Friday, May 24, 2013

Plass, Darryl, and Midrash

Some time ago I read a book that was basically a compilation from Adrian Plass's New Daylight daily readings material, plus some other writing that fitted into the book's theme.  It's called Blind Spots in the Bible, though truth be told it's not really to do with blind spots we have towards certain texts but with passages that are quite difficult to get to grips with.  Plass doesn't always get to grips with them either, and he admits this. Some passages just don't compute, as it were.

Still, there are some good moments in the book, one in particular being the skit on the death and revival of Eutychus, the young man who fell out of the third-storey window while Paul was preaching at length.  Plass's always seems to me to be at his best when he's telling stories.  His non-fiction work, like this one, doesn't bring out his gifts as well as his story-writing does, in particular the early Sacred Diary series, which can be laugh-out-loud funny and quite moving.  When he's telling stories here, the stories stick in your mind.

There's not too much of the self-deprecating Plass here,which is a good thing, but there's an excess of the use of the word silly, which is a weak word even in Plass's hands.  It smacks of something old-fashioned, and could do with be excised from his vocabulary, or at least having something of a moratorium on it.

As for silly, we watched Northfork around the same time I finished the book. I mentioned this back in Oct last year, but didn't say much more about it. Here's a movie that has the production qualities  that go with a masterpiece, and yet they're wasted on a story with a pseudo-seriousness and silly puns.   A bunch of fine actors (including Nick Nolte and Daryl Hannah) do their utmost to make the thing work, but the two elements of the film never cohere - the six men trying to move the last people out of the valley before it's flooded and the curious dreaming of the boy who's dying.   The dream stuff makes no sense on any level: it's neither surreal enough to be really dreamlike nor clear enough to make sense within the film as a whole.   Nor is it amusing, though it seems to think it is.

The photography is superb, however, and the music suits the mood of the film wonderfully.   But at the end you just ask what the heck was that all about and you're left with no answer.

Incidentally, talking of Daryl Hannah, it strikes me that Daryl is a name that gets spelt in a variety of ways and you're never sure if the person being referred to is male or female (unless you already know them, of course).  I have a friend who's a bloke called Daryl, and another female friend called Darrel, and I think there are infinite other variations in the spelling.   Someone on the Net has given this list of spellings - Darryl
It's not surprising there's confusion. Supposedly the name is derived from the French name: D'Arielle, which equally supposedly means beloved.  But in other circles you find Arielle meaning either Lion of God, or Lioness, depending on the gender of the person.   Supposedly it derives from the Hebrew.  If I'm using the word supposedly here a good deal it's because I'm feeling somewhat cynical about the various explanations I've been finding in relation to this name.  Quite honestly, the various weak spellings of the name, in English, give little indication of there being any kind of lion involved, let alone one belonging to God. 

Reverting to Plass's attempts to explain some of the texts in the Bible: I've been reading Chaim Potok's large novel In the Beginning.  It's very gloomy, but the writing is excellent, and makes it surprisingly readable.  The characters are wonderful - although the main one, David, is a bit of a pain sometimes.  Still, that's partly the result of who he is.  But the point I wanted to make is that he spends a good deal of time studying the Torah, and the Midrash - that is, the Bible and the commentaries made by different Jewish writers over centuries.  In a section I was reading today he was puzzling over a disagreement between two of the ancient commentators, who were fussing about something that wasn't even written in the Biblical text, but was only implied.  It relates to Noah and his sons, and the odd story about Noah being found naked after getting drunk, and his curse on Ham. It's an odd story anyway, but searching between the cracks, as these commentators did, makes it even odder. At least as Potok presents it in the book...
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