Thanksgiving is not REALLY my favorite Holiday—more than anything else it celebrates the victory of Massachusetts Puritans over Virginia Cavaliers as the mythically historical “founders” of America. Virginia was the first and greatest of all the British Colonies, but its formative role in the American Union was symbolically forfeited by its joining and ultimate leadership in “the Second American Revolution” of 1861….. which led to the imposition of Marxist Ideology from Illinois and Massachusetts…. and I myself joined in the ritual reification of those places through my own education (at Harvard GSAS and the University of Chicago Law School).
Today, more than anything else, I want to give general thanks and honor for and to Politically Incorrect Hate Speech, and to give private thanks and honor to my sister-in-law Alexandra Kourembana whose gracious invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner in Austin I was unable to accept because I’m on my way to Hawaii….
I have often written on this blog about the importance of Hate Speech and of “Compassing the Death of the King” (which was a crime of subversion and sedition bordering on treason in Jolly Old England). In essence, I have ONLY this to say: HATE SPEECH, SUBVERSIVE SPEECH, SEDITIOUS SPEECH AGAINST OUR FELLOW AMERICANS AND FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS AND ESPECIALLY AGAINST THE POWERS THAT BE—these are the most important kinds of speech, and the kinds of speech most needing in First Amendment Protection. If a speech or written text doesn’t upset someone, it is not in need of any protection. And any set of thoughts or images that doesn’t upset someone isn’t going to lead to any change in human behavior: social, cultural, political, religious or economic.
One of the lesser known Citizens of L. Frank Baum’s “Land of Oz” was a character, “The Patchwork Girl of Oz,” introduced long after the Wizard and Dorothy in a later book composed after 1900. Her key line was “I HATE Dignity.” She was a rebel and a model for all of us: she had no manners, and she NEVER would have respected the norms of Political Correctness.
In 1990 in Greece, I married a young lady for the second time, one Elena Kourembana, in Athens, Greece. The whole summer was a bit of an ongoing wedding party and celebration, coordinate with a tour through only recently post-Communist Eastern Europe and a fellowship I held, and a related conference on Northern Maya (Yucatec) archaeology and history, at the University of Bonn in West Germany, all sponsored by Volkswagenwerk A.G., just after finishing my Ph.D. at Harvard.
One of the members of this ongoing wedding party was my wife’s beautiful sister-in-law Alexandra, then still a teenager, who was in her own way a bit of a “patchwork girl” and quite a rebel, really, with absolutely no respect for anybody at all.
One of our expeditions that summer was to visit some cousins of my wife’s family in Greece, one of whom was the Mother Superior of the (Eastern [Greek] Orthodox] Convent of Saint Irene, which had been commissioned to burn some gigantic candles, of varying heights matched with my height and Elena’s, and to keep these candles burning throughout our lives (I have no idea what may have happened to these candles over the past 10 years since Elena and I effectively parted company for the last time).
That experience, visiting the Greek Orthodox Convent of Saint Irene, was one of those memories for which I am not exactly “thankful”, although I will carry it to my grave, or actually, a series of memories I will carry to my grave. For one thing, my wife’s cousin the mother superior was a rather unusual shape and size, in that her vows including abstaining from the consumption of meat, and she had been (I presume involuntarily) pledged to these vows from her childhood as a VERY little girl, and so she had spent her life eating sweets, which were all over the priory. Needless to say, she was under 4 feet tall and exactly the same in circumference as height, but as the Mother Superior no one in her presence could ever have his or her head higher than the Mother Superior’s head. This led to a series of thrones and daises, and a lot of bowing, genuflecting, and scraping.
So far as I could tell, no woman who ever entered the priory ever got out. The sisters prided themselves that all the sisters stayed with the living throughout eternity, and they had a phenomenal collection of thousands of deceased sisters’ skulls pilled up or shelved row-on-row in various sacred precincts of the priory as proof of that point. When we talk mortification of the flesh, we’re talking MORTIFICATION here with an emphasis on MORT (i.e. death….)
Clearly the mortification of the flesh was an important aspect and element of the “life” of the Sisters of the Convent of Saint Irene, and man was I mortified….. especially when my delightful sister-in-law was denied admission at the gate….
It seems that the high spirited Sister-in-Law Alex, an American born although bilingual Greek-American teenager who rather normally prided herself on her exceptional beauty and extraordinarily sexy appearance, could only be admitted if she covered herself up, more or less consistent with Sharia law….. and as it happened Alex was simply NOT in the mood to cover up her summer sundress-wearing self, (loose sundress with plunging neckline and exceeding short, i.e., high hem-lines), in any way that would have made her acceptable to the nuns of the Orthodox Convent of Saint Irene, never mind to her own blood cousin the Mother Superior.
Now, historically, Saint Irene was a rather dull gal, not one of the more heroic or inspiring of “All the Saints”, at least not in my opinion. Irene was the sister of Pope Saint Damasus I (c. 304-384). She and her devout mother Laurentia are said to have often spent whole nights in the catacombs of Rome, keeping vigil in prayer beside the tombs of the martyrs. At the age of twenty, Irene consecrated her virginity by vow to Christ. When in 366 her brother was elected to the pontificate, one faction of the Roman clergy refused to recognize him, schismatically electing their own rival candidate and violently seizing the papal throne for their antipope, Ursinus. Irene ardently prayed for an end to the schism. A year later, the imposter Ursinus was expelled from Rome by the emperor Valentinian I. Pope Damasus wrote for his sister a book on consecrated virginity. Following Irene’s death in 379, he buried her in a small church where he had interred their mother, and where he was later to be buried. The pope composed a loving epitaph for his sister, in which he testifies to her holiness and purity.
For some reason, perhaps because I just didn’t think much of the holiness of purity of Saint Irene as a reason for as much repression and suffering as I saw in this convent, I felt moved to spontaneously erupt in the middle of all this ghoulishly archaic pageantry and mortification of the flesh to advocate for Alex’s Freedom of Expression through Teenage Style. I claimed a level of seniority and status in American law and society to which I was essentially not entitled, and lectured them about the freedom of the body and exposure of the flesh as the essence of our national heritage…..
I have been told that arguing with me is not one of the most pleasant experiences in life, especially when it all has to be translated into Archaic Church Greek by the living who speak modern Greek….. but the Sisters ultimately gave up and I won the argument…. but as of today November 22, 2012, I give thanks that I dared to defy the traditions and authority of one of the creepiest places I have ever been to in the planet, and I praise all who defy tradition and engage in bad manners in similar situations to maintain their “Freedom of Choice” as to lifestyle and general choices of “style.”
In all my days as an archaeologist I have never seen more preserved skulls than were displayed at that convent…. My argument on that hot day in the summer (July of 1990) was entirely ad hoc and disrespectful in the extreme, I’m sure, but I neither regret it nor apologize for it, any more than I expected my sister-in-law Alex to apologize for or cover up her perfectly reasonable choice of dresses for touring through the Greek Countryside.
The choice of dress style is an expressive aspect of speech, philosophy, and thought which is fundamental to Western European and American Society.
The confrontation between the Western European and Islamic traditions is fundamentally a confrontation between individual freedom of expression and suppression, uniformity. Sharia law is antithetical to the American Way, to the culture of Western Europe, and although its adherents may be entitled to freedom of Religion, as are the Sisters of Saint Irene entitled to behave and think in exactly the same way as the sisters did in the days of the Emperor Justinian. Mediaeval women covered their bodies in this way even in Western Europe, as can be seen in tapestries, paintings, and illuminated manuscripts of the period, but time and styles change.