“Putting Literary Flesh on Biblical Bones” by Joseph Epstein

Where the Old Testament provides a statement of fact, Mann provides heightened and detailed drama.  Ryan Inzana

Anyone with the least literary pretensions has read one or another work by Thomas Mann. Some will have read “Buddenbrooks,” his saga about a Baltic German mercantile family as its energy peters out; others, “The Magic Mountain,” that most philosophical of novels, set in a tuberculosis sanitarium in Switzerland. One is likely to have encountered the novella “Death in Venice,” or one of his many splendid short stories. But not many people, I suspect, will have read “Joseph and His Brothers,” his 1,207-page tetralogy of rich and rewarding complexity.

I, a man of extravagant literary pretensions, had not read it until recently. Fifteen or so years ago, I made a run at it, but hit the wall roughly at page 60. What goaded me to take another shot was finding a clean copy at a used-book store. What I discovered is a true masterpiece of a most extraordinary kind. Not the least unusual thing about this vastly ambitious work is that Mann chose to tell a story that everyone already knows.

It’s the Old Testament account of Jacob, son of Isaac, brother of Esau, and his 12 sons, and of the most impressive of those sons, Joseph, who goes on to become Pharaoh’s principal administrator, his Grand Vizier, during the seven fat and seven lean years visited upon Egypt. Mann used this best of all Old Testament stories—one of overweening vanity, betrayal, reunion and forgiveness—as, in effect, an outline, which he filled in and retold with the narrative power of the great novelist that he was.

In the Old Testament, for example, in a mere half page we are told that Potiphar’s wife, enamored of Joseph’s good looks, attempts to seduce him, Joseph refuses, she then falsely accuses him of attempted rape, and he is sent off to prison. Mann, or his narrator, claims to be “horrified at the briefness and curtness of the original account” in the Bible. In Mann’s version, 80 or so pages are spent on the incident, with Potiphar’s wife’s beauty, cosmetics, handmaidens, seduction methods and much else persuasively described. Where the Old Testament provides a statement of fact, Mann provides heightened and detailed drama.

Mann took 16 years, between 1926 and 1942, to complete “Joseph and His Brothers”—the tumultuous time of world-wide Depression and Adolf Hitler’s rise. Nazism forced Mann and his family into exile—first in Europe, then in the U.S. But he pressed on with his novel. In early 1930 he traveled to the Middle East, where “with my physical eyes I saw the Nile country from the Delta up (or down) to Nubia and the memorable places of the Holy Land.” This book, during these hard years, was “the undertaking that alone vouchsafed the continuity of my life.”

“Joseph and His Brothers” is an astonishing feat—a book in which an artist, through scholarship and above all through imagination, has worked his way back through time and insinuated himself into the culture of the biblical Jews and the more elaborately exotic culture of the ancient Egyptians. Mann, ever the ironist, at one point early in the book writes: “I do not conceal from myself the difficulty of writing about people who do not precisely know who they are.”

The book is studded with exquisite touches. Laban, Jacob’s exploiting father-in-law, possesses “the hands of a having man.” Of Jacob’s love for Rachel, Mann writes: “Such is love, when it is complete: feeling and lust together, tenderness and desire.” Apropos of Jacob’s agedness, he writes of “the touching if unattractive misshapenness of old age.” Potiphar’s wife, distraught over her passion for Joseph, is barely able to eat “a bird’s liver and a little vegetable.” Rachel’s labor in giving birth to Joseph is so well described as to leave the reader exhausted.

Past and present are interwoven throughout this novel. “Men saw through each other in that distant day,” Mann writes, “as well as in this.” Recurrence is a leitmotif that plays through the book. “For we move in the footsteps of others, and all life is but the pouring of the present into the forms of the myth,” he notes. Through the novel Joseph is aware that his is a role in a script already written by God—and this gives him the courage to carry on: “For let a man once have the idea that God has special plans for him, which he must further by his aid, and he will pluck up his heart and strain his understanding to get the better of all things and be their master.” The woman Tamar, who in the disguise of a prostitute allows herself to become pregnant by Joseph’s brother Judah, does so because she, too, wants to be inscribed forever in the history of this important family.

One could create a dazzling anthology of aphorisms from “Joseph and His Brothers.” “It takes understanding to sin; yes, at bottom, all spirit is nothing else than understanding of sin.” And: “We fail to realize the indivisibility of the world when we think of religion and politics as fundamentally separate fields.” And: “No, the agonies of love are set apart; no one has ever repented having suffered them.” And again: ‘Man, then, was a result of God’s curiosity about himself.”

In another of the book’s aphorisms, Mann writes: “Indeed resolution and patience are probably the same thing.” How often must that sentiment, over the years he spent composing this grand prose epic, have occurred to Mann himself. At the end of his foreword to the single-volume edition, he wonders if his tetralogy “will perhaps be numbered among the great books.” He cannot know, of course, but as the son of a tradesman he does know that only quality endows the products of human hands with endurance. “The song of Joseph is good, solid work,” he writes, “done out of that fellow feeling for which mankind has always been sensitively receptive. A measure of durability is, I think, inherent in it.”

Mann was correct. In “Joseph and His Brothers” he created a masterpiece, which is to say, a work built to last.

—Mr. Epstein’s latest book, “Essays in Biography,” will be published this autumn by Axios Press.  This article is from the online Wall Street Journal (online.wsj.com)

Cary Grant on being Cary Grant

Cary GrantCary Grant, when asked about being Cary Grant, said:  

“Even I would like to be Cary Grant.”

–Cary Grant (January 18, 1904 – November 29, 1986) was an English stage and Hollywood film actor who became an American citizen in 1942. Known for his transatlantic accent, debonair demeanor and “dashing good looks”, Grant is considered one of classic Hollywood’s definitive leading men (via Wikipedia).

Contributed by Laura Huff.

Ben Bradlee on lying

“People don’t tell the truth. They don’t tell the truth a hundred different ways.  And it’s become so easy to lie that no one recognizes lies.”

–Benjamin Crowninshield “Ben” Bradlee (August 26, 1921 – October 21, 2014) was executive editor of The Washington Post from 1968 to 1991. He became a national figure during the presidency of Richard Nixon, when he challenged the federal … Wikipedia

Meister Eckart on the virgin birth

Meister Eckhart
Meister Eckhart 

“What is the good if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 2000 years ago, if I do not give birth to God today? We are all Mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”

–Meister Eckhart (1260 – 1328) was a German theologian, philosopher and mystic, born near Gotha, in the Landgraviate of Thuringia in the Holy Roman Empire.Wikipedia

TED talk: “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness” by Robert Waldinger

What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it’s fame and money, you’re not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you’re mistaken. As the director of 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

Contributed by Gwyllm Llwydd.

“Devastation” by Suzanne Deakins, H.W., M.


June 12, 2016

Devastation, heartbreaking, tears, and deep disappointed only begin to describe what we are all feeling in our community. Distance does not matter, what happens to one happens to us all.

As we search our hearts and minds trying to understand such a hateful act we may want to point our finger and try to reason why. Hate, killing, and violence have no reason and no logic to it. Part of our pain is trying to understand something that seems so illogical. Seeking safety in our minds we think if we can find an answer we will be safe. To hate enough to kill or mane is not a reality that most of us can comprehend.

This act of violence is not an action ever condoned by any religious sects. It has nothing to do with being a Christian or a Muslim. This was an act of self-loathing, fear, and mental illness. Religion plays no part in acts of violence. Acts of violence that are perpetuated in the name of God, Mohamed or not spoken as in Eloyem are not religious acts, but rather acts of individuals who are full of fear and self loathing. When the mind of an individual sleeps in fear of his or her emotions and longings it reacts in hate and violence.

What is needed now is an extraordinary approach to mind and consciousness that allows us to view our past and future from our current position. I do not know the solution to the hate and violence perpetuated on our brothers and sisters in Florida. I am aware that the sick consciousness of an individual was the progenitor of the situation and there for must contain the answer to the problems at hand. Like all problems the answer is contained within the problem itself.

Unlike the governor of Texas who quoted this morning you reap what you sow NO, I mean NO religious leader condones this type of violence and hate. We are at a time of watershed in our history. This is a time when all religions have supported the right to freedom beyond their ideas about our life styles. Yes they may not agree with our life, but they have NOT sought to kill and destroy us. Every congregation in Portland stands with us in our sorrow and grief over this terrible time in Florida.

Any of us with a smidgen of conscious awareness are cognizant that violence doesn’t solve the problem of violence. The violence and terrorism are not situated within any one group or person but rather in the collective consciousness. In the herd consciousness we find the need for separateness and destruction. The question of survival in herd consciousness deals with dominance, power, and control of food sources and territory. The very word terror shares a root word with territory. This in itself is a hint to what terrorism is really about.

It is my experience any place in our private and public lives that contains violence, terror, and trauma is a place of contradiction. A paradox is a place where in great leaps in awareness may be accomplished. An experience of metanioa (a great change in mind/thinking) and the Buddhist concept of the “tulpas” (thought form) can happen while contemplating profound duplicity. Paradoxes hold both the problems and the answers.

How can an act of violence preserve peace? How can power bring power under control? Two opposing and contradictory concepts, duplicity, we use violence to bring peace and yet violence is the very deed that breaks peace. In the study of consciousness we find those places in our personal lives where we have an opportunity to understand the true meaning of power and control by examining the repulsion and addiction to violence and terror. We search for the contradictions in our thinking, beliefs, and actions.

For me the real question/problem becomes one of consciousness. How do I personally work with my consciousness to affect the whole of collective unconscious? Where and what is the paradox? And what do the riddles mean in this situation at a global and personal levels?

Ordinary answers don’t seem to satisfy the push I feel of mind unfolding. A small intuitive whisper keeps whispering, “go further and understand more.” The violence of terrorism has only one answer in my thinking and that is one of consciousness. What is your intuition telling you? Is there a whisper to go further, understand more at this point in your life? I do believe that as we clear our consciousness we establish the basis for world peace…for peace and love in our GLBT family. like the ants, each of us plays a part in the collective consciousness.

We are not outside of the collective consciousness nor are we totally defined by it. Our being and consciousness are a matter of our viewpoint, how we see and experience life. Do we add to the world terrorism by our ego needs of greed and power? Are we capable of loving even the dirtiest faced child and the worst offender of peace? Is it possible to love those who lie to us and take us to places that we don’t want to go?

Peace and the answers to gaining a lasting peace are the seeds in each of our consciousness. Listen to that intuitive voice… go further, understand, and give more. Only through inner work does it seem possible to gain the peace we all seek. There is no ONE answer but an answer in ONE and understanding we are of one spirit, one force, one higher mind, truth, God, and LOVE.

Stand tall and let your rainbow flag fly for LOVE, compassion, and consciousness for it is this that will make us stronger and less fearful.

Christ Does Soft Return To Gauge Interest (theonion.com)

Christ performs a few trial judgments on local citizens to identify any hitches in the process ahead of a full-scale launch of the End of Days.
TOPEKA, KS—Descending from on high to gather valuable data on His followers’ preferences, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, was said to be conducting a soft return this week in hopes of gauging interest in His Second Coming.

Christ reportedly rolled out a test version of His return in select cities—including Topeka, KS, Fort Wayne, IN, and a handful of other locations throughout Christendom—as part of a controlled study to determine who among His flock might look favorably upon a miraculous reappearance and thousand-year reign of their Lord and Savior.

“These cities offer good cross-sections of the faithful, so we’ll be able to closely evaluate the reaction among the various demographics we’re trying to appeal to,” said Christ, explaining that representative populations of believers were chosen to partake in the soft return in order to more accurately predict how the various planned elements of the Last Judgment would be received in a real-world setting. “We’ve already seen some interesting results that will help us to fine-tune this thing before we go wide with it.”

He added, “For example, the 18-to-34-year-old population in Topeka didn’t respond well to the booming voice of an archangel and the Trumpet of God announcing my return, so that’s definitely something we’ll want to tweak.”

According to sources, focus groups of local Christians have been assembled in the designated cities and asked to rate as positive, negative, or neutral their response to certain details of the Second Coming, such as an ominous darkening of the horizon, flashing white-hot streaks of lightning filling the sky, and a great chasm opening in the heavens as the blindingly bright figure of Christ descends to earth.

The Only Begotten Son of God admitted to reporters that most of those who witnessed the soft return didn’t like the “dark, scary stuff” much at all and that He would have to see what could be done to “lighten things up here and there.” However, Christ said, most people responded positively to the moment when Satan, Prince of Darkness, was bound in chains and thrown into a bottomless pit, and the subset of believers who were raptured seemed very pleased with the experience.

Reports confirmed that all of the study’s participants had ascended into heaven and been given seats at the right hand of the Father in exchange for their time, energy, and helpful suggestions.

“At this stage, we’re just trying to get as much feedback as possible so we can work out all the kinks before I actually come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,” said Christ, adding that while He thought His followers would be excited to see their deceased loved ones again, many were in fact completely terrified when He raised the dead from their graves. “We definitely need to work on the optics of our presentation. People were losing interest after the first two or three of the seven seals were opened, and that’s a problem.”

Christ indicated He would have to consult further with His team before deciding if the time was right to roll out His return on a global scale.

“We only have one chance to pull this off, so we need to nail down every detail,” He said. “Some of this stuff was planned 2,000 years ago, and I’m just not sure it’s going to work in the present day and age. The whole part about the Antichrist forging a seven-year covenant with Israel, for example, really seems a bit outdated and might have to be scrapped altogether.”

“And if interest in me banishing all evil from the face of the earth just isn’t high enough right now, we should go back to the drawing board and maybe do some more trial runs in another millennium or so,” Christ added.

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