by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
January 16, 2001
OF GULLS & DEMONS
SEATTLE, Wash. -- A friend says that I use bad language (by which she means h--l and d--n) and that she has been unaccustomed to this at the University of Washington, the speech of which is much more fastidious than that to which she was exposed at Princeton. I must write to President Tilghman about this terrible problem.
Speaking of bad language, I went to the beach to go for a walk, and the man who is nearly always there with a large bucket full of bread for the gulls got into a furious slanging match with an old couple, two pestilential busybodies, who said that the gulls dirtied the grass because of him, that they would become dependent on handouts, &c. &c. Itis a wonder they did not call the police. I chatted with him as he calmed down, muttering that next time he was bringing croissants!
At the gym I ran into Frank, my podiatrist's receptionist. "You don't by any chance do a little freelance podiatry on the side?" I asked. He said he did not, that he was "just the warm-up act." He topped me.
D.H.Lawrence's novel "Women in Love" has some of the worst sentences I have ever come across in a reputable writer. There are stretches that I simply do not understand. I'll write him a letter: "Dear Mr. Lawrence, I have read or tried to read your acclaimed (?) novel (?) and wish to point out that to call furniture 'unliving' is absurd since all the furniture in my house and indeed in the entire world, unless there is some place where people sit on live animals, is UNLIVING. Yours, Mrs. Humphrey Hauser."
Among the lurid phantasms of 3 a.m. insomnia last night was this. After all the hoohah about the star and the Magi we fast-forward to a time when Jesus is almost 30 years old.
The bigtime publicity attending His birth is a vague memory. His agent seems to have gone on to other clients, and Jesus has a little local fame, but it is nothing to put in the bank. What He does to attract attention is this: He heals the sick.
A man blind from birth is told by Jesus to look around - and he does! A man known to all as a cripple from birth gets up and walks across the street.
But He also heals mental illness. In the idiom of the day, peoplesaid of a person with a psychological affliction: "He hath a demon." Jesus would order the demon to leave him, and the demon left. This formula of "he hath a demon" strikes us today as quaint, or worse.
We know the modern scientific way of saying it. He has a screw loose. He is not playing with a full deck. He is a few bricks shy of a load. Speaking to an audience of First Century people who knew what "he hath a demon" meant, you might need a week or so to explain our modern terminology and the need for a screwdriver, a few more playing cards to make up the deck, a hodful of bricks to fill out the load, and so on.
Frankly, the old idea that someone's mind has been invaded by an enemy - "the opposing self" is one term for it - - and that this evil paradigm of wrong choices can be expelled by a charismatic healer (like Jesus), appeals to me as more intuitively right than our screws, cards, and bricks.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.