The Pope and the Heretic by Michael White

I first learned about Giordano Bruno through a tweeter thread about Shakespeare discussing his one of many influences, including this Don Quixote-like miscreant Dominican priest who wrote The Art of Memories, the subject I was and still am keen on to improve my regressing memory. Since then, Bruno has resided in my memory chamber as an enigmatic pariah, a formidable rebel without compromise. So when I came across this book by Michael White, a former member of the 80s pop group Thompson Twins, I knew I had to read it.

White describes Bruno as a martyr of enlightenment, thinking ahead of his time. Unfortunately, Bruno was born into the wrong place at the wrong time, so he suffered from the Catholic Church’s authoritarian rule that dominated the World’s knowledge. However, Bruno’s theory that Jesus was preternaturally a superb magician and therefore not the Son of God, not to mention that the Holy Ghost was the spirit of the World and that Satan would be saved, was sufficient to raise the eyebrows of the ecclesiastical figures. Also, he opined that the stars seen in night skies were actually suns and that there were other worlds in the universe where living beings like humans existed. I speculate such an opinion might have influenced a modern-day belief that we are not alone in this universe because there are extraterrestrial beings. All these ideas were indeed revolutionary. But unlike Galileo, who was said to murmur, “Still, the earth circles round the sun” after he was acquitted of heresy, Bruno was stubborn in his ideas. He proudly defied the Church’s intention to pardon him if he would recant before the death sentence. In his excellent lyrical portrayal of the dramatic confrontation, White sees it as the microscopic representation of the conflict between religion and philosophy, myth and truth, superstition and science.

Notwithstanding White’s admirable wealth of knowledge used in defense of Bruno, I cannot help but think that White’s stance on Bruno overlooks or connives at some facts. The Catholic Church put him at stake on account of his theological errors, deemed dangerous to the spiritual formation of the Church and the Faithful as a priest to the Church. Bruno was not a willing martyr of his ideas but a Simon Magus-like figure trying to trade his knowledge for recognition in the arms of different sects of Christianity, such as Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Episcopalianism, across Europe.

It’s an irony that rather than the man written about, the man writing about him turns out to be a genius in writing. Perhaps White, a former musician, attributes this to his lyrical rhythm of narration drawn from his emulous erudition. Moreover, he writes the language of the general reader in the panoply of academic disciplines, and the reader will find no time for disorientation or disinterest. This book carries a tone of what the Italian anti-Catholic activists campaigned against the Church, with Bruno as the symbol of persecution against what they believed in. Nevertheless, it is worth reading it if you are a proponent of Giordanism or just a curious bystander like me.

‘Life below Stairs’ by Alison Maloney

The idea of domestic servants and their relationship with the masters is superficially romanticized not in the least due to period dramas, such as ‘Downton Abbey’ or Victorian masterpiece theater. In such fictionalized stories, the social dynamics between the classes are often bowdlerized or beautified, in addition to the romanticization of the working class as though to neutralize class antagonism in fear of marring a lofty literary theme. That said, ‘Life Below Stairs’ by Alison Maloney is a documentary of the real people who had to find themselves in servitude of their betters and their live-to-tell accounts of what it was like to be servants.

While reading the book, I could not help but think that the professional domestic service in the capacity of maids, footmen, and butlers was not so much different from today’s social dynamics of at-will employees who provide their labor to employers for livelihood. Of course, the labor conditions and workers’ rights have been considerably improved, thanks to continuing reformation of workers’ compensations. However, the essence of the exchange of labor for necessities of life and the nature of employment is often precarious and insecure on the whims and caprice of businessmen and women. For example, recent union movements of Starbucks employees have prompted the company to close down under the pretext of low sales or redundancy. It betokens that the company will not tolerate such defiant action by the employees who provide their service in pure physical labor and mental exertions in catering to the needs of customers daily. Servants in the Victorian and Edwardian eras were employed chiefly by the middle-class bourgeoise who regarded keeping servants as a status symbol in the emulation of their upper aristocratic betters. In the States, servitude equated the slavery in the South, which was also maintained by merchant and business classes. Although I am not a proponent of aristocracy, aristocrats knew better how to treat their underlings because the need for servants arose from the necessities of keeping their estates and domesticity, not from a flash of ostentatious wealth that their jealous middle class was envious of.

I envision myself as a housemaid in one of the early Edwardian eras (1900-1930), working from 6:00 am till 11:00 pm for a mistress whose temper is mercurial like Hera. That would be miserable with no weekend offs and mandatory church going with her. Then I feel okay to live in this moment of history even if my mistress boss is a modern-day bourgeoisie woman who wants her underlings to do thngs in her way because thanks to labor law, I only work from nine to five with saturdays an sundays to myself. Thank God for that.

Dark Water (2005) – film review

Here’s a young mother with a five-year-old daughter freshly divorced from her husband who thinks she’s delusional, paranoid even, and wants to keep sole custody of their daughter. The daughter is everything she has reason to live, a life that has been so hard to endure with an indelible traumatic childhood. Yet, because she sees herself in her daughter needing constant unconditional love, which she was not allowed to have, she will do anything to protect her from the harsh reality of life, even from the supernatural peril of the beyond reality.

So the story of Dark Water (2005) narrates Dahlia, a young divorcee trying to take full custody of her daughter Ceci away from her assiduously hostile husband. Instead, he embarks on a legal battle to claim sole possession of Ceci because of Dahlia’s unstable mental state. Dahlia, a once copy editor from Seattle, takes a low-paying administrative position at a Manhattan Radiology office for livelihood in a delipidated apartment in Roosevelt Island with Ceci. The semblance of the apartment is the working-class version of Rosemary’s apartment. Dark water is leaking everywhere: from the elevator to their bedroom ceiling, and the laundry room, which is a prelude to the finding of a tank on the rooftop where the traumatic ends of a certain young Russian girl abandoned, unloved finds her and her memories. Or is it Dahlia’s phantasmal delusion of confronting her own child self in her painkiller-induced pill to alleviate the cruel migraine caused by the yoke of woes?

Dark Water is an American adaptation of the original Japanese film Dark Water (2002) by Koji Suzuki, the famous writer of the Ring trilogy, excellently translated to an American audience who will find broad universal themes of human nature, psychology, and behavior. You don’t have to have perfect childhood fed on parental love to be a loving parent. Of course, unhappy childhood will affect the development of one’s character and behavior pattern more or less, but it all boils down to one’s nature to be loved and be loving. Dahlia wants to counteract the demon of the past, which still grabs her with its tenacious tentacle of recurring nightmares and murderous migraine, by being constantly -and eternally – loving and kind to Ceci despite her unhealed scars left in her child self. Perhaps that is why her name is Dahlia, whose flower word is loyalty, dignity, courage, and support due to its withstanding of harsh conditions.

Jennifer Connelly, playing Dahlia, is not only beautiful but also talented in a way that few actresses on screen possess in our time. Her presence in scenes is unique in that her character is downright realistic yet oddly out of the world in a riveting way, as exhibited in this film. No wonder the late film critic Roger Ebert admired her for the same reason. With her exceptional performance and the storytelling that grips the eyes and ears of the beholder, Dark Water is a worthy film for those who delight in supernatural horror without blood and screams.