Poets and Canons

I recently purchased a copy of the famous Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s Unfortunately, It Was Paradise (translated and edited by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forche, with Sinan Antoon and Amira El-Zein; UC Press, 2013; Kindle Edition). This is a collection of poems of mourning and his coming to terms with the loss of his ancestral homeland.

By no means am I a reader of poetry; but even a cursory, “first impressions” reading of the first series of poems shows how it is the author who creates a literary canon, and not the reader. What we call “canon” is simply the collection of writings by an author (or school of authors) bound by inter-textual linkages the author(s) creates intentionally.

Briefly, the first four poems in the series are: I Will Slog Over This Road; Another Road in the Road; Were It Up To Me To Begin Again; and, On This Earth.

Th first poem introduces a word or phrase that will then become the main theme of the following poem. For example, in I Will Slog Over This Road, Darwish says: “On the roof of neighing, I will cut thirty openings for meaning.”

The “neighing” (of horses) then becomes the center theme of the next poem, “Another Road in the Road.” He says, “No widow wants to return to us, there we have to go, north of the neighing horses.”

This poem then introduces the image of the rose, “I will have to throw many roses before I reach a rose in Galilee.”

In “Were It Up to Me to Begin Again,” the poet continues with the image of a rose: “”Were it up to me to begin again, I would make the same choice. Roses on the fence.” Later, he introduces the theme of love, and family:

We have on this earth what makes life worth living: April’s hesitation, the aroma of bread at dawn, a woman’s point of view about men, the works of Aeschylus, the beginning of love, grass on a stone, mothers living on a flute’s sigh and the invaders’ fear of memories

In other words, the sights, smells, and memories of home and family life.

This then becomes the basis for the next poem, I Belong There.

This is an example of inter-textuality, and how only a writer can create it, never a consumer.

So, it is the author, in accomplished and serious literature, who set the tone and creates the canon. The readers are left to enjoy, study, learn, and grow from what is written. The Scriptures, then, are the literary gem of a school of writers who worked together and created an interwoven narrative across the entire story, for all ages.

Afghanistan and the Thucydides Trap

As we look at the images from Afghanistan from this past week, it is always helpful to remember why things happen. I thought my posts on Plato and his truly nefarious influence on humanity were done, but then things happen, and the printing press rolls again.

Consider the Think Tanks, the nexus between government power, international corporations, and . . . academia. Yes, the nexus of financialized and weaponized ideas. Like, “wouldn’t it be a good idea if we . . . ?” Afghanistan, against the wishes of Platonists and all variations thereof, is Exhibit A for us that re-wiring shepherd societies does not work, no matter how many books, papers, or counter-insurgency manuals are written and discussed.

But what I want to focus on today is an idea promulgated by American think tankers called “The Thucydides Trap.” It’s a pseudo-intellectual “idea,” really, a half-idea, that uses the ancient Athenian historian Thucydides to justify American foreign policy today. It was, as Thucydides explained, the rise of Athenian power that caused fear in Sparta, and not the other way around.

The Thucydides trap is named after the first serious historian, Thucydides the Athenian, who set out to explain the destruction of Athenian society as a consequence of a very long war against Sparta and its allies. During the Cold War, some American academics used The History of the Peloponnesian War as a kind of blueprint. They saw America as Athens and the USSR as Sparta; in their mindset, the one a democracy, the other a closed society; the one a naval power, the other a land power.

Whatever the facile comparisons, the Trap is up and running again, this time between the US and China, with the same comparisons.

The problem is that, well, one wonders how well the promulgators of this idea . . . actually paid attention to what Thucydides actually wrote. Why do I say this? Because Athens lost the war, and did so because of the same kind of policies we are seeing today — expeditionary warfare, brutal occupations, internal societal tension, and poor leaders (including demagogues), among other things (yes, there was also a plague). In short, they were eliminated by their own empire.

It’s hard, because empires, following the Scriptural approach to these matters (see Tasks), always build too high. It’s the internal logic of empire. Their builders do not realize it’s a fool’s errand to begin, and simply do not know when to stop once they’ve begun.