September 13

Pavlov's Dog, 1999

H.L. Mencken, the "Sage of Baltimore" whose birthday I commemorated on yesterday's page (find out more about him here), provides a splendid summary of Schopenhauer in his book on "The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche":

"Intelligence is not the source of will, but its effect. When life first appeared on earth, it had but one aim and object: that of perpetuating itself. The instinct was still at the bottom of every function of all living beings. Intelligence grew out of the fact that Mankind, in the course of ages, began to notice that certain manifestations of the will to live were followed by certain invariable results. This capacity of perceiving was followed by a capacity for remembering, which in turn produced a capacity for anticipating. An intelligent man was merely one who remembered so many facts (the result either of personal experience or of the transmitted experience of others) that he could separate them into groups and observe their relationship, one to the other, and hazard a close guess as to their future effects, i.e. could reason about them."

Bloom's Taxonomy, a hundred years ahead of Bloom's Taxonomy; though only thirty years ahead of Pavlov's Dog, which we must not allow ourselves to forget (choice of words here entirely deliberate) is itself a version of the same paradigm.

Schopenhauer, as Mencken explains, places human knowledge and the ability to reason specifically in the realm of memory. I remember and therefore I know; I know and therefore I can assess, evaluate, draw conclusions, rethink them. Memory can come from personal or from learned experience.

So, for example: I remember the scent attached to that whiteness (a dog cannot, presumably, identify the whiteness as being specifically a laboratory assistant), which always strokes my fur and feeds me, and so I salivate whenever it becomes visible to me – the observation which triggered Pavlov's research into conditioning as an aspect of behavioural psychology.

But dogs are dogs and humans are humans. So, for example: I remember the scent attached to that brown-and-pinkness (a newborn baby cannot, presumably, know if the brown-and-pinkness is a wet-nurse or its mother, or even that it is specifically a nipple), which always strokes my head and feeds me, and so I smile whenever it becomes visible to me (and I like it to so much that I will go on seeking it, per omnia saecula saeculorum, forever and ever, without end, even beyond wet-nurse and mummy).

But grown-up humans are more sophisticated than newborn humans. So, for example: I remember the scent attached to that brown-and-blackness (a sleep-deprived torture victim cannot, presumably, identify the brown-and-blackness as being specifically this torture weapon as opposed to that one), which always tears my hair out by the follicles and feeds me human excrement, and so I volunteer whatever information it requires as soon as it becomes visible to me. 

But free human beings are different. So, for example: I remember the pleasure of my classroom teacher when I finally got the answers to her quiz correct, and the gifts my parents gave me when they heard the news, and the envy of my elder brother who always got 100% no matter what (but never once received a praise-gift), and the group of girls who finally accepted me at school, when they had always called me "thick" and "stupid" in the past, and the boy in the senior year who showed me how to make the cheat-sheet in such a way no one would ever catch me, but only on condition that I let him kiss me.

Societies are no different from individuals in the ways that memory (and deliberate forgetting, or careful mis-remembering) is used to train us – this is why the teaching of History in schools is so important to the political parties, who rarely touch a Maths or Art curriculum. "I remember the route to work because I drive it every day" is apparently no different from "I remember that we were slaves in Egypt because I recite it in the Shema each morning". Except that, in fact, the two are diametrically opposite. For the driver: it has now been pointed out to me that there was always a much better, quicker, and prettier route to work, but this is the first I have heard about it; it really doesn't matter for the past, which is gone, but in the future I will be happier for using it. But for the worshipper: It has now been pointed out to me that we never actually were slaves in Egypt; the term "avadim" means "worshippers" as well as slaves, and refers to a particular religious group in Egypt, and not to bondsmen at all; the impact of this upon the past is absolutely devastating, and I really do not know what I am going to do in the future now that my fundamental truth has been demonstrated as a falsehood. 

The difference in each of the above examples is the difference between "learned" and "lived" experience (Augustinian "sense experience" versus the "empirical verifiability" of Roger Bacon was the mediaeval equivalent of this debate; previously it was Aristotle versus Plato). I can only remember what I have experienced, in whatever form I may have experienced it. I know the route to work because I found it on a map, and never bothered to look at alternatives, or ask anyone if they knew a different route; nor have I ever hit upon an alternative by chance on other journeys. This map, and the daily driving, are the limits of my experience. The same is true of my knowledge of history; my Hebrew school, my Jewish community, the history books, the Bible itself and all its commentators, my several Rabbis as I moved from denomination to denomination, even the atheists who wrote against the Bible, all without exception accepted the "slavery" version of history, and so it became my map until chance showed me this different one. 

For an educator in an "open", "liberal" society, the sort of society which Bloom's Taxonomy aspires to educating, personal experience becomes essential, because it is always more authentic, and therefore embeds itself at a deeper level of cognition than does the learned, the taught. If a society willfully limits the range of personal and learned experiences (family or state control of television, radio, newspapers and the Internet are the obvious forms of this), and directs those for whom it is responsible only to those experiences that it wishes them to lodge in memory, then the capacity to control their knowledge, of themselves and of the world, is infinite. Most religions, and all closed ideologies such as Communism and Fascism, apply this logic fastidiously. To broaden the range of personal experience is to direct the individual towards their own knowledge, their own opinions: in short, away from conformity and towards individuality. 

Schophenhauer takes this a step further: describing how memory becomes knowledge, and, more importantly, distinguishing knowledge which is really only information, from knowledge which is the consequence of assessment, evaluation and finally judgment. I remember the route to work that I drove the first day; I also remember the slightly different routes that I took on each of the following several days (though I still never found that quicker, prettier route). Having experimented with these options, I can now recognize patterns, and from those patterns I can make a decision as to which is the best route. Route A goes past a busy school, which slows me down. Route B has all the STOP signs against me, but Route C has most of them in my favour. Route D takes me to a traffic light with an advantage lane but Route E brings me to the same traffic light from a different direction, without an advantage lane. Therefore I "know" that Routes B and D are my best options (except on Tuesdays when the garbage trucks are out on B, and Thursdays when they close one of the streets on D for a Farmers' Market). In the same way we learn all the lessons of history, of science, of culture. I know how to draw a face because I have drawn faces a thousand times, and each time I looked back to see which parts were unsatisfactory, and improved upon them the next time; but I also looked at teaching books about drawing, and the drawings of great artists before me, and imbibed and absorbed what I could glean from them: the personal and the learned experience combined to enhance knowledge (except that one of the books my teacher recommended insists on using a mathematical technique based on Durer that I find ridiculous, and the one my grandma gave me as a birthday present is now far too basic; and no one learns to draw faces from Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon", a fact I only know because I've tried it). 

At the third level comes deduction and prediction. I remember from something I read or heard that tomorrow the schools are closed; so tomorrow I am going to drive to work by Route A. I know from watching my Torah students that emphasising and re-emphasising the slavery in Egypt re-affirms their conviction that my view of History is the only correct one, and even if it is not actually correct it still engages them with their Jewish identity, which is more important to me, albeit only up to a certain point of over-saturation, at which they will start to become negative and issue challenges to the correctness of the history I am teaching; but if I watch my students closely, I will be able to recognize when each begins to reach that point, and I will be able to adapt my teaching to keep them directed in a positive way, which will give me a high score on classroom management when it comes to decision-time about my contract for next year.

The faults of our education system lie in the above. Our schools are full of teachers, when they should be full of educators. Whether religious or secular, teachers always direct their children to a specific, and limited range of knowledge, which conforms to the ideas that the teacher wishes to convey: personal opinion possibly, but generally the set curriculum. We limit the teaching of history to make patriots, not historians. We provide religious instruction, rather than religious education, in order to "convert" them to their native faith. We set curriculum that lead to specific careers. We emphasise certain modes of learning – verbal first, written second, then audial; visual only quartiary - which directs them to certain skills that we as a society require. And we perpetuate known failures of our system: if we really want children to learn a foreign language, it would be better to take them for a 6-month exchange to another country, immerse them in the language in every school subject, immerse them in the culture, and then bring them home. Lab work teaches more science than book work. Practical and experiential learning achieves more than front-loading. We have to stop training teachers and start training educators. If, that is, the goal is to build an education system that optimizes the natural and instinctive learning process and maximizes intelligence as the outcome. If all we want is Pavlov's Dog, a catechism that can be learned and recited, a system for "acculturating good citizens" (a euphemism for conditioning, which is itself a euphemism for "brain-washing"), then we are already following the right map.

The process of reasoning is thus describable as:

Perceive - Recognize Patterns - Remember - Anticipate - Group and Observe - Predict by Analysis

We therefore need to provide students with:

A) the widest and broadest range of perception opportunities: data, personal experience, transmitted and learned experience of others.

B) development of the capacity to remember where, in today’s world, everything they no longer need to remember themselves is stored and can be accessed.

C) tools and experience of Anticipation.

D) practice in Grouping, Observing and Predicting by Analysis (Critical Thinking)

What happens if we do the opposite?

Ai) a narrow range of experiences can still produce an amazingly brilliant child, who "appears" to be intelligent because of his or her capacity to absorb and regurgitate a vast amount of material within that narrow range. A child, for example, brought up in a strong religious community; denied access to TV, Internet, movies, pop music; library-controlled; traditionally dressed; expert in every ritual and ceremony of the cult; able to recite the entire liturgy, as well as a thousand years of priestly commentary and discourse, and all the arguments for the cult prepared by the sages of yore; skillful in reciting the canonical political and social history; etc. An incredible mind, that has assimilated and remembered every piece of data, personal and transmitted experience, etc…but only of the cult itself. This person is in fact a complete ignoramus; a "brilliantly intelligent" ignoramus, but an ignoramus nonetheless. Simply, Pavlov's Dog has learned a sophisticated form of barking.

Bi) a photographic memory can learn a thousand words in ten minutes, recite them faultlessly the following day in viva voce or written test, gain a first class pass and the consequent scholarship to the next tier of education; it then deletes the entire file from short-term brain memory, in order to make room for the next circus-trick. Unless the information becomes knowledge at an effective and cognitive level, it might as well never have been learned. Personally I cannot recite the whole of "King Lear" by heart, but I know where to find a text in ten seconds, and how to quick-search that on-line text for the quote that I am looking for: this is because I have the search skills, but also I "know" the play well enough to know what to look for. My friend who can recite the entire play off by heart is a Japanese who does not speak English, other than the text of this and several other Shakespeare plays.

Ci) "Children, here is the data that you need to know. Write it down as I write it on the board. Learn it, with the correct answers, for a quiz on Thursday." This is catechism, not education; doxology, not critical thinking; propaganda, not information; brainwashing, not teaching. The alternative method is: "so, kids, let's look at this data and see what we make of it. Your answers will be as good as mine, so long as you can defend them. I am here to help you with the parts you do not understand."

Di) As above in C), but without the social cooperation skills, and without early experience of the sort of collaboration skills that will be necessary in adult life.

Bloom's Taxonomy is not really Bloom's Taxonomy at all, though it was named after Benjamin Bloom, who chaired the group (see D above) of educators who devised it, and edited its first expression in print, "Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals", in 1954; since when it has gone through several revisions (as it should do: this process of constantly re-assessing and re-evaluating the original Taxonomy, and then updating it as knowledge deepens and improves, is itself a perfect illustration of Bloom's Taxonomy).

We all believe the lessons of our personal experience, and few are they whose personal experience is broader than the narrow range of what we are taught both to believe and disbelieve; few are they who have come to these beliefs, independently, as a consequence of reflection, critical thinking, experience and mature judgement. And of course all of us are unwilling to accept that our beliefs, whether taught or learned, conditioned or experienced, might possibly be false. Historical examples of this, from flat-earth theory to the virtues of imperialism, from homophobia to gay pride, from Communism to Market Capitalism, from monogamy to free love, are simply too many to require listing; more interesting is to find a means of testing which of our beliefs founder on the same rocks today. The existence of democracy in the world, or God? The value of human rights as intrinsic rights, rather than as self-bestowed privileges or entitlements? The dangers implicit in global warming (as opposed to the possibility that it might actually be beneficial, rather than the more common argument against their even being such a warming).

To assist in this process, I have come up with a very basic "self-testing map", one which I hope others will assess, evaluate, improve, or simply recommend rejecting in favour of a better one. It goes like this:

Ask yourself: can you imagine a situation in which one plus one does not add up to two?

If your knee-jerk reply was: this is impossible, one plus one will always equal two; it is a fact, an immutable law of mathematics – then you are describing a person who has been taught and told, whose personal experience is limited, who lacks the skills necessary for critical thinking.

One plus one equals four, where one is any pair (e.g. shoes, socks, apples)

One plus one equals one, where one is one half.

One plus one equals one, where one egg plus one cup of milk plus one tomato plus one onion plus one red pepper, lightly fried, equals one perfect omelette.

One plus one equals eighty-four, where one is the Kentai word for forty-two (Kentai is a language that has not yet been invented, but will be, perhaps in Africa in the late 24th century, or in a novel by a character from the works of Borges.)

One plus one equals two, where two legs are good, but four legs are better.

One plus one equals three, following an edict by the President declaring the number two to be a shibboleth, the pronunciation of which will lead to death by firing squad and a period in exile for the guilty person’s family.

One plus one equals three, using binary rather than decimal integers.

One plus one equals eleven, based on the location rather than the value of the integers.

“One plus one” is the technical term in 28th century Sweden for what used to be called, back in those primordial days when human beings were scarcely more cognitively developed than Pavlov’s Dog and gave their answers in school work in much the manner torture-victims gave theirs to their Inquisitors, as “Bloom’s Taxonomy”.

Other possibilities also exist, based on linguistic variations and the homophonic nature of the word one (won, Juan, etc); I leave you to reflect, think critically, apply experience and make a mature judgement of your own to these. Barking is not permitted, though I am quite sure that when my dog does bark, the sound that comes out is "Pavlov".

I have placed this blog-entry under September 13th, which was the date of Bloom's death, in 1999, and also happens to be the date on which I am posting it, in 2014. I would have preferred to place it on his birthdate, February 21st (1913), but that entry already contains a piece on Spinoza, who was excommunicated precisely for applying Schopenhauer and Bloom, though he could not have known that; and on Trotsky, who provides a fascinating example of how personal experience without proper implementation of Schopenhauer and Bloom can drive a man from one form of acculturation into another even worse. At second best I would have preferred to place this entry on February 22nd, which was Schopenhauer's birthdate in 1788, and actually the reason why my very first posting for this blog was on that date; but that date already includes an entry on Sanctorius, who was martyred that day for daring to apply Schopenhauer and Bloom. That left me September 21st, the date of Schopenhauer's death in 1860, but September 21st already has an entry on Saint Matthew and his Gospel, whose canonical status is a perfect illustration of the way in which Ai above was the determining factor in European history, and education, for more than a thousand years, and led to Spinoza, Trotsky, Sanctorius, Schopenhauer and Bloom. Which leaves me September 13th, the wrong date, but at least one that I have chosen, by myself, as a consequence of finding out as many facts as are available, assessing them, evaluating them, and then using my critical faculties to make a judgement of my own. Schopenhauer and Bloom would be proud of me!

Amber pages

Samuel Wilson, the man who would bestow his name to his nation as "Uncle Sam", born today in 

Milton Hershey, candy maker, born today in 1857

Sherwood Anderson, author, born today in 1876

J.B. Priestley, English critic, playwright, and novelist, born today in 1894

The erection of Hadrian's Wall, dividing England from Scotland, begun today in 122 CE

Rhinoceros first seen in New York, today in 1826. I would like to think that this was Ionesco's play rather than the African animal, but alas the play wasn't yet written, and anyway that premiered in Düsseldorf not New York, and only in 1959. If there really are rhinoceroi in north America, can it really have taken until 1826 for anyone to notice one? (And by the way, it isn't true that rhinos in NYC are nw extinct - friends of mine saw three rhinos, playing most un-rhino-like, in Astor Place, down in the Village, literally last week)

September 29

1725, 1758


Yes, heroes - that much devalued concept of antiquity which today is either firemen or supermen, or more generally pop and film and sport stars, but no longer the ordinary men and women who rise above the banality of daily life and provide the rest of us with a valiant role-model.

Among the many themes that have emerged in this blog is that of the men and women upon whom we look back as heroes, the ones who laid the foundations for our history, or our culture, or our values – but who now, in retrospect, may not have merited that status after all; and not because their lives were other than was recorded, but because our own perspective has changed so much that what was once heroic is no longer so, may even be the very opposite of heroic now. The same, of course, is true of those once branded with ignominy, but now recognised as something rather different; they too occupy many an entry in this blog.

Today's date celebrates the birthdays of Robert Clive in 1725, and Horatio Nelson in 1758, the latter thirty-three years after the former, though somehow the atmosphere of their lives makes us feel that Clive belonged to an epoch somewhat later, perhaps as much as a century later – another of the vagaries of time. Clive feels like he belongs with Kipling and Gordon in the Victorian age, with Gunga Din in the Raj, or with Livingston and Stanley at the Victoria Falls, where Nelson clearly inhabits an aristocratic world before the revolutions of the Enlightenment, in France first, then in America.

Clive and Nelson, if you are English, occupy primary positions in the national hall of fame, though the reality is that one was a colonialist and imperialist adventurer, whose main objective was the establishment of both the military and the political supremacy of the East India Company in Bengal; while the other bought every post he ever held, all the way to Vice-Admiral, and perpetrated atrocities (in Naples especially, but there were many others), for which he would find himself on trial in Den Haag today, and not the man voted "the 9th greatest Briton of all time" in a BBC television poll in 2002.

Clive died in 1774, while the young Nelson was making an early voyage to the East Indies, from which he returned so invalided that it might have ended his career before it had begun. That it did not is something for which history may be grateful - a cliché offered only as a segue to the other notorious mariner of his day.

Four years and twenty days older than Nelson was one Captain William Bligh, of the HMS Bounty. The cruelty that inspired the mutiny against him, on April 28th 1789, is well-known, but not the circumstances. In 1774, the year of Clive's death, Bligh accompanied Captain Cook on his second voyage around the world; in 1787 Cook sent him to Tahiti to collect bread-fruit and prepare a base for further scientific research. His men were demoralised and mutinous even before they boarded ship.

Also little known is Bligh's survival. While the mutineers settled on Pitcairn Island, he beached his twenty-three foot open boat at Timor on June 14th 1789, 3618 miles beyond its despatch on April 28th - a truly heroic achievement, however ignominious the reason for it. Cook sent him off in search of still more bread-fruit, and in 1805 he was appointed Governor of New South Wales, where his harshness was no less than on Tahiti. Nelson died that year, but Bligh outlasted him. Arrested for cruelty in 1808, he was released and the arresting officer cashiered. In 1811 he acquired the Nelsonian rank of Admiral, but seems to have played no active part in the conflict with Napoleon. He died in his bed, in London, on December 7th 1817.

Amber pages

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, Roman statesman and military commander, born today in 106 - and known as Pompey the Great, for reasons that I will challenge when I return to this. What "greatnesses" did Pompey achieve, beyond brutal war in Spain, the ending of the Spartacan slave rebellion against Roman tyranny, and then still more brutal occupation? It was Pompey, to open a circle that will close at the foot of this page, who completed the conquest of Judea, including the "cleansing" of the Temple in Jerusalem, in 63 BCE, a full hundred years of occupation before General Titus' soldiers concluded the destruction of the Jewish homeland?

Elizabeth Gaskell, writer, born today in 

Miguel de Unamuno, writer, born today in 1864

Enrico Fermi, nuclear physicist, born today in 1901

And today in 1923, Britain took up its self-granted mandate from the League of Nations, to govern Palestine - and virtually their first act was to hand over the entire Trans-Jordanian territory to an exiled Saudi prince. Palestinian land, and they should be given it back.

January 15

1912, 1797

perfect illustration of "The Immaculate Failure" ("The Captive Bride", page 160), from Captain Scott’s diary, this day in 1912: 

"It is wonderful to think that two long marches would land us at the Pole. We left our depot today with nine days’ provisions, so that it ought to be a certain thing now, and the only appalling possibility is the sight of the Norwegian flag forestalling ours. Little Bowers continues his indefatigable efforts to get good sights, and it is wonderful how he works them up in his sleeping-bag in our congested tent. (Minimum for night -27.5o) Only 27 miles from the Pole. We ought to do it now."

They did, arriving two days later, on the 17th, only to discover that the Norwegian flag had indeed forestalled their own, borne there just ahead of them by Roald Amundsen. Scott and his four comrades died on the way back, from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.

More on this tale on March 17, and a hint of it in Shackleton's tale on January 5.


John Hetherington, haberdasher, returned from Paris this morning, sporting the latest fashion there: a top-hat. Displaying it outside his shop in the Strand, the crowds who gathered to see the curiosity became so unruly the police had to be called. Hetherington was arrested for inciting a riot.

On the same day, outside Rivoli, Napoleon wrapped up the defeat of the Austrian army under Baron Alvintzi. Napoleon wore a tricorn.

Amber pages:

Jean Baptiste Poquelin born today in 1622, later known as the playwright Molière.

Osip Mandelstam, born today in 1891 - merely a note here, no need for a follow-up. For more, see "Poem No 395" and "For Osip Mandelstam", both in my "Private Collection"; and also several references in this blog - perhaps the most historically interesting is Yevtushenko's comment, for which see July 18.

Alan Lomax, chronicler of the American folk-song, born today in 1915.

And MLK, Martin Luther King, born today in 1929, but the date of his assassination (April 4) is where you will (eventually) find my piece about him.

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2016 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

February 16

1600 (1949, 1959)

Campbell, Wilder, Bruno, Joyce

How do you get from mythologist and anthropologist Joseph Campbell (see March 26), to novelist James Joyce, via playwright Thornton Wilder and the philosopher Giordano Bruno? I love these sorts of bizarre connections, especially when they bring together a group of people, such as this one, who are all on my shelves and seeking a place in this collection, especially when such a foursome allows me to indulge the pleasure of creating a title for this entry that mimics Samuel Beckett's own essay on Joyce (you can read it here).

Campbell was essential reading as I built TheBibleNet over several decades, gleaning from him a depth of knowledge about the ancient cults, sects, religions and mythologies that goes deeper and broader than any other scholar has even tried.
Starting on page 257 of the Penguin edition of the 4th volume of his "The Masks of God", he explores the work of James Joyce [1], specifically in relation to the Tristan myth, which he demonstrates is a recurrent theme throughout "Finnegans Wake", and on page 265 he notes the profound influence on Joyce of "that bold young Dominican monk [Giordano Bruno]… whose name, in various transformations, appears, disappears, and reappears through every episode of 'Finnegans Wake'."

Now I confess that I have never been able to make head or tail of "Finnegans Wake", which many writers and scholars who I admire regard as Joyce's highest achievement; and so I have always presumed that the fault for my total incomprehension lies with me and my inadequacies, and not with any imputations of madness or abstrusity that I might have directed at Joyce in my moments of frustration. Campbell's comments seemed to offer the possibility of a way in, as I had studied Giordano Bruno in a History of Science class at university, and knew there was a connection, though I had not fathomed what it was, from Beckett's written account of his personal idolatry of Joyce; but sadly Campbell is not in the business of literary criticism, and so the road I might have taken turned out to be a cul-de-sac.

Enter playwright Thornton Wilder, stage left, with a script in essay-form first published in "Hudson Review" in 1963, and found by the simple task of placing the words "Giordano Bruno" and "James Joyce", separated by a plus-sign, in my search engine - you can find it for yourself by clicking here (since I first found it they have now put up a registration process).

The article (if you bother to go there) is fascinating, and shows very clear evidence that Wilder did not have the difficulty with Joyce that I still have, even after reading Wilder's explanations. If you are interested in "Finnegans Wake", then this is definitely an article you should read; and if you can provide me with a means of grappling with this labyrinthine tome, I would certainly appreciate a comment in the box below. The truth is, I am still struggling with Joyce's somewhat easier "Ulysses", though I believe that I have now mastered, after six attempts, the first two hundred pages.

Bruno belongs in "The Invisible Library", the growing list of writers, artists, composers, thinkers, who have been personally banished, whether to an oblique corner of life, or from life itself altogether, or whose works have disappeared into the flames and vaults of oblivion (see my pages for January 8 and December 6, though the theme runs through many other pages of this blog). To complete the cycle of this essay, let me present Campbell's description of what happened "on the morning of February 16, 1600 A.D., in the Campo di Fiori in Rome", when Bruno "was burned alive at the stake, at the age of fifty-two, for having cast his pearls before Clement VIII and the learned doctors of the Roman Holy Office of the Inquisition" ("The Masks of God", Vol 4, page 265):

"An ordained Dominican, yet to the root of his being an incorrigible heretic, in flight from city to city before the various packs of God's hounds – Naples, Rome, Venice, Padua, Brescia, Bergamo, Milan, Chambéry, Geneva, Toulouse, Paris, Oxford, London, Paris again, then Marburg, Wittenberg, Prague, Helmstadt, Frankfurt-am-Main, Zurich, and (alas!) Venice again (Office of the Inquisition), on to Rome (dungeons of the Inquisition for eight years and finally, infallibly, the stake) – now in clerical, now in secular garb, now here, more often there, unwittingly insulting his friends, intentionally challenging his persecutors, believed by some to have become a Calvinist, yet driven by that pack from Geneva, he was himself an incarnation of that 'coincidence of opposites' of which he eloquently wrote, and, in a truly Joycean way, his own worst enemy. 'A Daedalus,' he called himself, 'as regards the habits of the intellect.’[2] And when his condemnation was read to him, rising before the Triumphant Beast. 'You pronounce sentence upon me perhaps with a greater fear,' he said, 'than that with which I receive it.' He was incinerated, and his books as well."

Bust of Giordano Bruno by Maurizio Tazzuti

[1] In partnership with Henry Morton Robinson he also produced a "skeleton key" to Joyce's  "Finnegan's Wake" which is even more incomprehensible than the book it is explaining. 

[2] A comment which makes me wonder if Bruno is not also key to Joyce’s “Ulysses”, whose central character, Stephen Hero in the earliest version of its prequel, “Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man”, became Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s alter ego, in the final versions of both books.


And speaking of heretics, Chaim Weizman, the first President of the world's second-most-heretical nation, the how-dare-it modern state of Israel, was inaugurated today in 1949. And ten years to the day later, Fidel Castro, sworn in as President of the one nation regarded as even more heretical than Israel - Cuba. 

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2016 David Prashker
All rights reserved

The Argaman Press

September 20


Our tale begins on September 6th, 1522, when a ship named the Victoria, commanded by the Portuguese navigator Juan Sebastian den Cano (sometimes remembered as the Spanish navigator Juan de Elcano - see September 8), steered into the harbour at Seville, bearing a cargo of spices so valuable that it was sufficient to pay for what had been one of the most important sea-voyages in human history.

That voyage began, on September 20th three years earlier, when a fleet in the command of the Portuguese Fernäo de Megalhäes set out from Sanlúcar de Barremada, under the patronage of the King of Spain.

By November the fleet had reached South America, where it spent several months exploring the Rio Plata, and then six more, resting and overhauling at Port San Julian.

It was there that mutiny cost the fleet a ship, but the mutiny was quelled, and the dangerous, quixotic purpose of the voyage could now be tackled, the commander taking the ships through the straits that have born his name in Spanish forever afterwards, entering what he christened the Pacific Ocean, attempting to return home on a westward route that inferred the circumnavigation of a globe that could not possibly be flat if this was achievable.

One ship deserted en route, leaving only three. In March 1521 they reached the Marianas; ten days later the Philippines; on April 7th the three ships moored on Cebu, where Megalhäes agreed – one wonders if Swift knew about these events – to help the island in its war with the neighbouring island of Mactan. On April 27th Megalhäes was killed, and one of the ships burned; the other two ships fled to the Moluccas, and one of them, the Victoria, continued the journey home, arriving at Seville on the 6th of September. Megalhäes in Spanish is of course Fernando de Magallanes; in English he is quite simply Magellan.

Ninety-eight years minus four days ago later (give or take a handful of alternate dates that you can find in various almanacs and encyclopedia, including today, and the day they actually set out, from outside the pub The Shippe in London's Rotherhithe, which was August 6), the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, though actually their first port of call after the Thames was Southampton, carrying the Pilgrim Fathers to their New World. Maps of the period show a land that could be the mirror-image of the modern State of Israel; the same long, thin coastal strip – but east-facing, and enormously larger – dwarfed by a vast continent at its shoulder, hostile, alien and unchallengeable, inhabited for millennia by people of such different customs they may well have seemed to be a different version of the human race.

There is no sense at all of modern North America in these maps. Canada is a monumental inland waterway dissolving into snowy desert, bordered to the north by civilisation failing to expand its economic empire, to the south by the aboriginal. What we think of as the USA was then entirely Louisiana – French. And as to the Thirteen Colonies; in those days, the influence of the Dutch was everywhere, including the Protestantism of the English pilgrims. Yet, to understand modern America, it is this map that makes the most sense, from the Ku Klux Klan to the IV League (yes IV, originally, Latin 4, not Ivy, the vine), from the Big Apple to Martha's Vineyard, and of course from New Amsterdam to the lands opened, on the Pacific side, by way of the sea, by the Portuguese Fernäo de Megalhäes.

The map below is dated around 1650, in the possession of
Loyola University Chicago.

Amber pages

Upton (Beall) Sinclair, novelist ("The Jungle"), born today in 1878

Stevie Smith, poetess, born today in 1902. The difference between Stevie Smith and Sylvia Plath is that one wrote poetry while peeling the onions, the other peeled onions while writing poetry. I leave you to determine for yourself which one is which one.

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