Why is it significant that Ishmael is a gorilla?
Though the lessons Ishmael teaches are undoubtedly the novel's most important aspect, several of those lessons are reinforced by the fact that Ishmael is a gorilla. First, he has a unique perspective on captivity because he is an outcast to human society. Because of this perspective, he is best able to realize the mentality and nature of captivity. This is important since his lessons revolve around the belief that Taker society is being held captive by the story Mother Culture tells. Secondly, the fact that a wild animal is teaching us about our own captivity reminds us that the proper way to live is through a harmony with nature. Everything in life has something to teach to everything else - together, all life teaches the natural laws that ensure harmony. Finally, as a gorilla that was brought into civilization (by Walter Sokolow), he has the opportunity to understand both Taker and Leaver lifestyles. Thus, he is able to both criticize the Taker lifestyle, and offer a viable alternative.
What is the crux of Quinn’s argument in Ishmael?
Quinn’s ideas are complex, but Ishmael insists early on that understanding the entire thought process is less important than grasping the ultimate goal. Thus, it is useful to articulate the argument simply. Quinn's ideas center on the development of civilization and totalitarian agriculture. What makes humans (Takers) so destructive is their insistence on forcing the agricultural way of life on everyone else. This way of life presumes that humans are both apart from and against nature, and that humans should manipulate nature for the sake of food production. As a result, humans are slowly destroying the world.
Argue the merits of Quinn's perspective on the Genesis origin stories.
Arguably one of the most interesting sections of the novel is Quinn's perspective on the stories of Adam and Cain and Abel. His basic approach is that these stories were told by Semites, who were herders, to explain the aggressiveness of the agricultural Taker civilization that developed in the Fertile Crescent. Quinn’s theory makes sense for a few reasons. First, the Hebrew word for “Adam” means man, and “Eve” means life. This language explains the story in a useful way - 'man' has been tempted to perpetuate the growth of 'life' through agriculture, and hence has traded the harmony of a pastoral garden for a difficult life of toil to that end. More importantly, Taker culture has never been able to understand the meaning of these stories. Had they written the stories, knowledge of good and evil would never have been penalized; it would have been considered man's birthright. Finally, the fact that agriculture is considered a curse suggests that the Takers would never have written this story.
Why are most cultural movements bound to fail, in Quinn’s opinion?
Most cultural movements, like the revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, are bound to fail because they operate within the thought prison of Taker culture, rather than seeking to dismantle the prison altogether. Most protesters glimpse a problem, but never identify exactly what they are rebelling against. Specifically, what protests would have to work against is the assumptions that man is the apex of evolution, and that the agricultural way of life is necessarily superior. In a sense, this is the main point of Ishmael - we must first have awareness of what is happening if we are to enact useful change. And in this case, this requires relinquishing most of what we take for granted, rather than trying to change the system while under the sway of certain pernicious assumptions.
What is the significance of the story that the narrator wrote in college, about Nazi Germany?
In writing the story, the narrator was articulating his feeling that something was wrong with the planet. However, he also had to admit that he was unable to articulate the nature of that problem. Overall, the narrator's story serves as a metaphor for the problems that arise when no one knows exactly what is wrong. Like Ishmael indicates, this uncertainty is one of the most problematic aspects of Taker civilization, since it leads to problems like crime, greed, and insanity. Much as German society might have been improved if its citizens were aware of what was happening under Hitler, our issues could be addressed if we become aware of the pernicious story being told by Mother Culture.
When Ishmael is so named, he says he was “made whole as a person—not again but for the very first time.” Explain the significance of this sentiment.
Once Ishmael was re-named, his holistic self-view began his journey towards knowledge. By recognizing the importance of identity, he was beginning to understand the nature of mankind's captivity. Overall, the lesson is that individuals must realize that they can break the conformity engendered by Mother Culture's story. They can be "made whole" so long as they can break free of the thought prison, but that first requires an individual commitment towards knowledge and truth. When Ishmael learned he was not a nameless gorilla but rather an individual with particular capabilities, he began to work towards helping society in his own way.
Why is it important that Ishmael says that he was “incapable of even that most primitive of fallacies: post hoc, ergo propter hoc?”
This Latin phrase translates to "after this, therefore because of this," and is a logical fallacy. It states that a second event must have caused a first event simply because it came after it. By establishing the ability to grasp a fallacy as a "primitive" human quality, Ishmael suggests that falling prey to a fallacy is an important part of being human. We are all inclined towards contradictions, and must recognize this weakness if we are transcend it. Humans are able to justify pernicious and harmful activity, which explains how Mother Culture has led us to hurt ourselves and our Earth. The implication is that we must recognizing this failing so that we can craft a better alternative and save the planet.
Why, in Quinn’s opinion, has evolution stalled or stopped completely?
Much of Quinn's ultimate argument revolves around the importance of evolution. Because evolution allows a diversity of species so that some of them can survive any climactic shift, it is extremely important for the perpetuation of life. However, most humans - the Takers - have removed themselves from the laws that govern life, assuming they are superior to nature, the apex of evolution. Because man has taken control of food production and waged war on other species, man has stopped evolving. Not only is this dangerous for the planet, but it is harmful to man since it makes us less likely to survive any impending climactic shifts.
Explain the significance of Ishmael's poster.
In his office, Ishmael has a poster reading "WITH MAN GONE, WILL THERE BE HOPE FOR GORILLA?” The narrator correctly identifies this as a koan, meaning that it could be read two ways. It could mean that gorilla will have a lesser chance of survival if man dies; it could also mean that gorilla could stand a greater chance of survival if man dies. At novel's end, however, the narrator discovers that the back of the poster reads "WITH GORILLA GONE, WILL THERE BY HOPE FOR MAN?" The overall point is that both interpretations are true - all of life is dependent on the rest of life. Because of this co-dependence, man's destructive ways are particularly frightening not just for man, but for all of life.
Why is it important that Ishmael grew up in captivity, but still remembers what it was like to eat in the wild?
While Ishmael's theories touch on many different aspects of life - politics, religion, money - the most important element is food production. Because Ishmael remembers a life in which food grew abundantly, and could be taken when an individual wanted it, life was both easy and stress-free. This stands in stark contrast to Takers, who are able to stock-pile food, but who live lives of anxiety from fear of being caught without it. Ishmael's many theories - about population control, the means of production, etc. - are all informed by his ability to contrast the Taker perspective on food with the Leaver one.
Ismail Merchant (25 December 1936 – 25 May 2005) was an Indian-born film producer and director. He worked for many years in collaboration with Merchant Ivory Productions which included director (and Merchant's longtime professional and domestic partner) James Ivory as well as screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Their films won six Academy Awards.
Merchant succeeded as producer in Hollywood for more than 40 years. His strength lay in funding his projects and his ability to produce films for several million dollars less than those of his contemporaries.
Born Ismail Noor Md. Abdul Rahman (Gujarati: ઈસ્માઈલ નૂરમોહમદ અબ્દુલ રહમાન, Urdu: اسماعیل نور محمد عبد الرحمن,) in Bombay (Mumbai), he was the son of Hazra (maiden name, Memon) and Noor Mohamed Rehman, a Bombay textile dealer. He grew up bilingual in Gujarati and Urdu, and learned Arabic and English at school. When he was 11, he and his family were caught up in the 1947 partitioning of India. His father was president of the Muslim League, and refused to move to Pakistan. Merchant later said that he carried memories of the 'butchery and riots' into adulthood.
As a child at the age of 9, he delivered an emotionally riveting speech about partition, held at a political rally in front of crowd of 10,000, inspiring his entire community. He met his first mentor in 1949 thanks to family networks. Consequently, at the age of 13 he developed a close friendship with Nimmi, an Indian film actress in her twenties, who introduced him to the glamorous studios of Bombay (which was the hub of India's films). It was she who inspired his ambitious rise to stardom. He studied at St. Xavier's College, Bombay & received a BA degree of University of Bombay. It was here that he developed his love for movies. When he was 22, he went to the USA to study at New York University and received an MBA degree. He supported himself by working as a messenger for the UN and used this opportunity to persuade Indian delegates to fund his film projects. He said of this experience "I was not intimidated by anyone or anything". Immersed in a new world of art and culture, it was here that Merchant discovered the films of Bengali Movie Director, Satyajit Ray, as well as those by European artists such as Ingmar Bergman, Vittorio De Sica, and Federico Fellini. In 1961, he made a short film, The Creation of Woman. It was shown at Cannes Film Festival and received an Academy Award nomination.
Merchant Ivory Productions
Merchant met director James Ivory at a screening, in New York City, of Ivory's documentary The Sword and the Flute in 1959. In May 1961, Merchant and Ivory formed the film production company Merchant Ivory Productions. Merchant and Ivory were long-term life partners. Their professional and romantic partnership lasted 44 years, from 1961 until Merchant's death in 2005.
Their partnership has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest partnership in independent cinema history. Until Merchant's death in 2005, they produced nearly 40 films, including a number of award winners. Novelist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was the screenwriter for most of their productions.
In 1963, MIP premiered its first production,'The Householder', based upon a novel by Jhabvala (she also wrote the screenplay). This feature became the first Indian-made film to be distributed internationally by a major American studio, Columbia Pictures. However, it wasn't until the 1970s that the partnership "hit on a successful formula for studied, slow-moving pieces ... Merchant Ivory became known for their attention to tiny period detail and the opulence of their sets". Their first success in this style was Jhabvala's adaptation of Henry James's The Europeans.
In addition to producing, Merchant directed a number of films and two television features. For television, he directed a short feature entitled Mahatma and the Mad Boy, and a full-length feature, The Courtesans of Bombay, made for Britain's Channel Four. Merchant made his film directorial debut with 1993's In Custody based on a novel by Anita Desai, and starring Bollywood actor Shashi Kapoor. Filmed in Bhopal, India, it won National Awards from the Government of India for Best Production Design and Special Jury award for lead actor Shashi Kapoor. His second directing feature,'The Proprietor', starred Jeanne Moreau, Sean Young, Jean-Pierre Aumont and Christopher Cazenove and was filmed on location in Paris.
Of his partnership with Ivory and Jhabvala, Merchant once commented: "It is a strange marriage we have at Merchant Ivory . . . I am an Indian Muslim, Ruth is a German Jew, and Jim is a Protestant American. Someone once described us as a three-headed god. Maybe they should have called us a three-headed monster!"
Cooking and writing
He was fond of cooking, and he wrote several books on the art including Ismail Merchant's Indian Cuisine; Ismail Merchant's Florence; Ismail Merchant's Passionate Meals and Ismail Merchant's Paris: Filming and Feasting in France. He also wrote books on film-making, including a book about the making of the film The Deceivers in 1988 called Hullabaloo in Old Jeypur, and another about the making of The Proprietor called Once Upon a Time . . . The Proprietor. His last book was entitled, My Passage From India: A Filmmaker's Journey from Bombay to Hollywood and Beyond.
In 2002, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan. He was also a recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence.
Merchant died in Westminster, London, UK aged 68, following surgery for abdominalulcers. He was buried in Bada Kabrestan in Marine Lines, Mumbai, India on 28 May 2005, in keeping with his wish to be buried with his ancestors.
- "Cheek of the devil, charm of an angel: Ismail Merchant, Producer, 1936–2005" (Obituary reprinted from Telegraph, London), in The Sydney Morning Herald, 2005-05-30, p. 41