Posted in book review, Miscellany

Who discovered America?

 

The question of “Who discovered America?” lends itself to enlightening trivia pastime, spawning a series of plausible answers. Leif Eriksson and Christopher Columbus contend the discoverer’s title, possibly followed by Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake, except one John Cabot whose name is lost with his ship somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean just as his mysterious disappearance during the final voyage. 

Giovanni Caboto, aka John Cabot, was a 15th-century Venetian maritime merchant, emigrating with his family to Tudor England in search of substantial royal sponsorship for his ambitious Far East expeditions. The age of expedition was imbued with the spirit of enterprise that propelled colonialism. England was no exception to the European competition. Spain and Portugal were the contenders for uncharted lands and undreamed waterways discovered by Christopher Columbus, Casco de Gamma, and Fernando Magellan. Cabot promised Henry VII that he would find the ways to the Shangri-La in honor of the land to the king with portions of profit for the homage. The king granted his royal patronage on the expedition in the hope of establishing a British mercantile empire around the world. After two misfortunate voyages, Cabot finally made it to what is now known as America in 1497 and called it “New Found Land.”



However, unlike his contemporary peers whose deaths are recorded either orally or textually, Cabot’s end as an explorer is undeservingly clandestine and amorphous. It is said that Cabot was a victim of mutiny among the seamen on his ship or that he settled in the New Found Land and died there. What is more confounding than the mystery of Cabot’s whereabout is the seemingly less recognizance of his achievement than that of the rival explorers of his time and posterity. Cabot was the first explorer who paved the transatlantic waterways between America and Europe, principally the British Isles, for the progeny.



Indeed, Columbus found the West Indies and the American continent by happenstance. Still, Cabot proved that rapid Atlantic travel was possible by sailing the west through the ocean, more substantially practical and influential than America’s ideologically symbolic discovery by Eriksson and Columbus. Would Cabot’s discovery of America under Henry VII’s banner be an issue for the recognizance of his achievement for independent minds of Americans liberated from the English sovereignty? Or, to put more blatantly, would the English royal sponsorship of Italian native Cabot’s exploration mar the spirit of American liberty? If England were still a Catholic country, would Cabot’s achievement have been of lesser brilliancy than those of his contemporary explorers? The questions of history require answers, but often they remain unheard and trail off in the wind of zeitgeist.

Posted in book review, 미분류, Film Review, Miscellany

Not impossible

It is supposed to be about being a woman that binds all women regardless of race and ethnicity across a great divide of time. Forget all others and let us focus on the parallel circumstances and kindred experiences as women. But alas, that seems only a tale told by a romantic fool such as I am. If you think this is hyperbole, then I suggest you read the tweets and comments on the recent news that a black actress plays the role of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry the Eighth and the mother of Elizabeth the First, in the upcoming British periodical drama, which went viral among the learned and the general.  In addition to the vehemently acrid narratives on the racial authenticity of Anne Boleyn – especially from fellow women-, the juxtaposition of the two women’s images, the actress Jodie Turner-Smith and the queen Anne Boleyn itself, belies the popular sentiment as though to mock the actress’s appearance in the fashion of the Tudor period by making parallels with the classical portraiture of the Anne of 1000 days.  It has produced vociferous tweets full of fury from people who regard the role as audacious cultural appropriation faithful to the PC ethos of the time. 

Actress Turner-Smith’s playing the Tudor woman Anne Boleyn is indeed an innovational idea of breaking the typecasting based on the physical distinction for the roles thinkable and conventionally conceivable for the specific attributable characteristics of certain characters. Thus, non-whites playing the roles conceived for whites are seen as usurping the equilibrium of cultural heritage, upending the very foundation of national identity translated into racial identification, a sentiment prevalent even among the professed liberals anti-everything related to Trump, Republicans, and racism. The rejection of the race crossover representation on screen is supposedly due to the difficulty of following the story’s fluid narrative, unable to be absorbed in the story, not least because performers’ distinctive physical attributes mar the harmony of racial fluidity. But do we really?

I have watched a few good dramas (British) in which the races of performers do not pin down them to the racially charged roles. To illustrate, in Benedict Cumberbatch’s Frankenstein, the wife of Victor Frankenstein was played by a black actress. Besides, his father, M. Frankenstein, is a black actor, a fine ensemble of excellent thespians whose energetic performance brought Mary Shelly’s original Gothic story to a theatrical feast to the eyes and the mind. While watching the drama, I was not distracted by the black performers’ appearances being the father and Genevan Victor Frankenstein’s wife. Instead, the powerfully emotional and assiduously methodological performances resurrected the textual characters to real humans, full of pathos with vigor and wonder. Also, British Asian actress Gemma Chan, who played the role of Elizabeth Hardwick in ‘Mary Queen of Scot’s,’ is known for her versatile roles transcending her racial background. Her recent performance as a cyborg with a touch of humanity named Anita in ‘Humans’ is as naturally harmonious as streams of a river flowing into a great ocean, not highlighting her physical differences.

L-R Laura (Katherine Parkinson), and Mia (Gemma Chan) from ‘Humans’

So why the fuss full of sound and fury of the people who cannot accept the black queen in the Tudor drama when they are boastful of the most advanced mind since the age of Enlightenment? In the wake of the global Black Lives Matter movements, people have become afraid of the wind of changes as a frightful tsunami to subvert social foundations, upending the social orders adverse to their belief systems. Although I don’t eschew their concerns for the wind of changes as I am also conservative, not conventional in belief, the current vehemently acrid opinions about the black woman becoming Anne Boleyn are tokens of latent racialized hostility surfaced by the deluged dissents pouring forth from the socially suppressed sentiments. Indeed, you can’t ignore the differences between the two Anne Boleyns. Still, there are more commonalities than the images seen through your optical sensory input: that they are both women of elegance and confidence who are not afraid of expressing what they can. The actress shows she can pull off the character with what she has, and the queen her the courage to confront the criticism for being the cause of subsequent religious turmoil that changed the face of Christendom in spades. Let not prejudice darken entertainment. 

Posted in book review, Miscellany

My letter to the editor got published – again!

Reading the history of ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Western Civilization, in general, gives me mental refreshment. It connects me to the people who lived before me, crossing over the boundaries of time and territories. So, it was a pleasant present after a day’s work when Mom handed over to me a Christmas issue of the BBC History Revealed magazine that had arrived at home. To my delight, I saw in the magazine my letter to the editor about my questions on the hypothetical consequence of the successful gunpowder plot, which is best known for the Guy Fawkes Day in the U.K. The following is the transcription of my published letter, which is titled “Food for Thought.” In fact, this is the 6th time that the magazine has published my letters! Wow!

“The interesting scenario about what might have happened had the gunpowder plot been successful in England in 1605 made me think of its hypothetical impacts on the birth of the United States of America and its culture.

The conjecture that the restoration of Catholicity in England would have resulted in the earlier flux of protestant immigration to the States was particularly intriguing and eye-opening in a religious and cultural context.

It also led me to wonder about the following questions: what would Catholic England’s policy have been toward its Spanish ally in the expedition of the New World, principally, including America? Could the New World have been the only choice of the exodus of the English protestants? Could Spanish have become the official language of the States?”

Posted in book review

The Race is to the Swift, and the Battle to the Strong

It is the Mystifying Absurdities of Human Nature that seems to be more of animal instinct for the Survival of the Fittest. It always makes me wonder when I see people with a terrible temper and callous personalities being successful in their careers. Although Shakespeare said a fool thinks himself to be wise, people seem to think that fool to be wise in real life. That was what came to my mind while reading Samuel Johnson’s weekly essay, The Rambler, No.142, subtitled “A Rural Tyrant,” written on Saturday, July 27, 1751. (Come to think of the date, it seems that Johnson spent his weekend writing essays as in a journal, which is an admiring habit to emulate.)

Johnson tells the readers about a swanky mansion he and his wealthy acquaintance named Eugenio, who had invited Johnson to his rural estate, happened to pass a swanky mansion surrounded by the grandeur of wealth and pretentiousness of power. Until Eugenio had told his learned friend that the villa was known for ghostly hauntings, Johnson’s natural curiosity piqued his search for truth; thus, he began inquiring about the whys and wherefores of the ghost inhabitant. The ghost was Squire Bluster, a bilious, despotic employer of his household personnel and ruthless landlord of his villagers. His capricious fission of tempest kept their financial securities at his whimsical mercy. Bluster enjoyed the powers of terror and, in the height of his perverted joy, insulted those imploring for his mercy with malice and enmity. No wonder nobody in the village repaid his vice with contempt and conferred perennial infamy on his epithet after death – at least corporeally. Notwithstanding the shame, Bluster cared nothing of it and still reigned in horror at his earthly abode because to delight in ghostly terror was his new afterlife enjoyment. Johnson lamented that the evil squire had only the gloomy comfort of reflecting that he was likewise feared if he was hated.

In the same vein, the descendants of Squire Bluster are not a rare family but are ubiquitous boundless of territory, race, and gender. For example, employers are hardly magnanimous and altruistic in their expendable employees’ genuine wellness and demand their employees in the usual, professional pretext of constructive criticism packaged in belittling, castigation, and insulting for the sake of strictly business. But I never subscribe to such façade because we are not automats but with sense and judgment common to all human creatures. You can’t tell the other to grin and bear the insults because they are not supposed to mean personal. If you want your subordinates to do their job correctly, you must be worth receiving such quality labor from them by being respectful of your character. But alas, it is my only vain wish, an empty echo from the valley of my heart because the descendants of Squire Bluster are a multitude and will do whatever they think rightful and deserving. Don’t’ forget that respect from fear is a terror of the sense and a trademark of tyranny, exacting unchallenged obedience from people.

Posted in book review

Why Magic was popular and why it dwindled – review

Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century EnglandReligion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England by Keith Thomas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mankind in the face of contemporary existential strains of life has often attributed its frailties to the development of certain religious beliefs, leading to the shaping of the anima mundi of the time it possesses. Such a symbolic interactionist perspective on history is perspicaciously excised in Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas that shows us how collective splinters of folklore could influence the Modus Operandi of established religion.

The pith of folklore is a reputed natural human tendency in dealing with daily life amid double jeopardy of whimsical nature and more capricious mankind that results in finding pain relief in the form of supernatural elements. Keith illustrates the social and cultural climates of 16th and 17th century England where the efficacy of magic was reputed to overwhelm the consolation of the Gospel in the recourse to the powerful being that could supposedly give the supplicants the immediate panacea to their existential malaise. This popular attitude toward the magical measure of putative healing betokens the reason why there was no active mass active involvement in radical social reform or political radicalism; it was their way of mitigating the rigor of their daily duties that life imposed. The concept of chance was a welcome method of diverting the rules of merit and reward in prosperous life that only a select few would and could achieve to the game of luck played by goddess Fortuna’s Wheel of Fortune. By trusting the work of pure luck, people would not jeopardize their self-esteem because fortune was beyond their measures no matter how hard they worked hard to obtain it.

How the folk belief in magic influenced the established Christianity, particularly Catholicism, is the sine qua non of mesmerism of popular psychology and its portent efficacy of evangelization with a promise of magical healing. The church incorporated the magical elements of pagan belief to its rituals and doctrines of the catechism, such as transubstantiation and holy relics by reconciling the esoteric pagan knowledge with the orthodox Christian teaching. The investment of supernatural power through religious ceremony propitiated the minds of the low and high alike non-discriminately via syncretism until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the English Reformation that necessitated the emerging of new natural science and mechanical philosophy and the accordant mode of thinking ultimately debilitating the supreme power of magic and the magical elements used in the church.

Keith is excellent in disabusing readers what might seem to be a trifle and pettifogging subject to advanced minds with his wealth of knowledge on the subject and human psychology narrated in plain language so that readers of all strata can access the secret garden of knowledge that he kindly invites us to visit and wallow ourselves in. This is my second time reading his work, and I am always amazed by his depth of erudition fabulously conflated with his witty remarks on events and vivacious descriptions of the period, all gleaned from his extensive research on the subject and keen scholarly observations thereon. This book is not a book of magical incantations, but about the power of the populace that made magic popular and unpopular as the seasons of mankind required new kind of belief system synonymous with the ethos of contemporary life.

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