Posted in Miscellany

Becoming the Ancient Mariner

Think. What do Kubler-Ross Model of Five Stages of Grief, Spinoza’s Amore Dei, Nietzsche’s Amore Feti, and Logotherapy have in common? That it is all about how to accept fate as it is, the stupendousness of truth, the veracity of suffering as a way of finding meaning in what you have to endure. Religion is a poetic way of describing the suffering, a burden of life, another intuitive interpretation of looking at the pain and yielding to it as a destiny. But it is easier to be said than to be done when your spirit is plunged at the lowest tide of life and sees no hope of descrying a land of opportunities in the doldrums. And it betrays your noble hope and begins to shoot albatrosses then become like the Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. Or so it seems.

All the wise in the civilization of humanities told their progeny the reason for bearing the unbearable because they all knew about one thing: that’s what life was about. It is what it is and will be as long as humans exist. In his theory about Amore Feti, Nietzsche posited that evil was what prevents us from striving toward our goals and that power to affirm what we have is the only way to move on in the sailing of life, however terrible it would be. Knowledge and its pursuit are a must-have to shape an essential feature of our consciousness to keep sanity in contextualizing the whys and wherefores of struggles in life with an active mind. It is indeed a noble psychological philosophy, but what about people who are not intellectual as the renowned philosopher but just ordinary earthlings stuck in the existential backwaters of the rut? Did Nietzsche, Spinoza, or Kubler-Ross have to worry about livelihood? Well, Spinoza was a watchmaker, so he should have known something about making a living, but still, he was autonomous in pursuing his intellectual Elysium without having to worry about the burdens of daily life.

I had not known what the darkest night of the soul until now, and the fear of losing myself has finally descended upon me. C.K Charleston said madness is when you lose yourself except for your reason. Shakespeare quipped when nature, being oppressed, commands the mind to suffer with the body, and you would become derailed from norms of behavior and faculty of cognition. I prefer the latter version of madness because if I lose myself, then it should be all or nothing for the complete liberation of my spirit from the chains of enslavement. From insidious dominion of gaslighting to dreadful ascribed duties that I didn’t choose, to endless sadness, and cursed estrangement, I now know why the Ancient Mariner killed the sacred albatrosses whom seamen believed to be the souls of the dead sailors. Ire for the delusion of hope, retribution for the betrayal of faith, and freedom from the pain of unrealized dreams drove the Ancient Mariner to execute the birds and then become one of them, never returning but always wandering.

If only. I long for a sign, omen or augury, that can show me what to do or if I can break this vicious circle of unhappiness that has been cursed on me. No Ouija Board. Why? I don’t trust bargaining with the Devil because he, as a henchman of Satan, is like an angel of God in reaping as many souls as possible to build their armies or populate their cities of the Beyond. Then why do I find myself pleading to God by default while writing this for not ignoring me when he prefers the beautiful and the pleasant? Spinoza and Nietzsche, I beseech you to persuade me with your best reasonings of why I should believe that life is still worth living!

Posted in book review

‘Leonardo and the Last Supper’ by Ross King

Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I still remember an excellent replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” in a tapestry form decorated on the wall of our family living room when I was in elementary school. It was vast and expansive, nonetheless magnificent with the profoundness of the scene and the expressions on the faces in it – all wondrous and curious. Now a stream of time has flown, but the first impression of the art still has become one of the stars in my heart’s constellation. “Leonardo and the Last Supper” by Ross King has added to the star the brilliance with telling stories resurrecting the atmosphere of the time and vividness of the people surrounding the creation and the creator of the art.

The book is an alluring admixture of the biography of Leonardo da Vinci and the history of religion, politics, society, and culture; all skillfully swirled in Ross’s skillful narrative account of the person of da Vinci and his work of the Last Supper. The narrative becomes more intriguing as the chapters replete with entertainingly informative tidbits about personal accounts of people related to da Vinci and involved in creating the Last Supper are ascending. The story’s construction follows how Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century English essayist and cultural critic, narrated the lives of poets in The Lives of the Poets, composed of a brief biography of a poet, personal accounts of the poet, and professional criticism of the works. The reader will first be acquainted with da Vinci’s biographic backgrounds: parents, a well-to-do lawyer father, and a middle eastern slave mother owned by his father’s household. Da Vinci’s struggle with spelling and even harder Latin education, his fabrication of engineering work experience in his curriculum vitae to obtain a military commissioned engineer post when coming to Milan from Tuscany, and so forth. All the information is a telltale factor contributing to da Vinci’s rise to celebrity in his and our times, which is refreshingly informative to learn that the perennial polymath also had feet of clay with colors of contrast.

Ross is a scholar with a novelist’s magic wand to wield his writing power, casting a spell on facts and knowledge with the beauty of language and ease of words, captivating readers of all life paths with gripping narrative skills. Another book of his “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling,” which I enjoyed with great pleasure, is a helpful companion to this book because both Michelangelo and da Vinci were contemporaries, working under their aristocratic patronage the recalcitrant spirits of creative souls in reins of livelihood. It would also be an excellent reference to the social statuses of artists at that time. Contrary to our images of free-spirited artists, artists worked for their royal, ecclesiastical, and wealthy employers. Therefore, they were not free to choose subject matters for their works because their bosses wanted their power and fame to become works of art, as it were.

Upon closing the last page of Leonardo and the Last Supper, I reminded myself of Plato’s aesthetic definition. Art is a copy of Form, the perfect, pristine Beauty. It exists only in Idea because da Vinci was also a scientist and an engineer who found perfect beauty in perfect numerical and astronomical elements of nature. However, da Vinci’s Last Supper is filled with pathos, contrasts of human emotions, paradoxes of light and dark, good and evil, constantly changing, never-ending. Da Vinci was a humanist, finding beauty in nature as it is, regardless of perfect Form, the unattainable ideal that is out of touch. One thing right about Plato’s Aesthetics is that art is at best entertainment and at worst a dangerous illusion. That says it. Leonardo’s Last Supper is a soul’s entertainment, and so is Ross’s “Leonardo and the Last Supper.”



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Posted in book review

‘The Way Mothers Are,’ written by Miriam Schlein, illustrated by Joe Lasker – book review

Nietzsche’s theory of Immanence is about intellectual kind of love of God, Agape, through an elevated perspective of God’s existence manifested in things great and small. That said, this vintage book about unconditional motherly love, first published in 1963, is a charming adaptation of immanence translated in simplicity of language in speaking “charity,” which also means love, as it is derived from “Caritas,” meaning “dear” in Latin. It is a kind of love that Mother Teresa expressed to all, discriminating none to prove superior level of love. And it is this love that Mother Cat has for her son.

The story of the Tabby Cat Mother and Son reads like a poem. Also, the book has adoring illustrations delineated with admiring details on the backgrounds: the wallpapers of rooms, the feline version of Mount Rushmore’s Great Faces, and the carved decorations of charming furnishings – all heartwarming elements that are so fitting to this book about love. The son asks why his mother loves him even when he is a little urchin to his younger sister and is naughty all day. The mother tells him full of affection that she loves him because he is her son and cares for him for who he is, not what he does. The son cat tries to reason his mother’s love for more innocent questions rather than nagging but then finds that the reason she loves him even in his least desirable behavior is lovely. The epiphany of true love also reminds me of Marilyn Monroe’s saying that if one cannot love her in her worst self, that person does not deserve her love. It is not a blatant egoism of a Tinseltown celebrity, but the truth about unconditional love, which is not synonymous with Eros on the heat of passion.

It is a story for all ages whose inner children refuse to grow beyond the evolutionary scale of time. Mark Twain, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and Walt Disney had never outgrown their childhood whose childlikeness became all the more radiant and illustrious with their boundless imaginations conjured in the alchemy of the arts. On a personal note, When I saw a tweet about this book, the forever child in me urged the grown-up me to get it because of the adorable illustrations of the Tabbies reminding me of my tabby cat Toro. I wonder if Toro’s mother might have looked like the Mother Cat because the son cat takes a solid resemblance to Toro. So I read the book to Toro, and he seemed to like it, starting to close his eyes on my desk and then purring softly. And I understand Mother Cat’s love for her son because that is how I feel for my little Toro, whom I adopted when he was nine weeks old. Now he is 11 months old, and although he is a sweetheart, his occasional Zoomies and forceful nibbling surprise me. Still, Toro is my cat. And I say to him every day thus: “I love you, Toro. Never forget that.” I know how the mother cat felt for her dear son.

Posted in Film Review

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (2021) – film review

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (2021) is the newest in the Conjuring Universe Series, a new artifact to the Museum of The Haunted All and Sundry. The legendary Ed and Lorraine Warren are as inseparable as a couple in love and benevolent as rescuers of souls afflicted with the forces of evil as ever. But the mysteriously noble and spiritually convincing atmospheric elements are barely there, albeit the mix still has the thematic Catholic flavor. They said that when fact becomes legend, publish legend. So the story of the movie may be based on an actual event that has become American folklore, a modern legend, and it is the legend that the movie published.

As with the tradition of the Conjuring World, the movie evolves from the actual event of the supernatural phenomenon beyond the reasonable explanation on what the eyes only can see. First, an insidious ambiance surrounding a family house that seems strangely alienated adumbrates a sinister force lurking behind the bathroom door, over the shower curtains, and finally inside your head. Then comes a Catholic priest, thanks to the rite of exorcism popularized by The Exorcist and the Warrens’ association with the religion as their spiritual base. But he is usually not too much of significant help, if not a trouble, so it is always the Warrens’ job to ghost-bust with a style of a medieval magician who used to reconcile esoteric paganism with Christian faith. In this installation, Lorraine proves to be a mighty Christian mystic and a white witch in crossing over the space and reading memories of the dead, all for the fighting the devil’s deputy in a tunnel that promised to capture as many human souls as possible to fill up Hell’s Circles.

The essential thematic elements of good v. evil, love v. hatred, violence v. peace are unfailingly ubiquitous in this installment. Still, more violence and hatred make up the scenes than the others, making the movie more aligned with screaming scary movies than classified as supernatural horror. Perhaps the application of Catholic elements as a credible supplementary spell on the movie’s ambiance might have slightly fared well with the director’s intention (or the producer James Wan, the original creative director) to make the film elevated to a canon of classic supernatural movies. But it doesn’t give much of the movie’s intended effect when the Warrens can do what priests can do. Besides, the characters other than the Warrens themselves are not convincingly real, sympathetic, or natural. Instead, they are either surreal or theatrical to the point of playing a masque in Elizabethan time, so to speak, which would have been excellent.

I watched the movie with high hope when it first started showing on HBO Max last Friday night. But my expectation was already turning ominous when I had trouble viewing it at first for some unknown technical reason. Once I got into the third world of Conjuring Universe, I knew it wouldn’t be what I had expected. The real Warrens have become the ghosts themselves, and I wonder what they would have thought about the movie. Judging from their celebrity status in the society of paranormal investigators, I think they would probably have been thrilled about their being the creative subject of the movie. Then maybe, it’s time for me to leave the Conjuring Universe in search of a new world of the supernatural without celebrity.