/ Culture /
The other day I told a story, a favorite since college, in which Balzac stepped onto the Champs-Élysées, saw the just erected Eiffel Tower, turned and fled! The context of the story of my current watching of Jean Luc Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her. The “Her” famously refers to Paris, the lovely city. Godard stars one-time Bardot rival Marina Vlady!!! Yai! If Godard is rated just by the facial (and bodily) beauty of his actresses, then he’s near the top of any pantheon! Godard would set up the camera on the star, in this case Marina Vlady: the angle would hide the ear plug he’d inserted. The actress was to repeat whatever French pseudo-babbel Godard had just scribbled for the occasion, the evening before, that morning — which came first, the word? or the thing? or: attributed to Brecht! the actor should act as though quoting the truth! Chopped Wittgenstein, mangled Marx, coming out of the prettiest face on the planet!
(Two or Three Things I Know About Her was a product of 1967. That the same year Godard concocted my two favorite Godard movies: La Chinoise! and Weekend! Furthermore Godard was improvising Made in U.S.A. in the mornings (’66, ’67); juggling Two or Three Things in the afternoon. Furthermore, just as Jacques Tati in his Playtime, made in the same 1967! Paris, the great Humanist city, is the star, and: Paris, the Paris we all know, love, revere is not shown directly! Notre Dame is visible as a reflection, not directly. Paris is the human city, no elevators, all walk ups; but the new suburbs are gargantuan (French pun if there ever was one), all high tech. High tech famously invaded Paris via the Eiffel Tower, in 1889! Eiffel was an engineer, his tower is a feat of engineering!
And, circling back to my opening story, Balzac, as my daughter-in-law, Doctor Natthalie Marcus, French, and a French professor, just reminded me, died in 1850!
So. I heard that Balzac / Eiffel Tower story in college, 1956 ff. It can’t have been true then, it hasn’t been true since: but it makes a point: a true point, about Paris, about French civilization. Notre Dame had been Paris’ biggest tallest thing: but that was in honor of God; Eiffel’s engineering dwarfs man and God!
Anyway, there goes another favorite fact: kablooie.
George Washington’s Cherry Tree
How much of culture is made of falsehoods presented as facts? I’ll offer some important examples as this develops. To start with I’ll offer some just from my last couple of days reading.
Yesterday I was reading up on the Taliban, on Islam, on Afghanistan …. And I learned that there are important points in Muslim culture where tradition and the Koran are at odds. In one such area, woman’s status, Islam recapitulates Christianity which recapitulated Judaism exactly. In the Koran, woman cannot inherit property; in Pashtunwali they can: indeed, they must! The patriarchy can give the females the tiniest slice, the most grudging, insulting share, but the males cannot, by traditional common law, give the girls nothing.
So: Muslims fuck the women, so do Christians, so did Jews. So what else is new?
I remind one and all: study Bart D. Ehrman’s biblical scholarship: St. Paul is credited with some strict limitations on women’s role in the church. Watch the great movie Agora, it’s a central dramatizing point. But then realize: Paul didn’t write those books! They’re forgeries! The early Bible got subverted to reverse women’s status back to what it had beeN in ancient patriarchal religions: no status at all. It’s as if Hitler rewrote the Olympic records to have Jesse Owens come in fourth, if not last!
Religious authority proves to be based on lies.
Don’t fail to notice: so is secular authority!
Secular authority makes sure than nothing can be discussed honestly. Universities come to be run by Nixons and Reagans and Bushes … Don’t mistake me: my point is anarchist, not Republican!
Simplify: Authority = Lies
Oversimplification? Of course. But mostly, largely true.
Christianity imagines a cosmos in which there is (and was, always and forever) a perfect awareness: God has all facts right. I’ve followed that imagining all my life, though I no longer believe it! I think that consciousness as we know it so far misses the boat on infallibility every time. There are no facts, only liars: and mistakes. Except for symbolic facts! As symbols my Balzac story is still a good one, fact or not, however false.
Decades ago my landlord, Harry Canfield, asked me to keep him company as he flew his piper cub to Saint Petersburg for the day. I climbed up into the passenger seat of his truck. There on the bench between us was his big black Bible: Baptist edition. Harry went off to fetch something, I flipped open his Bible, I read the Baptists’ introduction. Harry’s Bible said that every word of the Bible was true. It further said that Genesis had been written by Moses!!!
Genesis accounts for Moses’ death! That’s some trick, to write your own obit!
Anyone in 1889 saw the Eiffel Tower. Anyone knew that Balzac had been dead for four decades. But pk didn’t know it when I heard that story in 1958 or whenever! So now, just today, I have to flush that falsehood from among my facts. Fine. I don’t mind. I’m for science: that means: I’m for truth as not known but infinitely upgradable.
But authorities must (pretend to) know the truth now! Infallibly! The Koran! the Bible! the Baptists! the school system: all the liars jostling for authority. Ignorance and arrogance.
In 4th-century Alexandria Jesus had already been crucified for four centuries. Constantine had ordered his subjects to believe the Bible, with its Pauline forgeries! The Christians maraud against everything not-worshipping Pseudo-Paul’s anti-feminism! The Christians crucify Hypatia: the one person in the market not stoning anybody.
Don’t ever forget: the truth about Jesse Owens as we “know” it is already censored: in the sense that Jesse Owens’ forebears hadn’t been allowed to compete, hadn’t come in any place, hadn’t been allowed to run free. Imagine that Judgment, if it fails to come up with an all-knowing, objective god succeeds in coming up with What-If civilization: Civilization A, B, C … as though they had been free markets, meritocracies: no sabotage.
What does it prove? It doesn’t need to prove anything! We already know that every one of our games is rigged. That even our Bible(s) is(are) lies.
PS Don’t think pk is confusing himself with Balzac; no, pk is a post-WWII science fiction guy: I’m for the Eiffel Tower, and every other Gernsbach Tower of Babel blasphemy. At least I was.
Is That a Fact?