Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Crumb/coitus interruptus/Cockburn


"""When his British publisher, Jonathan Cape, announced a year ago that R. Crumb was preparing an illustrated Genesis that would be a "scandalous satire" presenting “a complex, even subversive, narrative that calls for a significant re-examination of both the Bible's content and its role in our culture", I thought this would be the coup de grâce, the final revenge of the antinomian ’60s on decency and faith and the bloodthirsty Creator.

If a conclusive disrespecting of Genesis was required, wouldn’t you think R. Crumb was the man for the job? It would be as seditious as hiring the Marquis de Sade to write the history of the British royal family. The patriarchs of the second half of Genesis would be crushed beneath the vast breasts and bottoms, hairy thighs and savage élan of Eve and her daughters.

Crumb encourages such hopes in the bit of his Book of Genesis Illustrated, published late last year, that I happened to read first: the notes in which he pays homage to Savina Teubal’s Sarah the Priestess (1984), which argued that Genesis is in part a sequence of clues about the suppression of a powerful matriarchal order in Mesopotamia and Egypt. In Genesis, Crumb writes, “the struggles and assertions of the female characters are all about this.”

Why did Crumb really embark on this task? Maybe the clue is in three inviting words on the cover: “Nothing left out!” , along with the tempting advisory, also on the cover: “Adult Supervision Recommended for Minors.” It would have been great to have had his frames for all fifty chapters of Genesis back in the ’50s, when we schoolboys had only our imaginations to work with, as Lot’s daughters get their father drunk and lie with him, or when Sara tells Abraham to go in unto Hagar. There was Onan too, now frame-frozen by Crumb amid coitus interruptus.....""""

Cockburn's mostly correct that Crumb sort of waffled between phunky satire and nearly serious, respectful treatment of the myths of genesis (hopefully the paranoid publishing types--or Crumbius's attorneys-- aren't watching for scanned images, or many a freak's in for some trouble). Crumb himself claims he does not believe the Old Testament myth to be literally true (modern evolutionary theory obviously makes those orthodox views rather implausible), yet still felt the need to honor the book.

Americans indoctrinated in sunday schools don't realize that the Old Testament myths are little different than say Bulfinch's treatment of the Greek myths (or hindus, egyptian, nordic, etc.) but have via centuries of reinforcement been held up as the greatest tale, like, ever told. Some cursory reading of the issues related to the formation of the Septuagint might serve as a correctio to the dogmatist--whether jewish, or christian, or muslim (--all people of the book--al Kitab--even according to islamic tradition) We don't deny that some ancient semitic patriarch Abraham/Ibrahim may have existed. Is he any different than say Achilles? Very difficult to determine. The Septuagint it should be remembered was sanctioned by the Alexandrian greeks, as the common greek names (ie Pentateuch, Genesis, exodus, etc) indicate.

The scribes of the "70" (LXX-> Septuagint) assembled various semitic myths, accepting some common stories, ie, most of Genesis, though omitting other stories. Not all of the semitic stories were hebrew, which appears to have been only one of the ancient dialects--not even a formal language in 250 BC, as greek and latin or sanskrit were. (Other dialects included punic, and aramaic--which looks much like an early version of arabic). The so-called Masoretic text has even less historical support (most of the the Dead Sea Scrolls appeared to confirm the ...LXX (any lurkers care to correct??....).

Even accepting the traditional dates of the mosaic authorship (approx. 1300 BC), the stories of the Torah do not appear exceptionally ancient, compared to Babylonian (ie the epic of Gilgamesh) or Old kingdom Egyptian history; proto-Greek itself possibly dates to before 2000 BC (as does sanskrit...Schopenhauer insisted the indo-european syntax, and really language as we know it came from north India via the Rig Veda....). Yet the OT is still taken to be the central creation story... Alas, Crumb's illustrations of Genesis, while perhaps amusing and sublime in some sense (at least to those unaware of Moebius, Crepax, Windsor McKay, etc.), serves to reify the power of the OT.

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