Saturday, 30 June 2012

Weekend Quote #5

“A man may be a heretic in the truth; and if he believe things only because his pastor says so, or the Assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy.”

John Milton wrote this in his Areopagitica. He was talking about the chance that books classified as 'heretics' couldn't be published under the decree issued by the English government at that time.Thus he said what he thought about heresy. Perhaps later I will discuss about this, I mean, in another post, but for now I'd like to note how he stressed the importance of reason in men, based mainly on that quote.

A man's heresy – in this case his failure to have true faith or conviction– does not depend only on what he believes in, but why he believes it. If somebody believes in something just because 'his pastor says so', therefore based on what people say to be true, then the basis of his believe is wrong, regardless the veracity of what he believes in.

By this statement he stressed that men must use their reason to determine the right or wrong, instead of blindly believe in what they are taught to be right. In Areopagitica, he also quoted the Bible itself, that says:

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

It is not wrong to question what someone believes in. It is not a sin to doubt your religion. On the contrary, when you have proved “all things”, you will have stronger conviction on what you believe in.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Milton's Areopagitica: A Work for Freedom and Trust of Truth

Areopagitica is one of Milton's non-fiction works, and the second Milton's non-fiction that I read. I am interested in Milton because, since I first read Paradise Lost, I have felt that he's a special being with interesting things in his mind. Another reason is the way he delivers his thoughts. Maybe it's just me, but I feel fire in his writings. Sometimes I feel rage, zeal, such a spirit that for him words could hardly serve his purpose. That, plus the boldness in his writings, make me love his works.

So let's continue to the book: Areopagitica. The copy that I got started with the edict that was issued at the time of Milton's life regarding the regulation and printing of books. Then it continues with Milton quoting Euripid, and then his treatise begins. First, I'd like to give a brief summary of the book, and then while doing so, I'll write what makes me think it's so interesting.

Firstly Milton stated that book licensing was first issued by the Catholic Inquisition (Milton himself was not a Catholic). The Greeks and Romans, fathers of philosophy, didn't know such idea. One sentence touched my heart more than the others.

“But that a book, in worse condition than a peccant soul, should be to stand before a jury ere it be born to the world, and undergo yet in darkness the judgment of Radamanth and his colleagues, ere it can pass the ferry backward into light, was never heard before.”

If a sinful man can freely be born into the world, why can't a book be freely born to it as well? If God does not judge a man based on what he might do, why should men judge a book based on what it may produce?

And on this Milton couldn't resist being so sarcastic. (How I love the man).

“Sometimes five Imprimaturs are seen together dialogue-wise in the piazza of one title-page, complimenting and ducking each to other with their shaven reverences, whether the author, who stands by in perplexity at the foot of his epistle, shall to the press or to the sponge.”

Next he stated that just because a book is bad, it doesn't mean that the book must necessarily be harmful. Even Moses, Daniel and Paul were educated in Egyptian, Chaldean, and Roman wisdom but it didn't automatically make them heretics or something alike. In fact, Paul quoted Greek literatures when he was in Athens, and by doing so helped the people there accepting the Bible.

He also wrote that even God himself never condemns reading of materials as sinful. He quoted the book of Thessalonians that says, “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.” He argued that since God has given men wisdom and freewill, they should choose for themselves whether to read or not to read, and further whether to agree or disagree with what they read. Hence if anyone would burn a book out of hatred, let it be of his own voluntary act, not a forced act by government instituted decree.

On the statement that a bad book might harm less-educated men, Milton wrote:

“And again, if it be true that a wise man, like a good refiner, can gather gold out of the drossiest volume, and that a fool will be a fool with the best book, yea or without book; there is no reason that we should deprive a wise man of any advantage to his wisdom, while we seek to restrain from a fool, that which being restrained will be no hindrance to his folly.”

His next argument was that if the government wants to prevent corruption to the people by their decree, simply licensing books wouldn't be enough. There would still be music, dancing, and many other things that the law cannot regulate. And even if the law were to regulate them all, it would be nothing but folly, because, please, how could it?

“They are not skilful considerers of human things, who imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin”

The other thing that I really like is his argument that licensing would only hinder the Truth from coming to light. Then his former argument that licences would not prevent corruption of the mind and this argument proved to be a double blow for his readers. The government would not only fail to cast away darkness, it would also block the emerging light of Truth and science.

“For who knows not that Truth is strong, next to the Almighty? She needs no policies, nor stratagems, nor licensings to make her victorious... Give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps.

Milton also stated that the Truth might take “more shape than one”, and quoting Paul, he also showed that he appreciated the voice of conscience, when people who eat and who don't, who regard a day and who don't may do either for the Lord. The idea of respecting people's conscience I also find beautiful.

I know that I have already written so much. In fact, this might be my longest blog post so far. But let me ask a few more lines. After reading, I thought, why did he write this in such zeal and spirit? I don't doubt his good intention, but is there anything more than that? I found out that he had his own idea of things, some of them were not in line with either the government or the church. Was he afraid that his ideas couldn't be published, and thus covering the 'Truth' he believed in? Only Milton knew.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Weekend Quote #4

“I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule.” - Sherlock Holmes, Sign of Four

I'm back again with the quote of the week. It's from Sherlock Holmes, my classic literature first crush. The genius detective always has strong opinions about things, and he says it frankly, sometimes – or rather, most of the times – without even thinking about other's feelings.

Sherlock Holmes played by
Jeremy Brett
The above statement, I think, is reasonable when it comes to logical matters. In Sherlock's world of 'right or wrong' he doesn't have place for anything between. He wants the solid truth, based on evidence. No wonder, he doesn't believe in exceptions.

In the context, Watson was talking to him about Mary Morstan as being an attractive woman and Holmes as a machine not to realise it. Holmes calmly replied that for him a client was “a mere unit”, or factor, in a case. He then related his experience with people, that one should never judge people from the impression they give you. How true!

Watson, however, suggested that “in this case” Sherlock must make exception. He replied with the words above. He doesn't make exceptions. “Hello effect” could be deadly for a detective. Sherlock himself tasted the consequence when dealing with Irene Adler. Listening her voice and looking at her calm, gentle gesture planted the wrong impression on Sherlock's head – that she was just an ordinary woman.

That's all from me. Let's hope I can find the time to write a quote again next week, since I have to go out of town. But I'll do my best.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Character Thursday: Haidee

I skipped one week (sorry Fanda) due to strict schedule of unending business I need to finish. It was crazy. I don't want to miss it again, so here I am, with a young, female, adorable character from Dumas' Monte Cristo (again). Getting bored? Well, sorry, but I must write about her somewhere since I love her dearly.

Haidee is not mentioned in the story until much later, when Edmond has returned from faraway unknown land and reborn as The Count of Monte Cristo. She is introduced as a slave of Monte Cristo, a Greek, bought from Constantinople, and later as the daughter of Ali Pasha, a great Pasha from Yanina.

The extreme beauty of the countenance, that shone forth in loveliness that mocked the vain attempts of dress to augment it, was peculiarly and purely Grecian; there were the large, dark, melting eyes, the finely formed nose, the coral lips, and pearly teeth, that belonged to her race and country. And, to complete the whole, Haidee was in the very springtide and fulness of youthful charms -- she had not yet numbered more than twenty summers.

But what makes her beautiful is not only her appearance, which is of excellent beauty, but also her personality. She has the humility of a slave and pride of a queen. The Count has always treated her like a princess but she remains obedient to the Count, even though she knows the Count wouldn't be angry a bit to her if she declined him anything.

But her pride is clearly shown at the trial of Count de Morcerf, Albert's father.

The blush of mingled pride and modesty which suddenly suffused the cheeks of the young woman, the brilliancy of her eye, and her highly important communication, produced an indescribable effect on the assembly.

There she is, looking without any emotion, the punishment that falls upon the traitor and killer of her beloved father. She is indeed an amazing girl.

What I love the best from Haidee is her love for the count. The Count is at least 20 years older than Haidee, and yet she loves him so.

You are wrong, my lord. The love I have for you is very different from the love I had for my father. My father died, but I did not die. If you were to die, I should die too.

I think she would be a great
And she was true to her words. In contrary of Mercedes who married another man after Dantes was missing, Haidee takes a pledge never to love anybody else, and would rather die than doing so. Perhaps Dumas intended to make this comparison between Haidee and Mercedes. And I'm so happy that Monte Cristo at last finds peace, if not happiness.

"Oh, yes," she cried, "I do love you! I love you as one loves a father, brother, husband! I love you as my life, for you are the best, the noblest of created beings!"

At the end of the novel, she rescues Monte Cristo from a silly bad ending, and changes the course of the last chapter to a happy ending. She is a blessing to the troubled-hearted Count, who has revenged so many people, yet has found remorse instead of satisfaction.

"Let it be, then, as you wish, sweet angel; God has sustained me in my struggle with my enemies, and has given me this reward; he will not let me end my triumph in suffering; I wished to punish myself, but he has pardoned me. Love me then, Haidee! Who knows? perhaps your love will make me forget all that I do not wish to remember."

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Phantom of the Opera: When Love Isn't Blind

I didn't plan to read the book. I wanted to read it after Shakespeare, Dickens, and the rest, but somehow the Phantom of the Opera musical crossed my mind last week and I watched it again. Then, for the first time since I watched it, I cried. The story, the music, everything, was marvelous and it moved my heart.

I thought about the one who put the story down on paper and felt an impulse to read it right then, but I didn't have the time. So I downloaded the ebook (I couldn't find the book in bookshops) and started to read it yesterday. What an amazing story.

Perhaps this is the first time I mention this in this blog, but I am fond of opera. I love opera SO MUCH. I listen and watch mostly Italian opera, but I also like some French and German opera. They are lovable. So imagine the thrill in my heart when I read so many operas mentioned in this book, and how the Phantom sings some of them. I could hear his voice right then, singing Nuit d'hymenee from Gounod's Romeo and Juliette and Gia nella notte densa from Verdi's Otello. (I don't even know if it's Verdi's he's singing, but my mind suddenly played that duet)

Lon Chaney as the Phantom
But enough of that. I should be writing a review, right? So in short, the book is actually about a genius – so great was the power of his mind that he could make himself looked like a ghost in the vast building of the Opera House in Paris. For years people yielded to his wishes. He's just an amazing fellow.

He lacked one thing, though – proper physical appearance. He looked terrible. He had the ugliest face (so the book says) you can ever imagined to be on any human head. So he decided to hide in his underground palace, a palace so brilliantly built and so safely protected from any unwanted visitor. But down there, he enjoyed a tranquil life, let's say, or rather, a solitude life, because everybody needs companion, and he had none.

Then came Christine Daae, a beautiful young singer with angelic voice. She's a pupil of the ghost himself, who had the voice of both devil and angel, the Persian said. The poor ghost loved Christine deeply. They had the most enchanting date a girl could imagine. A voice, a bodiless voice called her from her dressing-room, singing Nuit d'hymenee from Gounod's Romeo and Juliette saying “La destinée m'enchaîne à toi sans retour. (Fate links thee to me forever and a day)” Then before she realised it, he was there with her, leading her through the ghost's underground kingdom, and lastly, to his palace by the lake.

That was before she saw his face.

Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum as
Phantom and Christine
The ghost had one rival only – Raoul, the girl's childhood friend, now a reborn lover. He was cute, because I don't count a teen with blushing cheeks handsome. But he was good-looking, respectale, reputable (at least the family), everything that the ghost was not. They had one similarity: they both loved Christine and were resolved to do anything for her.

It was a beautiful story. I can't write more. I've lost all my words. But I can imagine, living underground or wherever with this masked genius would feel like living under the same roof with Orpheus himself, whose music invoked tears even from the cold inhabitants of Hades. The book moved me to ecstasy, just as Christine said, under the spell of the Opera Ghost – The Music of the Night.