‘A Harlot’s Progress (2006)’, directed by Justin Hardy – review

71+BMGiROqL._RI_Throughout human civilization, prostitution has been arguably something of a necessary evil, intentional or unintentional, an institution of erotic bartering between a client and s prostitute for wants of flesh and fortune. For a client, it’s all about releasing his rapacious libido in a brothel, whereas for a prostitute offering a pleasure of the flesh can be a means to a social mobility in a period when women’s place was confined by biological determinism. But that social mobility would be possible with the intervention of Goddess Fortuna. ‘A Harlot’s Progress’ follows a life of an unfortunate prostitute named Mary through the eyes of William Hogarth, an English painter and social critic renowned for choice of his subjects crossing the strata of the social class system for inspirations.

The painter Hogarth chooses Mary as his unofficial muse for various paintings depicting modern moral subjects as a series of picturesque statements of social criticism on the oppressed conditions of the poor whose lives are already determined by their biological and social statuses. Likewise, Mary’s downfall from a beautiful courtesan to a common, over-the-hill backstreet slut is already a foregone conclusion for the nature of the profession. Besides, she’s not exactly cut out for a fine prostitute with artful plans to forward her rank and condition; she has a pride but no courage. She yearns for a polite society, but her frailty of character prevents her from advancing in her career to a mistress of a high-birth man. In other words: Mary chose a wrong job that ruined her life.

The film is said to be based upon a true story with references to the famous figures of William Hogarth and his friend Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones. It gives the veracity of the event with a charge of authority, rendering the story of lachrymose life of Mary emotionally powerful and factually unchallenged in the veneer of historicity. Yet, in terms of objectivity of the stance that the film takes, its view on prostitution in the 18th century London is clearly askew on the side Mary because she is cast as being a victim of the social evil with her purity of the soul torn apart by men’s rampant animalistic sexual desires as presented by all uniformly unattractive and perverted men on screen. In fact, the only pitiful character in the film seems to be Mother Needham, who is mercilessly abused on the pillory for three consecutive days and nights of stoning, defiling, and cursing from the public who were once or twice her clients and neighbors. The sight is sufficient to incite pathos because of her plea for life authentically delivered by the excellent performance of actress Geraldine James.

No one can throw stones at Mary for her life of “sin and depravity” because there’s no one who is immaculately cleared of guilt and sins to judge her character as arbitrator of morals. But then she is responsible for her own life with her own free will to choose to be a harlot. For not all destitute women driven by abject economic conditions are succumbed to the trade of the flesh. Nonetheless, this film is a good period drama that resurrects the ethos of the time with the parlance, habits, and costumes of different classes peculiar to the 18th century, well executed by a cast of classically-trained fine thespians.

swept away – chapter one

3334d704022e42fad10b32d8694af248It wasn’t love at first sight, really. Although one look at him would suffice to appreciate the principle of beauty incarnate in his statuesque figure, it wasn’t the tall, well-toned body that she fell for. It was the eyes that played upon her usual stoic inner world, sweeping it in the whirlwind of unquenchable longing, wanting, and yearning: big, brown, warm, passionate, soulful, and doleful, all the marbles of his spirit sparkled in the windows of his soul. The faculty of her mind worked with her imagination in the peculiar alchemy of infatuation and turned the rut of life into a theater of fanciful motion pictures about love. That was what made her go through her existential life. For she always had to be in love with someone fictional, nonfictional in the highest ether of her imagination. For that was what she subsisted on to give her burst of zest for life. What others would think of her was not her savior vivendi because she belonged to her class of her own, her own world of dreams and wishes, which was her own only in her muliebral meditation.

Alas, poor Iris! I know her, my dear reader! She was a descendant of Dido, a human-bred fairy whose lineage belonged to Clytie, who pined away for her unrequited love for Apollo and became Sunflower. For her own person, Iris beggared all description: tall, slender, beautiful, she was something of a Cassandra whose words were regarded as hallucinated riddles in divine madness as her punishment to refuse Apollo’s love. Maybe it was Iris’s cool, reserved aura from her being that held back romantic advances from men. But she was none other than a mortal woman with none other than woman’s reason, so she always found her love interest in men whose stars were high above in the nightly skies. Hence, she was invisible to any of them and existent to none of them like a wondering spirit, traveling the boundary of this world and the Netherworld at night. But Iris was content in that surreptitious way of unrequited love without a litany of woes and pains that relationship was fated to bring.

Always searching, always dreaming, Iris now found her Aeneas in him. But this time she wanted to manifest her beautiful self before his beautiful eyes because every part of her somatic existence ached for his attention and her spirit invoked a divine intervention to charm his anima. She did not want to be like Clytie whose echo was still haunting in Valley of the Lonely Hearts. That was why Iris went to a wise woman known for her witchcraft of love spells and pharmaka, the ancient Greek love potion believed to be invented by Goddess Ceres. Iris’s preferential choice would be a love spell, which she thought would fit her secret purpose in the most portent way. With this secret machination of love, Iris resolved to make a trip to Arcadia, where the witch was already waiting for her because she knew she would come to her.

names do matter

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Some brand names have become unique nouns in days of our lives: a box of Ziplocs to carry leftovers from last night dinner for lunch, an iPhone that has become a safety blanket, a Kindle for all-around entertainment, and a box of Kleenex to wipe away make-ups or tears… Then there are the ubiquitous Starbucks stores for perk-me-up coffee or regular hangouts… The panoply of brand names is illustrated in the ordinary scenes of our daily life as a byproduct of endless human cultural and social enterprise. Hence, I think it worth noting the origin of some of the globally proverbial brand names of products that we are familiar with.

The first and foremost principle of naming a product is to make it as catchy and snappy as possible to effortlessly remember. In this regard, Nomitative determinism can be also linked to a name of a product because it can decide its longevity and popularity based upon the ingenuity of name that matches its purpose with brilliant ideas taken from literary inspirations, cultural influences, or historical artifices. Take Mazda, which is originated from Ahura Mazda, the ancient Persian God of light, wisdom, intelligence, and harmony, the highest supreme being in Zoroastrianism. It is also a symbol of eastern and western cultures. Nike is the winged goddess of victory with the resounding slogan of “Think Nike”. Starbucks comes from the chief mate in Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick. It is also interesting to know that the name Starbucks belongs to the famous wealthy Quaker shipowner of Nantucket in Massachusetts as featured in Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, a nonfiction narrative of the tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. And there is Yahoo, which is a deformed savage in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

Some brand-names are curious blending of words. Vodafone stands for Voice, Data, and Telefone. Here is a classic example of ASICS, a Japanese sport goods company, whose cool name is derived from Latin, “Mans Sana in Corpore Sano,” meaning “Healthy mind dwells in healthy body.” Which is a motto of ancient Greek’s competitive spirit manifested in Olympiad. Then there is Volvo, meaning “I roll” in Latin, while Lego actually comes from Danish word for “play well”. And who else can ignore the presence of Amazon, the largest river in the world?

That which we call car, cellphone, or coffee by any other name would remain as functional and purposeful to make our life convenient and accommodate to our whims and desires. So why not give it a clever name to remember with a burst of pep? It’s all about the art of witty soul of brevity that penetrates the psychology of the mind in the world of adverts.

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‘Socrates: A Man for Our Times’, by Paul Johnson -review

Socrates: A Man for Our TimesSocrates: A Man for Our Times by Paul Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the constellation of philosophers in the intellectual firmament, there is none other than Socrates whose influence on humanity, ranging from academic disciplines to everyday cultural memes, strikes the chords with the contemporary minds at its simplest form. It is this essence of Socrates’s simple but profound moral philosophy that has been enshrined in the pantheon of Immortal Knowledge of our collective human civilization for thousands of years. In Socrates by Paul Johnson, this immortal philosopher is hard to resist and difficult to find fault with through the author’s cicerone guide to the streets of the ancient Athens, where Socrates is in his usual convivial mood to speak in public and welcomes the reader with his genuine warm smile to join his conversation.

The stratagem of moral education in the form of philosophy is to tame the appetites (the senses or the id) and to guide spirits (emotions or the ego) in man to reach the highest level of humanness, which is the reason (the judgment or the superego). The process of this moral education is civilization, a standard by which barbarism is judged and separated from the educated mind, and Socrates thought it essential to implement it in all aspects of Athenian life because it was the surest avenue to happiness, meaning of human life. In fact, Socrates was the first philosopher to democratize the concept of philosophy from lofty abstraction of an academic plane to practical realism of a living guide. Johnson describes Socrates as something of a Prometheus, who translated the heavenly into the terrestrial in the sense that Socrates wanted to unlock the goodness of life for the benefit of mankind. For Socrates was the one who brought philosophy down from the wondering skies, domesticated it the huts and villas of people, and familiarized it with the ordinary life in examination of good and evil.

Socrates seems even more likable thanks to Johnson’s historical accounts of Socrates’s personal traits and physiognomy: the corroboration comes from his young, handsome, controversial, but nonetheless valiant aristocratic friend Alciblades that (1) Socrates was a selfless comrade in battle, fearless in fighting, and artless in helping his battle buddies: (2) commendable hardiness enabled him to wear thin clothing despite the cold and the snow; (3) he disliked letting his emotions show on his face; (4) he regarded poverty as a shortcut to self-control; and that (5) he kept fit in the stadium and gymnasium and even danced because he believed that a healthy body was the greatest of blessings. It is also well known that Socrates was an ugly man with a flat, broad nose and beer belly, especially by the standards of Greece in the 5th century that highly valued regularity of features we would call Byronic today. And yet, Socrates, ever imperturbable and optimistic, was not depressed by his ugliness because to Socrates beauty was not inherent in itself but was by the virtue of its use. It was more of utilitarian nature for practical purpose. Socrates’s way of accepting himself as he is relates to logotheraphy, neuroplasticity, and habit of positive thinking, now bestriding the domain of self-help literature.

I have always been a fan of Paul Johnson’s writing style in harmony with his wealth of erudition and fountain of humor, a fascinating combination that makes his reads so likable and interesting. And here again, he did it again: with his customary witty narrative packed full of lots of unknown anecdotes and personal tidbits on subjects he writes about, Johnson tells the reader about Socrates as precisely and candidly as possible based upon historical evidence to resurrect him in the textual theater of literature. His interpretations draw on his exceptional knowledge of the philosopher and the history of his time, but he wears his learning lightly and always writes with a general reader in mind. Hence, the figure of Socrates in his book is no longer seen as the ancient adumbral thinker but a jovial, avuncular teacher who really cares about the lives of his students of all walks of life in this highly entertaining book. This book presents a pleasant banquet of the mind and spirit hosted by the consummate storytelling narrative of Johnson in the honor of Socrates, the people’s philosopher.