Abdiel’s Party

“In my case, I found that my interest was most vividly caught by the meaning of the temptation-and-fall theme. Suppose that the prohibition on the knowledge of good and evil were an expression of jealous cruelty, and the gaining of such knowledge an act of virtue? Suppose the Fall should be celebrated and not deplored? As I played with it, my story resolved itself into an account of the necessity of growing up, and a refusal to lament the loss of innocence. The end of human life, I found myself saying, was not redemption by a non-existent Son of God, but the gaining and transmission of wisdom. Innocence is not wise, and wisdom cannot be innocent, and if we are going to do any good in the world we have to leave childhood behind.”

-Phillip Pullman, “The Sound and the Story Exploring the World of Paradise Lost.” The Public Domain Review. December 11, 2019.

I read Milton’s Paradise Lost over two decades ago. And while I loved it, my interest was most vividly caught by the scene of Abdiel, a single voice among the infinite host of the rebelling angels, who rose up to answer Satan’s arguments, and stood alone against him:

"Among the faithless, faithful only hee;
Among innumerable false, unmov'd,
Unshak'n, unseduc'd, unterrifi'd
His Loyaltie he kept, his Love, his Zeale;
Nor number, nor example with him wrought
To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind
Though single. From amidst them forth he passd,
Long way through hostile scorn, which he susteind
Superior, nor of violence fear'd aught;
And with retorted scorn his back he turn'd
On those proud Towrs to swift destruction doom'd."

Everyone imagines that they would stand up, as Abdiel did, against the mob in the cause of what is right. Everyone wants to believe that they are, or could be, the guy who refused to join in the Nazi salute:

But, maybe there can be only one. Or, they are only few and far between. Like the appearance of a Buddha or a Bodhisatva living in limbo, trying to save everyone.

I like to imagine that Abdiel, in a scene not in Paradise Lost, arguing against God, his Son and the heavenly Host about throwing Satan and the other rebelling angels into Hell, and just as he resisted the rebelling angels, he remained as the only rebelling angel in Heaven, a loyal Opposition.

Note: Standard Ebooks has a good epub edition of Paradise Lost. There is also a BBC Paradise Lost audio drama from 1993 available via Archive.org.

Pace Yourself

Open Question: What does it mean to “pace yourself” in modern culture? Does it mean staying with something long enough, over time, to truly develop a relationship with the material and love it?

“There’s a willingness, there’s a faith, there’s a very, very magical alchemy that happens when somebody looks at something with enormous love and enormous passion—and it doesn’t matter what that material is. It can be a comic book page, it can be a silly story, and you don’t change it, but the way you look at it transforms it. Which is a very different exercise than postmodernism. Postmodernism or kitsch is me winking at you, saying ‘I know it’s silly, but I’m being ironic. I’m above the material.’ And for me, the transformative power of art is you are not above the material…

…I think it is amazing that I can travel with my iPad with thousands of movies. I think it is amazing that I can streamline thousands more. I think it is amazing that I can know what happened in far-flung countries, in one second. But it is up to us, as humans—one of our ethical tasks is to say, how am I going to pace myself? What am I focusing on? Because otherwise we live life in a blur. We’re texting and driving. So it is—media is not evil. The speed of media is not evil. What is toxic is that we don’t pace ourselves. That we’re not having dinner without texting; that we’re not capable of paying full attention to the moment we’re living. And that is true also of the cinematic discourse.”

-Guillermo del Toro in an interview with Lauren Wilford, “Death is the Curator: An Interview with Guillermo del Toro.” Bright Wall / Dark Room. Issue 44. February 2017.

This whole interview is packed with wisdom and might change the way you think about culture, particularly film. Read it.

Open Questions – Gwern.net

  • “Why do humans, pets, and even lab animals of many species kept in controlled lab conditions on standardized diets appear to be increasingly obese over the 20th century? What could possibly explain all of them simultaneously becoming obese?”
  • “Why does writing in the morning (anecdotally so far) seem to be so effective for writers, even ones who are not morning persons? While programmers, which seems like a similar occupation, are invariably owls?”

—Gwern Branwen. “Open Questions.” Gwern.net. Accessed: November 9, 2018.

I like the idea of open questions. Added a category to this blog to start collecting them.

Against Ageism

“The day old age strikes, our lives appear comfortable, even privileged, but our hearts are numb with permanently thwarted desire, our throats choked with longing for things we will never have again, and our future, we are sure, is too bleak to contemplate. We stare in terror into the abyss and ask ourselves: Who am I now?”

—Sharon Butala, “Against Ageism.” The Walrus. March 19, 2018.