November 18, 2010

Vanity of the bonfires

Ours wasn't this big.

Life on Goat Rope Farm is all about what Karl Marx once called "the idiocy of rural life." One rural tradition that we observed last weekend was an annual bonfire of scrap wood and brush unsuitable for the wood stove.

There is something fascinating about watching a bonfire. It's a primal thing. It makes me wonder what the old school Celtic bonfires of my ancestors were like. I probably will never find out, however, since I've been led to understand that there may be legal difficulties associated with the whole human sacrifice/wicker thing.

Oh well...

People have often used bonfires to get rid of things considered to be undesirable. The phrase "bonfire of the vanities" was used to describe one such kindled by the inhabitants of Renaissance Florence under the influence of the puritanical monk Savonarola long before it became the title of Tom Wolfe's 1980s novel.

Watching ours reminded me of one of Nathanial Hawthorne's short stories, "Earth's Holocaust." In it, social reformers make a huge bonfire of all things associated with the evils of the old society.

Towards the end, a few remaining malefactors are despairing over the dawn of a pure new era. They are reassured, however, by a dark stranger who has been grinning through out the whole proceeding. He tells them,

"There is one thing that these wiseacres have forgotten to throw into the fire, and without which all the rest of the conflagration is just nothing at all; yes- though they had burnt the earth itself to a cinder.'

'And what may that be?' eagerly demanded the last murderer.

'What but the human heart itself!' said the dark-visaged stranger, with a portentous grin. 'And unless they hit upon some method of purifying that foul cavern, forth from it will reissue all the shapes of wrong and misery-the same old shapes, or worse ones-which they have taken such a vast deal of trouble to consume to ashes. I have stood by, this live-long night, and laughed in my sleeve at the whole business. Oh, take my word for it, it will be the old world yet!'

Now that's a cheery thought for the day.

A SUPERHERO FOR OUR TIMES. It's a bird! It's a plane! No--it's Unemployed Man!

CUT THE CUTS. A new poll finds that only one third of Americans supports extending Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest.

MASSEY IN THE NEWS. Mediation efforts broke down in a case involving coal slurry injections, which means a trial is in the works. Meanwhile the company is blaming natural gas for the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

PARLAY VOO? Here's an interesting item on how languages shape thoughts.


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