Saturday, November 22, 2008

All...Men...are Like That?

It was difficult for me to resist today's Family Circus, wherein little Billy says in what is apparently complete innocence, "Daddy, my pen is stuck in your pencil sharpener." However, 1) I did a FC cartoon quite recently, and 2) that particular comic would make much better fodder for Utterly Filthy Filth for Our Times.* If Chaucer had known what a pencil sharpener was, he probably would have had a field day with this comic.

Luckily, fun stuff is also happening elsewhere on the funny pages. The Apartment 3G monk, identified by me a few days ago as the silent, contemplative Brother Lawrence, is gamely having a go at guessing what women talk about when they are alone together at their secret female bourbon parties. So far, the subjects of discussion have been Alan (a dead man) and Gary (a living man). It seems that once the ladies have drawn the mystic circle and chanted the runes of power, they tend to settle down to good long chats

Brother Lawrence interacts with women only very rarely. There are a few nuns who turn up at the monastery every once in a while, but he tends to avoid them. Nonetheless, he has a vivid imagination and has often thought about women, whom he regards in the same light as the dog-headed cannibals he has read about in books full of Isidore quotations.** The good Brother does, however, find himself frequently having to fall back on writing about what he knows, and what he knows is the world of men. Of course these women would discuss men. Doesn't everybody? Yet since they are women and thus completely alien, their conversations must necessarily be alien as well; they therefore talk about how frustrating men are, just as men in the same position might talk about how frustrating women were.

A major clue that this comic is the brainchild of a medieval monk lies in Tommie's final statement, which contains a Middle English pun. The word "male" means "male," but it can also mean "evil." Tommie is, in fact, coming out with an antimasculist rant: the very opposite of Brother Lawrence's natural inclination. He really does enjoy getting into the brains of creatures so completely inscrutable. If he knew about novels, he would be thinking about writing one.

*A site that doesn't exist but should.
**The dog-headed cannibals are actually only the tip of the iceberg. Just don't ask about the people with ears so huge they are able to use them as sunshades.


Michael said...

This cartoon works much better having been turned into Middle English. In Modern English*, Tommie just delivers a non sequitur. But the "male" pun raises her comment above the banal.

*The language spoken and occasionally written in England before Middle English was Old English (aka Anglo-Saxon). So why isn't Modern English called "New English"?

Gold-Digging Nanny said...

So, do dog-headed cannibals eat a) people, b) dogs, or c) dog-headed people?

Angry Kem said...

Gold-Digging Nanny: It's a knotty problem. Dog-headed cannibals were said to eat a) people or possibly c) dog-headed people...but, quoth various medieval thinkers, did the fact that we were referring to them as "cannibals" because we were afraid they would eat us mean we were acknowledging their humanity, as a cannibal was someone who consumed an equal on the Great Chain of Being? If we didn't acknowledge their humanity, what were they? Famously, St. Augustine waffled on the whole issue of the humanity of the monstrous races, eventually concluding that maybe they were human, or, if not, they weren't. (No, really. He really did phrase it just about that ambiguously.)

Michael: I know. At last, we have definitive proof that at least some of these comics are markedly better in Middle English.

Michael said...

According to legend Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague (c. 1520-1609) built a golem*. Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi (1656-1718) considered the question "could a golem could be a member of a minyan**?" Rabbi Tzvi determined that since a golem does not have a soul, it could not.

So at least one type of monster is not human.

*A golem is an animated being created entirely from inanimate matter. Rabbi Loew created the golem to defend the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks.

**According to the Talmud, a Jewish congregation gathered for prayer must consist of a minimum of ten adult male Jews. This congregation is called a minyan.

Note: I am not Jewish, but somehow I've made several comments about Jewish folklore and theology at this blog.

Angry Kem said...

Michael: I'm not Jewish either, but I've read a lot of golem stories. The thing about golems is that they are created by humans (albeit very holy ones). Medieval theologians were a bit baffled by the monstrous races because they had apparently been created by God; also, many of them appeared to be thinking creatures. The question became whether or not they had souls. Rabbi Tzvi knew the golem had no soul; medieval Christians weren't sure about the monsters.

The Prettiest said...

It seems to me that a golem, if properly obedient, would constitute a whole minion. *badum*

Was the question of golem soulitude really so easily dispatched? I would think it would be a rather thorny problem to say whether the invocation of god's name on its surface would in fact encourage god to put a soul there, since the alternative is god arrived on the scene, okayed the golem (it had to get life somewhere), but declined to finish the job.

Michael said...

The Prettiest:

Digging through the internet (my googlefoo is strong), I found Ohr Somayach:

The question has been raised as to why it was necessary for Rabbi Eliezer to come into conflict with the ban on liberating slaves in order to complete his minyan if he could simply have created a tenth man? The Talmudic sages certainly had the power to do so as is evident from the incident described in Mesechta Sanhedrin (65b). The Sage Rava created a man by using the mystical formula in "Sefer Hayetzira" and sent his creation to his colleague Rabbi Zeira. When the latter spoke to this creature and received no response he realized that this was a man-made man with no soul and the power of speech that goes with it. He therefore ordered it to return to its dust.

If Rabbi Eliezer preferred liberating his slave to making a man, it would seem that this is proof that a man-made man is not considered a Jew who can complete a minyan. What is interesting, however, is that the question of whether such a creature (commonly referred to as a "golem") is eligible for inclusion in a minyan was actually dealt with some three centuries ago by Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi in his Responsa of Chacham Tzvi (93). He concludes that even though there is an argument to be made that since the creations of tzaddikim are considered as their offspring and therefore the golem should be considered a Jew, the aforementioned incident of Rabbi Zeira consigning Rava's golem to the dust bin proves that such a creature cannot be included in a minyan. His reasoning is that Rabbi Zeira decided that the speechless creature had no value and if he was capable of completing a minyan he would not have so readily disposed of him.

There is the question about why Rabbi Tzvi did not prove his point from Rabbi Eliezer's reluctance to make a man.