Monday, March 31, 2014

The Best Stories in the World: Prince Qamar al-Zaman and Princess Budur

Edmund Dulac did a series of illustrations for this story. This is Budur.

When I first read Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I was 19 years old. I remember sitting on a little hump in the lawn outside Au Sable Hall at Grand Valley State University. It was a beautiful day right at the end of spring, and everything seemed great. I was studying film, writing until the wee hours of every morning, and just generally enjoying my position in life. Campbell's book seemed like exactly the sort of thing I should be reading at that moment.

Campbell discusses the story of Prince Qamar al-Zaman and Princess Budur, from The Arabian Nights. In it, he tells us, both prince and princess (of Persia and China respectively), separated by the entirety of Asia, proclaim that they will never get married. Their parents are upset about this, but they find no solution. A passing djinni notices Qamar and is awestruck by his beauty. A different djinni sees Budur and has the same reaction. The djinn encounter each other, and they brag about the beautiful humans they've just seen. They argue about which one will fall in love with the other if they ever meet. Settling this argument means bringing the two together as they sleep. One wakes up, sees the other, falls madly in love and takes a ring from the other's hand, goes back to sleep. The other wakes up, falls madly in love and takes a ring, then goes back to sleep. The djinn take the people back to their respective homes. They wake up and see the rings as confirmation of what they  experienced. They insist they will marry no one but the person they saw the night before. Everyone thinks they're crazy.

The djinn Maymunah and Dahnash, by Dulac.

That's about all Campbell gives us, and I always assumed that Qamar and Budur met through some unlikely way and got married. Campbell analyzes the story according to his hero's journey scheme, and within that scheme Qamar, being the man, is the protagonist and gets most of the attention. Initially, Campbell labels the story within the instance of a refusal of the call to adventure, because the characters refuse to get married. In Campbell's scheme, the whole thing is a psychological account of the maturity of the individual, so this is just one example of this instance. Then he moves on to discuss the actions of the djinn in terms of his concept of supernatural aid.

For years I wondered how that story really played out. Finally, I just sat down and read The Arabian Nights (well, it took a year and a half). Somewhere in the middle, there's the story of Qamar and Budur. Campbell recounts the opening of the story well enough, but it's barely a fraction of the story. They meet because Budur's brother sets out on his own quest to find the man whose ring she has. Eventually he succeeds and they are married. The story goes on at length about their life together, and Qamar 's second wife, and their children.

Qamar and Budur is truly one of the great stories in the world. Sure, The Arabian Nights has others that could compete for the title (the tale of the hunchback is among the greats; as is the city of brass, or the ebony horse, and there's another about two men and a stolen bag brought before a judge that I will tell you about sometime in the future), but for a mixture of high adventure, romance, and outright insanity, you can't beat this one. Other tales might have better adventure, more emotional romance, or higher levels of insanity, but Qamar and Budur has all three.

You see, almost immediately after the wedding, they are parted. Qaman takes a jewel from Budur, and as he's wandering in the garden a bird steals it. He goes after it (Tale Type 434B), and is lost for years. Budur fears for her safety without her husband, so she disguises herself as him and takes off to look for him, and she has all sorts of adventures of her own. She winds up in the Ebony Kingdom, where she gains favor with the king and is betrothed to the princess, Hayat al-Nufus. The princess more or less falls in love with her (Tale Type 884B), so when she reveals her true identity, the princess (Hayat al-Nufus, not Budur) just goes with it. The, by strange fortune, Qamar shows up in that very kingdom. He's brought before the new king/queen, who recognizes him. Instead of just revealing herself, Budur decides to have some fun. She forces Qamar to agree to have sex with her, though such an act goes against everything Qamar believes. He gives in, and she finally reveals herself when they're in bed together. They do the only logical thing: Qamar marries Hayat al-Nufus, too, and the three of them rule the kingdom.

But it's not over. The two queens have sons, and each queen falls in love with the other's son. The sons refuse, so the wives accuse them of rape (in a way reminiscent of Potiphar's wife--Tale Type 318, Motif K211). The sons escape execution, then go on their own adventures. Eventually the truth comes out and the wives--who up until a very long way in the story were very much the heroes--are discredited. Qamar and his sons then rule China, Persia, and the Ebony Kingdom.

By the time I read the full story, my views on Joseph Campbell's works had shifted significantly. I no longer read them much at all. His best work on myth is actually the four-volume Masks of God series. You can perhaps see some of the reason for my distaste. Campbell rarely deals with entire stories, picking and choosing episodes from longer tales to fit his reductionist pattern. His reading of "The Frog King," which opens Hero, at first felt insightful. Now I can't imagine what insights I saw in it. He seems to miss the entire point of the story. Campbell's work is a good place to begin an understanding of stories, but it is a poor place to finish it.

Reading the tale of Qamar al-Zaman and Budur, I was first struck by how long it is--some sixty nights. Wendy Doniger's summary of it (for a chapter of Scheherazade's Children) takes four pages. Doniger, by the way, says that she wants to call the story "How Budur Became the Male Lover of her Husband, Qamar." I certainly haven't done it justice here, and there aren't many online sources that give the whole thing. This one seems to have it. My translation is by Malcolm C. Lyons, done just a few years ago. As I get the chance, I intend to find other versions of it; but the story itself transcends any one translation. I'd love to find a copy that has all those plates by Edmund Dulac, of which I've only included two here.

I'm mostly interested in Budur, who starts as a heroine in an unlikely meet-cute and becomes a villain. She is the woman scorned (more than once, I should add--when first wed to Qamar al-Zaman, he refuses to consummate their marriage, and then vanishes with her jewel), but lashes out. Her lust was, like most lust, misplaced in the son of her husband and co-wife (?). She's every bit as complex as you could want a protagonist to be.

So what makes this story one of the best in the world? Well, that scene where Budur, dressed as a king, convinces her husband to have sex with her, for starters. The material with the two djinn at the beginning is really interesting, as well. And the stuff with the sons making their way in the world--and the servant who saves them from their execution.  Like I said, this story has everything. I think that if I had the chance to write one story in the Nights as a novel, I would pick this one.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bad Teeth, by Dustin Long

Dustin Long and I share a lexicographical aesthetic. In his new novel Bad Teeth, Dustin shows a delight in diction and syntax, which I expected, but I don't know if I expected him to display it so frequently or majestically. Whether it's the hilarious portmanteau color "bleen" or the descriptive "shy suggestion of a mustache," the author's joy in writing is evident in this book.

There's also a delight in ideas. I'm not sure if Long is a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, but Bad Teeth shows us Long employing a technique favored by Vonnegut: putting story ideas within a novel (Long might more directly derive it from Pynchon, based on the references in this book, but I'm less familiar with Pynchon). Vonnegut, who had great success as a short story writer in the heyday of magazine fiction, admitted that he didn't write short stories later in his career because that heyday was long past. So when he got an idea he would just write about it in whatever novel he was working on, attributing it to his alter-ego Kilgore Trout. Long has more than one alter-ego in this sense. He's got Magnus Valison (carried over from his previous novel Icelander, more about which below), the most likely analogue to Trout, but he also peppers Bad Teeth with writers whose stories we learn about along the way. There are stories within stories here. In this sense, Bad Teeth is a novel about how sometimes it's really difficult to explain what something is about.

If I were to offer real criticism of this novel, I would say that there are too many ideas in it. We almost don't get time to stop and think about one before the next one is upon us. Luckily, Long returns to ideas periodically, giving them a new spin that makes what we've already read feel like it was just a warm-up for the real discussion. In this sense, Bad Teeth is a novel about context.

Long has a way of following characters who seem tangential at first but who then play an important part. At first I found this frustrating, but all you have to do is keep reading to rid yourself of that feeling. Not only do these tangents pay off, often plot-wise and always thematically, they are part of the point. In this sense, Bad Teeth is a novel about how we make sense of things.

In Icelander, Long deploys footnotes in interesting ways. He does the same in Bad Teeth, though with end notes (at least on the Kindle). If his novels were about their plots, the footnotes would be strange precisely because the plots often resolve themselves there, hidden from those who don't read every word. In this sense, Bad Teeth is a novel about its own perspective.

I really liked reading Bad Teeth. The prose is confident. The characters have depth. It has interesting things to say about ideas that often occupy my mind, like the relationship between belief and action, the way we make meaning in our lives, the point of literature, and understanding other people's perspective. In this sense, Bad Teeth is a novel about what it takes to get through life, day after day.

Icelander is good, too. There's a passage about Thor in it that made me very, very happy. There's also an invented society that lives beneath Iceland. In that sense, Icelander is a novel about Ethan Hawke. If you want that sentence to make sense, read the book.

Dustin has recently begun a blog. He will be in Bloomington on April 3 to read from Bad Teeth at Boxcar Books.

Full disclosure: Dustin and I are friends. Though he moved out of town several years ago, we've kept in touch.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Bell

The Big Thompson River runs through Estes Park, Colorado. There's a foot bridge over it, near the center of town. I crossed it one day in 1994. There were some kids nearby, throwing pennies down into the water. My friends Mike Minter and Chris DuVernay stopped to watch them. The kids were aiming at a little bell that sat on a cement slab down in the river. The slab was pretty far away, and I'm sure that it probably spent much of the year under snow or water. None of the kids were able to hit the bell while we watched.

That summer, my mother did a brave and wonderful thing: She rented a mini-van and drove my friends and me--three teenage boys--from Michigan to Colorado and back as a sort of pre-senior-year of high school present. We met up with my mom's friend Pat, and my sister met us later on. We had a couple of cabins in the mountains outside town.

It's a beautiful area, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park. We had come at the end of August. The days were hot, but every afternoon a light rain fell, just enough to cool everything down. The nights were frigid. Our cabin--the three of us boys had our own--had no insulation. You could see through to the out of doors by peering through cracks in the very thin wall boards. There were beds, a table, and a bathroom--that's it. We loved it.

Each day we went into town or up higher into the mountains to explore. One day we had a plan to spend the day in Estes Park, meet some friends we had made (Mike had ventured to the nearby air force base and met lots of people), and later catch a ride back to the cabins with my sister. We went into most of the shops in town. The only one we lingered inside was a toy shop, and we stayed mostly because of the cute girl who worked there. She was our age and didn't think we were complete fools, by which I mean that she laughed at our jokes. I made a comment that a little cartoony address book with a wombat on its cover didn't look like a wombat at all. She laughed, for whatever reason, which I interpreted as meaning that she liked me.

Soon we left to hang out in the park with lots of people who seemed to be living in vans. Then we were walking along and looking for some place to eat dinner when we crossed the bridge and saw the kids trying to hit the bell down below. We watched for a while, then we started to go, seeing that the kids weren't hitting their target. Mike and Chris went around a corner, but I stayed back. I took a penny from my pocket, and, making a deal with myself, I tossed it.

There was a time when I needed real courage to talk to girls. I needed to make deals with myself, or set conditions: "If she smiles when she sees you, ask her out." If you run a personal record in your next race, you can talk to her." "If you ring the impossible bell, you must ask her out."

I didn't really expect to hit it, but I've always been good at throwing things accurately.

I caught up with Chris and Mike and told them I had something to do, to wait for me there. I went back to the toy shop, and luckily the girl was there all by herself. There's no way I would have been able to talk to her if there were customers. Still, she had a boyfriend, so that went nowhere. Except a couple of days later we were walking by the same shop and she waved me in to give me a little address book with a wombat on the cover.

This would be an entirely different story if, upon seeing that she'd written her address in it, I started a correspondence with her. She had invited it. Bud I didn't do it, probably because she had a boyfriend. Possibly because senior year in high school is a busy time, and before long too much time had passed. Maybe I just didn't know what to write.

It would be another year and a half before I gained the ambition to be a writer, and by that time I had a girlfriend who lived much closer. I still had that wombat address book, though. I kept it for a long time, but I threw it out when I moved to Bloomington. At the end of college, I went through a phase of getting rid of pretty much everything I owned except clothes, my typewriter, and a few books. That was a reaction to being stranded in Paris without any food or clothes or money.

In 1995, I went off to college. On the way to a class, I passed a group of guys hurling stones at an old concrete tube, the kind they put underground for water or that they put on elementary school playgrounds when I was a kid. It was pretty far away, and they kept throwing for a while. I stopped to watch. There was a tiny hole in the side. One of the guys said to me, "If you can get a stone in the hole, you can do anything."

Every time I went to that class, I threw a few stones. Never got one in the hole.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Night of the Lepus

When I was about sixteen, I was watching tv with my girlfriend Sheri. The only interesting thing on was Night of the Lepus. It's a 1972 movie about giant rabbits killing people. That relationship lasted only another week or so.

Two years later, Sheri and I dated again. We were watching tv, and suddenly Night of the Lepus came on. That relationship lasted only another week or so.

Three years later, I went to see The Matrix. When Neo walks into the apartment where the Oracle lives, there are a bunch of kids hanging out in the living room, bending spoons and whatnot. Or maybe there was no spoon--it's been a while since I've seen The Matrix. Anyway, the tv in the room is playing Night of the Lepus. At that moment, I looked around the movie theater, and noticed Sheri sitting three rows back and to the left. That relationship lasted only another hour or so.

Five years later, I went to this video store that showed B movies every month or so for people to watch and ridicule, called Atomic Cinema. They were playing Night of the Lepus. About half way through, in that one scene where Bones from Star Trek is running through a train station with Janet Leigh, there in the background was Sheri. I still don't know how, but she managed to create a time machine and travel back to 1971 and get hired on as an extra in Night of the Lepus.

Anyway, that night the Atomic Cinema guys gave out colored rabbits feet. I got a green one. I think it's still in my desk somewhere.

What I think is really weird is the poster. They're promoting the movie with the line "How many eyes does horror have?" But everybody knows that the scariest part of the rabbit is the ears. They're all big and...they stick up in the air so the rabbit can hear things well. I mean, seriously, they weren't even trying with that one. It's as if somebody had a poster for a movie about something with big eyes (frogs? flies?) that never got made, so they just sold the Lepus people the poster with the name of the movie switched out.

In case you were wondering, lepus is the Latin word for the family that includes rabbits, hares, and those sorts of things. And on the IMDB page for Night of the Lepus, one of the keywords is pantyhose. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Best Stories in the World: Aurvandil/Eärendil

Eärendil's ship, Vingilot, by John Howe

One of my favorite parts of The Lord of the Rings happens when the hobbits have arrived at Rivendel, and everyone's in the hall listening to music and telling stories. Bilbo takes the floor and recites his poem about Eärendel the mariner, who lived when Middle-earth was plagued by the forces of Morgoth, who's sort of the equivalent of the devil in Tolkien's mythography (Sauron was Morgoth's goon). The elves and men of Middle-earth were losing badly, so Eärendel, with one of the three precious jewels called the Silmarils on the his brow and his wife Elwing by his side, sets sail in his ship Vingilot for the home of the Valar--who are essentially gods on the earth.

There flying Elwing came to him,
and flame was in the darkness lit;
more bright than light of diamond
the fire upon her carcanet
The Silmaril she bound on him
and crowned him with the living light
and dauntless then with burning brow
he turned his prow; and in the night
from Otherworld behond the Sea
there strong and free a storm arose,
 a wind of power in Tarmenel;
by paths that seldom mortal goes
his boat it bore with biting breath
as might of death across the grey
and long-forsaken seas distressed:
from east to west he passed away.

You can read the whole poem  online here. Christopher Tolkien gives us everything we could want to know about how his father's developed this story in part 2 of The Book of Lost Tales, which also includes some of the earlier poems about these characters. This story is one of Tolkien's earliest, dating back at least to 1914.

The voyage of Eärendil is told at greater length in The Silmarillion, which is the story of the Silmarils (precious because they contain the light from two trees that precede the sun and moon and thus are sacred; those trees were killed by Morgoth--it's a long story). The jewels made their way to Middle-earth and were eventually lost: one cast into the sea, one fell with its bearer into a gaping chasm filled with fire (so John D. Rateliff, in part 2 of his two-volume History of the Hobbit, puts forth the idea that this Silmaril turns up again in The Hobbit as the Arkenstone coveted by Thorin and found by Bilbo; Rateliff's equivocal about whether or not he thinks the Arkenstone is really a Silmaril, but I'm going to go ahead and think it is).

This third Silmaril, torn from the crown of Morgoth, is what allows Earendil to make it all the way to Valinor and confront the Valar, to ask them to intervene against Morgoth. They did so, tearing a hole in the veil of night and sealing Morgoth beyond it forever. Eärendil, being only a Man, was not allowed to return to Middle-earth, but was sent into the heavens, where his ship, lit by the Silmaril, would sail for eternity. Elwing chose to stay on the earth, but can change into a bird to visit her husband when he flies near.

So Eärendil becomes a star (the morning and evening star--Venus, to be exact). This, you might have noticed, was the very star whose light Galadriel encased in a phial as a gift to Frodo, which he uses to keep Shelob away from him and Sam for a while in The Two Towers. Verlyn Fleiger has a nice discussion of Frodo's fate as related to Galadriel's gift in her book Splintered Light

But Eärendil wasn't quite done with Middle-earth, though he never set foot upon it again. His petition to the Valar had been successful--they would wage war against Morgoth to rid his evil from the land. But when they marched upon his kindgom, they were met in battle by the dragons... Here's how Tolkien describes it in The Silmarillion:

 Then, seeing that his hosts were overthrown and his power dispersed, Morgoth quailed, and he dared not to come forth himself. But he loosed upon his foes the last desperate assault that he had prepared, and out of the pits of Angband there issued the winged dragons, that had not before been seen, and so sudden and ruinous was the onset of that dreadful fleet that the host of the Valar was driven back, for the coming of the dragons was with great thunder, and lightning, and a tempest of fire.
  But Eärendil came, shining with white flame, and about Vingilot were gathered all the great birds of heaven and Thorondor was their captain, and there was battle in the air all the day and through a dark night of doubt. Before the rising of the sun Eärendil slew Ancalagon the Black, the mightiest of the dragon-host, and cast him from the sky; and he fell upon the towers of Thangorodrim, and they were broken in his ruin. Then the sun rose, and the host of the Valar prevailed..." 

by Simone G. Des Roches

The studies of Tolkien's sources are many, and always interesting. In the case of Eärendil, he seems to have been chiefly inspired by the Anglo-Saxon poem Crist, in which it's either a reference to Jesus or John the Baptist (scholars disagree--Tolkien thought it was John the Baptist) in the line "Eala Earendel, engla beorhtast" (Hail Earendel, brightest of angels). But that's not very interesting, and the reference is certainly not a great story in and of itself. (I'd also like to note that Kristine Larsen, in a chapter from the book Tolkien and the Study of His Sources, finds compelling parallels with the Roman version of Ceyx and Alcyone from Ovid's Metamorphoses.) Then, through a variety of sources (in this case, Jacob Grimm's Teutonic Mythology), we find a reference to Aurvandil in Snorri Sturlison's Prose Edda, which is in part a series of tales from Norse mythology. Aurvandil and Eärendil are, etymologically speaking, the same name. We know very little about Aurvandil. After defeating the jotun Hrungnir in battle, Thor had a piece of stone stuck in his head. Let's let Snorri take it from here:

Thor returned home to Thrudvangar and the whetstone remained in his head. Then there arrived a sorceress called Groa, wife of Aurvandil the Bold. She chanted her spells over Thor until the whetstone began to come loose. When Thor felt this and it seemed likely that the whetstone was going to be got out, he wanted to repay Groa for her treatment and give her pleasure. He told her these tidings that he had waded south across Elivagar carrying Aurvandil in a basket on his back south from Giantland, and there was his proof, that one of his toes had been sticking out of the basket and had got frozen, so Thor broke it off and threw it up in the sky and made out of it the star called Aurvandil's toe.

This story leaves a lot to the imagination: Why was a sorceress in Asgard? Why did Thor carry Aurvandil across Elivagar (elivagar are icy rivers that have existed since the beginning of time--glaciers maybe)? Why was Aurvandil called "The Bold"? Snorri wasn't trying to tell all the stories from Norse myth; he was just making sure any aspiring poets would have a general knowledge of the references made to the old stories in literature.

The beauty here isn't just in one story or the other, but in the transition between them. One thing that makes a story great, in my eyes, is its versatility. At the core of the Aurvandil/Earendil story is a journey that results in something terrestrial becomeing celestial. For Snorri--and the old vikings from whom he got the story, it's just a bit of fun, an etiological joke. For Tolkien, it's the climax of a long and complex tragedy, the story of Men and Elves in Middle-earth. There are certainly problems with both stories as we have them (there's always the issue of women in Tolkien's work, and the incomplete nature of Snorri's rendition can be frustrating), but they're still some of the best.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Better than the Book: No Country for Old Men

I'm no fan of Cormac MacArthy. He gets a lot of accolades from literary types, but I just don't like his prose style. That being said, his book No Country for Old Men has a paragraph so absolutely right it may as well have been written by Hemingway:

He ate in a restaurant with the white tablecloths and waiters in white jackets. He ordered a glass of red wine and a porterhouse steak. It was early and the restaurant was empty save for him. He sipped the wine and when the steak came he cut into it and chewed slowly and thought about his life.

It works better if you've read the eighty-five pages that lead up to it. At that point, Llewelyn has made some pretty bad choices. And as far as I can tell, there's just no way to adapt that sentence to film. It doesn't work, cinematically speaking. Yeah, you can show us a guy sitting in that restaurant, but the details will be lost. There's no way to call attention to the white jackets or table cloths without forcing it. The visuals wouldn't be right. But in prose, it's perfect.

With that out of the way: I love the Coen Brothers film. Well-shot, well-edited, great performances, and all that. McCarthy's prose style didn't bug me the way it did in some of his other work (a prose style that so very many praise), but it just can't compete with Roger Deakins' cinematography.

It's not that I dislike the book. It's an interesting meditation on the philosophy of men in a certain position, of a certain disposition. One complaint I had is that it's a little bit too long. There's a lengthy passage during which Llewelyn picks up a young girl and they drive together to the motel where the climax takes place (off-screen in both the book and in the film). The Coens cut the entire character, the residue of which shows up in the woman who talks to Llewelyn at the motel pool. They even streamline some of the scenes toward the end. After Chigur goes to confront Llewelyn's wife Carla Jean, McCarthy flat-out tells us that she was murdered. The Coens know this isn't necessary. The way Chigur looks at the bottom of his shoe when he leaves the house tells us all we need to know.

My friend Matt Guschwan likened this to a horror movie, and I think the comparison works. Take that scene when Llewelyn is in the hotel the first time Chigur finds him. Chigur is walking down the hall, following the signal from the transponder, and all we hear are the footsteps, then the turning of a lightbulb, then the door lock flying out of the door. It's horror, in a way that the book doesn't aspire to be, and it works.

No Country for Old Men showed me that MacArthy could be a very good writer. The Coen brothers took that and made the best possible movie from it.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Quotations: Folklore and Anthropology Edition

Call it art or call it folklore, but this is what it is:  a realization of human potential that enables, at once, personal expression and social consequence.  We are born alone, we die alone:  we are, each one of us, individuals.  We are born, we live, we die among others:  we are, all of us, members of society.  That inescapable complexity, the unity in being of the personal and the social, is, at its peak, made sensate in creative acts that allow us to be ourselves, to communicate, to connect with others and build with them social alliances of mutual benefit.  Call it art, call it folklore, but that is what it is:  a momentary fulfillment of what it is to be human.
Henry Glassie, The Stars of Ballymenone

Not only does folklore serve as a kind of autoethnography, a mirror made by the people themselves which reflects a group’s identity, but it also represents valuable data which is relatively free from the outsider observer’s bias...Folklore data, which exists before the investigator arrives on the scene, avoids the difficulties of administering a “Who am I?” questionnaire...Folklore gives a view of a people from the inside-out rather than the outside-in.
Alan Dundes, “Defining Identity through Folklore” 
collected in Folklore Matters

Once a folklorist experienced a festival, he would find it hard to remain unchanged by it.  He might come looking for song texts or stories and nothing else, but all the varied aspects of the festival would overwhelm him, at first merely with their color perhaps but in the end with their interrelated significance.  He could not fail to see that the folk literature he was seeking was intertwined in its living context with song and dance, the song and dance with drama, the drama and dance with costumes and masks, everything else with ritual, and ritual itself with special foods, drinks, sayings, games, and so on back to songs and tales.  Now, the festival itself is closely linked to religion.
Americo Paredes, “Concepts about Folklore in Latin America and the United States”

Here in the shadow of the Empire State building, death and the graveyard are final.  It is such a positive end that we use it as a measure of nothingness and eternity.  We have the quick and the dead.  But in Haiti there is the quick, the dead, and then there are zombies.  This is the way zombies are spoken of:  they are the bodies without souls.  The living dead.  Once they were dead, and after that they were called back to life again.
Zora Neale Hurston, Tell My Horse

What sets the cockfight apart from the ordinary course of life, lifts it from the realm of everyday affairs, and surrounds it with an aura of enlarged importance is not, as functionalist sociology would have it, that it reinforces status discrimination (such reinforcement is hardly necessary in a society where every act proclaims them), but that it provides a metasocial commentary on the whole matter of assorting human beings into fixed hierarchical ranks and then organizing the major part of collective experience around that assortment.  Its function, if you want to call it that, is interpretive:  it is a Balinese reading of the Balinese experience; a story they tell themselves about themselves.
 Clifford Geertz, "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight"