Monthly Archives: October 2006

P minus 2

The grave is, of course, immaculate. It’s not just that the “Bahá’í Cemetery,” as the official signs call it, shows the same signs of life and use that all the normal, well-visited sections do (while trying to find it, I also wandered through the Catholic and Greek Orthodox areas). Manifesting exactly the same care that Bahá’ís dedicate to the grounds in the Holy Land, the area around the Guardian’s memorial is not merely groomed, but peculiarly flat. Most of the other graves — even the lovely, expensive ones — don’t lie exactly horizontal, either side-to-side or back-to-front, and there is in general a homey lumpiness to the surface of the cemetery, as though the deceased were not so much buried as all sleeping peacefully together under one blanket. But the Guardian’s area — perhaps fifteen by thirty feet, and bordered with a low, unpretentious hedge — seems to have been bulldozed flat, which is indeed perhaps the only safe way to put up a memorial pillar, but which also makes it instantly identifiable as someplace set apart even from the rest of the hallowed grounds.

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dramatis personae

Film, of course, has certain advantages — it can move the audience closer or further away in space; it can pretend to reveal a seamless 360-degreee area with no “backstage” or “wings”; it can rely much more heavily on “practical” lighting — i.e., light from real sources; it can add, in a much more convincing fashion, background noise and atmosphere. But perhaps its main advantage is that we are quite conscious of the division between our own space and the space in which the story takes place. The action of the film is not happening in the room with us; it’s not clear where it is happening, but I think it’s fair to say that for most viewers the world of the film exists in a kind of psychological space, almost like memory or imagination. Since we are not being constantly reminded of the physical reality of the production (and its limitations), we are much more willing to accede to its claims on our credulity.

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it’s not written in stone

That the world has gotten so close together as to be claustrophobically small is now a matter of accepted cliche, and the need for a common auxiliary language has become increasingly obvious. Although several languages have become de facto common tongues (notably French and English, and in the Americas Spanish), there is the trouble of perceived or actual cultural imperialism if we ever decide to officially adopt one of them as the de jure auxiliary language of the world and require it to be taught everywhere.

On the other hand, inventing a whole language is not only an incredibly daunting task, but an unrewarding one, for the simple reason that people don’t like to be early adopters of something they can’t use. Heck, I love learning languages, and even I can imagine myself having a conversation with an Esperanto enthusiast that would go something like this:

Esperanto guy: Hey, Jamal, wanna learn Esperanto? It’s the wave of the future — soon we’ll all be able to communicate in this new language, without denying our own linguistic heritage or having to have other people’s language imposed on us.

Me: I see. And how many native speakers of Esperanto are there right now?

Esperanto guy: Several hundred!

Me: Oh.

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the message which hath been revealed by God

All of which only goes to show that people may miss the meanings of words — and, by extension, whole sentences — even in their native tongue. This is perhaps nowhere more true than in poetic works and religious works, and the Tablet of Ahmad qualifies as both. It is entirely possible, after all, that Bahá’u’lláh is operating on a couple of levels here — perhaps even in a kind of visual pun using Arabic script, giving us the singing bird (or leaf), but also saying that “this page” — the page which you are reading — is singing with holy and sweet melodies, is calling you to the court of the presence of the Generous One, is informing you of the message which has been revealed by God. On the other hand, the use of the “sukkun” to distinguish between “warqah” and “waraqah” seems to indicate that He had a very singular meaning in mind, and it is this, admittedly obscure, meaning which Shoghi Effendi rendered into the English.

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that’s definitely semen

Breillat’s observations on male viciousness, though radically without context, are not without merit, and her wry comparisons of doctors to gang-rapists are pretty funny. Her celebration of Marie’s pubic hair may not be as bracing in Europe, but in America, where among the younger generation pubes are rapidly becoming a mark of shame, it feels refreshingly freespirited. Finally, although I found much of this boring and frustrating, it can’t be denied that Breillat has a vision and a sensibility uniquely hers, putting her in a club with only a handful of women (Agnes Varda, Leni Riefenstahl, and possibly Samira Makhmalbaf are the only others I can think of immediately) trying for greatness in film.

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