J.R.R. TOLKIEN Luke and I went to see "The Fellowship of the Ring" when it came out. I have to admit, I was dreading this. "Tolkien" and "Hollywood" are opposite poles to me. I'm not a hobbit-head or anything, but I've never read any modern book that was so luminously visual yet so utterly unready to become a film. And if you went back to my teen-age years and told me all the things I'd live to see, I think "Burger King 'Lord of the Rings' Happy Meal" is the one I never would have believed. But they did a good job (making the movie, I mean, not the Happy Meal). Every scene and most characters looked "right" -- looked as I always imagined they would. The film hewed closely to the book, and the only serious omission I noticed was Tom Bomabdil. I actually can't say whether the movie succeeds in communicating the back-story and shade of meaning required to understand why characters act as they do; I know that material from having read the books. Luke, who hadn't read the books, was lost for much of it, but he was enthusiastic about it afterwards, and he had me read the first few chapters of "The Two Towers" to him. Given the zealotry of Tolkien's fans, I suppose the fidelity to the mood of the books was the price of making the film. But the director and cast seemed genuine about it. And for the most part they managed to avoid the other trap, which would have been to allow the (to modern ears) artificial and heroic aspect of Tolkien's dialogue to clunk out like blocks of wood. The product, however, is grim. Even if you know what comes after this film ends -- that it all turns out more or less OK at the end -- the whole thing is pervaded with a mood of the passing away of old and beautiful and good things out of the world. One thing that puzzled me, afterwards, was to hear people at work talking about how "Christian" the movie was, and how conservative Christians have embraced the film. It took me a while to figure that out; now I think I get it. Tolkien was a man of faith, a devout Catholic. He meant "Lord of the Rings" to tell a story that was essentially Christian. It is most strongly so at the end, with the magical vanquishing of the evil that had seemed impossibly strong. Tolkien coins a word for it, in ancient Greek, in one of his essays: eucatastrophe. A good catastrophe, a "cascading of joy." But whatever his personal faith, as a scholar Tolkien was deeply immersed in the pessimistic, pagan world that he studied and taught every day. And his book, whatever his intention, is rooted in the world of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. After the eucatastrophe of "Return of the King," comes a slow, sad Gotterdammerung. Look at Middle Earth: there is good, but it is not sure as the strongest thing going. Its durance depends on heart and wit and luck. And there is evil, limned and solid and vastly strong. And it strives unceasing to seduce the good, through the weaknesses of desire -- even desire to further the best of causes. Is this not the world of so many modern American Protestant sects? The unblinking eye, the dark lord, the trap of power that seduces the wise and great most of all -- here is Satan, straight out of a Tim LaHaye book, and he is the star of Christianity for so many people. Middle Earth is not C.S. Lewis' Narnia; there's no gentle Jesus in Tolkien, no redemption by faith, no turning the other cheek. The don who taught "Beowulf" reached down into his racial past and evoked the old Teutonic warrior code, where the skilled man and the strength of his sword-arm and the force of his honor strode through the unloving world. What is "Lord of the Rings" other than an Anglo-Saxon epic brought into a modern idiom? It's full of words and themes and ideas out of Old English literature, even down to its "flaws" (absence of fully developed female characters, etc.) I hadn't re-read the books since I started learning Old English, about a decade ago, but recently I picked a few paragraphs at random from "Return of the King," and, as I suspected, Tolkien's writing is deeply indebted to Old English. There might have been two Latin-derived words in the 500 or so that I read. Instead, he wrote in the old, grim prose of Alfred the Great. And he uses the classic Anglo-Saxon devices of alliteration and repetition-with-variation to make his words strong. I'm thinking especially of the battle scene at the gates of Minas Tirith. The "Lord of the Rings" movies have brought J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy back into the public eye. Not that it's ever been out of print, or anything. But as time passes, appreciation grows. Recent polls in Britain consistently declare Tolkien "the most influential author of the century" and "The Lord of the Rings" "the book of the century." Critics are catching up with the public, seeing "LotR's" tapestry of themes and characters as one of the lasting literary accomplishments of the 20thcentury. All this for a book of pure fantasy, written in deliberately archaic diction. The trouble with Tolkien's legacy is it looks like a dead-end. You read "The Lord of the Rings." But then what? He also published a few delightful short stories, but only a few. There's a whole shelf of books published posthumously under his name, starting with "The Simarillion." But the art in them gets progressively thinner. His heirs emptied his filing cabinets and notebooks and passed off the results, much padded, as his fiction, which they manifestly are not. There is another alternative, if you can find it. "The Monsters and the Critics" is a collection of seven essays and lectures written or delivered by Tolkien between 1931 and 1959. Guy Davenport, the Appalachian man of letters, once published a remembrance of Tolkien the professor of Old English, who, "had a speech impediment, wandered in his remarks, and seemed to think that we, his baffled scholars, were well up in Gothic, Erse, and Welsh, the grammar of which he freely alluded to." Not until years later could I know that this vague and incomprehensible lecturer, having poked around on a page of the dread 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' for an hour, muttering place names and chuckling over variant readings, biked out to Sandfield Road in Headington and moved Frodo and Sam toward Mordor. Most of the rest of us, of course, make the reverse discovery. We know Tolkien as the teller of "LotR." In that case, "The Monsters and the Critics" is a good introduction to the "other" Tolkien. There are scarcely any direct references to "LotR" in these essays. But the essays will appeal to you if you have spent years immersed in the world of Middle Earth. They illuminate the mind behind the masterpiece. "On Fairy-Stories" is the essential piece here. Tolkien's vision of fantasy is as "sub-creation," but really all of literature is that; and you can read this essay alongside any major literary figure -- Italo Calvino, say -- and get fascinating cross-illuminations. His theories on the unconnectedness of drama and literature are also provocative and well-argued. In other essays, he makes an eloquent case for the essential connection between the study of language and that of literature. If you consider yourself a student of great writing, but have only read "Beowulf" in Seamus Heaney's "translation," Tolkien will politely shame you out of that complacency. About midway through these essays, I realized Tolkien's world seems to be intensely charged with a mental condition called synaesthesia. It's a cross-circuiting of the senses, the kind of thing Oliver Sacks writes about. Most people have a bit of it. We talk of "warm" and "cool" colors or sounds. Children have it more perfectly than adults. But some people have it intensely: To them, "Tuesday" is reddish-brown, "Saturday" is grass-green and the A below middle C has a taste like a briny pickle. Tolkien has this, too, though he seems utterly unaware that this quality, as it is developed in him, is rare. It is what makes him so fond of languages, which were his life's study. In his lecture on "English and Welsh" (delivered the day after "Return of the King" was published, though you'd never know it), he talks of being captivated, as a student, by strange languages. He talks of "the fluidity of Greek, punctuated by hardness, and with its surface glitter." Pure synaesthesia. His poetry was in the words, and how they fit together. "The contemplation of the vocabulary in 'A Primer of the Gothic Language' was ... a sensation at least as full of delight as first looking into Chapman's 'Homer.' Though I did not write a sonnet about it. I tried to invent Gothic words." Consider the strangeness of that. When the second edition of "Lord of the Rings" gave Tolkien a chance to alter the text, he went in and tinkered with the inflections in his invented Elvish language. His masterpiece was spun from his quirky love for the textures of words. His sound-sense is as brilliant as Dylan Thomas's or Dante's. If you don't believe me, read a few paragraphs of "LotR" aloud. Tolkien would chuckle at this, of course. He'd quietly remind us he's not a poet, merely an Oxford don, a dull lecturer (a reputation he cheerfully confesses to in his valedictory address), bumbling and pedantic, who never won many prizes in school. Thank the gods no one ever convinced him otherwise. Davenport's reminiscence was published years ago in the "New York Times," as part of a short essay called "Hobbitry." In it, Davenport later tells of "a delicious afternoon in Tolkien's rose garden talking with his son, and from this conversation there kept emerging a fond father who never quite noticed that his children had grown up, and who, as I gathered, came and went between the real world and a world of his own invention." Tolkien's close friend, H.V.G. ("Hugo") Dyson, tells Davenport: "Dear Ronald, writing all those silly books with three introductions and ten appendixes. His was not a true imagination, you know: He made it all up." A slippery and subtle observation. "The closest I have ever gotten to the secret and inner Tolkien," Davenport writes, "was in a casual conversation on a snowy day in Shelbyville, Kentucky." I forget how in the world we came to talk of Tolkien at all, but I began plying questions as soon as I knew that I was talking to a man who had been at Oxford as a classmate of Ronald Tolkien's. He was a history teacher, Allen Barnett. He had never read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, he was astonished and pleased to know that his friend of so many years ago had made a name for himself as a writer. "Imagine that! You know, he used to have the most extraordinary interest in the people here in Kentucky. He could never get enough of my tales of Kentucky folk. He used to make me repeat family names like Barefoot and Boffin and Baggins and good country names like that." And out the window I could see tobacco barns. The charming anachronism of the hobbits' pipes suddenly made sense in a new way. The Shire and its settled manners and shy hobbits have many antecedents in folklore and in reality .... Kentucky, it seems, contributed its share. Practically all the names of Tolkien's hobbits are listed in my Lexington phone book, and those that aren't can be found over in Shelbyville. Like as not, they grow and cure pipe-weed for a living. Talk with them, and their turns of phrase are pure hobbit: "I hear tell," "right agin," "so Mr. Frodo is his first and second cousin, once removed either way," "this very month as is." These are English locutions, of course, but ones that are heard oftener now in Kentucky than in England. I despaired of trying to tell Barnett what his talk of Kentucky folk became in Tolkien's imagination. I urged him to read The Lord of the Rings but as our paths have never crossed again, I don't know that he did. Nor if he knew that he created by an Oxford fire and in walks along the Cherwell and Isis the Bagginses, Boffins, Tooks, Brandybucks, Grubbs, Burrowses, Goodbodies, and Proudfoots (or Proudfeet, as a branch of the family will have it) who were, we are told, the special study of Gandalf the Grey, the only wizard who was interested in their bashful and countrified ways. [Davenport's observation is probably a lovely wrong guess, but then a great deal of 20th century literature consists of great wrong guesses. Indeed the whole history of the 20th century can be read as a long stagger of wrong answers, some more lovely than others. Davenport, I suspect, would not be dismayed. He wrote elsewhere ("The Critic as Artist") "Of a study I wrote of Eudora Welty, Miss Welty replied, with great kindness and friendliness, that she did not intend any of the symbolism I saw in her work. This is, let us say, daunting, but again I think Miss Welty, seeing her stories in her way, which is always perforce inside outwards, does not realize the extent she has kept the contours and symbols of Ovid's Metamorphoses (which is what I was writing about) that we can see from the outside looking in." That attitude itself might be a lovely wrong guess.] INDEX - AUTHOR


LONE RUNNER The Greeks host the Olympics again this year. Ancient athletes raced and fought naked; the modern ones gathered now in Athens wear clothes advertising the official sponsors. The ancient Greeks, we are told, would be scandalized. But athletic endorsements happen when athlete and clothing maker angle for a profit off each other. Each obeys the logic of economic individualism. And individualism is a Greek legacy -- an Athenian legacy -- to Western culture. Individualism defines the West, both to Western and non-Western eyes. In a sociological analysis from 1989, of 50 countries, the top 20 scores in the "individualism" index included all the Western states except Portugal plus Israel. Individualism is the dynamo that drives disparate expressions of Western culture, from eco-feminist performance art to plutocratic wealth-hoarding. Separation of church and state, the rule of law, social pluralism, representative government, all these hallmarks of Western civilization either define or protect the individual's autonomy from collective power. "Equal rights" is the most advanced expression of individualism. Not only do individuals have rights, the all have them alike, regardless of personal qualities. These are the gifts we come bearing, like a combative Santa Claus, to non-Western civilizations steeped in collective folkways for millenia. Individualism ranks high on the list of what is universalism to the West and imperialism to the rest. Islam is communal. To it, American-style individualism looks amoral and unethical. This is true in other world cultures as well (Confucianism, for instance), but Islam presents a particular challenge to America at the moment. Islam is based from beginning to end on the idea of Unity (tawhid), both of God and the Islamic community (ummah). In sermons, speeches, and publications, radical, mainstream, and even Western Muslims reject American-style individualism as extreme and dangerous, and contrast it unfavorably to Islamic communalism. "Islam's spirit dictates Muslim life in a way that Muslims are prepared even to die for others, rather to live selfishly for oneself. Here lies the root historic reason of Islam's lightning success of winning people's heart in its hey days. Self-centred nature and the concept of 'individualism' has very little to do in a caring and compassionate society. These are departures from basic human qualities and make a society avaricious and dangerously competitive. They are the features of materialistic societies where human beings vie with each other to endure and triumph." [from a British-based site,] There is no appropriate native word in Arabic or Persian to translate "individualism" (my Persian dictionary renders it with an awkward compound word that means literally "freedom of self"). An individualist need not be an egoist. The ancient Olympics lacked team sports. Athletes strove for personal glory. But that glory was wrapped up in communal identity. The physical prizes awarded were symbolic: the winner of each event at the Isthmian games, for instance, got a crown of dry celery. The real prize was in the adulation of his home state. During triumphant celebrations of their return home, victors at the games were showered with honors and privileges. Their cities voted them free meals for the rest of their lives, or set up statues in their honor. The whole concept of physical fitness, today such a vanity, was then a civic duty. Sparta was the extreme example, but even in Athens young men and old men spent a good deal of their waking hours at the gyms. His strength was the state's: Every Athenian man under 60 could be called up for military service at a moment's notice, as a hoplite or a marine or an oarsman. In ancient Greek culture the extended family was the basic unit of society and civic morality was tied to kinship. It was the genius of Athens eventually to break this in the name of individualism. "[T]he liberation of the individual from the bonds of clan and family is one of the major achievements of Greek rationalism, and one for which the credit must go to Athenian democracy." [E.R. Dodds]. Athens had its own recurring athletic festival -- the Panathenaea. No crown of celery for the winners at the Panathenaea games: lavish awards were handed out to the top five finishers in every contest. The winner of the boys' footrace, for instance, got jars containing 1,944 liters of olive oil -- a small fortune at the time. Even at the Olympics, Athenians injected an element of individualism that other Greeks found vulgar. In 416 B.C. Alcibiades, the brilliant and scheming Athenian aristocrat, personally entered seven chariots in the Olympics and took first, second and fourth prizes, "winning, as he claimed, glory for his city, but also popularity and prestige for himself." [Bernard Knox] The tension between individualism and communalism probably is as deep as human nature. Each culture finds its balance. In some -- medieval Europe and Islam -- the collective ethos prevails. In others -- ancient Athens, modern America -- individualism rules. The birth of modern individualism coincides almost exactly with the rediscovery of classical Greek (mainly Athenian) civilization in the Renaissance. Petrarch, in the 14th century, decided to climb a mountain for the sheer personal gratification of getting to the top -- "To-day I made the ascent of the highest mountain in this region, which is not improperly called Ventosum. My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer ...." -- and some people say that "humanism" began on that day (though men had climbed mountains before and it's not at all clear Petrarch was much of a humanist). Since then, Westerners have circled the globe, scouting out the highest mountains and getting to the top of them (or dying in the attempt). Locals in the Andes or the Himalayas could have done that. Perhaps some did, but they earned no immortal glory in their cultures for it. The drive to do something like that came from the individual Western mind's yen to be the first. Individualism is a general Western quality, but it is taken to its extreme in America. Some immigrants came over as groups, in communities, but by and large the United States is a nation of people who defined themselves as individualists by the very act of pulling up their roots and crossing the ocean to a new world. Hamilton and other founders in the 1780s fretted over this quality in the people. To these men, ancient Athens was an anti-model: reckless, mob-ruled, excessively democratic and perpetually at the mercy of the next Alcibiades. Their models were rather Sparta and the Roman republic. They sought to tutor young America in the classical public virtues: firmness, courage, endurance, industry, frugal living, strength, and unremitting devotion to the weal of the public's corporate self. Yet there never was a Golden Age of classical virtues in America, unpolluted by greed. A force was afoot in America -- Renaissance humanism, honed by Enlightenment rationalism -- and it steeled the new nation with naked materialism and acquisitive individualism. If the founders had not read Adam Smith and Bernard Mandeville directly, they were familiar with their ideas, filtered through popular writers and poets like Pope ("Essay on Man"). In this model, prosperity depended on free individuals acting freely in their self-interest. Greed is good. Self-interested individuals promote the interests of the whole society more effectively than they would if they really tried to promote it. Millions endeavouring to supplyEach other's Lust and Vanity ...Thus every Part was full of Vice,Yet the whole Mass a Paradise. [Mandeville, "The Fable of the Bees," 1705] Smith put it more scientifically, but not less clearly. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their own advantages. The individualist need not be an egoist -- but the egoist always is an individualist. De Tocqueville saw individualism as a peculiar vice of democracies. "Egoism sterilizes the seeds of every virtue; individualism at first only drains the springs of public virtues, but in the long run it attacks and destroys all the others too and finally merges into egoism." America's great wars in the past century have been against collectivist societies that formed in revulsion against Western individualism -- Prussian militarism, Nazi fascism, and Soviet communism. These were imperfect secular expressions of the socialist ideal. Now the United States faces a more permanent, functional collective power in Islam. Even where they seem to be alike, the two cultures differ. Both the United States and the Muslim ummah were slave-owning cultures, for instance. But under Islam, those who serve the faith, by scholarship or soldiering, enjoyed greater prestige than those who merely made money. Thus in Muslim lands there was no plantation system, no masses of agricultural slaves gathered for the sake of raising cash crops. Slaves in the ummah served as cooks, porters, concubines, soldiers. This hardly means Islam was kinder, of course: a slave is a slave, and being a eunuch in a harem or a family sex toy is hardly better than being a field hand. The tension between individual and collective priorities drives much of the debate between "conservatives" and "liberals" in modern America and spikes it with venom. The split is hardly absolute. Many liberals are solid individualists, and certain modern conservatives, notably in the Russell Kirk school, believe unbridled free market individualism can be a disaster, destructive of those institutions that must be conserved. But the identification of America's uniqueness in the world with its individualistic qualities made it easy for the anti-communists who battled collectivism in the Cold War to slip into battle with the extremists in the Islamic ummah when they attacked the U.S. Old foes with new faces. On the other side, the Lenins and the bin Ladens marked America as their enemy for the same reason. Bad enough, in the eyes of the Islamists, that we practice this decadence. Far worse that we export it into their holy space. The running battle over individualism allows people in the West to swallow a certain illogic in their positions. Liberals, perhaps reflexively opposing an anti-collectivist U.S., align themselves as allies or apologists for the utterly il-liberal Taliban. And social conservatives wave the flag for relentless war on Islamist clerics whose critique of America's decadence is almost identical to that of the social conservatives. Ultimately, though Bush is right, whether he knows it or not: rights, liberties, freedoms, are the things "they hate us for," because these things spring from the supremacy of the individual, above the collective or the communal, in American culture. INDEX - AUTHOR


OLD ENGLISHIn my "Norton Anthology of English Literature," the first entry is Caedmon's Hymn. It's our first poem, first song; if you take the vast pile of English literature and peel it away, year by year, back through time to the oldest scrap, this is it. Dated sometime between 650 and 680 C.E. Before Shakespeare, before Chaucer, before even "Beowulf" (in the form it has come down) is Caedmon. I love most Anglo-Saxon verse, but I can't stand Caedmon. "The earliest English poem," of course, is really just the oldest one to have survived. As the Caedmon story makes clear, a rich tradition of poetry flourished around him when he composed his hymn. Random shears cut through history and blindly decide what survives, what doesn't. A Sappho poem sits faded but intact on papyrus stuffed in a barrel bung, while teething moths have devoured the one next to it. Not so in Caedmon's case. His little praise-song survives exactly because it killed off the rest. In an England still half heathen, where one king set up Ing's idols on the altar in his priest's church, Caedmon was the first to discover that the rich lode of old songmaking could be perverted to the purpose of the new, alien religion. He took a full-flowering pagan art and forced it to the baptismal font and invented the church-hymn. He was the first Christian-rock star. We're the future where Beethoven and the Beatles are forgotten, but Kenny G. still sounds, where Jane Austen is gone but Danielle Steele endures. The miracle-story of Caedmon is in Bede's history of the English church. To Bede the background is the setting for the gem. Caedmon lives in a settlement around an abbey. The people gather in the evenings after chores in some public hall. There, amid warm fires and laughter, they pull down the harp and pass it around. Everyone takes a turn singing and strumming the chords. They make music as a social function, to win attention, to show affection, to move or amuse one another. Perhaps they tell great adventure-songs from their people's past. Perhaps they sing some raunchy limerick to get a laugh. But every time this starts to happen, Caedmon gets up and leaves. He slips out of the warm hall into the cold starlit night, on the excuse of tending the sheep. But the truth is, he can't sing, and he's ashamed. When the harp comes near, he ducks out, and he lies in his cold bed and listens to the distant laughter. One night, after this happens, he dreams an angel stands at the head of the bed and commands him to sing. Caedmon pleads that he can't sing. "Yes, you can," the Angel says. "What shall I sing?" Caedmon asks. The Angel tells him to praise God the creator, and Caedmon burps out this tubthumper hymn about the making of the world. In Bede's version, he wakes up the next day and tells his aldorman, then the local abbot, and the miracle story begins. But in my version, Caedmon gets out of bed right then and stalks up to the mead-hall, flings the doors open, stands there and croaks out his sermon song. The whole place turns to watch him. cups half-raised to lips, harp passing from hand to hand of men whose frozen faces now turn toward Caedmon's eruption. And as he sings the whole room begins to fade -- the food, the hands that grip it, the frozen faces, the harp, till the song ends and Caedmon stands alone at the head of a hall as vacant and dim as starlight. And he pulls the doors to and turns to face us. Now he's all we have. In the 20th century readers of English re-connected with the bloody, cunning sagas of 1,000 years before, and that says a lot about the 20th century. Regarded as embarrassingly crude by the 19th century, "Beowulf" and similar tales now seem shockingly cinematic, violent as the nightly news. Young Robert Graves, after serving in the trenches in World War I, found himself at Oxford among other returned soldiers resuming the education they had interrupted in 1914. His Anglo-Saxon lecturer was almost apologetic: "It was, he said, a language of purely linguistic interest, and hardly a line of Anglo-Saxon poetry extant possessed the slightest literary merit." Graves disagreed. "I thought of Beowulf lying wrapped in a blanket among his platoon of drunken thanes in the Gothland billet; Judith going for a promenade to Holofernes's staff tent; and Brunaburgh with its bayonet-and-cosh fight -- all this came far closer to most of us than the drawing-room and deer-park atmosphere of the eighteenth century." [ Good-Bye To All That] Yet it is a direct speech, and its directness is the root of both its power and its charm. Nothing is affected about a language whose word for the little finger is eorcleaner. A politician who speaks such a tongue could not bury you in a slurry of canting prose. The French Latinate words flooded into English because clerks and clerics who came across the Channel with William the Bastard after Hastings needed terms for their theology and lawsuits. The pollution that fouled the language seeped from the twin stacks of serfdom and dogma. Even more than the lexicon, however, the grammar makes the tongue strong. Despite the entanglements of gender and its oblique cases, Old English was actually less complex in some ways than Modern English. Best of all, from the point of clear writing, is that it had not yet discovered the cursed copula, where "to be" is the main action and the real verb dissolves into the sentence, sapping the life out of it and strewing about soporific "-ing" endings. Its structure also made Old English unfriendly to those other essential tools of dull writing: the passive voice, the unspecified "it," and the continuous tenses. "It is raining," is just not a possible sentence in Old English. The old language forced you to stand up and say what you meant, not hide it behind copulas. The rain falls. Or it floods. At any rate, a word must come forth and declare itself the subject of the sentence, and then it must do something. Passive voice, continuous tenses have their uses; they allow writers or speakers to deftly describe complex and subtle relationships. But they are used far more commonly to curtain the speaker's ignorance, or to deflect attention from what ought to be the important facts of a case. Old English did have the "-ing" words, but it wasn't infested with them, like its modern cousin. Anglo-Saxons were more likely to form their gerunds in -aş or -oş for masculine nouns. At least it's a real syllable, not a mumble. It used -ing or -ung in feminine gerunds like gaderung ("gathering") or ræding ("reading"). Wilnung is a good word meaning "desire." The "-ing" suffix also served in Old English as an converter of adjectives into nouns, but again it was rare. Æşling, which turns the adjective "noble" into a word meaning "nobleman," is the one I see most frequently. You can read page after page of Anglo-Saxon and never meet a word that ends in -ing. Try to write just a paragraph in Modern English without one. Even the past perfect tense was folded into the verbs (through a ge- prefix) and it was possible for Anglo-Saxon writers to write narrative prose uncluttered with "haves" and "hads" (when groping with any but the simplest statements, however, they cluttered it up with other words instead). It was an English without all the cobweb words that end in "-shun," however you spell it. It was an English with far more strong verbs, with their juicy evolutions (the past participle of "help" was not the whiny "helped" but the more muscular holpen). It was an English that had far more plurals of the "man-men" type, where a stem vowel changes, and more possessives with a suffix -an rather than the hiss that's now tacked on to the end of words in both cases. I've read that only about 20 percent of the Modern English vocabulary is directly descended from Old English. The open-door policy of English is part of the reason for its global popularity, of course, but unlike in more conservative languages, English words keep slipping away to make room for new ones. And other words live on as toothless relics of their former selves. Old English thunderheads of power, like mood and grim, have survived in debased, pip-squeak form. Some 23,000 or 24,000 Old English words have come down to us, which is doubtless only a fragment of the corpus. But even among that list are a few gems that we never should have dropped in the philological dustbin. These words are gone, and now we fumble around for want of them. I've modernized the spellings to indicate pronunciation, though if these words had really survived to modern times this is how they'd probably be spelled. SHRITHE - Bruce Mitchell's "Invitation to Old English and Anglo-Saxon England" gives this account of the word: "The [Beowulf] poet uses the verb scrişan four times -- of hellish monsters, of shadows, of Grendel, who is both a hellish monster and a sceadugenga 'shadow-goer' and of the dragon. The word seems to imply smooth and graceful movement (it is used elsewhere of the sun, clouds, and stars, of a ship skimming over the sea, and of darting salmon in a pool) and an element of mystery (other poets use it of the coming of May, of the beginning and ending of the day, and of the gradual passing of human life). In Beowulf, there is also a suggestion of menace and danger which is echoed in other poems, where the word refers to the spread through the body of a disease which could be cancer and to flames raging unchecked. Had it survived, poets would have used it as a rhyme for 'writhe' and sports writers would have turned it into a cliche applicable to footballers, cricketers and baseballers, tennis-players, and boxers." WER - male human being. The word "man," used in Modern English for both "adult male" and "human being," causes much confusion and bad feeling. It seems to make males the true humans and females a sort of afterthought, which is consistent with Christian theology but not with biology or chivalry. Never mind that the "Human being" meaning of "man" is the older of the two; most people don't know that. Other Germanic languages have adopted different forms of the word for the two senses (German has Mann and Mensch). English had a similar distinction, with the word "mennisc," but it vanished by the 13th century. But the Old English terms to distinguish the sexes were wer and wif. "Woman" is actually "female human being" from a compound of "wif" and "man." Wer survives obviously in "werewolf" and, more obscurely, at the root of "world." But why not revive it to mean "male human" and root out the difficulties of "man." "Wer and woman" has a healthy, Anglo-Saxon alliterative ring to it. SWITHE - strong, harsh, right, very, quite. This adverb once had a wide range of meanings, including "right hand," but it generally was used simply for emphasis, like the modern words "very" and "really." It's in this sense that I'd revive it. It sounds nifty and "very" and "really" have certainly been beaten to death by overuse, so they could take a break for a couple of generations and let swithe do their work. It often worked together in Old English with MICKEL, another one I'd like to bring back, which meant "more" and became "much," though the original form survived in Viking-tinged Scottish dialects much longer than in the rest of England. Its comparative and superlative forms survive as "more" and "most," but the root word has a more satisfying taste than "much." FRODE - It meant "old" and "wise" at the same time. In a similar vein would be DOUTH, as a sort of counterweight to "youth," derived from the old verb dugan, meaning "be good for, be strong" (surviving, barely, in the archaic "doughty"). It would make a more vigorous and honorable word than "middle age" to describe the accumulation of life experience and maturity. SEVA - As a noun, it meant "mind, heart, spirit," but with a sense of perception, of knowing through the heart. It could serve as a word for the concept we fumble at with words like "emotional intelligence" or trivialize with phrases like "women's intuition." NESH - The word has a soft, timid, delicate sound, which is exactly what it meant: "soft, timid, delicate." It grew out of Old English hnesce, and was a much-used word in Middle English. I had written that this word survived till the early 20th century in North England and Midlands dialects, which is what the dictionaries assured me. But I've since heard from several Yorkshire folks who assure me it still thrives in conversation there. Good news! Yorkshire against the world! I am told as well that the word is in daily use in Liverpool and most of Lancashire. TUNGOL - Used to mean "star," and is evidently at the root of modern words like "twinkle," but I like it as a homely alternative to the icy "star." And "astronomy" is nowhere near as magical a word as its Old English equivalent, tungolcræft. NITHE - "Malice, enmity, violence, persecution." Except perhaps "malice," none of the synonyms come close to the nasty sneer of nişe. The word nithing survived into the mid-19th century in parts of England, meaning "vile coward, wretch, villain of the lowest type;" and a nithing post was a stake set up as a form of insult. Learning an ancient tongue brings strangeness into the world. The familiar turns out to be exotic. Here's some of the strangeness of English that you discover when you wash away the soil and examine its roots. The bulk of the core vocabulary of English is made up of recognizable Indo-European root words, shared by most languages from Iceland to India. But there also are a number of words from a hypothetical "Northwest European" provenance, which would be a cluster in the Indo-European family that comprises the ancestral tongues of the Italic, Celtic, Baltic, Slavic, and Germanic languages. These words presumably descend from a common Bronze Age culture, and they consist of roots not found elsewhere in Indo-European languages, or which have different meanings in them. The vocabulary itself is largely cultural -- many of the words are agricultural terms or names of animals and plants found across this range. Grain, apple, sow (the pig) and seed are among them. But we can't know whether these words were borrowed from some long-extinct language of the pre-Indo-European inhabitants of these lands, whether they developed independently, or whether they were words from within the Proto-Indo-European lexicon that have been lost by all the other languages (this seems the least likely explanation). English is a Germanic language, under the French, but a surprising number of our most basic words are unique to the Germanic languages -- bath, boat, drink, drive, evil, finger, hand, sea, and possibly earth and little. Names of colors turn out to be among the most slippery words. I had already encountered Homer's "wine-dark" -- oinopos -- an adjective which Homer uses 17 times of the sea and twice of oxen, and Sophocles uses once to describe someone's arm. And ancient Greek references to the star Sirius, an icy blue to us, as "red." When I started reading Anglo-Saxon, I saw that the spectrum of color there, too, was not divided as it is now. In "Beowulf," yellow is the color of linden wood (used to make shields). The favorite color-adjective for gold, however, is red. Many surviving color words from Old English -- dun, wan, sallow, bleak, dusky, swarthy, bright, murky, dark -- refer to colors which are not hues. These words have more to do with chroma (reflectivity, brightness, quality of light) than with hue (wavelength). We tend to think of color only as hue. Out of all this you can get an insight into that world. Look aound you and subtract all the artificial, man-made pigments from your world. Then look at what is left, and you may see why glitter and dark mattered more than pink and purple in naming what you see. Northern Europe through most of the seasons is a landscape of brown, gray, and dull green. The eruptions of color in spring and fall must have been brief and amazing, with an almost hallucinogenic intensity. Old English brun and hwit both meant "bright, shining," though now both are used to mean hues (although we still speak of "burnished" wood or metal). One of the knottiest linguistic problems in Old English is blaec, which is the common ancestor of the seemingly irreconcilable modern words black and bleach. The Old English word seems to have been used to refer to a type of colorlessness. INDEX - AUTHOR The poet Julia Kasdorf wrote somewhere about the Old Order Mennonite community where she was raised, that its dialect only has words enough for farming and gossip. Old English has something of that innocence. To a degree, that simplicity is deceptive -- there are complex linguistic knots around the ideas of fealty and guilt, revenge and fate, but we miss them because we no longer hear such things so elaborately, and we translate half a dozen fully nuanced Anglo-Saxon words into one vague modern one, like "glory."


YOU WOULD WEEP A little more than 200 years ago, a bombastic U.S. agent named William Eaton (today he would be special op) led a handful of U.S. Marines, several hundred foreign mercenaries scraped from the taverns and brothels of Alexandria, and a pack of hired bedouins in a march across a desert that hadn't been crossed in force since classical times. They captured Tripoli's second largest city, then defended it against counter-attack, and in the end they had won a tremendous victory. Eaton went there with a purpose. The tyrant of Tripoli had captured a U.S. warship and enslaved its 300 sailors. When some of them died in captivity, the Bashaw Yussef threw their bodies to the dogs in the street. The Jefferson administration wanted the survivors freed. America in those days knew what "honor" meant. The administration approved Eaton's mission, as part of a multi-pronged effort, but it didn't expect it to succeed. Until then, the only thing the U.S. Marines had going for them was a Washington, D.C., marching band which the citizens loved but the violin-playing Jefferson despised. Instead, he trusted the wily diplomats, who played the game the European way. Headlines in the administration mouthpiece newspaper blared "Millions for Defense but not a Cent for Tribute," but secretly Jefferson authorized ransom for the sailors. So with a rival for the Tripoli throne, Hamet Bashaw, in tow, Eaton and his rag-tag army surprised everyone, Jefferson included, and conquered the city of Derne. It provided a line for the Marine song every boy used to know: From the halls of MontezumaTo the shores of TripoliWe will fight our country's battleson the land as on the sea.First to fight for right and freedom ... And so on. It also provided the curved Memeluke sword on the Marine dress uniform that still commemorates what was, no matter what else, a glorious and honorable victory. But the Marines' victory, when it came, was almost an embarrassment to the administration The diplomats were working things out smoothly with the tyrant, agreeing in principle, haggling over prices. They made sure Eaton and his followers never had a chance to upset their work. The administration not only paid ransom, it accepted a treaty with a clause that set a going ransom rate for U.S. prisoners, thus encouraging the pirates to try to take more of them. Worst of all, it sold out every honest ally the U.S. had in Libya. All the North Africans and Bedouins who had cast their lot with the Americans, all the residents of Derne who had helped the Americans defend it, the Arab women who had slipped between the lines and warned Eaton of their enemies' plots and plans, were left to their fate. Everyone knew the town would be looted and the inhabitants massacred when the Americans left. Eaton wrote from Derne to a friend describing his feelings when he read the diplomatic order to withdraw the American forces and the details of the deal that had been cut: You would weep, Sir, were you on the spot, to witness the unfounded confidence placed in the American character here, and to reflect that this confidence must shortly sink into contempt and immortal hatred; ... but if no further aid comes to our assistance and we are compelled to leave the place under its actual circumstances, humanity itself must weep: The whole city of Derne, together with numerous families of Arabs who attached themselves to Hamet Bashaw and who resisted Yussef's troops in expectation of succour from us, must be abandoned to their fate -- havoc & slaughter will be the inevitable consequence -- not a soul of them can escape the savage vengeance of the enemy. A pusillanimous political class, an attention-deficit public, an inept administration, and a malice-blinded media all seem to drift toward a premature American exit from Iraq. The good people of Iraq will have to stand and face the bad people of Iraq and many other lands, on their own. It always was going to have to be them who won this war, not us. We went to Iraq to lose -- to be told to go home. It was the only way to make the place what we wanted it to be: A strong, free, prosperous, and law-abiding country ruled transparently by its people. The question was, whether we would stay long enough to help build that country and receive its orders to depart, or whether it would be jihadis and thugs who would force us to leave too soon. It seems clear now that we don't have the will to continue this war. There will be consequences. The Kurds will feel them. But so will we. Weakness displayed before a weaker enemy is an invitation to further disaster. Just read Bin Laden. Whatever the good, hard work being accomplished by our people in the country, there's nothing left here at home but the egos. Whatever the hopes and prospects once were for helping Iraq up on its feet as a strong and functioning democracy, we have broadcast to the world that we are not going to stick around long enough to do it. And no one else wants the job. The people who ought to have supported and promoted this effort failed. That would include me. The people who worked from the beginning to defeat it won. And they seem to have convinced themselves they have no idea of the hell about to be unleashed. I see the posters and stickers at the rallies. They're jarringly unreal. "Stop the war?" The real war begins after we leave. "Too many dead?" U.S. casualties over four years amount to a bad afternoon in 1944. The real threat begins after the enemy knows he's chased us out. No port, no off-base tavern, will be safe. "Deaths of innocents?" You've seen nothing yet. They seem to think, on some unexpressed level, that the American failure they proclaim and support will simply re-set the clock to 2002. In the limits of my experience, for most of the anti-war crowd this war always has been principally a domestic political issue. Concepts of national sovereignty, international rule of law, anti-imperialism served them as argument window dressing, but not consistently or sincerely (and in fact often in blatant contradiction to other stated goals of such people). Once the last U.S. National Guard private has boarded the last flight out of Iraq, as I read these anti-war folks, America will enter a period of national self-mortification, humbled and humiliated, doing penance before a wiser world. They actually seem to think this is a good thing and anticipate it with some pleasure. Expect the next American U.N. ambassador to stand up and deliver a lengthy and formal apology to that august body. And, as I think a great many people now perceive it, even after the war ends it will continue to function as a domestic issue chiefly: A cage to contain the new leaders' rivals. The memory of it will be like a family story that can be retold at any convenient moment to embarrass and check old stupid dad. "Remember that time you thought it would be a good idea to liberate Iraq? Oh, yes you do. Don't listen to anything he says; he's a fool." One-time rah-rah war supporters are now sullenly silent. But there's still work that needs to be done, and there's no one but us to try to do it. Prepare for the catastrophe that will come with the defeat our anti-war leaders have invited into the house. Prepare for the new, ugly global realities that these people seem not to realize we'll face, instead of the pacifist utopia they dream. I can think of many rear-guard fights that must be fought, and future calamities that ought to be anticipated. I know which one I intend to concentrate on: Let's try not to leave our friends behind to burn in the furnace of the enemy's victory celebration. This is where I'm going to choose to devote my energies as the expedition to liberate Iraq implodes. The last remaining neo-cons must rouse themselves out of the funk of failure and take responsibility for what they own, and for what no one else will do. The Iraqis who took our offer to help them build a better future -- they are our responsibility. Everyone else wants to walk away from them, forget about them, let them disappear into the night of the long knives. They are inconvenient facts about to be ground like hamburger in the anti-imperialist narrative, which will be the story indoctrinated into our children about this war, as it was for me about Vietnam. The Iraqis who shared our vision of their nation are about to be killed, with their families, and then forgotten. We know this, if no one else does. We care, if no one else does. Let's work to get them out alive. Even if nobody ever gets credit for it, even if it does nothing to stave off the coming American grovel and the resultant repercussions for what's left that calls itself "the West." Even if it boosts the fortunes of our domestic political rivals by allowing them to have a relatively bloodless victory. Forget them; they will make their own hell. Do what is right. Do what you're responsible for doing. I am thinking of the Iraqi interpreters who helped us. And the political leaders of secular or minority parties. And the Iraqi women who stood up for their rights. And the communists (I never said you were going to like all these people). The writers, the intellectuals, the doctors. Employees who worked for the allied agencies or contracted companies, down to the last secretary in the pool. Get them out, with their families. Settle them here, or in some other safe place of their choosing. Australia, perhaps, or Kurdistan. Give them the freedom and security elsewhere that we promised them, and failed to give them, in their homes. The administration hitherto has been reluctant to open the national doors to Iraqi refugees. As long as the White House was committed to succeeding in Iraq -- or at least to giving off the public impression of such commitment -- enabling the best and most useful citizens of Iraq to flee the country would have been counter-productive both politically and practically. That time has passed. And so it's time to change the policy. And it's up to us to start pushing for it. Write to your congressman, and to people in power likely to have the skill and will to effect such changes. And keep writing. Keep calling. Keep up the pressure. Let's get some bills started. If that fails, set up private funds. Work with the people you know in the military, who will know best who over there needs a ride out. Find any allies and work with them; even if they're the loathsome types who likely will hold power here in a few years. There is some practical virtue, after all, even in neo-isolationist realpolitik or sap-headed transnationalism, of being true to your friends. The Britain of that time, newly confirmed as the world's great superpower by virtue of its naval might, offers the more interesting parallel to modern America. The Barbary Coast ran 1,500 miles from the African side of the Straits of Gibraltar to the Gulf of Sirte in Libya. The rulers of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli nominally paid allegiance to the Ottoman sultan, but they were practically independent. Safe in their well-fortified port cities, with fundamentalist Islam as their guide and pretext, they sallied out into the sea and kidnapped Christians from Italy, Malta, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica, as well as anyone they could take from any ship they could catch in the Mediterranean, including northern Europeans and Americans. At one time, Algiers alone held as many as 25,000 white Christians as slaves. Wealthy captives usually could be ransomed. Others were enslaved, or held in chains, or tortured till they converted to Islam. Women who could not raise a ransom sometimes were raped and usually were married off to locals or sent to harems as concubines, after being fattened up. The British Navy was incensed. In part, this was personal -- seamen were frequent victims of the corsairs. But in part it was awareness of the role a superpower ought to play in the world. The British military men knew they had the ability to destroy these impudent slave-states, but their government lacked the will. Who held power in this government? Liberal evangelicals -- the two words were as firmly linked in that time and place as "conservative" and "fundamentalist" are in this. The mix of liberalism and Christianity was a potent force that accomplished much good in the world. But the liberal evangelicals exhibited an early example -- perhaps the earliest I've seen -- of a quality that has weakened their successors on so many occasions: I call it the altruistic double standard. Though William Wilberforce and the other liberal evangelical MPs campaigned ceaselessly to abolish the slave trade, they meant by that only the enslavement of blacks by whites. They exhibited a sort of inverted Darwinism -- doubly perverse -- and took no interest in Christian slavery that had for its targets people most like themselves. Some British citizens pleaded with the government to stamp out the Barbary Coast pirates. Admiral Nelson wrote in 1799: "My blood boils that I cannot chastise these pirates. They could not show themselves in the Mediterranean did not our country permit. Never let us talk about the cruelty of the African slave-trade while we permit such a horrid war." But the government took no interest. That's where the Americans came in. The young country was not yet powerful enough to tackle the problem on its own, but its aggressive approach aroused the British government by shame and example. With the exception of Jefferson's under-the-table deal, America consistently refused to ransome captives with money and munitions, as the Europeans often did. This is the source of Jefferson's oft-quoted rhetorical line in the sand, much better known at the time than his secret double-dealing. After 1803, Washington and the Barbary states were at war, in effect. U.S. forces usually won the direct battles and forced the Muslim rulers to sign treaties which they promptly broke as soon as the American ships sailed out of sight. In 1815, after making peace with Britain, America began sending expeditions to the Barbary Coast again, forcing the rulers to hand over American slaves (and Europeans sometimes) and pay fines. The British finally were roused to action by this example and the shame it cast on them. On an August afternoon in 1816, the British Navy broke the power of Algiers, sank almost its entire fleet, killed up to 8,000 soldiers and civilians, and damaged or destroyed every building in the city. The punishment didn't entirely end the depredations, however. Only the French invasion and colonization of Algeria a generation later did that. INDEX - AUTHOR


ISLAMIC REFORMATION People in the West talk about the need for an "Islamic Reformation." By which they mean, perhaps, something that will have the same effect as what happened in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, when a monolothic theopolitical power cracked and what emerged, over time, was a Christianity that overall was less oppressive, less domineering, less dogmatic than what had come before. Something like that -- the picture is oversimplified (and never mind that barrels of blood were spilled in the process). It's a hopeful vision. It's optimistic, and I've learned to be optimistic about the world -- like Churchill, because "it does not seem to be much use being anything else." So I like this idea, too. But I'm not so optimistic that I think it will happen. For one: We want there to be an Islamic Reformation. There's no particular evidence that Muslims, in sufficient number and in the right places (i.e., not living in America or Canada) want there to be an Islamic Reformation. Reformations don't happen because rival civilizations want them. Imagine the response if the Ottoman sultan in 1519 had said to the Pope, "Just this and this and this needs to be changed in Christianity so we can get along better." If the sultan had been advocating for exactly the same things Martin Luther spoke up for, you can bet Luther never would have got past the Wittenberg church door. For another: There already was an Islamic Reformation. It happened while we were sleeping. The result is Wahhabi dominance, and Islamic Brotherhood, and Bin Laden. This is the Islamic Reformation. We're fighting it now. When religions "reform" -- note the "re-" prefix -- they swim back toward their sources. And in every case, they carry the baggage of the present with them. Every attempt to reform Christianity during the 16th and 17th centuries sought the wellsprings. It turned away from the Catholic Church not because it was wrong to mix political power with religious authority, but because that's not how it was in the Gospels. So they set out in search of the Christianity of Paul. But they always dragged their own time and place with them -- how could they not? If the command was, "be separated from the world," the shape of your separation would be determined by the shape of the world you lived in. Thus the same motivation, and the same Gospel, in different times and places led one group of people to be Quakers and another to be Pentecostals. Or Amish. Look at an adult Amishman: he has a beard, but no mustache. Why is that? Because in 18th century Germany it was fashionable for young men to wear mustaches but no beards. So to get back to the Gospel and be not of this world, the Amish enshrined the exact opposite style. And they still wear it. When Christianity reforms -- when it goes back to its roots -- it tries to foreswear the world. When Islam goes back to its roots, it tries to conquer the world. And it takes modern conflicts and technologies with it. The Christian Reformation (I prefer the term "Protestant Revolt") was as much about political control as it was about religion. Once Luther opened the door, kings and queens usurped the power of the church in their domains and changed it just enough to suit their purposes without undermining the people's faiths. England is a good example. Islam has seen this, too, in the strong-arm rule of the men, mostly of military backgrounds, who have led Muslim-majority nations in modern times. The "secularism" of men like Saddam or Musharraf, or nations like Tunisia or Egypt, has been noted, but not so often noted is that it never really dethroned the faith from the hearts of their people, nor did it replace Quranic authority over civil matters. Instead, secular rulers have tended to fudge their way to non-Islamic legal codes and constitutions by using legitimate, but perverted, aspects of Shari'a. Takhsis al-qada, for instance, the right of the ruler to control the jurisdiction of courts; or Takhayyur, the selection of any opinion within a school of Islamic jurisprudence, not necessarily the dominant one, or Syasa shari'ya, the discretion of a ruler to implement beneficial regulations if they are not contrary to Shari'a. The "secular strong-man" solution, then, is temporary and insufficient. It is neither valid within the Islamic legal tradition, nor capable of displacing it. It is the wrong answer for another reason. We in the liberal, modern west tend to regard our civilizational history of the past 500 years or so as the struggle of enlightened values against the dark dogmas of the past, the conservative theologies married to the powers of the state. When we look to the modern Middle East for an "Islamic Reformation" we think in terms of the bold liberals resisting the coercive power of the Inquisition or the official church. Yet so often in Islamic history, ancient and modern, it has been the "liberal" interpretation of the faith that has been allied with the essentially secular power, and the "conservative" or strict view that was among the people, or locked and tortured in the tyrant's jails. Corrupt caliphs like a liberal interpretation of this faith. It excuses their excesses and overlooks their failure to live up to scrupulous standards of piety and abstinence. They always have. Throughout Islamic history, it was Torquemada in the poor streets as a man of the people, building charities and preaching God's humility, and easygoing Teilhard de Chardin supping at the sybarite tyrants' tables. Another path to reformation you sometimes hear promoted is "re-opening the gates of ijtihad." This is a favorite among Westernized and liberal Muslims like Irshad Manji, who writes: I also propose the revival of a tradition to correct what's gone wrong with Islam. Independent thinking and creative reasoning, known as ijtihad, was something Islam always prided itself on. My foundation, Project Ijtihad, aims to revive this way of thinking and I'm helping young Muslims to set up centres in various countries, including India and the United Arab Emirates. Ijtihad (independent juristic reasoning) was the way Arabic scholars applied and interpreted the Quran and the collected sayings of the Prophet. But around the 10th century of our age, stricter theologians like Al-Ghazali came to see this process as "leading to errors of over-confidence in judgement." So they closed the gates of ijtihad, and they've stayed closed. What replaced it was taqlid, unquestioning imitation of established jurists and schools. But what would you get if you could reopen them? Certainly some aspects of Shari'a could be changed. But key components of Shari'a that bring fundamentalist Islam into conflict with the non-Islamic world, such as the status of non-Muslims, the status of women, the acceptance of slavery and the relationship of the Islamic state with non-Muslim states of the modern world, are literally rooted in the Quran itself, or the Sunnah. Ijtihad can't change them. It only applies to place where there is no clear Quranic injunction. Another possibility lies in the work of Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, which is worth a full consideration and a post of its own. But even his disciples admit there's not much hope they will gain traction in the Islamic world. His ideas, though rooted in Islam, are "considered to be seditious in Sunni theology," and Taha himself ended up as so many would-be Islamic reformers do: executed by a strict orthodox Islamist regime. Must there be Shari'a? Without it, there is no Islam. Both the Islamic world and the secular West live by the rule of law, but in the one case the law is evolved primarily from secular, rational traditions and in the other it is laid down by the hand of God and is one with the worship of God. [Samuel Huntington, surveying the world, finds that only the West and Hindu civilization separate religion and politics. "In Islam, God is Caesar; in China and Japan, Caesar is God; in Orthodoxy, God is Caesar's junior partner."] Islam is a path through a defined space, with firm walls and open courses. In Islam, every act of life, from dressing to wife-beating, is an act of worship (or, if done wrongly, a fault in worship). Some people instantly feel stifled there. Not all traditions fit all people. Huston Smith, the great religious scholar, writes a telling anecdote in an introduction to a book on Islam. Smith writes that he felt an instant affinity for the supple music of the Upanishads, but was repelled by the legalistic rigidity of Islam. Then he met another Western religious scholar who confessed he had no idea what the Hindu texts were talking about, "but when I read the Koran, I'm home." " 'Umdat al-Salik wa 'Uddat al-Nasik" ("Reliance of the Traveller and Tools of the Worshipper"), is a classic manual of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) based on the Shafi'i school of thought. As the English translator of my edition of "Reliance of the Traveller" writes: "I had been a commercial fisherman in the North Pacific for seven seasons, and I remembered a book the captain used to keep in the wheelhouse near the charts, a book of bearings, with the precise compass directions between one point of land and another in Alaskan waters. This was the sort of work I hoped to produce in shari'a, a book that I could open up and find accurate, substantive ethical knowledge to apply in my life." Even in Mecca, Muhammad was organizing his followers into a community, a political and social unit. In Medina, he not only set up a "constitution" for governing the city, he served as an arbitration judge. "Law can never be deemed Islamic without being somehow anchored in these two sources (Qu'ran and Sunna)" [Wael B. Hallaq, "A History of Islamic Legal Theories"]. But taken altogether, the legalistic aspects of Islamic tradition fall short of a full code of laws. And they fail to take into account, obviously, anything that has gone on in the world since about 800 C.E. In propounding his message, the Prophet plainly wished to break away from pre-Islamic values and institutions, but only insofar as he needed to establish once and for all the fundaments of the new religion. Having been pragmatic, he could not have done away with all the social practices and institutions that prevailed in his time. [Hallaq] There are other ways to interpret Islam. Brilliant minds and brave hearts in the Islamic world have advanced them from time to time. But they never seem to make much headway. Even in the modern-day "crisis" of Islamic thought, the bid to give reason a place alongside revelation must be rooted in God, not man. When humanistic and positivist tendencies collide with the imperatives of revelation, in the Muslim world, revelation wins. Even among those who reject the medievalism of the old ways as irrelevant to the modern age. "Except for a minority of secularists, the great majority of modern Muslim thinkers and intellectuals insist upon the need to maintain the connection between law and the divine command." [Hallaq] This gives Islamic reformers a long, steep path to climb. For instance, Ali Abd al-Raziq (1925) argued that there was no Islamic authority for the caliphate and that Islam has no political component. It was a radical argument yet forcefully made and in the finest Islamic scholarly style. It had some influence among secularizing Muslims in the middle of the last century, before the Islamist Revival swept it off the board. Yet even if al-Raziq is accepted, the societal rules of the Qu'ran and Sunna -- with regard to women, say, or to religious minorities -- remain binding on individual Muslims. In Iran a generation later, Mohammed Mosaddeq seems to have held the view (per Roy Mottahedeh) that Shi'a jurisprudence allowed a central role for common sense and for parliaments to pick and choose from Islamic law such dogmas as were appropriate to the modern situation at hand. With that approach, if the CIA and the British oil interests and the shah had not got to him first, he undoubtedly would have faced a challenge sooner or later from the ayatollahs. The daunting difficulty of breaking through that impasse, I think, is why many Muslims reject rationalism and modernity as Western corruptions, and seek a "puritan" Islam. And since Islam was born in a time of war to the death against unbelievers, only a few small steps stand between fundamentalist Islam to jetliners plowed into skyscrapers. Thoughtful Muslim reformers in the past century have tried to navigate a path between secularism and Shari'a. If the choice offered to the Islamic people must be between Shari'a and Western secularism, however, Shari'a always will win, as it is the Islamic alternative, bound up in that people's sense of religious duty and resentment of the West. And the Islamists know this, and in their Anti-Western and anti-modern extremism, they prevent a third way. By keeping the Shari'a immutable, by making it heresy to attempt to alter a word of it, the fundamentalists keep control of the political flow. Their goal is not merely to hold political power. That is their means to the end they seek. It is not to make laws. It is to enforce laws laid down in the mid-Seventh Century C.E., by the word of God. INDEX - AUTHOR I would love to think that will work.Muslim jurists count 500 Qu'ranic verses with legal content. Their proportion in the Qu'ran is even greater than that appears, because the rest of the Qu'ran often repeates itself, both thematically and verbatim, but the legal subject matter in it almost never does. And the average length of the legal verses is two or three times that of the average non-legal verses. Some have argued, and it would be difficult to refute them, that the Qu'ran contains "no less legal material than does the Torah."That leaves Islam in the worst possible situation, commitment to religious law, but with an incomplete and badly dated system of law. A tendency toward legal structure without a finished form. That leaves it vulnerable, eternally, to determined minds that would install their own dark, bloody, reactionary, anti-humanist desires into the word of God.


MOTHER TONGUES Ever since I was a teenager I've bought used books. I like them clean, not marked up, but I also enjoy, somehow, knowing that this paper has been touched by other hands and these words have flowed into other minds. If the book has an interesting signature on the flyleaf, a "discarded" stamp from some rural library, or an odd bookplate, so much the better. When I was younger, I'd buy them at the local thrift shop, so they mostly were from close to home. Most were old novels or story collections -- I got my Dumas, Scott, Poe, Hawthorne that way. But with time my interests have grown more arcane, and with Internet resources like Alibris and Powells, I buy a book now because usually it's the only copy available, and I get it from wherever it comes from. I've bought several older, thorough, obscure language dictionaries in the last 10 years or so. Not the kind of thing most people would want to load down on their shelves: Thick blocks of book, mostly in German, published in the early 20th century. Really fine books, if you enjoy a well-made book. Their provenance, where they've been before they arrived in my hands, began to interest me the other night when I was looking something up in a German-language dictionary of French etymology printed at the university press in Heidelberg in the 1920s. The bookplate was a pen-and-ink sketch of an idyllic tropical scene, with dark-skinned people diving in calm waters beside a hut and under a palm tree. And the name was like something from Waugh: Peter Antony Lanyon-Orgill. It occurred to me that the Internet which brought me this book might tell me who he was. I looked over my shelf for other names to research, and realized I had two of his books -- the massive Oxford Sanskrit-English dictionary (by the delightfully named Monier Monier-Williams) also has his nameplate on it. As I suspected, he wasn't hard to find. To my delight, he was a sort of brilliant, bold, and controversial Cornwall character, characterized as a "fringe" figure in some quarters, cited as an authority in others. Peter A. Lanyon-Orgill (1924-2002) made himself a place in every bibliography of Pacific linguistics without, it could be argued, ever making any original contribution to the field. At one extreme his publishing activities verged on fraud and plagiarism, but from another point of view he made available work which otherwise might have languished unknown in manuscript form. Throughout it all, in parallel with his real life as a schoolmaster, he constructed an apparently imaginary scholarly career, complete with field research, advanced degrees, and learned colleagues, all largely of his own invention. His ancestor had sailed with Captain Cook, but his own writings elicit dire warning in scholarly books about the mysterious Easter Island writing systems. Apparently his library was broken up and sold when he died, which is how I came to own a little part of it, which I cherish more today than I did yesterday. Before I bought that Sanskrit-English dictionary, I bought a small Sanskrit-English dictionary online from When I got it, I realized it was going to be useless to me, because all the Indic words are in the Devanagari script, which I do not read sufficiently to transliterate. It looks to be an older book, possibly 19th century, originally published in India and reprinted in the 1990s in England. Still, I find myself sitting up at night, thumbing through it, scanning the columns of strange script and familiar definitions. A dictionary half in an unknown language is a fountain of inspiration. Delightful connections are expressed there, along with conceptions that convince me that, in ancient India, the world had a civilization that has hardly been matched in subtlety and sophistication.A man who does not cook for himself; a bad cook [a term of abuse]. A mouse; a miser. Licked; surrounded. m. A bee; a scorpion. f. A woman's female friend. A whirlpool, a crowded place. Inaccessible; unfit for sexual intercourse; difficult to understand.There are whole sermons and life lessons in a single word:Repentance, intense enmity, close attachment. Fire; appetite; gold. A great danger; a desperate act. Supported; haughty; near; obstructed. Touched; violated; judged; endured. Relaxation; independence.There are mysteries fit to be taken whole as a poem by Wallace Stevens or William Carlos Williams, or to inspire a Borges ficcione:A benediction; a serpent's fang. Homeless, imperishable. Ungovernable; necessary. Painting figures on the body; feathering an arrow.I meet words I wish I had; that is, words for which there is no single word in English that covers the same territory. Every language has such words. One of my linguistics books lists some examples of this from the Sye language of Micronesia: livinlivin - the top of something that is teetering over an edge and about to fall; orvalei - to complain, unjustly, that something is insufficient or not enough. Among the words in the Sanskrit dictionary I wish we had in English were ones meaning:Pleasure arising from sympathy. One who has suppressed his tears. An illustration of a thing by its reverse. A practice not usually proper to the caste but allowable in time of distress. A figure of speech dependent on sense and not on sound. INDEX - AUTHOR


"THE END" Hans Erich Nossack was a German novelist in his 40s, married but apparently childless, living in Hamburg, during World War II. He was neither a Nazi nor a heroic anti-Nazi. By sheer coincidence he and his wife had managed to get a little vacation cabin outside the city on the sultry July night the Allied bombers came in wave after wave and rained down fire on Hamburg. The Nossacks were far enough out to be beyond reach of the flames, but close enough to see and even hear it all. One didn't dare to inhale for fear of breathing it in. It was the sound of eighteen hundred airplanes approaching Hamburg from the south at an unimaginable height. We had already experienced two hundred or even more air raids, among them some very heavy ones, but this was something completely new. And yet there was an immediate recognition: this was what everyone had been waiting for, what had hung for months like a shadow over everything we did, making us weary. It was the end. A short and straightforward book like this is the most devilish to translate, and the nearness of German and English makes the task more, not less, challenging. There is a German equivalent of "the end," but it isn't the word Nossack took as his title. He called his book "Der Untergang." Literally, in English, "the undergoing." There is such a word in English, of course, but it means something different. You undergo an ordeal; you pass through some experience, like a dark night in a terror-filled forest, and you emerge, changed but alive, on the other side. The German word is final in a way the English cannot be. It's like a torpedoed ship swallowed by the sea. Like the Latin equivalent, obitus, a going toward, a euphemism for "death," even in Roman times, and the source of our word obituary. Even if undergoing had not the sense of "passage" in English, it has the wrong sound. The sonically unfortunate evolution of English gerundive endings into -ing, a weak and tinselly sound, renders that whole class of words mostly useless for poets or writers who aspire to a poetic quality. German -gang has the toll of a funeral bell. The "Publishers Weekly" review seems to miss some important points: What's missing from Nossack's account is any political or historical dimension: a reader coming to this book for primary knowledge would learn little about why the bombings took place, or why so many people accepted them with numb resignation instead of anger. There is a yardstick for a book like this, in the modern American literary reaction to Sept. 11, 2001. What was written three months after that fact and dwelled on "why the bombings took place" and why people reacted as they did would be polemics or psychology. It would be impossible for a witness to write like that, so soon. Oddly, the "PW" reviewer write, "The narrative is indeed clear-eyed and dispassionate, possessed of the emotional distance necessary to regard the terrible events in their totality." It seems to me the book has not that quality at all. Yes, line by line it is a clear-eyed and dispassionate account. But there is a strange, almost insane, dislocation in it. As though you looked at a picture of an intact building, till you realized the picture had been turned and the building lay on its side. After his wife, included throughout in a narrator's "we," every other person is a voiceless shadow. Even Nossack's neighbors and co-workers are a faceless group. The most dispassionate descriptions in the book are of human deaths: the group that huddled in a cellar and fried there is told in the kind of cold matter-of-factness you might use to describe the destruction of an anthill. What breathes with soul and pain in this book is the lament for the lost things. First, the buildings. Nossack and his wife, when they make their way back to the city, they go to his office to see if his papers have survived there, and they meet up with another worker who survived the night of the attack: Suddenly we hesitated; our gaze had fallen through the back window onto Saint Catherine's Church. Shocked, we looked at each other. 'Yes, I cried when it caved in,' said the engineer, who was standing next to us. He told us the precise hour when it had happened. It didn't help when we tried to persuade ourselves: It's just a church, what about those hundreds of thousands of homes and the people, that's so much worse. I suppose it was a symbol. All of us who had worked there loved that steeple exceedingly, each in his own way, perhaps without knowing it. "But nothing was left, not a single trinket of all the things that we loved and that belonged with us. If there had been such a little something, how we would have caressed it; it would have been imbued with the essence of all the other things. And when we walked on, we left a vacuum behind. And the apartment? Our belongings? It's just not possible. And suddenly it's all there again. You are visiting someone, they have a bookcase. Oh yes! We had so many books. Or they'll put on a record. Do you know this concerto? Yes, that's Handel, we have it ourselves, all we have to do is take it out of the closet. But you know, the Hallelujah Chorus, we play it only on Christmas Eve after setting up the crèche. It's a family tradition. It's Wordsworth's "Surprised by Joy," but with pulverized furniture in place of a dead child. How can the level of passion be the same in each case? What's wrong with this man? Nossack asks the same question: But these are just things! Imagine if you had lost your children or your wife. Yes, that is true, we say -- but it doesn't change anything. Was our way of living with things wrong, or just different? Who can say? If some survivor -- someone who had worked in the WTC but stayed home sick that day -- wrote a poetic account of the things he had left in his desk and lost forever, hardly mentioning his co-workers and the others, we'd be rightly repulsed. Yet however close we get to those lost lives, and we try and try, they have crossed over -- gone under. There is nothing now here, above ground, where they were but the wind and the night. We can never get into them in their final moments. No traveller returns to tell what they felt, falling, burning, crashing down. Surely Nossack knew someone, some many, among the 30,000 people incinerated by the firestorm or crushed by falling brick walls. Surely. And Wordsworth's poem is almost unbearable, if you pierce through the language and feel the emotion. It's contained in the formula of the sonnet's rules. The hard box that keeps the hot gush of tears from spilling out everywhere. Nossack does not have the rigors of poetry. But he has his relation with objects, and into it he pours, and disguises, the unbearable sense of loss of so much life. His obsession with things is not a fetish, I think, it is a displacement that preserves sanity. These things have their life from us, because at some time we bestowed our affection on them; they absorbed our warmth and harbored it gratefully in order to enrich us with it again in meager hours. We were responsible for them; they could only die with us. And now they stood on the other side of the abyss in the fire and cried after us, begging: Don't leave us! We knew it, we heard it, and dared not pronounce their names, because pity would have destroyed us. INDEX - AUTHOR He wrote this within three months after that night. Joel Agee, the translator, notes in his introduction that he actually did this translation in the 1960s, with the Vietnam war in mind. But no publisher wanted it then. The reason this book has been published in English now is W.G. Sebald's praise of it in "On the Natural History of Destruction." Well, that's not the job of someone writing while the ground is still too hot to touch in some parts of the city, and while the flies still buzz from awful stinking cellar holes that nobody has the courage to peer into. But then, as they go deeper into the ruined city in search of whatever is left of their belongings, the pangs of loss rise to a crescendo. They return to the building that had held their apartment, and found "just a small, much too small, heap of stones." Again, I think of all the literature to have come out of 9-11. We know so much about the people, the lost lives, that have been spun out for us from the obituaries that began to appear within days and ran day after day in the New York Times. People sometimes talk about the things lost in the attacks, the rupture of the New York skyline, for instance, but nobody makes that a central focus of the tragedy.


FOUNDERS When we pause once a year to remember 1776, we invoke the names of wise aristocrats, learned in political theory -- Jefferson, Adams, Madison. Or we toast the likes of Franklin, Hancock, Washington; practical men of business and wealth who set the country running. The historian Gordon Wood has pointed out how this remarkable oligarchy created a nation where, whether they knew it or not, the power would pass down after them in such a way that men like them would rarely if ever rise to rule. And they have not, and we marvel, today, at why such an American generation has not come again. But they were not the whole revolution. The people -- at least the third or so among them who supported the idea -- made the revolution. This is as much their day as Jefferson's. Their political theory may have been wanting, their views on race certainly were deplorable by modern standards, but neither were they sitting passively at home in June 1776 while the great minds pared Tom's prose in Philadelphia. If they did not hear the Declaration read aloud that day, it was because they were too busy, about and doing. Every July 4 I make a silent toast to one cluster of them, in the county just west of Philadelphia. I'll share them with you this year. They are a knot of families named Hannum, Gibbons, Harper, Cheyney, and Vernon that I once untangled in the course of researching a book. There was so little of them left; not enough material to make a book of its own, Perhaps just enough for a long blog post. The moths have eaten the rest, if it ever was written down, and what's left mostly are a few family stories that break through the silence like a glimpse of landscape on a fog-bound day. This was barren soil to sow a revolution. It was a Quaker county, but the ranting religious immigrant families long had settled into a conservative hierarchy fond of the king. The Revolution's few friends arose among the families that had been read out of the Quaker meetings for being too obstreperous and witty, for playing fiddles or arguing about theology like the Scots-Irish men they tended to marry. They had known from birth what it means to live true to yourself in a monolithic culture that held other principles. They had found each other, and woven their families together in two or three generations of marriage. Persifor Frazer and Polly Taylor married in 1766 and lived a decade later with their four young children on a farm in a hilly district a few miles from a lazy creek called the Brandywine. The land had come through her family, but it was Persifor who farmed it and who mixed in local politics, in the perpetual minority party in the county, headed by Anthony Wayne, that resisted a growning Crown power. When Pennsylvania formed its troops for the Continental Army in early 1776, Frazer was elected captain of a company in the Fourth Battalion, which had Wayne for its colonel. He already was in uniform when the Declaration was signed. The war came home for these people on Sept. 11, 1777, when the British marched up from Delaware bound for Philadelphia, and George Washington tried to stop them at the Brandywine. "September 11th" always was Brandywine day when I was growing up there, and Chris Sanderson the old fiddler came to our elementary school and told the stories. I suppose that's changed now. The little Frazer girls were at school in Thornbury that day. They heard the gunshots and cannon firing on the hot fall day. Sally, the oldest, was 8 then. The teacher went out and listened for a while, then returned and said, "There is a battle not far off, children; you may go home." "As we returned, we met our mother on horseback," Sally wrote years later, "going over towards the place of action, knowing that ... our father must be in the midst of the affray." The Americans held the river crossing, but the British pulled off a daring move and, relying on loyalist guides to take them over the up-stream fords, dropped a third of their army on Washington's right and caved in the rebels' flank. Washington had had confused reports all day from this quarter, some saying the British had a force headed in that direction. But the most authoritative reports from his officers reported no enemy in front of them. At one point a local farmer, one of the Cheyneys in the extended clan, rode in and insisted a large redcoat attack loomed on the right. Washington took the reports of his own officers, naturally, as more reliable than that of a local farmer, but Cheyney broke into an impassioned insistence: "If you doubt my word, put me under guard until you can ask Anthony Wayne or Persie Frazer if I am a man to be believed." Then he turned on the staff officers, who perhaps hads been snickering at the clodhopper, and fulminated, "I would have you know that I have this day's work as much at heart as e'er a blood of you." The names of Frazer and Wayne evidently moved Washington to send reinforcements to his right, just in case. Washington knew the value of such men, though they lacked the polish of staff officers. The reinforcements arrived in time to help hold off the heavy British attack, which did come after all, long enough for most of Washington's army to escape the trap. The British moved on after them, but they took time to smoke out the rebels they knew lived in the neighborhood. History books may have forgotten their names, but the British army knew them. And they knew there was a chance they could catch the troublemakers at home, or at least harrass their families. Two days after the battle, a British detachment showed up at Frazer's home. Polly Frazer, hearing the approaching hoofbeats, chased her children, along with an aged aunt, some servants, and a wounded American soldier, into the woods and stayed to face the British alone. A British officer confronted her: "Where are the damned Rebels?'' She told him there were none about. He cursed her, while soldiers pushed into the house and stripped the barn, looking for stores of weapons, and incidentally taking as plunder anything that could be sold or eaten. They carried off the family's wheat stores and its horses. The British officer in charge then tried a more logical approach with Polly Frazer. He told her how American military leaders who joined the British were well rewarded for their loyalty. No doubt Polly knew it was true, but she laughed him off. "You do not know Colonel Frazer," she said, "or you would not suggest such a thing, nor would he listen to me were I to propose it." Furthermore, she said, if her husband did take sides with the British, she would "never consent to have anything more to do with him." Before they left, the officer told Polly he had orders to arrest Frazer and burn the house and barn. "But," he said, in a generous gesture, "I give them to you." Polly didn't buy it. "I cannot thank you, sir, for what is my own, and if you had such orders you would not dare to disobey them." After the American defeat Frazer had been sent out to scout the local roads to watch the movements of the main British army and report them to Wayne. In fact, he had left his farm just a few hours before the British arrived. He was captured spying two days later and sent to the notorious Walnut Street prison in Philadelphia. There, contrary to British military regulations, the provost, a loyalist horse-breaker named Cunningham whose name once was despised and feared, kept the prisoners in misery, torment, and starvation. Cunningham and his immediate superior made sure word of conditions in the prison never reached higher authorities. But Polly Frazer and Jane Gibbons arranged to smuggle out a letter written by the prisoners. They visited their husbands with permission from the authorities. While they were leaving, the provost ordered them searched. Polly meekly submitted, while Jane raised a royal row about it and tried to flee. The guards grabbed her and Tory women were brought in to subject her to a scrupulous strip search. The unoffending Polly got out with a cursory examination, but it was she who had the prisoners' letter in her petticoat, along with a sample of the mouldy bread they were fed. They left the city and dashed up to Washington at Valley Forge, who appealed to Howe's sense of military honor with the result that conditions in the prison improved. Persie and Polly are buried in the old graveyard at Middletown Presbyterian Church. Their house was abandoned after a fire gutted it in 1926. A chimney and a wall are all that remain. I can't even find a picture of them to break up the text of this long story. Below the pantheon of the Founders were the practical operators like Anthony Wayne, who also tend to get into the history books in a few places. But below them were the Frazers and thousands like them. And below them still were a class of young families who didn't even own land and whose very names are too smudged to read on the muster rolls anymore, but who pitched into the cause such fortunes as they had, along with their lives and sacred honor. Never forget that had "this day's work as much at heart as e'er a blood of you." INDEX - AUTHOR


ALLURE This article hits an answer right on the head without realizing it. The author then moves on, still looking for it: For Him Magazine, and the other lad mags like Maxim and Umm, occupy a strange, liminal place in the territory of contemporary male desire. They exist to allow men to look at women's bodies sexually but not pornographically. With the emphasis on suggestion rather than revelation, the women in their pages are slick materialistic ideals, as current in their smooth plastic forms as the Prius or iPhone. OK, to really see the answer, as it struck me when reading it, you have to tweak that sentence a bit to read, "The emphasis is on suggestion rather than revelation, yet the women in their pages are slick materialistic ideals." I've been lucky, as a man, because I've always found sensual suggestion far more arousing than explicit display. If it sounds like a brag, it's not. I had nothing to do with it. I just was put together that way. A half-concealed woman is a powerful thing, if she chooses how to display herself and does so with an eye to drawing my eye. A naked woman's body is a biological fact. A woman dressed to seduce is an inhabited beauty, a promise of pleasure, a flame from Heaven. It's the person inside all that flesh and fabric that is the goal of sexual desire. Sex, along with love but not identical with it, bridges the awful gap of solitude that the skull binds us into. I still much prefer looking at the photo spreads in old Playboys, pre-1974 or so, to anything since. The removal of the taboo against pubic hair and the descent into full-frontal made a difference in that publication. It's not that the thing itself offends me [and the article cited above closes with a repetition of the old Ruskin story, which many scholars now think to be wrong: it probably was menstruation, not pubic hair, that shocked him]. But the nakedness of the models simply changed the nature of what was being done. And ultimately it changed the models. Before, you had very different young women with very different body types. If she had a full bosom, chances are she had curves everywhere. If she was long and leggy, she had small breasts. The photographers played with this, dressed the models and turned and posed them to present interesting angles. It was a flamenco; afterward, it was just a dull strip. And it's probably no coincidence that the silicon and shellac look began to dominate the centerfolds about the same time. Allure is the woman's art of making real flesh appear divine. It is not surgical. "Explicit" and "naked" are its poisons. And there's the reason magazines like "Maxim" fail for me. They take the methodology and visual language of allure, and they use it to describe women who have been manufactured to be seen naked, not those to whom it properly belongs. They use poetic diction to write user manuals. INDEX - AUTHOR