This week’s dinner party

Guests for my fantasy dinner party this week (Friday to Monday):

Jaroslav Hašek, Stella Gibbons, Flann O’Brien, Harpo Marx, Keith Richards, Viv Albertine, Zoe Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Caitlin Moran, Diane Morgan [far-fetched stage name of Philomena Cunk—Ed.], and Bridget Christie.

Dress optional. 1859 for 1900. That gives them 41 years.

It might be churlish of me to worry that Hašek and Myles might not shine in a large mixed group. But hey, it’s a fantasy.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks

Having suggested suitable T-shirts to go with the book and the film, I just have to cite the wonderful Bridget Christie again. In summer 2016 Theresa May came in for what footballers call “a bit of stick”—never so trenchantly as here:

I’m not entirely sure about women wearing a “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt. Or men, for that matter. It’s overstating the case a bit, isn’t it? It’s like wearing a T-shirt with “I am not a racist” on it. It makes me suspicious. I assume that most people’s default setting is feminist, until they do or say something that makes me think otherwise. If I went bowling with a friend, for example, and they took their coat off to reveal an “I am not a racist” T-shirt underneath, I don’t think I’d feel relieved at all. On the contrary, it would make me very on edge. I’d spend the whole night worried I was bowling with an ironic racist.

A few years ago, because Tory feminists were in the papers all the time, talking about Tory feminism, it made me think about what Tory feminism was, which fed into the standup in my show War Donkey in Edinburgh in the summer of 2012. This is how it went:

I’ve been trying to work out what a Tory feminist is, because I keep seeing photographs of female Tory MPs in the newspapers, wearing T-shirts with “This is what a feminist looks like” on them. What, like a T-shirt? How can a T-shirt look like a feminist? A T-shirt looks like a T-shirt, doesn’t it? It should say, “This is what a T-shirt with ‘This is what a feminist looks like'”written on it looks like.

That’s what it says on the front, anyway, of the Tory feminists’ T-shirts that they’re all wearing now. And on the back it says, “Not really, I’m a Tory, you gullible dick.”

Then underneath that it says, “I axed the health in pregnancy grant. I closed Sure Start centres.’”That one’s got a smiley face next to it. “I cut child benefit and slashed tax credits. I shut down shelters for battered wives and children. I cut rape counselling and legal aid.” Winking face.

“I cut funding for CCTV cameras and street lighting, making women much more vulnerable. I closed down all 23 specialist domestic violence courts. I cut benefits for disabled children.” Sad face with sunglasses on. “I tried to amend the abortion act so that women receive one-to-one abortion counselling from the pope before they go ahead with it.” Winking face with tongue out. The back is much longer than the front, by the way. It’s a tailcoat, basically. They’re wearing tailcoats.

 

Mind the Gap: The Three Homages

Ch.10 of my book is called Mind the Gap. My use of this classic London underground warning, I gladly concede, may well be less effective in Daoist ritual studies than that of the wonderful Bridget Christie for feminist comedy.

Anyway, I explore how rituals as performed don’t make a close fit with ritual manuals—apart from the fact that the latter are silent. Here’s an instance.[1]

The Li family makes four visits to the soul hall in the morning to Deliver the Scriptures (songjing 送經). The final one of these sessions is Presenting Offerings (shanggong 上供), parts of which are shown in my film, from 32’12”.

The Three Homages hymn (San guiyi, also known as Zan sanbao) is part of an unusual sequence in their current practice. This is another instance of the importance of using ritual performance rather than relying merely on ritual manuals. Finding the short text of The Three Homages in Li Qing’s hymn volume (and I haven’t yet found it elsewhere), we couldn’t know that each of its three verses (accompanied by shengguan) is preceded by a choice of solo shuowen recited introit (now commonly based on the Triple Libations of Tea). The first one commonly goes like this:

I hereby declare:
The lustre of time soon passes, life and death are hard to evade.
Don’t ask of the three sovereigns and five emperors, or cultivate the search of Qin and Han emperors most high.
Coveting Pengzu’s eight hundred years, or cultivating Yan Hui’s four hundred years.
Although old and young differ, they can’t help being equal in rank.
Burning incense in the golden incense-burner, jade cups full of tea,
With filial kin raising up the cups, the first libation of tea pouring.

Nor could we know that the hymn is followed by the fast tutti a cappella chanted Mantra to Smash the Hells (which appears not in the hymn volume but in the Bestowing Food manual):

mantra-to-smash-the-hells

In boundless Fengdu hell, the vastness of Mount Vajra.
Immeasurable light of the Numinous Treasure
thoroughly illuminating the woes of Scorching Pool.
The Seven Ancestors and all the netherworld souls
Bearing incense-cloud pennants,
Blue lotus flowers of meditation and wisdom,
Life-giving gods eternally in peace.

Nor yet could we imagine that the whole sequence then concludes with any short hymn from elsewhere in the hymn volume, like The Ten Redemptions of Sin (Shi miezui) or the Five Offerings (Wu gongyang), again with shengguan.

With its short verses, the tempo of The Three Homages is not as slow as most of the Li family’s hymns, so one might think it would be an easy-learning item, but it is still none too easy for the outsider to learn. Indeed, they don’t grade their learning like this—they just plunge in, picking up the hymns as they occur in ritual practice.

san-guiyi-for-book

San guiyi text.jpg

The text illustrates a system found in some other hymns, where the last words of each line are repeated to open the following line—as here, the first of three verses:

Homage to the Dao,
The Dao residing on Jade Capital Mountain.[2]
On Jade Capital Mountain preaching the dharma,
Preaching the dharma to deliver humans to heaven.

By the way: fa, commonly equated with the Buddhist “dharma”, is just as common in Daoism. I usually render it as “ritual,” only retaining “dharma” in a couple of biomes—like shuo fa here, and fayan “dharma speech”.

In sum, useful as it is to have collections of texts on the page, none of the efficacy of ritual in performance is contained there. All the segments of this Presenting Offerings ritual differ in style. To read them on the page, as ever, is quite inadequate.

[1] Adapted from my book, pp.208–9, 264.
[2] Li Qing’s manual gives Yuqing shan 玉清山, which I have (unusually) revised to the standard Yujing shan 玉京山.