The Contemporary Dunciad

Dave L.

“The world is dominated by people whose greatest talents are proliferation, incompetence, a keen sense for self-preservation, and the ability to drop members of that tiny minority of the population which is actually capable of solving problems, in the shit.”

-Simon G. Sheppard

What sort of things have The Dunciad’s gotten themselves into today? To answer this, we have to go back a bit. It all starts with what I call, “the Cult of Dulness.” In their formative days, the first thing they did was begin to lie to themselves, deliberately forgetting that was is against truth is both unprofitable and unjust. These lies accumulated, forming a shakey scaffold on which to build their totalitarian empire. Their whole worldview spawned in the self-indulgence of material abundance, making them believe in earnest that milk and honey grew on trees, and were their natural right. They believed they could obtain justice without law and order, wealth without labor, peace without  force, and harmony from deliberate disunity. They believed their material possessions were easy to accrue (for, of course, they shunned their ancestors and forgot their sacrifices), they believed they could tear down every existing order and tradition – the good along with the bad – and that it was their imperative to do so. Since things were actually pretty decent the world over, they had to lie to themselves even further: making a bastardized inversion of what the world is and thus how it should be. Their whole paradigm became about tearing down every semblance of order and social norms: and from this worldview came “Chaos.” The time was right, too: “Night” had descended after the recent fall of the millenia’s last great civilization, and dusk slowly approached the men living amongst the ruins. From Chaos and Night came their offspring, Dullness. And it is this unholy royal family that rules with an iron fist today.

The results are predictable: Science has been halted, shackled down by shouting hordes of cultists: he slowly shuffles, pitiable and importent. Logic had his tongue cut out years ago; and his crazy step-sister, Sophistry, shrilly shouts her “pub-shock arguments” upon which the cult found it worthy to charge six-figure sums to learn in colleges. Morality is kept in the basement, tormented by impish curs who strut about, calling themselves “moral”. And the royal family watches it all: The mother, Dishonesty, watches while holding her daughter, Chaos; together they utter their dry harpy laughs at the incessant pain they cause the world over. Dullness takes herself too seriously to find humor, but is still silently proud of her work nonetheless. She sternly prevents people from saying anything naughty: you can find her censoring people Dishonesty tells her to. She preaches decorum and civility while her co-patriots and cult-adherents run rampant. Night stands alone, solemnly enjoying his reign, enjoying the shroud of lies he swept over the women, who now do his bidding. The heads of the cult frequently offer sacrifices: here’s a few wars, here’s a debt-based currency, here’s more disunity and pain, here’s another social norm we’ve destroyed. The lower members enjoy immense privelege while the common man condemns them.

It would be dramatic to emphasize the fear and danger of living in the Cult of Dullness’s dystopia: and there is reason to be afraid. But once you see past their lies and terror, you only become more jaded, more immune to the sweeping terrors of this destructive facade. Have you ever spent so much time with a known liar that you stop being so angry and start to become bored by his prescence? It’s the same thing here. When I hear about the blatant corporate censorship, the lies percolating throughout our histories, the constant fear-mongering about the cult’s Satan figures (none of which deserve an ounce of hatred they get), I just get really, really fucking bored. I was blessed to find the antidote early in my age: and it is Truth. While truth is chained and enslaved now, it lives forever, so it can wait a long time.

When people try to defy the Law of Gravity, the result is always bruises and broken bones. Similarly, when people defy the laws of ethics and act dishonestly, the result is always the Truth coming back to break their bones. I know how this will end: if we don’t stop it, then the results of the Cult’s experiment will kill them all, brutally, and wipe the slate clean. Truth is angry, and he is waiting for his day to set the world straight again.

“It is worth something to recognize that what is wrong in life is based on emotional unreality and is temporary. What is right in life is part of the reality that unfailingly endures, establishing the principle that might is right.”

– Richard W. Wetherill

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I made a few choices that set this short essay apart from its source material, Pope’s “The Dunciad.” The first is obvious: I chose to avoid writing in the same epic form. This was due more towards my admiration of the original’s formula then time constraints or laziness on my end. I simply didn’t think I could replicate it well, and I believe that a short essay was much better for my purposes. The second difference is that I didn’t write exclusively using the allegorical components, only using them sparingly, since it would be redundant and dumb to use so many allegories in an essay format, so I centralized them in one paragraph. The third is more thematic: the settings and subjects are way different. Everyone would find it droll to read an essay about long dead English prudes, so I chose to write mine on a more relevant topic. I avoided naming names because I only had so much room to spell out why I hate them and want them all dead, and I think everyone will find what they want to see in this poem. Finally, I wanted to experiment and see if a creative essay could rival a formal literature of power.

So can you replicate a literature of power? I think not. Mine pales in comparison to Pope’s work, and I doubt only a few would be moved by it today. I think it is possible to achieve similar results (especially if I had the space and captive audience I wanted), but not total replication.

Thanks for the time, and the good year.

 

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Borozio: not a Bozo

Dave L

The harp is among the most famous signs of Irish nationalism, associated with a large number of regime changes and social movements stretching back hundreds of years. Taking that and applying it to India provided an engaging, empathetic way of viewing the Indian culture. The fruits of this labor are present in The Harp of India by Borozio.

In it, he paints a vivid picture of the desolate, dreary hellscape of colonial India. Borozio makes the implications that the spirit of India has fallen away under British colonialism, and why wouldn’t it? British colonialism just expanded the music of the British harp, while keeping hands away from the Indian harp. Thus the Indian harp hung “lonely on [a] withered bough”, for nobody was there to play it. It is unfortunate that two cultures can seldom meet equally, and that when two greet each other one is always “louder” than the other.

beavis understands

Washington D.C.

Dave L.

(England in 1819 by Percy B Shelley)

The politicians lie and scheme and steal,

To slate the needs of the people who pay.

Said private interests can do what they feel,

Chuckling up their sleeves all the live-long day.

Journalists can also go suck my nuts,

Every word from them is a shitty lie.

Spending all day cravenly kissing butts,

Nothing would be lost were they all to die.

The people who vote can all go to hell,

These people think they are so important.

They think the government does what they tell,

Then forget it quick in the next moment.

I want to bring back the old-timey king,

Who just told us all what we had to do.

Could be good or bad, with always the swing,

For a king I think we’re long overdue.

I hope Vlad the Impaler comes again soon,

In D.C. everyone deserves their body parts strewn.

(I’ll gladly help, I have nothing better to do.)

“The Idiot Boy” And its Romantic ties to “The Monk by the Sea”

Dave L

The opening stanza to The Idiot Boy is reminiscent of the themes of loneliness and smallness one encounters in nature, and these themes are captured in the painting “The Monk by the Sea”.

romantic-image

The poem opens thus:

“‘Tis eight o’clock, – a clear March night,

the moon is up – the sky is blue,

The owlet in the moonlight air,

He shouts from nobody knows where;

He lenghtens out his lonely shout,

Halloo! halloo! a long halloo!”

Choosing to open this poem by emphasizing such a feeling of smallness in nature is meant to give perspective to the foibles depicted in the work, hence the title The Idiot Boy. We can clearly see this paralleled in the painting I named: one can imagine the small subjects past experiences being washed away by the insignificance he experiences in nature.  Any attempt to assert one’s significance in nature will yield no returns, and the asserter will be disappointed. The painting captures these themes well; in choosing to depict a religious subject (i.e. a Christian monk) it harps on the themes that the nature God created renders human foibles meaningless, an understanding that would no doubt be known to many similar monks (who chose to extricate themselves from said society). The effect is doubled by choosing to paint the subject by the sea, where his insignificance is made bare by standing next to what humans tend to perceive as infinite. The large clouds also add to this effect, in that while they are transitory, they rival the size of any King’s army. These feelings of insignificance underlie the rest of the poem. By making a bold dramatic telling of a mother in search of her retarded son, it’s almost mocking her sense of confusion and fear.

It is worth noting that these Romantic themes are persistent in modern culture because the more we know about the universe, the more we come to grips with our own smallness.

 

Maiden and Mariner

Dave L

Coleridge’s poem and Maiden’s song have a few crucial things in common. They both have a similar style, using rhymes and a repetitive number of syllables to lull the audience into fully experiencing the story. Additionally, they both have the same subject matter and story: they both focus on the connection between spirituality and the natural world, and the bad consequences that result from defying both. Both works place emphasis on the hermit, who lives in accordance with God’s laws and the natural laws.  What is surprising is the extent to which Maiden remained true to the original poem while managing to incorporate its metal influence into things. The metal influence serves the song well, as it relays in a more direct and visceral way the fear and suffering that the mariner endures. The singer’s harmonizing energizes the suffering and emotion the mariner endures, the riffs do wonders in capturing the energy and horror the mariner feels. Of both versions, I prefer Coleridge’s because it’s more spooky and haunting, but Maiden gives the poem a new dimension that makes it a great adaptation.

 

 

The Allusions in “The Interesting Narrative”

The best way to begin this is to look at what Apess did in A Looking Glass for the White Man. Apess repeatedly took Gospel readings and used them as a cudgel to bludgeon Whites. The holier-than-thou attitude was successful because he repeatedly contrasted those passages with his accusations against the Whites. When we compare this approach to Equiano, we find a similar result.

Equiano’s allusions had three effects. The first is that it showed blacks could engage with the higher European literature. The second effect is that it shows the slaves could relate to these works on a far more personal, physical level than most Europeans. The example I use below is a sterling example of this. This follows into the final effect, which is its appeal to Enlightenment individualism. In the mind of a historical European, what better proof could there be of individualist values than this black guy quoting the literature of the time? It would show that an African was capable of transcending the limitations of his race and using his intellect to become a fellow individualist. This sort of thing thrills contemporary adherents of individualism today; I doubt yesterday was any exception.

On page 103, at the end of Volume 1 and Chapter 5, Equiano quotes a passage from Paradise Lost. For context of the poem, the devils are debating what should be the next course of action, given that they’ve been ejected from Heaven. For the context of Equiano’s book, he is describing the torture inflicted upon his fellow slaves, and asking if not the owners feared any sort of violent retribution.

———–[No peace is given]
To us enslav’d, but custody severe,
And stripes, and arbitrary punishment
Inflicted? and what peace can we return,
But to our power hostility and hate,
Untam’d reluctance, and revenge though slow,
Yet ever plotting how the Conqueror least
May reap his conquest, and may least rejoyce
In doing what we most in suffering feel?

The correlation between these two accounts is obvious, and Equiano’s follow-up to this only goes to further solidify the effects listed above. Although he took it a little out of context (in the poem, the devil speaking decides to attack Earth and humanity instead of Heaven), the effect is still strong, in that constant repression results in restlessness – a message fit for the subject matter at hand.

But by changing your conduct, and treating your slaves as men, every cause of fear would be banished. They would be faithful, honest, intelligent and vigorous; and peace, prosperity, and happiness, would attend to you.

And that final word serves as a way to close off the story. Thus, all three effects listed above are fulfilled. It shows some slaves could read, it shows that the same slaves can relate to the work on a deeper level than the cozy Europeans, and it shows that the system of slavery was limiting blacks, preventing them from achieving their utmost individual potential.

Dave L

Alexander Pope: a Good Guy

Dave L.

Image #2

I really enjoyed this poem. My favorite passage is the following:

[Dulness] mounts the Throne: her head a cloud conceal’d,
In broad effulgence all below reveal’d
(’T is thus aspiring Dulness ever shines);
Soft on her lap her Laureate Son reclines: 
Beneath her footstool Science groans in chains, 
And Wit dreads exile, penalties, and pains.
There foam’d rebellious Logic, gagg’d and bound;
There, stript, fair Rhetoric languish’d on the ground.

There are countless parallels between the time in which we live, and the subject of this mock-epic. While I won’t go into contemporary parallels here, it’s safe to say the symptoms have remained more or less constant. One such parallel is the mocking response to genuine criticism, as embodied in the image below.

After seeing a cartoon such as this, it is clear to see the inspiration for Pope’s excerpt above (the cartoon predates Book IV of the Dunciad). Perhaps the lines above were, to some degree, influenced by this very cartoon.  Confer this image with the verse above: it’s not very witty (I like puns but the pope hat one kind of sucked), it’s not any sort of logical attack against his ideas, and even for a cartoon it has pretty cheap rhetoric. The excerpt from one of his earlier works down beneath, without any sort of response to it, serves to highlight Pope’s point: that his enemies have no way to address genuine criticism (which is why science, wit, logic, and rhetoric all need to be tied up). Still below is a mockery of Pope’s epic style: “Spleen to Mankind his envious Heart pofseft,/ And much he hated All but moft the Beft.” This is the cartoon equivalent of making fun of something a guy says in a funny, stupid voice meant to imitate him. The biggest irony is that the phrase “know thyself” is printed above, but the author of the cartoon cannot see his own dullness.

Briefly, I might say this ties in with Gulliver’s Travels, in that these Enlightenment goofies had no self-awareness: despite presenting themselves as dedicated to the pursuit of intelligence, they didn’t even know themselves. The excessive wordiness in Book IV of The Dunciad may also be said to mock the haughty wordiness of Pope’s contemporaries. While I am not qualified to make that assertion, if it is true, then the mocking “moft the beft” line above would have yet another layer of irony.

The cartoon depicted is unfunny, boring, and illogical. And – just as is exampled in the verse above – when something has those qualities, it is dull. It is the Enlightenment equivalent of The Last Jedi.

Swift’s Golden Shower of Truth

Dave L

I liked Gulliver’s Travels because it effectively satirized the pompous egos and needlessly ornate descriptions of Enlightenment literature. Here’s a passage of an essay written about the qualities of truth by Bacon:

“To pass from theological and philosophical truth to the truth of civil business, it will be acknowledged even by those that practice it not, that clear and round dealing is the honor of man’s nature, and that mixture of falsehood is like alloy in coin of gold and silver, which may make the metal work the better, but it embaseth it. For these winding and crooked courses are the goings of the serpent; which goeth basely upon the belly, and not upon the feet. There neither duty ascertained nor diligently examened and weighed, and leaves all the rest to meditation and agitation of wit.”

Now compare that to the description Jonathan Swift gives of pissing on the palace fire to put it out (pg. 52).

“I had the evening before drunk plentifully of a most delicious wine, called glimigrim… which is very diuretic. By the luckiest chance in the world, I had not discharged myself of any part of it. The heat I had contracted by coming very near the flames, and by labouring to quench them, made the white wine begin to operate by urine; which I voided in such a quantity, and applied so well to the proper places, that in three minutes the fire was wholly extinguished, and the rest of that noble pile, which had cost so many ages in erecting, preserved from destruction.”

I enjoy this sort of thing, because no matter what Enlightenment literature I read, I’ll have an image of this dork peeing on the royal palace full of tiny people for the rest of my life. Like many good jokes, it’s funny because it’s absurd.


Swift has a larger overarching point to make in this type of passage. He is calling attention to the pompous nature of the Enlightenment man: even with hindsight, Gulliver can’t see the ridiculousness in his own actions. And that is the perfect kind of target: one who takes himself seriously. It’s why the “valley girls” were such ripe subjects of ridicule in their time, and why we make fun of “hipsters” today. There’s no better way to call attention to the arrogance and stuffiness of the Enlightenment writers than by having their archetype (or avatar or what-have-you) do this stupid, ridiculous act without any self-awareness. Additionally, Swift made his whole book easy to understand and fun to read; conversely, the passage from Bacon is a bunch of fakely ornate circumlocution and boring expostulation. This means that every literate person could have joined in and mocked the kinds of people like Bacon, typified in Swift’s novel.

Apess Legend pens to Mary Rawlandson

Dave L

To Mary,

I feel the utmost sympathy for you. The men who kidnapped you, starved you, beat your kids, killed your loved ones, and disemboweled your infant were all Godless and evil; and if there is the divine justice, I’m sure there’s a hot seat in Hell for your particular captives and murderers. In fact, I believe you should have been more cruel in your description and condemnation of them, since they were defying our mutual Christian ethics and doing things far worse than the bulk of what I accuse the whites in my most recent speech of doing. In the same way that the whites of the future will condemn their ancestors for owning slaves, I will heartily condemn my own for killing your loved ones and subjecting you to a long series of merciless torments. Just don’t be racist, in the future, though – because that’s crossing a line. Remember: it’s not the color, but the principles.

 

All that aside, I think you would agree with the pretenses of my speech, given that my great-grandfather’s tribe was also clearly very nice to you – they gave you tobacco and scraps of food. The pretense being that the path to mutual peace between our people is of reconciliation and compromise, and to uphold the Christian ideal for which we both individually endeavor. You and I were alike in that we both have found a deeper connection to Christ in suffering: you had your child disemboweled in your arms and I had colonists move onto my land and take advantage of my people. The path forward, as always, is through Jesus Christ: who is the way, the truth, and the life.

R/S

Billy Apess

On examining History and Rawlandson

Dave L.

I try to avoid examining history with the same moral standards we apply today. One has to look at the time in which the examined people lived, and take in a “big picture” glimpse of what was going on throughout the world. Using the current worldview to examine history is stupid at best and dangerous at worst. It’s stupid because it’s a simplistic and lazy way to look at history (e.g. “Vlad the Impaler is bad because he tortured people”); it’s dangerous because doing this always results in the past looking evil. If the past looks evil, the response is to destroy it: either by changing it over time or through suppressing it. People who are not proud of their history have no reason to labor for the future.

(This is why I barely skimmed that dude’s blogpost linked in the prompt, by the by. “I for one, am not a racist, sexist blah blah blah.” Congrats, dude, you hold different beliefs than people in the past did. Go pat yourself on the back, you’re such a good person.)

As a result, I tend to be agnostic on these kinds of issues brought up in the prompt until I’ve fully studied the context. I don’t know too much about the early period of North American colonization (other than what I’ve heard in lecture and small articles and such, which isn’t and shouldn’t be enough), so I’ll refrain from discussing it. I can, however, judge the book for its own sake while remaining agnostic about its accompanying historical trends.

Assuming the contents of the book are accurate, then no matter how you look at it, Mary Rowlandson did nothing wrong. If anyone believes that she doesn’t have the right to call her captors savages or demons after they killed and starved her children, after they probably raped her, after they beat her and made her their slave for the better part of 3 months, then I have nothing to say to them, other than that their brains are polluted and they need therapy or something. The petty kindnesses given to Mary by the tribe are moot, since they were not theirs to give in the first place: she should not have been taken captive. Those who say she merits or deserves her troubles because the Indians were “just striking back” or “she had it coming because she was a colonizer” should know that those same excuses could be used to justify reprisals against those captors. I know that if I went through a similar ordeal, there would be unimaginable hell for the captors to pay.