Saturday, June 26, 2010

Three entities walked into a bar. The first entity said, "X." The second entity said, "Y." Then the third entity said "Z." Because of X and Y and the world we share, Z was funny.

I live where 1, 2, 3 is big in story telling.

Goldilocks interacted with three kind of things in the house of the three bears--chairs, bowls of porridge, and beds, and she interacted with three instances of each thing.

"But, Grandmother, what big eyes you have!" said Little Red Riding Hood to the wolf disguised as her grandmother, who the wolf has eaten. "But, Grandmother, what big ears you have!"

On the third comment from Little Red Riding Hood, things change. "But, Grandmother, what big teeth you have." "The better to eat you with, my dear," the wolf says and tries to, stopped by a luckily passing woodsman with axe who kills him. Sometimes the woodsman cuts open the wolf, and Grandmother pops out okay.

There were three brothers and the third one was thought to be stupid, but the story shows he wasn't. That's the way it goes around here often. 1, 2, 3. One, two, different.

When I was a kid, I loved "Danny Kaye's Around the World Storybook," which came out of his work for Unicef and meeting kids all over the world.

I loved it, and I got confused by some of the stories. What was happening in the stories was clear; cause and effect was clear, but they weren't one, two, three stories. They went on. Events just kept happening. There wasn't the repitition, and the quick ending.

In the string of events in these stories I wasn't sure how the stories knew when they were over.

I thought about those stories later when I learned about the word Byzantine as a bague insult. While my ancestors in Western Europe were functioning on the village level only, because the Western Roman Empire had fallen and because some parts of Western Europe had never been part of the Roman Empire, the eastern Roman Empire, called by the west the Byzantine Empire, continued for roughly a thousand years longer.

The Roman Empire got so big it was divided into two parts--the western part with Rome as the capital and the eastern part with Constantinople (now Istanbul) as the capital. The western part fell apart in the 400's, as we now number years. The eastern part fell apart in the 1400's, as we now number years.

So when my ancestors were thinking village, and something happened, and something else happened, and then something like those two but different happened, and let's talk about it, the eastern part of the Roman Empire was more organized than that, organized above that level.

That made complexity possible, and stories that went on and on, and plots with layers, some revealed later.

The people in the east didn't call their part of the empire, the part that still existed, the Byzantine empire. They called it the Roman empire, because it was a continuously existing big chunk of the Roman Empire. People from those different parts of the world can still disagree about that.

The eastern Roman empire had a big court and beauracracy. You could plan and plot happens if you understood how the court and bureaucracy worked and you were lucky.

Long stories were possible. Stories that went on and on and stopped for a while just to take a break.

The implied insult in talked about Byzantine, as in Byzantine plots, is sneaky, underhanded, over-complex. Which is how bureaucratic manuveuring can be, and can look if you lose. Which is how bureaucratic manuveuring could easily look to someone who'd always lived in a village, where what happened was mostly fairly evident as it happened.

I feel like the longer stories that sort of confused me in the "Danny Kaye Around the World Storybook" were the product of a society that was more widely organized for longer in the 400-1400 time.

You could achieve much of the effect of saying Byzantine as an insult, complex in a sneaky way, complex for no good reason, by saying "bureaucratic" with a sneer, among people who have experience of bureaucracy. Which isolated villagers often didn't.

The complex plotting of the eastern Roman empire was often like nasty bureaucratic plotting, with murder. Often murder of relatives, because they were blocking the path to ultimate power. That kind of thing often happened in the western Roman empire, also, when it existed. But it wouldn't be labeled as Byzantine. It would be presented as non-central. The Roman Empire (the whole thing when united, the western part later) accomplished a lot, united a big chunk of lands and peoples, spread culture, and it's too bad that there succession struggles were sneaky, nasty and brutal sometimes.

"Byzantine" as insult implies sneakiness was the essence of what they did. But the reality was that having organized government over a large area makes things possible that aren't possible when villages are more or less on their own in many ways.

Longer, more complex stories are possible.

Oh, those sneaky other kinds of people doing what people we identify with do with a different style that makes it so much worse that it is wholey different. Those other kinds of people are essentially the worst things they do, and the worst aspects of the good things they do. We and people were identify are essentially our best intentions and the best ways our intentions work out.

I met a women visual artist in the village square who said she thought repitition in current art is very male. But it bored her to repeat so she didn't so she got less coverage, but she felt whole making the different thing she'd never done before. That no one had done before.

She said what would happen would be a guy artist would make a series, lots of, maybe 27 or fifty, grey painting or seemingly similar jagged sculptures, and there would be slight variations in them. And the male critics got used to what he was doing and got into noticing the variations, and made up a bunch of words that valued the large group of similarities.

She would make something unlike anything she'd done before, and feel inside herself enpowered, new, electrified. But that isn't the kind of thing critics feel comfortable noticing. They want a task sort of like the kid's print publication game where two pictures are slightly different and the kid is supposed to find all five differences.

She wanted to do something like recreating the world.

What is the story about? Getting through the familiar 1,2,3 pattern again?

"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker sold many copies copies and got a lot of guff thrown in her direction.

Some men said loudly that the book said all men were brutes who beat up women. I didn't see that in the book at all. There was in the book a man who beat women, but, and I think this begins to be what created the problem, he wasn't all that important as a character.

What was "The Color Purple" about?

In a special edition of "The Color Purple" published after its great success and Alice Walker getting lots of negativity thrown her way, she wrote an introduction that pointed out that the central passage of "The Color Purple," clear indicated as central by the title, says or implies that the book is about God and about how people in the book might relate to God.

One woman character said to another that if you walk by the color purple in a field where God has left it for you because you got the man on your eyeball, you are in deep error.

This passage implies that women know about God and know how to talk to each other about God, and that the oppressor's grey painting should not take over your life.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit walked into a bar.

The Father said, "X" in a grown-god kind of way. The Son said, "Y," like someone who has been there. The Holy Spirit said nothing. Butthe air beneath the air moved like a breath, like a tap of wings close up. There was a lightening such as is brough about by spirits sometimes and sometimes by laughter. A lighening like a pause in the gardener's work when the garden talk back with silence.

We walked out of the bar closer to being what we are.