Visit Of The Queen Of Sheba
As gifts to Solomon the Sheban Queen
brought lavish presents, Cushite gold
and precious stones and incense, clearly keen
to prove that she would not withhold
her treasures from a monarch who had built
his reputation on his wis-
dom, and a temple expiating guilt,
thus offering herself as his,
not sacrifice upon a temple altar,
but partner in his bed.
We see the gospel writer subtly alter
the story when he writes instead
of three wise Zoroastrian priests who bring
gold, frankincense and lots of myrrh,
with which they please the child who would be king,
mere infant to whom they defer
as if he’d been anointed over all
the Jews, like Solomon or royal
David, from whom we recall,
the infant to whom they are loyal
[...] Read more
Eureka Rings A Bell
“Eureka! ” moments sometimes may result
from outright theft, with Graham Bell the worst
example. For he traveled to consult
the patent of Elisha Gray, the first
to find a way to speak by telephone,
and aided by a drunken patent clerk,
got credit for the patent which alone
should have been Gray’s, who did the major work
before the son of the professor Bernard Shaw
would use as Henry Higgins’ model stole
his great invention and used patent law
to take not part of credit but the whole.
Could it be that Archimedes, too,
stole from a competitor the math
enabling him to figure out what you
and I’ve been told he found out in his bath?
Marjorie Kehe reviews The Telephone Gambit, by Seth Shulman, in The Christian Science Monitor, January 9,2008:
How often does a detective story upend history? Probably about as often as a science and technology journalist pens a page-turner. But with this month's release of 'The Telephone Gambit' by Seth Shulman both these unlikely events are coming to pass at the same moment. This slender volume (252 pages, with notes and credits) is a work of nonfiction - although the strangeness of truth definitely overtakes fiction here as Shulman explains how he unraveled Alexander Graham Bell's claim to have invented the telephone. We may never be absolutely certain, but 'The Telephone Gambit' presents compelling evidence that Bell snuck a look at rival inventor Elisha Gray's patent application, stole a crucial element from it, and then lived an uncomfortable lie for the rest of his days. This is not the work of a muckraker. No one wanted to reach such a conclusion less than did Shulman, a longtime admirer of Bell's. But that's exactly why this book is such a good read. Shulman carefully spells out not only the steps he took to piece together his story, but also the reluctance he battled en route. Why would Bell - a man whose good character was noted by all who knew him - behave so dishonorably? How could he have stolen from a rival he had never met? And is it even possible that such a high-profile crime could have gone undetected for so long? The answers to these questions unspool neatly throughout Shulman's narrative but they read more like the stuff of thrillers than of the history of science. Figures in this real-life drama include (it would seem) an alcoholic patent clerk, some unscrupulous attorneys, and a beautiful young woman whom Bell yearned to marry. Shulman's first glimpse of the story came in 2004. He was enjoying a yearlong research fellowship at the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There, he was studying recently digitized reproductions of the private papers of Bell. Shulman was thrilled to be able to follow so close on the heels of his hero - yet puzzled by something he saw. Shulman knew the story of the invention of the telephone as well as anyone - or at least he thought he did. Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray filed patent applications on the very same day in 1876. (Gray's was actually a 'caveat' - but it would have served the purpose of staking Gray's exclusive righ”The Telephone Gambit, ” by Seth Shulman in The Christian Science Monitor, January 0,2008: t to continue research in this area.) According to the official story, Bell filed a few hours earlier than Gray and so was awarded the patent. Then, the next month, he had the breakthrough moment we've all read about in the history books. (After spilling acid in his lab, Bell shouted, 'Watson, come here, I need you.' Watson, in another room, heard him through the device they were experimenting with and thus was born the telephone.) Or so we've always believed. But what troubled Shulman was that Bell's 'eureka moment' depended on an element that had been completely missing from Bell's research until only two days earlier. Then, this crucial link suddenly appeared in Bell's journal in a sketch remarkably similar to a drawing found in Gray's patent application. In the days just before this sketch appeared, Bell had not been working in his lab. On the contrary, he'd been in Washington, filing his patent claim. I won't spoil the fun (and it is fun) by explaining exactly how Shulman proceeded and what he discovered as he worked backward from that point. Bell, he ended up concluding, was a great innovator who had made much progress toward the telephone, but he is not its creator. Instead, it seems, he was a talented, decent man, who lived with guilt ever after being pressured into an unseemly act of theft. Shulman does a neat job of painting, in rapid brush strokes, a portrait of the thrilling era of innovation in which Bell lived and also of the interesting circumstances of his life. (His speech professor father was the real-life model for the Henry Higgins of George Bernard Shaw's 'Pygmalion.') Shulman also manages to lace his work with just enough technology to tell his story without losing the interest of any low-tech readers. As a result, 'The Telephone Gambit' succeeds splendidly as an edge-of-your- seat historical tale. Yet it also manages to go somewhere deeper, leaving readers with intriguing questions about the ways in which truth may remain undiscovered, even when lying open in plain sight.
[...] Read more
Junle Law And Refusal To Forgive
When Israelis captured Eichmann and
decided they would put him up for trial
many people thought their conduct vile,
claiming Israel's acts were grossly out of hand.
The Washington Post said this was 'jungle law, '
while William Buckley called on Israel to
forgive its enemies. Arendt, a Jew,
called Hausner 'a Galician who knew
no languages.' No Jews would turn their cheek
towards the enemies not just outside,
but those within, and chose to override
complaints of those who said, 'We must be meek.'
Few understood the shift in paradigm
initiated by the judges, Jews
who were not merely plaintiffs who accuse,
but people justly punishing a crime.
This poem was written fifty years after execution of Adolf Eichmann, at around midnight on 5/31/62.
Franklin Foer, reviewing Deborah Lipstadt's The Eichmann Trial in the NYT,4/8/11 ('Why the Eichmann Trial Really Mattered') wrote:
[...] Read more
Joseph's Gloss On God
When Joseph tells his brothers: “I
am not God, ” he perhaps implies
that unlike God he sometimes lies,
and unlike Him, is doomed to die.
The words that Joseph never said
are wrong, as we find out when burned;
God often lies, a lesson learned
from history, and God is dead.
Inspired by a review by Paul Buhle of R. Crumb’s The Whole Book of Genesis, in Forward, October 10,2009 (“In the Image of God: The Ambition of R. Crumb’s Graphic Genesis”:
To say this book is a remarkable volume or even a landmark volume in comic art is somewhat of an understatement. It doesn’t hurt that excerpts of the book appeared during the summer in the New Yorker and that the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles is opening an exhibit of the original drawings from which the book’s contents were adapted. “The Book of Genesis, ” Robert Crumb’s version, nevertheless stands on its own as one of this century’s most ambitious artistic adaptations of the West’s oldest continuously told story.
No comic artist has been more influential than Crumb. In terms of sales, his work is dwarfed by the superheroes and, in comic art prestige. Art Spiegelman, and a short list of others including Alison Bechdel and Marjane Sartrapi may have displaced Crumb. But Crumb’s influence abides and endures in his occasional LP/CD covers, in his volumes of collected work (16 volumes so far and counting) , his artistic prizes and a generation of artists who have incorporated his particular view of humanity.
Surprisingly, his best work in 20 years has actually been in the genre of adaptation, specifically an adaptation of Franz Kafka, dating to the mid 1990s. On that highly curious point, any consideration of this “Genesis, ” as a highly personal comic art, properly begins. Notoriously, Crumb is a gentile who fled from his deeply dysfunctional Delaware family to the Cleveland neighborhood of Harvey Pekar and the arms of the first of two Jewish wives. “Crumb, ” the 1994 film documentary, was in many ways about emotional pain (including a brother doomed to suicide) and his craving for a certain kind of woman, who, although possibly any female with a bemuscled backside, was in fact most likely to be Jewish. She, reality and image, was his consolation. The strips that he drew of Jewish-American life, nevertheless, reworked stereotypes, some funny (he visits Florida with his second wife, and holds a tiny grandfather on his knee) , and some, doubtless, insulting to many readers.
In the pages of “Introducing Kafka, ” Crumb became his fictional protagonist with such depth of insight into the logic of the doomed writer, as well as of Kafka’s famed works, that many readers were simply astonished, this reviewer among them. Kafka is the exemplar par excellence of a type of ambiguous, tortured mittel European Jewish personality as it hovered between faith and uncertainty, shortly before the Holocaust. Not Spiegelman, not Ben Katchor, nor Sharon Rudahl, nor others who drew historical or quasi-historical strips about Jewish history, had taken the characterization as far as Crumb. An earlier escape from Middle American culture had propelled Crumb toward his satirical protagonist Mister Natural, a Zen-like, robed quasi-prophet of the 1970s-80s. Three decades later, Crumb’s robed prophets are far from Zen.
Crumb’s “Genesis” is then perfectly serious and the author wants us to know it. As he says on the cover, “Nothing Left Out! ” Every “beget” from the King James Bible can be found here, along with plenty of scenes censored from previous graphic adaptations. And more prose, in the final “Commentary” segment of the book, than non-writer Crumb may have put on the page anywhere, aside from his published letters. More striking for anyone but the seasoned Crumb fan: unlike previous Biblical comic adaptations, including some published and drawn by Jews, Crumb’s characters actually look Jewish, the women even more than the men. The contrast to the classic work, EC Comics’ “Picture Stories from the Bible” (1945) in that respect is most illuminating. But more recent works like the best-selling “Manga Bible” (2000) are not much different (nor was the “The Wolverton Bible” by one of the strangest of comic artists Basil Wolverton) . Close readers will see Crumb’s wife Aline Kominsky, to whom the book is dedicated, again and again, in various guises; perhaps only Chagall drew his beloved wife so often and with such varied imagination.
Not only are the characters Jewish here, they are all ages and sizes. If, for instance, there are more drawings of Jewish elders in any single volume of comic art anywhere, I have never seen them. The women here are beautiful when young, heavily busted with large, muscular thighs. The men are strong, their beards full and noble. The deity has a really big beard and retains his notoriously bad temper, as well as his commanding presence, and absolute demand for loyalty. The animals of Genesis (in Noah’s ark and elsewhere) may be where Crumb is most similar to earlier comic art adaptations of Biblical texts, but they are drawn, like everything else, with such loving care that they are special and demand repeated viewing.
In those extensive notes at the end, Crumb comes as close as he is ever likely to revealing the sources and depth of his commitment to the text. He had been puzzling, no doubt under a wave of feminist criticism, about the gender struggle, until Torah scholar Savina Teubel’s “Sarah the Priestess” (1984) gave him new insight: a matriarchal background, female deities and actual female power, in a society turning toward patriarchy but retaining some elements of women’s prehistorical strength and centrality to the direction of early civilization. If anything is reinterpreted purposefully in “Genesis, ” it is in gender, and Crumb does so not by scoring points but by rearranging the visual subtext. Gender issues also help him reframe somewhat the class dimension of tribal society, which endures not through brute force but because of the strength of its women.
The commentary on his visual choices and his broader interpretations explores and explains his few intentional deviations, not only in the name of narrative clarity but artistic intent. Mainly, his notes drive home how he struggled to interpret the text in suitable graphic form, chapter by chapter, sometimes even character by character. There is no doubting the artist’s integrity or hard work, in no small part because he redrew again and again, trying to find historically accurate clothing and scenery. The Old Testament of cinematic Charlton Heston, so to speak, became the Genesis of lived and perceived experience, socially real and super-real. Clues are provided with translations of specific Hebrew names within the visual text, essentially metaphorical in meaning. These clues may be the closest to footnotes that Crumb has ever provided.
[...] Read more
When Abraham was weak and old
he forced his slave to swear an oath,
while grasping of his member hold:
“Make sure that Isaac plights his troth
to someone from my ancient clan;
from Canaanites don’t choose a damsel;
in Canaan I believe each man
to be a mamzer, girl a mamzelle.”
Everybody knows a mamzer
is repulsive to the Jews,
a cockroach rather than Greg Samsa,
but mamzelle is a word I choose
instead of mademoiselle, for rhyming;
a lot of members of my tribe
like them a lot when they’re good-timing,
though outlawed by the Bible scribe.
The slave asked God to make it clear,
by giving him a secret sign:
“The first young girl who will appear
[...] Read more