Hesiod’s Works (and his Days, as Well)

Note: This is another old Thermidor post, originally published on May 18, 2017.


Among Greek poets, two stand tall above all the others, Homer and Hesiod. One can easily see Homer’s appeal, with his renowned tales of heroes, war, and adventure, told with great craftsmanship and sublimity. Then you have Hesiod, who surveys the fields, tugs at his overalls, and says, “Good season for crops.”

Well, okay, that’s totally unfair to Hesiod, but the two poets’ themes and subject matter could hardly be more different. Before getting into that, though, let’s back up a little.

Hesiod lived between 750 and 650 B.C., roughly a contemporary of Homer. There’s even a story among the ancient Greeks that the two competed against each other in a poetry competition, but historians apparently dispute this, because there’s nothing historians hate more than a good story. Hesiod won that alleged competition, but even if that did happen, Homer got the last laugh since Hesiod today sits in his rival’s shadow. Many people have read The Odyssey for school, and possibly The Iliad as well. Even the average philistine, then, is at least aware of these works. On the other hand, though Hesiod is by no means an obscure figure, The Works and Days, Theogeny, and The Shield of Herakles have nowhere near the presence of Homer’s epics.

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Ego

Time for the conclusion of serial experiments lain.

Layer 13: Ego begins with blue static and Lain saying she’s confused again. Well, so are we. Rather than a voice-over we start with a recap of the last part of Layer 12. Alice doesn’t handle it so well, and we’re then shown a screen with the message, “ALL RESET” and on a second line, “Return.” Rewind!

The next few scenes show us what the different characters are up to now, after Lain presumably fixed things by undoing everything Eiri had done. Everyone is living, well, not quite happily ever after, but better. Only a couple people seem to notice that Lain isn’t there. Lain, however, is not happy. She has a conversation with a double about omnipotence and omnipresence. When Lain gets fed up with that, the image of her father appears in the sky, and they have some tea in the clouds.

Now comforted, Lain meets a now adult Alice, and they have a short conversation. The blue static returns, one more time, and Lain says to the camera, “I promise you I’ll always be right here. I’ll always be right next to you, forever.”

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Aristotle’s Poetics

Note: This is another post originally published at Thermidor Magazine, in this case on March 21, 2017. Again, I’m posting this with only minimal editing.


Much of the process of moving politically Rightward consists in correcting the inadequacies of ones education. This process is most obvious in things like history or human biodiversity, but is certainly present in the arts, as well. Though a handful of books from the Western canon are still commonly covered in school, like Beowulf or The Odyssey, most curricula, even at the university level, fall far short of a comprehensive treatment. I majored in literature in college, and even aside from the cultural problem of being one of the few students truly passionate about this stuff, my formal education covered very little written prior to about 1800 aside from Shakespeare, and almost nothing not originally in English.

How does one go about correcting this? The simplest is just to start reading. Beginning with the Classics is a solid option, and I’ve offered my own suggestions elsewhere, but almost anything is better than nothing, so, as long as one builds a habit of reading, most works above the level of young adult literature will do as a start. SWPLs are deservedly mocked for their obsession with the Harry Potter series, not because they started their reading “careers” there but because they stopped there. So even relatively light material will work as a starting point, as long as one progresses towards the Classics.

Now, though selecting one’s reading according to whim is good enough for many, some of us do prefer a more structured approach and appreciate some guidance. One often recommended resource is Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren’s How to Read a Book, which focuses on non-fiction but much of their advice is broadly applicable. They also include a handy list of recommended reading. Henry Dampier’s review from a couple years ago offers a solid overview. For something more specific to poetry, there’s Ezra Pound’s idiosyncratic but helpful ABC of Reading, which is especially valuable for anyone interested in Pound’s own work. Those who feel a little braver, though, and really want to get into the nuts-and-bolts of how fiction is put together, may want to take a look at Aristotle’s straightforwardly-titled Poetics.…

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Landscape

We’re coming into the home stretch of serial experiments lain. In Layer 12: Landscape, the voice-over returns. “Oh, okay… So that’s how it works. I had no idea the world was this simple. I always thought the world was such a big and scary place, but once you figure it all out, it’s all so easy.” A second voice adds, “See? I told you it would be.” The episode proper opens at school, with Alice gloomily watching Lain gossip with Julie and Reika. Lain sends Alice a message saying she should just rewrite bad memories. A static-covered image of Lain takes up the screen and apparently addresses the audience directly. “People only have substance in the memories of others. That’s why there were all kinds of me’s. There weren’t a lot of me’s, I was just inside all sorts of people, that’s all.”

In a voice-over, Eiri talks about how the world can be explained entirely in materialistic terms, and how people were originally all connected – and have now been reconnected through Lain’s efforts. By sharing information seemlessly Man can figure out what kind of animal he is and evolve by his own power. In a parking garage the MIBs discuss their situation, and how their client had been working with Eiri all along. The Tachibana boss shows up, hands over a suitcase full of money and tells them to run to a place with no electricity or satellite coverage, and leaves. Both die after seeing a vision of Lain.

Alice goes to Lain’s trashed house, and speaks with her. Eiri appears, is goaded into manifesting bodily, and is destroyed.

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Chesterton and The Man Who Was Thursday

Note: This post was originally published at Thermidor on March 6, 2017, but since it recently shut down I’ve decided to republish my articles here. I plan to post one per week until they’re all back up, with only light editing.


What’s there to say about G. K. Chesterton? He’s a contender for the most-quoted man on the Right; spend some time in any broadly Right-wing community, Conservative, Reactionary, or even just moderate Christian, and it won’t be long before someone quotes one of his famous aphorisms or anecdotes. Though not a particularly rigorous thinker, and a bit light for those used to reading the Joseph de Maistres and Julius Evolas of the world, he’s among the best authors who’ve written primarily for popular audiences.

One thing that makes his work especially impressive is that, besides his innumerable essays, he wrote several deservedly popular novels. After burning myself out a bit on his non-fiction, I recently decided to revisit some of his novels, beginning with The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. It’s about poet Gabriel Syme, recruited by Scotland Yard and tasked with infiltrating a cabal of anarchists. It’s a classic setup for a spy or detective story, aside from the poet protagonist, and up until the final chapter plays out much as one would expect of a Chestertonian detective novel.…

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Infornography

On to more serial experiments lain. In Layer 11: Infornography, the opening changes a bit. The title screen is made of up screens from the previous episode, and the voice-over is still missing from the cityscape. Instead, we see Lain being tied up in cables. Much of the episode is essentially a recap, going through the events of the series so far in a fast edited series of clips of previous episodes and a handful of other phrases flashing on the screen, but with the largest portion, especially near the end, focusing on Alice. Eiri then appears and tells Lain that she is, essentially, software, though Lain doesn’t like him talking about her as if she’s a machine. She then appears in the street and sees Chisa and the Cyberia shooter, who have a brief discussion about dying, and Lain finds herself holding the shooter’s gun with him telling her how to shoot herself (she doesn’t).

Then, it cuts to Alice’s room, where Alice is watching a message from Julie, who wants to set her up on a date to dispel rumours about her relationship with a teacher. Lain shows up with the body of that alien from last episode, talks about the “other” Lain and how she can fix the rumours. Alice is skeptical, but of course, the next day she realises that Lain really did make everyone but her forget what had happened.

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Love

Back to serial experiments lain. Layer 10: Love starts with our cityscape, but no voice-over this time. Lain and Eiri have a conversation in which they speak in each other’s voices, and Eiri explains how he put his consciousness into Protocol 7. Given his power he’s arguably a god, but to truly be a god he also needs worshippers, so he made himself a cult – the Knights. At school, Lain’s desk is gone and everyone is oblivious to her presence. As she starts to wonder if maybe she doesn’t need a body after all, Alice, or rather someone speaking through Alice, confirms this. Lain goes home, but the house is eerily empty and unkempt. Her room is messy, but none of her computer equipment is there. Mr. Iwakura appears in the doorway, says his work is done because Lain must have figured things out by now, that he loved her, assures her she’s not alone because of the type of being she is and everyone she can connect to in the Wired, and leaves.

Lain searches for information on the Knights, doxes them, and the MIBs go out and kill them. They then go to Lain’s house where she’s entangled in cables. One of them, Karl, explains that they’d assassinated the Knights as a job for a client, that the Wired can’t be a world to itself, and that they aren’t sure what sort of being Lain is. He adds as they leave that he loves her.

Back out in the street, Eiri tells Lain that she’s essentially a homunculus, that he’s “the man who loves her,” and that she should love him. Lain angrily refuses and he disappears.

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Protocol

Another week, another episode of serial experiments lain. Layer 09: Protocol’s voice-over says, “If you want to be free of suffering, you should believe in God. Whether or not you believe in Him, God is always by your side.” Much of the rest of the episode consists of infodumps about topics such as Roswell, important figures in computer history, and concepts and inventions like Memex and hypertext. An alien in a striped sweater appears on Lain’s doorway. In Cyberia, JJ hands Lain an envelope that he says she dropped, but she doesn’t remember it and it’s stamped with the Knights’ logo. Lain has a “date” with Taro where she questions him about the processor from the envelope. Taro steals a kiss as he leaves.

Nice.

Lain sees a vision of herself being introduced to the Iwakura home, and has a brief exchange with this past version of herself. Eiri finally appears in person.…

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Rumors

Ready for more serial experiments lain? Our friend the voice-over says in Layer 08: Rumors, “Do you want to be hurt, too? Do you want your heart to feel like it’s being scraped with a rasp? If you do, don’t look away, whatever you do.” Lain meets with Taro in a computer game world where he’s killing other player characters, telling Lain that nobody knows what’s fun or why. Lain speaks to an artist making models of scantily-clad women, and they speculate on Tachibana’s R&D efforts and whether they’d do anything illegal. In particular, he mentions how Protocol 6 (essentially, IPv6 in our real world) is “reaching its throughput limit,” and that whoever can control Protocol 7 can control “the economy of the Wired,” and that there are constant sabotage efforts against it.

Lain mentions to her parents, with a nervous laugh, how she’d been recently asked if they’re her real parents, but gets no response besides a stare. At school, Alice and her friends confront Lain about spreading rumours about Alice. Lain next enters a chatroom of some kind where the participants are, of course, sharing rumours and wild speculations; “God” appears and talks about his and Lain’s nature. Now, she’d apparently been absorbed in her pocket Navi but snaps out of it to see everyone in her classroom staring at her and a message on her Navi, “Lain is a peeping tom.” She runs away and worries about what she’d done on the Wired, and we see a vision of the school exploding. We then cut to Lain of the Wired watching Alice fantasise about a teacher. Lain confronts Lain of the Wired and strangles her. Back in the chatroom, Eiri tells Lain that she’s omnipresent in the Wired, and Lain figures that she can erase people’s memories – including the memories of her double and the rumours she’d spread, which she then does.

They did indeed forget, but as Alice and the rest walk toward Lain a double, the cruel Lain, appears – and it’s this Lain that they can see and interact with.

A lot happens in this episode, so let’s go through scene by scene. First, it’s not clear whether the game Taro is playing is intended to be PvP (player vs. player) or not, but ruining other people’s day through good old-fashioned cyberbullying is the basic theme of this episode. As for the porn artist, his dialogue is expository but the setting gives us a sense that the Wired is, in multiple ways, a perverse place.

The question regarding Lain’s parents was, of course, brought up last episode, and their response to Lain here tells me that the Tachibana boss was on the right track; the Iwakuras are not Lain’s real parents. Note that Mr. Iwakura’s glasses are opaque because of a glare from an unseen source as Lain enters the room, but the glare is gone when he and his wife look to Lain, not saying anything but with an expression like they have some bad news to deliver. The effect is that he seems distant at first, but more honest at the end of the scene.

At school, and really throughout the series, Alice is very patient and forgiving with Lain. In contrast to the Wired rumourmongers, Alice always prefers to assume the best of people. The internet tends to bring out the worst in people, because the people we speak with seem less real due to pseudonyms and lack of things like tone of voice, eye contact, etc., and our own anonymity removes us from a feeling of responsibility. Alice’s good nature, then, makes her feel more like a real person as opposed to the extremely online personalities of the chatroom participants.

Who knows how much of what the chatroom participants say is true? It doesn’t matter, really, as they’re essentially voyeurs. As for “God,” it is interesting to see Eiri talk about himself a little. He at least doesn’t claim to be the creator of the world (meaning the real world, I assume), but adds that “The all-powerful ruler of the world” is “giv[ing] God too much credit.” Well, God would be all-powerful pretty much by definition, but Eiri is, I believe, mostly interested in increasing his own power, or at least the perception of his power, and one way to do so is to downplay the power of other “gods.” He does claim to be like God in that he’s omnipresent, though. He also talks about how Lain has always existed in the Wired and that the “real world” Lain is just a hologram of the Lain of the Wired, much as the apparition of Mrs. Iwakura said in Layer 05.

One confusing comment Eiri makes when Lain asks who he is, is “I am you.” Now, I don’t think that’s true, so I assume that he says this to throw Lain off-balance and make it harder for her to think through what he tells her next. If she accepts that the real world doesn’t matter, then she’s more likely to help weaken the barrier between the real world and the Wired, giving Eiri more influence over both.

Do all of the students at Lain’s school really stare at her? If rumours of what Lain’s been doing as a peeping tom get around, as they certainly could in a school, then it’s possible that most everyone would recognise and stare at her.…

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Of an Estranged World: Flannery O’Connor and the Grotesque

I’ll preface this post with a brief note that it was actually written several years ago, back in 2012. I set it aside at the time because it was so different from everything else I was writing, but I was reminded of it while re-reading Flannery O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood recently. The style is a bit different than what I generally use now, but I think there’s enough material here to be of interest that I’ve decided to finally publish it with only minor revisions.


I suspect that few would associate the word “grotesque” with Christian art. Though Medieval and Renaissance depictions of demons or hell were suitably horrifying, in most cases today “Christian” is often little more than a synonym for “family-friendly.” This is one reason I enjoy Flannery O’Connor’s short stories so much; her work is thoroughly Christian, yet it draws heavily from the gothic and outright grotesque style that I’ve always been drawn to.

Since the term “grotesque” is often used but seldom clearly defined beyond a synonym for something like “disgusting” a clear sense of this aesthetic is necessary for a meaningful discussion of her fiction. One study of the genre that I’ve found helpful is Wolfgang Kayser’s The Grotesque in Art and Literature. His book-length review of the history of the grotesque in the arts concludes that it has three primary elements common to almost all of the writers and artists who have employed the form. First, the grotesque represents the “estranged world,” second, it is “a play with the absurd,” finally, it is “an attempt to subdue the demonic aspects of the world.” Though the first two aspects are certainly applicable to O’Connor’s work, the last describes it best. Kayser wrote that a certain comfort is found in the grotesque, where “The darkness has been challenged…” In few of O’Connor’s stories is the “darkness,” the sinful or deformed aspect of human nature, really defeated, but it is at least discovered and some catharsis can be achieved from that alone.

O’Connor, though, also had her own ideas on what constitutes the grotesque. She does not write about freaks and the repulsive just for the sake of sensationalism. There is a purpose behind them, and that purpose can best be found by reference to her Catholic beliefs, because the characters she creates are not grotesque just because they are physically or spiritually ugly, but because they deviate from a natural order. Though they are freaks, O’Connor also knew that most of her readership would not find them so, or at least not for the reasons she did; therefore, she exaggerated their faults all the more, and used violence to shock her audience out of complacency. She once wrote, “to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.” To illustrate, let’s take a look at three of her short stories, “Good Country People,” “Revelation,” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”…

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