26 December, 2007

Home For Christmas

So I'm just back from my first semester at college, and am amazingly pleased at how it all went. Classes were marvelous, and I really enjoyed my time there. Now I'm at home, and the two really terrible things I had to deal with at the University of Dallas - the cafeteria food, and the horrid Texas weather - are no longer about to bother me. I can sled down our road with my brothers. I can eat real food. I can waste time without feeling guilty. Life is very good.

Christmas day was wonderful at our house, as usual - we started off Christmas Eve with Mass, then went to an uncle's house for a pre-Christmas dinner. At midnight after Christmas Eve, my parents, my sister, and I had another meal - the Reveillon. Reveillon is a French Canadian custom, actually. The older members of the family stay awake for a small but rather fancy meal sometime after midnight. Usually it's eaten after midnight Mass, but we didn't go to that this year. We ate lots of marvelous cheese, fresh fruit, oyster soup, and of course tourtiere pie. It wouldn't be Christmas without tourtiere pie....

My dad and sister seemed quite exhausted, but I wasn't at all. I presume that has something to do with the fact that at college, I rarely got to sleep before 2:00am.

Anyway, I'm all in all feeling jolly euphoric right now. And I'll start posting for real instead of putting up random papers as soon as possible.

07 December, 2007

Suffering a Hero in the Odyssey

The eternal question of why men suffer dominates The Odyssey from its commencement, as Zeus laments “For shame, how the mortals put the blame upon us/ gods [when] they … by their own recklessness win sorrow beyond what is given” (Odyssey, 1.32-34). Odysseus himself is the quintessential image of suffering man, enduring myriad trials while pursuing a goal which tirelessly eludes his grasp. In the depths of Hades, however, Odysseus encounters the image of Herakles, a hero whose misfortunes could have once rivaled Odysseus’ own log of troubles. Ironically, Herakles himself now dwells in Olympos, where “he himself among the immortal gods enjoys their festivals” (Odyssey, 11.602-03). Why does Homer include this startling appearance of an immortal hero’s image in the land of the dead? A close reading reveals that there are many similarities between the stories of Odysseus and Herakles. Herakles’ presence allows us to draw a parallel between his ordeals and those of Odysseus. Through this, we learn that much suffering is, as Zeus suggests, the fruit of men’s wrongdoing, but for the hero, it is not entirely lamentable. When met heroically, suffering has three main qualities: it expiates past misdeeds, it is transitory, and it leads directly to future rewards.

Although I will demonstrate a few of the abundant external similarities between the two heroes, I do not intend to focus my essay on these. Intriguing as these correlations are, they do not say much of substance about the theme of suffering. Rather, they provide the justification my comparison. After enumerating them, I will draw heavily on three slightly less obvious points of comparison. These three points, which deal with the purpose, limit, and effects of suffering, lead directly to my conclusions about its nature.

Powerful even as an image, Herakles first appears striding towards Odysseus “holding his bow bare with an arrow laid on the bowstring” (11.607). His demeanor recalls Odysseus’ skill with a bow – the same skill which will help Odysseus to annihilate the suitors, marking the beginning of his hardships’ end. Only lines later, Herakles asks, “are you too leading some wretched destiny/ such as I too pursued when I went still in the sunlight?”, drawing a direct comparison between his descent into the underworld and Odysseus’ similar journey (Odyssey, 11.618-19). The resemblance between the years of hardship each hero must endure is a particularly crucial point. In life, Herakles was burdened with Twelve Labours. Likewise, Odysseus’ wanderings feature twelve major trials. He encounters the Kikonians, the Lotus Eaters, the Cyclopes, Aiolos and the bag of winds, the Laistrygones, and Circe. He descends into Hades, defies the Sirens, as well as Skylla and Charybdis, lands on the island of Helios, and on Kalypso’s island, and finally destroys the suitors who are laying waste to his home. Moreover, just as Herakles received aid from both Hermes and Athene (cf. Odyssey, 11.626; Iliad, 8.362-65), Odysseus relies upon the benison of these two gods throughout his wanderings.

Akin in form, the toils of both Herakles and Odysseus are also similar in origin and purpose. Suffering is often necessary as a just repayment which satisfies the debt incurred by wrongdoing. In Grecian mythology, Herakles’ Labours atoned for his killing of his wife and children .The crime, though committed in a fit of madness sent by Hera, could only be blotted out through Herakles’ own suffering. Odysseus too must make restitution for a past misdeed. During the war, Odysseus and the other Achaians desecrate Troy. Troy is consistently the identified with family life throughout The Iliad, so in destroying this, the Greeks symbolically ruined their own homecomings. Many “men … were lost, and many left over” during the journeys home (Odyssey, 4.495). Odysseus’ wanderings, however, expiate this guilt.

Unlike so many Greeks for whom punishment was swift and hard, Odysseus is not permanently lost. Neither is his expiation some limitless punishment such as that which he witnesses Tantalos or Sisyphos undergoing in the depths of Hades. Herakles’ presence in Hades reiterates the transience of Odysseus’ trials. His image is “full of lamentation,” as it bemoans his earthly labours, but Herakles himself enjoys the immortality of the gods in Olympus (Odyssey, 11.616). The despondent specter which confronts Odysseus is not the real Herakles. Similarly, The Odyssey itself never goes far beyond the man we first see sitting on Kalypso’s island “breaking his heart in tears, lamentation, and sorrow” (Odyssey, 5.83). The very fact that the sorrowing Herakles is no more than an empty image is a reminder that Odysseus will not always be weeping. His sorrow and difficulties define the image of Odysseus which The Odyssey presents, but they are not ultimately the reality which defines the man himself.

The climax of each hero’s tale occurs when suffering ends and each finally achieves fulfillment of his deepest wish. For Herakles, this reward is immortality, a gift that all Greeks covet but that almost none receive. Odysseus by contrast seems to disdain immortality in comparison to a simple, temporal life with his wife and son. He has an opportunity to grasp infinite life when Kalypso invites him to “be the lord of this household/ and be an immortal” yet he rejects this (Odyssey, 5.208-09). As attractive as eternal feasting in a paradise with the gods may sound, Odysseus prizes above all others “this place distasteful to many,” craggy Ithaka , simply because it holds that which is most precious to him (Odyssey, 19.407). Life founded on love for his family is more precious and offers greater rewards to this Greek hero than all the immortality and joys of Olympos.

“Why do men suffer?” As Zeus says, mortals often bring suffering on themselves through “wild recklessness” (Odyssey, 1.34). However, juxtaposition of the troubles of Herakles and Odysseus shows that this suffering is not intrinsically evil. The colossal irony of Herakles’ at first baffling appearance refines our understanding of this overarching theme. As odd as it might seem to those who “put the blame upon [the] gods,” and resent or misunderstand hardships, sufferings renew hope by expiating guilt, by promising an end, and by leading to a reward that those who do not suffer as a hero will not receive (Odyssey, 1.32).

28 November, 2007

More Plato than Aristotle and Aquinas???

So, my philosophy class only just finished studying Plato and is finally beginning on Aristotle. It's a bit disappointing for me, since now we're going to have to rush through the Nicomachean Ethics in order to get to our readings in St. Thomas Aquinas and Kant by the end of the semester. I'm very fond of Aristotle and even more fond of St. Thomas, and moreover, Plato (or Socrates, at any rate)slightly annoys me. Perhaps it all worked out for the best though, because of the three, Plato's often the most difficult to really understand. That is, if you get past the more complicated language in Aristotle and St. Thomas, at least they say what they mean. Plato on the other hand, writes like the dramatist he was originally trained as. So not only do you have to deal with occasionally challenging concepts, but you also have to look at the entire thing as a literary work to see how that affects your interpretation of everything that goes on.

Anyway, that's my minor complaint of the week (although really, I almost become fond of Plato for making it complicated at times, I suppose). After finals, I might actually start writing here again. Nice to see that my sister has been picking up my slack however! (Way to go, Mary!!!)

20 November, 2007


As I was sitting in Al Corey’s, waiting for my piano lesson, I thought that I might dash across the street to a dear little chocolate shop and pick up some chocolates for my brother and myself for dessert after the noon time meal. This I did. I purchased four of each of my favorite kind: dark chocolate filled with raspberry jelly, and “death by chocolate”.
Fully delighted with my purchase, I skipped back across the road (no really, I did skip) and returned to my normal chair in the music room, fully intending to keep the chocolate until after lunch. (Intents never work with chocolate for your information. Don’t ever try. You’ll fail. ) Looking hungrily at the white paper bag on my lap, and just imagining the rich, chocolaty goodness that was inside, I was finally overcome. I said to myself, “Well, just this one.” I shut my eyes and reached in. Out came a “death by chocolate.” “Marvelous,” I thought. I slowly removed the little paper wrapper which held the chocolate. “Ah, it makes the exact sort of sound that a chocolate wrapper should make!” I thought to myself, satisfied, as my mouth watered. I held the chocolate before me, and gently bit off an infinitesimal piece from the coating. I let it melt upon my tongue. Simply delicious. No stopping now. I stuck my tongue through the bottom of the chocolate and began to suck out the soft, smooth, chocolaty center of the truffle. (Absolutely the best way to eat them, don’t you know.)
As I swirled the chocolate around inside my mouth, a thought came to me: why chocolate? Why did little seeds that grow upon trees in Central America become one of the worlds most craved and sensational treats? All of a sudden, I found myself giving glory to God for…chocolate! Our heavenly Father had placed this wonderful thing upon the earth for the sole happiness of the human race! How great is our God, eh? I cannot aptly express the delight and joy I felt while thinking this, so I shall turn, as usual, to the words of a Saint. (They always put things best.) So, in the immortal words of Saint Teresa of Avila, “God is good, but God and chocolate are better.”

11 November, 2007


One rainy Friday, I was sitting in Al Corey’s waiting for my piano lesson. I had done all my bank transactions, picked up a cup of coffee, and then had sat down dutifully to do some school work. I had just settled myself comfortably in my chair and picked up my tooth-marked pencil when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my little brother staring at me. His eyes were the size of Frisbees and his mouth was half ajar. I looked at him quizzically and said, “What’s the matter with you?” He slowly croaked, “Mary, don’t turn around. Whatever you do, don’t look at your shoulder.”
Of course, I did exactly what he told me not to do, and turned my head slowly. There was a huge, fat, disgustingly ugly, brown spider, perched comfortably like he owned the place. After a millisecond of complete paralyzation, I shut my eyes, jumped to my feet did something that looked like an ancient-tribal-Indian-warrior dance and screamed, “Oh my gosh! Get it off! Oh my gosh! Oooh my gosh!” Ignoring the shocked faces of the store employees staring at me, I continued brushing my hand over and over my shoulder and jumping up and down. I finally stopped and opened my eyes just to see the little beast scuttling away back under my chair. Then my little brother simply had to say, “No wonder Mary, it has a huge web right underneath your chair!”
Needless to say, I haven’t sat in that chair since. I don’t think that the Al Corey’s employees have looked at me the same way since that vile episode. Spiders are the devil.

02 November, 2007

A Clever Boldness

Leaving the citadel of Troy in flaming ruins, “Odysseus of many designs,” cleverest of all Greek heroes, sets out on a voyage of colossal proportions to regain his own home, Ithaka. His attempts to reach home fail for nine years, as a plethora of adventures featuring man-eating monsters and ominous lands, devious enchantresses and earthly paradises delays him (1.83). Tenaciously determined to reach his homeland, Odysseus depends upon his famous cleverness and characteristic boldness to see him safely through these harrowing adventures. Restraint, an aspect of his cleverness which puts a check on excessive boldness, is one of the most crucial elements of Odysseus’ eventual success.

A sagacious wariness which augments Odysseus’ talents for clever maneuvering, restraint moderates the hero’s boldness by directing it and not letting it deteriorate into mere rashness. The Odyssey includes episodes in which Odysseus does not show restraint, but these result in the worst catastrophes of his voyage, underscoring by contrast the successes due to his forbearance. Because it slows him down and promotes moderate caution, restraint gives the hero a chance to perceive how to act shrewdly. Even so, it does not promote an overcautious hesitation, but directs the boldness with which a hero should face adventures and prevents this boldness from becoming rash.

Odysseus repeatedly fails to restrain his boldness during the scene on the Cyclopes’ island, and this failure turns the adventure into a debacle. Odysseus and his men enter Polyphemos’ abode and “help [them]selves to the cheeses,” rashly presuming upon the monster’s hospitality (9.231-32). Polyphemos responds barbarically, “feeding on human flesh,” and trapping the surviving crew in his cave (9.296-97). The one instance of restraint in this episode brings about the one positive event: Odysseus’ escape with his remaining men. Odysseus restrains his initial

inclination to kill the monster immediately – when a gigantic boulder still blocks the entrance – and thus makes it possible for his clever plan to blind Polyphemos to obtain its goal. He realizes that, tiny as they are in comparison to the gigantic Cyclops, he and his crew “could have never pushed [the boulder] from the lofty gate,” and the company would have been trapped in a cave with a dead Cyclops indefinitely (9.304-05).

Odysseus once more ignores the benefits of restraint as his fleet sails away from the island. With reckless boldness, he jeopardizes every man’s life when he shouts his identity to the Cyclops, vaunting over the blinded monster. Responding to this, Polyphemos bombards the fleet, attempting to sink it. When this does not succeed, he prays that Odysseus will return home “late, in bad case, with the loss of all his companions,/ in someone else’s ship, and find troubles in his household,” thus initiating the enormous difficulties of the journey (9.534-35). Odysseus is bold in approaching the Cyclops’ cave, bold in attacking Polyphemos, and bold in shouting back his identity. Only in the second incident, however, does he combine boldness with restraint; thus the action here is the only one resulting in success.

Boldness and restraint combine more smoothly on Circe’s island, and Odysseus is proportionately more successful. Unlike in the scene with Polyphemos, Odysseus does nothing impolitic here. Upon landing and seeing that the island is inhabited, he “ponder[s] deeply in [his] heart and in [his] spirit,/ whether … to investigate,” exhibiting a thoughtful caution previously absent (10.151-52). The contrast to his actions on the Cyclopes’ island is accentuated when Odysseus narrates how the crew at this point “remembered … the violence of the great-hearted cannibal Cyclops” (10.199-200). When he does decide to inspect the area, he divides his crew in half, sending a contingent out for reconnaissance while the rest remain safely by the ships. Circe promptly turns the investigating troop into a herd of swine – failing only to catch the group’s leader, Eurylochos. Eurylochos’ caution saves him, and he hurries back to Odysseus with news of the calamity. However, in an intriguing twist, Odysseus decides to rescue the enchanted men. This boldness alarms Eurylochos and the surviving crew, who become immediately restrained and cautious when faced with danger. Odysseus, however, sees in this an opportunity for his cleverness to serve him well. His restraint has shown him what to look out for, and he now can take bold action in a clever and wise manner.

Admittedly, Circe’s guiles would be too much for even Odyssean cleverness if Hermes were not to enter at this point bearing advice and aid. However, opportunity for the god to offer it would never have arisen had Odysseus not acted thus far with a combination of boldness and restraint. Moreover, in this epic successful craftiness sometimes does require the patronage of the gods, as we see when Athene directs Odysseus in the proper way to approach the Phaiakian royalty (cf. 7.50-52, 75-77). Once in Circe’s dwelling, the hero uses his clever rhetoric to achieve his crew’s release – “Oh, Circe, how could any man … ever endure to taste of the food and drink … until with his eyes he saw his companions set free?” (10.383-85). Restraint, boldness, and a god’s assistance combine here, and place Odysseus in a position to use his rhetoric to achieve his ends.

Restraint provides Odysseus with a crucial advantage over the course of his travels. He must be bold, and his virtuosity in rhetoric and craftiness encourage this boldness by giving him a good hope for success. However, as I have emphasized, restraint is the quality which makes this boldness effective, by providing opportunities for Odysseus to exercise his persuasive tongue and cunning mind. In brief, it directs the path by which Odysseus’ other talents can secure his object. As long as he restrains his boldness, his enterprises are successful, and he moves closer to achieving his primary object – Ithaka and home.

29 October, 2007

Shall and Will

Who uses "shall" anymore? Does anyone really? If pressed, I can think of a few instances in which more grammatically astute people use the word - first person offers sometimes feature this word: "Shall I throw your laptop down the garbage chute?"

I had no idea, however, just how grammatically complex the issue of when to use the word can become. It's all the fault of Old English, as far as I understand. I'm far too hazy on the subject of the two words' origins myself to feel confident offering any explanation, but it has something to do with the fact that Old English did not really have a future tense, and these words were originally used in the preterite-present tense.

The two are distinguished primarily by their original connotations of command (shall) and wish (will). You can see this distinction more clearly in the way we use their conditional tense counterparts, should and would: "You should eat every one of those delicious lima beans" versus "I would equip myself for battle by learning how to use a lightsaber". The English grammarian, H.W. Fowler, gives some examples of using the two words in the "pure" system which derives more directly from Old English:

* Thou shalt not steal.
* Shall I open the door?
* You should not say such things.
* And shall Trelawney die?
* Whom should he meet but Jones? (...was it his fate...)
* Why should you suspect me?
* It should seem so. (It would apparently be incumbent on us to believe)
* I will have my way.
* I (he) asked him (me) to do it, but he (I) would not.
* I would not have done it for the world.
* I would be told to wait a while (Habitual).
* Will you come with me?
* I would I were dead.
* He will bite his nails, whatever I say.
* He will often stand on his head.

Now, of course, both shall and will function primarily as "auxiliary verbs" - words used to give additional grammatical information about another verb in the sentence - to approximate the future tense (which doesn't have specific independent verb forms in English), and this is where the issue becomes much more confusing. In the pure sense that I discussed above, you usually don't use "should" in the first person, because you don't usually give commands to yourself, and you don't usually use "would" in the second or third person, because it is used to connote a wish. However, these rules are reversed when expressing the "simple future".

When expressing simple future (i.e. making spontaneous decisions, making predictions, etc), shall and should are applied to the first person, whereas will and would are used in the second and third persons. From what I understand, this switch exists simply to distinguish this tense from the above pure sense in which the words can be used.

It switches back yet again, however, when expressing the modal future. This is a modification of the simple future, and is used to express the speaker's wish, intention, threat, promise, offer, refusal, and so on. Shall is used for second and third persons in this case, and will for first person. So if we had a conversation between the cyclops and Odysseus, for instance, using this tense, it might proceed like this:

Cyclops: I will eat you in a few minutes. (Cyclops' intention)
Odysseus: You shall regret it if you do. (Odysseus' threat)
Cyclops: You should have my lands and sheep if you let me eat you. (Cyclops' conditional offer)
Odysseus: I would poke your single eye out with a burning brand if I could. (Odysseus' conditional threat)

You get the idea.

Of course, no one really cares about such obscure grammar rules any more, especially not in the USA, where "will" is almost universally replacing "shall". I'd expect about the same is happening in most of the English-speaking world. This is probably a good thing, in some ways. If people can manage to mix up "has" and "have" the moment they are faced with a slightly complicated syntax in a sentence, it would be rather painful to hear what could happen if these rules were carefully followed.

And besides, insisting on such a manner of speech... would't be almost sadistic to all the people who have to learn our ridiculously complicated language? As if our spelling rules (or lack thereof) aren't bad enough....

23 October, 2007

Socrates vs Thrasymachus (The Republic...mwahahahaha!)

Any argument relies upon some fundamental agreement about the issue being discussed. However great the divide in opinion may be, there must exist at least some similarity in the participants’ manner of viewing the issue if a solution is ever to be reached. Book One of Plato’s Republic features a disagreement between Socrates and Thrasymachus about the nature of justice. The disaccord between their views of the subject is extremely pronounced, but there are certain underlying agreements which guide the course of the debate. One way to evaluate the validity of the arguments involved is to examine whether the assumptions at the root of the argument are in accord with this common ground. By my reading of the dialogue, Socrates’ reply to the first part of Thrasymachus’ definition of justice rests safely upon this common ground, whereas his answer to Thrasymachus’ second definition moves away from this mutually acceptable base, and is injured as a result. In exploring this topic, I intend to examine briefly Thrasymachus’ two-part definition of justice. For each of these parts I will evaluate one Socratic response and discuss it from the perspective of the “craftsman analogy” – an analogy which is initially used by common consent, but which Socrates adapts until its original usage almost disappears.

Thrasymachus’ first definition of justice is easy to state, but it is not so immediately clear how it is to be interpreted. Justice, he claims, is the advantage of the stronger. On its own, such a sentence could imply that what is beneficial to the stronger is just for and therefore, beneficial to the weaker, and Socrates accordingly asks whether this understanding is accurate. Thrasymachus promptly responds in the negative. The interpretation he proceeds to expound upon can be summed up by adapting slightly his original definition: justice is that which obtains the advantage of the stronger. To support this definition, he points to the example of ruling a city. Any ruling class will fashion the laws of the commonwealth with a view to its own benefit, he asserts. Since it is just to obey the law, those who behave justly will be acting for the advantage of the rulers (whom Thrasymachus interchangeably terms “the stronger”).

Socrates makes his first objection at this moment, but I will treat this here only incidentally: merely insofar as it allows us to see why Thrasymachus introduces the craftsman analogy. Socrates objects that rulers are, as humans, bound to make mistakes - to confuse their disadvantage with their advantage on occasion. In this case just obedience to laws would work to the ruler’s disadvantage. Thrasymachus responds promptly, saying that a man who makes a mistake in ruling is not at that moment a ruler in the strict sense, and introduces the craftsman analogy to support this idea. Insofar as a man is a craftsman, he will not make any mistakes; mistakes are rooted in ignorance, and so can only occur when a man’s knowledge of his craft is incomplete. The quandary which Socrates introduces is thus avoided by Thrasymachus’ qualification that errors are never made by rulers as rulers.

Though the analogy works at first to Thrasymachus’ advantage, Socrates promptly turns it against him in a new objection. All arts, he asserts, are exercised with a view to the benefit of the subject rather than to the benefit of the artisan. The doctor employs his medical art for the betterment of the patient, the pilot navigates for the safety of the ship and the sailors, and so forth. Like Thrasymachus, he identifies ruling as an art, and claims that ruling also is exercised with a view to the subjects’ benefit. Throughout the argument, Thrasymachus passively assents to Socrates’ individual points. But as we shall see later, he rejects the conclusion drawn from these.

From an objective viewpoint, one immediately questionable aspect of this argument is Socrates’ idea that ruling is an art in the same sense that medicine and navigation are arts. Despite its potential weakness however, Socrates’ use of the analogy is the one part of the argument which Thrasymachus cannot question without bringing Socrates’ first objection once again into dispute. Thus this definition of ruling forms some part of the common ground I have previously mentioned. Although an objection such as this may affect the objective validity of the argument, it is important to keep in mind the fact that Socrates is not attempting to create an incontestable definition of justice at this point. He is merely answering an invalid argument by demonstrating its weaknesses in terms which correspond to Thrasymachus’ perspective.

Agitated by Socrates’ line of reasoning, Thrasymachus proceeds to blurt out a revised version of his original statement. Thrasymachus claims that injustice is freer and stronger than justice and that it results in a happier life. As in the former definition, he does not consider so much what justice is as what it does; he rates the subject in regards to its advantageousness or lack thereof. Essentially, this definition is an extreme extension of the previous one. Also, the example he uses for support – that of a tyrant made powerful and thus happy through injustice – hearkens back to his initial definition as ruling being the advantage of the stronger. It is clear that Thrasymachus has not been convinced by Socrates’ last argument, despite his apparent agreement with Socrates’ points. He is arguing in different terms, but in actual substance this new development is little more than a bare contradiction of Socrates’ previous argument. He still supposes that the unjust will have the advantage, and does no more than give new evidence to support this view. He essentially declares: “You say that the proper ruler will consider the benefit of his subjects and thus act justly. I say that injustice leads to a happy life and that craftsmen do aim at their own advantage.”

Whereas the weaknesses in Socrates’ previously discussed arguments are more or less excusable, there are several factors in his next argument which make it very controversial. In opening this argument, Socrates asks whether a just man will want to overreach and surpass other just men. The two debaters agree that a just man will deem it proper to surpass the unjust man, but that he will not want to surpass his fellow just man. The unjust man, on the other hand, will want to surpass and get the better of everyone. Now Socrates proceeds to use the craftsman analogy to illustrate his case. With this case Socrates attempts to prove that those who try to overreach their “like” are bad craftsmen. Returning to the specific example of the doctor, he observes that a medical man will not endeavor to outdo another physician, but will want to outdo the non-physician.

One flaw seems to appear at this point in the argument. Socrates, it would seem, has left no place in this for simple ambition here. If the first half of this analogy is true, there is no room for an artist to advance and improve his craft in a just manner, because unless he is unjust, he will not have any ambition to surpass his fellow artists. However this can be answered by a glance back at Thrasymachus’ concept of the artisan “in the strict sense.” No one is an artisan insofar as he is in error, so the true artist will be unable to surpass another true artist: ideally, the artist, insofar as he is an artist, will already exercise his art faultlessly.

Socrates completes this argument by saying that the one who tries to overreach the artist can not have true knowledge of the craft. In other words, true artists will be able to identify one another and to recognize the impossibility of surpassing each other. Since the one who wants to surpass everyone in a specific art must not be an artisan, he is ignorant of this art. Thus, Socrates claims, the unjust man is really ignorant and therefore weak and bad.

There is a marked distinction between this use of the craftsman analogy and former uses. Previously the analogy was used in reference to the “craft” of ruling. This was legitimate in the context primarily because Thrasymachus agreed to this use. Now however, the subject of the analogy is not ruling, but justice. Thrasymachus never explicitly agrees to this switch, and thus when it is made, the analogy no longer rests safely upon the common ground. It is no longer an example accepted by both parties and so its sole justification would have to rest on an objective view of the argument. So we have another important question to examine. That is, can justice be rightly considered a craft? Even if it can in a vague sense, would it be properly analogous to other crafts like medicine or navigation?

There are reasons to support a negative answer to this query. For one thing, it could be argued that justice is more a manner of acting, rather than a craft in its own right. Whereas it is nonsensical to say that one can, for example, read a book medicinally, or in a navigating manner (except perhaps as a figure of speech), one can exercise a craft or perform any action either justly or unjustly. Justice is more easily considered a measure of how well an action is performed than the action itself.

The most important thing to note here is that Socrates has moved away from the common ground which has previously supported the argument. Before, the question of whether Socrates’ examples are objectively valid was not so crucial from one viewpoint. As long as Socrates was trying to demonstrate the illogicalities within Thrasymachus’ position, there was much to gain from arguments based on Thrasymachus’ premises, whether the premises were true or not. For this last argument, however, Socrates does not base his argument on these guides, but preserves the form of the craftsman analogy while changing it substantially. Thus this particular argument suffers and is at least of questionable efficacy.

However, if the question of whether injustice is better than justice were entirely closed here, there would be no need for the rest of the book. Problems in Socrates’ arguments are taken up by new actors in later books of the dialogue, and Socrates will spend nine complete books essentially inquiring into this theme. Though Socrates may be inefficient in answering Thrasymachus’ particular arguments, once we step back to look at The Republic as a whole, it becomes apparent that inconsistencies in Book One provide the necessary fodder to produce the rest of this Socratic discourse.

21 October, 2007

The Heroic Choice

The Iliad, a tale revolving around heroism, culminates in an epic battle between its two greatest heroes as Achilleus and Hektor fight before the walls of Troy. It is a climax predicted again and again, an event made inevitable by the will of the gods.
Yet simple human choice comes into play here as well. Hektor has an explicit opportunity to retreat as he hesitates before the wall of Troy, and when he decides against this course, he seals his fate more definitively than any god or goddess has. If Hektor’s hesitation is indeed the product of a choice, another question comes up: Is Hektor’s choice to stay and face Achilleus a heroic one?

Initially, it would seem that Hektor’s heroism should not even become a point of controversy, and that fate is more domineering in this case than I have given it credit for in my opening. His delay, as “deadly fate held Hektor shackled,” is described at first as the consequence of a divine compulsion (22.5). Later however, Hektor is “deeply troubled” by the choice he sees before him, and in this frame of mind, he debates several courses of action (22.98). While he cannot altogether evade his fated death,, a hero like Hektor seems to be responsible for determining its the “how,” “where,” and “when.” Hektor could delay his doom, or at least attempt to, but he explicitly chooses against this path.

Hektor evaluates three courses of action, distinguishing each from the others according to their varying “honourableness.” He could rush back through the gates of Troy while there is still time. However, this possibility is unthinkable for the Homeric hero who values honour so highly. Due to mistakes in his recent leadership, if Hektor takes this route, he will return to face disgrace among his people, who will “put a reproach on [him]” for his errors (22.100). The second alternative would incur even greater dishonour. Hektor could rush to Achilleus and beseech his mercy through promises to return Helen and all Menelaos’ stolen possessions. But in doing so, he would cast off his dignity as a warrior and offer things that were not by right his to give; after all, Paris stole Helen and the loot, and he alone could rightfully return them (cf 7.365-64). Worse still in Hektor’s mind is the possibility that Achilleus might kill him unarmed as he offers this appeasement, “as if I were / a woman, once I stripped the armour from me” (22.124-25). The third alternative, to stand his ground and fight, is the only one that accords with his standards of honour and is thus the one Hektor chooses. He vanquishes the first two alternatives asking, “why does the heart within me debate on these things?” (22.122).

From a modern point of view, the motives for this choice can seem more selfish than heroic. Hektor’s reasons for rejecting the second possibility are in part practical. It makes little sense to die begging but unarmed when he could put up a fight. But the alternative of returning to the city is not to be so lightly thrown aside. The reasons Hektor gives for discarding this option focus upon the opprobrium he will encounter if the city falls through his fault. However self-centered it may appear by from a modern perspective, however, I believe that this motivation is validly heroic by ancient Greek standards. The Iliad repeatedly emphasizes the importance praise, war trophies, and boasting of daring exploits hold for a hero. Achilleus, the paramount hero of the epic, evaluates honour in such a manner, taking personal prestige seriously enough to pray that his fellow Achaians be killed in droves until it is restored (cf. 1.408-12). Such heroic honour is at stake for Hektor if he returns to Troy in shame.

However, heroism in Homer’s world seems to consist of something more than mere glory. The greatest of heroes in The Iliad carry the burden of a fated life, and their heroism is further displayed in their reaction to fate and the will of the gods. Achilleus has his “double fate” – he carries “two sorts of destiny toward the day of [his] death” but must eventually choose one. His heroism is made dramatically manifest through his choice to die in glory and honour rather than to live unsung and without nobility (9.411). Sarpedon, Zeus’ son, is destined to be sacrificed for the sake of his father’s plan, but his words of encouragement to a companion in the midst of battle reecho as a sort of war cry for mortal heroes: “seeing that the spirits of death stand close about us, … let us go on and win glory for ourselves” (12.326-28).

Hektor chooses to shoulder his destiny in a similarly bold and heroic manner when he makes his decision to stand and fight. Unlike Agamemnon and many other warriors, he does not try to cast responsibility for his previous mistaken actions upon the gods. From this perspective, his decision, and even to a degree his motivations for this decision are veritably noble. He admits that “by my own recklessness I have ruined my people,” that he is responsible for the Trojans’ demise because he did not heed Poulydamas’ advice. He does not attribute this lack of judgment to the interference of the gods, despite the fact that Homer informs us of how “Pallas Athene had taken away the wits” of all the Trojans (18.311). The Trojan warriors had united with Hektor in rejecting Poulydamas’ counsel, yet Hektor takes full responsibility for weakening his city to the point of vulnerability when the moment for his fatal decision arrives. Likewise, he tacitly admits his complicity in Patroklos’ death by not protesting to Achilleus that he was only Patroklos’ “third slayer” – a weak excuse but one which has similarly weak precedent in the excuses of Agamemnon (16.850; 19.90). Hektor could have blamed both these actions on the gods or on fate. Yet he accepts responsibility as though his personal choice and nothing more brought on these catastrophes. In bearing the burden of his fate so deliberately, Hektor shows himself to be truly heroic.

Hektor’s motives for facing Achilleus are those of a man who, mistaken or not in his conception of heroism, acts honestly in accordance with that concept. Although a fated mortal, he accepts his fate with courage. This courage is great enough even to impress the gods and deserve their good will, as demonstrated by the way they carefully preserve the hero’s body during twelve days of battering (cf. 24.411-23). The words with which Hektor greets his impending death – “Let me at least not die without a struggle, inglorious, / but do some big thing first, that men shall come to know of it” – parallel those with which Sarpedon encourages his companions to heroism. And like his fellow hero and nemesis, Achilleus, Hektor chooses not to attempt to escape his fate only to die unsung and dishonoured, but rather chooses to die in glory and honour as a true Homeric hero.

As I'm sure you can tell, this is another paper. Stylistically, the biggest problem here is a slightly deferred thesis. I'm definitely going to watch out for that in my next papers!

17 October, 2007

Falling madly in love with a word

Is something I tend to do a lot. Right now, the word in question is "clever." Isn't it great? Say it a million times to yourself, turn it into a mantra or a chant. Liking it yet? Maybe you could try writing a paper on a certain Greek hero's cleverness.

Since I am so excessively fond of the word (cleverness, clever, cleverly, cleverosity - ok, that last one isn't a genuine word), I decided post its etymology. Just in case reading my random ravings about the word (cleverness, clever; I'm almost singing it now)haven't bored you enough, you can take a look at this. If you're rabidly interested in linguistics, however, I'm afraid that won't work, because it is a very interesting etymology.

c.1590, from E.Anglian dial. cliver "expert at seizing," probably from E.Fris. klufer or Norwegian dialectic klover "ready, skillful," perhaps infl. by O.E. clifer "claw, hand" (early usages seem to refer to dexterity); extension to intellect is first recorded 1704.

I like the part about its descent from the word "hand". Even today, this word has a definite connotation of dexterity, though now obviously referring to mental dexterity. Speaking of which, dexterity is a jolly cool word as well, is it not? The two sound rather similar, in fact. Clever. Dexterous. I won't write a compare and contrast essay, but my opinion remains that they sound as though they were designed to go together.

15 October, 2007

The worst thing about college:

Is sitting still so often. I loathe it with something rather akin to the proverbial passion. My roommate must think me insane because I so often leap to my feet to pace the room as I read.

Here's a tiny poem that popped into my head just now:

As sitting still progresses,
My mind begins to fade.
As my cerebrum deliquesces,
Perusing books begins to jade.

Unfortunately, since I've never taken a poetry class, I don't know what (if any) specific term is used to describe this type of "poem" (a bit ostentatious sounding, that description, now that I write it). Perhaps I'll call it an acrostic, and pretend that the letters "AMAP" spell out "SOS" in some unidentified foreign language.

14 October, 2007

The Dawkins Delusion

I found this on my cousin's blog. I don't usually post videos, but this is one of the best I've seen in a long time. (To my family: this is definitely worth watching even with dial-up)

10 October, 2007

Iliad vs the Odyssey

Reading The Odyssey is not much at all like reading The Iliad. Which is odd, because the same 750 B.C.-era blind bard supposedly wrote both.

The Iliad is an exhilarating read. Homer's perspective is foreign enough that reading this is like walking an intellectual tightrope. Exquisite care is required to comprehend and then apply to the reading certain Greek ideas, and even with this care, there remains an inexorable tension in the tale. The constant attempt to transcend mortality through heroism, while the reality of death is reinforced unremittingly by the encompassing war, gives the epic a tense and bleak feel at times. The book is undeniably dark, with its focus on the inexorability of death. Divorced from the theme, it is a grim and unattractive story - little more than a long sequence of beheadings and stabbings with no underlying purpose.

The Odyssey, however, is pushed forward by motives which are much more familiar to us now. Odysseus is propelled by his love of family and homeland; his journey is an attempt to gain those things dearest to him. He is guided in this quest by the virtue of hospitality - the supreme virtue practiced in the realm both of journeying and home life. A few of the themes from The Iliad are given cameo roles, but they do not thrust themselves so disconcertingly into the reader's attention as they do in the former epic. (This is not to say that the values of the Odyssey are never disconcerting, only that they aren't taken as a whole.)

The exhilaration gained from The Iliad's tension is replaced in the Odyssey by exhilarating language and an exciting variety of scenes. How often in The Iliad do we read of pear trees, olives, sacred groves, cyclopes, monstrous whirlpools, or anything of that type? But as vast the variety is, each scene draws attention to the importance of hospitality and the dire consequences resulting from sins against this virtue.

Variety in the Iliad would have detracted from the urgency of the theme. Death and dying are portrayed as inexorable, and the similarity of each warrior's death is in one of the technical means Homer uses to show that -as Achilles says - "death is the same for each man."

The Odyssey does not neglect the urgency of Odysseus' desire to return home. But the very nature of the theme allows variety to work well poetically in this story. Often when Odysseus encounters a new situation, he is greeted with either a breach or a reinforcement of the ways of hospitality. Each time this happens, the reader is reminded of Penelope and Telemachos and the suitors. A new type of tension arises with the question: How will Odysseus meet and root out these bad guests, these blasphemers against hospitality when he returns home? Will he return home and be successful in defending these values?

Perhaps reading the Odyssey feels less tense because it is the story of a single man. The massive outcry against death which drives The Iliad speaks to some part of us which is conscious still of the immortality we were created for and which is repelled by the thought of abandoning life. The Odyssey by contrast matters most to Odysseus. Though we can sympathize with his love for family, and though his journey to find that which is most meaningful in his life resonates with us all, for us it is by comparison a calm journey. The Iliad urgently questions the meaning of death. The urgency here however consists in a question more more hopeful and more easily answered: Will he ever get there? Will we ever get there?

It is a story of search for fulfillment, rather than of man's reaction to the threat of having this longed-for fulfillment threatened by the emptiness of Hades. The variety which makes the reading so immediately interesting reflects the variousness of every person's Odyssey in search of some sort of meaning. Guided like Odysseus by certain values, every individual is capable of searching for that which gives meaning to his life. After the tension and darkness of the Iliad, such a story can only seem profoundly hopeful.

06 October, 2007

LibraryThing list

Ok, so this has been floating around the blogging world, and I thought I'd do it myself. It's a list of LibraryThing's most read titles.

Bold the books you've read. Italicize the ones you haven't read bu have on your bookshelf. I'm going to put the books I haven't read into parentheses to distinguish them from the books I have read, because in my blog format bolding doesn't show up.

(Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell)
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
(One Hundred Years of Solitude)
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
(Life of Pi)
(The Name of the Rose)
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre

A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
(The Time Traveler’s Wife)
The Iliad
(The Blind Assassin)
(The Kite Runner)
(Mrs. Dalloway)
Great Expectations
(American Gods)
(Atlas Shrugged)
(Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books)
(Memoirs of a Geisha)
(Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West)
The Canterbury Tales
(The Historian )
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
(Love in the Time of Cholera)
Brave New World
(The Fountainhead)
(Foucault’s Pendulum)
The Count of Monte Cristo
(A Clockwork Orange)
(Anansi Boys)
(The Once and Future King) (on my TBR list)
The Grapes of Wrath
(The Poisonwood Bible )
The Inferno
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
(One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
(To the Lighthouse)
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables

(The Corrections)
(The Amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay)
(The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time)
(The Prince)
(The Sound and the Fury)
(Angela’s Ashes)
(The God of Small Things)
(A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present) (Ack!)
(A Confederacy of Dunces)
(A Short History of Nearly Everything)
(The Unbearable Lightness of Being)
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
(The Mists of Avalon)
(Oryx and Crake )
(Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed)
(Cloud Atlas)
(The Confusion)
Northanger Abbey

(The Catcher in the Rye)
(On the Road)
(The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
(Freakonomics : a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything)
The Aeneid
(Watership Down)
(Gravity’s Rainbow)
The Hobbit
(White Teeth)
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

And there we have it.

04 October, 2007

The Greek Appeals and Achilleus’ Honour

Here's my first literature paper, which I'm posting largely because I'm lazy and don't want to write anything new at the moment. My professor seemed to like the thesis and points of view. The biggest problem is my tendency to "strand quotes" - a habit which I think (shame, shame) I picked up while blogging. There are also a few word choices I'm regretting now that I re-read it. Oh well.

The plot of The Iliad revolves around Achilleus' argument with Agamemnon and Achilleus' subsequent abandonment of the Achaian forces. In Book Nine, the Achaians, after suffering several disheartening defeats, decide to appeal to their strongest warrior, Achilleus, beseeching him to return to their aid. Three emissaries are sent to Achilleus' camp, each bringing an appeal to the hero's pity and sense of honour. These appeals vary in persuasiveness depending on the audience – what may appeal to one reader may not appeal to Achilleus. It seems to me that from Achilleus’ point of view, the most effective argument is the appeal to his honour which develops throughout the parley.

The aspect appealing to Achilleus is not the most compelling for me. I am most convinced by Odysseus’ appeal for pity, together with his observation that Achilleus is harming not only Agamemnon by his anger, but the rest of the Achaians as well. “If the son of Atreus is too much hated in your heart…at least take pity on all the other Achaians” (9.300-2). However, from Achilleus’ honour-driven point of view, this line of reasoning is less strong than the consistent refrain that his behavior is not as honourable as it could be.

Of the points presented in any one of the three main arguments, Achilleus responds to these honour-based ones most heatedly. He substantially ignores or minimizes the other points made by the emissaries, and consistently bases his replies on his thoughts about honour, showing that they are his chief concern. The appeal to honour changes slightly with each speaker, but the progression formed by the speakers’ points on this subject, joined with Achilleus’ response to them, gives Achilleus an opportunity to refine his understanding of what it means to be honourable as a hero.

This refinement, it seems, is necessary: Achilleus’ ideas about honour – once so important to his concept of heroism – seem to have undergone a crisis during his time at the ship, as can be seen in his reply to Odysseus’ first plea. Towards the end of a strong argument, Odysseus brings out what he expects to be his strongest point – winning the war for the Achaians will bring Achilleus the very undying glory and honour which has been seeking for so long. "Take pity on all the other Achaians, who are afflicted...and they will honour you/ as a god" (9.301-3). In Achilleus’ reply, however, I hardly recognize the glory-seeker who in Book 1 prayed: “Since…[I am to be] a man with a short life,/Zeus…should grant me honour at least.” Now, he cannot see any reason to fight, and he no longer cares about glory if it means that he has to die in a pointless war. "Nothing is won for me, now that my heart has gone through its afflictions/ in forever setting my life on the hazard of battle.” My death, he says, is certain whether I am honoured or not, and I gain nothing valuable from this: "Fate is the same for the man who holds back, the same if he fights hard" (9.321-2 and 9.318). The desire to be immortalized in legend is, it seems, no longer paramount next to his desire for life.

Phoinix’s entreaty is much briefer in substance than that of Odysseus. Speaking of honour, he repeats the words of Odysseus, but hints as well that Achilleus has a duty to honour their counsel as ambassadors: “[Agamemnon] has sent the best men to you, to supplicate you…Do not you make vain their argument.” (9.520-2) He lastly observes that the honour Achilleus could gain by returning will not be as great if he returns at the last minute than if he accepts the gifts and returns as a hero now (cf. 9.603-5).

Achilleus is quick to reinforce his declaration that this popular and leader-accredited type of honour is not something he cares about. “[S]uch honour is a thing/ I need not. I think I am already honoured in Zeus’ ordinance.” However, the second part of this quotation is revealing. It discloses a slight qualification to Achilleus’ previous asservation that “we are all held in a single honour” (9.319). Perhaps when it comes to dying, we are indeed held “in a single honour,” but having the gods honour him in life still means something to Achilleus. He is still convinced that he is justified in his anger, and that his actions are honourable according to Zeus. After all, the gods have been supporting his wrath from the beginning of the quarrel - recall Thetis’ immediate acquiescence to Achilleus’ plea for vengeance (1.413-22) and Zeus’ subsequent agreement. But however just or unjust his actions may appear, Achilleus has at least has taken a step beyond valuing battlefield glory for its own sake, and is now beginning to desire the honour which he will receive from the gods for acting rightly.

It is the last speaker, Aias, who finally brings this development to a real conclusion. He hints that not only the random standards of the gods – who evaluate Achilleus’ anger as just – could be applied to honour. The higher standards of two Greek human virtues – hospitality and loyalty to friends – can also be guides to the one who wishes to be honourable. Aias begins with impolitic but effective bluntness. “Achilleus has made savage the proud-hearted spirit within his body” – Achilleus is not displaying honourable pride, but is making himself isolating himself from basic humanity in a stubborn and selfish refusal to help his fellow Achaians (9.629). Moreover, Aias points out, Achilleus’ rejection of their appeals indicates a disrespect of the emissaries. Phoinix, Aias, and Odysseus are warriors of high standing among the Achaians, and Achilleus’ friends, allies whose counsel and opinions Achilleus should greet with honour, as he has so far treated the men themselves with material hospitality. “Make gracious the spirit within you./ Respect your own house; see, we are under the same roof with you…we who desire beyond all/ others to have your honour and love.”

This appeal gives a good precedent for Achilleus’ return, and uncovers a concept which Achilleus, certain his claim is just and thinking of honour in terms of personal glory and reputation, has not even considered. Honourable behavior consists not only in exploits of war, but also in hospitality and loyalty to friends – two virtues which are crucial throughout the Iliad and Odyssey (take for example the meeting of Glaukos and Diomedes in Book 6). This way of putting things is crucial to Achilleus’ decision to remain by the ships, as he admits to Aias, “all that you have said seems spoken after my own mind.” I would moreover suspect that this will eventually have something to do with his ultimate return to battle, when he returns not for the sake of glory, but for the sake of avenging his friend, Patroklus. (9.645; cf. 18.114-6)

While neither Odysseus nor Phoinix manage to make honour sound convincing enough to persuade Achilleus, the points with which Aias concludes the theme they began cause the hero to relent just enough to promise to defend the ships. Although his concession is less complete than the emissaries could have hoped, at the end of the discussion, I would argue that much has been accomplished. Achilleus now has a better perspective on what it means to be honourable. He has matured at least a little towards being a true hero by learning that heroic honour means not only battlefield glory and the support of the gods. The greatest Greek virtues of hospitality, respect for one’s friends, and loyalty must be possessed by the man who is truly honourable.

03 October, 2007

WB Yeats - on a public bus?

So the other day I was testing out the public transportation system around here. While on a bus coming back from the train station (the trains here are very spiffy, by the way), I noticed that there was a Yeats poem inscribed on the ceiling of the vehicle.

Struck by its incongruity in such a work-a-day location, I set about memorizing it, and succeeded(it's a very short poem, after all) before I was back at the school.

Here is the poem, in its entirety. I don't remember the title, but I do recall everything else:

I made my song a coat,
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world's eyes
As though they'd wrought it.
Song let them take it,
For there's more enterprise
In walking naked.

It's a very simple one, and not hard to catch the meaning of. Yeats "invented" his own style, involving imagery from mythology and ancient legends, but it was imitated by his contemporaries as though it was their own. Their poems, Yeats implies, are worth little, because they are devoid of the meaning which makes his poems able to stand even without adornment.

It's not my favorite poem of all time, but I'm always rather fond of Yeats' style - the language he employs, the interesting patterns of the lines. And where I found it was so strikingly unusual....

Such findings are always neat, just by virtue of their unexpectedness.

28 September, 2007

Accent of a Mainuh

Inspired both by the realization that while I don't have a Maine accent, my speech features much idiosyncratic "Maine vocabulary", as well as by my ever-present fascination with linguistics, I've been reading up on the Maine accent a lot lately.

Among other things, I've found that one of my private theories about the origins of the accent is actually generally held in linguistic circles. This theory is one that I've expounded on at length to many people, but I'll summarize it again here: the dialectic traits of the Maine accent seem to draw more directly from features of colloquial British English. The primary similarity lies in the common predominance of "R-drop phonetics", although the ways the vowels surrounding these dropped "r"s are pronounced vary considerably between the two types of dialect.

Here's a neat article I found. Not the most scholarly article(in the sense that it doesn't talk a lot about rhotic tendencies in dialects, or nasal vowels, etc) but a good analysis and fun to read.

The Maine accent is nothing short of fascinating, if you ask me. It would also probably be a field day for someone studying linguistic origins in America, since every town seems to have very slight variations on the accent. In some of the more isolated areas, people came over from England back in the 1700s and have been fairly insulated against population ingress over the last 3 centuries, so their accent is almost closer to the proletarian British accents than to standard American.

This, of course, is mostly limited to very rural areas, and even in such places the accent is disappearing faster now than ever before, as more rural areas fall victim to sprawl and artists and such from away (another very Maine expression) take up residence and "dilute" the accent, if you will. The more standard "New England accent" or "Boston accent" is observable both in the city of Portland and in points south towards New Hampshire and Boston, though the majority of people, even those who grew up in this area like myself, speak basically the same as the news anchors on CNN.

Obviously, I can't really explain the mechanics of an accent via the internet. A good way to get in the frame of reference for trying imitate this accent, however, is to pronounce the word "mash" as most Americans would pronounce it, but imagine that you are actually referring to a marsh, that is, a piece of wet, swampy land, when you say it. Now, while you're in this mode, imagine your lobster boat has been grounded on the dock for repairs, and your 400 hp Evinrude outboard motor has just toppled out of the engine well and into the brine beneath. Now, contort your face ever so slightly and say "Well, hadn' counted on that now..." Some accents are easy to recreate (like the Brooklyn accent), but this one is near impossible to pin down.

There's also a store in Portland (where, of course, this accent is virtually nonexistent) called "Queen of Hats". The store sells hats. Do you get the joke yet? Well, I think saying downeast Mainers would pronounce "heart" the way more Americans would pronounce "hat" is a bit of a stretch. They would probably hit the "r", especially in places where the accent is bit more rhotic.

-From Everything2.com

27 September, 2007

Life is good...

Because books like "The Iliad" and "Shadows of Ecstasy" exist.

Homer is such a brilliant poet. I can hardly read certain chapters of "The Iliad" without getting caught up in the emotions of the world he depicts, foreign and even hostile as it is in comparison to ours. Isn't it perfectly absurd that I can both love AND hate Hektor, Achilleus, Odysseus and others? It's so easy to condemn them for their brutality: the apparent selfishness of their ends, the undeniable brutality of the means the utilize at times.

At the same time, there is something about their motives and misunderstandings and seeming helplessness before the gods which evokes a profound sympathy. It is a sympathy which can almost move me to admiration at times. The Achaians and Trojans are all mortal. Despite their godlikeness, there is still an insurmountable divide between the hero and the divine. The will of the gods and the decrees of fate can seem inescapable.

We know from the beginning of the book that Achilleus is fated to die in this war. We know that Troy will fall. We know that Sarpedon, the glorious son of Zeus, will be deliberately sacrificed by his father to achieve "higher ends". But the real heroes among mortals, despite their seeming weakness in the face of fate, don't just lie back and let their fate come to them. Agamemnon and many others lie back and blame their contentiousness or mistakes routinely on the "will of the gods". For the real heroes, this is not the only course, although the gods do have a role in things. Fate may be inescapable in the large scheme of things, but in the meantime, it can be met head on.

Sarpedon seems also to have some foreshadowing of his impending death - he meets it head on, however, saying effectively that although none of them is able to escape death, they can at least meet it with honour. Hektor will go out and fight for Troy even foreseeing its doom - he will even at times relapse into hope: perhaps this time, Troy's destruction might be forestalled. Achilleus is the best example of all. He, if any, has the opportunity to escape his fate. Rather, he has a "double fate": he could go home; he could die of old age, but live for all those years in obscurity. Through his anger and abandonment of the fight, this almost becomes his fate in fact. But with the death of Patroklos, he is awakened to a new sense of honour. This sense clearly indicates his duty to reenter the fight and the necessity of his acceptance of his alternate fate - the fate which will bring about his death in the war.

I don't have any clear ideas about the definite relationship between fate, the gods' wills and human choice. I guess that at the end of all this rambling my point is pretty simple. The heroism of these characters is, in my opinion, most clearly seen through their refusal to be caught in the dictatorship of fate. While no character is able to totally manipulate his own fate, while this fate is in some senses inescapable, the hero can to an extent determine how he will face this fate. Will he bow to it subserviently, or will he accept it boldly and with the truest manifestation of honour?

Hahaha... more questions! And they can't be conclusively answered! Gosh, do I love literature!

25 September, 2007

Not to sound totally illiterate...

Actually, I don't think I'll be writing for the newspaper anymore after all. I just got my second article published, looked it over, almost died at the horrendous-ness and inconsistencies of my writing as compared to my usual style, and then went to compare the published version to my original draft.

The editors killed it. The published version makes me look totally illiterate and un-schooled in the use of proper transitional sentences. Essentially, it makes me sound like a totally spastic person with the attention span of a gecko on caffeine.

The paragraphs jump about with no connection whatsoever, and my good grammar is sacrificed for the sake of space. Blech. The result is totally revolting. It's not a question of writer's hubris, or anything. I don't mind editing of a beneficial kind. I know jolly well that my writing needs editing often enough! But when aforesaid editing makes me come off as totally illiterate, I must object. So, I think that's enough of that, as much as I enjoy writing newspaper articles.... I don't want my reputation completely spoiled.

24 September, 2007

I just got it!

I feel disgustingly triumphant at the moment. I was randomly reading Shadows of Ecstasy by Charles Williams (in what was unequivocally my spare time) and a watershed of realizations about Dante's Divine Comedy hit me all of a sudden.

This was provoked by the single quote, "that strange identification of Beatrice with Theology". It's amazing how much an appropriate line, read at the right time, can clarify and enrich an entire work of literature. I had had some hazy comprehension of this interpretation back when I was first reading it, but the ramifications of this simple "identification" never seemed this clear before.

I don't remember enough about the epic to back up my general ideas with a profusion of specific examples. But I do remember what is probably the most widely-known fact about the poem, namely, Beatrice's and Virgil's respective roles as Dante's guides throughout the afterlife.

In the arduous journey through hell Dante's guide is Virgil - a virtuous pagan who can nonetheless not move out of the outer (non-punishing) circle of hell. Virgil, who has been guided only by human reason in his pursuit of virtue throughout life, can only take Dante so far. He can discover through reason the necessity of punishment for those who are wicked on earth. The justice of hell is comprehensible and clear to Virgil's mind, as is the punishment in Purgatory.

Mercy is not so apparently comprehensible. Theology - the study of God and His relation to the world - presupposes revelation, and it is this Theology in the form of Beatrice, that reveals to Dante the beauty of a mercy which cannot be understood by unaided reason. Beatrice must show Dante the intended relation of mankind to God, a relation that culminates in an intimacy with the perfection of the very virtue which Virgil so consistently sought.

This development could go far beyond this; I'm only barely scratching the surface here. I can't wait to re-read the Comedy for my literature class.

21 September, 2007


Like any good college student, I'm reading the Iliad for my first literature class. I'm getting far more out of it than I ever did at 14, and I'm genuinely enjoying it now. The poetry of Lattimore's translation is much easier to appreciate now, as are small details such as Hektor's laughter when playing with his son, Zeus' constant fear of Hera, etc. I also am beginning to see the story for what it says as well (although I stick to my opinion that you should read every book you are going to study at least once as a pure story before going ahead and tearing into it deeply). What strikes me most in this reading is the emphasis on the tension between immortality and mortality, between heroism and common destiny for death.

In the Iliad, one is heroic by winning glory, for the purposes of immortalizing one's name. There is a constant tension between immortality and mortality; the gods and the humans. Heroes can attain to a form of "godlikeness"; they can overawe other men and supersede standards set for "mere humans". They can even defy their mortality for a while with acts which bring glory. But they are mortal nonetheless, and cannot attain too far towards the status of the gods without becoming hubristic.

Book 5 of the epic brings up some interesting points along this line. At this point, the warrior Diomedes is coming into his own as a hero. Athene, towards the opening of the book, "takes the mist away from his eyes" so that he can distinguish between god and mortal, and not mistakenly fight a being too strong for him. Intriguingly enough, this image of mist in the eyes usually refers to those who are dying. When Athene removes the mist from the Diomedes' eyes, she is, I believe, removing some part of the shroud of mortality and giving the hero a glimpse into the realm of the gods.

With this power, Diomedes is not only able to avoid the gods when he needs to. At times, with Athene's approval, he even dares to face other gods in battle: he stabs Aphrodite, and wounds even the strong god of war, Ares. Yet Athene's help is crucial here.

When Aphrodite returns to Olympus with her wound, her mother comforts her with he dire prediction: "the heart of Tydeus' son knows nothing of how that man who fights the immortals lives for no long time." (5.407) It becomes clearer that only Athene's help keeps Diomedes' daring from becoming pure hubris when Apollo warns the hero away. "Take care, give back, son of Tydeus, and strive no longer / to make yourself like the gods in mind, since never the same is / the breed of gods, who are immortal, and men who walk groundling." (5.440)

Man's heroism can only go so far in likening him to the immortals. There is the hard fact of his mortality underlying all the glory, all the grandeur, and all the godlike appearance of a hero.

19 September, 2007


My article was published!!!

Not that it's a huge achievement or anything, but it feels pretty darn good to have something in print. Since the article was written in 15 minutes, it's not my best work. Nonetheless, it's serviceable. The printed edition includes a slight grammatical error which I'm pretty sure I didn't make - an "s" is left off the end of a word - but it's not overly noticeable.

Now I've been given an assignment to write an article on the University Library. This assignment is only too perfect, because - well - I happen to work there. Hehehehe. Not to mention the fact that if I work at one, I tend to research its history and methods of running obsessively.

15 September, 2007

Journalism - the fun side

So, this Friday marks the end of my second week here at the University. I'm getting much more oriented about the campus, and I've also started writing for the newspaper. Fun, fun! Well, very interesting, at least.

My first article turned out to be quite an adventure, and I'm still not sure if it's going to be published. I got the assignment two nights before the deadline, which was Thursday at 5:30 p.m. I was supposed to contact and interview some one (the newspaper couldn't give me his or her name even) and write an article about an icon class they were going to be leading. Well, I tried emailing the person, but my mail was returned, the server citing an invalid address. I tried calling him or her, but the number didn't work. SO... I very soon marched up to the Campus Ministry Office, whose website the newspaper got its information from. There I was relieved (in the sense that I was glad to discover that it wasn't my mistake) to find that the telephone number advertised was actually incorrect. I called the number, left a message, and then - "taken by a wild surmise" - tried emailing "adubois" instead of the "adubols" I had been trying to contact. Sure enough, the email went through. I suppose that down here they aren't used enough to French names to spell them correctly if they are even slightly illegible. And that - a transcription error - is exactly what must have occurred.

Despite my research, the article still almost did not get written. I tried my best to contact this elusive icon expert for much of the Wednesday and Thursday afternoons (classes in the morning, you know). I even went so far as to return to Campus Ministry for more information. They couldn't give me any, but directed me to the Art Village, where no one could help me either. I even tracked down an acquaintance of the person (I learned adubois' real identity in the meantime), but they could not give me any assistance either. Finally, as 5:15 drew near, I despaired of ever being able to finish the article, and emailed the newspaper accordingly. Then - wouldn't you know it? - literally 5 minutes before the 5:30 deadline, I got a phone call from the very person I had needed to interview all along. Jolly ho! I whipped out my ever-present notebook and pencil and began taking feverish notes while working out a rough outline for the article in my head.

I sent the finished article in 15 minutes past deadline. I'm not sure about you, but I consider that a pretty spiffy achievement. The fact that it did get in only just past deadline makes me doubtful as to whether or not it will be published. However, I'm glad to know that I finished the assignment regardless, and feel rather smug at having accomplished it against such great odds.

09 September, 2007


Literature is such a crazily awesome subject. I've only had one Lit. class so far here at the university, and that was more of an introduction and overview than an actual class. But I'm looking forward to beginning in earnest.

One of my reasons for loving literature so much was, until recently, more instinctively felt than verbalized. I always have found the fact that you can look at one book from a million points of view and still get something out of it to be perfectly exhilarating. During my meeting with my academic advisor the other day, my advisor (a philosophy professor who is really awesome, btw) showed me a way of describing what it is exactly that literature does.

It's a simple way of thinking about it, and one that has lain behind my education since kindergarten. Nonetheless, this is really my first experience thinking about the distinction between literature and other branches of learning in such clear terms. Philosophy, literature, and history are the three categories under which the rest of the academic disciplines appear. They each represent a different approach to the world and the exploration of reality. Philosophy concerns itself primarily with reason - so under that heading come the physical sciences, logic, math, politics, etc. History is a "looking -back" and judgment on the way philosophical and literary concepts have worked out in the past. Literature, however, is characterized by its introduction of the imagination into thinking.

This last item - literature is exploration of reality through the imagination - it's the obvious reason for the multiplicity of ways to look at a good book. The author must work imaginatively to write a good book. But the reader has just as much of a reason to exercise the imagination. With this, you can come to view the work from a perspective almost identical with that of the writer, or you can find another interpretation which ties into the general feel and theme of the book but is almost totally opposite to the former.

Being a good reader requires almost as much work as being a good writer, I am inclined to believe. I am quite aware that writing holds very distinct challenges, but if literature is the branch encompassing both reading and writing, both use essentially the same method to explore the world. Euphoria-inducing concept, isn't it?

04 September, 2007

Just noting...

I agree with goldbug.... that is an interesting article. Although I hadn't looked at the books from a philosophical enough point of view to find any shades of Gnostic thought, most of the rest of the article sum up my point of view completely.

Just another point: if people were to accuse Harry Potter of being occult for potentially inspiring kids to seek the wrong type of magic in the real world, they'd have to condemn the Lord of the Rings as well - look where "Dungeons and Dragons came from.

03 September, 2007

Judging Harry Potter

Here is a fabulous article that I found in the National Catholic Register on Harry Potter. In numerous discussions between Therese and myself, we came to the same conclusions on Rowling's work as Fr. Alfonso did.


"I didn’t intend to write a piece on Harry Potter. I thought it would have added more fuel onto the Potter hype machine.

I felt the urge to write this article, though, after reading Kathleen Donovan’s letter to the editor “The Devil and Harry Potter” (Aug. 19-25).

Mrs. Donovan was an avid reader of the Register until she found that Steven Greydanus’ critique of the fifth Potter movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix implied “that the Pope and the Vatican officials have not come down upon the witchcraft and occult themes in the books and films by Rowling.”

Mrs. Donovan quotes Father Gabriele Amorth, president of the International Association of Exorcists, as declaring: “Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of darkness, the devil.”

Many good Christian thinkers share similar opinions. Among them we find Michael O’Brien, Susan Moore, Berit Kjos, Vivian Dudro, Gabriele Kuby, and Richard Abanes, author of Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick.

Other good Christian writers offer, instead, a Christian interpretation of the Potter saga, as you may read in the essays by Catherine and David Deavel, Robert Trexler, Alan Jacobs, Serge Tisseron, Pietro Citati and Massimo Introvigne, to name a few.

What to think about such a clash of opinions? Many Catholics, like Mrs. Donovan, are rightly concerned about children’s faith and formation. Is the devil somehow hiding in this best-selling story?

I read the whole Potter series, watched the first four films, and made a few comments on Rowling’s narrative in three Register articles (April and May 2003). I now intend to offer a few clarifications and distinctions that might help the reader form a better criterion for judging the Potter phenomenon and its predictable consequences.

Let us tackle four questions about the Potter books and films: (1) Is there any Vatican endorsement or disapproval of them? (2) Do we find in them some subtle Satanic presence? (3) Are the contents of the books compatible with our Christian faith? (4) Is it advisable to let children read and watch Harry Potter?

Any Vatican Position?

Headlines such as “Pope Approves Potter” (Toronto Star) littered the mainstream media after Msgr. Peter Fleetwood commented on the Harry Potter books at a Vatican press conference on the New Age in 2003.

But the Holy See takes no official position on fictional literature.
Offhand comments by Msgr. Fleetwood and members of the Roman Curia about Harry Potter are merely personal opinions.

In this category of personal opinions we should include Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s March 7, 2003, letter to Gabriele Kuby in response to her German book Harry Potter: Good or Evil?: “It is good that you enlighten people about Harry Potter,” he wrote, “because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly.”

Such an opinion is worth respect and consideration, but doesn’t bind Catholics to think in exactly the same way. Note how Cardinal Ratzinger presented his view in a private letter and not in a formal statement as a prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Devil’s Work?

For an accurate answer to the question, let’s make a double distinction. Let us first distinguish between the nature of Rowling’s works and their possible consequences.

Does the phenomenon bear a Satanic imprint?

Other exorcists do not see it in the way Father Amorth did.

“The books in themselves are not bad,” well-known exorcist Father José Antonio Fortea has been quoted saying. “They are merely literary fantasies in the manner of stories that have existed in Europe since the Middle Ages. I am neither in favor of condemning nor prohibiting them. To me, they are just unobjectionable stories.”

Most of the handful of exorcists who have aired their opinions in the media, including Father Fortea, show concern about the possible outcome rather than the nature of the fictional works. They warn the faithful about their potential to lead people into the occult and perhaps even to Satanism.

And here comes our second distinction.

It would be unfair to judge Rowling’s works exclusively on the basis of their references to witchcraft and the occult without taking literary symbolism into account. Exorcists are the most trustworthy experts we have on the occult — but not necessarily on literature. Harry Potter is a story, not a boy to be exorcised.

Some good Christian literary critics read Rowling’s esoteric references as a way to decry, not to promote, the occult.

“The Potter series is not about the occult or witchcraft but actually just the opposite,” explained Nancy Brown, author of the recent novel The Mystery of Harry Potter.

In his books The Hidden Key to Harry Potter and Looking for God in Harry Potter, John Granger tries to show that Rowling’s “themes, imagery, and engaging stories echo the Great Story” — the story of God who became man.

In The Gospel According to Harry Potter, Connie Neal presents counterarguments to the idea that the Potter books are about witchcraft. She also finds a lot of connections to Bible passages. John Killinger develops similar points in God, the Devil and Harry Potter.

Although I personally disagree with these authors’ main theses, they make a good point: References to the occult and the Satanic do not necessarily imply an attempt to lure people into the forbidden world, because the texts can be interpreted in different ways.

From the fact that millions of Potter readers and movie-watchers give no thought to Wicca, we may infer that Harry Potter is not, by nature, a devilish work and that it doesn’t necessarily lead people into the wrong practices.

Prudence should lead us to take various opinions, from exorcists and literary critics, into consideration.

Christian or Anti-Christian?

Our third question deals with the contents of the novels and movies. Let me propose a crucial distinction that I never find in the Potter debate — a distinction between values and philosophy in fiction.

By values, we may understand the virtues and moral teachings presented in a story.
Great values shine throughout the Potter saga and reach their climax in the seventh installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Let me mention some of them.

Harry’s mother’s love for her son and self-sacrifice saved the future hero from being killed by Lord Voldemort. In a like manner, Harry would later give himself up to save his friends. His heroic generosity plays the key role in the victory of good over evil.

Harry, Hermione and Ron are characterized by their perseverance in the fulfillment of their mission in the midst of overwhelming difficulties. They are also concerned about the lives of their enemies with no desire for revenge. Remorse is presented as a way of self-redemption. The unsound quest to master death is discouraged. High ideals are encouraged. Good family life is appealing.

These and many other values one may find in the series refresh the soul in the current suffocating environment of anti-values that are often exhibited in products of the entertainment industry. Such values can inspire people in their life.

Values are not to be confused with philosophy. By philosophy we mean the concept of God, man and the universe underlying a story plot fully developed as a worldview.

Children’s stories, such as Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, do not presume to portray ideas about our world and the realm of transcendence. They are short and simple stories with moral lessons. Harry Potter, instead, encompasses an implicit but integrated philosophical view of reality.

Let’s take a brief look at it.

In Potter’s world, the divine is, in my opinion, pantheistic. The only transcendent reality that exists is (white) magic. A fictional story, of course, does not have to present the Christian truths nor the Christian God. The question is whether or not there is room for a Christian God in the story. In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, God does not show up, yet he may fit in the background as the one who gave Gandalf certain powers and a new life. Gandalf did not get them by himself.
Not so with Harry Potter.

Once the magic reigns as the ultimate level of reality, a personal God cannot fit in. Magical powers form the highest aspiration.

A certain monistic dualism, characteristic of Gnostic thought, looms over the plot, too.
Lord Voldemort’s and Death Eaters’ dark arts derive from the corruption of white magic, very much as the “dark side of the force” came from the bad use of “the force” in the Star Wars series.

Consider now the concept of man implicit in J.K. Rowling’s narrative. Humans, called “muggles,” are divided into three categories: ordinary “muggles” with no magical power who disdain the magic world (the despicable Dursley family); “muggles” who fancy the magic world but cannot reach it (Hermione Granger’s parents); and the witches and wizards.

The ideal is, no doubt, to become a good witch or wizard. What’s the way? Train yourself to look into yourself to find the magical powers within you.

Good training requires masters who help make you aware of the magical (“divine”) forces in your spirit. These are the professors at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Albus Dumbledore, the school headmaster, is the main spiritual guide.

Year after year, through training and exercise, Harry Potter becomes ever more aware of his inner powers and can, thus, use more sophisticated spells and jinxes.

In the fourth installment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, we read: “Harry had soon mastered the Impediment Curse, a spell to slow down and obstruct attackers; the Reductor Curse, which would enable him to blast solid objects out of his way; and the Four-Point Spell, a useful discovery of Hermione’s that would make his wand point due north, therefore enabling him to check whether he was going in the right direction within the maze.”

The Star Wars films follow a similar pattern.

There are humans and creatures who do not enjoy the use of “the force.” Only the Jedi, such as Luke Skywalker, who was trained by masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, obtain a full control over “the force.”

In both cases, the role of the human body is downplayed, as if it were not an essential part of one’s own personhood. The spirit, where the realm of the magic or of “the force” dwells, is the inner true self. This view of man sounds Gnostic to me.

We come, finally, to the concept of the world. Harry Potter’s physical universe is not explicitly viewed as a prison for mankind created by evil demons, as it appears in classical Gnostic ideologies.

Yet it is portrayed as less “real” than the wizard world — the fantastic realm of powers whose gate can only be opened by the key of esoteric knowledge. Doesn’t the reader feel more “at home” at Hogwarts than in the boring material world of muggles?

To me, the fact that only witches and wizards are able to see the Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at King’s Cross station is meaningful. Those whose spirits are in the magic world can see “more” than ordinary people or muggles. They live in a spiritual (magical) dimension that frees them from the laws of the material world.

Is Potter Good for Kids?

Suppose that my interpretation of the Potter worldview is right. One should then appreciate and learn from Rowling’s values and leave aside her philosophy. Values can be uprooted from the soil they are grounded in and become inspiring lessons. You may enjoy the look and the fragrance of flowers even as you take them from the dirt in which they blossomed.
But whether a book or a movie is harmful to its audience depends as much upon the audience as upon the narrative.

“To the right reader, Harry Potter can be as harmless as Glinda the Good Witch or Cinderella’s fairy godmother,” says Steven Greydanus in his excellent essay Harry Potter vs. Gandalf. “For another young reader, he could be a stumbling block.”

Who are the “right” Potter readers?

I believe we will find them among well-formed Christians, those who do not feel the lure of the magic, and those who can distinguish — by themselves or by with help of their tutors — the Potter values from the Potter philosophy.

Who are the “wrong” readers?

Vulnerable or at-risk children may be those who do not have a particularly strong commitment to their faith, or show a troubling pattern of general interest in magic or in dark or grotesque imagery.

We have, in short, right and wrong audiences. While many kids will get inspired for the good with no negative effect, others may be affected for worse.

That’s why we should bear in mind the warnings of exorcists and other thinkers about children’s contact with the magic.

“Just like violence and pornography, kids are desensitized by exposure,” said Matthew Arnold, producer of the three-tape set The Trouble With Harry.

In the end, parents are the best-equipped judges to discern how suitable Rowling’s works might be for their children. They may also be their best guides to let them distinguish the wheat from the chaff.

In conclusion, I suggest considering the following four criteria as common ground for reasonable discussions.

First, the reading of Harry Potter is a debatable issue, not a matter of faith.

Second, nothing proves that Rowling’s fiction is a work of the devil or a path that necessarily leads to evil practices.

Third, a distinction can be made between the narrative’s values and philosophy. Consequently, we may be able to draw the good lessons from the story while remaining untouched by whatever may be wrong in it.

Fourth, decisions about the appropriateness of the Potter novels and movies for children can only be made on a case-by-case basis.

If we keep these criteria in mind, we may leave behind some bitter clashes and gain some profit from the Potter debate."

02 September, 2007

This is really different...

So, most of you probably know that I'm currently starting my first year at the University of Dallas.

This is a wildly crazy change, being down here and all that. I got my first hint of just how strange it would be when I stepped out of the airport at 11:30 at night only to get blasted with a mass of hot air. I've never known it to be this hot this late at night before, particularly not in August.

The campus is rather pretty in a strange way. The trees are intensely deciduous, and rather tropical looking.There are flowering shrubs everywhere. But outside the campus it's very big city-ish, and Irving is certainly not at all to my taste. Everything is so flat that the land looks like it has been ironed. The buildings are short and sprawling, not at all like the more vertical cities up north. There's pavement everywhere. From the airplane, it looks like one giant parking lot, occasionally punctuated by a neon sign or a chain restaurant or a strip mall. The highways are literally dozens of lanes wide in places.

My residence hall is pretty nice; it's air conditioned, which means a lot.

I've been running around a lot for orientation. This year's freshman class is the biggest in the history of the University - 423 students, I believe. So there's a lot of business and lines and behavior reminiscent of an anthill.

31 August, 2007

"The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe"

This poem is so incredibly awesome.

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

WILD air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that ’s fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let dispense
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms’ self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air.

If I have understood,
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man’s beating heart,
Laying, like air’s fine flood,
The deathdance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn—
Bethlem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God’s and Mary’s Son.

Again, look overhead
How air is azurèd;
O how! nay do but stand
Where you can lift your hand
Skywards: rich, rich it laps
Round the four fingergaps.
Yet such a sapphire-shot,
Charged, steepèd sky will not
Stain light. Yea, mark you this:
It does no prejudice.
The glass-blue days are those
When every colour glows,
Each shape and shadow shows.
Blue be it: this blue heaven
The seven or seven times seven
Hued sunbeam will transmit
Perfect, not alter it.
Or if there does some soft,
On things aloof, aloft,
Bloom breathe, that one breath more
Earth is the fairer for.
Whereas did air not make
This bath of blue and slake
His fire, the sun would shake,
A blear and blinding ball
With blackness bound, and all
The thick stars round him roll
Flashing like flecks of coal,
Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt,
In grimy vasty vault.

So God was god of old:
A mother came to mould
Those limbs like ours which are
What must make our daystar
Much dearer to mankind;
Whose glory bare would blind
Or less would win man’s mind.
Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.

Be thou then, O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.