Important Reflections on the Tao Te Ching.

The Tao Te Ching, sometimes translated as the “Classic of the Virtuous Way”, is rumored to have been written by Lao Tzu. He is said to have been a sage of the royal court, or also a magistrate or astrologer, perhaps during the Warring States Period, though others claim he was a contemporary of Confucius. In Chinese Daoism, he is venerated as one of the great elders present at creation (Taji) and is credited as the author of the Tao Te Ching.

While Confucianism, formed mainly from the aforementioned basis of the Analects, can be said to advocate for a strong state, rigid mores, and deference to cultural customs, the Tao Te Ching is uniquely distinct. Confucianism has much to say about politics, but Taoism is far more ontological and existential. As with early Gnostic Christianity, Taoism is concerned with the appropriate and formless “Way”, or Tao, of all things. In the Analects, Master Kong encourages individuals to make appropriate propitiations, or actions, but the Tao Te Ching encourages “not acting” (3) and centering oneself in the Tao, which is beyond good and evil, and Taoism is suspicious of the pursuit of knowledge, as is common for theology which prefaces faith over reason. However, the Tao Te Ching does offer some political advice for the Master: relinquish the desire to control, the Will to Power, and let the people lead with humility -a great Master allows the people to believe they have accomplished great things.

The text is composed of approximately 5,000 characters and 81 short chapters.

“Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will be blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity”
(9).

“Colors blind the eye.
Sounds deafen the ear.
Flavors numb the taste.
Thoughts weaken the mind.
Desires wither the heart.

The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.
He allows things to come and go.
His heart is open as the sky”
(12).

“A good traveller has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s teacher?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret”
(27).

“Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.

The more you know,
the less you understand.

The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing”
(47).

“The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold onto:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day’s work”
(50).


For this reading I used Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching.

Helpmates (1932) Review

Helpmates Director: James Parrot (1932)

★★☆☆☆

Helpmates is an amusing early Laurel and Hardy film lasting just over 21 minutes. It was released by MGM and tells the story of Ollie, a chubby married man, who throws a large house party while his wife is away on vacation. He receives a telegram from his wife stating she will return home early and he calls his friend Stan over to help cleanup.

The plot is simple and the efforts to clean the house are ruined when Stan stains Ollie’s only suit with soot right before he picks his wife up from the train station. While Ollie leaves for the train station, Stan returns the entire house to its former cleanliness. He then lights a fire in the fireplace that accidentally ignites the whole house and burns it down. Ollie returns home without his wife and with a black eye to find his house ruined. The film ends as it starts raining.

Helpmates is a decent little comedy, however it could easily be removed from a list of great films. It is often considered one of Laurel and Hardy’s best movies, even if the comedy has not lasted in ways that Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin has.

I Samuel Chapters 8-14: Israel’s Demand for a King

In the first book of Samuel, we find the Israelites in demand of a new form of governance. Recall the chaos and waywardness of the Israelite people in the book of Judges, as well as the failed rulership of the judges. Now, prophets like Samuel are no longer sufficient, and instead, the Israelites demand a single ruler: they request a king. What is the cause of the people of Israel suddenly demanding a king?

Saul_and_David_by_Rembrandt_Mauritshuis_621
Saul and David by Rembrandt (1651-1658)

Throughout the Torah and the History Books, Israel has been ruled by either 1) The Lord as he travels with them in the Ark of the Covenant, or 2) the Judges (such as Samuel). However, Samuel bears two children: Joel and Abiah, and neither “walk in his ways.” They chase after riches and bribery, rather than judging people with wisdom.

Therefore, the elders of Israel gather with Samuel to remind him that he is old, and they command him to appoint a king, “…now make us a king to judge us like all the other nations” (8:5). The people notice that their method of enacting justice is abnormal, when considered in contrast to other nations, and they want to be like all other nations. They have lost their desire for uniqueness appointed by The Lord in the early books of Genesis and Exodus. Curiously, in acknowledgement to Samuel, The Lord tells Samuel to hearken unto the voice of the people because they have rejected The Lord to reign over them.

Meanwhile Samuel’s father, Kish, loses his asses and sends Samuel to find them. Upon arrival, The Lord speaks in Samuel’s ear that Saul should reign over the Israelite people. When the tribe of Benjamin is awarded the lot, they raise up Saul who is taller than all the men from his shoulders up. Samuel announces that Saul is chosen by The Lord and there is none among them who can rival Saul, and the people chant ‘god save the king.’ This selection of a new king approaches the heart of a difficult matter in the ancient world: how to appoint a ruler. The democratic masses choose silly people (i.e. Saul is chosen based on his height) but for some reason God also chooses Saul, as well, only to later select a gentle sheepherder-turned-harpist named David.

Saul immediately justifies his kingship by defeating the Ammonites who threaten his power. He musters an army by instilling fear. Saul cuts up an ox and sends its pieces throughout Israel as a warning to those who rise up against him. “And the fear of The Lord fell on the people, and they came out with one consent” (11:7). Saul views his rulership jointly with Samuel, as there is no ‘wall of separation’ between church and the ship of state. Upon victory Samuel reminds the people of The Lord and to follow his ways, rather than the ways of politics. In the Bible, we discover a conflict between the city of man, and the city of God, best exemplified in Augustine’s seminal work. However, Augustine attempts to make a compromise with politics by urging Christians to become like “pilgrims” on earth by following the laws (i.e. ‘give unto Caesar what belongs to him’), but to have full faith and loyalty in the celestial kingdom which is unending, unlike the city of man which, though it endures, ultimately rises and falls. Samuel does not make these same capitulations in the books of Samuel. 

Unlike Samuel, Saul leads as a warrior king. He wars with Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zobah, and most notably against the Philistines. He also destroys the Amalekites and brings Agag, their king, out before the people and cuts him into pieces. After this, Samuel visits Saul no longer. Saul has apparently chosen a dark and ungodly path.

The Lord calls Samuel to travel to Bethlehem to find a new king as Saul has displeased Him. This time, The Lord commands Samuel not to appoint a king based on physical stature, like Saul’s height, but rather to look at his heart. The Lord rejects all of Jesse’s children except the youngest sheep herder, who is a ruddy and pleasing boy to to look at named David. David is sent to the court of Saul as a harpist in order to ease an evil spirit that is plaguing Saul. As David remains at Saul’s court, and during the Philistine wars, David is ultimately chosen to kill the warrior Goliath of the Philistines, in the now classic tale. Upon victory, he is praised by the people and Saul becomes jealous of David and tries to kill him. However David is loved by the people and he eventually marries Saul’s daughter.

David becomes a captain in the army and Saul eventually repents and reconciles with David until he and his three sons are killed at the hands of the Philistines. The book of I Samuel ends with the death of Samuel and also the death of Saul, who falls on his own sword rather than being taken by the “uncircumcised” Philistines.


For this reading I used Robert Alter’s masterful translation as well as the King James Version.

Scarface: The Shame of the Nation (1932) Review

Scarface: The Shame of the Nation  Director: Howard Hawks (1932)

“The World Is Yours”

Scar2

★★★☆☆

A United Artists film, Scarface is one of the greatest gangster films ever made. Following from Little Caesar and The Public EnemyScarface details the rise and fall of a Chicago gangster (modeled on the life of Al Capone). The film was infamously later remade in 1983 starring Al Pacino.

It opens with a title that reads:

“This picture is an indictment of gang rule in America and of the callous indifference of the government to his constantly increasing menace to our safety and our liberty. Every incident in this picture is the reproduction of an actual occurrence, and the purpose of this picture is to demand of the government: ‘What are you going to do about it?’ The government is your government. What are YOU going to do about it?”

The plot follows Tony Camonte (played by Paul Muni) and his boss Johnny Lovo (played Osgood Perkins) as they kill one of the top crime bosses on Chicago’s Southside. Tony chases after Johnny’s girl and also angers Johnny by conducting a number of drive-by shootings against the Irish gangs on the Northside (in a version of the notorious Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago). Tony tells Johnny’s girl that he looks out at the giant sign reading: The World Is Yours and he believes it. Eventually, Johnny arranges for Tony to be killed in a drive-by, but he escapes and kills Johnny, claiming himself the leader of the gang. However he goes to meet his sister who is recently married to a close comrade of Tony’s, unbeknownst to Tony. He kills his comrade and appears to fall into a depression as his gang begins falling apart. The police close in on his headquarters, a stray bullet kills his sister, and Tony is shot and killed beneath the sign reading: The World Is Yours.

The film is based on Armitage Trail’s novel of the same name. It was a highly controversial film that had to be heavily edited to minimize the violence. The subtitle was also added because it was accused of glamorizing the violent mob life.

Image result for scarface 1932

Scarface is a good movie. Paul Muni gives a great performance (capturing Capone’s awkward mannerisms) and the film takes its influences from earlier gangster films, as well as elements of German Expressionism.