Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Island of Dr. Moreau

Just as an introduction to H.G.Wells's novel here while I have the book at home! My youngest son has swiped it off to read at school and I've snuck it out of his backpack to node about it while he's on Winter Break. I have yet to see a movie that does justice to what H.G. Wells intended in his writings...the moral questions inherent in the meanings of his writing, while the two movies that I know of appear to focus on the special effects of horror it really is worth the read for theological insights. Now available in The Great Grand E2 Book Lotto! .
H. G. Wells along with the likes of Jules Verne gave birth to the genres of science fiction and fantasy. While Verne focused on the hard science story, Wells reflected on fanciful science. They both envisioned and wrote about a terrific number of scientific advancements a century before science caught up with their speculations.
Wells predates even Hitler's death camps in The Island of Dr. Moreau as he tells the story of a mad scientist that has been banned from London and socially exiled by his peers to an uncharted island in the middle of the Pacific. Here he goes forward to carry out his appalling surgical experiments on both imported and indigenous animals with the goal of turning them into human beings.
Pendrick becomes shipwrecked and an unwitting guest, horrified at first, accepting in the interim and finally he becomes the leader of the poor creatures Moreau has altered both in brain and body.....
"If I may say it," said I, after a time. "you have saved my life"
"Chance," he answered; "just chance."
"I prefer to make my thanks to the accessible agent."
Thank no one. You had the need, and I the knowledge, and I injected and fed you much as I might have collected a specimen. I was bored, and wanted something to do. If I'd been jaded that day, or hadn't liked your face, well--; it's a curious question where you would have been now."
This damped my mood a little.
"At any rate--" I began.
It's chance, I tell you," he interrupted, "as everything is in man's life. Only the asses won't see it. Why am I here now-- an outcast from civilization--instead of being a happy man, enjoying all the pleasures of London? Simply because--eleven years ago--I lost my head for ten minutes on a foggy night."
Well's grabs far into the human psyche, even beyond the physical attributes of humans and dares to define humanity, to ask about the very existence of the creature within each of us, and inquires of the reader.....mayhap, given the right set of circumstances and the lack of civilized laws, we too could revert to the wild.
Today, organ transplants happen daily, but the year this story was published 1896, even speculating about these ideas, much less trans-species implantations, was cause enough to be exiled without question from the medical community.
The theological implications of The Island of Dr. Moreau are undeniable. The creatures worship Moreau "their creator," keep his laws as commandments and are punished if they transgress those laws. Moreau suddenly dies leaving the haplessly shipwrecked Pendick struggling uncertainly to control the lesser brained beasts by alluding that a vengeful Moreau will return if they don't continue to keep the law. He preys on their fears of being subjected to more surgery in The House of Pain......and the reader is sympathetic to his plight of unwitting compliance to Moreau's legacy.
Then Well's serves a crushing blow...all of the creatures return to the wild after the breakdown of the laws. The threat of pain isn't enough to keep the mark of the beast from creeping back in and overcoming their underlying natures and they revert. Even as Moreau 'saw' the man in all creatures, Wells shows the reader the beast in all men....he asks us to answer hard questions.....Are they our laws that keeps us civilized? Are they our civil laws that keep man in order? Would the beast that is in us , which is always seeking self-aggrandizement, overcome our higher sense of altruism if there were no laws, no leaders, or nothing worthy of our faith?...questions Wells dare to ask us and we ourselves. A fascinating read full of vivid imagery, exciting and horrifying opening up new avenues of thought challenging the reader to a difficulty and important introspections....... truly a mark of great literature.
The Island of Dr. Moreau is Well's second major classic work of fiction after The Time Machine Each of his works is fraught with philosophical questions. Clearly throughout his body of work he was a man clutched in moral conflict, and his dark pessimistic view of mankind's future makes for brilliant fiction. He imagined himself as a social architect and cautionary prophet spending the decade of the 1930's warning that humankind was posed on the brink of disaster, crusading for a new social order through his many essays on constructive sociology.
Wells died in 1946 at the age of 80 after a lifetime of writing over one hundred books, short stories and articles.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet (1832-1883) was born into the ranks of the Parisian bourgeoisie on January 29, 1832. His Mother, Eugenie-Desiree Fournier, was a woman of refinement and goddaughter of Charles Bernadotte, the Crown Prince of Sweden. Édouard's father, Auguste Manet, was a magistrate and judge who hoped that Édouard would someday follow in his footsteps, but Édouard was destined to follow another path. From a wealthy family and grounded in the academic tradition of the French Academy, Manet's love for Vallesques and Goya and his many paintings are reflective of Spanish influences.

The Realism of Gustave Courbet and his contemporaries had hardly established themselves before a new kind of Realism began to lead off in a very different direction. In the autumn of 1864, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, an English painter described in a letter home detailing French Realism after a visit to the studios of Corbet and Manet:

"There is a man named Manet..........whose pictures are for the most part mere scrawls, and who seems to be one of the lights of the Realists school. Courbet, the head of it, is not much better."

This snobbish dismissal of Courbet and Manet joined the two artists as Realists, but missed their differences completely. Gustave Corbet, himself told of Manet's work in 1867:

"I myself shouldn't like to meet this young man..... I should be obliged to tell him I don't understand anything about his paintings and I don't want to be disagreeable to him"

It's important to note that it was during this time that Paris launched a massive modernization and revitalization of the city. Up until 1852, the city had retained its medieval infrastructure which was now becoming cumbersome because of the growing urban population. These modernization efforts not only affected the physical environment of Paris but the cultural and social atmosphere as well. Many people were employed as streets were widened and lengthened, store fronts redesigned, buildings torn down and redeveloped. Paris was to be the most beautiful and progressive city in the world. It was this modernity with which Manet chose to concern himself.

This course of modern painting shifted into a new era with Édouard Manet . He not only began to record the appearance of the physical world but aspired to the authentic representation of the color and light that reveal the world to the eye. In his endeavors, Manet, the Realist, became the point of departure for the latter Impressionist transformation of the great tradition in painting that began earlier with Giotto di Bondone.

Manet put great store in being accepted at the French Academy or more commonly referred to as simply The Salon. In fact, he believed that success as an artist could only be obtained through recognition there. Even though a journalist in 1874 had made fun of Claude Monet's Impression-Sunrise by using the term Impressionism, the debate over the value of Impressionistic painting started eleven years earlier with Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (also known as the Luncheon on the Grass).

The Salon jury of 1863 had been exceptionally brutal and thousands of paintings had been refused. To counter these refusals, the Salon des Refuses was established and it was there that Manet chose to exhibit his Dejeuner sur l'herbe As irony would have it, it was the public seeking the avant-garde at the Salon des Refusés was astounded by Manets' Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, originally entitled simply The Bath. Although influenced by Raphael and Giorgione, Dejeuner did not bring Manet accolades and praise. Detractors thought Dejuener to be anti-academic, politically suspect and the fallout controversy surrounding this painting has made Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe a benchmark in academic discussions of modern art. The nude in Manet's painting was no nymph, or mythological being...she was a modern Parisian women cast into a contemporary setting with two clothed men. Many found this to be quite vulgar and begged the question "Who's for lunch?" Critics also had much to say about Manet's technical abilities. His harsh frontal lighting and elimination of mid tones rocked ideas of traditional academic training. And yet, it is also important to take note that not everyone criticized Manet, for it was also Dejeuner which set the stage for the advent of Impressionism.

Olympia also painted in 1863, caused a similar uproar and the controversy surrounding these two paintings truly horrified Manet. It was not at all his intention to create a scandal. Manet was not a radical artist, such as Courbet nor was he a bohemian, as the critics had speculated. Recently wed to Suzanne Leenhoff, the well mannered and well bred Manet was an immaculately groomed member of high society. As Henri Fantin-Latour's Portrait of Manet suggests - this man was the quintessential Parisian flaneur

Political events between the years 1867-1871 were disorderly ones for Paris, and the Franco-Prussian War left Paris besieged and defeated. Manet turned his eye to these events in his works entitled Execution of Maximilian, Civil War and The Barricade. In 1870, Manet sent his family south to protect them from the fighting in Paris and signed on as a gunner in the National Guard. There is much evidence by letters to family and friends, which expresses Manet's dismay and horror at the war and these paintings stand as testimonials to Manet's sentiments. The Execution of Maximilian reached out to Francisco Goya's Third of May but despite its masterly influence the painting was banned from being exhibited in Paris due to the "Frenchness" of the executioners costume.

By 1874 the Cafe Guerbois, near Manet's studio became the gathering spot for Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Degas and Pissarro. Manet's reputation was firmly established as an experimental artist and leader of the Impressionists. He was less than enthusiastic about his role as leader of the avant-garde. He never exhibited in any of the eight Impressionist exhibitions of 1874 and yet by no means did Manet abandon the Impressionists often rendering financial support to his friends who needed it. He chose instead to remain focused on the Salon and was never truely assimilated into the true Impressionistic style.

Throughout his oeuvre Manet painted modern day life, yet many of his paintings are so much more than simple imitative portrayals. Édouard Manet may have been 'a child of the century." One is reminded of the novels of Manet's friend, Émile Zola who showered him with accolades of his daring modernity. He wished to shine in the Parisian Salon where he did not attempt to revive 'great painting,' but tried to speak in a new voice. Manet may have also been mindful of Baudelaire' observation that

".....we are surrounded by the heroism of modern life, (but there is as yet no painter) who will know how to tear out of life its epic side and make us see, with color or drawing, how grand we are in out neckties and varnished boots!

Always controversial, Manet wished to record the days of his life using his own unique vision. From beggars, to prostitutes, to the bourgeoisie he desired to be true to himself and to reproduce "not great art, but sincere art." If his work seems to be full of contradictions, or to use a lack of perspective from time to time, then one could say that was the true reality of Paris in Manet's time. He died, in Paris, on April 30, 1883.

Selected Sources

De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Édouard Manet

Justus, Kevin. "Art and Culture II." Tucson , Arizona.
1992. (Lecture presented at Pima Community College.)

Picture Source

Thursday, November 26, 2009


    Over the past several centuries, no one plant has probably played a greater and more vital role in the lives of humankind in the southwestern United States than the short stature, crooked mesquite. Relied on for a myriad of necessities such as food, weapons, shelter, and medicine, early southwestern aboriginal inhabitants drew upon the mesquite in most every aspect of their lives, even to a position of honor in their religious ceremonies. Mesquite during times of drought and pestilence supplied early western travelers and settlers with survival, both in food and shelter, as most all parts of the tree were used. Mesquite that dominated the dense brush on millions of acres of the southwestern United States conveyed many emotions to humans who looked at it as a noble warrior, who confronted it as a powerful adversary, or who drew to it for survival.
    (excerpted from The Magnificent Mesquite, Ken E. Rogers)

Mesquite (Prosopis pallida) is pronounced mess-KEET, it's also known as algarroba in most South American countries. In Spanish it's spelled mezquite, and the Nahuatl Indians spell the word mizquitl. When the Conquistadors searched for gold in the 1500's through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, mesquite seedpods served as a dense, high-energy horse fodder; three centuries later, the southwest is still plush with these hardy trees.

A common desert tree here in Arizona currently enjoying a great popularity for outdoors grilling. It's almost smokeless and burns very slowly, with its dark wood of tangled grains it burns hot with an unmistakable aroma. There's nothing like a thick slab of yellow crookneck squash grilled to crunchy and tasty perfection. And while cooking with wood and mesquite chips is good but nothing compares to cooking with the dried mesquite bean pods. The flavor is much richer.

It's one of the few trees that thrive in the desert heat. It has no known insect or disease pest and spreads readily by seeds or sprouting from its crown. There are two on the west side of our home in our backyard that provide shade in the summer and since they are deciduous they lose their leaves in the winter allowing the sun in along with some warmth an energy wise saving strategy. I put them there because nothing can kill a mesquite tree, not even me. When the world ends, I will be dead and only Cher and my mesquite trees will survive. The Tucson Electric Company may still provide them to homeowners for two dollars to help cut costs of delivery. With the canopy pruned high they make a nice landscape plant and with their graceful branches, feathery leaves, and fragrant flowers give the impression of cool almost tropical feeling. Wielding sharp three-inch thorns, and growing in dense thickets, birds are attracted to them for shelter and long thorns as protection from them feline varmints.

If you've ever thought they look a lot like the acacias of the African deserts that have been trimmed into feathery graceful arches across the landscapes by browsing giraffes you're in the right family! Both belong are legumes that belong to the Pea family or the more scientific name Fabaceae.

They range across the Sonoron, Mojave and Chihuahuan deserts from western Texas, west to extreme southwestern Utah, southeastern California and into Mexico. Typically found at elevations below 5,000 feet they are well adapted to the desert and are especially valuable for uses such as lumber. Its wood is hard and fine grained that polishes beautifully. It's a common sight to see them used as fence posts and the roots are amazingly large in comparison to the size of the tree. For example, Acacia roots in Egypt average around 98 feet deep, while mesquite roots may reach up to 175 feet deep.

Many Texas farmers consider this tree to be an aggressive and invasive pest among their crops, while others find creative ways to put them to good use. Some times after a late summer rain when the ground was soft, Granddaddy and Dad would dig up the roots and set them in a kiln to dry for fire wood to heat the house in the winters. Here in the Santa Cruz valley south of Tucson is a stand of mesquite forest that has trees reaching as tall as 20 feet high while out on the drier mesas they tend to be scrubbier and thicker, yet still a fair shade tree at half the height.

Did you know that the seed of the mesquite bean is so hard that it will tear up a good coffee grinder? What is needed is a mill called a hammer mill. To make mesquite flour meal, you can grind them with a coffee grinder but remove the seeds first. You will still have the same taste and much of the nutrition, just a little less protein. You may be interested to know that while the soybean's protein content is about 35% the mesquite bean has a protein content of approximately 39%.

Here's a charming little recipe for Mesquite Bean Jelly I found on line. If you try it let me know how it turns out.

    Mesquite Bean Syrup/Jelly/Sugar
      Pick the beans from the tree after they are ripe - - tan to reddish brown.
      An apron full.
      Break pods into short lengths. Cover with water and boil slowly for 45 minutes.
      Mash with a potato masher, or the like.
      Strain through cheese cloth. Set first brew aside.
      Boil the mashed pulp again for 45 minutes with water to cover.
      Strain again. Discard pulp.
      Combine again, strongly over high heat at first, then low until liquid becomes light to medium syrup.
      Add pectin or Sure-Jell and lemon juice (1/2 lemon for each of cups of liquid) for jelly.
      Continue boiling, carefully, until crystallization, for sugar.

It is as native as rattlesnakes and mocking birds; as blended into the life of the land as cornbread and tortillas. The tree exudes a gum that is equal to the gum Arabicand was used by untold generations before the pyramids were built; we are still making use of it. The mesquite trees greatest asset lies in its seedpods, which look similar to green beans and grow in clusters, nourishing about everything that either walks or flies in the desert. Cattle that feed on the open range will leave good grass to browse on a mesquite bush. Traditionally the desert dwelling Native Americans have gathered the seeds to make mesquite meal for breads called pinole and use it as a condiment or spice because of its natural sweet taste. They also make use of the bark for fabrics and baskets, as well as, in medicines for stomach ailments and as eyewash. Many critters such as the Harris Ground Squirrel eat the seeds too. The coyote's diet in late summer and fall is composed of 80 percent or more of mesquite beans.

    Primroses burn their yellow fires
    Where grass and roadway meet;
    Feathered and tasseled like a queen,
    Is every old mesquite.
There are three types of mesquites found in the American southwest; the Honey Mesquite, sometimes called the Texas Mesquite, (Prosopis glandulosa), Screwbean Mesquite (Prosopis pubescens ) and Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina).

Honey Mesquite

    This tree grows into a large spreading mesquite 30 feet wide and 25 feet high, with a weeping form. Under hot and dry conditions it will stay a shrub. The bright fern like leaves are 4 inches long with individual leaflets 1/8 inch wide by 1 inch long. Thorns grow among the foliage, which vary from ¼ inch to 2-3 inches long. They bloom in April and May producing straw colored leathery pods about 5 inches in length and ½ in width. It's native distribution ranges from Kansas and Oklahoma, much of Texas, eastern New Mexico, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas, Mexico. It is typically found growing on desert plains and along washes its deep roots carrying it through periods of drought. It grows well in the full sun and will adapt to shallow rocky soil but its growth will remain stunted. As you might have guessed from the northerly extent of its range, this tree is very cold hardy, to 0º .

Screwbean Mesquite

    Uncommonly but sometimes called the Tornillo the Screwbean Mesquite gets it's moniker from its unusually shaped seedpods. Coiled and 1-2 inches long and ¼ inch wide, they are dark tan and grow in clusters. Fuzzy yellow flower spikes, two inches long appear from April to June and even into the summer months. A large shrub with multiple trunks it can reach heights of 15 feet and a canopy with a similar spread. The foliage is a medium green with compound leaves measuring a dainty two inches long and ½ inches wide, with as many as eighteen tiny leaflets per leaf. Three quarter inch spines grow in pairs along the branches and the bark is shaggy. It grows well in areas that get periodic water like flood plains and washes. Found up to 4,000 feet in elevation it grows in California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, southern Arizona and New Mexico, and western Texas, as well as in Baja California, Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico.
Velvet Mesquite
    This is probably the mesquite most commonly found in Tucson landscaping because it can be grown on golf courses and lawns. In its natural habitat, Velvet Mesquite grows along washes, in valleys, and on desert plains. It ranges form 1,000 to 5,000 feet in elevation and is distributed throughout southeastern California, southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, west Texas, and Sonora, Mexico. This tree is gnarled and quite shaggy with fine soft hairs that cover the young growth. The fernlike compound leaves are 3-4 inches long and up to 1 inch wide, divided into tiny leaflets. The gray green foliage is deciduous in winter. Spines are present at the base of the leaves and are ¾ inches long and often in pairs. Velvet Mesquite is a large shrub to a tree depending on growing conditions. Near watercourses it can reach heights of 20 –30 feet and 15 feet wide. Springtime and sometimes in summer, 3 inch long light yellow fuzzy flowers, droop from the branches. Pods 5 inches long by ½ inch wide mature from the flowers, typically tan in color, but sometimes beautifully streaked with red.

Would you like another recipe from mesquites?


Judy Mielke, Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes,227-230 (1993).

Mesquite Majic

Rogers, Ken E., The Magnificent Mesquite (2000)

"Faith" is fine invention (185)

"Faith" is a fine invention
For gentlemen who see,
But Microscopes are prudent
In an emergency!

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Composed in 1860 "Faith" is a fine invention is typically short and with a playful twist and is written for the scientists. Plain yet provocative words literally, it says that the gentlemen only believe what they can see; for those are hard to see by the naked eye, they rely on science which is symbolized by "Microscopes."

True meaning is always deeper than the meaning of her words and if one sits and thinks long enough the idea arises is "faith" an invention of man? Someone must have invented the word faith and associated a meaning to it. The Webster dictionary defines "faith" as a firm belief in something for which there is no proof. Did man invent the belief? Did he invent the objects of his belief? Is Emily ridiculing those with shallow beliefs? Is it not prudent of science to call all else faith that which is without scientific instruments to verify the premises ?

Science is in the dominion of man and the universe itself is in the dominion of God. She makes it seem like child's play with these few words. When I talk about God and faith with my scientist friends, a common reaction is "show me the existence of God."

I think Emily is chiding cannot determine the existence of God, because scientific knowledge is only a small part of the universe.


The Poet's Corner

Public domain text taken from Representative Poetry Online