Explorations (**BD2 Movie Spoilers!**)

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Re: Explorations

Postby December » Wed May 05, 2010 5:03 pm

Knives wrote:I dunno, maybe it has to do with my lack of religious conviction and, more accurately, my longstanding misunderstanding and mistrust of faith.

You betcha. (*grin*)

But less flippantly -- and I should perhaps note that as far as my own religious affiliations go, I’d have to tick the “Agnostic” box -- I think you’ve put your finger on one key reason why you may feel you’re talking apples and other people on this thread are talking oranges. As you so cogently put it:


Knives wrote:You know, I never thought about that - I've spent so much time analyzing psychology, writing non-humans, roleplaying as non-humans and thinking in non-human fashions that I forgot that someone might think it's, y'know, sacred to be human....

This is simply FOUNDATIONAL to Stephenie’s own world view -- and more important, to the world view which Twilight both presumes and articulates. And it’s a view that many of her readers share. For many (including Stephenie) this is a view with theological underpinnings, but I think it can be intelligible to the non-religious as well. Maybe I would want to extend the definition of “humanity” to embrace other thinking, feeling, living -- and dying -- forms of life (Star Trek Federation-style).* But the idea that life, if you like, is precious, and that vampires are not quite alive any longer -- that these beings are not just tormented by murderous desires; they are frozen in a barren and static changelessness -- certainly makes sense to me. The quiet joy of being alive, of seeing the seasons change and changing with them (as Bella puts it), is lost to the Cullens forever. This is what gives Edward pause in NM (enough that he leaves); this is what gives Bella pause in Eclipse (enough that she is tempted by the human alternative Jake presents); and I think it’s what gives Stephenie pause in BD, and drives her to snatch from Bella the chance of deliberately walking down the road she chose in Eclipse (ie coldbloodedly laying down her human life for Edward).

Certainly this view is not always at the forefront of Stephenie's narrative (look at happy-go-lucky Alice and Emmett and it can be hard to see at all -- though I think that's meant to be a sign of grace and not imperviousness). But Stephenie is quite unequivocal: every one of the Cullens would give anything to reclaim their humanity. Even though it means giving up immortality. You couldn't really ask for stronger testimony to the value they see in being human.

As for whether Stephenie’s ambivalence harms her story...I’m of two minds about this. There’s no question that at times the unclarity and contradictoriness undermines the storytelling. But I think the tension between these two understandings of what loving Edward will mean for Bella: irreparable loss -- and elysium beyond imagining; bitter sacrifice -- and a sparkly, eternal happy ever after, is actually the heart of her story. It’s the magnitude of the sacrifice she’s prepared to make for Edward that truly establishes, beyond all the cliches of godlike beauty and breathless passion, the transcendent character of their love.

That's my view, anyway.... (*grin*)

_________________________
*though Stephenie makes an interesting case in the Host for the specialness of humanity, at least in contrast with the eerie altruism of the Souls. If not humanness itself, then the particular human knack for loving is obviously something she places untold value upon.
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Re: Explorations

Postby andypalmer » Thu May 13, 2010 2:15 pm

OK – new poster to the thread and admittedly I only perused the prior posts.

I thoroughly enjoy the Twilight Saga from a literary perspective.

Bella’s character, while hardly the “typical” teenager, encompasses traits of the tragic heroine (selfless & maternal yet weak and vulnerable) while still accurately portraying the all-encompassing nature of that “first love”. Yeah, I get that those who didn’t “fall” that deep as a teenager find it … troubling… but for those of us that did, it’s a scarily accurate description.

I find Stephenie’s Vampire mythos to be interesting. It’s akin to the recent Troy movie, the secularized the Homeric myths, doing, in my opinion, a masterful job of creating circumstances that could have logically led to the myths that Homer enshrined in literary lore. The final scene where Achilles falls with the only obvious wound being the arrow in his heel is a wonderful example of this. Stephenie performs a similar analysis of common vampire myths and reverse-engineers the folk lore back into “logical explanations” – whether it’s their extreme vulnerability to sunlight, based merely on their aversion to the obvious exposure; their coffin or other daytime sleeping habits, based on a combination of the above and their complete lack of a need for sleep; or whether it’s the protective measures of crosses, garlic and similar things based both on man’s need for comfort and carefully encouraged myths by the vampires themselves, she has created a creature, a race, that can logically be the foundation of all our current and past vampire myths while being bound by none of them.

In the Cullens, and in Edward especially, we have the age-old literary vehicle of resisting the natural man, but presented in the intriguing back-drop of what is natural to an “unnatural” being. The Cullen’s stave off the natural man by resisting their vampiric natures and, just as men in literature through the ages have found strength and peace through victory in such trials, so too do the Cullen’s as they achieve a higher state of being than their more “natural” vampire kin, as illustrated by their strong familiar ties and ability to live a more stable existence among mankind.

The “Forbidden Fruit” symbolism is especially strong throughout, being presented from the perspective of both Bella, for whom Edward is forbidden due to his dangerous and “alien” nature, and Edward, for whom Bella is forbidden for contrasting reasons. In keeping with the LDS (Mormon) beliefs about the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, both need to partake of the fruit before they can “evolve” to their perfect state. Just as Adam and Eve needed to partake of the fruit in order to not only procreate, but grow and learn, to become beings capable of benefiting from the Atonement, so too do both Bella and Edward need to change. Bella’s change is more to fit in where she needs to fit in, to in some regards become what she was born to become and symbolically, receive the strength needed to compliment her good and selfless nature in order to evolve from a flawed tragic hero to a … heroic one. For Edward, the change is more subtle; he is noble but directionless and lacking in compassion – he needs the change that vampires go through when they fall in love to gain those things and arguably changed even more with the surprising fatherhood.
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Re: Explorations

Postby Knives » Thu May 13, 2010 2:57 pm

...I think I'll request that December represent my worldview in reply to your post, Andy, as I do not currently trust myself to do so politely. Religion and I are...touchy. Well, sort of. My views on religion when combined with the general public create a volitile mixture.
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Re: Explorations

Postby andypalmer » Thu May 13, 2010 3:01 pm

Knives. I trust all of us can at least consider scriptural references from a literary perspective, especially considering how prevalent the symbolism is found in Western literature. I don't see it as a question of believing the scriptural references but merely is recognizing them and the parallels in other literature. i.e., I'm purposely trying to keep things non-religious in nature.
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Re: Explorations

Postby December » Thu May 13, 2010 7:01 pm

Thank you both for keeping this conversation civil. With a story like this one which clearly has religious overtones for its author -- and for many readers -- and where religious considerations (are all vampires damned? do they have a soul?) enter into the characters' own reflections, treading the line between a discussion of religious themes in the story and a debate over our own religious leanings will take some care and attention.

I thought I might repost something I wrote about this on the old Choices thread. The issue under discussion there was slightly different, but I think the general point I was trying to clarify has some relevance here.



    December wrote:
    bac wrote:One person feels guilt and shame, the other feels joy. It is because they have a different value system. The Cullens have a different value system than other vampires. That is why they feel guilt or shame when they feed from humans. Is it wrong for a vampire to feed from humans? Not necessarily, but it is to them. So they are making the choice to abstain from human blood because of their belief system.

    I liked this. It’s a great way of thinking about the Cullens’ choices -- and those of other vampires -- without imposing any particular belief system of our own on them.

    Something it might be helpful to keep in mind as we discuss these issues here: that there are (at least) three different ways of approaching the question of whether or not it is wrong for vampires to kill people:

    1) from the most objective perspective possible (one which tries to stand apart from any belief system in particular and see what can still usefully be said -- like your observation above).

    2) from the standpoint of our own personal beliefs (we can explain what we believe and how that shapes our own understanding of different vampires’ choices -- as Catching Cove and Lisa (and others before them) have done).

    3) trying to work out how we are meant to understand the morality of drinking blood within the framework of the story: what view the books suggest we should take of the Cullens' choices. A perspective which is likely to overlap with (but not be identical with) the views of a) the characters and b) the author.

    This last one is the really tricky question, because it involves a certain amount of guesswork, clear thinking about what happens in the text and a judicious reading of what Stephenie has said herself about her story. Taking a guess, if you like, at what she wants us to think about her characters and the world she has imagined them into. And then trying to fit all these things together to produce the most plausible and consistent understanding of the books: how we understand the moral universe of the story, and what the Cullen’s choices would mean if that moral perspective were “true”. Do I personally take Stephenie's view of the rights and wrongs of being a vampire? To be honest, I'm not sure about my own moral views here. I personally find her moral perspective on the Cullens’ lives an attractive one, though it stands on some theological premises I don’t share. But the things I've written really only represent a contribution to discussion 3)

As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong per se with any of these three approaches. If your religious views (or antipathy to religious views) inform your reading of the story, it's fine to say so -- it can help us understand where, as they say, you are "coming from" -- as long as you can do so in a wholly unantagonistic way! But the point of explaining our individual beliefs is not to go on to debate them; it's to help illuminate why we read and appreciate the books so differently. We don't have to agree or even like each other's views, just accept them for what they are. And as always, if the conversation is going somewhere that makes you uncomfortable -- or annoyed -- there's an easy remedy: don't tangle with the stuff that bugs you.

*************************************



*steps off mod podium*

And now, if I can return to the substance of the current conversation....

andypalmer wrote:In the Cullens, and in Edward especially, we have the age-old literary vehicle of resisting the natural man, but presented in the intriguing back-drop of what is natural to an “unnatural” being.

Yes indeed. With perhaps the additional suggestion that (as I read Stephenie anyway (cf. this post)) that the Cullens are not altogether unnatural or inhuman beings -- or at least, not irretrievably inhuman beings. Rather, in reaffirming their moral responsibility NOT to give way to their "natural" predator's instincts (ie refusing to view humans as their God-given diet), the Cullens actually reclaim their moral status as humans -- but humans burdened with a "natural man" more terrible and oppressive than any the rest of us can imagine being afflicted with. Sparkling Diamond made a wonderful observation about this ages ago:

    Sparkling Diamond wrote:
    For a vampire, everything is magnified, senses, emotions, physical ability. Why not temptation as well? Every human faces temptation on a daily basis. Sometimes we choose to fall prey to it, sometimes we choose to rise above and take the higher path. We choose the higher path to ensure our place in the afterlife of your belief system. I see the same for vampires. This is one of the ways that the Cullens pay a penance of sorts for having their cake and eating it too, so to speak. Or rather, for living an eternal life on earth, and then the possibility of an eternal life in the hereafter. We all have our crosses to bear, we all have to overcome the temptation to sin to earn our way into the afterlife. Well, if the Cullens are doubly blessed with two eternal lives, shouldn't their temptation be twice as great as ours? Thus, resisting human blood, the most unholy of temptations, and feeding on the less appealing....

Morally, this seems absolutely right to me. The extraordinary difficulty of the lives the Cullens lead isn't just the inevitable downside of an earthbound immortality (which has to be tainted, else what's a heaven for...). It's what allows them to deserve this chance at having their cake and eating it too: near-eternal life on earth and a place in heaven afterwards. As Stephenie might put it, good stuff now as well as good stuff later -- but earned through really fearsome moral struggle. So that our intuition that there is a real moral magnificence with what the Cullens do goes some distance towards assuaging our uneasiness at their easy access to the gift of immortality. We don't ask ourselves: what have these unremarkable people done to deserve this priceless gift? We see it for what Stephenie clearly wants us to see it as: an unimaginably arduous calling. And conversely, the blessings of longevity, superhuman powers and so on make it easier for us to accept the apparently cruel fate her Creator has wished on this unhappy part of His creation....
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Re: Explorations

Postby andypalmer » Thu May 13, 2010 8:34 pm

Nice post, December.

I honestly hadn't even considered the moral, or by extension, religious questions around Vampire's existence and their dietary choices. For me, they don't even come into question, except as it pertains to the Cullens (and Denali's by extension) - I suppose it is their very resistance to their "natural state" that even introduces a comparison with "human" morality. At first blush, I don't consider the Volturi, or any of the other "regular" vampires to be evil, any more than I consider a lion or shark to be evil, even though both will, given the opportunity, feed on humans. However, when compared with the Cullen's, it allows one to begin to measure those vampires against human morays, to think that they are perhaps evil because they give into their natural state when capable of doing otherwise. Still, whether they are immoral or just amoral becomes an open question.

Going further down these thoughts, I'm going to take a brief religious aside...

In some ways, you could compare vampires with the state of man in the garden of Eden, unchanging, unable to procreate, no knowledge of good and evil, an unending life, fully master of their domain. They exist, they eat, they mate, but have no family; right and wrong don't exist, merely living in the present, without growth of any kind. The Cullens are almost man having partaken of the forbidden fruit, yet still able to live in the garden and partake of the fruit of the tree of life, potentially living forever in their sins, but striving to redeem themselves nonetheless. An interesting allegory that I hadn't considered until now.

Aside over.

I do agree that the advantages that vampires receive are a nice juxtaposition to the effort to resist temptation required for their lifestyle; to use Edward's analogy, they are addicted to heroin and surrounded by it every day; unlike human addicts, they have far less opportunity to avoid the source of their addiction. Added to this is their ability to seize their addiction, practically at will, something which is often yet another source of "aid" for human addicts. All in all, they can benefit from none of the tools humans use to battle addiction while being "blessed" with skills and abilities that do nothing more than make the addictive substance easier to obtain. I don't envy their struggle.

Enjoyable discussion - I like it when the views of others help me gain new insights.
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Re: Explorations

Postby Openhome » Mon May 17, 2010 8:39 am

Knives wrote:
You know, I never thought about that - I've spent so much time analyzing psychology, writing non-humans, roleplaying as non-humans and thinking in non-human fashions that I forgot that someone might think it's, y'know, sacred to be human....

December Wrote:
This is simply FOUNDATIONAL to Stephenie’s own world view -- and more important, to the world view which Twilight both presumes and articulates. And it’s a view that many of her readers share. For many (including Stephenie) this is a view with theological underpinnings, but I think it can be intelligible to the non-religious as well. Maybe I would want to extend the definition of “humanity” to embrace other thinking, feeling, living -- and dying -- forms of life (Star Trek Federation-style).* But the idea that life, if you like, is precious, and that vampires are not quite alive any longer -- that these beings are not just tormented by murderous desires; they are frozen in a barren and static changelessness -- certainly makes sense to me. The quiet joy of being alive, of seeing the seasons change and changing with them (as Bella puts it), is lost to the Cullens forever. This is what gives Edward pause in NM (enough that he leaves); this is what gives Bella pause in Eclipse (enough that she is tempted by the human alternative Jake presents); and I think it’s what gives Stephenie pause in BD, and drives her to snatch from Bella the chance of deliberately walking down the road she chose in Eclipse (ie coldbloodedly laying down her human life for Edward).


Absolutely beautifully put. Thank you for pointing out the basic philosophical difference here. I would like to add (of course because I am long winded) that this isn't just a literary or moral standing. This dichotomy of beliefs isn't just some languid philosophical debate. It is a world view with tragic and horrific outcomes for both sides. I have a good friend who was raised in a Jewish household but is currently an atheist. We have some very intriguing discussions, but this is one area we agree on. Knives, I know how easy it is to loose sight of humanity's uniqueness or to denounce it completely. As a historian I often find myself cursing my own species. However, if we do not hold to the basic belief that human life is a precious thing, then humans become less than animals or machines. (Machines don't make stupid choices) From a literary standpoint, it is an interesting discussion and one that makes for really good plots. However,from my friend's and my standpoint, when we strip humanity of it's "sacred" standing, we become monsters. This has occurred on both sides of the spectrum; religion as well as fascism has fallen into the black depths of genocide because of it. My friend will not let go of her beliefs because of the Holocaust, which was engendered because one group of humans took the sacred standing of humanity away from another group.

You may not like the wording, too religious I know, but I hope you understand the argument. When we no longer see ourselves as redeemable, we become the monsters we fear. This has a direct link to both your argument and Andypalmers. Without the ideology of the sacred (and in terms of myth and mythos, it is a universal theme for both sides of the argument) life becomes worthless. We humans become a plague on the earth, as unwanted as the oil spill. How many great literary works dwelt on the theme of the redemption of the protagonist.
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Re: Explorations

Postby Knives » Mon May 17, 2010 12:36 pm

Openhome wrote:Absolutely beautifully put. Thank you for pointing out the basic philosophical difference here. I would like to add (of course because I am long winded) that this isn't just a literary or moral standing. This dichotomy of beliefs isn't just some languid philosophical debate. It is a world view with tragic and horrific outcomes for both sides. I have a good friend who was raised in a Jewish household but is currently an atheist. We have some very intriguing discussions, but this is one area we agree on. Knives, I know how easy it is to loose sight of humanity's uniqueness or to denounce it completely. As a historian I often find myself cursing my own species. However, if we do not hold to the basic belief that human life is a precious thing, then humans become less than animals or machines. (Machines don't make stupid choices) From a literary standpoint, it is an interesting discussion and one that makes for really good plots. However,from my friend's and my standpoint, when we strip humanity of it's "sacred" standing, we become monsters. This has occurred on both sides of the spectrum; religion as well as fascism has fallen into the black depths of genocide because of it. My friend will not let go of her beliefs because of the Holocaust, which was engendered because one group of humans took the sacred standing of humanity away from another group.

You may not like the wording, too religious I know, but I hope you understand the argument. When we no longer see ourselves as redeemable, we become the monsters we fear. This has a direct link to both your argument and Andypalmers. Without the ideology of the sacred (and in terms of myth and mythos, it is a universal theme for both sides of the argument) life becomes worthless. We humans become a plague on the earth, as unwanted as the oil spill. How many great literary works dwelt on the theme of the redemption of the protagonist.


Whoa whoa whoa, back up a minute now *tires screech with much burning of rubber*

I can see where you might have gotten the logical extension that I consider human life worthless, but that is not what I meant.

Look, I may not see anything particularly special or sacred about being human over, say, being a vampire/werewolf/elf/bugger (see Ender's Game), but sentience is definitely a special quality. In a world where we don't have the monopoly on that (see Twilight and/or every fantasy book ever), simply being human is not a ticket to instant special treatment. What makes us more special and deserving of consideration than vampires? Werewolves? That's what my argument entails - my confusion and frustration that the vampires of Ms. Meyer's world either spend their lives in unnecessary angst (the Cullens) or throw their hands in the air and go, "We'll, we're damned, where's an orphan to eat?" (everyone else). You folks see a hard moral question - I see an idiotic religious fallacy.

Hope that clears things up >.>
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Re: Explorations

Postby December » Mon May 17, 2010 12:38 pm

Quick reminder that we don't want to veer too far from Twilight -- or get into an extended discussion of real world genocide!

In fairness to the red-eyed vamps (and those like Knives who I suspect will want to defend them!)...it should be said that Stephenie would be the first to argue that they're not evil the way humans who commit atrocities are evil. WE don't have the choice to forgo right and wrong, or relinquish our moral status as humans. If I choose to consider my fellow men's lives worthless you might say I've become "little more than an animal" -- but I don't actually become an animal, with an animal's innocence. "Animal" or not, I'm still guilty of murder. Whereas Stephenie would say (see PC #12) that vampires ARE in effect a different species, and not to be judged by human standards. Not only have they become physically different from us (impervious, super-strong, immortal) but they are afflicted by a genuine, excruciating need to drink our blood, which even animal blood doesn't properly assuage. As I see it, the Cullens have chosen to "opt in" to humanity again (thereby taking on again the capacity for right and wrong). But it's a superrogatory choice on their part: it wouldn't exactly be wrong of them not to. Ordinary red-eyed vamps simply aren't human, for better or worse. They can neither be good nor evil. Which brings us full circle in a way to Andypalmer's observations -- and the epigraph to Twilight. It's the knowledge -- and capacity -- for good and evil which makes us what we are.


ETA
Oops. Crossed posts! Back with more thoughts in a bit.

Ok...so I guess I want to reiterate the distinction between discussing the moral view Stephenie's story is taking -- which DOES entail the specialness of being human, or mortal anyway (I don't think she's ruling out the La Push werewolf/shapeshifters) -- and discussing our own views. I think what I was suggesting earlier, and Openhome was echoing, was the idea that whether or not you think God made humans special, you might find the Cullens' passionate determination to cling to their humanity an attractive ideal -- in the context of this story -- precisely because in their case it has a lot to do with values we all subscribe to (self-sacrifice, empathy, etc). To this extent, our own personal views, religious or agnostic, actually do map onto what the books express. The finer detail though -- all this stuff about Natural Man, redemption, reclaiming a lost human capacity for good and evil (or sin, if you like) -- is really an exegesis of what we think is implied in the story. So it doesn't really matter whether it's a religious fallacy or not, any more than you have to believe in heaven to intelligently discuss Hamlet's dilemma about whether to murder Claudius while he is at prayers.

Am I making any sense?

Knives wrote:I can see where you might have gotten the logical extension that I consider human life worthless, but that is not what I meant.

I wondered if you might think that... (*grin*)
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Re: Explorations

Postby Openhome » Mon May 17, 2010 7:13 pm

Knives wrote:Whoa whoa whoa, back up a minute now *tires screech with much burning of rubber*

I can see where you might have gotten the logical extension that I consider human life worthless, but that is not what I meant.

Look, I may not see anything particularly special or sacred about being human over, say, being a vampire/werewolf/elf/bugger (see Ender's Game), but sentience is definitely a special quality. In a world where we don't have the monopoly on that (see Twilight and/or every fantasy book ever), simply being human is not a ticket to instant special treatment. What makes us more special and deserving of consideration than vampires? Werewolves? That's what my argument entails - my confusion and frustration that the vampires of Ms. Meyer's world either spend their lives in unnecessary angst (the Cullens) or throw their hands in the air and go, "We'll, we're damned, where's an orphan to eat?" (everyone else). You folks see a hard moral question - I see an idiotic religious fallacy.

Hope that clears things up >.>

First off, I love the orphan line! Thanks for the giggle.

Second, Knives I must apologize. I did misinterpret your remark as meaning that human life is not precious. I can understand your rejection of religious belief about human life. My intent was simply to show that the sanctity of human life is not just a religious belief. Many people, from every belief system out there, hold to the belief that human life is both sacred and redeemable. When I saw your post, I jumped to a conclusion that I shouldn't have. I am sorry.

December, I did not intend to bring in a religious overtone at all, but rather simply state that the ideal of a redeemable humanity (or any sentient life form -- thank you Knives, yes I do agree, if there are others out there, they have the same redeemable status) and the sanctity of life is both a real world issue and an ideological one. I also wanted to show that holding human life as sacred is also held by those who have no religious belief at all.

Since we humans (and perhaps a few of the great apes, though that is a discussion for a different site) are the only beings that are currently known to be sentient, they are the ones I was focussing on. By extension, and in my haste I did not mention this, the fictional characters who are also sentient deserve the same recognition. I jumped on this one a little too hard, but it is something I feel strongly about. Again, the reason for this is the end result: cruelty. I'm a foster mother, it's a touchy issue. I also apologize if I said things inappropriately.

I meant to expand on the concept that both Knives and Andypalmers brought up, the ideal of a redeemable character. I realize that a red-eyed vampire is essentially no different than a blue-eyed hamburger eating human -- both kill to eat. I would love to discuss this further (the moral implications of veggie vamps) but that is not my intent here. My intent was to show that redemption is a common theme throughout most literature. It is especially potent in sci-fi and fantasy genres where the morality rules bend and stretch. I realize that redemption is usually brought into play in the religious realm, but even Stephen King plays with both redeemable and un-redeemable characters. In fact, it is a key theme in his work, how much more so in other classic works. From Tolkien to Bradbury, the universal themes of good and evil, redemption and condemnation, the loss of innocence (Eden symbolically) is not simply religious in nature.

As Andy said, I believe common themes like these can be discussed on several levels. I don't need to bring in my theological standing to understand the beauty of sacrifice or the horrors of evil.
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