

Hurry back Rafa, you are missed man.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Imitation of the Cellular & Violence Toward the Neighbor

In this paper, I would like to examine Girardian theory concerning scapegoating and the mimetic, and its potential application to the science behind human, cellular construction. I would like to then relate the Girardian model and human, cellular construction to a progressive socio-cultural articulation, within a theological scope, or frame.

Mimetic violence, according to a Girardian understanding of desire and culpability, is commensurate with a Christian theology of “virtue” and “vice.” But the position of the mimetic as a model, where one’s passions can never be one's own, is also an operative on the cellular and molecular levels of the human and animal corpus. In other words, mimesis is embedded within violence and within the control of violence, and suggestively, human cells reflect this behavior.

Furthermore, I would like to suggest that a survey of the dialogues that align science and cultural anthropology and religious, intellectual history converge within this aforementioned framework of imitation. Moreover, the energies, discussed as transgressive behavior(s) stem not from mere mechanical motions governed by faulty cognition, but from the workings of the sacrificial and the surrogate victim within the interstitial spaces of human beginnings, on the cellular level(s). It is precisely these scapegoat behaviors, when placed alongside the contrasting practices described in religious myth and ritual, as “virtue” and “vice,” that a more full understanding of the mimetic cycle can be attained.

For instance, the proliferation of cancer cells, immuno-deficient viruses, and other irregular eryhtrocytic cells affect tissues that govern systems and ultimately the corpus. Such cellular violence exists to spoil or corrupt the good of other potential behaviors. Such behaviors stem from what might be called a crisis of conversion, whereby myth and ritual are reduced to their skeletal frames of competing discourses within and without the corpus. The corpus, in its defense, also supports the notion of the violence contagion, and as such good cells must be produced to balance the mimetic cycle toward a healthy corpus. The benefits to the body here include, but do not exhaust in any way, the potential for “proper,” “decent,” and “virtuous” social and cultural change. Moreover, because this change is not in tension, though it is in constant flux, consistency in behavior exists but is never finalized.

Utilizing selected readings from René Girard’s I See Satan Fall Like Lightning and Violence and the Sacred, Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained, Leu D. Lefebure’s Revelation, the Religions, and Violence, and Hent De Vries’ Religion and Violence: Philosophical Perspectives from Kant to Derrida, as well as Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene and his philosophical construction on the memetic, I will cater to the various voices and disciplines at large.

Human culpability, about which Girard speaks, begins on the cellular level and that mimetic violence transfers from the molecular to the social level of human existence, thereby suggesting mimetic violence exists within the interstitial walls of the human cell; ipso facto, the parallel of a tainted and violent society stems from the cellular crisis within, toward the outer progression of our world, and ultimately with whom we consider our mimetic neighbor.

Humble Beginnings: A Cell by any Other Name is…

It will be determined that within my paper the term neighbor will include everyone and anyone we, as the other, may come in contact with in our everyday occurrence(s). Moreover, I will be utilizing E.O. Wilson and “altruistic” behaviors of ants as well as suicide cells and mimetic neurons.

The Human Cell is an animal cell comprised of multiple organelles protected and encased within a thick, outer peptidoglycan cellular wall and an inner cytoplasm medium. At the risk of sounding like a scientist, the reader should note that I have degrees in both Biology and Chemistry and as a former validation scientist- I feel adequate to express the basic make-up of the human cell. Within the cytoplasm reside the nucleus and the nucleolus which encases DNA, a poly-protein chain molecule that contains our genetic code. For our purposes in this paper it is vital to give a brief definition, and then apply such a definition to the importance of inherited genetic traits; the carriers of such traits are called genes. According to scientist and apologist Alister McGrath, in his seminal work Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life, he defines and asserts:

DNA deoxyribonucleic acid, the molecule that contains the genetic code. It
consists of two long, twisted chains (a “double helix”) made up of nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains one base, one phosphate molecule, and the sugar deoxyribose. The bases in DNA nucleotides are adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine.

This basic definition will serve our purposes and is taken from McGrath’s response to Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, and to a lesser extent Dawkins’ revision, The Extended Phenotype. What exactly tells the cell what to do, where to replicate, and how to get rid of unwanted “cellular debris”? These answers all point to, more or less, the gene, the basic unit of hereditary information that transmits our make up through chromosomal sharing.

In other words genes are found on chromosomes, and chromosomes come from sex cells, a sperm and an egg cell, and thus provide the necessary twenty-three pairs forming the humane genome (or offspring). These types of cells multiply, divide, and lead to the formation of other cells. It is not within the scope of this paper to discuss or exhaust all the variant possible cells that can be formed within the human body, though we will look at specific cells that do replicate uncontrollably and provides, what I argue to be parallels, within our social world with regards to imitation, sacrifice, and violence.

Recently, such explorations have taken this type of dialogue from the science lab into the cultural Darwinian studies open forum; i.e. where biological evolution requires a replicator, known as the gene, hence by analogy, cultural evolution also requires a replicator, which has been hypothesized as the meme. So, to borrow from McGrath’s inquiry, “why is this so important for an understanding of evolutionary biology?”

Meme for Gene: A Misaligned Identity:

Ed Sexton, Biologist and Philosopher of Science journalist, in his book Dawkins and the Selfish Gene, attempts to understand and humanize the zoologist’s negative term regarding genes as “selfish,” or existing under conscious negative behavior. As we shall soon note Sexton is not alone in this discursive practice regarding validating the Dawkins’ “selfish gene” theory. But first, what exactly is “selfish gene theory,” and how does it apply exactly, if at all, to cultural evolution and/or biological evolution?
Sexton provides us with a basic overview of the issue of selfish gene from his chapter “Selfish genes in a nutshell.” He asserts:

The fundamental unit of evolution is the replicator. A replicator is anything which
can be copied under certain circumstances; so, in a sense, a salt crystal could be a replicator […] some mutations, however, will increase the replicator’s chances of replicating […] This population of replicators working together for mutual benefit may, in time, give rise to ‘vehicles’: physical entities in which many replicators co-exist. In biological evolution, the replicators are genes and the vehicles are organisms, like us.

This notion directly posits the equality of genes to memes because both models apparently contain replicators and vehicles according to Sexton, and if Sexton is reading Dawkins correctly, according to Dawkins himself. We shall note that McGrath has much to say on the validity of memes, and their quasi-link to genes. This is taken from Ed Sexton’s Dawkins and the Selfish Gene (Icon Books, UK 2001). p. 8-11.

The assumptions are many, if we are to take Sexton’s reading of Dawkins correctly. However, Alister McGrath, in quoting Simon Conway Morris, states:

Memes are trivial, to be banished by simple mental exercises. In any wider
context, they are hopelessly, if not hilariously, simplistic. To conjure up memes
not only reveals a strange imprecision of thought, but as Anthony O’Hear has remarked, if memes really existed they would ultimately deny the reality of reflective thought.

Now, how are we to understand such a direct attack on Dawkins’ popularization of the term meme, and what after all is a meme?

“In The Selfish Gene,” asserts McGrath, “Dawkins explains…might not Darwinian theory be applied to human culture, as much as to the world of biology? This intellectual move lays the ground for converting Darwinism from a scientific theory to a worldview, a metanarrative, an overarching view of reality” (Dawkins’ God 119). The implications of Dawkins’ conception of having science enter the cultural arena as it were would mean that a cultural replicator of some magnitude would need to exist; this replicator as we have noted earlier is the meme. McGrath in his response to Dawkins states that “the meme was proposed as a hypothetical replicator-‘a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation’ (taken from Gr. mimesis) to explain the process of the development of culture within a Darwinian framework” (122). Dawkins in search of examples of memes turns to such an array as musical tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, fashions, songs-and God. From the Selfish Gene Dawkins proposes or rather asserts:

Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body
via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain by a process which, in the broad sense of the term, can be called imitation.

McGrath, however, challenges Dawkins’ proposed analogy between the gene and the meme because the gene instructs and is selected, but the meme could not both instruct and give causality. McGrath states that “he [Dawkins] appeared to imply that it was phenotypes that were inherited. This new definition of the meme identifies it as the fundamental unit of information or instruction which gives rise to cultural artifacts and ideas” (Dawkins’ God 122-23). What then are we to do with this notion of cultural identification and the meme as replicator? The problem exists within the idea itself. In other words if Dawkins is stating that even ideas hold their existence to cultural replicators such as memes, then are not memes to be included in this notion of ideas? McGrath puts it best:

If all ideas are memes, or effects of memes, Dawkins is left in the decidedly
uncomfortable position of having to accept that his own ideas must also be recognized as the effects of memes. Scientific ideas would then become yet another example of memes replicating within the human mind.

To debate the matter whether memes are useful or actually exist is not the sole purpose of this paper, but it is relevant to the cultural views that can be acquired from such parallels that Dawkins proposes. McGrath continues to respond to Dawkins with chapters like “Do Memes Actually Exist” and “Flawed Analogies of Memes and Genes.” The former concerns the validity of the gene as initially a theoretical necessity that became fact under rigorous scientific proofs, however, the meme is deficient and supported in three criteria: first, it is a hypothetical construct; second, it is unobservable; and third, it is more or less useless at the explanatory level.

McGrath in making his challenge cites even a disturbed Dawkins privileging the notion that science is to be excluded in some way. Dawkins states from his Selfish Gene: “Scientific ideas, like all memes, are subject to a kind of natural selection, and this might look superficially virus-like. But the selective forces that scrutinize scientific ideas are not arbitrary or capricious. They are exacting, well-honed rules, and they do not favor pointless self-serving behavior.” Unfortunately for Dawkins, if I may also have an educated opinion, this statement sounds a lot like: “Everyone’s dogma is wrong except mine.”

McGrath is adamant here because Science demands proofs and reproducible results, and if the meme is to be compared with an observable entity such as the gene, then it too had better undergo like experimentation. Moreover, a “gene is an observable entity that is well defined at the biological, chemical, and physical levels. Biologically, the gene is a distinct portion of a chromosome; chemically, it consists of DNA; physically, it consists of a double-helix,

question of memes still plagues the curious scientist and the layman alike. For example: “What are memes? Where are they located? How are they to be described biologically, chemically, physically”? According to McGrath, “the meme is simply an optional extra, an unnecessary addition to the range of theoretical mechanisms proposed to explain the development of culture. It can be abandoned without difficulty by cultural theorists” (Dawkins’ God 129). Moreover, McGrath, in a rather light exchange of hubris asks the question, “And since the meme is not warranted scientifically, are we to conclude that there is a meme for belief in memes themselves?” (130). It has already been warranted that “Dawkins’ argument for both the existence and function of the meme is based on a proposed analogy between biological and cultural evolution,” (130) yet one might still enquire as to what end the science of memetics has produced a viable scientific or socially intellectual history. In quoting Martin Gardner from the Los Angeles Times, he insists that:

A meme is so broadly defined by its proponents as to be a useless concept,
creating more confusion than light, and I predict that the concept will soon be forgotten as a curious linguistic quirk of little value. To critics, who at the moment far outnumber true believers, memetics is no more than a cumbersome terminology for saying what everybody knows and that can be more usefully said in the dull terminology of information transfer.

Again, this is not solely our scope, but just a part of the building material, the brick and cement mix, if you will, for establishing the semblance of ground and foundation toward our original premise. After all Dawkins in lieu of his famous “selfish gene” theory has retracted somewhat because the meme and its traffickers and/or critics have labeled him a socio-biologist rather than as a pure scientist. A label I might add that Dawkins is not ready to assume willingly. McGrath adds-“Dawkins has recently drawn in his horns slightly […] He has retreated from his early with a sequence of nucleotides which represent a “genetic code” that can be read and interpreted” (Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life Blackwell Publishing, UK 2005) p.128-29.

In short then, the meme could possibly be looked at as a failed approach to cultural evolution or even ethnological thinking, but perhaps more examples from the cellular side may provide a bit more illumination before we re-attempt to wed the two ideas together; i.e. cellular mimetic violence exists in the same frame as does cultural violence, and perhaps the two can be cooperatively observed; culture for one has similar application in the other; where science begins and cells proliferate in the Petri dish and mimic one another in specific environments, so to does this occur in or social sphere. At both ends of the spectrum, albeit one side is for the micro-scale and the other for the social sphere, a common thread is differentiation.

Examples in Cytoplasm:

In a collaborative effort regarding imitation and mirrored neurons and autism three scientists set out to research the role of imitation in these mirrored neurons and declared the following, and I quote their scope in full:

Various deficits in the cognitive functioning of people with autism have been
documented in recent years but these provide only partial explanations for the condition. We focus instead on an imitative disturbance involving difficulties both in copying actions and in inhibiting more stereotyped mimicking, such as echolalia. A candidate for the neural basis of this disturbance may be found in a recently discovered class of neurons in frontal cortex, `mirror neurons' (MNs). These neurons show activity in relation both to specific actions performed by self and matching actions performed by others, providing a potential bridge between
6 This of course can be best observed in tandem from Girard’s two volume set-Violence and the Sacred (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP 1972) and Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (Stanford: Stanford UP 1987)-respectively.

MN systems exist in primates without imitative and `theory of mind' abilities and we suggest that in order for them to have become utilized to perform social cognitive functions, sophisticated cortical neuronal systems have evolved in which MNs function as key elements. Early developmental failures of MN systems are likely to result in a consequent cascade of developmental impairments characterised by the clinical syndrome of autism.

How does this information assist us, the social observer or the non-scientist, and still yield some understanding of what cells are capable of doing as they translate into the social realm, or sphere?

J.H.G. Williams with regards to autism suggests a specific role of imitation exists. He asserts:

Of special relevance to our model is a subset of such action-coding neurons identified in the prefrontal cortex (area F5) in monkeys. Such neurons will fire when the monkey performs a specific action, such as a precision
grip, but also when an equivalent action (a precision grip, in this example) is performed by an individual the monkey is watching. These have been called `mirror neurons' (MNs). Their potential relevance to imitation is signalled by
another label: `monkey see, monkey do' neurons. F5 cell activity, however, does not automatically lead to motor responses and action performance, otherwise seeing actions performed would lead to obligatory copying (echopraxia).

What interests us here is the last line of Williams’ claim that “F5 cell activity, however, does not automatically lead to motor responses and action performance, otherwise seeing actions performed would lead to obligatory copying” (“Neuroscience and Behavioral Review” 290). Though mirrored neurons are still being examined they have provided a wealth of new ideas and intriguing notions surrounding the mimetic cycle; in this regard we are concerned with imitation and the way of the cell’s recognition. Williams further purports:

This is taken from “Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews” 25 (2001) PERGAMON 287±295. Moreover, the article is authored by the following: J.H.G. Williams,*, A. Whiten, T. Suddendorf, D.I. Perrett department of Child Health, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, UK Department of Psychology, School of Psychology, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9JU, UK
School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Old 4072, Australia.

In discussing the possible role of MNs in each of the above capacities, some references to imitative-like phenomena (`standing in the others shoes') have been made. It might be thought that the obvious functional role of MNs would
indeed lie in imitation (in which case MN outputs would not be inhibited). However, noting that there is little evidence of imitation in monkeys Gallese and Goldman suggested that in the monkeys in which they have been identified, MNs are functioning to facilitate social understanding of others (to the extent the monkey `stands in the same `mental shoes' as the other, as Gallese and Goldman put it). This is not argued to amount to ToM (for which there is also little evidence in monkeys, but it may nevertheless represent the kind of foundation which permitted the evolution of ToM in humans. However, we note there is better evidence for imitation in apes than in monkeys, and of course imitation is both evident and functionally important in our own species. We suggest that the evolution of imitation in humans is likely to have utilised an existing MN system,
even if its prior uses lay in more generalised kinds of social understanding.

The Theory of Mind or ToM Williams is referring to, I suggest, can gravitate back to our earlier discussion concerning cultural evolution or Dawkins’ model, though imperfect, of the “selfish gene” theory; cultural Darwinism does not need to pay homage to the meme, but it sure does provide a starting point, or reference point for a better model. In tracking biological evolution in the early religions Walter Burkert, in his seminal work-Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions, provides a sound board to after-Socratic thinking. He asserts, “The study of nature and human self-knowledge should no longer be separated, even if Socrates long ago insisted it was right to do so” (Preface x). Burkert is clear that:

Those who cling to a hard core of reality may still claim company with science,
which in its most abstract constructs remains ties to empirical data […] Biology is exploring the ‘reality’ of living organisms with growing success, from self-replicating molecules to human consciousness.8
Humans everywhere are comprised of cells, and these cells are equipped with specific machinery that enables replication and association amongst other cells. Moreover, cells are non-biased...

[This can easily tie into the dialogue we have seen stemming between McGrath, Sexton, Dawkins, Williams, and now Burkert; the Petri dish is now filled with its zoologist and scientists and social critic, etc.; i.e. the pool here is quite rich. The aforementioned quote and further reading can be found in Burkert’s Creation of the Sacred (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP 1996). Xii.]

...toward favoring a specific race over another; culture cannot remain enclosed within specific signifying systems by themselves. Here Burkert asserts:

There are common phenomena to all human civilizations, universalia of
anthropology; they may be but need not be called characteristics of human nature. Religion belongs with them. Cultures interact; there are exchanges and conflicts, breaks but also continuities even within historical change. Above all there are basic similarities in all forms of human culture, inasmuch as everywhere people eat, drink, and defecate, work and sleep, enjoy sex and procreate, get sick and die.
This commonality of human being (not to be noted as human-being) in lieu of cellular similarities is where the cultural anthropologist may lend his/her insight to the dynamic dialogue we have been following in this paper.

The New Synthesis, Sociobiology, & Self Sacrifice:

We begin with a new wave of ideas converging at the epicenter of what Walter Burkert considers to be the hypostasized process of “Nature,” or the “vast process of human evolution” whereby “cultural studies must merge with general anthropology, which is ultimately integrated into biology.”9 Such a demand would continue to fuel the controversy that stems from the myriad camps; i.e. philosophers, historians, sociologists, and anthropologists would still be at odds.

Arguably, as Burkert suggests, “the most complicated issue is still how to verify the connection between cultural phenomena and biological preconditions” (Creation of the Sacred 11). The ethologist would suggest that even at the primate level this level of observation is complex, difficult, and simply neither plausible nor possible from an experimental point of view. We turn to Burkert’s argument here as follows:

Even primitive functions of life and simple processes of growth depend upon the...

[Burkert asserts this point much like Dawkins has attempted to endorse, albeit his earlier models, of the meme-tic. Nonetheless like Burkert asserts, “to introduce biology into cultural studies is to enter a battlefield […] with the refinement of evolution theory, sociobiology was proclaimed as ‘the new synthesis’ by E. O. Wilson” (Creation of the Sacred Harvard UP 1996) p.8-9.]

...interaction of many genes and numerous intermediate stages and agents that make up the phenotype. Behavior is hopelessly complex already at the level of primates […] at the human level experimentation is not possible […] in addition, in human social life quite different levels and criteria of success come to the fore; these cannot be represented by a single set of numbers…

The success of Sociobiology is not a meager one and in fact, like Burkert sounding off as a Dawkinsian, states that “sociobiology has had some success in interpreting rules of marriage and sexual taboos in relation to the probabilities of genetic relationship and hence to the spread of selfish genes” (Creation of the Sacred 11). If Burkert is correct then, in assuming that “all humans henceforth are linked to an uninterrupted chain of tradition, taking over the mental worlds of their elders, working on them and passing them on,” then the language of the zoologist might claim them as genes, the Dawkinsian as memes, and the cultural anthropologist, at least in mechanism nomenclature, ritual via sacrifice and violence.

Rene Girard in his seminal work Violence and the Sacred asserts that “because the victim is sacred, it is criminal to kill him-but the victim is sacred only because he is to be killed” (1). Moreover, his reference to Greek tragedy regarding sacrifice suggests that “sacrifice resembles criminal violence” and of course what ensues according to Girard is the notion that “hardly any form of violence…cannot be described in terms of sacrifice” (1). If we are to read Girard sacrificially, which is to read him honestly, then we, the critic, must take him at his word; i.e. we must then recognize that “violence is not to be denied,” (4-5) and that “only violence can put an end to violence, and that is why violence is self-propagating” (26). Finally, if the king is to exist as king, then we must believe that “the sacred king is also a monster” (252). This notion of the king exists in a myriad formulation which includes, but does not exhaust, his position as “god, man, and savage beast” (252). Yet, what does all this talk regarding Girardian sacrifice and violence have to do with our earlier focus on the cell and its parallels to social behavior? Well, everything. What is the ultimate violence ipso facto? What is the extreme malfeasance? And what within the community provides such an act of sacrifice of the self? The answer that Girard provides is death and that it “contains the germ of life” (255).

Moreover, “with death a contagious sort of violence is let loose on the community” (255). Death then proves to be a passageway, but that is not our interest at this time. What is apparent is the notion of death as a germ, a contagion of a sub-unit wherein the machinery of the germ itself provides replication and imitative behavior. This is suggested and noted in highly proliferating cells that divide uncontrollably. Their existence is birthed in violence and a violent-like turn-around of the body’s “natural” machinery for blood vessel flow, etc. These cells are known as cancer, and the body’s defenses, though existent, are in no way able to combat such a foe. These cells provide a community of death leaving behind them a wake of mutated and weakened cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, etc. Yet are there such things as suicide cells, or sacrificial cells?

Cancer Cells & Mimetic Violence:

As we have observed thus far the cell and its components have issued forth a wealth of competing discourses that contribute to the more general pool of inquiry regarding this paper’s scope: “Can the discourse of cellular, mimetic machinery parallel into the discursive praxis involving cultural or socio-religio communities that support the scapegoat model and the sacrificial victim?” But first we revisit the construction of our cell and its derivative forms in detail.
The cell is the fundamental unit of life and cellular division stems from a highly regulated process; the division of “normal” cell growth, inheritance, and containment is controlled by its DNA (as we have noted elsewhere in this paper). The gene, a segment of DNA, determines the structure of a protein for body development via chemical functions, or biochemical steps. What concerns us regarding cellular division is the notion that this can only occur when the cell receives the proper signals to divide from growth factors that circulate in the bloodstream. This level of control necessitates order and regulation from the cell’s machinery, and when such machinery is aberrant in its regulatory processes and signaling, cancer ensues. What then are cancer cells exactly?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

A cancer cell is a cell that grows out of control. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells
ignore signals to stop dividing, to specialize, or to die and be shed, Growing in an uncontrollable manner and unable to recognize its own natural boundary, the cancer cells may spread to areas of the body where they do not belong.

One might think such proliferation of “bad” cells in its various progressive stages of mutation and the role of the gene mechanism, now mapped by research accorded to both Ventner and Collins (Time 2000), should allow us, that is the onco-scientist community to participate in more than just a discursive praxis on delivering the body from such a strong and detrimental invader. Recall, the body faces multiple pathogenic (invaders) cells that it can handle, surrounding the foreign cell and destroying it; this is part of the body’s defense mechanism. Yet, what is different or difficult about cancer? In a cancer cell, several gene changes or mutations allows for a defective cell, and the cell feeds off, mimetically altering the blood vessels fit for oxygen transfer to other tissue/organ parts of the body.10 The take home message regarding cancer cells can be summed as follows:

The NIH is a good resource for further readings involving cancer cells and their mutagenic properties. For example, “there are two types of gene mutations. One type, dominant mutation, is caused by an abnormality in one gene in a pair […] the result is that the cell receives a constant message to divide. This dominant “gain of function gene” is often called an oncogene (onco=cancer). Of course, recessive mutation is the second type of gene mutation “characterized by both genes in the pair being damaged.”

Cancer cells have defects in normal cellular functions that allow them to divide,
invade the surrounding tissue, and spread by way of vascular and/or lymphatic systems. These defects are the result of gene mutations sometimes caused by infectious viruses.

If cancer cells are cells that behave abnormally due to runaway mimetic failure within their machinery as we have previously noted, are there any “good” examples of cells wherein differentiation and mimetic properties provide a positive existence?
In the human body there are special cells that maintain three general properties: they are capable of dividing and renewing themselves for an extended period of time; they are unspecialized; and they can give rise to specialized cell types (via mimetic alignment, or neighboring).

The NIH suggests that these special cells (stem cells), though unspecialized, “can give rise to specialized cells, including heart muscle cells, blood cells, or nerve cells.” The implications are grand, but how do these cells, or for that matter their negative counterparts, namely oncocytes (cancer cells), relate back toward an anthropological notion of sacrifice and death and violence? The answer suggested by scientists at the NIH is a simple one: signals, the encoded directives within cellular machinery; when disrupted within its cytoplasmic community inclusive of its organelles and such, violence ensues. Hence, there is too much difference within the mechanism, a difference called mutation of the genic. Yet, only specific targets of the machinery are attacked. The purpose? Perhaps, turning to Girard, the social anthropologist can assist us here. He asserts, “the surrogate victim dies so that the entire community, threatened by the same fate [death], can be reborn in a new or renewed cultural order” (Violence and the Sacred 255). Perhaps, this is noticed in stem cells, but what about the cancer cells? Well, cancer cells utilize the body’s existent vascular machinery (capillaries, veins, arteries, etc.) to feed itself and thereby killing off where the natural blood flow toward a healthy oxygen-rich tissue/organ.

Through the death of surrounding, or neighboring tissue/organs the cancer lives, grows, and chooses other cells for its existence. Again, Girard with regards to social community relates:

Having sown the seeds of death, the god, ancestor, or mythic hero then dies himself or selects a victim to die in his stead. In so doing he bestows a new life on men. Understanding this process, we can also understand why death should be regarded as the elder sister, not to say the mother and ultimate source, of life itself.12
With the role of stem cells being undifferentiated one cannot ignore the fact that these cells do give rise toward differentiation, and that depending on which cell types emerge, they may or may not hinder cellular community; hence, there is the notion of cellular neighboring for the promotion of “good” community, or healthy cellular body as well as the need to expel certain cells due to their difference and incompatibility within the community. This is why cancer cells must establish their dominance, and then, to borrow from Girard, “generative violence” ensues.

The Surrogate Victim & the Uninterrupted Chain:

We have been surveying and privileging the discourse[s] of both science and culture in hopes to provide a bridge of the two disciplines under the architecture of the Girardian mimetic model. To further assist in our elaborate construction I would like to rely on Burkert’s the Creation of the Sacred once more.

Burkert suggests that “all humans henceforth are linked to an uninterrupted chain of tradition, taking over the mental worlds of their elders, working on them and passing them on” (Creation of the Sacred 24). Dawkins saw this as a Darwinian world-view as the meme and Girard, if I am reading him correctly, views this “passing on of themselves” notion as mimetic and ritualistic. The sacred therefore does not only belong to, or is only imbued with, the primitive. He asserts:

This quote taken from Violence and the Sacred suggests the Girardian notion of death as passageway toward life, and beyond. He ends with the point, “Death, then, contains the germ of life” (255).

Each community sees itself as a lonely vessel adrift in a fast ocean whose seas are
sometimes calm and friendly, sometimes rough and menacing. The first requirement for staying afloat is to obey the rules of navigation dictated by the ocean itself. But the most diligent attention to these rules is the guarantee of permanent safety […] only a constant repetition of rites seems to keep it from sinking.

The main difference between our reference to cancer cells and social community with regards to the Girardian model of the surrogate victim rests in the following notion: “The surrogate victim is generally destroyed and always expelled from the community” (Violence and the Sacred 266). Cancer cells are attacked, but to no avail, and can therefore be considered an anti-surrogate victim; i.e. the expulsion from community is that cell within a cancer community that is not of its make-up becoming in turn the scapegoat for the remaining mutated cells. The cancer cell and its metastasis are at fault. Put in Girardian terms then, one can state that “the act of generative violence that created the community is attributed not to men, but to the sacred itself” (267).

Again, the cancer cell is like the sacred, but unlike the surrogate victim, and the community it creates not anti-sacred, but becomes “it” because of the cancer cell’s proliferation in the first place. Technically, the neighboring cells that receive this attack on their cellular machinery as they become mutated, or rather differentiated into cancer cells suggests another Girardian model, namely the victim and not the surrogate victim. The difference can be explained as follows:

All sacrificial rites are based on two substitutions. The first is provided by
generative violence, which substitutes a single victim for all the members of the community. The second, the only strictly ritualistic substitution, is that of a victim for the surrogate victim […] it is essential that the victim be drawn from outside the community. Ritual sacrifice is defined as an inexact imitation of the generative act.

What then can be gathered by tethering these notions of the sacrificial victim, the surrogate victim, cancer cells and to lesser extent stem cells? What can such variant elements suggest about violence toward the neighbor? Again, we turn back to Girard for some direction.

As we bring together the various elements the various elements of our discussion, only one conclusion seems plausible:

There is a unity that underlies not only all mythologies and rituals but the whole
of human culture, and this unity of unities depends on a single mechanism, continually functioning because perpetually misunderstood-the mechanism that assures the community’s spontaneous and unanimous outburst of opposition to the surrogate victim.

If “sacrifice then is the most crucial and fundamental of rites,” (300) is it a static practice, or does it too, like cancer and stem cells, evolve, adapt, mutate, or simply “change”? In the context of ceremony Girard suggests that sacrifice “changes form or disappears in the course of evolution” (300). Still, violence within communities that privilege difference, and most of them do, enact such an activity toward those they are responsible to. For Girard this entails the tribal groups of the Tupinamba, the Aztec, and the African king-these are the neighbors of which generative violence makes them her mistress; in the context of the cellular, stem cells associate with other cell cultures, thereby dying to their undifferentiated machinery for the betterment of a “living” community; lastly, cancer cells also share somewhat in this model.

For instance, their ability to re-wire the normal, vascular machinery to suit their needs and destroy their neighbor, those cells anteriorly positioned. This positioning of violence from the cellular exists within the framework of the cultural and socio-religio realm; Richard Dawkins has called it Cultural Darwinism and popularized the term meme-tic, McGrath has argued against such a hypothesis, and Girard in his chapter "Victimage Mechanism as the Basis of Religion" from his second volume companion to Violence and the Sacred, Things Hidden From Since the Foundation of the World, suggests:

If imitation does indeed play the fundamental role for man, as everything seems to
indicate, there must certainly exist an acquisitive imitation, or, if one prefers, a possessive mimesis whose effects and consequences should be carefully studied and considered.

This noted mimetic rivalry toward the neighbor in any capacity exists on all the levels discussed in this paper as problematic and disturbing on the surface, but as Girard asserts in Things Hidden, “instead of seeing imitation as a threat to social cohesion or as a danger to community, we view it as a cause of conformity and gregariousness.” Such a view still provides at some level a hope beyond apodictic dialogue[s] as well as further, discursive reimbursements of invested intellectual curiosity; i.e. one could learn much from our nano-make up in lieu of our socio-cultural macrosphere regarding community and violence toward our “others,” the neighbor.

References (Selected):

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Trans, Annette Lavers. Hill and Wang: New York 1965.

Boyer, Pascal. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York: Basic Books 2001.

Burkert, Walter. Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology In Early Religions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP 1996.

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford UP 1989.

DeVries, Hent. Religion and Violence: Philosophical Perspectives from Kant to Derrida. Maryland: Johns Hopkins UP 2002.

Girard, Rene. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. Trans, James G. Williams. New York: Orbis Books 2001.

--.Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. Trans, Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer. California: Stanford UP 1987.

--.Violence and the Sacred. Trans, Patrick Gregory. Maryland: Johns Hopkins UP 1977.

Lefebure, Leo D. Revelation, the Relations, and Violence. New York: Orbis Books 2000.

McGrath, Alister. Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life. Malden, MA:
Blackwell Publishing 2005.

Sexton, Ed. Dawkins and the Selfish Gene. UK: Icon Books 2001.

Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press 1996.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Pagans, Tartars and a Frank Review

Francis Tobienne, Jr.
Purdue Doctoral Fellow
Adjunct Professor, University of South Florida--St. Petersburg
26 May 2009

Schildgen, Brenda Deen. Pagans, Tartars, and Jews in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Gainesville: University of Florida, 2001. Pp. xiv, 184. $59.95. ISBN-10: 0—8130—2107—3.

Reviewed by Francis Tobienne, Jr.
Purdue University

Adding to the on-going and provocative discussion of the “other” in Chaucer Studies, Brenda Deen Schildgen’s Pagan’s, Tartars, and Jews in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales supports the idea that Geoffrey Chaucer is better suited as an interpreter of “the ancient world,” than simply acting as a Christian writer imprinting his Canterbury Tales (Tales) “with a mere Christian ethos” (emphasis my own, 1). Citing support for Chaucer’s classicism, in support of the roman antique, Schildgen examines select stories from the Tales “outside a Christian-dominated world” (2). The eight tales she traces (the Knight’s, Squire’s, Man of Law’s, Franklin’s, Wife of Bath’s, Prioress’s, Monk’s and the Second Nun’s tales) reflect “Chaucer’s expansive narrative interest in the intellectual and cultural worlds outside Christianity” (2). In short, this book examines, via pagan philosophy from both the schools of Epicurean and Stoic tradition, as well as close readings, inter alia, of the eight tales, to suggest Chaucer’s awareness of a pan-European “contemporary cultural and social world” yielding an awareness of an “other” alongside English-speaking “palmeres” who “seken straunge strondes”.

Schildgen’s book consists of eight chapters, the first of which is an “Introduction” (pp. 1-12) in which she argues for an expanded reading of the Tales using “pagan philosophies or narratives” in addition to Augustinian theology (1). These narratives would have influenced Chaucer and, according to Schildgen, they give the Tales a “range of ethical and philosophical viewpoints” (4). What is at stake then, as Schildgen points out, is a “discursive ethical discovery” (4). She contends that Chaucer was an intellectual inheritor of the twelfth century activity of exploring “secular philosophy, history, and narratives,” which positioned the poet “in the pan-continental cultural context of the fourteenth century” (11). Second, she argues that in this time period, people adhered to non-normative Christian idealism, and thus that “these tales probe alternative value systems that are distinct from contemporary Christian practice” (12).

Chapters 2 and 3, respectively, “Pagan Philosophical Perspectives: A Knight and a Squire” and “Fortune, the Stars, and the Pagan Gods in the Knight’s and Squire’s Tales,” (13-47) can be read as Schildgen’s focus on the Knight’s Stoicism as well as the Squire’s Epicurean value(s) of pleasure. Moreover, this section supports Chaucer’s use of pagan philosophy and alterity amidst varied pilgrims (young, old, devout, et cetera), showing not only that Chaucer’s “openness to alterity is intergenerational” (13), but that Chaucer “endorses” a Knight whose tale “explores […] the values and attitudes of a pagan philosophy—Stoicism,” as well as a Squire who deals indirectly with “hethenesse” (21). By examining tales where contrasting, non-Orthodox ideologies are offered alongside Christian ones, ethical discovery is not only privileged, it is made possible and further “feature alternate systems of morality while they explore secular history” (21).

Leaving the Stoic behaviors of the Knight and his “busy gods” (38), Schildgen challenges scholarship that focuses on the Squire’s tale as a view into the exotic realm, arguing in favor of an “Epicurean ethos and emphasis on pleasure,” which best registers an “actual setting, not only in a non-Christian realm, but more importantly in a culture that was contemporaneous with Chaucer’s own and that did not share his own assumed Latin worldview” (39). Chaucer identifies with his audience in the fiction created by the Squire. In a third sub-section, Empirical Truth, or, What Exactly Was Known About the Tartars? Schildgen opens with: “The contrast between the Squire’s version of Tartary and the historical realities […] glosses over contradictions that Chaucer’s fourteenth century audience could well have recognized” (43). Giving a brief historical backdrop to the Tartars and their conversion via Franciscan missionaries as told in the Speculum Historiale, she offers both the “medieval ethnographer’s” travel narrative depiction in two frames: the monastic approach and the mercantile ethos. Completing the circuit then, Schildgen returns to the “Squire’s Tale” suggesting that Chaucer may have benefitted from such source materials, giving to the Squire a “pluralist attitude” (45). In her final sub-section, “Conclusion” (46), which sums up both Chapters 2 and 3, respectively, Schildgen examines the Knight/Squire with reference to their respective narrative control over historical realities. Moreover, in terms of these two characters and their tales, she reminds her readers of both a Stoic and an Epicurean idealism which “refuses to impose Christian norms on their narrative materials” (47).

In her fourth Chapter, “‘Hethenesse’ in the Canterbury Tales: Christian versus Islamic and Pagan Space in the ‘Man of Law’s Tale’” (48-69), Schildgen continues her reading of the Tales through the Man of Law which “incorporates merchants, Moslems, and pre-Christian Britons into its telling, to create insiders, outsiders, and mediators between the two” (49). In this particular chapter then, Schildgen seeks to further distinguish East from West (the latter existing as the idealized Roman church/emperor; and the former a possible idealized, Islamic state). Schildgen presents “five dimensions” which appear in the tale in support of the Islamic effect “on European cultural development” (51). Briefly, these are: the negative views of Moslems and prejudice during Crusading in light of the chansons de geste; Islamic learning alongside medieval, Latin culture; the viability of marketing and trade agreements between Christian Europe and Islam; the threat of Islam based on perceived religious and political ideologies; and finally, “’les musulmans fictifs,’ the hermeneutic of exoticism and difference conferred on the Moslems” (51). The author suggests that Chaucer, who “respects Islamic learning” (52), makes the Man of Law the appropriator of Islamic knowledge, turned classical knowledge. Schildgen ends this particular chapter discussing Chaucer’s use of allegoresis in Political Allegory (53), asserting Chaucer’s use of allegory was a political device whose authority worked to counter Christian Rome.

Taking up the notion of a pre-Christian Britain, Schildgen continues her exploration of suspended Christian teleologies, moving into the arena of ancient folklore and faerie. In Chapter 5, “Rash Promises, Oaths, and Pre-Christian Britain in the Wife of Bath’s and the Franklin’s Tales” (69-92), Epicureanism links the tales, which take their narrative landscape from Britain/Brittany. Moreover, Schildgen offers her readers a possible reading of Chaucer’s Franklin and Wife who, in their tales, maintain “the deliberate inclusion of other worldviews” beyond the Christian ideal.
In Chapter 6, “A Prioress and a Monk: Providential History on Trial” (93-108), Schildgen argues that history, according to Christian teleology, “separate[s] Christian thought from pagan, Stoic, or Epicurean thought” (93). In terms of Christian and non-Christian readings of history, the Prioress and the Monk, according to Schildgen, offer a syncretic reading of history. Her method in this section, a compare-and-contrast approach, covers the anti-Semitic polemics of the Prioress as well as the pluralistic and inclusive tragic histories of both Christian and pagan worldview vis-à-vis the Monk. Schildgen argues that Chaucer creates the “Jews” by pitting Christian ideology against Jewish “diabolic imaginings” while the Monk moves beyond such absolutism of good versus evil “in favor of a more murky view of history” (108).

In Chapter 7, “The ‘Second Nun’s Tale: Christians as a Persecuted Minority’” (109-20), Schildgen examines the subject of martyrdom as a reversal of values. Moreover, the author asserts, “the ‘Second Nun’s Tale’ draws up sides that divide the world into those who conform to temporal codes […] and those who reject these worldly structures as ‘folye’” (117). Further, she argues that in the fourteenth century Christians were not always in the majority and that their minority status, in terms of ideological preference (i.e. belief and practice), could prove a “potentially life-threatening choice” (110). This placed Christianity itself as an “othering” identification.

Quite possibly the weakest part of her text, Schildgen, in her eighth chapter, concludes with generalizations and disclaimers in support of a “Chaucerian, transitional time” (123). Arguably, it is a time where fictional pilgrims exist as “equals,” telling stories which function as narrative vehicles for ethical discovery and the appropriations of pagan and Christian idealism alike. Moreover, the stories even become a “means for aesthetic speculation about ethics and identities within a posttradtional political rather than metaphysical framework in which absolute conclusions are elusive” (123). Still, such “neutrality of worldviews” (125) in light of the varied tales collected here gives rise to a greater appreciation, a greater reading of Chaucer’s poetics and of a better understanding of both the known and unknown cultural make-up of the fourteenth century and beyond. This author, on the whole, addresses such matters admirably.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

(Re)reading the Chronicle of Higher Education

To those of you not familiar with such a resource as the Chronicle of Higher Education, may this post serve as a wake up call to its valuable existence.

Anyone serious about pursuing their academic dream(s) and remaining in the know, subscription to this membership is crucial, inevitable and relevant.

As an Adjunct faculty member I found the article: "A Brief Taxonomy on Adjunct Labor" enlightening and somewhat reductive. The link can be found here:

In a world where your "role" matters as much as your "fit" one could do worst than not to remain vigilant, aware. Why? The devil, like a roaring lion seeks whom he may devour. And, as Lewis before me has intimated, allegory in any form or shape romanticizes the bleakness of truth. If you're clever enough, you can figure out who the devil is in this case. If not, then it may be you that's seeking and devouring.

Like Lupe said, "Check your ingredients before you overdose...on the cool."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sounding off!

To all of those haters of the LA Lakers--tonight's game via the poorest officiating that I have ever seen--payback is...well, you know.

I am now convinced that Dante Jones is a punk, J.R. Smith is mercurial and a punk, K-fart is a major punk, and I only have respeto por 'Melo por que el es borriqueño!

My prediction: LA will win the series, and battle against Orlando, not Cleveland. Kobe Bryant really is the game's best closer though no longer its most physical presence. That honor goes to Bron-Bron.

Orlando should be up 2-0 right now, but of course the basketball gods have winked on their new native son. Still, my money's on KB24 not on LBJ23. For those of you who like predictions and all of that--here goes:

Lakers v. Nuggets: Lakers win (4-2)
Orlando v. Cleveland: Orlando wins(4-2)

Lakers v. Orlando: Lakers win (4-1) and KB24 gets to officially say he won a championship without that other guy whose name continues to morph although his game is nigh obsolete.

In fact, I am going to predict that Kobe will not win it again in 2010, but will win it in 2011. At the end of his career, KB23 will have a total of 5 NBA titles, and still be considered the second best NBA player ever. MJ23 will always have my vote even if LBJ23 ends up with 7 NBA titles or more.


There is no way someone can leave the game, retire, train and play a totally different game with different bio-mechanics and come back to win 3 back-to-back NBA titles. All the while changing his game from slash and dunk to stutter-step and fade away jumper. Yeah, MJ23 is that good.

It's like Lancelot v. Don Quijote: Lancelot wins. I'll let you decide who the Hidalgo happens to be.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rafa, Kobe and Barcelona v. Man U

Ahora es el tiempo para ver a los deportes de tenis, de baloncesto y de fútbol. Creo que Rafa ganara su quinto campeonato llamado: Roland Garros, Paris, France.

Kobe ganara su cuarto campeonato del NBA sin el ayuda de Shaq. No se si Barcelona ganara en los finales con Man U, pero quien sabe, no.

Este ano es un ano increíble. Y por que? Pues no he mencionado el hockey (creo que los Red Wings ganara). Así son los deportes. Me recuerdo de los campeonatos entre caballeros durante el siglo medieval. Antes de Don Quijote y Amadis y después de los juegos Olímpicos este siglo de mujeres y caballos y de violencia y de paz y del social político fue uno experimento.

Durante los próximos seis semanas te pido que mires uno de estos juegos, o todos los juegos. Puedes perder el tiempo en otra maneras, no.

Warrior Gatitos unite!

A lot can be learned about the feline realm. In fact, here are some lessons to be learned from my two feline knights: Sir Solomon Parker and Sir C.S. Lewis.

--When tired, plop down and take root. Add a back leg stretch, or two.

--When hungry, make noise and look as cuddly as you can. You just might qualify for a treat.

--Play, play, play. Then, take time to appreciate the quotidian. So what if a rubber band doubles as an exercise band and a chew toy.

--Take a poop, cover it up and race back out into the world.

--Play tag, then have a stare off.

--When annoyed, sharpen your nails on tabooed furniture items (usually a couch, or something plush)

--Diversify your meal man; make it dry, wet or mix it up.

Cats really do elongate our lives, and that's probably because they graciously lend one of their nine.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Position of Race and Magic in the Spanish Margins, Or the Middling of Magique in the Late Medium Aevum

The following was presented as a paper at the 44th International Medieval Congress, WMU-K-zoo, MI, 7-10 May 2009 by Francis Tobienne, Jr.

The role of magic as a bridge between science and religion during the Middle Ages reveals the subject, not the mere object of magic as a viable, intellectual pursuit. Scholars of the past have posited and asserted that magic was the largest subject in history; according to James Thomson Shotwell, “it [magic] was the science and religion combined, much of the art, and most of the mode of thinking of our race for those stretches of centuries that we so lightly term the prehistoric.” Though the position of magic has always been a privileged and contested rung in the ladder of rationality, both in history and anthropology, Richard Kieckhefer has championed that magic, “to the people of medieval Europe […] thought of it as neither irrational nor nonrational but as essentially rational.” Following this train of thought and linking it to the geographical location known as the Iberian Peninsula, magic, I argue, was in fact the underlying foundation of much scholarship and led the way toward formative philosophy as well as Spanish, religious belief during fifteenth-century Spain.

Moreover, magic, as a legitimate, intellectual pursuit was to be classified as one of the seven liberal arts. If magic was a workable, cerebral quest alongside the training of the intellect in other fields of discipline, then who were its practitioners exactly? Who were its champions?

According to Samuel M. Waxman, “great magicians were reputed to have learned their art, at Naples and Padua in Italy, at Orléans in France, but the most renowned of all were in Spain at Toledo, Seville, Cordova, and Salamanca.” Taking the following selected Spanish texts: Vida de Santa María Egipcíaca, and select works from Alfonso X, el Sabio, I will argue that Medieval Spanish Literature of the thirteenth-century toward the fifteenth century presents both the magical practitioner(s) and the miracle worker(s), which in turn, displays the myriad of ideas re: magic, Christian propagandistic elements, and the tension, or anxiety for supremacy of the human subject/mind and la gloria de la Potencia Divina [the glory of the Divine Influence]. When applied to the work of La Celestina, the efficacy of magic, as E. Sanchez asserts: “dealing with magic must of necessity allow for the fact that […] magic played a greater role in the understanding of natural phenomena than it does for the modern reader” (Hispanic Review, 481). Still, the formation of the Medieval/Modern subject as reader of culture can be traced from such examination(s), from such exploration(s).

Again, to study magic in full is to examine magic in its bifurcated existence: black, nigromancia and white, miraculum. Such dual distinctions reveal the peculiar and the liminal explanations of (un)known phenomena in fifteenth century Spanish Studies.

We begin with some illustrations taken from both the Vida and from select works of Alphonso X, el Sabio.

Vida de Santa María Egipcíaca:

On examination the didactic and heavily sermonized poem, Vida de Santa María Egipcíaca (herein, Vida), reveals the dispensation of Divine grace and makes a didactic appeal to living an obedient life. We shall begin with a brief synopsis of the poem, and then proceed to a more careful analysis taken with miraculum, the Church’s central explanation of magic via phenomena, in tow, and privileging specific occurrences of this particular phenomenon through the life of the author’s protagonist, Santa María de Egipcíaca, [“Saint Mary of Egypt”]. Cruz-Saenz suggests that the poem “exists in whole or in part in one Old Spanish and eight Old French manuscripts ranging from the first years of the thirteenth century to the fifteenth century. This particular MS is currently preserved in the Biblioteca del Escorial. The Vida can be divided into four distinct sections; first, lines 1-205 discuss the grace and mercy of God, Mary’s disillusionment with her life in her parental home, and her lascivious and lustful life there, as well as her departure to Alexandria at the age of twelve; second, lines 206-453 discuss Mary’s journeying with pilgrims to Jerusalem to which she offers her body as payment of the trip and later the miraculous impediment to her entering the Church based on Mary’s sins of lust and prostitution; third, lines 454-1218 present a transformed Mary, upon being unable to enter the Temple, Mary fixes on the image of the Virgin Mary—repents, enters the Church, buys three loaves of bread, then crosses the Jordan to spend forty years in the desert; later, she is encountered by Zozimás of the monastery of St. John, whom she knows all about thanks to a vision of the Virgin; in their meeting each of them asks for the other’s mutual blessing, which takes place; lastly, in lines 1219-1452, Mary separates from Zozimás to continue her penance as he returns to the Jordan, Mary dies and Zozimás is entrusted with her interment through the assistance of a lion, and Zozimás in some final exhortations admonishes the Church in a reflection of the penitent life of now Saint Mary.

In one particular scene, Mary is given power to walk on water and to arrive at the side of the bank where Zozimás eagerly awaited her; upon recognizing her miraculum, he notices she is dry and begins to worship her at her feet, pleading of her, a blessing. The poet suggests that before such “white” magic, it is proper for the saintliest of men to grovel and plead and recognize their status as subservient before such a craft; in short, her walking on water is a supernatural occurrence, and proceeds toward producing the performance of obeisance from Zozimás. Moreover, after having received the sacrament Mary returns to the desert charging Zozimás to come and look for her a year later alive or dead. Alas, it is to be in death—for Mary dies and the angels take her soul to heaven. Returning at the appointed time Zozimás, finds the corpse of Mary and the admonition written in letters scraped in the ground that he should bury the body (1373-78). It is with great difficulty that the frail, old Zozimás begins the task of digging the grave:

El alma es de ella sallida,
los ángeles la han recebida;
los ángeles la van levando
tan dulce son que van cantando.
Mas bien podedes esto jurar,
que el diablo no y pudi llegar.
Esta duenyaa da enxemplo
A todo omn’ que es en este sieglo. (lines 1333-40)

mas por amor d’esta María,
grant ayuda Dios le envia:
salió un leyón d’esa montanya,
a Gozimás faze companya; (lines 1385-88)

El leyón cava la tierra dura,
el santo le muestra la mesura. (lines 1397-98)
Her soul has departed from her,
the angels have received it;
the angels are carrying it
such a sweet sound as they are singing.
But one can well assure this,
That the devil was not able to come there.
This woman provides an example
to all mankind which is in this world.

But for love of this Mary,
God sends him great help:
a lion came out from that wilderness,
to Zozimás he made him company;

The lion digs the hard dirt,
the venerable one [Zozimás] shows him the correct

The representation of the lion as an assistant grave digger is reminiscent of the character of Christ as holding the title, “The Lion of Judah,” and again this naming plays into the theology of the poet as writer and orchestrator of Church authority. Further, God as provider even in death is an echoing theme throughout this poem; moreover, God’s power over a beast of prey, ordering it to co-exist with mankind is nothing shy of a miraculum. Evidently, if the Church relied on miracula to express the explanation of phenomena, and this is distinguished from say, other “arts” because of the source of the dispensation, then the Vida belongs to this example. The text privileges a worldly woman who enjoys the favor of God as the result of her austerities. In creating a story such as our poet has done where the beauty of a woman, itself a type of power, although presented as more of a trap than anything else, is trumped by an inner beauty that excels via God’s method of penance, the poet is arguing that God, who can forgive anyone, is playing for keeps when it comes to the soul. Mary of Egypt’s soul departs, but not until she is fully penitent and has lived out her penance with obedience. The ending of the poem returns in part to the sermonizing charge at the beginning, and utilizes the character of Zozimás, the venerable monk to do so. Zozimás and the lion return to the Monastery of St. John:

Don Gozimás comienca a fablar,
non se quiso más çelar;
de la Egipçiana que non se le olvida,
bien les contó toda su vida; (1423-26)

Don Zozimás began to tell the story,
he did not wish to hide it anymore;
of the Egyptian woman whom he did not forget,
told well all of her life.

These parts of the last 30 or so lines capture the essence of Mary’s purposeful life; i.e. her exemplary life applied to all, and that we would do well to remember the Saint because: “…ella ruegue al Criador / con qui ella hobo grant amor,” [“she prays to the Creator / for whom she had great love”] (1443-45). The poem’s final exhortation, toward a mimetic, penitent life, is an entreaty from Zozimás, the Church and of course the voice of God, wherein sin is regarded as a separator and God’s conditions for repentance are rewarded, even in death. As we conclude our analysis on the Vida, Jennifer M. Corry reiterates her position concerning the interpretation of magic along the lines of Church subjectivity, namely that which pertains to miracula. She states, “The Church believed that it had to compete with magical practice and as a result, created its own counterbalance of Christian ‘magic’” (Perceptions 137). She positions her explanation of Church authority concerning such a poem as the Vida and its saintly protagonist as a didactic example wherein, “the Church was able to suggest the immensity of God’s power,” as well as suppress and downplay the role of a woman’s sexuality by suggesting: “She [Mary] must lose her sexuality and definition as a woman in order to qualify for sainthood under the aegis of the masculine God” (138).

Shifting toward Alfonso X, we discuss a life, Las Siete Partidas (selections) and el Lapidario:

Alfonso X (1221-1284), known as el Sabio because of his rigorous attempts to bring Spain into an informed, cultural sphere of learning, was king of Castile-León in the third quarter of his life. He held extensive literary activities and in particular, his adoption of Roman Civil Law, to thirteenth century Spain in Las Siete Partidas (herein, Partidas). As one critic has noted, “He had many scholars in his traveling court, and he was an active participant in their writing and editing.” Further, Alfonso aligned himself with those scholars who were well-versed on Roman law, which prepared the king for his understanding to assemble a uniform code for his lands. The work—known as Las Siete Partidas, or the “Seven-Part Code” was in part responsible for an ethic of behavior describing the way the human future should look like, as opposed to the behavior described in the Chronicles. Among his other important works are his Crόnica General, a history of Spain from the beginnings to the thirteenth century, and the Grande y General Estoria, an incomplete attempt to describe his history of the world from creation to the time of St. Anne. Further, Alfonso X compiled a Lapidario, a Libro de las Formas y Imagenes and a book on Astrology, El Libro Cumplido en los Indizios de las Estrellas. His own literary output consists of poems to the Virgin Mary: Cantigas de Santa María. Still, how is it exactly that such a king and his court was able to write in the vernacular tongue and privilege its syntax as a worthy language of intelligent and discursive, literary form?

Historically, the scholars that were invited to the court of Alfonso X, wrote in the Castilian tongue, and by regularizing the syntax, made in the process a literary language. The Partidas as we have already mentioned were in part based on Roman Civil Law, and provided codes on manners, morals, the concept of the king and his people as an universitas, or union (corporation of sorts), within which the king existed as agent of both God and the people. Enduring a Moorish uprising in 1264, Alfonso, stimulated his cultural vita in the latter part of the thirteenth century, relying on l'histoire commander son passé. Although he may have been considered learned, wise, and to some extent a progressive intellectual, Alfonso was a poor politician; his focus on learning was unquestionable, but his ambitions to become Holy Roman Emperor were too self-seeking and locally, counter-intuitive with respect to any national unification. He advanced the existing schools of both Seville and Salamanca, and provided a tolerant atmosphere for both Muslim and Jewish cultural existence. Such cultural tolerance did not last as the pogroms of 1391 demonstrate. In Castille the laws of 1412 confined Jews to ghettos and regulated their dress. Similar legislation was passed in Aragon, and the final expulsion of the Jews came in 1492—beginning with the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews, 29 April 1492. George D. Greenia in her review of, “The Lapidary of King Alfonso X the Learned by Ingrid Bahler” suggests, “Alfonso X was certainly one of the great monarchs of his age and an independent scholar who enjoyed the means to turn the fruits of his research pastimes into luxury objects of conspicuous consumption” (791). Regardless of Alfonso’s motives for spreading knowledge and the “texture of the medieval world, where concrete reality and fantasy have equal standing and mix freely,” Greenia reaffirms, rather than discredits, such a time period in which the ambiguities of belief and belief systems (including magic) were able to co-exist. What is more, the more detailed an explanation of the supernatural there was, the less credible it seemed. Alfonso’s interests as king and curious intellectual went hand-in-hand, and his support of Arabic translations into Castilian was to him a worthwhile investment. The Lapidario is a good example of such a work based on classical sources. It contains a list of almost 500 stones, each with accompanying signs of the zodiac, assorted stars, letters of the alphabet and other “pertinent” information. Further, it relies on Ptolemy’s astrological treatise, the Almagest. Alfonso had also created his own astronomical texts and charts based on the meridian of Toledo. Greenia asserts:

The scientific lore of the Middle Ages is all too often bypassed now as foolish
speculation, yet it has a great deal to teach us about the conscientious systematization of natural history, the conceptual architecture that supported a sophisticated world view, and the continuity of natural white magic (including geology, medicine, astrology and casting horoscopes) with black magic and demonology. (791)

Such an analysis suggests that Alfonso X, though conflating myth and fact and knotting together astrology and folklore, may have still produced or rather, commissioned, “smartly commodified cultural goods that would impress both his unlettered countrymen and learned diplomats from abroad” (791). Here, the king privileges his role as educator of his eclectic people (Christians, Muslims and Jews), and applies such intellectual energy toward the fashioning of his Lapidario.
The Lapidario of Alfonso X which was begun in 1250 and completed in 1270, opens with “Del Signo De Aries,” [“The sign of Aries”] (Lapidario 13) and involves the “piedra a que llaman magnitat en caldeo y en arabigo, y en latin magnetes, y en lenguaje castellano aymant,” [“rock or stone called magnitat in Chaldean and in Arabic, and in Latin magnetes, and in the Castillian tongue Imán”] (13). Moreover, the remainder of the text is sectioned by the remaining 11 zodiac signs. There are too many stones to list which have properties than can heal, kill, provide the love, or the lust of a woman, produce good[s] or maleficium. Some stones appeared only at specific moments of planetary alignments and in the sea; one such example is a stone associated with Saturn and the sign of Aquarius. It is only discovered when the sea is heavily undulated, tumultuous and unsettled. Alfonso notes, “Hay en ella una virtud muy mala: que si la mira alguno cuando Saturno esta bajo tierra, ciega, y mirandola mientras esta la estrella sobre tierra, no hace mal,” [“There is in this stone a very harmful power: that if someone should look at it while Saturn is under the Earth, is blinded, and observing it [the stone] when the star is above the Earth, no harm will come”] (224). Such belief in the rising and setting of planets dictated a symbiotic link to one’s birth and Saturn is held, in astrological terms, as a planetary birth charter. Though the Lapidario provides a look into the scholarly interest regarding Astrology and Astronomy, Alfonso X took it upon himself to extend such academic and intellectual zeal into a codified representation for a civil Spanish society. The emergence of Las Siete Partidas is the result of such attempted “codification.”

In his massive Las Siete Partidas (c.a.1256-65; herein, Partidas), an attempt at literary exchange involving a code of manners and socio-political synergy, albeit a biased one as we shall soon note, Alfonso X in title I to his first Partida opens with:

A Servicio de Dios, e a pro communal delas gentes fazemos este libro, segun que mostramos enel comienço del. E partimos lo en siete partes, en la manera que diximos de suso: porque los que leyessen, fallassen ay todas las cosas cumplidas, e ciertas, para aprovechar se dellas. (I.3r)

We make this book for the service of God and the common benefit of nations, as we have shown in its beginning. And we divide it into Seven Parts, in the manner which we have mentioned above, in order that those who read it may find therein all things complete and certain, in order to be able to profit by them.
And so begins the opening to the first volume or Partida, which is comprised of XXIV Titulos, or “titles;” each title contains varying numbers of laws. The first three titles concern themselves with what the laws are, in what manner and manners are these laws to be observed beginning with the Holy Trinity and the Catholic Faith. The first Partida deals with Church doctrine as well as the behavior of the clergy and the structure and the democracy of Church hierarchy. The second Partida concerns the king’s behavior and his ability to add laws. In this sense the king is not above the statutes, but surely not beneath them. What concerns us here is how the community or people are to behave accordingly and civilly with one another; these are to be found in Partida II, titles XII-XIII respectively. In this second Partida then Alfonso continues to engage in the issue of war and how to handle one’s enemies, or prisoners of war (POWs), while Partida III deals with legal procedures, the roles of lawyers, oaths, evidence, judgment, concluding with property and possession. The fourth Partida deals with family laws, slavery and vassalage and the fifth Partida deals with commercial and maritime law. The sixth Partida deals with the laws of inheritance while the final and seventh Partida concerns crime and criminals, sexual transgressions, magic, those in adultery, then: the Jews, the Moors, heretics and blasphemers. The final Partida concludes with titles on prisons, torture, and punishment while the 34th title lists 37 rules or maxims necessary for the successful conduct of the Law. This brief overview surveys Alfonso X’s vast mind concerning the central focus of an informed, thirteenth century medieval community, and aids in the cementing of a Medieval Spanish intellectual history that would carry well into the fifteenth century and beyond.

The Partidas reveals not only a king and his court, but perhaps illuminates a Spanish society, and its attempts to convey the times via its literary output—where the subject of magic, either “black” or “white,” could be privileged and communicated to a large readership. By aligning magic and its aberrant practices as against the Faith, but allowing non-Christian traditions to continue, one could argue that a “controlled,” Alphonsan society, with competing traditions of Christian, Muslim and Jew existed; this type of quasi-tolerant community may have subsisted and most certainly may have flourished, especially in the communicative form of a literary exchange. As segway into the life of conversos who wrote themselves into history via the vehicle of the literary, we turn to one of its more famous authors Fernando de Rojas, and his Comedia o Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, or La Celestina (herein, Celestina).

La Celestina:

Originally published in 16 acts as the Comedia de Calisto y Melibea (1499; “Comedy of Calisto and Melibea”) and shortly thereafter in an expanded version with 21 acts as the Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea (1502), the work has been popularly known since its publication as La Celestina after its chief character, the bawd who serves as the go-between for the young lovers Calisto and Melibea. Celestina’s deeply explored personality dominates the plot, ostensibly tragic, of the uncontrolled passion of the lovers, which ends in disaster after its consummation. Calisto is killed in a fall from the ladder to Melibea’s window; Melibea commits suicide. Celestina’s coarse humour and ironic commentary, however, undercut the tragic potential of the situation; the vivid depiction of her character overshadows the philosophical significance of the work in its theme of the vanity of the human struggle against the forces of fate. Further, authorship of the work, which was published anonymously, is generally attributed to one Fernando de Rojas (c. 1465–1541), a converted Jewish lawyer about whom little else is known. La Celestina was widely imitated and reprinted in Spanish more than 100 times by the mid-17th century. It was translated into many languages, including English (The Spanish Bawd, 1631), French, Italian, German, Hebrew, and Latin. Often considered the first European novel, La Celestina was profoundly influential in the development of European prose fiction and is valued by critics today as much for its greatness as literature as for its historical significance. For this section I am concerned with naming of the character Celestina, as well as the position and influence of magic: rhetorical and object. For Celestina, her “power” is from a different source altogether, and problematizes the general divide between Divine agency and Satanic agency (i.e. her power is Plutonic).

In the last century there have been over 450 entries (books, articles, operas , et cetera) on Celestina and Spain. Within the last decade, approximately half of these are references to the Spanish, cultural backdrop regarding Spain. However, only one text examines closely the subject of Celestina, Spain and magic. Juan M. Escudero’s “La ambigüedad del elemento mágico en La Celestina,” taken from Jesús M. Usunáriz’s edited El mundo social y cultural de La Celestina is guilty as charged. This is not to say, that the critical output has been deficient by any means, but the critics have not treated all three elements within their respective discourse(s). As far back as 1954 Inez Macdonald’s “Some Observations on the Celestina” was in vogue, and this was followed by: Frederick A. de Armas’s 1971 “The Demoniacal in ‘La Celestina,’” Ciriaco Morón Arroyo’s 1994 Celestina and Castilian Humanism at the End of the Fifteenth Century, Louise M. Haywood’s 2001 “Models for Mourning and Magic Words in Celestina, and followed by a slew of dissertations still yet to be published on such subjects as: women and gardens as well as deflowering textual boundaries. The point here of course is that Celestina is very much alive, but discussion of magic within the text not so much. In Act I, scene iv, Celestina is described as an astute witch; in scene v, she becomes “desta pecadora de vieja,” or [“this sinner/transgressor of old”]; when asked by Calisto in what capacity had he served Celestina, Pármeno takes up most of scene vii describing what things she carried in her house: various potions, relics and oils of cow, of bear, of snake, of rabbit and so on (or what he extends to: “y otras mill cosas”). These ointments are to alleviate the sufferings of mankind. Time, however, does not permit that we continue along this road, but suffice it to say that magic of this type was indeed in practice and reflected the Spanish world and realm throughout. Taken together, the Vida as well as selections from Alphonso and Celestina, have allowed us to begin and continue the discourse involving magic as a viable pursuit into explaining the [un]known as an epistemological end.

Roxana: The Psychology of Sex and the Body, or The Valuation of Sexualis in the Familiar

Mullier est homins confusion-
Chauntecleer (Chaucer)

The valuation of the sex trade cannot be defined outside the context of the body’s use as both an economic commodity and psychosocial agent imbedded in the theme of slavery; these two themes- one, engaging a viable, finite product and the other, the mental role of agitated memory, guilt, and conscience support this view. The aforesaid intersect (respectively) intricately time and time again in Daniel Defoe’s novel Roxana. Defoe presents Roxana, the ambivalent heroine and Amy, her sagaciously adept maid. He engages his protagonist Roxana, quickly, into sexual escapades in exchange for survival. Her choice is a free one; however, her decision thrusts her into a life of sin and slavery. A closer analysis of Roxana’s sexuality reveals more than mere trade and turning beauty into coin. Defoe presents clearly an agent of sex bound by slavery serving both body and mind. Slavery here can be defined as that inordinate affection and attachment given to an object or person without the power to regain independence from that object or person. Roxana is a slave then to her own trade because she is attached to her money as well as to her own person. It is by incorporating this significant thread of slavery into the tapestry of the economically feasible sex trade that Roxana grants clues that expose her being. To ignore this position is to quite possibly ill-define Roxana, the person, and one could argue-to forego an important aspect of Defoe’s intended meaning of sexuality within his British novel.

Perhaps the one who mentions, “I’m sure my mistress is no fool” (Roxana, pg. 37) should reconsider her statement. Roxana is a multi-casted protagonist. She is at once the entrepreneur, a hidden, reluctant mother, and the mistress of a merchant and prince and king. Her ascendancy throughout her social attachments is paired alongside her treatment of sexuality as her commodity. In her approach to business and financing she procures a sense of liberty or freedom. This freedom also presents her as a fool, a prudent fool. Roxana is both a slave to her vice and a fool for her continuing path. She claims, “I was young, handsome, and with all the mortifications I had met with, was vain, and that not a little” (39). Here, she admires her beauty and the possibilities of such a discovery serving a purpose. The purpose is vile and even she acknowledges her condition as being “a whore, not a wife” (45). Roxana never describes herself to be smart, wise, or even sensible. Moreover, she relies heavily on what her finite beauty can provide for her. In becoming promiscuous she loses faith in marriage, in men taking control, and more overtly damages the part of the psyche known to direct one’s moral judgment-the conscience. Roxana mentions, “I was resolv’d to commit the Crime, knowing and owning it to be a crime” (41). She mentally recognizes the condition of her vice readily. At one point she describes her impaired psyche where “there was, and would be, hours of intervals, and of dark reflections which came involuntarily in, and thrust in sighs into the middle of my songs” (48). The verbal choices, consciously sexual, betray a calm disposition. Roxana is anything but calm, though living with her husband and playing “the game”, she is an unstable woman. Roxana’s faulty conscience is a direct result of her devilry or affinity to sin. Here sin can be defined as transgressing a standard and/or moral code in exchange for a lesser one. Her sin amounts to the sum of vice with her body added to her mind. The conscience, still, cries, “I was now become the Devil’s agent” (48), and yet earlier it was Amy who mentions, “has he not brought you out of the devil’s clutches” (37). The reader is left with a divided house. This division plays into Roxana’s divided mind, a mind unable to possibly separate and discern the act of sex and the thought of sex.

The psychology of sex alludes to the slavery of sex and proposes a connection between the body and the mind. “The Queen of Whores” (82), a self-ascribed title from a woman of the night lends a suggestive credibility to a faulted value system. Roxana is constantly calling herself these names, yet there exists no follow-through or lasting signs of repentance. She is at once comfortable to make such penitent remarks while her actions contradict her mental confessions. At one point she proudly mentions in thought to herself an itemization of all her sin and vice as a history. Roxana calls it a “history of this prosperous wickedness” (131). It is clear then that her action is sin and her verbal choices reassert she is a slave to her vice. She cannot shake its demands. Even when pressed to leave and quit the sex trade because she is “rich, and not only rich, but was very rich; in a word richer than I knew what to think of;” (110) she does not. Again, presented with an opportunity to depart forever a life of crime for which she began with no hope or money, Roxana makes the choice to forego freedom. She states, “I had now an opportunity to have quitted a Life of crime and debauchery”, but she does not and instead responds with “but my measure of wickedness was not yet full” (159). In short, Roxana ruled by a faulty mind and craving body for coin continues obstinate against rightful freedom. She is a slave to her passions. What's more, Roxana is a slave to her immoral drive toward coin and illogically combats moral reasoning for her present and future action(s). She reflectively asks, “What was I whore for now?” (201) She has no human answer and forswears that, though an agent of devilry herself, “the Devil himself cou’d not form one argument, or put one reason into my head now, that cou’d have serve for an answer, no, not so much as a pretended answer” (201). Roxana is admitting to her mental person that there is no answer to the question, “What was I whore for now?” Not only can she not answer the question with a rebuttal from her mind, but her reply seems to come again from that storage or default of vice, her body. She does not stop her sexual appetite. In fact, it would seem that she is all flesh and no conscience. What remains then is a dialogue between the split self, or a discourse of the mind and the body. Roxana makes her choice emphatically clear:

I cou’d not without blushing, as wicked as I was, answer, that I lov’d it for the sake of vice, and that I delighted in being a whore, as such…not being able to resist the flatteries of great persons; being call’d the finest woman in France; being caress’d by the Prince…by a great Monarch. These were my baits, these the chains by which the Devil held me bound (202).

In unpacking this statement recall the definition of slavery mentioned earlier. First, Roxana claims that “chains by which the Devil held” constrict her, suggesting impaired freedom. Second, she admits that she, “as wicked as I was”, enjoys vice and “delights in being a whore”. Again, these are her confessions from a frail and finite psyche. However, all of these points of interest rest on a greater fact-her vanity. Roxana is flattered by great persons paying great attention to her. Though she links her vices by stating “these baits” and “these chains” it is of considerable importance that her audience has served to continue her debased lifestyle. She began married to a faithless and foolish man of business then worked her way through a prince, a lord, a wealthy merchant, and a king. This shared article of trade attests to her body serving the role of a viable commodity in exchange for social mobility. However, after all is done what haunts her person remains an answer to her mind’s inquiry, “What was I whore for now?” Upon this inquiry rests a possible answer to freedom for Roxana, the quasi-libertine or pseudo-slave.

The matter of libertinism is at once ambiguous in Roxana as well as overtly dialectic; it exists on one end of Roxana’s sexual spectrum to be the ensnaring of her mind and freedom of the body, and vice versa. At one juncture Roxana mentions, “I had maintain’d the dignity of female liberty” as if to mention a freedom existing in the absence of boundaries. She is, in her liberty able to move like a man, but unable to exist in such a condition for very long. She wishes to float freely defying the gravity of the masculine, but cannot because there is no vacuum in the masculine world. Recollect, Roxana has come, “from a Lady of Pleasure, a Woman of Business, and of Great Business too” in order to exist and possibly dominate a masculine world. The most she is able to do is co-exist. Why? Apart from being a woman her mind is too frail. She is constantly sensing guilt and false honesty. The latter falls under the guise or rather disguise, if not a pretence, of a penitent. Roxana is none to be sure. She narrates, “there was a dart struck into the liver; there was a secret hell within”. Roxana is constantly battling and utilizing mental energy to keep the devilry at bay, but without success. The person of Roxana in the end concedes to the truth that having a woman behave like a man is to sin. To transgress in a masculine world is reflective of a “crime going before” (298), whereby the issue of scandal ensues.

The novel ends with a rather dismal projection on the psyche of Roxana though her outward body, that is, her material self proved wealthy and valuable. In the end, “the blast of heaven seem’d to follow…and I was brought so low again, that my repentance seem’d to be only the consequence of my misery, as my misery was of my crime” (330). It is this misery, this proven crime that places Roxana at once a slave to her mental anguish, languishing in the waves of guilt, sustained by aged body evidence, which ultimately suggests freedom to be obvious slavery.