The World of James Joyce: His Life and Work (1986)

The World of James Joyce: His Life and Work, was full of videos & audio recordings of people who knew Joyce (siblings, friends, family members, associates, photographers, pupils, etc). The actual sites where Joyce lived, went to school, and worked are also shown. And there is actual footage of Joyce!

I started to take notes but my computer was being glitchy so I only have a few thoughts to relay…

One of the things that really interested me is how connected James was to his father, John. I’m a good way through Ulysses and Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s biographical counterpart in the novel, barely mentions his father at all. It fascinated me to learn that James felt so connected to his dad and that a significant amount of characters and ideas in Joyce’s books were inspired by his father.

According to James’ sister, however, it was easy for James to feel a connection because their father gave James more than he gave the rest of the children. John saw James as a genius so put him in the best schools. (I’m assuming, based on the sister’s comment, that he didn’t put any of his other kids in good schools?)

John had inherited a lot of money from his family, but squandered all of it on alcohol. James originally attended Conglowes, which is still considered to be Ireland’s premier boarding school. However, as John’s money dwindled, he had to take James out of Conglowes and put him in the lesser, but still very adequate, Belvedere. James did extremely well at both schools.

The Jesuits at Belvedere wanted James to become a fellow Jesuit, but James felt that there was a net that kept him from realizing his freedom. The net was composed of Roman Catholicism, societal family norms, and the renewed cultural nationalism of Ireland.

James appreciated Henrik Ibsen of Norway who dealt with reality as it was, rather than turning it into a fantasy about what it was he wanted it to be. Joyce thought that what Yeats and others were doing in trying to renew a cultural nationalism in Ireland was an attempt at elevating empty forms of the past rather than the actual living people of the present.

All of James Joyce’s books take place in Dublin, which for Joyce is local, but he also sees it as universal. In Ulysses, the hero is Leopold Bloom, a friendly man who feeds the cat and brings his wife breakfast in bed. He’s an ordinary man: son, father, husband, would-be lover, friend. He also happens to be a Jew.

When Joyce was trying to publish Ulysses, Harriett Weaver sent him money anonymously to help him get it published. She saw in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man all the ideals she stood for. She had money she didn’t need, so why not give it to Joyce? (Maybe artists are always at the mercy of benefactors? I suppose Joyce was no different.)

A few more random thoughts from the film:

  • Paris was more of a home to Joyce than Dublin.
  • Both brother Stanislaus and benefactor Harriet Weaver were appalled by Finnegan’s Wake.
  • A Jewish man, Alexis Leon, worked with Joyce on Finnegan’s Wake. Perhaps this was the inspiration for Bloom?
  • James married Nora so she and the children would inherit his estate.
  • Nora knew Joyce was unique. but she never went so far as to say he was a genius.
  • Even though James turned against the church, he remained a very Christian man.
  • His daughter, Lucia, was put in a sanatorium. James visited her every Sunday afternoon. He never lost contact with her. (Apparently, Nora gave up on her altogether.)

Waiting for Armageddon

Having grown up in the Bible Belt, I have lived around End Times theology and theories all my life.  Many a lunch break was spent discussing what would happen during the rapture in middle school and high school.  Everyone wanted to be rapture ready because being left behind was unthinkable.

I inherited the mentality from my friends, not my family.  And that was before all the Left Behind books became popular.  As each voyeuristic episode grew more destructive and violent, more people were hooked, and more people started writing their own versions.  (We lived across the street from a semi-popular “left behind” novelist.)  Apparently, millions of Americans love the idea of horrible harm coming to those who do not think as they do.  A compassionate Jesus? Who needs him if you are waiting for Armageddon?

Waiting for Armageddon, a documentary by Kate Davis, David Heilbroner, and Franco Sacchi, explores the people who believe that Armageddon is around the corner and that Israel will be the site of Christ’s second coming.  It begins by stating that more than 50 million Americans believe that the Bible lays out the future of humankind in precise detail.   Among these, many believe that Christ will return to lead a final holy war in the land of Israel.  The show claims that 20 million Americans believe Jesus will return in their life time.  And remember the Pew statistics I quoted the other day?  41% of Americans believe Jesus will return before 2050.

According to many who believe in Biblical prophecy, the world will be destroyed in a chain of miraculous events:

  1. The Rapture – believers are snatched up by Jesus
  2. The Tribulation – seven years of war, violence, and destruction for those left behind
  3. Armageddon – the final epic battle between good and evil
  4. The Millennium – the return of the believers to a paradise on earth where there no longer is any evil

First comes  “The Rapture” which is based on Thessalonians 4:17: “We will be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

The Rapture comes from the Greek word harpazo which means to snatch up or take up.  When Christ returns in the clouds, he will snatch up believers with him.  This will happen in an instant.  Suddenly, the 50 million or more believers will be gone – whisked out of their offices, homes or wherever it is they happen to be.  One minute they are here.  The next, poof!  Gone.  They will be snatched out of their cars, leaving them unmanned on the road which will cause accidents.  It will completely terrorize those who are left behind.

Second comes “The Tribulation”, based on Matthew 24:21: “Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world.”   Those who chose not to believe in God before “the Rapture” will be left to suffer the seven year tribulation.  75% of the earth will be wiped out.  Ecological disasters, meteors hitting the earth, episodes like 9/11 happening every day, 1/3 of the waters will turn to blood.  Five to six years into “The Tribulation”, half of the world will be dead.  Violence and wars will radically increase. This is the time period when God finishes his judgment and discipline of Israel.

There is a belief that during this time, there will be enough Jews to create a nation.  Supposedly, 144,000 Jews will convert and evangelize. The Jews who do not convert, will perish. The temple will be rebuilt. (The land shall not be sold forever: for the land is mine. Leviticus 25:23.)  Thousands of Americans who believe in End Times make pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year to visit the Islamic mosque that used to be the temple.  This can be problematic because both evangelical Christians and fundamentalist Jews hope for the destruction of the mosque in order that the  temple can be built again.  Jews because they believe it is their right.  American evangelists because it points to Armageddon.  In fact, many Americans interviewed in the documentary dream of something absolutely horrible happening to destroy the mosque (like an earthquake or nuclear boms) so the temple can be rebuilt. Very few are interested in peaceful negotiations.  It’s no wonder things are so contentious.

American evangelical fundamentalists explain Islam as a world dominating religion. Believers are required to take over the world for Allah. Yet, throughout history, it could be argued that Islam has been far more tolerant of Jews than Christianity.  And get real – it’ not as though the fundamentalists love the Jews.  They fully expect them to convert or be destroyed by the wrath of God.  It would seem that the God of Christianity wants Christians to take over the world for God more than does Allah want the Muslims to take over the world for Islam.  It’s a projection – cast the finger out there at “those people”, when the finger should really be pointed at yourself.

But that’s the nature of fundamentalism.   You have to have something to point the finger at so that you don’t have to look too closely at yourself.  In the 1970s, the “evil ones” were Red China and the Communist Block of Russia.  But with the fall of Russia and the end of the cold war, the evangelicals have had to find new “evil ones” so have shifted their focus to Islam. There must be an evil “them” in order to have a righteous “us”.  Doesn’t matter who it is.

Apocalyptic literature was never meant as a script for those in power.  It was written for those persecuted by those in power.  In the hands of the powerful, it is no longer inspirational, but rather a self-fulfilling prophecy of violence and destruction. For example, John Hagee called for a strike on Iran because of what he understands as Biblical prophecy.  Yet, no where does the Bible claim that WWIII is part of God’s plan.

Armageddon is the third stage in the chain of events.  “Their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will rot in their sockets.”  Zechariah 14:12.

I’d never heard this before, but mysticism is of genuine concern for many evangelicals because they claim it has led to an interpretation of the Bible that isn’t literal.  Yet, mysticism has been around a lot longer than has fundamentalism and has always been the common link between world religions.  According to Huston Smith, fundamentalism didn’t come into being until the 19th century.  Far from creating bridges, fundamentalism creates deep divides by claiming that it’s way is the only way to Truth.

Anyway, the story goes that the Jews will sign a peace treaty with their Arab neighbors that turns out to be false.  This treaty allows the antichrist to move into the temple and declare himself God.  This will be when the Jews realize he is not the promised Messiah and this will lead to Armageddon, the epic end-time battle.

The Millennium is the fourth stage in the chain of events.  “And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Revelation 20:4.  Christ is going to trash the planet, but he’s going to clean it up for the millennium.  No EPA necessary.

All of this would simply be amusing if there weren’t so many powerful political personalities who believe it.  These people are organized and are making their way into every part of politics, both local and national.  It’s so bad that many evangelicals who don’t share these particular End Times theories are concerned by the power of those who do.

This Emotional Life

I finished an excellent three-part series called This Emotional Life late last night.  It was available on “Watch Instantly” through Netflix.  Each episode is about 2 hours long and is hosted by Dr. Dan Gilbert, a Harvard Professor of Social Psychology.  The series covers a LOT of a topics which are all extremely interesting.  But four things stood out for me in particular….

  • The first is the idea that we all are born with a certain level of happiness and no matter the ups and downs in our life, if we win the lottery or end up paralyzed, we are likely to return to the designated level of happiness we were born with.
  • The second is that married couples with children are less happy than married couples without kids.  In fact, the more kids you have, the less happy you are.  (Maybe children give you something that is beyond happiness?  Kids can definitely be a pain in the ass, but I can’t imagine my life without them.  They are my very heart!)
  • The third is that the best (and probably the only) way to solve post traumatic distress disorder is to directly face the fear and relive the trauma.  I don’t know why, but that totally blew me away.
  • The fourth is that there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence for activities that boost happiness levels except for two totally opposite things: social interaction and meditation.  Studies on meditation are proving very interesting. Sitting in silence is not a frivolity.  It completely changes the brain.  When people meditate, their brains become more active, not less active, so something major is going on but no one is sure exactly what that is.

Brother Born Again

I stay up too late watching documentaries and movies on Netflix through their “Watch Instantly” program. The worst thing that probably ever happened to me was getting the Wii disk in the mail which allows me to watch the films on our television rather than on my crappy computer. Unlimited films!! Good-bye sleep!

Tonight, I watched an interesting documentary called Brother Born Again.  It’s about a Jewish bi-sexual woman whose brother converted to Christianity and moved to something like a Kibbutz (a Christian version called “The Farm") in Alaska. What is especially difficult for the sister, Julie, is that she feels looked down upon by her brother because unless she agrees to believe what it is he believes, then he is going to heaven and she isn’t.  While she can accept him and his desire to live on “The Farm”, separated from family, he is unable to accept her chosen lifestyle because he views it as wrong.

At one point Julie meets with her uncle who tells her something that made a whole lot of sense to me! The difference between the sister and her brother is that her brother requires an answer. Some people need an answer and they will turn to those who have one to give. But some of us simply accept the uncertainty and ambiguity of life and don’t require an answer.

It’s an impasse. The uncle doesn’t go into it, but it got me thinking. I don’t have a right to impose my belief that there is no answer on those who demand that there must be one. Likewise, I don’t appreciate people who demand I accept their answer (be they atheists or theists).

For me, faith is trust. Not trust in anything. Not trust in a belief. Just plain and simple trust. For someone who demands an answer, faith is based on whatever that answer is. The same is true of scientism.  If an atheist turns to rationalism for “the answer”, then they have put their faith in rationalism in the same way a fundamentalist Christian puts his faith in the Bible. They demand there is an answer and that they know what it is.

When people believe their answer is the only answer, how do you best communicate with them?  This film offers hope.

Lord, Save Us From Your Followers

Last night, I watched an interesting documentary called Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. It’s by Dan Merchant, an Evangelical who is very concerned about “The Great Divide” that currently exists in the U.S.  He says that 9 out of 10 people claim they believe in God, so why is there such a huge “Culture War” at play?  He wants to show people that the discussion of faith doesn’t have to be contentious.  We need to start listening to one another.

He held a game show between conservatives and liberals, in the manner of Family Feud, asking questions about issues important to both sides.  Not surprisingly, the liberals knew way more about the conservatives than the conservatives knew about the liberals.  In fact, the liberals won by a landslide.  When he tried this with younger people, the conservatives didn’t even score a single point.  If you think you are “right”, then why bother learning what someone else thinks? 

It’s good to know there are some Evangelicals out there that really do care about bridging the divide.  Hopefully, there are as many liberals, too!  We are all children of God, the Universe, whatever it is you want to call it. Whether we are “precious” or not is another matter.  I tend to agree with George Carlin that the universe could knock us off like a pesky mosquito…

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

My daughter and I just finished the entire series of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.  It’s one of those series available at the library that you have to wait forever to get.  And no wonder!  It’s excellent.

For high school transcript purposes, we have to come up with various courses so my daughter and I decided to create a course called “The History of Science”. The Cosmos series kicked it off and was a better choice than either of us had imagined. The series covered a multitude of scientific topics along with their historic origins.

I can see why people who watched this series became atheists. Sagan has an obvious love of the earth and believes strongly that had science been allowed to continue without interruption from religion back in the Middle Ages, we’d have a much better world today.  He says that, through science, “We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”

He’s got a point.  The Christian religion tends to be focused on that which is otherwordly rather than the world we inhabit.  Do the right thing and you get to go to heaven, wherever that is.  So why care about this world?  Now we have all of this technological capability thanks to science, but we still don’t have much regard for the Earth. Things are absolutely crazy!  We eat an apple, but are we eating an apple, or a notion of an apple?  And what does that notion of an apple do to us? Is genetically modifying our food a way for the Cosmos to know itself?  It seems to me it’s just the opposite!

Sagan’s main concern was nuclear war, because this show was filmed during the Cold War. But he was also very concerned about Global Warming.  What I think he wanted his series to do was to put people in awe of the world around them, and to recognize how unique life on our planet is. If we could just understand how amazing and irreplaceable humanity is, perhaps we wouldn’t be so hell bent on self-destruction.

I wonder, have things gotten better or worse since Cosmos was first filmed?  Most of us see ourselves as a global community, now.  But there are still a lot of bumper stickers on the road that say something along the lines of “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned”.  Original sin via St. Augustine is still built into the fabric of our understanding, be we religious or not.  And despite the consensus among scientists, the media and general public still resist the claims that the world is warming.  Or if they agree that it is warming, they excuse our bad habits and blame it on nature.

Anyway, excellent series.  My daughter really liked Carl Sagan and his approach to science.  The other night, she was having trouble sleeping and said she wanted to watch another episode of Cosmos!  (No – not because it would put her to sleep, but because she genuinely enjoyed the series.)  We both got a lot of out of it.

Capitalism: A Love Story

Capitalism: A Love Story is typical Michael Moore – extremely one sided.  But as always, there are some pretty upsetting truths in it!

For instance, did you know that companies like Walmart, Hershey’s, AT&T, SBC, Winn-Dixie, Nestle… (the list goes on and on) may have reason to want you dead? They actually take out life insurance policies on their employees.  And no!  Not just on the executives where it might make some sense, but on the “peasant class” workers. They call it the “Dead Peasant Policy” or the “Dead Janitor Policy”.  These insurance policies account for 20% of all life insurance policies sold!!!

So say your wife, who works in the bakery at Walmart, suddenly dies.  How would you feel if you got no money after her death, but Walmart (who basically worked her to death) gets $80,000?  That was one story Michael Moore presented.  Another was a woman in Houston whose husband brought in over $6 million all told. Of course, the companies don’t want you to know they are taking these insurance policies out on you and it’s been a matter of contention.

If companies insure an executive, then it could be argued that they are protecting their investment.  But the insuring of “rank and file” employees is merely for profit. The insurance proceeds are tax free and they have an investment component which allows companies to earn tax-deferred returns while the employees are still alive and tax free loans can be taken out on the policies.

Does this make any sense? Why not work your employees to death if you have insurance policies on them and their families have no idea such policies exist!  This is super scary shit to me!!  How do I know that my husband and son don’t have insurance policies taken out on them? I don’t!!  Even companies my husband used to work for might still have insurance policies on him.  What right does a company have to do this??  It gives them more reason to want them dead, doesn’t it? Overwork your employees or stress them out by laying them off and the employees you’ve hired stand to be far more profitable dead than alive.  I am seriously bothered by this!

OK – so other stuff I took away from the film?  I don’t know.  Like all Michael Moore films, I have to weigh it out for a while.  There are plenty of people in the U.S. that live like those in third world nations.  We were made aware of one of those areas after Hurricane Katrina and take a trip to the Appalachian Mountains or some Native American reservations and you’ll hardly believe you are in the U.S.!!  I saw Moore’s Roger & Me about his hometown, Flint, Michigan, which seemed very much like a third world country – people killing and selling rabbits to survive! Moore claims that what was done to Flint is being done all across America, now.

So does that mean Capitalism is the great evil Moore makes it out to be? I don’t know.  Personally, I don’t have a lot of faith in it.  But that’s merely based on personal experience and not educated understanding.   I agree with all of the Catholic priests that were interviewed, however.  Capitalism, as we have it now, is based on greed.  Not compassion.

I loved the “WWJD” stint.  We’re supposed to be a Christian nation, but would Jesus tell someone who is dying that he can’t heal him because he has a pre-existing condition and that he’ll have to pay “out of pocket” for his medical expenses (which probably won’t heal him either, if Jesus can’t heal him!!)   Would Jesus belong to a hedge fund?  Would he sell short?  Would he agree that the richest 1% should have more money than the 95% of us who are under them combined? Wait!!  Did we miss something??  Did Jesus change his mind and decide that it was easier to get into heaven with money (blessed are the wealthy)?  Can you love both your money and your neighbor if you deny your neighbor the right to see a doctor or have a home to live in in order to better your bottom line?

OK – I know.  All of this is more tricky than Moore presents it.  I’m on the 17th lecture (out of 36) of America and the New Global Economy by Professor Timothy Tayor of Macalester College from The Great Courses Collection from The Teaching Company which offers a recent history of economies around the world in relation to America’s economy.  But I keep wondering why it is we assume that as long as all governments are on the path of economic growth, they are assured to offer the best possible benefit to the people of those nations.  It’s completely assumed.  But is it true?   We almost look at it as a religious, moral imperative. If we look to America as an example, and we can combine the income of 95% of us and that is less than the income of the top 1% of earners in the U.S., can we say with absolute faith that economic growth is THE “Way”?