Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Devil and the Tomcat (& Pontius Pilate & Yeshua Ha-Nozri)

The Master and Margarita
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Bulgakov swings gracefully between the theatrical, the vulgar, the cartoonish, the caustically satiric, and even at times the profound and the sublime. I don't know how much of the satire I missed due to my relative unfamiliarity with the Soviet Union in the 1920s, though his attacks on the groveling and conforming literary establishment of the time are quite clear and wonderfully handled. I especially loved his satires of hustling for real estate. Behemoth the Tomcat is an indelible character - even if his supporting role in the book is smaller than you might imagine given his prominence on the covers of many editions of this book.

But the most thought provoking element of the book may be the novel-within-the-novel about Pontius Pilate. It functions simultaneously as a deep rupture from the main narrative, yet Bulgakov also successfully integrates it in myriad ways. Techniques associated with postmodernism stretch as far back as Cervantes, but this novel fascinates in how it feels both of its time and startlingly contemporary.

But most important of all, it's damn funny.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

13th Amendment Loophole

When I watched Lincoln the other week, I noticed something about the 13th Amendment I had not been aware of before. The movie's narrative follows the political struggle to pass the 13th Amendment through Congress. At the end, the text of the 13th Amendment is read out loud:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
I highlighted the above section because it's a big fat loophole in the U.S. Constitution just waiting for some brutal geniuses to think up the prison industrial complex. 150 years later, we have mass incarceration and states of the Old Confederacy have considered using prison labor to do the work that slaves would have done prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.