Sunday, February 28, 2010

Yes, but where does this "Donkey Ride" come from?

The critical reception for my "Donkey Ride" has been positive, thus far. There has been some small confusion regarding the, ahem, "reactionary subtext" of the poem, but acting swiftly and with the aid of an amanuensis, I have put an end to the rumor (perhaps started by an emulator?) that the poem is in any way a squib tossed in the direction of Mr. Arthur Quiller-Couch, or, for that matter, any other fellow traveler. Still--alas, still--while critics are unanimous in their approval, no small controversy has emerged over the question of the fountainhead of my vision. What, they demand, could possibly be the source for this new (that is to say never-before-seen) extrinsic phantasm? "Surely," as one critic fleered, "Mr. Kaplan is not asking us to ponder Wittgenstein, again?" I should retort the origins of that statement are obvious, and I am not, I repeat not going for that bait, again. Ha, ha, ha. Really, my friends, while it is usually incumbent upon the literary artist to smile coquettishly and demure when prodded to reveal the source of his inspiration, I think I should (to confound my nemesis, if nothing else) break the rule this one time and hint, and not without some indication, that the muse which moves my pen in the case of my animal poetry, at least as it concerns six-legged subjects, is in fact Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi.

But wait, a donkey has only four?

Ah, but does it!

An Invitation to Ride a Donkey

The Donkey Ride

Riding down the dusty trail
The desert smells like bones
The horny toads feed the owls
The black crows laugh and caw

Over the hills your donkey goes
His foot is true and sure
Jumbo jets etch the sky
Time has turned to stone

You think you lost your way
But your donkey is not slow
Bankers and pirates have no claim
‘cause a donkey needs no roads

Across a desert wide and cruel
Across to the other side
Any old donkey will take you there
If you have the guts to try

So ride a donkey if you dare
The good Lord holds it dear
He won't forget the pact you made
When you scratched that donkey's ear

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Milton Presents the Fall

When precisely in Paradise Lost does the "fall" take place? When Adam makes the mental decision to follow Eve's advice? As they actually share the apple? When their transgression is discovered by the angels? When they are expelled from Paradise?

As an overture, the question that first comes to mind is this: does Milton present any contrasting theological positions in Paradise Lost and De Doctrina? That is, is he writing for the same purpose, or does each work address similar subjects but for different purposes?

Similarly, might Milton's gloss on the supralapsarian and sublapsarianism doctrines (does Milton comment on the Synod of Dort?) inform our understanding of where/when the fall took place? Or, like Calvin, does he simply set forth the doctrine and then retreat from elaboration. Calvin is moving on for his own purposes, while Milton—or so it would seem—is using the question as a point of departure to display his learning, spin myth, and crack jokes to delight his fellow travelers?

The poem's initial descriptions of humanity's fall are not humorous, however. Consider Milton's descriptions of the universe going through various contortions.

When Eve plucks the apple from the tree:

Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat

Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe,

That all was lost. (PL 9.782)

As Adam eats the apple:

Earth trembl'd from her entrails, as again

In pangs, and Nature gave a second groan,

Skie lowr'd, and muttering Thunder, som sad drops

Wept at compleating of the mortal Sin

Original; (PL 9.1000)

It is important to consider that in Paradise Lost it is not the contemplation of transgression that precipitates the fall, but the actual act of transgression itself. As evidence, consider Eve’s dreaming of disobedience in Book V. As Adam advises her, sinful thoughts are not themselves sinful unless they are “approved;” that is, acted upon. Too contemplate sin is not to sin.

Evil into the mind of God or Man

May come and go, so unapprov’d, and leave

No spot or blame behind: (PL 5.117)

So it would seem the specific act of eating the apple precipitates the fall.

Though the specific act of eating the apple precipitates the fall, the nature of that fall is rather curious. The conclusion of Book IX shows us that the "fall" is characterized by, first, enthusiastic love-making, and then, second, by an absurd domestic squabble, in which Adam and Eve blame each other for the transgression. Indeed, Milton's comedic hand is quite plainly evident at the end of Book IX: The "Fall" is an archetypical domestic argument between husband and wife. What is even more absurd is that in this case they are arguing over who is to blame for the Fall of Humanity. The passage is a delightful drawing-room farce, pure drollery.

Though, indeed, is there any state more "fallen" than a knock-down quarrel between a husband and wife?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

How to Write a Proposal Letter


All this exciting talk of business conferences and leadership seminars has me thinking about the vast motivation conference industry. Why shouldn’t our own organization, Kaplan and Martindale, Inc. try its hand in this field?

What I propose is a series of conferences called “From Schlemiel to Schtoonk: Action Power Seminars.” We’ll put our clients on a track that will correspond to how many times they attend our meetings, for which we'll charge a nominal admission fee of $579 dollars. In order to enhance a sense of progress and success, our clients will receive certificates that recognize their progress as they move up from “ Schlemiel to Schtoonk.” Here are descriptions of the success levels:

Level One: Schlemiel.

The Schlemiel is the real bedrock of corporate organization. He or she is in a unique situation to grapple with entrepreneurial opportunities where the rubber really meets the road, where, in fact, the Schlemiel often gets run over. Certificate fee: $25 dollars.

Level Two: Schmuck.

What can I say? The Schmuck is probably the most recognized face in the business world today, and the occasion of clients receiving their Schmuck Certificate always creates great excitement at the seminars, where becoming a Schmuck is followed by heavy drinking. Certificate fee: $75 dollars

Level Three: Lucky Schmuck.

A real milestone. The Lucky Schmuck is recognized for his mastery of the art of getting paid for doing nothing. And who says doing nothing is without value? It beats working! And, anyway, not having something to do is of little concern to the Lucky Schmuck, because he doesn’t want to do anything meaningful in the first place. Certificate fee: $178 dollars.

Level Four: Lt. Schmendrick.

Our Lt. Schmendricks are real go-getters. You can recognize them by their chiseled features, beady eyes, and that radiant aura of keen entrepreneurial ability that says, “I’m ready to kick my fellow Schmendricks down stairs!” Certificate Fee: $237 dollars.

Level Five: Full Schmendrick.

Very few conference clients ever make it to full Schmendrick, and I’m going to tell you why. First, the requirements to become a Full Schmendrick are very difficult to achieve. Characteristics such as good grooming and meticulous personal hygiene, finely chiseled facial features, and the ability to speak to large numbers of people and successfully deceive them are rarely found altogether in a single individual. Indeed, it’s rare to find these qualities in twenty Lt. Schmendricks combined. Also, the Full Schmendrick must possess the ability to make things happen around him without people’s knowledge. This is not to say that our Full Schmendrick is a Machiavel, but it is perhaps indicative that our Full Schmendrick is most often found working in black budget government intelligence departments, or in the motivational speaking industry. Also, the certificate for this level is quite expensive, and anybody willing to pay for it has got to be a Schlemiel! Certificate Fee: $925 dollars.

Level Six: Schtoonk.

Our highest distinction. Everybody hates the Schtoonk, talks behind his back, envies him, but at the same time obeys him without question, flatters him to his face, and secretly wishes he could become a Schtoonk himself. Really, to be a Schtoonk is the Walter Mitty dream of all our clients. Schtoonks are very wealthy, and they are welcome to attend our seminars free of charge. Actually, people who pay for our meetings are forever disqualified from obtaining the level of Schtoonk, but only you and I are privy to this information.

It's a great opportunity, Chip, and I suggest we move on it pronto!

Talk to you soon,