Thursday, March 16, 2017

trump & the Limitations of Literalism

It is now 2017 and, in the words of St. Paul, Americans are  "hearing without listening" to their much loved, much misunderstood leader.

When he cries out to us, as did Jeremiah the Bullfrog in days of yore, we hear his message, yea, but listen wrongly, believing, like children, that his meaning is literal. Thus, we miss out on his multi-layered wisdom, merely licking the glitter of the icing while forfeiting the deep truth of the cake as a whole.

Taking wonderful stories literally has been a problem for mankind since the birth of literature, long, long before Santa Claus became a metaphor for Americans spending over $600 billion to show their great love for each other. 

I personally remember taking the story of Noah's Ark literally, causing me to be sore afraid at the first sound of rain on our tin roof. But later fate provided me with a spiritual mentor, Billy Shaughnessy, a kid in the eighth grade who could tuck his eyelids so that his eyeballs bulged frightfully, all in an effort to ridicule ol' lady Sampson, a substitute teacher who suffered from a thyroid disorder. 

Billy told me the Noah narrative was merely a complex allegory, laced with lacunae and redaction, penned by more than one author and rooted in ancient Sumerian water myths. 

In addition to the usual anti-Flood arguments trotted out by scientists and atheists, Billy claimed that if the entire earth were covered with water (or milk, for that matter), the added weight would cause the planet's rotation to wobble, creating a sloshing effect like no other.

No, Billy said, the Flood is an ancient fiction serving mainly to make God's character more "authentic" for those who have ears and hear

For example: Early in the pre-history of God's new creation (Earth), things were going so badly, much like trump's presidency in our own time, that God was embarrassed by his lack of foresight, and was consequently mercilessly ridiculed when He joined the other gods during their yearly Divine Conventions.

"Oh, Yahweh," they'd say, "You really messed it up this time! Did you not foresee that humans would stink up your big blue marble like a skunk with a stomach virus?! What were you thinking? Ha ha ha ha and LOL!!"

So God said to himself, "Better to drown almost every human and animal -- including fishes -- than to be considered a failure!" How very human! How much easier it is to identify with such a maker who makes mistakes and acknowledges them in a mature fashion! Any child who has set out to build St. Peter's Basilica with toothpicks can relate to this behavior.

Had I continued to take the story literally, all of this would've been hidden from me.
This is an actor playing a 969-year-old man, but it's just an illusion. The actor is only 79! And Methuselah wasn't literally 969, just symbolically. Fun fact: When Methuselah was 80, his gastroenterologist told him, "Good news! You're not going to need any more colonoscopies!" His father Enoch, on the other hand, continued to endure the process until he was airlifted to Paradise while he still had a perfectly healthy colon.
Another early example of fallacious and harmful literalism is the belief that the biblical Methuselah lived for 969 years. The father of Noah, Methuselah was best known for living a long, long time, finally dying of old age just days before his 970th birthday. This was a huge disappointment to "the Big 'Thuse," as he was known on the street, because he was obsessed with outliving his father, Enoch, who never actually died.

To put this into a modern perspective, if Methuselah were alive today, he would've been born in 1048 C.E., about the time real Macbeth was king of Scotland and Leofric was the Bishop of Exeter.

But scholars now know, according to Billy, that Hebrew writers of that time used lifespans as an indication of a character's virtue or as part of the ancient belief in numerology. In the case of Methuselah, for example, the sum of 9+6+9 is 24, the writer's subtle foreshadowing of the 12 disciples combined with the 12 tribes of Israel.

And now, literalism rears its figurative ugly head again.

For example, during the primaries, trump seemed to promise his rabid followers, composed chiefly of frustrated Rust Belters and Russians, that he would build "a great wall," adding "and nobody builds a better wall than me, believe me." 

Realists leapt at the bait but ignored the fish beneath. As his translators pointed out, he didn't mean an actual wall, but a metaphorical distancing of good Americans longing to be great from their "worser" angels, the drug-dealer and rapist within that we all strive to restrain.

Granted, our leader has worked in a $2 billion down payment on a literal wall, but the money itself will be figurative. 

As for the wildly misunderstood Access Hollywood "pussy-grabbing" video, we now know that our leader used "pussy" as a colorful synecdoche for the "essence of woman" or "the soul that rests beneath or beyond the patina of pudendum." Far from the vulgarity the realist's ear hears, trump was articulating our deep desire to know the Other, from the inside out.

And the claim that Obama personally wire tappped trump Towers -- well, sure, if you want to take that literally, he was wrong. But again, our leader was using his favorite literary device, a synecdoche tinged with metonymy, to say "Obama is part of a master Deep State plan to destroy my presidency." In this trope, the towers stand for trump's manhood, and to tapp that manhood -- well, the reader can take it from there.

Trapped in our childish desire for facts, forever favoring realism over hallucinogenic crypto-expressionism, we fail as a nation to prosper from the Dumbledorean, Rafikian sagacity uttered in our leader's arcane proclamations. 

But thanks to the tutelage of Billy Shaughnessy, I hear what he is saying, I sense the impeccable deep structure beneath our leader's Seussian, Rube Goldbergian undiagrammable syntax. 

His administration is truly a well-oiled machine, and if you don't believe me, you certainly will after some big fat beautiful negotiations. 

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