Bob Dylan's "My Own Version of You" - an analysis- Part 2
In this second part of our analysis we continue where we left off writing last time.
“I get blood from a cactus - make gunpowder from ice”. The reference “make gunpowder from ice” comes from “Gulliver’s travels” by Jonathan Swift. Again, there is a “Frankenstein” connection here. In chapter 2 we see Victor discovering the works of various alchemists and these alchemists trigger him to study science and alchemy. It cannot be denied that there is some sort of quasi reality in these words because “To get blood from a cactus” refers to carmine, a red dye made from insects that live on cacti and “gunpowder from ice” refers to ice packs which contain ammonium nitrate, a component that can be used to make gun powder.
In the novel Victor Frankenstein succeeds in bringing someone to life from dead body parts but that is only fiction. The reality is that no living creature is able to make real living blood out of existing dead material. Blood represents life in the Bible and a self-proclaimed creator cannot bring someone to life.
An additional problem for a self-proclaimed creator is, that he cannot make real blood or real gunpowder ”out of nothing. “Creatio ex nihilo” is a bridge too far for any creature and this capability is only reserved for God, no matter how much a man may brag and say: “I don’t gamble with cards and I don’t shoot no dice”. Quite a number of scientific discoveries are invented accidentally, by chance, like e.g. Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin in 1928.
However, this antagonist uses these words to express his commitment to his goal. He does not take any chances and does not accept anything less than perfection. But here it is not hard to detect that behind his determination there is bragging hiding, because the only one who can say: “I don’t gamble with cards and I don’t shoot no dice” is God because He does not need to take chances. He is the only one who can truly say of Himself: “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast”(Psalm 33:9 NKJV).
“Can you look in my face with your sightless eye” is a rhetorical question and reminds us of the sightless eye of the Buddha image. Eyes are considered as the windows upon the soul, and in chapter 5 Victor Frankenstein describes the monster's eyes as "watery eyes, that seemed almost the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set” Apart from this these words may express divine mockery for such a sightless and lifeless idol. Sightless eyes point to introspection and the inability to look someone in the eye. By definition idols are dead and cannot truly communicate.
The words “Can you cross your heart and hope to die”, is a standard expression of which the Free Dictionary says that it is an “attest to the truth of something” and “it is generally accompanied by hand gestures such as crossing one's hands over one's breast and then pointing the right hand skyward (a variant is cross my heart and point to God). Today most often uttered by children, it was first recorded in 1908”. The expression may be used here, to emphasize that there is sincerity in the attempt to “create an own version”(of God), no matter how gruesome the outcome is.
”I’ll bring someone to life - someone for real, someone who feels the way that I feel” shows the deeply rooted human longing for alliance and solidarity with all those who share the same worldview, who feel the way that you feel. The reverse side of this medal is the equally deeply rooted human inclination to reject and detest all those who are different and do not have the same feeling you have. Xenophobia has its roots in these feelings. This phenomenon appears in chapter 5 of “Frankenstein”. The monster created by Victor Frankenstein is "Formed into a hideous and gigantic creature". The result of this is that the monster is confronted by rejection and fear both from his creator and society. The idea that a creature would be able “to bring someone to life, someone for real” is in fact a false idea, and that this idea is false is proven by the result of this action. The only intended and acceptable result of such an action always is the production of: “someone who feels the way that I feel”. Man’s quest to surpass his creator: ”I’ll bring someone to life - someone for real, someone who feels the way that I feel” continues but without any tangible result. Obviously, looking into the mirror and facing the reality of man, is the hardest thing to do.
“I study Sanskrit and Arabic to improve my mind” again “Frankenstein”- chapter 6- where it says: "Resolved to pursue no inglorious career, he turned his eyes toward the East, as affording scope for his spirit of enterprise. The Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit languages engaged his attention, and I was easily induced to enter on the same studies”. Now Sanskrit is an ancient Indian language and Arabic is spoken in North Africa and the Middle East. “Good intentions can be evil” Dylan wrote earlier and that is exactly the case here. Now it has always been kind of a mystery why people- like Victor Frankenstein- can produce such noble work- like e.g. studying science and languages like Sanskrit and Arabic- and do things “for the benefit of mankind” and at the same time do evil things and produce a hideous monster like Victor Frankenstein did. It proves that there is divine restraint in evil and that invariably a person is not for one hundred percent evil but and that good characteristics coexist with evil characteristics. However, If these evil characteristics are not tackled, these evil characteristics become dominant and lead to ultimate disaster. We see this dualism in Victor Frankenstein and also in the human existence.
Others on the internet have pointed out that “I want to do things for the benefit of mankind” may at the same time be a humorous reference to Dylan’s having won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. Alfred Nobel stated in his will that the remainder of his estate should be used to bestow "prizes to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind”.
“I say to the willow tree - don’t weep for me” reminds us of Desdemona’s lamenting ‘Willow Song’ in Shakespeare’s “Othello” (Act IV, scene 3). A reference to a Weeping Willow can be found in the song ‘Big River’, written by Johnny Cash in 1958, and performed by Dylan in 1969. In the song, the singer teaches the Weeping Willow how to cry.
It is clear from “Frankenstein” that Mary Shelly believes in the healing power of Nature. In chapter 9 she describes Nature as having winds that "whispered in soothing accents," just like a loving and caring mother who tells Victor to "weep no more”. Overwhelmed by all that he has been through, Victor throws himself to the ground and weeps bitterly. “I say to the willow tree - don’t weep for me”, makes it clear that the antagonist rejects and despises all sympathy which may be seen as a sign of weakness. However, it is divine wisdom when a man is able to distract knowledge from tradition and history and from “all things that used to be”. But this self-proclaimed creator defies and damns such knowledge and wisdom, proclaiming that he can do much better than his Creator and says: “the hell with all things that used to be”.
Although you may ignore all ethical warning signs never to act like God, nevertheless all human efforts to “bring someone to life” are confronted with limitations, Sooner or later you reach a point where you cannot proceed and your efforts stall and you have to admit that you “get into trouble”, and that you reach a point with “ no place to turn, no place at all”. When you “get into trouble” you can do two things, you either surrender to your Creator and give up, or you stubbornly continue and “hit the wall”. The wall was hit in a song called “Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street” which Dylan covered on his album “Down in the Groove”: “Warning signs are flashing everywhere, but we pay no heed, instead of slowing down the pace, we keep picking up speed, disasters getting closer every time we meet, going ninety miles an hour down a dead end street”.
Though “stopped dead in his tracks” – as Dylan wrote in “Long and Wasted Years” -and faced with the reality of having “no place to turn, no place at all” , yet man does not give up and desperately tries to find a way out of trouble.
Having nothing to go by the antagonist tries to find some sort of anchorage by saying “I pick a number between one and two”. Whereas earlier in the song -when it came down to exact science - the antagonist was not willing to take chances and said: “I don’t gamble with cards and I don’t shoot no dice” but here there is an inconsistency and he seems to do the opposite and “picks” a number between one and two. Mathematicians say that mathematically there is an infinite number of numbers between one and two. There is some sort of a parody of God in these words. Fallen man relies on chance and wishes to believe e.g. that the universe came into existence by mere chance, rather than accepting that there is a (divine) cause, whereas scientifically- when you consider the fine-tuning of the universe- it is virtually impossible that the universe came into existence without any cause and by mere chance.
When it says that narrator “picks” a number at random this contrasts with God, who does not “pick” a number but determines a number. There is numeric symmetry in all of his works. This does not mean that there is not a divine number “between one and two” which God has determined to be His special symmetrical number. There is. That divine symmetrical number happens to be a number between one and two. That divine number “between one and two”” is Φ = 1.618(phi).
The Renaissance Artists called this number 1.618 “The Divine Proportion” or “The Golden Ratio”. The Golden Ratio (phi = φ) is often called: “The Most Beautiful Number In The Universe”.
The reason why this number φ =1.618 is so extraordinary is because it can be found almost everywhere. It can e.g. be found in the dimensions of the human body, in geometry, in plants, in the DNA of organisms, in the solar system, in art and architecture etc.. "The Divine Proportion”1.618 can be found in a lot of places in the Bible as well. There is e.g. this “Divine Proportion” in the Bible in the name of God, the so-called Tetragrammaton JHWH, but also in the divine instructions for the dimensions to be applied in the construction of the Ark of Noah in Genesis 6:15 and the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus 25:10.
There is a connection between “I pick a number between one and two” and “I ask myself what would Julius Caesar do” because it was Julius Caesar, who prior to crossing the Rubicon in 49 BC,said these famous words “alea iacta est”(“the die is cast”). Both the antagonist and Julius Caesar rely on chance to reach their point of no return.
There is another intended association from the poet here. Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ have the same initials J.C. There are those “WWJD” bracelets and bumper stickers that stand for “what would Jesus do”. No doubt, asking the question “what would Julius Caesar do” is a satanic parody of “what would Jesus do”. The question here is: which side are you on? Do you rely on Jesus Christ who – in contrast with the antagonist here - succeeded in “bringing someone to life” or do you -like the antagonist here- rely on the methods of Julius Caesar, who used brutal earthly power to bring his own imperial empire to life? Do you rely on J.C. ,the Son of God, or on the pseudo god J.C. Julius Caesar who claimed that he directly descended from the gods of Rome, from Aenas and Venus?
“I’ll bring someone to life - in more ways than one” shows the determination of the antagonist to compete with God and even to do better than God. God made Adam in His Own Image, and in His Own Likeness (Gen.1:26). However, God made Eve by taking a rib from Adam and made that into a woman(Gen.2:22). So one could say that God brought “somebody to life in more ways than one” .
Apart from that, he resurrected Jesus from the dead. The antagonist claims he can do the same. Although this is true, it is not the crux of the matter here. The crux of the matter is: “God SAID”. All of God's creative works in Genesis 1 are introduced by “And God said”. It is the power of God’s voice, his Word, that brings everything, including man, to life. All through the song the antagonist has to rely on “doing” things to bring someone to life but never was he able – and he never will be for that matter- to command someone to life, simply by the command of his voice. Only God can say of Himself: “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast”(Psalm 33:9 NKJV).
When it says: “Don’t matter how long it takes - it’ll be done when it’s done” these words show the determination of the narrator against all odds and he asks to bear with him even when it would take billions of years to reach his goal. Fallen man is inclined to believe that life will emerge if only there is time enough. He is ready to believe that there is this one chance in many trillions of years that life will emerge “out of nothing”, in spite of the fact that there is no logic reason behind such a thought. “It’ll be done when it’s done” looks like an open door. At the same time these words show the false premise of the antagonist. As we already outlined, “doing things” will bring him nowhere because he lacks the vocal power -the spoken command-which is essential to bring things to life.
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