Skip to content

White genocide? All lives matter

21 May 2016

For several years now we have been bombarded by propaganda from white racists who long for the “good old days” of pre-1994 National Party rule who have tried to portray “farm murders” as “White genocide”.

Sorry about the “scare quotes”, but they are actual scare quotes intended to scare people, and make them believe that if black people are allowed into government they will all immediately start to murder white people.

This report from as local newspaper (it doesn’t seem to have made it into the national media) gives the lie to that propaganda.

Community stands against farm attacks | Vryheid Herald:

FOLLOWING the brutal murder of Billy Van Rooyen and his father in law Ronnie Lombard, the community members of Zwathi took to the streets saying ‘enough is enough’.

These members of the ward 4 community headed down to the Gluckstadt Police Station to hand over a memorandum regarding their concerns over the rise in crime in their area.

The main issue raised in the memorandum was that of the killing of farmers, which in turn has a negative influence on the community’s infrastructure as many of those working on the farms lose their jobs.

Go to the newspaper web site and read the whole story. Look at the picture of the marchers. They are not black people out to murder white people in a genocidal pogrom as the racist “white genocide” propagandists would have us believe; they are black people protesting against crime, and the murder of white people and black people alike.

The community members of Zwathi, which falls under Ward 4 of AbaQulusi Municipality took to Gluckstadt Police Station to voice their concerns over the rising crime rate in the area.

The community members of Zwathi, which falls under Ward 4 of AbaQulusi Municipality took to Gluckstadt Police Station to voice their concerns over the rising crime rate in the area.

Racists get very upset when people say that all lives matter.

But the people who marched to the Gluckstadt police station demanding that something be done about the high crime rate are quite explicitly saying that all lives matter.

WhiteGenocideThe white racist conspiracy theorists want us to believe that there is a concerted plan of genocide, to kill all white people, starting with white farmers. In doing so, they debase the meaning of the word “genocide”, degutting it of all meaning. They post graphics like the one on the right on social media sites like Facebook.

What is really happening?

Criminals generally choose to rob farmhouses because they are isolated and far from towns, and they know that by the time the police get there, they will be far away. Isolated farms are a soft target. Occasionally one may find that “farm murders” have a motive other than robbery. Agricultural labourers may attack a farmer or farm manager because of unresolved disputes about wages or working conditions, and sometimes farmers attack farm workers for similar reasons. There have been farm murders where a farmer has shot at school children taking a short cut across his farm.

Very often the robbers who attack farms come from somewhere else. They are not people from the local community and do not care about the effects of their actions on the community. Criminals rarely care about such things. Most professional criminals do not pattern their lives after those of romantic heroes like Robin Hood or Pretty Boy Floyd.

It’s about time that we realised, like the people of Gluckstadt, that all lives matter. Farmers and farm workers, miners and policemen, pedestrians and motorists, black and white.

 

The Shack (book review)

10 May 2016
tags:

The ShackThe Shack by Wm. Paul Young
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

There was quite a lot of discussion of this book on the Internet when it first came out, and a lot of people seemed to think it was marvellous, and a great contribution to Christian literature. I never saw it in book shops, but wondered what it was about.

Then Val brought a copy home from the library, read about 20 pages and gave up. She said it was twee, especially the bits that referred to God as “Papa”and it reminded her of the pink and purple “Christian” books with script titles one sometimes sees on the sale tables of bookshops.

After finishing another novel I was reading, and still plodding my way through Proust’s magnum opus, I thought I would have a look at it.

The beginning seemed a bit Enid Blytonish, especially the description of the preparations for the camping trip, and the actual travels, and the first few days at the camp site. The initial drama of the missing person search perked up my interest, as did the return to the shack where the missing child had been held. And then “God” appeared, and I couldn’t go on, and skipped to the final couple of chapters, just to see what happened in the end.

In its structure it resembles The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, but the difference is that The Shack strikes me as utterly cringeworthy. I don’t usually skip bits when reading books, especially not a relatively short one (this is under 250 pages), but I simply could not go on reading the middle bits. I found its entirely anthropomorphic conception of God was a bit too much. Even The Satanic Verses didn’t go that far.

View all my reviews

Poetry and politics

5 May 2016

Owing to flu, some were unable to come to our monthly discussion on Christianity and literature today, but those of us who were ther had an interesting if rather rambling discussion of Beat poetry and current politics.

We read one of Tony McGregor’s favourite poems, A Supermarket in California. Tony’s book didn’t have one of my favourites and I could only recall isolated snippets but, thanks to the word-wide web, here’s a link to the complete poem, Christ Climbed Down by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. My favourite verse is this:

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck crèches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Because we weren’t sure who would be there and what we would talk about, I also printed a list of books I have read this year.

Books read in 2016

Berg, Martin Litvinoff, Miles. 1992.Ancestors: the origins of the people and countries of Europe. Euroland.
A brief summary of the history of Europe as a whole, followed by descriptions of the various peoples who have lived in Europe. from the Alamanni and the Alans to the Vlachs and the Welsh. The final section is a description and potted history of each of the countries of Europe, but to about 1991. .

Gansky, Alton. 1999.A ship possessed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
A WW2 submarine that went missing in the Atlantic reappears fifty years later on the west coast of the USA.

Gerritsen, Tess. 2012.Last to die. London: Bantam.
Set in a boarding school in a remote area in Maine, USA, where most of the pupils are victims or survivors of violence. Three of the pupils, whose parents had been murdered, still seem to be threatened. .

Lewin, Hugh. 2002.Bandiet: out of jail. Parktown: Random House.
Hugh Lewin was a member of the African Resistance Movement and was arrested in 1964 for his part in their sabotage campaign, and sentenced to 7 years in prison. Among his fellow prisoners were Raymond Thoms and Marius Schoon. .

Nkosi, Lewis. 2002.Underground people. Cape Town: Kwela.
In the dying days of the apartheid era the National Liberation Movement sends Cornelius Molapo to his home ground of Tabanyane, to coordinate a local uprising with the national liberation struggle. To account for his disappearance they put around the story that he had been detained by the Security Police, which brings Anthony Ferguson, who works for an international human rights NGO, to South Africa to investigate his disappearance. For Ferguson, a South African expatriate who had been out of the country for 15 years, it was as much of a strange homecoming as going home to Tabanyane was for Cornelius Molapo.

Rickman, Phil. 2003.The lamp of the wicked. London: Pan.
Gomer Parry’s workshop burns down and he suspects a rival in plant hire, Roddy Lodge, whose workmanship in installing a septic tank he has criticised. But then a woman’s body is discovered, and Roddy Lodge becomes a suspect in that too, Detective Inspector Frannie Bliss of the Hereford police thinks he is dealing with a serial killer and Merrily Watkins’s advice is sought by all, Her daughter Jane, meanwhile, entering an atheist phase, is trying to foster a romance between her mother an Lol Robinson, the erstwhile folk singer who is reclutantly making a comeback.

(Midwinter of the Spirit)
Rickman, Phil. 2005.Midwinter of the Spirit A crown of lights. London: Pan.
Merrily Watkins attends a course on exorcism, and is proposed by the Bishop of Hereford for the post of “deliverance consultant”. Suddenly there seems to be a lot of work to do in that line, and some rather disturbing connections seem to emerge.

Wilson, Robert. 2007.The blind man of Seville. London: Harper.

We recommended Phil Rickman’s books to Tony McGregor, who had not read any of them, though we think his earlier ones are better than the later ones. They seem to capture the spirit and culture of English Christianity and social life, and to a lesser extent Welsh Christianity at the end of the 20th century.

Politics

We also talked about current politics. The EFF are not very convincing when they tell us how they will put things right, but they do have an uncanny knack of putting their finger with what is wrong. If, in the coming local government elections, the ANC lose a significant number of municipalities, the tenderpreneurs will be seriously annoyed, and the word is that the present violence and vandalism in Malamulele are a foretaste of what could come. The amalgamation of two municipalities will seriously invonvenience the tenderpreneurs in one of them, and it said that they are behind the violence and burning of schools etc. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape letters, muncicipal official with graft sauce is a staple diet of demons.

On the way home we went to visit the Owl Bookshop in Pierneef Street, Villeria, which seems to have quite a good selection of second-hand books. Next door was a Pizzeria, for those who find browsing bookshops makes them hungry. It seemed appropriate that there was a scooter parked outside.

Pierneef Street, Villeria

Pierneef Street, Villeria

Holy Week and Pascha 2016

2 May 2016

Each year we seem to manage to get to fewer and fewer of the Holy Week and Pascha services. Since Val retired, and the introduction of toll roads, it has become too expensive to travel much, so we had reduced the number of services we go to, and went only on Good Friday and Pascha itself.

Holy Saturday Matins, St Nicholas, Brixton

Holy Saturday Matins, St Nicholas, Brixton

We went to the Paschal Vigil at St Nicholas in Brixton, where, sad to say, the Easter kiss was omitted, for the first time in my memory. It was the Easter kiss that first got me hooked on Orthodoxy, and until this year it had part of the unbroken tradition of the Church of St Nicholas of Japan for the last 28 years. Singing “Let us embrace each other joyously” without actually doing it seems to show that we have lost the plot, and are turning Christianity into a spectator sport.

Some of the children fell asleep during the Paschal Vigil, so when everyone went into the hall for breakfast, Vusimuzi Nkabinda stayed behind in the church to keep an eye on them

Some of the children fell asleep during the Paschal Vigil, so when everyone went into the hall for breakfast, Vusimuzi Nkabinda stayed behind in the church to keep an eye on them

On the way home from the Paschal Vigil, at about 3:45 am the cops stopped us, and demanded that Jethro, who was driving, get out of the car. He asked why, and they said they wanted to search him. So he asked if we could go to the police station, because the place where we had stopped was a lonely one, under a bridge, where people are often mugged, and it has not been unheard of for robbers to dress up in police uniforms and then rob people. So we drove to the Villeria police station where the police inspected Jethro’s driving licence and looked at the car, and then we went on home.

We got to bed at about 4:30 am, and had to be up again at 6:30, when we went to fetch Alinah Malahlela from Mamelodi, and took her with us to Atteridgeville for the Hours and Readers service there. Alinah’s family were away for the weekend, and it was the only service she, or any of the people at Atteridgeville, would have for Holy Week and Pascha, so we thought it fairly important that they should have something.

The African Orthodox Church in Atteridgeville, Tshwane.

The African Orthodox Church in Atteridgeville, Tshwane.

We met, as usual, in the African Orthodox Church (AOC), which we use for our Sunday services at 9:00 am, and the AOC people have their service at 10:30 am, so the timing works out rather well. The AOC had invited us to join them for Western Good Friday a month before, and we had done so, so we invited them to join us for our Easter, which the did. We had the Hours and Readers Service, as usual, except that the Hours of Pascha are different — shorter, with no reading of Psalms, and a lot of singing. And in spite of the fact that only three of us actually knew the music, it sounded as though everyone was singing, and the singing filled the little church. We took Alinah home, and got home ourselves at 12:00 noon. At lunch we had our Easter eggs scrambled, with bacon.

After the Hours and Readers Service in Atteridgeville, Easter Sunday morning, 1 May 2016

After the Hours and Readers Service in Atteridgeville, Easter Sunday morning, 1 May 2016

We left again just after 4:00 pm, and went to fetch Fr Frumentius at the Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Gerhardville, and went back to St Nicholas in Brixton for the Vespers of Love.

The road to Atteridgerville, traversed 4 times on Easter Stunday

The road to Atteridgerville, traversed 4 times on Easter Stunday

We read the Gospel (about Doubting Thomas) in as many languages as we could find Bibles for and people who can read them. I’m not sure of all the languages that we read this year, but among them were English, Greek, Iralian, French, Herero, Pedi, Zulu and Afrikaans. One year we had 17 languages, including Masndarin Chinese. I don’t think we’ve ever had Japanese, even though the church is dedicated to St Nicholas of Japan.

The choir at St Nicholas, Brixton, leaqding the singing of the Agape Vespers 1 May 2016

The choir at St Nicholas, Brixton, leaqding the singing of the Agape Vespers 1 May 2016

About a third of the people in the congregation left at the beginning. so they didn’t get to hear that, but the rest of us had a good time.

Vespers of Love -- reading the gospel in different languages

Vespers of Love — reading the gospel in different languages

In the Orthodox Church Easter Week is called Bright Week, and unlike other occasions, at Vespers during Bright Week all the lights in the church are turned up to the maximum, making the church look much brighter4 than usual.

Agape Vespers at St Nicholas, Brixton. 1 May 2016

Agape Vespers at St Nicholas, Brixton. 1 May 2016. The Holy Doors are left open throughout Bright Week, and no kneeling is permitted in church between Pascha and Pentecost.

We took Fr Frumentius home, and got home ourselves at about 10:00 pm. I estimate that this Pascha we must have driven nearly 500 km, and spent about 10 hours of the previous 24 sitting in a car, travelling to and from services. In the course of that driving we saw at least four other vehicles driving through red robots at high speed. There are always news items at long weekends  about the number of people killed on the roads, usually attributed to speed. But this is misleading. It is not usually speed alone that is the problem, but recklessness. Driving at 80 km/h on an empty double carriageway late at night, when there is no other traffic, even when there is a 60 km/h speed limit, is not really dangerous. Driving though a red robot at 140 km/h, passing other vehicles waiting there, is a big problem. The driver of such a vehicle has no chance to see if a vehicle is coming the other way, much less to stop to avoid it.

 

A social misfit on social media

24 April 2016

This morning I gained a bunch of followers on Twitter, and got added to half a dozen lists.

I’m not going to follow them back or add them and sooner or later they, or their bots, will work that out, and drop me, or unfollow me, and when that happens it’ll look bad in the statistical trackers. That doesn’t bother me much, because I don’t work like that. I don’t solicit followers on Twitter, and I rarely follow back someone who follows unless I’m interested in what they have to say.

socialmisfitIt seems that my mind doesn’t work the way social media expect people’s minds to work.

The thing that got me so many new followers and got me added to so many new lists was that I posted something about “user experience” on my other blog. And my experience is that whenever software marketers go on about an “improved user experience” it is invariably coupled with degraded software performance. They add more bells and whistles by melting down the pistons and cylinders.

But because I posted some rather detrimental comments about “user experience” on web pages, I suddenly get people following me and lists adding me because I used the #ux hashtag. Well, perhaps it will do some good. Maybe if a few more web designers get the message and start using more legible fonts it might help.

Another example is the Patheos website, and this is a more serious theological point. I discovered that some of blogs that I used to read regularly had disappeared from their usual places, and reappeared on something called Patheos.

My initial reaction was not very favourable, and you can find more about that on my original post. But there’s something else, which I think is more important. You see, Patheos claims to be “hosting the conversation on faith”. Now that tells me right away that my blogs don’t fit there, because none of them are really part of a conversation on faith. A bunch of blogs having a conversation on faith seems to me to be horribly introspective, introverted and self-referential. Narcissistic, even.

Some of my friends have talked about “public theology” and “theology in the public square”, but Patheos seems to be doing the opposite — removing the “conversation on faith” from the public square and confining it to some sort of religious ghetto. And anyway, it shouldn’t, for the most part, be a conversation on faith, but rather should be faith conversing on life. Add the universe and everything as well — them too.

I suppose Patheos must seem like a very good thing to those militant atheists who demand “freedom from religion”. Get the “conversation on faith” neatly corralled into one little corner of the web and they know where to stay away from. Except that Patheos has them covered, and has an atheist section as well.

And then there are those web pages — usually articles recommended on one or other social medium — where you haven’t read the first sentence before something pops up, hiding what you were reading, and asking you to like it on Facebook or subscribe to some newsletter. Unless the first half of the first sentence is very, very interesting so that I really want to read it, that is the point at which I go back to the original page where I found the link.

But the point is, what are the web designers thinking?

What are their expectations of the people who will look at that page?

That they will like something before they’ve read it? That they will subscribe to every publication with a link to that they haven’t read?

A long time ago I was browsing through magazines in a newsagent, trying to see which ones had articles that interested me. I was definitely going to buy one, I was just trying to decide which one. The shop owner demanded that I put them down. I must buy them sight unseen, and read them at home. I walked out of the shop and never went back. Now web page designers seem to do the same thing. I see no problem with them asking such things at the end, when I’ve read the article, but popping them up at the beginning seems to expect a mentality that is very foreign to me.

All this makes me think I must be a social media misfit, and this article suggests that I am: Social Media & Personality: Are You a Misfit? – Louise Myers Visual Social Media.

That makes sense, except for one thing: if I find this stuff weird because I’m an introvert, why do I find the whole concept behind Patheos rebarbative because it is too introspective and introverted?

Now, if you’ve read this far, and find it interesting, you can post it on Facebook or Twitter by clicking on the relevant button below. But if I was fit for social media, I should have asked you to do so at the beginning. You don’t have to read it, you just have to “like” it.

But, better still, write a comment below (not on Facebook) to tell me where and how you agree or disagree with what I’ve written. That’s a conversation, even if it isn’t strictly about faith.

 

 

 

Civilization

15 April 2016

This morning we went to TGIF to hear Tom Price speak on Building civilisation without becoming uncivilised.

Next week I will be speaking at TGIF on African Independent Churches, which also, in a way, relate to the question of civilization, but more on that below.

Tom Price quoted G.K. Chesterton as saying “Civilisation, what a wonderful idea, someone should start one.” I’m not sure if Chesterton actually said that, and such quotations are a bit elusive, like the other famous one about America “going from barbarism to decadence without an intervening stage of civilization.” I thought that one was Ambrose Bierce, but I couldn’t be sure.

It doesn’t matter much, though, because Tom Price had some very good things to say, and I won’t try to reproduce them all here. He noted some threats to civilisation, and how to counter them, and commented on the relationship between Christianity and civilisation.

One of the questions he posed was how one defines civilization.

I had one of those “Aha!” moments when I was browsing in a university library and my eye lit on a book title Die stad in die mens. Perhaps I was dreaming, because when looking it up in the library catalogue, I cannot find it. But what struck me about it was that it expressed perfectly the difference between urbanization and civilization. If urbanization is about man in the city, civilization is about the city in man.

And that recalled another obscure book (though one that I do have on my shelves), Zulu transformations by Absolom Vilakazi. What Professor Vilakazi discovered in his research was that the main cultural difference among the people where he did his research, in the Valley of 1000 Hills, was between Christians and Pagans. Among Christians, on could find urban values even in the rural areas; among pagans, one found rural values, even among urban workers. In other words, pagans were urbanised but not civilised; Christians were civilized, even when not urbanized. That was over 50 years ago, but it does signify the contrast between man in the city, and the city in man.

It also reminded me of the book of Lamentations, where the refrain is “How doth the city sit solitary when it was full of people.” It seems to the lamenter that cities full of people are a good thing, and that expresses something of the notion of civilization. And if you Google for “abandoned places” you will find something of the same theme in popular culture today.

And I wondered how much that linked with the Victorian missionaries’ triad of Christianity, commerce and civilization?

Vilakazi didn’t attempt to answer that question — he was an anthropologist, not a missiologist, and such a question was beyond his brief, or remit, as people would say nowadays.

Nineteenth-century Western missionaries in Africa tended to think that Christianity, commerce and civilization went together. One of those who propounded this view was David Livingstone, who thought that the church could not develop in security in Africa while the slave trade continued, and so believed that the slave trade must be superseded by “legitimate commerce” before the Christian churches could take root. That wasn’t, however, a notion that seemed to occur to St Paul. This notion also led later historians of the historical materialist school to assume that Christian mission was simply a more oblique means of spreading the gospel of capitalism.

The explosion of Christian mission in Africa in the 19th century also instigated anthropological studies of the cultures the missionaries went to. But we had to wait till the late 20th century before anyone thought of doing an anthropological study of the missionaries themselves. It takes two to tango, and if Christian mission was an instance of cross-cultural communications, one needs to study both cultures doing the communication.

This task was undertaken most notably by Jean and John Comaroff (I’ve heard rumours that they will be visiting South Africa this year) in their book Of revelation and revolution:

Of Revelation and Revolution, Volume 1: Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South AfricaOf Revelation and Revolution, Volume 1: Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South Africa by Jean Comaroff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anthropological study of missionaries and their converts.

The thing that strikes me most strongly in this is that the Western missionaries were modern, and came from a culture shaped by modernity, but the Africans they tried to evangelise were essentially pre-modern. Some have taken these differences to represent an essential difference between European and African culture, but it is not difficult to see that if a missionary came to So0uthern Africa from 9th-century Europe they would be on the same page as Africans, and would be as little understood by their fellow missionaries of a millennium later as the Africans were.

The 19th century missionaries brought a gospel that had been contextualised into Western modernity, tailored to solve the problems of 19th-century Westerners. They discovered that 19th-century Africans faced an entirely different set of problems, which they did not understand at all, like witchcraft. Ninth-century missionaries would have had no difficulty in relating to those problems, but 19th-century missionaries could not. So they thought the solution was to civilise Africans, in order to give them problems that the missionaries thought their gospel could solve.

This is a huge over-simplification, of course, and one could write a whole series of books with qualifications and nuances and all that good academic stuff.

But one of the things the Western missionaries did was translate the Bible into local languages, and teach people to read it. And the Bible is a thoroughly pre-modern book. And one of the effects of reading the Bible was that many African Christians began to recontextualise the Westernised gospel back into pre-modernity, and one result of that was the appearance of African independent churches, or AICs.

That is what I will be speaking about at TGIF next Friday, 22 April 2016, 6:00 am for 6:30, at the OM Link building on Kitsch Corner. If you’re interested, come along.

 

 

 

Beat Generation blues

7 April 2016

We had another literary coffee klatsch today (for the first one, see here), once again at Cafe 41 in Arcadia, and this time, at David Levey’s suggestion, we discussed the Beat Generation. David was particularly interested in the correspondence between Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and noted that they tended to be male supremacists and exclude females.

I found the discussion very interesting, as I have long been interested in the Beat Generation writers, and interest sparked off by an Anglican monk, Brother Roger, of the Community of the Resurrection, who mentioned them in a paper he read at a conference of the Anglican Students Federation at Modderpoort in 1960 (and he was invited back for a second go in 1961). You can click the link for a combined version of both papers, with the title Pilgrims of the Absolute.

My favourite book by Jack Kerouac is The Dharma Bums, and my favourite work by Allen Ginsberg is his poem Howl. Jack Kerouac is probably best known for his first novel On the Road, which I didn’t much like. But in view of David’s comment about male exclusivity, I suggested that an interesting comparison could be made between On the Road and Off the Road: my years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg, which is a feminine take on it. As the GoodReads summary puts it:

On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac’s years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, “a sideburned hero of the snowy West.” As “Sal Paradise” and “Dean Moriarty,” the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience.

Neal Cassady (alias Dean Moriaty) and Jack Kerouac (alias Sal Paradise). Photo taken by Carolyn Cassady.

Neal Cassady (alias Dean Moriaty) and Jack Kerouac (alias Sal Paradise). Photo taken by Carolyn Cassady.

The actual events that Kerouac writes about took place in the 1940s, and their carefree jaunting around wasn’t much fun for Neal Cassady’s wife Carolyn, who was left home holding the baby. As she describes it, Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac were selfish, immature and irresponsible, and she was probably right. Except that she met Neal Cassady during his jaunting, and should have known what he was like.

The impression I got from her book (which none of the others had read) was that Carolyn was torn between the freedom and spontaneity of the Bohemian jaunting of Neal and Jack, and the current bourgeois ideal of the stable American nuclear family, which, however “square” it may have seemed, did have its attractions when you had to feed and clothe the kids and pay the rent.

The bourgeois American family ideal

The bourgeois American family ideal

Later the Beat movement (as opposed to the much smaller group of the Beat Generation writers) came to a more conscious and explicit rejection of what they saw as bourgeois American values, and by the late 1950s the movement was quite widespread, and ten years later, in the late 1960s had morphed into the hippie movement, which spawned a lively underground press and a much more widespread and vocal countercultural movement. But in its inchoate beginnings in the 1940s it was much less articulate.

At this point we began talking at cross-purposes. What were the characteristics of the generation that had grown up during the Great Depression and lived through the Second World War? Tanya Pretorius thought that the women were proto-feminists, and were the first generation who had learned to be independent of males (I hope I’m not misrepresenting her point there).

GraFlan1I tend it to see it more in economic terms. Contrary to what the picture asserts, the things in the picture are all things that can only be bought with money: the clothes, the houses, the quiet neighbourhood. People had to earn enough money to live like that, and it was usually the males who had to commute from the suburbs to the city centre in order to earn the money that enabled them to live in the suburbs. And for the Beat Generation this was the “rat race” that they opted out of.

One of the points made by Brother Roger in the Pilgrims of the Absolute paper was that the Beat Generation and others were engaged in a spiritual search, and the Christian churches of the time were so embedded in the rat race themselves that they had nothing to show to such seekers. But there were also bourgeois seekers of the time, and they followed spiritual teachers like Edgar Cayce and Starr Daily. Carolyn Cassady was interested in both and for a time managed to interest Neal and Jack in them, but never with much enthusiasm. I recalled that in the 1950s my mother was engaged in a spiritual search, and had some books by Starr Daily, and also received a publication called The Path of Truth from a local guru, Nichol Campbell, whose teaching was based on Theosophy. Tanya Pretorius thought I was being rather dismissive in comparing Edgar Cayce with Nichol Campbell, whom I described as a motivational speaker. She thought Edgar Cayce deserved to be taken more seriously than that.

It was about this time that Jack Kerouac encountered Gary Snyder (alias Japhy Rider in The Dharma Bums). I thought (and this thought really struck me most strongly in this discussion, so I have to thank Tanya, David and Val for prompting it), that Gary Snyder was a much healthier  role model for Jack Kerouac than Neal Cassady, and sparked off his “Zen Catholicism” thoughts, which he expressed in The Dharma Bums. When he came down from the mountain (literally and figuratively) as recounted in Desolation Angels he fell under the influence of Neal Cassady again, and his writing deteriorated, and never recovered. Neal Cassady was really more of a ducktail than a Beat.

And that sparked off a memory of when I was a student, and a youthful member of the Liberal Party, and a group of us Liberal Party youth were rounded up and taken to meet the Grand Dame of the Liberal Party, Margaret Ballinger, who had been the only Liberal MP in the South African parliament until her seat was abolished (she represented the black constituency of Cape Western). At the gathering she asked me to explain to her the difference between beatniks and ducktails, which I did by saying that the beatniks (well, actually the Beats) rejected the values and goods that bourgeois society offered, and sought to disaffiliate from it, whereas ducktails accepted the values, but just wanted to get the goods more quickly — as Queen later put it, “we want it all, and we want it now”. So it seems to me that Neal Cassady was more of a ducktail than a Beat.

Some of this rejection of bourgeois American values is told in a book written by someone from the outside looking in to the Beat counterculture of the late 1950s, The Holy Barbarians, by Lawrence Lipton. Perhaps this quote from Lipton’s book can show why Brother Roger compared the Beats to the early Franciscans:

The New Poverty is the disaffiliate’s answer to the New Prosperity. It is important to make a living. It is even more important to make a life. Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honorable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to offer are not valued at a high price in our society. As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an advertising job: ‘I’ll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.’ It is not the poverty of the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty.

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 543 other followers