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 Post subject: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Sun May 6th, 2018, 10:01 GMT 

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"I left town at dawn, with Marcel and St. John, strong men belittled by doubt"

I interpret this vital line in Where Are You Tonight as Dylan's declaration of conversion, his hopping on that 'long-distance train'. I assert that the 'doubt' reference, in the context, is a third-person as opposed to a second-person one. In other words, the implication is that these great men and their message is doubted by the multitude of people-it is not implied that either Gabriel Marcel or St. John are the ones doing the doubting. Although Marcel certainly doubted when he was an atheist, before converting to Catholicism in 1929, there is no record of doubt by St. John in the New Testament.

While it is perfectly obvious that Dylan has been enormously influenced by St. John, with his featuring very prominently in his lyrics from Street-Legal (did I write that properly?) right up to his last set, in Tempest, I would be very grateful if anyone here could share any insight they might have in respect to the influence of Gabriel Marcel's philosophy upon Bob Dylan's conversion process.


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Sun May 6th, 2018, 12:27 GMT 
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Thanks for posting! I never investigated Marcel before.
Quote:
...implication is that these great men and their message is doubted by the multitude of people-it is not implied that either Gabriel Marcel or St. John are the ones doing the doubting.

I have to agree there. But I don't have any info to answer your query. It sure is an interesting one and I hope you get some intelligent replies.


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Sun May 6th, 2018, 15:52 GMT 

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I agree that "belittled by doubt" could refer to these men being doubted by others, rather than their doing the doubting. It comes down to whether the speaker is looking to them as something he aspires to be, models of certitude in an uncertain world, or whether, in a crisis of doubt in the process of conversion, he identifies with them as men who've had the same experience. The latter still seems more plausible to me. Conversion is an internal process, and the only doubt that matters is the doubt you have to overcome within yourself. The doubt of others is secondary, one of those nuisances the world throws at you, like sickness and bad luck.

You seem to be starting from the premise, however, that Dylan is speaking explicitly about his reading in the Bible and theology that led ultimately to his conversion, and that he's actually naming two of the authors important to him. That presumes way too much, in my opinion. For one thing, it makes his conversion a systematic process, something he was working toward in a conscious way. I believe that he knew something was going to happen to him. Street-Legal is full of hints. And I'm sure that in trying to figure out what it was, he read a lot of surprising things. But I don't believe that he'd tell us explicitly what he was reading, as if giving a kind of progress report on his spiritual journey. This is a man who will never give a straight answer when asked what he's been reading. For another thing, I think you're taking the names way too literally. Marcel doesn't have to be that Marcel; it could be someone he knows with that name. And St. John could be--and I think this is actually a common suggestion--St. John of the Cross, who certainly had to contend with inner doubt. Or maybe Dylan was catching up on French literature, and he'd been reading Marcel Proust and Saint-John Perse. Or maybe he was just giving another name to people he knew, and it's as futile to look for Marcel and St. John, by those names, as it would be to look for Danny Lopez or Henry Porter.


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Sun May 6th, 2018, 15:58 GMT 
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If there’s anything I hate it’s selfdoubt and the belittling Dylan sings about.


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Sun May 6th, 2018, 17:58 GMT 

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mojofilter wrote:
I agree that "belittled by doubt" could refer to these men being doubted by others, rather than their doing the doubting. It comes down to whether the speaker is looking to them as something he aspires to be, models of certitude in an uncertain world, or whether, in a crisis of doubt in the process of conversion, he identifies with them as men who've had the same experience. The latter still seems more plausible to me. Conversion is an internal process, and the only doubt that matters is the doubt you have to overcome within yourself. The doubt of others is secondary, one of those nuisances the world throws at you, like sickness and bad luck.
O
You seem to be starting from the premise, however, that Dylan is speaking explicitly about his readin,g in the Bible and theology that led ultimately to his conversion, and that he's actually naming two of the authors important to him. That presumes way too much, in my opinion. For one thing, it makes his conversion a systematic process, something he was working toward in a conscious way. I believe that he knew something was going to happen to him. Street-Legal is full of hints. And I'm sure that in trying to figure out what it was, he read a lot of surprising things. But I don't believe that he'd tell us explicitly what he was reading, as if giving a kind of progress report on his spiritual journey. This is a man who will never give a straight answer when asked what he's been reading. For another thing, I think you're taking the names way too literally. Marcel doesn't have to be that Marcel; it could be someone he knows with that name. And St. John could be--and I think this is actually a common suggestion--St. John of the Cross, who certainly had to contend with inner doubt. Or maybe Dylan was catching up on French literature, and he'd been reading Marcel Proust and Saint-John Perse. Or maybe he was just giving another name to people he knew, and it's as futile to look for Marcel and St. John, by those names, as it would be to look for Danny Lopez or Henry Porter.


Thanks for a very thoughtful response. We'll have to agree to disagree. I don't think my premise at all unreasonable, it certainly seems as plausible as the ones you have presented. The line in question is a very directly stated one and placed in a context of considerable importance to Dylan's quest. If such coherent information cannot be taken at face-value, discussion of the meaning of Dylan's songs becomes utterly futile. I think my interpretation of the doubting fits in neatly with the combative Christianity Dylan adopted. I suppose I'm saying that even this early, Dylan is already in attack mode, asserting that people have 'either got faith or unbelief and there ain't no neutral ground'. In other words, Dylan has made his choice and has gone beyond doubt at this point. While your questions about 'Marcel' are valid, I certainly can't agree with you about the identity of Saint John. Much of Dylan's subsequent lyrical content has centred on the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of the Evangelist. The closer of Tempest was as much about him as it was about John Lennon. It is certainly plausible, I feel, that Dylan's conversion to Christianity could have been influenced by a Catholic Existentialist philosopher. I think the connection more likely than a first-name reference to Proust.

A further clarification: Dylan's command of the English language is very considerable and his choice of words deserves respect. This is why so many people accept that his songs possess great depth of meaning. I think his use of the word 'belittled' is deliberate and significant. If one refers to a dictionary, it is evident that the word refers to an attitude of dismissal and denigration of a person by a third-party, rather than something an individual does to himself. That's another reason why I take it as describing two people dismissed or thought irrelevant by those who would doubt, or even scorn, what they would say. I think this is further suggested by his description of them as 'strong men', something that contradicts the idea of being weakened by self-doubt, but appropriate to describe men who carry on, or whose message does, in the face of the doubt of others.


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Mon May 7th, 2018, 00:22 GMT 
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Mickvet wrote:
If one refers to a dictionary, it is evident that the word refers to an attitude of dismissal and denigration of a person by a third-party, rather than something an individual does to himself.



I hear the doubt itself as the belittling agent, not themselves or others, and overall I've never heard the lines as your interpretation suggests, though I don't see anything in the text that specifically precludes it. Interesting...


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Mon May 7th, 2018, 07:19 GMT 
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Quote:
His writing was rooted in the anxieties and uncertainties of real men in a real world. He said over and over that philosophers must give up categorizing existence for the purpose of generalization and must instead invoke intuition and a spirit of quest—what he called a life “of passionate inquiry.”

This is a quotation from Gabriel Marcel's obituary in the New York Times. This sounds very much like Bob Dylan's philosophy. :wink:


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Mon May 7th, 2018, 07:51 GMT 
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Gabriel Marcel wrote:
A really alive person is not merely someone who has a taste for life, but somebody who spreads that taste, showering it, as it were, around him; and a person who is really alive in this way, quite apart from any tangible achievements, has something essentially creative.

This certainly describes Bob Dylan!


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Mon May 7th, 2018, 08:34 GMT 

Joined: Fri January 5th, 2007, 23:38 GMT
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Peggy Night wrote:
Gabriel Marcel wrote:
A really alive person is not merely someone who has a taste for life, but somebody who spreads that taste, showering it, as it were, around him; and a person who is really alive in this way, quite apart from any tangible achievements, has something essentially creative.

This certainly describes Bob Dylan!


It does, indeed.

Another core principle of Marcel's philosophy is 'intersubjectivity', defined as the idea that the self is most truly human in it's interaction with and relating to other human (or Divine) beings. Very many of Dylan's songs, including his pre-conversion ones, are in the form of narratives with some human being conceived in song but very possibly founded on some real person. I can see where this form of thinking might appeal to Dylan in the moments of his conversion. We also mustn't forget that in the sixties and seventies, Existentialism was a very big thing. The most famous practitioners were Sartre and Camus, but Marcel was not long dead, either. The influence of Existentialism per se on the lyrics of Bob Dylan would be an interesting thread title, also, if it hasn't already been done. However, as Dylan was mainly a theist rather than an atheist before his conversion and obviously uncompromisingly one during it, it would not be surprising if he bedded his new-found faith in an up-to-date Christian philosophy, particularly in one that vigorously opposed that of the other giant of the genre that was Sartre (interestingly, regarding these two giants of Existentialism, it was Sartre that cracked, abandoning atheism entirely-as de Beauvoir bitterly testified-while Marcel died a devout Catholic).


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Mon May 7th, 2018, 09:15 GMT 
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If these lyrics had been written after November 1978, there
might be a case for such an interpretation. Fortunately we
have an angle on Dylan's mindset about Biblical veracity
around the time when Street Legal was written, and it's easy
to see that he's still firmly in the sceptic's corner.

Here an excerpt from Jonathan Cott's interview in 1978:

Cott: But one is difficult to deal with, so Christians gave us the Trinity.
Dylan: The Christians didn't bring in anything — it was the Greeks.

Cott: Jesus is a very strong figure in Renaldo and Clara, I noticed. There's that song by you called "What Will You Do When Jesus Comes?" There's the woman who says to you in the restaurant: "There's nowhere to go. Just stand and place yourself like the cross and I'll receive you." And then there are the shots of the huge cement crucifix in the Catholic Grotto.
Dylan: Right. Jesus is the most identifiable figure in Western culture, and yet he was exploited, used and exploited. We all have been.

Cott: There's also that scene, near the end of the film, where Allen Ginsberg takes you around to see the glassed-in sculptures of the Stations of the Cross — and we see Jesus killed for the second time and then buried under the weight of the cross. On one level, the film is about the Stations of the Cross, isn't it?
Dylan: Yeah, you're right, like the double vision having to be killed twice. Like why does Jesus really die?

Cott: Spiritually or politically?
Dylan: Realistically . . . Because he's a healer. Jesus is a healer. So he goes to India, finds out how to be a healer and becomes one. But see, I believe that he overstepped his duties a little bit. He accepted and took on the bad karma of all the people he healed. And he was filled with so much bad karma that the only way out was to burn him up.
In my film, we're looking at masks a lot of the time. And then when the dream becomes so solidified that it has to be taken to the stage of reality, then you'll see stone, you'll see a statue — which is even a further extension of the mask: the statue of Mary in front of the statue of Jesus on the cross in the Crucifix Grotto.

So Dylan's is alluding and playing with Biblical allegory and reference,
but not yet from a believer's perspective.

What I'm saying is, that if Bob felt that Jesus slightly missed it, it's unlikely
that he's making a case for the iron clad nature of the faith of Marcel & St John.

The other point I'd make is that IF the message of Marcel & Saint John is
doubted by unbelievers, this in no way diminishes either them or their
message. If the message indeed is true, the only people diminished by
doubt are the ones doing the doubting.

The other point is that if this line were to be referring to others doubting
their message, the reference to their strength is unnecessary and misplaced.
What the line seems to say is that, yes they were strong, but doubts (and
doubts stand for weakness) diminished them to a certain degree.

Dylan's view of scripture at this point was still influenced by a number of
outside sources. We don't know exactly when Where Are You Tonight was
written. It may have been several months after this interview, or before. We
do know that a good number of SL songs were completed when the '78
tour commenced in February.

Dylan's view of scripture started to radically after between September and
November 1978, by all accounts, a number of months after SL was released.


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Mon May 7th, 2018, 10:21 GMT 

Joined: Fri January 5th, 2007, 23:38 GMT
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gerardv wrote:
If these lyrics had been written after November 1978, there
might be a case for such an interpretation. Fortunately we
have an angle on Dylan's mindset about Biblical veracity
around the time when Street Legal was written, and it's easy
to see that he's still firmly in the sceptic's corner.

Here an excerpt from Jonathan Cott's interview in 1978:

Cott: But one is difficult to deal with, so Christians gave us the Trinity.
Dylan: The Christians didn't bring in anything — it was the Greeks.

Cott: Jesus is a very strong figure in Renaldo and Clara, I noticed. There's that song by you called "What Will You Do When Jesus Comes?" There's the woman who says to you in the restaurant: "There's nowhere to go. Just stand and place yourself like the cross and I'll receive you." And then there are the shots of the huge cement crucifix in the Catholic Grotto.
Dylan: Right. Jesus is the most identifiable figure in Western culture, and yet he was exploited, used and exploited. We all have been.

Cott: There's also that scene, near the end of the film, where Allen Ginsberg takes you around to see the glassed-in sculptures of the Stations of the Cross — and we see Jesus killed for the second time and then buried under the weight of the cross. On one level, the film is about the Stations of the Cross, isn't it?
Dylan: Yeah, you're right, like the double vision having to be killed twice. Like why does Jesus really die?

Cott: Spiritually or politically?
Dylan: Realistically . . . Because he's a healer. Jesus is a healer. So he goes to India, finds out how to be a healer and becomes one. But see, I believe that he overstepped his duties a little bit. He accepted and took on the bad karma of all the people he healed. And he was filled with so much bad karma that the only way out was to burn him up.
In my film, we're looking at masks a lot of the time. And then when the dream becomes so solidified that it has to be taken to the stage of reality, then you'll see stone, you'll see a statue — which is even a further extension of the mask: the statue of Mary in front of the statue of Jesus on the cross in the Crucifix Grotto.

So Dylan's is alluding and playing with Biblical allegory and reference,
but not yet from a believer's perspective.

What I'm saying is, that if Bob felt that Jesus slightly missed it, it's unlikely
that he's making a case for the iron clad nature of the faith of Marcel & St John.

The other point I'd make is that IF the message of Marcel & Saint John is
doubted by unbelievers, this in no way diminishes either them or their
message. If the message indeed is true, the only people diminished by
doubt are the ones doing the doubting.

The other point is that if this line were to be referring to others doubting
their message, the reference to their strength is unnecessary and misplaced.
What the line seems to say is that, yes they were strong, but doubts (and
doubts stand for weakness) diminished them to a certain degree.

Dylan's view of scripture at this point was still influenced by a number of
outside sources. We don't know exactly when Where Are You Tonight was
written. It may have been several months after this interview, or before. We
do know that a good number of SL songs were completed when the '78
tour commenced in February.

Dylan's view of scripture started to radically after between September and
November 1978, by all accounts, a number of months after SL was released.


Your 'doubt' argument is a valid one, although I have no idea how Dylan could have decided that St. John was at any point 'belittled by doubt', unless he was confusing him with St. Thomas or even St. Peter. I think this unlikely. Dylan's knowledge of scriptural detail has always been impressive. It can apply, as I pointed out, to Marcel because he was not a believer in his younger days.

The reference to a 'long-distance train', and others, in 'Where Are You Tonight' and the song 'Senor' convince me that at least some of SL is post-conversion. The tensions involved help to make it the great and vital album that it is, in my opinion. You are right, however, in that this timing is fundamental to the meaning of these lyrics under discussion. There is a paradigmatic difference in their potential meaning depending on whether they are from the non-believing or believing perspective. Subsequent events, not long after, lean me toward the believing, or very nearly so, perspective.


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Mon May 7th, 2018, 14:09 GMT 
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Who is to say that it’s not possible, it’s indeed possible that the
conversion was in fact before April ‘78 (which is when SL was recorded).
If so though, would not the 1978 tour have looked differently? Dylan
waited with the Revelation reference in Tangled Up In Blue until November.
If you read ‘Trouble In Mind’ (which I recently did), the book goes into
great detail on the timeline leading up to Dylan’s conversion. All those
close to Dylan, including the singer himself, point to the late fall.

I agree that a number of the references on Street Legal shed light
on the conversion. I put them down to premonitions & contemplations.
But then these can be found in Blood On The Tracks (Shelter) and
throughout Renaldo & Clara, both in word (What Will You Do When Jesus
Comes) and imagery (Crucifixes etc). Again, I feel the Rolling Stone
Interview of ‘78 shows a person who is exploring the person of Jesus
but still with a good degree of reservation and ambivalence.
We might just have to agree to disagree on this one.


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Mon May 7th, 2018, 17:12 GMT 

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gerardv wrote:
Who is to say that it’s not possible, it’s indeed possible that the
conversion was in fact before April ‘78 (which is when SL was recorded).
If so though, would not the 1978 tour have looked differently? Dylan
waited with the Revelation reference in Tangled Up In Blue until November.
If you read ‘Trouble In Mind’ (which I recently did), the book goes into
great detail on the timeline leading up to Dylan’s conversion. All those
close to Dylan, including the singer himself, point to the late fall.

I agree that a number of the references on Street Legal shed light
on the conversion. I put them down to premonitions & contemplations.
But then these can be found in Blood On The Tracks (Shelter) and
throughout Renaldo & Clara, both in word (What Will You Do When Jesus
Comes) and imagery (Crucifixes etc). Again, I feel the Rolling Stone
Interview of ‘78 shows a person who is exploring the person of Jesus
but still with a good degree of reservation and ambivalence.
We might just have to agree to disagree on this one.


I mightn't be disagreeing too much with you on this at all. You firstly have the advantage on me as I haven't yet bought Trouble In Mind (the cheapskate in me is waiting for the price to fall). Secondly, your references to earlier times are very relevant. We could even take these further back, certainly to the Basement. It does make more sense if one imagines it from Dylan's position. From the point of view of his wife and children, his parents, live and dead, his brother and extended family, his friends and acquaintances, his professional associates, from his cultural position and much more, this was a huge, being-defining decision. Once done, everything in his life was about to be completely and irrevocably changed. It is unsurprising that a lot of one-step-forward/two-steps-back manoeuvres were the order of the day. The whole episode, and the way he has shared it with us, is fascinating.

The thought struck me, after I'd typed my reply above, that it is possible that Dylan might have been close to conversion earlier than the official time, but, realising the enormity of the decision, was publicly evasive and might have engaged a softening-up policy upon the public before the final plunge, such as those nuanced hints in R&C.


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Mon May 7th, 2018, 20:18 GMT 
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I think you have to look at the attending of Bible courses after the ’78 tour, early ’79, say.


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Mon May 7th, 2018, 21:36 GMT 
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Mickvet wrote:
The thought struck me, after I'd typed my reply above, that it is possible that Dylan might have been close to conversion earlier than the official time, but, realising the enormity of the decision, was publicly evasive and might have engaged a softening-up policy upon the public before the final plunge, such as those nuanced hints in R&C.

Yes, certainly looks like the spiritual search intensified over
a period of several years. I’d recommend the book. Heflin focuses
research and biography rather than opinion & analysis. I know I’ll
go back to it again in future.


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Mon May 7th, 2018, 23:23 GMT 

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Mickvet wrote:
I have no idea how Dylan could have decided that St. John was at any point 'belittled by doubt'

unless it was st john the baptist,
when he was in prison
he sent a message asking
are you the one? should we look for another?


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Mon May 7th, 2018, 23:48 GMT 
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juststepintothearena wrote:
Mickvet wrote:
I have no idea how Dylan could have decided that St. John was at any point 'belittled by doubt'

unless it was st john the baptist,
when he was in prison
he sent a message asking
are you the one? should we look for another?

Perfect! But Marcel's doubt?


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Tue May 8th, 2018, 00:23 GMT 

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gerardv wrote:
Mickvet wrote:
The thought struck me, after I'd typed my reply above, that it is possible that Dylan might have been close to conversion earlier than the official time, but, realising the enormity of the decision, was publicly evasive and might have engaged a softening-up policy upon the public before the final plunge, such as those nuanced hints in R&C.

Yes, certainly looks like the spiritual search intensified over
a period of several years. I’d recommend the book. Heflin focuses
research and biography rather than opinion & analysis. I know I’ll
go back to it again in future.


Thanks.


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Tue May 8th, 2018, 00:26 GMT 

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juststepintothearena wrote:
Mickvet wrote:
I have no idea how Dylan could have decided that St. John was at any point 'belittled by doubt'

unless it was st john the baptist,
when he was in prison
he sent a message asking
are you the one? should we look for another?


You took quite a step into the arena with that!


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Tue May 8th, 2018, 00:28 GMT 

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Peggy Night wrote:
juststepintothearena wrote:
unless it was st john the baptist,
when he was in prison
he sent a message asking
are you the one? should we look for another?

Perfect! But Marcel's doubt?


We've established the latter-his younger days as an atheist. This provides a context for the alternative interpretation of the 'doubt' issue.


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Tue May 8th, 2018, 02:01 GMT 

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Mickvet wrote:
You took quite a step into the arena with that!

sorry for stepping in late,
i hadn’t read through the thread until today

that episode with john the baptist has always interested me


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Tue May 8th, 2018, 06:53 GMT 

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juststepintothearena wrote:
...that episode with john the baptist has always interested me


Can you go into more detail?


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Tue May 8th, 2018, 11:47 GMT 

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without getting too deep -
i find the whole interaction fascinating,
mostly i wonder about john’s perspective

and i also love jesus’ words after
“why did you go into the wilderness?...”
especially
“we have piped unto you, and you have not danced”


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Wed May 9th, 2018, 00:19 GMT 
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juststepintothearena wrote:
without getting too deep -
i find the whole interaction fascinating,
mostly i wonder about john’s perspective

and i also love jesus’ words after
“why did you go into the wilderness?...”
especially
“we have piped unto you, and you have not danced”

Ah yes...
Matthew 11 wrote:
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’"

Bob Dylan must know what that feels like :cry:
Quote:
But Wisdom is proved by her offspring.

:wink: And Bob Dylan has plenty of those, both literal and metaphorical (i.e., creative works).


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 Post subject: Re: Gabriel Marcel
PostPosted: Wed May 9th, 2018, 16:37 GMT 
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Thanks for the fascinating thread. You've just made me realise that I've been mishearing these lyrics all my adult life!

My version

I left town at dawn with my silent St. John (a breed of dog)
Strangled and belittled by doubt (:-))


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