Friday, April 13, 2012

The Naked Truth

In the past few weeks I have read at least two well-written articles on the whole hood and hijab issue, or the choice to cover and how that head-covering can lead to many conclusions: freedom, oppression, discrimination, objectification, and in two recently unfortunate cases, even death. The topic to cover or not to cover, to cover partially, to cover completely, to uncover partially, to uncover completely is a hot and debatable one – clearly, because there are at least five options to answer this elusive MCQ. Everyone seems to look at this question with an objective stance, but strangely so, objectivity is a slippery slope, and somewhere down the journey to the summit of being purely reasonable, one slips into subjectivity. That is normal for everyone has a bias. A choice indicates a bias. But when it comes to answering that MCQ, something more than a choice is needed to motivate any of those five options. And this is where the fallacy of the argument lies. To cover or not to cover (and other branching shades of opinion) is really not a matter of choice. It is a matter of belief.

Anything that is a matter of belief, quite simply put, cannot be and should not be evaluated through logic, although many people believe that all beliefs are logical, or should be proven through logic. Belief, however is something purely emotional, and through the certainty of that emotion it might ascend to logic, or rather logical justification, but that in itself begs the question. An argument between an atheist and a theist is doomed to fail. They cannot be objective about their claims. An atheist believes that there is no God; a theist believes otherwise. And then they build their house of cards in which logic is appealed to, to justify and substantiate their beliefs. It is a matter of belief that God had a conversation with Moses. It is matter of belief that Jibrail had, and continued to have conversations with Muhammad (pbuh). It is matter of belief that Holy Scriptures are not just stories written by idle minds and eloquent hands. It a matter of belief that for someone they are just stories written and read to be inspired, or to inspire fear or love, that angels and God don’t exist and it is all a huge delusion of comfort and convenience. But even the delusionary are now questioning the authenticity of their claims, and so are recruiting to the idea of agnosticism, not either-or, but neither-here-nor-there. It all boils down to belief, and the conviction of that belief. It’s interesting to mention here that sociologist, Frank Furedi, in his latest book, “On Tolerance: In Defence of Moral Independence”, has analogized atheism, particularly New Atheism, with religious zealotry as both have followed and continue to follow the same strategy: to use and express their reality through doctrinaire language and sentiments. So the principle behind each belief-system is essentially the same. Only the mechanics vary: one accepts and affirms, the other rejects and negates.

Now the argument for the whole covering up issue is that it is professed as a matter of choice. Some can best define it as a moral choice. But then again who defines morality? Those who don’t do it think that it gives them liberation. Those who do it think it’s liberating. I came across a cartoony rendering of this idea on Facebook: there are two women, one is dressed in a burqa with only her eyes showing, the other in a bikini, with her eyes covered by sunglasses, and each looking at the other feeling sorry, the burqa-clad saying, “nothing covered but her eyes, what a cruel, male-dominated world”, and the bikini-clad saying, “everything covered but her eyes, what a cruel, male-dominated world.” The choice therefore is an either-or, and the denomination, as claimed by one writer who wrote vehemently against covering up (while thinking all along how objective the analysis was): it’s a cruel, male-dominated world that motivates or compels a woman to cover. Well, no doubts about that that the world is cruel and male-dominated. But the motivation and/or compulsion felt by a woman to observe purdah is what really needs to be analyzed. In actuality for those who believe in the idea and/or the act of covering up, it’s not a matter of choice, even though it is now construed as such due to convenience (on part of the construer). It might become that, but the choice is rooted in a belief in the idea that morality is not secular, that morality comes from some direction, that direction has to be perfect, and that perfection cannot come from man who is fallible and is known to err, but from the Divine that is infallible, and is known to forgive.

I am not going to present elaborate and innumerable religious citations to justify this point of contention. But I will present a secular maxim that is quoted often enough: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Now if we are to extend this maxim to a metaphor, and equate the idea of Rome to the faith Islam, then the principle that becomes operative is to do as the Muslims do. And those who believe in the idea, ideology and idealism that Islam has offered, achieved and sought would agree that the best and real Muslims were those when Islam actually came into being, historically speaking. And as it’s best to lead and easy to follow by example, we had Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) demonstrate the faith in every way and form. And just as some things never change, we had a cruel, male dominated society even back then – that’s why it was called the Age of Ignorance that the ‘new’ faith sought to enlighten. But it was not the male voice of that enlightenment that asked the women to hush up their individuality, sit in a dark corner and cover up. The commandment, however, was just the last bit: to cover up. Hence it was not, and never a matter of convenient choice. The women heard not the voice of the man who forwarded this commandment, but the commandment itself. The women never followed the man in action; they had their own models and examples to follow and be led by: his wives. What their husband was and is for all men, they were and are for all women: examples. So this current claim that covering up should be contextualized as being historically relevant with no place in current times and therefore should be shelved should be shelved itself at least for those who believe in Islam, and the application of the Roman maxim.

Many also resort to the idea that covering up is an example of pervasive Arabisation that is slowly invading this part of the Muslim world. This is obviously linked to the historical contextual assumption. Islam was an Arab religion. The Prophet (pbuh) himself was Arab, by origin and identity. But he was never sent as an indigenous messenger whose job was to localize the message – a credential that was known for all his predecessors who professed faith to their communities alone. The message and the mission were and are for a universal audience. And so was its demonstration. It is true that in Saudi Arabia the general preference for the burqa is to have it in black – a color and a choice linked to their Bedouin culture. The Bedouins are denizens of the desert, and for them black is a commonsense choice. The burqa is now necessarily equated with the color black, but the color has nothing to do with the rationale behind the veil. Just as wearing mehndi on Eid is a Pakistani expression to celebrate the religious occasion, the black burqa is an Arab outfit. The woman’s covering garment, however, need not be the ubiquitous black burqa that has in some cases has become a fashion-statement for the bourgeois begum as claimed by another author who wrote on this issue. Black has become a convenient and popular choice. The color or its choice is not part of the command. The command is to cover, and cover modestly.

And now comes the troubling and ever-elusive subject of modesty – the rationale behind covering up. One of the authors expressed her disapproval by stating that modesty cannot and should not be achieved through covering up. I cannot agree more – at least with the former claim. Modesty is a state of mind, a humble mind. But that state of mind is purely subjective, like a bias. A woman from a Muslim nation can put up naked pictures of herself on her blog to reveal her justified rebellion. Her intention in her mind at least is perfectly noble. However, someone who is viewing her nakedness and reveling in what she is revealing renders the protest redundant: she is seeking to inform others of how she was objectified and sexually assaulted, but someone is just pleasing their virility by simply not lowering their gaze and looking at her. The sexual assault and objectification that she was protesting against is being repeated. Not physically of course. But mentally – and the mind knows no inhibitions especially when the stimulus is so graphic. Those who fuel the porn industry can testify to this. So, a pure intention is being marred by the action. You can cover or not cover, but you cannot guarantee what the onlooker is thinking or feeling or imagining. Wearing a burqa (or not) does not guarantee that you are exempted from being an object. That’s why men were asked to lower their gaze first, an expression that was to achieve modesty of the mind and body, intention and action. And the culmination of that claimed modesty – if it was there in the first place – should be manifested in totality, in all four: mind, body, intention and action. You can intend that my intention is not to arouse, but if you’re giving them something to look at (or even nothing to look at for that matter), they’ll still get aroused – a simple biological reflex, stronger in some than in others, but present nevertheless. The burqa can be considered as a necessary and convenient filter. But there are no guarantees.

So then why cover? That’s a matter of belief and your choice to subscribe to that belief – and its own package deal. Covering up does not guarantee that you’re ending up in heaven. Neither does not covering up. It’s a popular understanding, that those who cover their faces with a cloth or a beard are the most corrupt and vindictive scum of the earth, or even terrorists for that matter – a hasty generalization of course, as was the case with Travyon Martin and Shaima Alawadi. But the resentment is justified, for those who do cover in the name of faith are bearing an emblem of piety, and to not fully meet the standards of the piety that that emblem should’ve intended to generate in the first place is a mockery of both the emblem and the professed piety. And piety is a private matter of the heart. No human can or should be a judge of that. Piety cannot be achieved by merely donning a garment, or shunning it. One has their whole life to practice the part and to perform. The applause (or the boos) will follow later. And the choice to agree to the metaphor and be convinced of its truth is an open question: a matter of belief.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Better Half

“And the moon is up and the stars are bright
And whatever come is gonna be all right” (Cloud # 9)

Sometimes, I think, we overestimate the value of stars. Quite simply speaking, they just have three very basic functions: of adornment, protection and direction. And the functions are simple enough, and somehow appear to be linked to each other – and rightly so. The vault is rendered beautiful by the presence of stars, and so their function is not merely aesthetical. It’s teleological in a sense: when there as an adornment, they then act as missiles for the rebels who love to disrupt the order of things. And so, finally, they act as tiny compass points for those who are lost. So the starry world begins in the name of Beauty, is made functional by sustaining the Good, and finally culminates in the recognition of Truth. Each function necessitates the other. Each becomes the other to make the perfect Whole, which could be a star, a Sign, or simply speaking, faith itself.

Faith is a tickly, prickly business. Without risk there is no faith. So faith, like risk, presumes trust. It’s simple – you toss a baby into the air and she finds that funny because she is so dead sure that you won’t drop her. That she won’t be dropped, not even carelessly. That she would be caught. And so she laughs because she enjoys the risk, the leap. But as the kid grows up, the grin eventually becomes a grimace – and she begins to panic. Taking risks is riskier than it sounds. And every leap is just suspended between “what if” and “how come”. There are so many delirious directions before you. And each direction appears to be appealing. One is tempted to try all. But only one can be the right way to go.

And then panic is met with paranoia. After all, you keep tracking these directions and all you gather is moonshine. You begin to question the whole logic of the Beauty, Goodness and Truth equation and its quality of being Q.E.D. Maybe it is all a delusion. And then you begin to take charge – and you plot your own plan. And don’t get me wrong here – plotting plans is good. Making graphs, setting reminders, meeting deadlines is all good. I plan for my class, let’s say. I make notes in my head. I read up on stuff. I figure out how I will deliver. I am totally, absolutely, comprehensively prepared. I plan for my life, let’s say. I make notes in my head. I read up on stuff. I figure out how I will deliver. I am totally, absolutely, comprehensively prepared. I feel invincible. But there’s one thing I didn’t factor in: the invisible Hand. And I think Hamlet and Horatio had a pretty cool conversation when Hamlet is trying to explain to him about this idea of ‘readiness.’ Let us know our indiscretion sometimes serves us well when our deep plots do pall; and that should learn us there’s a Divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will. And to that Horatio says: that is most certain. Rough-hew things as much as you want, and we come up with this elaborate, almost puzzling patchwork of plans. But every plan awaits a masterstroke. And we are too small to understand. That is exactly what I feel when I stare above and I see these perforated stars grinning down at me. I can only look up with this hope that I am being looked down upon. For I am too small too understand.

If without risk there is no faith, and risk presumes trust, it should naturally follow that trust requires faith, and vice-versa. Faith is best when blind as that is faith that needs no proof. And faith that needs proof is insecure, for it holds itself in doubt, wanting some validation. And that makes the slope even more slippery. You stumble. You fall. You blindly wait. And standing and waiting demands patience – that one actor, the coefficient that has been silently added to the equation that enables it to get to Q.E.D.

Not too ago, I was not a very patient person. To a large extent, I used to be a control freak. And control freaks are those maniacs who are terribly scared. That is why they just want stuff to be under control, not necessarily under their control (an erroneous reduction of the poor lot). And in essence then, the need for an Invisible Hand becomes superfluous. You begin to think that you’re invincible just because you think you can be a successful cartographer. You’ve perfected your plans, mapped out the course, done your research. So you’re all wised up. But when you take to the road – even though it might just be straight and smooth, you realize that you’re in it for a ride. And the ride’s not going to be easy. Don’t expect it to be – the Narrower, the Better They Say.

And during this road-trip you make stopovers. You go through your master map. You peruse it. You blink, twice. And the road stretches before you, straight, narrow, blank. And you’re super scared. And you say, “Hmmm, let me fix this. I can so fix this. ” You look at the map again. You’re lost. Now either you can look at the map, be wise enough to see its flaws, and hit the road. Or you can keep staring at the map, staring hard, with this hope that it might just begin to speak to you. But then you blink again. The road stretches and becomes a speck at the horizon. And you realize how small you are. How pathetic your plan was.

I tried both strategies. But I never let go of the map. Because I kept believing – falsely so – that I was a brilliant cartographer. I kept thinking that the map was all that I needed to keep me on the road. I am all that I need to keep me on the road. But then I couldn’t keep up. Being your own shepherd is hard, even though it feels great. You make your own rules, follow them when you want, occasionally defer them to some Higher authority for some incidental, and sometimes coincidental, and even accidental grace. But that’s about it. Deference implies admitting to one’s own paltriness - that you are smaller than a speck. And why make that confession? It’s too hard. It’s too insulting. I remember I found the whole idea of stoicism pretty interesting. Wo har ik baat pe kehna, ke youn hota tau kya hota? Ghalib poor thing is really misunderstood sometimes. Stoicism - or at least the abstract discussion of it - was perfectly in line with the idea of submission, to that which is Bigger and Better than you. And your silly little map. But I just saw it as an idea, and nothing more. It looked good on paper. That is all.

And then I was tested, and tested real bad. Sometimes I would question whether I am on the right road or not. And I tried to understand, slowly, that maps like mine cheapen the mystery of the masterstroke just as astrology cheapens the mystery of the cosmos. Stars do not reveal the future. They never did. We follow a lie, and base and raise all our truths from it and then stubbornly decide to live by them. Slowly, painfully slowly, I began to understand how small I really was. And that I didn’t really have much faith in me. I just wanted things done my way, and understood that to be the only way. And somehow I convinced myself into believing that my map must lead me to the beautiful goodness of truth. There can be no other way.

But I was proved wrong. And it first happened in a room. A checkpoint. I resisted and clutched my map harder. Like I said, I was super scared. And so I drove on, too arrogant to pause even though I wasn’t even asked to. And so it happened again in a corridor. And this time around, I stopped. And I was forced to tear the map. And I decided to follow the narrow, yellow brick road. I stopped setting risks based on my own assumptive resolutions. I decided to give faith a shot, and see what happens, where the road will go. I watched. And I waited as the road unraveled on its own. And I simply followed, wherever it went. Till now, I did not have the better, other half: I had no patience. So I deserved no faith. And so, in short, I was afraid.

And then I realized how simple it was. How simple it really is. One single, simple leap of faith, one plunge of trust and you’re pretty much there. And for once, I effaced all my plots and plans and sat with a blank canvas – a whiter, yet brighter shade of pale, awaiting that masterstroke.

Where it leads, what it beckons
Has to be what I have already known.
But I am deliberately blindfolded.

This mirror I clutch is baptized;
I am to see, with anticipation,
A spectrum of sought wonders

Framed in its round corners,
Perhaps locked for me to own,
And timelessly behold.

I turn to a white light to take my hand at this colorless stage.

And so I do. I have never traveled on this road like this before. It has never been this smooth. It has never been this speedy. It has never been this serene. But I now must fasten my seatbelt as I am told to – as it’s only safe I agree – and I must follow that out of love that I have found through submitting to this white light. Sometimes the light gets so bright and white that I savor the blindness of my newly found faith. I believe in Love now – totally. But only One Love that can be like the stars that only adorn, plus protect and so, direct. There is only One Way to get there. I still refuse to believe that it was written in the stars, for stars don’t have that silly, cheap function that cheapens the need to have an Unseen. I still refuse to believe that Love with the unseen for the Unseen is not possible. Once the grey rain-curtain is lifted, and beyond the silver glass, you see it, clearly. And you don’t need to blink twice. For the Unseen is enough for you to see.

Hasbiih Allahu wa Na‘imal Wakiil…

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Devil’s Advocate

I think it was necessary for Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov to meet The Devil. Maybe, I think, it is necessary to meet him sometimes. But what is freakier is that we meet him all the time. He’s here, there, everywhere. Maybe that is why God Chose to Disagree with the Property of Being Omnipresent. He’d rather be Omniscient – which is much cooler. In a way, it’s a bit cheap to be here, there and everywhere, like a stalker. But then again – that’s what he does best.

Beauty is the battlefield where God and the Devil contend with one another for the heart of man. I think it’s a bit disingenuous to claim that existentialists don’t really care about the God Question. Nowadays, we’ve gone a step further, delving into Dawkinsian delusions. When Iblis meets Ivan in the chapter that I have posted below, he tries to ‘deconstruct’ many of our delusions. And now see – Dostoevsky was writing this before 1880 – and he was able to resolve intriguing questions about God and morality, and the glue that holds us all together: freewill. And we are still scratching our heads wondering if really we are looking at the wrong answers. Forget asking the right questions. Even the Angels asked. And were duly Answered. But dialoging with the Devil can be pretty delirious, if not delusional. It seems that through Ivan, the disbeliever (I will not call him an unbeliever, as that would remove him from tragic grace which is the result of his fall), Dostoevsky was able to make the Devil elucidate comprehensively what he meant in his Khutbah in 14:22. He says:

Verily, Allah promised you a promise of truth. And I too promised you, but I betrayed you. I had no authority over you except that I called you, and you responded to me. So blame me not, but blame yourselves. I cannot help you, nor can you help me. I deny your former act in associating me as a partner with Allah. Verily, there is a painful torment for the Zalimun.

Now here’s the catch: the Devil is super-smart. From the very beginning – ab initio – he knew how to argue. He’s so intellectually sophisticated that he can easily be called the father of rhetoric. And we have always been told not to follow pathos and ethos during argumentation. Logos all the way – the mantra that’ll perhaps stall your fall from grace. So, he made a perfect case, which he presented quite logically. And he made perfect sense. I’m made out of fire, this random doll is made out of clay. I’ve served you more, this random doll is a lousy new arrival. And therefore, it so follows, that I am better than him. Which he was, he still is, for he always wins, every case, every situation. As Al Pacino said in the movie to Kevin, “Who could deny that the 20th century wasn’t mine… it was mine. All of it.” And that’s a claim and a conclusion which is a bit hard to defend.

And so, ex post facto, the battle began. And Adam was the first bait. But if he’s saying that he has no authority over us, then what’s the problem. The Devil does not believe in possession really. If possessed, the game is over. What’s thrilling about the sport is the chase. It’s the chase that allows you to outwit, maneuver, manipulate, charm, and so, deceive: and I ‘too’ promised – but I betrayed you. A failed promise is a much tragic thing than a false promise. The problem is that he has advocated a case for a promise whose falsehood is its, and so, our failure. Almost all of us, who agree with him, in word or deed, believe and so incarnate his primeval smugness – I am better than him. Interestingly and ironically enough, in Arabic the word ‘ghuroor’ which we normally understand as arrogance is translated as “delusion”. And that’s what’s the rat-race is about: The blind leading the blind in the dark, each one chanting how he is (was) better than the other, in one way or the other. You can practically hear the angels saying, tsk tsk tsk. And Iblis perhaps doing the same. The only difference is that he’ll probably have a grin on his face. My translation of the novel sums this up perfectly: “If my thoughts agree with yours, it only does me honour,” the gentleman said with dignity and tact.

“My dear friend, above all things I want to behave like a gentleman and to be recognized as such,” the visitor began in an access of deprecating and simple-hearted pride, typical of a poor relation. “I am poor, but... I won’t say very honest, but... it’s an axiom generally accepted in society that I am a fallen angel. I certainly can't conceive how I can ever have been an angel. If I ever was, it must have been so long ago that there’s no harm in forgetting it. Now I only prize the reputation of being a gentlemanly person and live as I can, trying to make myself agreeable. I love men genuinely, I've been greatly calumniated! Here when I stay with you from time to time, my life gains a kind of reality and that's what I like most of all. You see, like you, I suffer from the fantastic and so I love the realism of earth. Here, with you, everything is circumscribed, here all is formulated and geometrical, while we have nothing but indeterminate equations!”

And that is this biggest promise that is fulfilled by us on the other side: we decide what the Devil desires and make him real, by being so agreeable. And that is the Devil’s defence – to self-deprecate, and out of that self-deprecation, rises a false, failed sense of guilt to combat that sorry state of pity, and this guilt tempts one to feel secure, and so, a bit too sure, and ipso facto, one is deluded into believing that everything is circumscribed, while in reality, it’s nothing but indeterminate equations fumbling to reach quod erat demonstrandum or better recognized as QED.

Hecate made perfect sense when she said, “Security is mortals’ chiefest enemy.” And it was Iblis’s too. Inil kafiroona illa fee ghuroor. He Calls them disbelievers too – perhaps Allowing that trial and error – that margin to be saved from further tragically falling from grace…in the pits, literally.

Book XI: Ivan Chapter 9: The Devil. Ivan's Nightmare [The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky]

I AM NOT a doctor, but yet I feel that the moment has come when I must inevitably give the reader some account of the nature of Ivan's illness. Anticipating events I can say at least one thing: he was at that moment on the very eve of an attack of brain fever. Though his health had long been affected, it had offered a stubborn resistance to the fever which in the end gained complete mastery over it. Though I know nothing of medicine, I venture to hazard the suggestion that he really had perhaps, by a terrible effort of will, succeeded in delaying the attack for a time, hoping, of course, to check it completely. He knew that he was unwell, but he loathed the thought of being ill at that fatal time, at the approaching crisis in his life, when he needed to have all his wits about him, to say what he had to say boldly and resolutely and "to justify himself to himself."

He had, however, consulted the new doctor, who had been brought from Moscow by a fantastic notion of Katerina Ivanovna's to which I have referred already. After listening to him and examining him the doctor came to the conclusion that he was actually suffering from some disorder of the brain, and was not at all surprised by an admission which Ivan had reluctantly made him. "Hallucinations are quite likely in your condition," the doctor opined, 'though it would be better to verify them... you must take steps at once, without a moment's delay, or things will go badly with you." But Ivan did not follow this judicious advice and did not take to his bed to be nursed. "I am walking about, so I am strong enough, if I drop, it'll be different then, anyone may nurse me who likes," he decided, dismissing the subject.

And so he was sitting almost conscious himself of his delirium and, as I have said already, looking persistently at some object on the sofa against the opposite wall. Someone appeared to be sitting there, though goodness knows how he had come in, for he had not been in the room when Ivan came into it, on his return from Smerdyakov. This was a person or, more accurately speaking, a Russian gentleman of a particular kind, no longer young, qui faisait la cinquantaine,* as the French say, with rather long, still thick, dark hair, slightly streaked with grey and a small pointed beard. He was wearing a brownish reefer jacket, rather shabby, evidently made by a good tailor though, and of a fashion at least three years old, that had been discarded by smart and well-to-do people for the last two years. His linen and his long scarf-like neck-tie were all such as are worn by people who aim at being stylish, but on closer inspection his linen was not overclean and his wide scarf was very threadbare. The visitor's check trousers were of excellent cut, but were too light in colour and too tight for the present fashion. His soft fluffy white hat was out of keeping with the season.

* Fiftyish.

In brief there was every appearance of gentility on straitened means. It looked as though the gentleman belonged to that class of idle landowners who used to flourish in the times of serfdom. He had unmistakably been, at some time, in good and fashionable society, had once had good connections, had possibly preserved them indeed, but, after a gay youth, becoming gradually impoverished on the abolition of serfdom, he had sunk into the position of a poor relation of the best class, wandering from one good old friend to another and received by them for his companionable and accommodating disposition and as being, after all, a gentleman who could be asked to sit down with anyone, though, of course, not in a place of honour. Such gentlemen of accommodating temper and dependent position, who can tell a story, take a hand at cards, and who have a distinct aversion for any duties that may be forced upon them, are usually solitary creatures, either bachelors or widowers. Sometimes they have children, but if so, the children are always being brought up at a distance, at some aunt's, to whom these gentlemen never allude in good society, seeming ashamed of the relationship. They gradually lose sight of their children altogether, though at intervals they receive a birthday or Christmas letter from them and sometimes even answer it.

The countenance of the unexpected visitor was not so much good-natured, as accommodating and ready to assume any amiable expression as occasion might arise. He had no watch, but he had a tortoise-shell lorgnette on a black ribbon. On the middle finger of his right hand was a massive gold ring with a cheap opal stone in it.

Ivan was angrily silent and would not begin the conversation. The visitor waited and sat exactly like a poor relation who had come down from his room to keep his host company at tea, and was discreetly silent, seeing that his host was frowning and preoccupied. But he was ready for any affable conversation as soon as his host should begin it. All at once his face expressed a sudden solicitude.

"I say," he began to Ivan, "excuse me, I only mention it to remind you. You went to Smerdyakov's to find out about Katerina Ivanovna, but you came away without finding out anything about her, you probably forgot-"

"Ah, yes." broke from Ivan and his face grew gloomy with uneasiness. "Yes, I'd forgotten... but it doesn't matter now, never mind, till to-morrow," he muttered to himself, "and you," he added, addressing his visitor, "I should have remembered that myself in a minute, for that was just what was tormenting me! Why do you interfere, as if I should believe that you prompted me, and that I didn't remember it of myself?"

"Don't believe it then," said the gentleman, smiling amicably, "what's the good of believing against your will? Besides, proofs are no help to believing, especially material proofs. Thomas believed, not because he saw Christ risen, but because he wanted to believe, before he saw. Look at the spiritualists, for instance.... I am very fond of them... only fancy, they imagine that they are serving the cause of religion, because the devils show them their horns from the other world. That, they say, is a material proof, so to speak, of the existence of another world. The other world and material proofs, what next! And if you come to that, does proving there's a devil prove that there's a God? I want to join an idealist society, I'll lead the opposition in it, I'll say I am a realist, but not a materialist, he he!"

"Listen," Ivan suddenly got up from the table. "I seem to be delirious... I am delirious, in fact, talk any nonsense you like, I don't care! You won't drive me to fury, as you did last time. But I feel somehow ashamed... I want to walk about the room.... I sometimes don't see you and don't even hear your voice as I did last time, but I always guess what you are prating, for it's I, I myself speaking, not you. Only I don't know whether I was dreaming last time or whether I really saw you. I'll wet a towel and put it on my head and perhaps you'll vanish into air."

Ivan went into the corner, took a towel, and did as he said, and with a wet towel on his head began walking up and down the room.

"I am so glad you treat me so familiarly," the visitor began.

"Fool," laughed Ivan, "do you suppose I should stand on ceremony with you? I am in good spirits now, though I've a pain in my forehead... and in the top of my head... only please don't talk philosophy, as you did last time. If you can't take yourself off, talk of something amusing. Talk gossip, you are a poor relation, you ought to talk gossip. What a nightmare to have! But I am not afraid of you. I'll get the better of you. I won't be taken to a mad-house!"

"C'est charmant, poor relation. Yes, I am in my natural shape. For what am I on earth but a poor relation? By the way, I am listening to you and am rather surprised to find you are actually beginning to take me for something real, not simply your fancy, as you persisted in declaring last time-"

"Never for one minute have I taken you for reality," Ivan cried with a sort of fury. "You are a lie, you are my illness, you are a phantom. It's only that I don't know how to destroy you and I see I must suffer for a time. You are my hallucination. You are the incarnation of myself, but only of one side of me... of my thoughts and feelings, but only the nastiest and stupidest of them. From that point of view you might be of interest to me, if only I had time to waste on you-"

"Excuse me, excuse me, I'll catch you. When you flew out at Alyosha under the lamp-post this evening and shouted to him, 'You learnt it from him! How do you know that he visits me?' You were thinking of me then. So for one brief moment you did believe that I really exist," the gentleman laughed blandly.

"Yes, that was a moment of weakness... but I couldn't believe in you. I don't know whether I was asleep or awake last time. Perhaps I was only dreaming then and didn't see you really at all-"

"And why were you so surly with Alyosha just now? He is a dear; I've treated him badly over Father Zossima."

"Don't talk of Alyosha! How dare you, you flunkey!" Ivan laughed again.

"You scold me, but you laugh -- that's a good sign. But you are ever so much more polite than you were last time and I know why: that great resolution of yours-"

"Don't speak of my resolution," cried Ivan, savagely.

"I understand, I understand, c'est noble, c'est charmant, you are going to defend your brother and to sacrifice yourself... C'est chevaleresque."

"Hold your tongue, I'll kick you!"

"I shan't be altogether sorry, for then my object will be attained. If you kick me, you must believe in my reality, for people don't kick ghosts. Joking apart, it doesn't matter to me, scold if you like, though it's better to be a trifle more polite even to me. 'Fool, flunkey!' what words!"

"Scolding you, I scold myself," Ivan laughed again, "you are myself, myself, only with a different face. You just say what I am thinking... and are incapable of saying anything new!"

"If I am like you in my way of thinking, it's all to my credit," the gentleman declared, with delicacy and dignity.

"You choose out only my worst thoughts, and what's more, the stupid ones. You are stupid and vulgar. You are awfully stupid. No, I can't put up with you! What am I to do, what am I to do?" Ivan said through his clenched teeth.

"My dear friend, above all things I want to behave like a gentleman and to be recognised as such," the visitor began in an access of deprecating and simple-hearted pride, typical of a poor relation. "I am poor, but... I won't say very honest, but... it's an axiom generally accepted in society that I am a fallen angel. I certainly can't conceive how I can ever have been an angel. If I ever was, it must have been so long ago that there's no harm in forgetting it. Now I only prize the reputation of being a gentlemanly person and live as I can, trying to make myself agreeable. I love men genuinely, I've been greatly calumniated! Here when I stay with you from time to time, my life gains a kind of reality and that's what I like most of all. You see, like you, I suffer from the fantastic and so I love the realism of earth. Here, with you, everything is circumscribed, here all is formulated and geometrical, while we have nothing but indeterminate equations! I wander about here dreaming. I like dreaming. Besides, on earth I become superstitious. Please don't laugh, that's just what I like, to become superstitious. I adopt all your habits here: I've grown fond of going to the public baths, would you believe it? and I go and steam myself with merchants and priests. What I dream of is becoming incarnate once for all and irrevocably in the form of some merchant's wife weighing eighteen stone, and of believing all she believes. My ideal is to go to church and offer a candle in simple-hearted faith, upon my word it is. Then there would be an end to my sufferings. I like being doctored too; in the spring there was an outbreak of smallpox and I went and was vaccinated in a foundling hospital -- if only you knew how I enjoyed myself that day. I subscribed ten roubles in the cause of the Slavs!... But you are not listening. Do you know, you are not at all well this evening? I know you went yesterday to that doctor... well, what about your health? What did the doctor say?"

"Fool!" Ivan snapped out.

"But you are clever, anyway. You are scolding again? I didn't ask out of sympathy. You needn't answer. Now rheumatism has come in again-"

"Fool!" repeated Ivan.

"You keep saying the same thing; but I had such an attack of rheumatism last year that I remember it to this day."

"The devil have rheumatism!"

"Why not, if I sometimes put on fleshly form? I put on fleshly form and I take the consequences. Satan sum et nihil humanum a me alienum puto."*

* I am Satan, and deem nothing human alien to me.

"What, what, Satan sum et nihil humanum... that's not bad for the devil!"

"I am glad I've pleased you at last."

"But you didn't get that from me." Ivan stopped suddenly, seeming struck. "That never entered my head, that's strange."

"C'est du nouveau, n'est-ce pas?"* This time I'll act honestly and explain to you. Listen, in dreams and especially in nightmares, from indigestion or anything, a man sees sometimes such artistic visions, such complex and real actuality, such events, even a whole world of events, woven into such a plot, with such unexpected details from the most exalted matters to the last button on a cuff, as I swear Leo Tolstoy has never invented. Yet such dreams are sometimes seen not by writers, but by the most ordinary people, officials, journalists, priests.... The subject is a complete enigma. A statesman confessed to me, indeed, that all his best ideas came to him when he was asleep. Well, that's how it is now, though I am your hallucination, yet just as in a nightmare, I say original things which had not entered your head before. So I don't repeat your ideas, yet I am only your nightmare, nothing more."

* It's new, isn't it?

"You are lying, your aim is to convince me you exist apart and are not my nightmare, and now you are asserting you are a dream."

"My dear fellow, I've adopted a special method to-day, I'll explain it to you afterwards. Stay, where did I break off? Oh, yes! I caught cold then, only not here but yonder."

"Where is yonder? Tell me, will you be here long. Can't you go away?" Ivan exclaimed almost in despair. He ceased walking to and fro, sat down on the sofa, leaned his elbows on the table again and held his head tight in both hands. He pulled the wet towel off and flung it away in vexation. It was evidently of no use.

"Your nerves are out of order," observed the gentleman, with a carelessly easy, though perfectly polite, air. "You are angry with me even for being able to catch cold, though it happened in a most natural way. I was hurrying then to a diplomatic soiree at the house of a lady of high rank in Petersburg, who was aiming at influence in the Ministry. Well, an evening suit, white tie, gloves, though I was God knows where and had to fly through space to reach your earth.... Of course, it took only an instant, but you know a ray of light from the sun takes full eight minutes, and fancy in an evening suit and open waistcoat. Spirits don't freeze, but when one's in fleshly form, well... in brief, I didn't think, and set off, and you know in those ethereal spaces, in the water that is above the firmament, there's such a frost... at least one can't call it frost, you fancy, 150 degrees below zero! You know the game the village girls play -- they invite the unwary to lick an axe in thirty degrees of frost, the tongue instantly freezes to it and the dupe tears the skin off, so it bleeds. But that's only in 30 degrees, in 150 degrees I imagine it would be enough to put your finger on the axe and it would be the end of it... if only there could be an axe there."

"And can there be an axe there?" Ivan interrupted, carelessly and disdainfully. He was exerting himself to the utmost not to believe in the delusion and not to sink into complete insanity

"An axe?" the guest interrupted in surprise.

"Yes, what would become of an axe there?" Ivan cried suddenly, with a sort of savage and insistent obstinacy.

"What would become of an axe in space? Quelle idee! If it were to fall to any distance, it would begin, I think, flying round the earth without knowing why, like a satellite. The astronomers would calculate the rising and the setting of the axe; Gatzuk would put it in his calendar, that's all."

"You are stupid, awfully stupid," said Ivan peevishly. "Fib more cleverly or I won't listen. You want to get the better of me by realism, to convince me that you exist, but I don't want to believe you exist! I won't believe it!"

"But I am not fibbing, it's all the truth; the truth is unhappily hardly ever amusing. I see you persist in expecting something big of me, and perhaps something fine. That's a great pity, for I only give what I can-"

"Don't talk philosophy, you ass!"

"Philosophy, indeed, when all my right side is numb and I am moaning and groaning. I've tried all the medical faculty: they can diagnose beautifully, they have the whole of your disease at their finger-tips, but they've no idea how to cure you. There was an enthusiastic little student here, 'You may die,' said he, 'but you'll know perfectly what disease you are dying of!' And then what a way they have of sending people to specialists! 'We only diagnose,' they say, 'but go to such-and-such a specialist, he'll cure you.' The old doctor who used to cure all sorts of disease has completely disappeared, I assure you, now there are only specialists and they all advertise in the newspapers. If anything is wrong with your nose, they send you to Paris: there, they say, is a European specialist who cures noses. If you go to Paris, he'll look at your nose; I can only cure your right nostril, he'll tell you, for I don't cure the left nostril, that's not my speciality, but go to Vienna, there there's a specialist who will cure your left nostril. What are you to do? I fell back on popular remedies, a German doctor advised me to rub myself with honey and salt in the bath-house. Solely to get an extra bath I went, smeared myself all over and it did me no good at all. In despair I wrote to Count Mattei in Milan. He sent me a book and some drops, bless him, and, only fancy, Hoff's malt extract cured me! I bought it by accident, drank a bottle and a half of it, and I was ready to dance, it took it away completely. I made up my mind to write to the papers to thank him, I was prompted by a feeling of gratitude, and only fancy, it led to no end of a bother: not a single paper would take my letter. 'It would be very reactionary,' they said, 'none will believe it. Le diable n'existe point.* You'd better remain anonymous,' they advised me. What use is a letter of thanks if it's anonymous? I laughed with the men at the newspaper office; 'It's reactionary to believe in God in our days,' I said, 'but I am the devil, so I may be believed in.' 'We quite understand that,' they said. 'Who doesn't believe in the devil? Yet it won't do, it might injure our reputation. As a joke, if you like.' But I thought as a joke it wouldn't be very witty. So it wasn't printed. And do you know, I have felt sore about it to this day. My best feelings, gratitude, for instance, are literally denied me simply from my social position."

* The devil does not exist.

"Philosophical reflections again?" Ivan snarled malignantly.

"God preserve me from it, but one can't help complaining sometimes. I am a slandered man. You upbraid me every moment with being stupid. One can see you are young. My dear fellow, intelligence isn't the only thing! I have naturally a kind and merry heart. 'I also write vaudevilles of all sorts.' You seem to take me for Hlestakov grown old, but my fate is a far more serious one. Before time was, by some decree which I could never make out, I was predestined 'to deny' and yet I am genuinely good-hearted and not at all inclined to negation. 'No, you must go and deny, without denial there's no criticism and what would a journal be without a column of criticism?' Without criticism it would be nothing but one 'hosannah.' But nothing but hosannah is not enough for life, the hosannah must be tried in the crucible of doubt and so on, in the same style. But I don't meddle in that, I didn't create it, I am not answerable for it. Well, they've chosen their scapegoat, they've made me write the column of criticism and so life was made possible. We understand that comedy; I, for instance, simply ask for annihilation. No, live, I am told, for there'd be nothing without you. If everything in the universe were sensible, nothing would happen. There would be no events without you, and there must be events. So against the grain I serve to produce events and do what's irrational because I am commanded to. For all their indisputable intelligence, men take this farce as something serious, and that is their tragedy. They suffer, of course... but then they live, they live a real life, not a fantastic one, for suffering is life. Without suffering what would be the pleasure of it? It would be transformed into an endless church service; it would be holy, but tedious. But what about me? I suffer, but still, I don't live. I am x in an indeterminate equation. I am a sort of phantom in life who has lost all beginning and end, and who has even forgotten his own name. You are laughing- no, you are not laughing, you are angry again. You are for ever angry, all you care about is intelligence, but I repeat again that I would give away all this superstellar life, all the ranks and honours, simply to be transformed into the soul of a merchant's wife weighing eighteen stone and set candles at God's shrine."

"Then even you don't believe in God?" said Ivan, with a smile of hatred.

"What can I say? -- that is, if you are in earnest-"

"Is there a God or not?" Ivan cried with the same savage intensity.

"Ah, then you are in earnest! My dear fellow, upon my word I don't know. There! I've said it now!"

"You don't know, but you see God? No, you are not someone apart, you are myself, you are I and nothing more! You are rubbish, you are my fancy!"

"Well, if you like, I have the same philosophy as you, that would be true. Je pense, donc je suis,* I know that for a fact; all the rest, all these worlds, God and even Satan -- all that is not proved, to my mind. Does all that exist of itself, or is it only an emanation of myself, a logical development of my ego which alone has existed for ever: but I make haste to stop, for I believe you will be jumping up to beat me directly."

* I think, therefore I am.

"You'd better tell me some anecdote!" said Ivan miserably.

"There is an anecdote precisely on our subject, or rather a legend, not an anecdote. You reproach me with unbelief; you see, you say, yet you don't believe. But, my dear fellow, I am not the only one like that. We are all in a muddle over there now and all through your science. Once there used to be atoms, five senses, four elements, and then everything hung together somehow. There were atoms in the ancient world even, but since we've learned that you've discovered the chemical molecule and protoplasm and the devil knows what, we had to lower our crest. There's a regular muddle, and, above all, superstition, scandal; there's as much scandal among us as among you, you know; a little more in fact, and spying, indeed, for we have our secret police department where private information is received. Well, this wild legend belongs to our middle ages -- not yours, but ours -- and no one believes it even among us, except the old ladies of eighteen stone, not your old ladies I mean, but ours. We've everything you have, I am revealing one of our secrets out of friendship for you; though it's forbidden. This legend is about Paradise. There was, they say, here on earth a thinker and philosopher. He rejected everything, 'laws, conscience, faith,' and, above all, the future life. He died; he expected to go straight to darkness and death and he found a future life before him. He was astounded and indignant. 'This is against my principles!' he said. And he was punished for that... that is, you must excuse me, I am just repeating what I heard myself, it's only a legend... he was sentenced to walk a quadrillion kilometres in the dark (we've adopted the metric system, you know): and when he has finished that quadrillion, the gates of heaven would be opened to him and he'll be forgiven-"

"And what tortures have you in the other world besides the quadrillion kilometres?" asked Ivan, with a strange eagerness.

"What tortures? Ah, don't ask. In old days we had all sorts, but now they have taken chiefly to moral punishments -- 'the stings of conscience' and all that nonsense. We got that, too, from you, from the softening of your manners. And who's the better for it? Only those who have got no conscience, for how can they be tortured by conscience when they have none? But decent people who have conscience and a sense of honour suffer for it. Reforms, when the ground has not been prepared for them, especially if they are institutions copied from abroad, do nothing but mischief! The ancient fire was better. Well, this man, who was condemned to the quadrillion kilometres, stood still, looked round and lay down across the road. 'I won't go, I refuse on principle!' Take the soul of an enlightened Russian atheist and mix it with the soul of the prophet Jonah, who sulked for three days and nights in the belly of the whale, and you get the character of that thinker who lay across the road."

"What did he lie on there?"

"Well, I suppose there was something to lie on. You are not laughing?"

"Bravo!" cried Ivan, still with the same strange eagerness. Now he was listening with an unexpected curiosity. "Well, is he lying there now?"

"That's the point, that he isn't. He lay there almost a thousand years and then he got up and went on."

"What an ass!" cried Ivan, laughing nervously and still seeming to be pondering something intently. "Does it make any difference whether he lies there for ever or walks the quadrillion kilometres? It would take a billion years to walk it?"

"Much more than that. I haven't got a pencil and paper or I could work it out. But he got there long ago, and that's where the story begins."

"What, he got there? But how did he get the billion years to do it?"

"Why, you keep thinking of our present earth! But our present earth may have been repeated a billion times. Why, it's become extinct, been frozen; cracked, broken to bits, disintegrated into its elements, again 'the water above the firmament,' then again a comet, again a sun, again from the sun it becomes earth -- and the same sequence may have been repeated endlessly and exactly the same to every detail, most unseemly and insufferably tedious-"

"Well, well, what happened when he arrived?"

"Why, the moment the gates of Paradise were open and he walked in; before he had been there two seconds, by his watch (though to my thinking his watch must have long dissolved into its elements on the way), he cried out that those two seconds were worth walking not a quadrillion kilometres but a quadrillion of quadrillions, raised to the quadrillionth power! In fact, he sang 'hosannah' and overdid it so, that some persons there of lofty ideas wouldn't shake hands with him at first -- he'd become too rapidly reactionary, they said. The Russian temperament. I repeat, it's a legend. I give it for what it's worth, so that's the sort of ideas we have on such subjects even now."

"I've caught you!" Ivan cried, with an almost childish delight, as though he had succeeded in remembering something at last. "That anecdote about the quadrillion years, I made up myself! I was seventeen then, I was at the high school. I made up that anecdote and told it to a schoolfellow called Korovkin, it was at Moscow.... The anecdote is so characteristic that I couldn't have taken it from anywhere. I thought I'd forgotten it... but I've unconsciously recalled it -- I recalled it myself -- it was not you telling it! Thousands of things are unconsciously remembered like that even when people are being taken to execution... it's come back to me in a dream. You are that dream! You are a dream, not a living creature!"

"From the vehemence with which you deny my existence," laughed the gentleman, "I am convinced that you believe in me."

"Not in the slightest! I haven't a hundredth part of a grain of faith in you!"

"But you have the thousandth of a grain. Homeopathic doses perhaps are the strongest. Confess that you have faith even to the ten-thousandth of a grain."

"Not for one minute," cried Ivan furiously. "But I should like to believe in you," he added strangely.

"Aha! There's an admission! But I am good-natured. I'll come to your assistance again. Listen, it was I caught you, not you me. I told you your anecdote you'd forgotten, on purpose, so as to destroy your faith in me completely."

"You are lying. The object of your visit is to convince me of your existence!"

"Just so. But hesitation, suspense, conflict between belief and disbelief -- is sometimes such torture to a conscientious man, such as you are, that it's better to hang oneself at once. Knowing that you are inclined to believe in me, I administered some disbelief by telling you that anecdote. I lead you to belief and disbelief by turns, and I have my motive in it. It's the new method. As soon as you disbelieve in me completely, you'll begin assuring me to my face that I am not a dream but a reality. I know you. Then I shall have attained my object, which is an honourable one. I shall sow in you only a tiny grain of faith and it will grow into an oak-tree -- and such an oak-tree that, sitting on it, you will long to enter the ranks of 'the hermits in the wilderness and the saintly women,' for that is what you are secretly longing for. You'll dine on locusts, you'll wander into the wilderness to save your soul!"

"Then it's for the salvation of my soul you are working, is it, you scoundrel?"

"One must do a good work sometimes. How ill-humoured you are!"

"Fool! did you ever tempt those holy men who ate locusts and prayed seventeen years in the wilderness till they were overgrown with moss?"

"My dear fellow, I've done nothing else. One forgets the whole world and all the worlds, and sticks to one such saint, because he is a very precious diamond. One such soul, you know, is sometimes worth a whole constellation. We have our system of reckoning, you know. The conquest is priceless! And some of them, on my word, are not inferior to you in culture, though you won't believe it. They can contemplate such depths of belief and disbelief at the same moment that sometimes it really seems that they are within a hair's-breadth of being 'turned upside down,' as the actor Gorbunov says."

"Well, did you get your nose pulled?"

"My dear fellow," observed the visitor sententiously, "it's better to get off with your nose pulled than without a nose at all. As an afflicted marquis observed not long ago (he must have been treated by a specialist) in confession to his spiritual father -- a Jesuit. I was present, it was simply charming. 'Give me back my nose!' he said, and he beat his breast. 'My son,' said the priest evasively, 'all things are accomplished in accordance with the inscrutable decrees of Providence, and what seems a misfortune sometimes leads to extraordinary, though unapparent, benefits. If stern destiny has deprived you of your nose, it's to your advantage that no one can ever pull you by your nose.' 'Holy father, that's no comfort,' cried the despairing marquis. 'I'd be delighted to have my nose pulled every day of my life, if it were only in its proper place.' 'My son,' sighs the priest, 'you can't expect every blessing at once. This is murmuring against Providence, who even in this has not forgotten you, for if you repine as you repined just now, declaring you'd be glad to have your nose pulled for the rest of your life, your desire has already been fulfilled indirectly, for when you lost your nose, you were led by the nose.'

"Fool, how stupid!" cried Ivan.

"My dear friend, I only wanted to amuse you. But I swear that's the genuine Jesuit casuistry and I swear that it all happened word for word as I've told you. It happened lately and gave me a great deal of trouble. The unhappy young man shot himself that very night when he got home. I was by his side till the very last moment. Those Jesuit confessionals are really my most delightful diversion at melancholy moments. Here's another incident that happened only the other day. A little blonde Norman girl of twenty -- a buxom, unsophisticated beauty that would make your mouth water -- comes to an old priest. She bends down and whispers her sin into the grating. 'Why, my daughter, have you fallen again already?' cries the priest: 'O Sancta Maria, what do I hear! Not the same man this time, how long is this going on? Aren't you ashamed!' 'Ah, mon pere,' answers the sinner with tears of penitence, 'Ca lui fait tant de plaisir, et a moi si peu de peine!'* Fancy, such an answer! I drew back. It was the cry of nature, better than innocence itself, if you like. I absolved her sin on the spot and was turning to go, but I was forced to turn back. I heard the priest at the grating making an appointment with her for the evening -- though he was an old man hard as flint, he fell in an instant! It was nature, the truth of nature asserted its rights! What, you are turning up your nose again? Angry again? I don't know how to please you-"

* Ah, my father, this gives him so much pleasure, and me so little pain!

"Leave me alone, you are beating on my brain like a haunting nightmare," Ivan moaned miserably, helpless before his apparition. "I am bored with you, agonisingly and insufferably. I would give anything to be able to shake you off!"

"I repeat, moderate your expectations, don't demand of me 'everything great and noble,' and you'll see how well we shall get on," said the gentleman impressively. "You are really angry with me for not having appeared to you in a red glow, with thunder and lightning, with scorched wings, but have shown myself in such a modest form. You are wounded, in the first place, in your asthetic feelings, and, secondly, in your pride. How could such a vulgar devil visit such a great man as you! Yes, there is that romantic strain in you, that was so derided by Byelinsky. I can't help it, young man, as I got ready to come to you I did think as a joke of appearing in the figure of a retired general who had served in the Caucasus, with a star of the Lion and the Sun on my coat. But I was positively afraid of doing it, for you'd have thrashed me for daring to pin the Lion and the Sun on my coat, instead of, at least, the Polar Star or the Sirius. And you keep on saying I am stupid, but, mercy on us! I make no claim to be equal to you in intelligence. Mephistopheles declared to Faust that he desired evil, but did only good. Well, he can say what he likes, it's quite the opposite with me. I am perhaps the one man in all creation who loves the truth and genuinely desires good. I was there when the Word, Who died on the Cross, rose up into heaven bearing on His bosom the soul of the penitent thief. I heard the glad shrieks of the cherubim singing and shouting hosannah and the thunderous rapture of the seraphim which shook heaven and all creation, and I swear to you by all that's sacred, I longed to join the choir and shout hosannah with them all. The word had almost escaped me, had almost broken from my lips... you know how susceptible and aesthetically impressionable I am. But common sense -- oh, a most unhappy trait in my character -- kept me in due bounds and I let the moment pass! For what would have happened, I reflected, what would have happened after my hosannah? Everything on earth would have been extinguished at once and no events could have occurred. And so, solely from a sense of duty and my social position, was forced to suppress the good moment and to stick to my nasty task. Somebody takes all the credit of what's good for Himself, and nothing but nastiness is left for me. But I don't envy the honour of a life of idle imposture, I am not ambitious. Why am I, of all creatures in the world, doomed to be cursed by all decent people and even to be kicked, for if I put on mortal form I am bound to take such consequences sometimes? I know, of course, there's a secret in it, but they won't tell me the secret for anything, for then perhaps, seeing the meaning of it, I might bawl hosannah, and the indispensable minus would disappear at once, and good sense would reign supreme throughout the whole world. And that, of course, would mean the end of everything, even of magazines and newspapers, for who would take them in? I know that at the end of all things I shall be reconciled. I, too, shall walk my quadrillion and learn the secret. But till that happens I am sulking and fulfil my destiny though it's against the grain -- that is, to ruin thousands for the sake of saving one. How many souls have had to be ruined and how many honourable reputations destroyed for the sake of that one righteous man, Job, over whom they made such a fool of me in old days! Yes, till the secret is revealed, there are two sorts of truths for me -- one, their truth, yonder, which I know nothing about so far, and the other my own. And there's no knowing which will turn out the better.... Are you asleep?"

"I might well be," Ivan groaned angrily. "All my stupid ideas- outgrown, thrashed out long ago, and flung aside like a dead carcass you present to me as something new!"

"There's no pleasing you! And I thought I should fascinate you by my literary style. That hosannah in the skies really wasn't bad, was it? And then that ironical tone a la Heine, eh?"

"No, I was never such a flunkey! How then could my soul beget a flunkey like you?"

"My dear fellow, I know a most charming and attractive young Russian gentleman, a young thinker and a great lover of literature and art, the author of a promising poem entitled The Grand Inquisitor. I was only thinking of him!"

"I forbid you to speak of The Grand Inquisitor," cried Ivan, crimson with shame.

"And the Geological Cataclysm. Do you remember? That was a poem, now!"

"Hold your tongue, or I'll kill you!"

"You'll kill me? No, excuse me, I will speak. I came to treat myself to that pleasure. Oh, I love the dreams of my ardent young friends, quivering with eagerness for life! 'There are new men,' you decided last spring, when you were meaning to come here, 'they propose to destroy everything and begin with cannibalism. Stupid fellows! they didn't ask my advice! I maintain that nothing need be destroyed, that we only need to destroy the idea of God in man, that's how we have to set to work. It's that, that we must begin with. Oh, blind race of men who have no understanding! As soon as men have all of them denied God -- and I believe that period, analogous with geological periods, will come to pass -- the old conception of the universe will fall of itself without cannibalism, and, what's more, the old morality, and everything will begin anew. Men will unite to take from life all it can give, but only for joy and happiness in the present world. Man will be lifted up with a spirit of divine Titanic pride and the man-god will appear. From hour to hour extending his conquest of nature infinitely by his will and his science, man will feel such lofty joy from hour to hour in doing it that it will make up for all his old dreams of the joys of heaven. Everyone will know that he is mortal and will accept death proudly and serenely like a god. His pride will teach him that it's useless for him to repine at life's being a moment, and he will love his brother without need of reward. Love will be sufficient only for a moment of life, but the very consciousness of its momentariness will intensify its fire, which now is dissipated in dreams of eternal love beyond the grave'... and so on and so on in the same style. Charming!"

Ivan sat with his eyes on the floor, and his hands pressed to his ears, but he began trembling all over. The voice continued.

"The question now is, my young thinker reflected, is it possible that such a period will ever come? If it does, everything is determined and humanity is settled for ever. But as, owing to man's inveterate stupidity, this cannot come about for at least a thousand years, everyone who recognises the truth even now may legitimately order his life as he pleases, on the new principles. In that sense, 'all things are lawful' for him. What's more, even if this period never comes to pass, since there is anyway no God and no immortality, the new man may well become the man-god, even if he is the only one in the whole world, and promoted to his new position, he may lightheartedly overstep all the barriers of the old morality of the old slaveman, if necessary. There is no law for God. Where God stands, the place is holy. Where I stand will be at once the foremost place... 'all things are lawful' and that's the end of it! That's all very charming; but if you want to swindle why do you want a moral sanction for doing it? But that's our modern Russian all over. He can't bring himself to swindle without a moral sanction. He is so in love with truth-"

The visitor talked, obviously carried away by his own eloquence, speaking louder and louder and looking ironically at his host. But he did not succeed in finishing; Ivan suddenly snatched a glass from the table and flung it at the orator.

"Ah, mais c'est bete enfin,"* cried the latter, jumping up from the sofa and shaking the drops of tea off himself. "He remembers Luther's inkstand! He takes me for a dream and throws glasses at a dream! It's like a woman! I suspected you were only pretending to stop up your ears."

* But after all, that's stupid.

A loud, persistent knocking was suddenly heard at the window. Ivan jumped up from the sofa.

"Do you hear? You'd better open," cried the visitor; "it's your brother Alyosha with the most interesting and surprising news, I'll be bound!"

"Be silent, deceiver, I knew it was Alyosha, I felt he was coming, and of course he has not come for nothing; of course he brings 'news,'" Ivan exclaimed frantically.

"Open, open to him. There's a snowstorm and he is your brother. Monsieur sait-il le temps qu'il fait? C'est a ne pas mettre un chien dehors."*

* Does the gentleman know the weather he's making? It's not weather for a dog.

The knocking continued. Ivan wanted to rush to the window, but something seemed to fetter his arms and legs. He strained every effort to break his chains, but in vain. The knocking at the window grew louder and louder. At last the chains were broken and Ivan leapt up from the sofa. He looked round him wildly. Both candles had almost burnt out, the glass he had just thrown at his visitor stood before him on the table, and there was no one on the sofa opposite. The knocking on the window frame went on persistently, but it was by no means so loud as it had seemed in his dream; on the contrary, it was quite subdued.

"It was not a dream! No, I swear it was not a dream, it all happened just now!" cried Ivan. He rushed to the window and opened the movable pane.

"Alyosha, I told you not to come," he cried fiercely to his brother. "In two words, what do you want? In two words, do you hear?"

"An hour ago Smerdyakov hanged himself," Alyosha answered from the yard.

"Come round to the steps, I'll open at once," said Ivan, going to open the door to Alyosha.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Cameras can be pretty cool. And these CCTVs are even cooler. The whole Panopticon deal – where do you go, there are just everywhere, watchful, unblinking, just gazing with that steady, stolid, super-sharp sight. You cannot hide. And with Carl Zeiss it’s all got sharper. But there’s a limit. There are corners. There are frames. All sharpened edges that pretend to preserve the picture. And I said this couple of years ago – that an image is not creation. There is something very art-ificial about images. Quite simply, they are just not real enough. No matter how much I try to capture detail by zooming in, it gets blurred. The more you delve deeper, the more it distorts. After all, how fine can pixels be? Not finer than atoms I imagine. But then again, even the imagination has its limits. And you need to blink it out and enter your simple, inadequate blackout. The zulm of the Zulimaat.

Now enter passages. Or passageways. And you see these signs and symbols and so many arrows pointing in delirious directions. But you need to look up. And you see the ceiling stretching out above you. Like the Vault above. And there are seven of them. And then there is a Beyond. The ceiling is shrinking. How further can it go, you imagine. You see it merging, converging and then you see it – see what – what you can imagine: the point where the divergent directions become one into a single point. And then you see it sharply maybe. And that we are moving, moving a bit too fast, in the same direction, towards that one Point. In architecture and art, this mathematically technical concept is called the Vanishing Point. One of my momentary art teachers said that it’s “…the point where our vision ends, and His Vision Begins.” That stayed with me, and intrigued me quite a bit. And then I saw it, again. How small everything is. No matter how many CCTVs are watching, some man is still shot. Some woman is still mugged. Some kid is still run over. And it happens in a second. But guess what. Something Happened Once-Upon-a-Time, in less than a trillionth of a second, and galaxies, far, far away came rumbling through Passageways. And the Be became a Light so White and Powerful that many black-holes just stood gaping blindly in the dark. And the rest, as they say, is history. We all came stumbling through, sweeping through our rabbit-holes and are still somehow trying to reach that Light at the End of the Tunnel. We are moving there. Just like the ceiling that is trailing towards its own point, just like the skies (all 7 of them) are vaulting Up towards the same point. The sun will blink out. We all need to shed our loads as there is too much to transmit all the time to so many. We phase out. We burn out. We all will blink out, eventually.

And so the camera relies on the mechanism of the eye. Art is either plagiarism or revolution. I can’t agree with Gaugin more. It is that desperate attempt to capture, preserve, and to somehow make things somewhat understandable. Or meaningful. Or even possible. Plagiarism and revolution both need some form of inspiration to become either. An artist is always frustrated with this need and hope to be understood. So an expression gives embodiment to what an artist wants to articulate. But then how much (or how little?) can a camera capture? How far can the Panopticon reach? Bentham and Zeiss have excellent minds, and sharper visions, but every eye has its blunt, blind-spot. There is something going on the other side, outside the frame, behind the scenes, below the earth, inside the sea. The very limitation of our vision – and you don’t need to be a Gaugin, Bentham or Zeiss to see that – is enough to make us understand that something goes on even inside a pixel and an atom. Every ceiling, every floor is stretching out, away, into a speck of distance. And we are in between. The lens, the flash, the lights and action – it’s an enter-and-exit situation, down to the final curtain-call, to fadeout.

Now let’s see a bit more closely. First it was all dark. But then there was Light. And now there is Light upon Light. And all we see are metaphors around us – that approximating and asymptotically frustrating attempt to intend or extend our very limits to see, and so believe. One metaphor would suffice to illuminate the point. Take a look at stars for instance. The true and so, only functions of stars are that they guide the traveler (so they act as compass points), they adorn and they fortify the heavens (so even God has an aesthetic and a pragmatic sense that go together). So against the black-hole sky, the only heavenly evidence is that of those bright stars as they look down upon us (if we see them as specks, they don’t see us any differently). In a sense, it’s only the stars that pointedly remind us of our smallness, even pettiness before the heavens. But the function of the stars is not merely heavenly. They’re always Switched on – through night and day – for those who might lose their way – which we all do. Look up, and you just might find an answer there. Plus, they look pretty. And plus they act as missiles to keep the bad guys away. And later on, the fascination with stars developed into astronomy that furthered into astrology – all attempts to ‘figure out’ things, approximating calculations and decisions and revisions to map stuff out. We desperately try to see through these metaphors so that we can have some meaning. But we don’t see enough, or see closely. And perhaps we are not supposed to see so much. Astronomers and astrologers for sure are always talking tentatively. They are always speaking in signs. For over-explanation and over-simplification, “cheapens the mystery of the cosmos.” I don’t know if Delores Macuccho is a real author. But the woman is true about this. How much or far words can stretch themselves to make meaning possible (if not entirely meaningful) shows that words, like artists, need to explain, capture and preserve. And so metaphors can only attempt to make understanding possible. But without metaphors explanation would be impossible. You need a star to make you see that heavenly bodies exist. You need darkness to know that Light must exist. And the limitation of the metaphor to approximate the truth in itself is an explanation that there is a Bigger Truth Out there. Sitaron se aagey jahaan aur bhi hain… which could (possibly) mean, beyond the stars, Other Worlds exist. Or, beyond the stars Where Others also exist. Take your pick – the metaphor only suggests. Iqbal is long-gone to decode the verse.

The metaphor, then, is merely extending itself to intend a meaning. There is a limit to what we can see. And so, there must be a Truth in some Other World out there that is so vast that it has to elude meaning, for meaning would place a limit on it, make it human, and in doing so, would only be able to or would tend to offer a tentative approximation. There has to be a Light that is unlike everything that we have or can possibly see. That light has to be something, or Someone that can only be explained – for now – through metaphor for It is too brilliant to be relativized within the confines of human construction that can limit its Totality and Absoluteness. Yet, It has to be made known, whether that be shown through a Fire on a mountain that guided, or through clay sparrows that began to Fly, or a Tree that shines with that Light and other colors – the Tree that marks the utmost boundary of the furthest heaven.

And since a very long time I have been trying to unlock this metaphor of the analogy of His Light being a niche, within it, a lamp, which is enclosed in a glass, that shines as a brilliant star, and the star is lit from a tree, that of an olive, that neither is of the East or the West and its oil glows forth of itself, yet no fire has touched it. Switch on all the lights of your mind and imagination, and this Ayah to this very day eludes explanation although the metaphor is aesthetically absolute – light upon light five times over. And yet many of us look at many stars many times over and see nothing, more or less.

I remember once – when I wanted to be an art student – I went to meet my friend who had then taken a compulsory Islamic Studies course. We sat outside the library and we were grappling with the whole deal behind the As-Samiiy‘ and Al-Basiir Names. And we both concluded – through different metaphors of course – that He is the Hearer of All and the Seer of All and we merely hear and see.
“You see, you and I are sitting here outside this library, and we can hear each other. We can hear people around us. We can see each other. And see all this stuff around us. But only He can Hear and See what’s happening inside the library, what happening in the opposite building, what’s happening outside the university’s gate…” Basically – what’s happening everywhere. And suddenly we felt small. Very, very small.

I am finally beginning to understand why He Calls Himself Al-Latiif and Al-Khabiir, and why the two Attributes, together. Arabic is a multivalent language. Rahm technically might mean womb, but it means Mercy too – and of course an etymological link is easily traceable. But Latiif is a fairly elusive word. Some things are also lost in translation – translation being the poorest of metaphors – but one might fumble to say that Latiif means to have the decorum of being able to differentiate between the most delicate of subtleties. So if Al-Basiir means to See all, Latiif means to See through-and-through all, thoroughly. Khabiir is a bit easily comprehensible; it means to be acquainted. So Al-Khabiir would take Latiif to its utmost conclusion – to be Well-Acquainted. So here we are talking of the One, the only One, being Able to See through all things so comprehensively and completely that He is All-Aware of anything and everything, all the time. I am reminded of the phrase that one of my Literature Professors used to use almost enchantingly, “[one] speaks monosemantically of the polysemous.” Metaphors and the meanings are too narrow in their reach. They have to be, for transcendence cannot be tabulated. And these are just two Names that we are talking about that are usually understood as Attributes. An attribute is merely a quality; it’s only a part of the Whole – an element of entirety.

La tudrikuhu alabsaru wahuwa yudriku alabsara wahuwa al-Latiiful-Khabiir.
No Vision can grasp Him, but He grasps all Vision.

I think the ultimate unlocking of all points, then, would be beyond the furthest limit – beyond the ceilings and floors, heavens and horizons, lights and trees – and then we will finally be able to See all what we have never seen before, up close and personal, with no metaphors in between.

And cameras would finally be so unnecessary.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Entering as a Trickle, Exiting as a Flood

Nouman Ali Khan from Al-Maghrib hammers the nail on its head by highlighting the contradictions within us: its the malaise we all are perpetuating and in some ways, condoning - and the blame's on us. Please do watch - the guy's making perfect sense:

AINULINDALË: From 'The Silmarillion' - J. R. R. Tolkien

The essay written by R. Scott Bakker, “Why Fantasy and Why Now?”, can be used as a cautious disclaimer to J. R. R. Tolkien’s piece that I am pasting below. I am also reminded of C.S. Peirce when he claimed – something to this effect – about poems, “… Now as to their function in the economy of the Universe, the Universe as an argument is necessarily a great work of art, a great poem -- for every fine argument is a poem and a symphony -- just as every true poem is a sound argument.” It is difficult to understand every aspect of the Universe with certainty. Whatever we know of it is conveyed to us symbolically. Hence, the Creator Himself has not chosen to reveal Himself in entirety in order to retain the mystery of His Being. This too is inextricably linked to the idea of having faith in that which we cannot – for the moment – see. Despite that limitation, we are to believe in that which we cannot see. Yet we are to know Him through His Signs, and the Universe, in that sense is a pretty sound argument for it proves that there is an Artist Out there Who is Perfect and Absolute, who chooses to be Veiled from us for now – and that too for our own good to test the certainty and clarity of our faith. It would be too simple, too easy, too plain and even prosaic to believe if we were to know and to see all and everything. There would be no need to seek further. Bakker dismisses the debauchery of our present thought quite aptly when he claims, “The problem, however, is that science does not provide value, does not tell us what is good or bad, right or wrong… The power of science to monopolize rationality has reached such an extent that one can no longer ask the question, 'What is the meaning of life?' and still be 'rational.' Since there is no scientific answer to this question, and since science is the paradigm of rationality, the question becomes irrational, silly, the subject matter of Monty Python spoofs. Thus the crisis of meaning. The world we live in has been revealed by science to be indifferent and arbitrary. Where we once lived in a world steeped in moral significance, now we live in a world where things simply happen. Where once the meaningfulness of life was an unquestioned certainty, the very foundation of rationality, now we must continually struggle to 'make our lives meaningful,' and do so, moreover, without the sanction of rationality. Questions of the meaningfulness of life have retreated into the fractured realm of competing faiths and the 'New Age' section of the bookstore. In our day in age, the truth claim, 'My life has meaning,' is as much an act of faith (which is to say, a belief without rational legitimation) as the truth claim, 'There is a God.'”

And I think the point that needs attention here is first of all to know that there is a God, and so, Who this God is, and then finally, what are we to do about this. This understanding then, from knowing He Is, then Who He is and how He’d want us to be is where meaningfulness of an unquestioned certainty should lie. I seriously think that all types and forms of knowledge is nothing but an attempt to somehow reach this meaningfulness. “Fantasy is the celebration of what we no longer are: individuals certain of our meaningfulness in a meaningful world.” For my first class on The Hobbit, I asked the kids why Fantasy can never become Literature. And we reached a unanimous (and fairly obvious) conclusion that the latter is always about life and so, is pathetically real. Fantasy is nothing but illusion, an ivory tower that allegedly offers nothing but a convenient escape. And so it is an alternative, a foil to see our own inadequate lives in which redemption is selfishly received when the grandest character dies on stage due an inherent flaw. This is the very limitation of literature: its values are a bit too real, and as everything is more or less plunging towards a steady state of degeneration, there are very few reasons to celebrate. Now, we begin to question if there is a right or wrong; who will triumph over whom is a redundant and even a ridiculous concern.

“In a culture antagonistic to meaning, the bald assertion that life is meaningful is not enough. We crave examples.” The only way to know that there is God is through examples. And from the examples we are to trace our way back, even if it calls for a strange and even stubborn deliverance from error. There is only one Answer, and there is only One Truth, and all of us, in our ways, our somehow trying to figure that out.

Tolkien’s inspiration for The Silmarillion was The Genesis. Usually dismissed as a writer for children’s fiction, and that too, as a fantasy-fiction writer, it bothers me sometimes that his work is infantilized, and like most religious writers, misunderstood. I think – and maybe that is my atrophied understanding of the subject – that the most meaningful literature is found in the works written for children. And sometimes, it is only children who understand or find meanings in things that seem insignificant to us. Ironically enough, children look up to us for answers. And we have very few left. This piece, Ainulindalë, through characteristic fantasy idiom, tries to narrate the story of How It All Began. What I admire about the writing is how the scriptural and the symbolic are tied in to explain The Genesis; what I find intriguing about it is how symbolic and scriptural parallels are used to convey meaning of a Tale that we all seemed to have known, but have conveniently forgotten, for after all, it was Something that Happened too long ago. Some of us might want to revisit the story simply to refresh our memory and to find some meaning – through example.

The Music of the Ainur

There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of me mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.
And it came to pass that Ilúvatar called together all the Ainur and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendour of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were silent.
Then Ilúvatar said to them: 'Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I win sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.'
Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void. Never since have the Ainur made any music like to this music, though it has been said that a greater still shall be made before Ilúvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Ilúvatar after the end of days. Then the themes of Ilúvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall then understand fully his intent in their part, and each shall know the comprehension of each, and Ilúvatar shall give to their thoughts the secret fire, being well pleased.
But now Ilúvatar sat and hearkened, and for a great while it seemed good to him, for in the music there were no flaws. But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar, for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself. To Melkor among the Ainur had been given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, and he had a share in all the gifts of his brethren. He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Ilúvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness. Yet he found not the Fire, for it is with Ilúvatar. But being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren.
Some of these thoughts he now wove into his music, and straightway discord arose about him, and many that sang nigh him grew despondent, and their thought was disturbed and their music faltered; but some began to attune their music to his rather than to the thought which they had at first. Then the discord of Melkor spread ever wider, and the melodies which had been heard before foundered in a sea of turbulent sound. But Ilúvatar sat and hearkened until it seemed that about his throne there was a raging storm, as of dark waters that made war one upon another in an endless wrath that would not be assuaged.
Then Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike to the former theme, and it gathered power and had new beauty. But the discord of Melkor rose in uproar and contended with it, and again there was a war of sound more violent than before, until many of the Ainur were dismayed and sang no longer, and Melkor had the mastery. Then again Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that his countenance was stern; and he lifted up his right hand, and behold! a third theme grew amid the confusion, and it was unlike the others. For it seemed at first soft and sweet, a mere rippling of gentle sounds in delicate melodies; but it could not be quenched, and it took to itself power and profundity. And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Ilúvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little
harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn pattern.
In the midst of this strife, whereat the halls of Ilúvatar shook and a tremor ran out into the silences yet unmoved, Ilúvatar arose a third time, and his face was terrible to behold. Then he raised up both his hands, and in one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Ilúvatar, the Music ceased.
Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: 'Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.'
Then the Ainur were afraid, and they did not yet comprehend the words that were said to them; and Melkor was filled with shame, of which came secret anger. But Ilúvatar arose in splendour, and he went forth from the fair regions that he had made for the Ainur; and the Ainur followed him.
But when they were come into the Void, Ilúvatar said to them: 'Behold your Music!' And he showed to them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; arid they saw a new World made visible before them, and it was globed amid the Void, and it was sustained therein, but was not of it. And as they looked and wondered this World began to unfold its history, and it seemed to them that it lived and grew. And when the Ainur had gazed for a while and were silent, Ilúvatar said again: 'Behold your Music! This is your minstrelsy; and each of you shall find contained herein, amid the design that I set before you, all those things which it may seem that he himself devised or added. And thou, Melkor, wilt discover all the secret thoughts of thy mind, and wilt perceive that they are but a part of the whole and tributary to its glory.'
And many other things Ilúvatar spoke to the Ainur at that time, and because of their memory of his words, and the knowledge that each has of the music that he himself made, the Ainur know much of what was, and is, and is to come, and few things are unseen by them. Yet some things there are that they cannot see, neither alone nor taking counsel together; for to none but himself has Ilúvatar revealed all that he has in store, and in every age there come forth things that are new and have no foretelling, for they do not proceed from the past. And so it was that as this vision of the World was played before them, the Ainur saw that it contained things which they had not thought. And they saw with amazement the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar, and the habitation that was prepared for them; and they perceived that they themselves in the labour of their music had been busy with the preparation of this dwelling, and yet knew not that it had any purpose beyond its own beauty. For the Children of Ilúvatar were conceived by him alone; and they came with the third theme, and were not in the theme which Ilúvatar propounded at the beginning, and none of the Ainur had part in their making. Therefore when they beheld them, the more did they love them, being things other than themselves, strange and free, wherein they saw the mind of Ilúvatar reflected anew, and learned yet a little more of his wisdom, which otherwise had been hidden even from the Ainur.
Now the Children of Ilúvatar are Elves and Men, the Firstborn and the Followers. And amid all the splendours of the World, its vast halls and spaces, and its wheeling fires, Ilúvatar chose a place for their habitation in the Deeps of Time and in the midst of the innumerable stars. And this habitation might seem a little thing to those who consider only the majesty of the Ainur, and not their terrible sharpness; as who should take the whole field of Arda for the foundation of a pillar and so raise it until the cone of its summit were more bitter than a needle; or who consider only the immeasurable vastness of the World, which still the Ainur are shaping, and not the minute precision to which they shape all things therein. But when the Ainur had beheld this habitation in a vision and had seen the Children of Ilúvatar arise therein, then many of the most mighty among them bent all their thought and their desire towards that place. And of these Melkor was the chief, even as he was in the beginning the greatest of the Ainur who took part in the Music. And he feigned, even to himself at first, that he desired to go thither and order all things for the good of the Children of Ilúvatar, controlling the turmoils of the heat and the cold that had come to pass through him. But he desired rather to subdue to his will both Elves and Men, envying the gifts with which Ilúvatar promised to endow them; and he wished himself to have subject and servants, and to be called Lord, and to be a master over other wills.
But the other Ainur looked upon this habitation set within the vast spaces of the World, which the Elves call Arda, the Earth; and their hearts rejoiced in light, and their eyes beholding many colours were filled with gladness; but because of the roaring of the sea they felt a great unquiet. And they observed the winds and the air, and the matters of which Arda was made, of iron and stone and silver and gold and many substances: but of all these water they most greatly praised. And it is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance else that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen.
Now to water had that Ainu whom the Elves can Ulmo turned his thought, and of all most deeply was he instructed by Ilúvatar in music. But of the airs and winds Manwë most had pondered, who is the noblest of the Ainur. Of the fabric of Earth had Aulë thought, to whom Ilúvatar had given skin and knowledge scarce less than to Melkor; but the delight and pride of Aulë is in the deed of making, and in the thing made, and neither m possession nor in his own mastery; wherefore he gives and hoards not, and is free from care, passing ever on to some new work.
And Ilúvatar spoke to Ulmo, and said: 'Seest thou not how here in this little realm in the Deeps of Time Melkor hath made war upon thy province? He hath bethought him of bitter cold immoderate, and yet hath not destroyed the beauty of thy fountains, nor of my clear pools. Behold the snow, and the cunning work of frost! Melkor hath devised heats and fire without restraint, and hath not dried up thy desire nor utterly quelled the music of the sea. Behold rather the height and glory of the clouds, and the everchanging mists; and listen to the fall of rain upon the Earth! And in these clouds thou art drawn nearer to Manwë, thy friend, whom thou lovest.'
Then Ulmo answered: 'Truly, Water is become now fairer than my heart imagined, neither had my secret thought conceived the snowflake, nor in all my music was contained the falling of the rain. I will seek Manwë, that he and I may make melodies for ever to my delight!' And Manwë and Ulmo have from the beginning been allied, and in all things have served most faithfully the purpose of Ilúvatar.

But even as Ulmo spoke, and while the Ainur were yet gazing upon this vision, it was taken away and hidden from their sight; and it seemed to them that in that moment they perceived a new thing, Darkness, which they had not known before except in thought. But they had become enamoured of the beauty of the vision and engrossed in the unfolding of the World which came there to being, and their minds were filled with it; for the history was incomplete and the circles of time not full-wrought when the vision was taken away. And some have said that the vision ceased ere the fulfilment of the Dominion of Men and the fading of the Firstborn; wherefore, though the Music is over all, the Valar have not seen as with sight the Later Ages or the ending of the World.
Then there was unrest among the Ainur; but Ilúvatar called to them, and said: 'I know the desire of your minds that what ye have seen should verily be, not only in your thought, but even as ye yourselves are, and yet other. Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be; and those of you that will may go down into it. And suddenly the Ainur saw afar off a light, as it were a cloud with a living heart of flame; and they knew that this was no vision only, but that Ilúvatar had made a new thing: Eä, the World that Is.
Thus it came to pass that of the Ainur some abode still with Ilúvatar beyond the confines of the World; but others, and among them many of the greatest and most fair, took the leave of Ilúvatar and descended into it. But this condition Ilúvatar made, or it is the necessity of their love, that their power should thenceforward be contained and bounded in the World, to be within it for ever, until it is complete, so that they are its life and it is theirs. And therefore they are named the Valar, the Powers of the World.
But when the Valar entered into Eä they were at first astounded and at a loss, for it was as if naught was yet made which they had seen in vision, and all was but on point to begin and yet unshaped, and it was dark. For the Great Music had been but the growth and flowering of thought in the Tuneless Halls, and the Vision only a foreshowing; but now they had entered in at the beginning of Time, and the Valar perceived that the World had been but foreshadowed and foresung, and they must achieve it. So began their great labours in wastes unmeasured and unexplored, and in ages uncounted and forgotten, until in the Deeps of Time and in the midst of the vast halls of Eä there came to be that hour and that place where was made the habitation of the Children of Ilúvatar. And in this work the chief part was taken by Manwë and Aulë and Ulmo; but Melkor too was there from the first, and he meddled in all that was done, turning it if he might to his own desires and purposes; and he kindled great fires. When therefore Earth was yet young and full of flame Melkor coveted it, and he said to the other Valar: 'This shall be my own kingdom; and I name it unto myself!'
But Manwë was the brother of Melkor in the mind of Ilúvatar, and he was the chief instrument of the second theme that Ilúvatar had raised up against the discord of Melkor; and he called unto himself many spirits both greater and less, and they came down into the fields of Arda and aided Manwë, lest Melkor should hinder the fulfillment of their labour for ever, and Earth should wither ere it flowered. And Manwë said unto Melkor: 'This kingdom thou shalt not take for thine own, wrongfully, for many others have laboured here do less than thou.' And there was strife between Melkor and the other Valar; and for that time Melkor withdrew and departed to other regions and did there what he would; but he did not put the desire of the Kingdom of Arda from his heart.
Now the Valar took to themselves shape and hue; and because they were drawn into the World by love of the Children of Ilúvatar, for whom they hoped, they took shape after that manner which they had beheld in the Vision of Ilúvatar, save only in majesty and splendour. Moreover their shape comes of their knowledge of the visible World, rather than of the World itself; and they need it not, save only as we use raiment, and yet we may be naked and suffer no loss of our being. Therefore the Valar may walk, if they will, unclad, and then even the Eldar cannot clearly perceive them, though they be present. But when they desire to clothe themselves the Valar take upon them forms some as of male and some as of female; for that difference of temper they had even from their beginning, and it is but bodied forth in the choice of each, not made by the choice, even as with us male and female may be shown by the raiment but is not made thereby. But the shapes wherein the Great Ones array themselves are not at all times like to the shapes of the kings and queens of the Children of Ilúvatar; for at times they may clothe themselves in their own thought, made visible in forms of majesty and dread.
And the Valar drew unto them many companions, some less, some well nigh as great as themselves, and they laboured together in the ordering of the Earth and the curbing of its tumults. Then Melkor saw what was done, and that the Valar walked on Earth as powers visible, clad in the raiment of the World, and were lovely and glorious to see, and blissful, and that the Earth was becoming as a garden for their delight, for its turmoils were subdued. His envy grew then the greater within him; and he also took visible form, but because of his mood and the malice that burned in him that form was dark and terrible. And he descended upon Arda in power and majesty greater than any other of the Valar, as a mountain that wades in the sea and has its head above the clouds and is clad in ice and crowned with smoke and fire; and the light of the eyes of Melkor was like a flame that withers with heat and pierces with a deadly cold.
Thus began the first battle of the Valar with Melkor for the dominion of Arda; and of those tumults the Elves know but little. For what has here been declared is come from the Valar themselves, with whom the Eldalië spoke in the land of Valinor, and by whom they were instructed; but little would the Valar ever tell of the wars before the coming of the Elves. Yet it is told among the Eldar that the Valar endeavoured ever, in despite of Melkor, to rule the Earth and to prepare it for the coming of the Firstborn; and they built lands and Melkor destroyed them; valleys they delved and Melkor raised them up; mountains they carved and Melkor threw them down; seas they hollowed and Melkor spilled them; and naught might have peace or come to lasting growth, for as surely as the Valar began a labour so would Melkor undo it or corrupt it. And yet their labour was not all in vain; and though nowhere and in no work was their will and purpose wholly fulfilled, and all things were in hue and shape other than the Valar had at first intended, slowly nonetheless the Earth was fashioned and made firm. And thus was the habitation of the Children of Ilúvatar established at the last in the Deeps of Time and amidst the innumerable stars.