The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
–Robert Burns, “To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough”
This is famously misquoted in standard English (as opposed to Burns’s Scots dialect) as “The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry.” In any case, the sentiment is true enough. How often do we plan something only to have events seemingly conspire to screw it all up? How often does the most meticulous planning crash and burn before our eyes? It’s not for no reason that we have the American idiom “Plan B”. This is, of course, what you do–or attempt to do–when your original idea, Plan A, fails. Sometimes we seem to run through the whole alphabet of plans and still things “gang agley”. Then again, we’re not God.
The point I’m getting at here is something I’ve alluded to numerous time over the course of this and other series of posts at this blog. In this post, I want to address the matter in a more direct and explicit manner. The matter at hand relates to the interpretation of the Fall of Man, as described in the opening chapters of the Book fo Genesis. My main purpose in “Legends of the Fall” has been to try to find a way to understand the aforementioned Fall give our current understanding of human origins and the impossibility of reconciling that understanding with the Genesis account. I’m still pretty far out from coming to such an understanding, admittedly. Nevertheless, I think it is useful to look at issues which, while partially tangential, nevertheless have implications for the course of the main argument.
Ἀλλήλοις θ᾽ ὁμιλεῖν, ὡς τοὺς μὲν φίλους ἐχθροὺς μὴ ποιῆσαι, τοὺς δ᾽ ἐχθροὺς φίλους ἐργάσασθαι. ἴδιόν τε μηδὲν ἡγεῖσθαι.
We ought so to behave to one another as to avoid making enemies of our friends, and at the same time to make friends of our enemies.
–As quoted in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, “Pythagoras”, Sect. 23, as translated in Dictionary of Quotations (1906) by Thomas Benfield Harbottle, p. 320; courtesy of Wikiquote.
They who know the truth are not equal to those who love it, and they who love it are not equal to those who delight in it.
–Confucius, The Analects, Chapter VI; courtesy of Wikiquote.
But if any excursive brain rove over the images of forepassed times, and wonder that Thou the God Almighty and All-creating and All-supporting, Maker of heaven and earth, didst for innumerable ages forbear from so great a work, before Thou Wouldest make it; let him awake and consider, that he wonders at false conceits. For whence could innumerable ages pass by, which Thou madest not, Thou the Author and Creator of all ages? or what times should there be, which were not made by Thee? or how should they pass by, if they never were? Seeing then Thou art the Creator of all times, if any time was before Thou madest heaven and earth, why say they that Thou didst forego working? For that very time didst Thou make, nor could times pass by, before Thou madest those times. But if before heaven and earth there was no time, why is it demanded, what Thou then didst? For there was no “then,” when there was no time.
–Augustine of Hippo, Confessions Eleventh Book, XIII (370-400 AD) The Confessions of S. Augustine (1840) Tr. Edward Bouverie Pusey, pp. 233-234. courtesy of Wikiquote
I am, of course, aware that Yoda is already dead, and has been for decades. Bear with me on this…. Beginning in 2015, the long-dormant big-screen incarnation of the Star Wars franchise was revived. All the original cast returned, playing their iconic characters, and fresh new faces playing new characters were also present. It was the first time since Revenge of the Sith in 2005 that a big-screen Star Wars movie had been made at all, and the first time since Return of the Jedi in 1983–thirty-two years previously!–that the original cast was back in action. As of this writing (July 2019), two of the movies of the third and final trilogy–The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi–have been released, with the third, The Rise of Skywalker, slated for release in five months. Two standalone movies, Rogue One and Solo have also been released, and further movies with a new cast are projected; but the main attention has been focused on the three movies which conclude the Skywalker saga. Fan and critical reaction has been sharply divided on the two released so far, with seeming storms of controversy regarding The Last Jedi in particular.
I don’t really have anything to add to the discussion in terms of a conventional movie review or rating. It’s been forty-two years since the original Star Wars debuted, and I still don’t think The Empire Strikes Back has been topped. I certainly don’t have any interest in further stirring the pot of accusations and counter-accusations of sexism, racism, political correctness, and so on and so forth. More heat than light has been generated on this front, and I doubt there is much likelihood of dialogue in this area, anyway.
What I do want to look at is the metaphysics, or perhaps more precisely, the philosophical and spiritual themes that are present in The Last Jedi and which have been little remarked on in all the tempestuous arguments about other issues. I think The Last Jedi has definite flaws (some of which, in fairness, were inherited from the plot of its predecessor, and some of the stupid and cockamamie decisions J. J. Abrams made in writing the script for said predecessor), drags somewhat in the middle, and arguably loses focus a bit by expanding the already expanded cast even further. I definitely would not place it above The Empire Strikes Back. All that said, I would argue that Last Jedi is actually the second-best movie of the seven Skywalker-centric sequels and prequels to the original Star Wars, right after Empire (and allowing for the fact that Episode IX has not yet been released). This, I assert, is because of the themes I have already alluded to, and because The Last Jedi is the only movie in the entire Star Wars franchise to take those themes seriously since The Empire Strikes Back (Rogue One made a nod towards some of these themes, but not to the extent that Last Jedi does). Some of these films have been around quite awhile, and some not; but just to play fair, SPOILERS ABOUND for all the movies in the franchise from this point onward–tread with caution!
Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul; on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful.
–Plato, The Republic, Book 3; courtesy of Wikiquote.
Way back here I looked at the distinction between embodied minds–that is to say, creatures like ourselves, which have both bodies and souls–on the one hand, and bodiless creatures–pure minds lacking any kind of body composed of either matter or energy, that is to say, the beings we have traditionally referred to as angels and demons. Later on, I reconsidered the matter, looking at the difficulties in the notion of completely disembodied minds, and speculating on the possibility that angels and demons might have bodies of a sort after all. Recently, I have come across an interesting essay by David Bentley Hart, one of my favorite theologians and men of letters, which throws further light on this subject.
In setting the scene for the essay, Hart very forcibly argues that the Hellenization of Christianity is a feature, not a bug, that it goes back to the very beginning of the faith, and that modern attempts to remove said Hellenization in order to recover a “pure” Christianity are both doomed and missing the point altogether:
Naturally, this [picture of early Christianity drawn by N. T. Wright] also entails the simultaneous creation of an equally fictional late antique Judaism, of the sort that once dominated Protestant biblical scholarship: a fantastic “pure” Judaism situated outside cultural history, purged of every Hellenistic and Persian “alloy,” stripped of those shining hierarchies of spirits and powers and morally ambiguous angels and demi-angelic nefilim that had been incubated in the intertestamental literature, largely ignorant even of those Septuagintal books that were omitted from the Masoretic text of the Jewish bible, and precociously conformed to later rabbinic orthodoxy—and, even then, this last turns out to be a fantasy rabbinic orthodoxy, one robbed of its native genius and variety, and imperiously reduced to a kind of Protestantism without Jesus.
Wright’s anxiety is quite in keeping with a certain traditional Protestant picture of the pagan and Jewish worlds of late antiquity, one that involves an impermeable cultural partition between them—between, that is, the “philosophy” of the Greeks and the “pure” covenantal piety of the Jews.