Steve Martin Tries to Write

Today’s encore selection – from Born Standing Up by Steve Martin. A young Steve Martin, still struggling for even modest success and confronted by the striking originality of contemporary comedians Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Lenny Bruce and Tom Lehrer realizes that he will have to try to write original material to succeed:
“In logic class, I opened my textbook — the last place I was expecting to find comic inspiration — and was startled to find that Lewis Carroll, the supremely witty author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was also a logician. He wrote logic textbooks and included argument forms based on the syllogism, normally presented in logic books this way:
All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
Lewis Carroll self portrait

“But Carroll’s were more convoluted and they struck me as funny in a new way:

1) Babies are illogical.
2) Nobody is despised who can manage a crocodile.
3) Illogical persons are despised.
Therefore, babies cannot manage crocodiles.
“And:
1) No interesting poems are unpopular among people of real taste.
2) No modern poetry is free from affectation.
3) All your poems are on the subject of soap bubbles.
4) No affected poetry is popular among people of taste.
5) Only a modern poem would be on the subject of soap bubbles.
Therefore, all your poems are uninteresting.
“These word games bothered and intrigued me. Appearing to be silly nonsense, on examination they were absolutely logical — yet they were still funny. The comedy doors opened wide, and Lewis Carroll’s clever fancies from the nineteenth century expanded my notion of what comedy could be. I began closing my show by announcing, ‘I’m not going home tonight; I’m going to Bananaland, a place where only two things are true, only two things: One, all chairs are green; and two, no chairs are green.’ Not at Lewis Carroll’s level, but the line worked for my contemporaries and I loved implying that the one thing I believed in was contradiction.”
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

Author: Steve Martin
Published: Scribner a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Copyright 2007 by 40 Share Productions, Inc.
Pages: 74-75

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the purpose of pilgrimages

Today’s selection — from Medieval Christianity by Kevin Madigan. Holy pilgrimages have been central to many religions, from Muslims traveling to Mecca to Hindus traveling to the Ganges. In the middle ages, thousands upon thousands of European Christians traveled to shrines in Rome, Jerusalem, and elsewhere. One observer claimed to have seen sixty thousand on the banks of the River Jordan alone. Most traveled to be healed, with the hope that the closer they were to the shrine the greater their chance for restored health. Some traveled for devotional reasons. Others traveled as penance for crimes:

“Almost all of the aspects of devotion to saints — miracles, cures, relics, shrine accounts — come together in the practice of pilgrimage. Pilgrimages can be con­sidered in terms of graduated distances from the pilgrim’s town to the shrine. Thus we can say that there were local, regional, and international pilgrimage shrines. As always, a pilgrimage could be undertaken to honor and venerate a saint. Yet at local shrines especially, many pilgrims hobbled, stumbled, lurched, or crawled to a saint’s shrine in a quest, often anguished, for the alleviation of agony; others were carried in carts. … The closer to the shrine a pilgrim could get, the better the chances for a cure. …
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Christian Pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem
“Some pilgrims traveled not because they were ill or even because they wished to do so but to satisfy for a penance imposed by either ecclesiastical or secular au­thorities. For very serious sins, such as murder, bestiality, or sacrilege, pilgrimage to a distant, international shrine was prescribed as fitting penance. Those guilty of serious crimes could be identified: they were barefoot and fettered with chains. Murderers were required to attach their weapons to their fetters. The very worst crimes were occasionally punished with a sentence of perpetual pilgrimage. Many of these pilgrims simply wandered from shrine to shrine in the hope that a saint full of pity might miraculously break their chains, a sign that a murderer had been forgiven. Usually the chains were left at shrines in gratitude and as a sign of the power of the saint who had secured the forgiveness of God. …
“Pilgrimage caused physical suffering, as much travel does, and the rigors of a long journey were imagined as an imitation of Christ; such rigors were thus thought to bring pilgrims closer to Christ and to have intrinsic religious value. Pilgrims to Jerusalem would interpret the intercessory act of a saint as a fresh beginning to be celebrated ritually by bathing in the Jordan. This was imagined as a second baptism, one that made the twenty-mile walk from Jerusalem to the Jordan well worthwhile. So many travelers to the Holy Land made the walk that one twelfth­-century observer claimed to have counted no fewer than sixty thousand pilgrims on the banks of the Jordan. A similar ritual was practiced in a stream near Santiago de Compostela, one of the three great pilgrimage shrines in the Middle Ages.
“The earliest and most meritorious of pilgrimage destinations was of course Jerusalem. … So many pilgrims flooded Jerusalem and environs that it was said, as early as the fifth century, that some two hundred monasteries or hostels were built to accommo­date them. … Rome was the most important pilgrimage destination in the West. The reason, of course, has to do with the city’s status as capital of the ancient empire and the church’s unparalleled collection of relics. The bodies of Sts. Peter and Paul were housed in basilicas dedicated to the founding saints of Rome’s church. Their heads rested in the church of St. John Lateran. The remains of more than one hundred martyrs were housed in dozens of churches across the city. The remains had originally been placed in catacombs outside the city walls, but barbarian at­tacks encouraged Christians to bring them within the walls and to spread them across many churches.”
Medieval Christianity: A New History
Author: Kevin Madigan
Publisher: Yale University Press
Copyright 2015 by Yale University
Pages 329-332

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