Posts Tagged ‘quill pen’

Codex Gastropoda #7: Between The Pages Of Reality

January 14, 2013

Codex Gastropoda: #7

Codex Gastropoda: #7

Yesterday afternoon, in appreciation of an unseasonably warm January day, my better half and I went for a walk on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Heading east on Carson Street past a barrage of  bars and nightclubs led us to City Books, a venerable remnant of Pittsburgh’s once lively independent bookstore market. Inside the old shop, a wrought iron spiral staircase punctuates two levels of floor-to-ceiling wooden bookshelves whose old and rare inhabitants speak volumes on an array of subjects that include philosophy, art, science, math, history, foreign languages and vintage fiction for adults and children. A little schmooze with the owner, Edward Gelblum and his elegant assistant whose name I did not learn, was intriguing enough to provoke my tentative climb up the spiral staircase to inspect their impressive philosophy, science, foreign language and Judaica collections.

Their intimate knowledge of such collections within this timeless, musty ambience reminded me of an Imaginarius post of December 19, 2010, written upon completing the third drawing in my Codex Gastropoda series, ‘The Unbearable Slowness of Reading’. You can access that post here:

During this little reminiscence, which inspired the new drawing above, I began to think beyond the act of reading; beyond the physical properties of books to their metaphysical attributes. Does their power to manipulate our minds and hearts come from our literal interpretation of the words, from the images they may contain, or from the associations and ideas inherent in both? Despite the proliferation of electronic media, there is a magnetic attraction to words and images on paper that I can’t trivialize as a mere Luddite denial of technological reality.

Though the written word bound in book form has been likened to ‘conversations with great minds,’ etc., I wonder whether books can be more accurately perceived as vessels made to contain the power of alternate realities? Does encoding these realities in language and 2D images make them more approachable? It seems to me that even if these ‘realities’ could be experienced directly with all ‘six’ of our senses as the human modus operandi, we would still be overwhelmed. The ‘arcane’ technology that enables cinematic ‘reality’ via animation/CGI effects has brought us closer to a total sensory experience. Even so, marvelous as it is to watch movies like ‘Avatar’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’ , we are served generous helpings of the detailed, brilliant imagination of others with little left for our own to play with. Maybe this is why the power of books to evoke and provoke our own emotions and memories remains its own distinctive experience. It is also why I think that bookstores will never disappear completely; despite the fact that the majority of Mr. Gelblum’s sales originate online. Just as great food deserves to be presented beautifully in a warm and welcoming environment,  so does a warm and inviting shop remain necessary to contain and disseminate the literary treasures that continue to define us.

Note: Codex Gastropoda #7 is available as a gicleé print at:

Between Introspection and Action

September 21, 2012

AS the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come to a close, we stand again at metaphorical thresholds of life and death; a time of reckoning, so to speak. Do we carry on with our thoughts and behaviors as though they are beyond reproach or do we confront and excise those that are detrimental to our moral and spiritual development?

There is no easy answer nor am I qualified to moralize to anyone even if there were. Yet, I think that if we accept the opportunity to make these choices, we must acknowledge that we are far less than perfect and remind ourselves that regardless of our beliefs in destiny, fate or free choice, we are creatures of habit. And habits, by their very nature, are powerfully addictive.

It is the act of excising strong cultural addictions with the intention of a nation’s spiritual cleansing that drives this week’s Torah narrative in Parashah Va-Yelekh. In the process, we meet the prophetess Huldah, a unique intelligence far ahead of her times and Josiah, an idealistic king whose actions remind us that while destruction is often dramatic and ugly, it must become the foundation for a nation whose spiritual roots will run deep beneath the various practices of monotheism.

From the AfterImages section of my book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009), here is my interpretation for the visuals that serve Parashah Va-Yelekh:

The Last Testament

In Israel, during the 7th century rule of King Josiah, grandson of Manasseh, Hilkiah, his high priest, discovered a scroll, later identified as Deuteronomy amidst some debris in the Temple.  Following the cultic corruption of the land during the time of Josiah’s father Amon, the priest had been directing an altar and idol destruction campaign to re-establish Judean control over Israel. When he brought the scroll to King Josiah, they discovered that it contained predictions of great catastrophe on all of Israel for ignoring its commandments. This frightening find then prompted Josiah to seek further counsel to guide him in the social and political reformation that restoration of monotheism would require.

In her commentary to Parashah Va-Yelekh, Rabbi Rosette Barron Haim suggests that in handing down the Torah in the generations after Moses and Joshua, it was necessary to choose an individual who could not only transcribe and administer it, but who possessed a deep understanding of its meaning. Although the well-known prophet Jeremiah was alive at that time, the king gave the scroll to the prophetess Huldah. He is shown here with shadowy broken idols falling from hands while he listens intensely to Huldah’s interpretation. In her wisdom, she tactfully tempered her responses to ease the King’s fears, yet encourage him to act swiftly.

Curious to know more about this extraordinary woman, I found that Huldah was said to have administered an academy of learning under the influence of Rabbi Akiva’s academy in Mishneh (the second quarter of Jerusalem). Because both institutions held that a man is obligated to educate his daughter in Torah, it is easy to understand how her authority would have inspired the actions that secured King Josiah’s prominent role in the history of the monarchy of Israel.

I was also intrigued to learn that during the 2nd Temple period, there were two gates in the south wall of the Temple Mount at Jerusalem known as the  ‘Huldah Gates’. These gates, under the Al-Aqsa Mosque, led into underground tunnels on the way to the Temple Mount and alledgedly to Huldah’s academy.The architectural image at the upper left of this spread was drawn from this bit of information.

As for her odd name, Huldah in Hebrew means ‘weasel’. While this doesn’t seem very flattering, it turns out that many cultures associate this small animal with archetypal feminine qualities and great intelligence, going so far as to credit a weasel as midwife in the birth of the Greek hero Hercules. I have portrayed her in her advancing years, her mythical associate on her lap; gazing into a future that only she can see.

Emerging from the clay amphora near the quotation is a branch of fruit resembling persimmons. This odd detail was suggested as I read about the discovery of the first Israelite settlement at Ein Gedi in the 7th century during the reign of the kings of Judah.A strange plant, perhaps the persimmon, grew there in abundance. This plant exuded a fragrant resin that was collected and processed into a legendary perfume. King Josiah is credited with originating the closely guarded formula for ‘persimmon’ oil that was used to anoint new kings.

The final image on this spread illustrates the future implications of the quotation. Two hands, young and old, hold a quill pen and are drawing the Hebrew letter ‘vav’. This is from the formal ceremony known as ‘Siyyum HaTorah’. It is enacted when the writing of a scroll of the Law is completed. Traditionally, the final eight verses are left unwritten or set down only as outlines so that guests who are invited to this event may perform the important mitzvah of participating in the scroll’s completion.

What a fine reminder that our work is never really done, particularly the part where we must reinvent ourselves through succeeding generations…

May you be Inscribed in the Book of Life and may your stories enlighten those who need to learn from them…