Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Now and Forever

AP reports a strange archaeological find.

Archaeologists have unearthed two skeletons from the Neolithic period locked in a tender embrace and buried outside Mantua, just 25 miles south of Verona, the romantic city where Shakespeare set the star-crossed tale of "Romeo and Juliet." Buried between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, the prehistoric pair are believed to have been a man and a woman and are thought to have died young, as their teeth were found intact, said Elena Menotti, the archaeologist who led the dig. ... Although the Mantua pair strike a rare and touching pose, archaeologists have found prehistoric burials in which the dead hold hands or have other contact, said Luca Bondioli, an anthropologist at Rome's National Prehistoric and Ethnographic Museum.

In his epilogue of the Time Machine, HG Wells summarized the glory and tragedy of mankind. Two white flowers presented as a gift to the Time Traveler by a child-woman from the future. And where was he now? Age might weary. Disease waste. Death and degeneration come. Is man's life tragic? "If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so," Wells wrote. And maybe it is not.

"He, I know--for the question had been discussed among us long before the Time Machine was made--thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind, and saw in the growing pile of civilisation only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end. If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so. But to me the future is still black and blank--is a vast ignorance, lit at a few casual places by the memory of his story. And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers--shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle--to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man."

27 Comments:

Blogger shropshirelad said...

It seems that Marvell fellow was all wrong.

The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace...

This is why a person should never trust a poet.

2/07/2007 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Song of Solomon 8:6
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.

2/07/2007 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

charles,

That's a famous passage and a familiar one. Except the word I remember in place of "grave" is "sheol". And sheol was very much on my mind all those years ago on Zamboanga peninsula. The tune that goes with it, mysteriously enough, together with images of coconut groves flashing past, is from "La Bamba", not the Richie Valens version, but the slower Sandpipers cover.

You were drowning my darling,
And I saved you.
Dominating the waves with my love for you
Y, arriba y arriba y arriba iré
Yo no soy marinero, por ti seré

2/07/2007 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger Eggplant said...

That picture of the young couple embraced in death was a beautiful thing. However I wish their discovers had simply taken the picture (as an example for the rest of us), then covered them up and left them in peace. I fear their bones are now in a plastic bag undergoing DNA analysis.

2/07/2007 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Pierre Legrand said...

We live in increasingly dangerous times with our enemies multiplying and our allies losing their nerves and yet that embrace caused me to take heart. Perhaps we may lose but we will have loved life far more than those barbarians we fight against. The bitter left and maniacal Islamic warriors have only hatred in their hearts...we can be sure that none of them will die in an embrace.

PS Thank goodness we have you Wretchard...

Fighting the good fight

2/07/2007 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The logical problem that Wells' final argument raises, and he was a pessimist, socialist and atheist -- is why, if life is futile, we should "live as though it were not so". Logically we should live as if it were so. Unless we deny the premise the conclusion follows.

One reason that occurs is that man's life itself demands faith and hope; that belief in some purpose to existence is a condition for survival. I suppose that a dinosaur could go through its life-cycle without once bothering itself about these things, but even 6,000 years ago, this Mantuan couple were stretching out towards what many people feel is natural, but is today denied.

The liberal End of History is an attempt to discover if man can live without meaning. It is the last stage toward transforming the Old Man into the New Man. That enough sex, drugs and money can compensate for the doctrine that life is but "a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end". It is an experiment to see whether civilization can exist without faith. It is perhaps no coincidence that that the civilization of unfaith should find itself unable to defend itself against Islam. Europe does not lack for strength. It lacks a reason to live; and even the will to simultaneously embrace despair and "live as though it were not so".

The Time Traveler went on and in that sense he was man of the past, before "strength and mind had gone".

2/07/2007 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Fascinating post & thread. What about regaining lost faith, though--has any civilization ever done that, without something putting the fear of God in them--or, 'back' in them?

Sandpipers 'La Bamba"--check, great--like "Guantanamera" also Spanish, from the era. Simple songs with lyrics that mean everything, or that speak of things that mean everything.

News reports that the couple had both been wounded by arrows--he in the spine, she in the side, said the tv snip. Adds another imaginative dimension to their story, whatever it was and is. Can't help but think of intrusions into the ideal, and so forth. But I think that sort of thought is called "reification" or something. Flawed thought, if I understand the term correctly.

Anyway, the embracing couple from the dawn of civilation contrasts with the broken embrace of the future civilization, personified in the poor flipped-out astronaut lady, all achievement and emptiness--despite a marriage, three children, the career of careers, and the admiration of peers and masses alike.

2/07/2007 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

I actually found the Sandpipers clip, which you can listen to here. The wonders of the Internet.

2/07/2007 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Eggplant said...

Wretchard said...

"One reason that occurs is that man's life itself demands faith and hope; that belief in some purpose to existence is a condition for survival. I suppose that a dinosaur could go through its life-cycle without once bothering itself about these things, but even 6,000 years ago, this Mantuan couple were stretching out towards what many people feel is natural, but is today denied."

This line-of-inquiry raises many questions. The assertion that our existence has any purpose at all is a leap of faith. Perhaps(?) we should be like the dinosaurs and not bother ourselves about these things. I would like to think that our lives have a purpose but can come up with no empirical justification. I can come up with some rationalization for this belief but it is mostly arm waving and easily refuted. When backed into a corner, I'm forced as a default to agnosticism. Perhaps the enability to prove that our lives have a purpose is an answer to the vexed political question: "Why do so many intelligent and well educated people opt to be moonbats?"

2/07/2007 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

The couple, transfixed by cupid's arrows found as Valentine's Day comes, contrasted to the frantic half-couple person (as she must see herself), burning over the highways 900 miles wearing a diaper, armed, and sacrificing all in a doomed attempt to end her incompleteness. Sheesh--wot a pair of extremes, in the 'love story' frame.

2/07/2007 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

The couple, transfixed by cupid's arrows found as Valentine's Day comes, contrasted to the frantic half-couple person

Transfixed indeed. Both had fatal arrow wounds with the flint tips found.

That they were posed suggests either fellow villagers memorialized their matrimony or that the enemy that killed them had a sense of humor.

Next up, perhaps a Greek excavation where man and boy killed by weaponry are found lovingly intertwined?

2/07/2007 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger bobalharb said...

Perhaps they bacame victims of fate and family hostility, the sacrifice of warring dukes, killed in a melee. And so these perfect and unblemished lovers went where they had to go, unable to remain in the ordinary world.

"Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!"

2/07/2007 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Wounded, they found each other, and died together. That's the way to bet it.

2/07/2007 02:54:00 PM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

Could be an early Muslim honor killing. These customs have to come from somewhere.

2/07/2007 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

cedarford,

Is there any color in your social spectrum other than black. Really, life will go on as bleakly as ever, even if you just once surrender to the humanizing emotion of the moment. No doubt they were Jews, placed there just to screw-up your day.
;-)

2/07/2007 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

No, Allen, if one was a Jew, the other would have to be an American Dupe.

2/07/2007 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

buddy larsen,

Or possibly, a neo-con dupe.

O/T: good to hear from you!

2/07/2007 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger Aristides said...

Sublimation, not hope, is the cure for the sickness. For man to avoid despair he must submit to something larger than himself.

That's as true for society as it is for the individual. Both entities demand a fundamental unity around which to organize being in time. Our problem is that our old unity is dead; and without the centripetal force of a unified submission, our energies and drives are scattered to the wind. Narratives mutate and multiply, while purposes shrink. Decline, in other words, is already happening.

If we are to persist, if Western Enlightened Man is to survive, a new unity must be found. If the West is to avoid dismemberment, our imperative is simple, and daunting: we must discover and communicate a unity that can 1) keep us in awe, 2) demand allegiance, 3) inspire penitence, and 4) withstand the epistemic acid of empirical science. Secular unities are too small, and religious unities are too soluble. (What high standards we have!)

To what should I submit? -- and why? If those questions remain unanswered for a vast swath of the West, we will lose.

2/07/2007 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger Clioman said...

A Capulet and a Montague? Perhaps the DNA results will assist...

2/07/2007 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger charlotte said...

Most likely, an embracing devoted couple from thousands of years ago represents its kind and society just as much as a crazed infatuated astronaut lady from the future represent ours-- as in not. Humans just are. I have to believe there has always been beautiful love- it doesn’t belong to the Middle Ages. And also that there’s always been luv, lust and lunacy.

The reasons for marriage have evolved, though. And widow sacrifice has, too, thankfully and perhaps less romantically, if that’s the case with this bittersweet, pierced to death but still loving skeletal couple.

2/07/2007 05:42:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

BUddy & Allen, giving lessons on how Jews historically, have compiled such a record of making friends and influencing people.

2/07/2007 06:45:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

LOL--good one, C4. But in the world beyond the oblique sensibilities of the UN, I'd put Jerry Seinfeld up against Charley Manson any day.

2/07/2007 06:53:00 PM  
Blogger shropshirelad said...

I think Wretchard raises an interesting point here:

"The Time Traveler went on and in that sense he was man of the past, before "strength and mind had gone".

Perhaps the Muslim in Europe is just such a time traveler.

I wonder what his appearence means for the children of the West...

2/08/2007 07:10:00 AM  
Blogger allen said...

cedarford,

In your considered opinion what people has compiled a record of winning friends. Would you say the Germans? Oh, and what has popularity to do with morality?

2/08/2007 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Many peoples have been 'loved'. Usually as property of the exalted knowers of the Higher Purpose, tho sometimes in a hearty stew, or spit-roasted around the campfire.

2/08/2007 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

buddy larsen,

You remind me of the Little Rascals routine: "Yum, yum, eat'em up, eat'em up". I am not well, to be completely honest.

2/08/2007 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger ZionistYoungster said...

Eggplant, you said:

"The assertion that our existence has any purpose at all is a leap of faith."

As is the assertion that our existence has no purpose at all. If we don't know then we really don't know, and defaulting to either position means making a statement of knowledge that effectively voids our agnosticism.

(I'm not an agnostic. I'm an Orthodox Jew.)

And you said:

"Perhaps(?) we should be like the dinosaurs and not bother ourselves about these things."

Perhaps we should. But we don't. Because we can't.

And you said:

"I would like to think that our lives have a purpose but can come up with no empirical justification. I can come up with some rationalization for this belief but it is mostly arm waving and easily refuted."

I know what you mean, and I know exactly how you feel. From my experience, the problem is not with the evidence but with the presuppositions, i.e. your basic method of looking at the world and interpreting the evidence that comes your way. That can sometimes be shaped by extraordinary evidence, but not often.

2/10/2007 03:55:00 PM  

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